Part 3 out of 4
the ground ivy, and the golden saxifrage. It was a fresh March day, with
a wind blowing scudding white clouds across a pale blue sky. Rooks were
beginning to build, green foliage showed on the elder trees, and the elms
"We shall all be pixie-led if we gather the white stitchwort!" said
Mavis. "They're the pixies' flowers, so Mrs. Penruddock told me! It's a
very old Devonshire superstition."
"Is that so? I never heard it before," said Miss Mitchell. "I know ever
so many of the flowers are supposed to belong to the fairies in various
parts of the country. Foxgloves are really 'the good folks' gloves,' and
they're called fairies' petticoats in Cheshire, and fairies' hats in
Ireland. Wild flax is always fairy flax, and harebells are fairy bells."
"Our old nurse used to call funguses pixie stools," said Edith Carey,
"and the hollow ones were pixies' baths. She wouldn't let us pick elder,
I can't remember why."
"That's a very old superstition. The 'elder mother' is supposed to live
inside the tree, and to be very angry indeed if any harm is done to it.
In the good old days, people used to ask her permission before they dared
to cut down an elder. They knelt on bended knees and prayed:
"Lady Elder! Lady Elder!
Give me some of thy wood.
"There's a story about a man who hadn't the politeness to perform this
little ceremony. He made a cradle for his baby out of the elder tree. But
the sprite was offended, and she used to come and pull the baby out of
the cradle by its legs, and pinch it and make it cry, so that it was
quite impossible to leave the poor little thing in the elder cradle, and
they had to weave one of basket-work for it instead."
"Tell us some more fairy lore about the plants!" begged the girls.
"Well, the St. John's wort is called 'the fairies' horse.' If you pick it
after sunset a fairy horse will rise from the ground and carry you about
all night, leaving you in the morning wherever you may chance to be at
sunrise. You know if you keep fern-seed in your pockets you'll have the
chance of seeing the pixies. The moonwort is supposed to be a very
supernatural plant, and to have the power of opening locks if you place a
leaf of it in the keyhole. No, I've never tried to burgle with it! I've
never found any moonwort. It's an exceedingly rare plant now, and it's
not been my luck to come across any. If you're troubled with warts, you
ought to go at sunrise to an ash tree, stick a pin into the bark, and
"Ashen tree! Ashen tree!
I pray thee buy these warts of me!
"Then the ash tree would cure you, that's to say, if you'd repeated the
"I suppose it was always wise to leave a loophole in case the cure didn't
come off!" laughed Mavis.
They had been walking by a footpath across the meadows, and found
themselves in the little village of Bamberton, a small place with
picturesque cottages close to a river. Miss Mitchell, who was an
enthusiast upon architecture, marched her party off to view the church,
much to the disgust of several of them.
"Don't want to see mouldy old churches! I'd rather be out of doors!"
"And there are actually sweet violets growing in a field on the opposite
side of the river," said Edith, who knew the neighbourhood.
"Oh, are there? Do let's get some."
"It'll be too late by the time we've been all round the monuments and
read the inscriptions and the rest of it!"
"How long will Miss Mitchell stay in the church?"
"A good twenty minutes, I daresay. You can't get her away when she starts
talking about architecture. Dad took her round our church one day, and I
thought she'd never go. Tea was getting cold, but she went on asking
questions about windows and pillars and things!"
"Then why shouldn't we slip out and run and get the violets while she's
inside the church with the others?"
It was a naughty thing for a monitress to propose, but even Sybil, who
happened to overhear, did not wax moral for the occasion.
"I'll come with you!" she said eagerly. "I'm not at all fond of going
round churches, and looking at monuments. It always makes me wonder if
I'm going to die young! When Miss Mitchell took us to Templeton Church
and read us the epitaphs, I cried afterwards! There was one about a girl
exactly my age. 'Sweet flower, nipped off in early bloom,' it said, or
something of the sort."
"Don't be so sentimental!" snapped Merle.
"But come with us if you like. Yes, you too, Beata! But for goodness'
sake don't tell any one else or they'll all want to come, and if the
whole lot try to scoot, it will put a stopper on the thing. We'll wait
till the others are inside and then just slide off. Mum's the word,
It was quite easy to loiter among the tombstones pretending to read the
inscriptions, but the moment Miss Mitchell and her audience had safely
passed through the porch and opened the big nail-studded door, the four
confederates turned and fled.
Edith knew a short cut, and took them between rows of graves, regardless
of Sybil's protesting shudders, to a tiny stile that led down an alley to
the riverside. Here there was a tumbledown wharf, and an old ferryboat
which worked on a chain. Years ago a ferryman had had charge of it, but
there was so little traffic that it was no longer worth his while, so the
boat had been left for passengers to use as they liked. It was lying now
at the edge of the wharf. The girls, following Edith, stepped in, and
began to wind the boat across the river by pulling the chain. It was
rather an amusing means of progression, and they enjoyed their 'Dover-
Calais crossing,' as they called it. Arrived at the opposite bank, Edith
"Tie the boat up, somebody!" she called, and set off running over the
meadow to the hedge where the violets grew.
Somebody is an exceedingly vague term, and generally means nobody. Merle
and Beata went scampering after Edith, and Sybil, who was last, flung the
boat chain hastily round a post and followed her friends. The violets
were lovely, sweet-scented and blue and modest and everything that
orthodox violets ought to be.
The girls gathered delicious, fragrant little bunches, and felt that they
were scoring tremendously over those unfortunates who were receiving
information about architecture inside the church.
"We mustn't stay too long!" sighed Edith. "It's a pity, but I'm afraid we
really ought to go now. They'll be looking for us if we don't."
So they walked back across the meadow to the bank. Here a most unpleasant
surprise greeted them. The boat, into which they had meant to step and
ferry themselves back, had drifted into the middle of the river.
"Good gracious! Didn't you tie it up?" exclaimed Edith, aghast.
"Of course I did, but-well, I suppose I didn't tie it tight enough. I
never thought it would float away," confessed Sybil.
The boat, though still working on the chain which spanned the river, was
quite inaccessible from either side. The girls were in an extremely
awkward position. Nobody knew where they had gone, and unless it occurred
to some of their party to come and seek them by the wharf, or unless some
chance passer-by happened to notice their plight, they might wait for a
long time without rescue.
"What are we to do?" fumed Beata. "If we're not back at four the
'sardine-tin' will be waiting for me, and Mr. Vicary will be so cross!
The last time we were late he went and complained to Father and said he'd
have to charge us extra for wasting his time. There was an awful row, and
Violet scolded Romola and me, although it was really Tattie's fault."
"Can we get to Durracombe on this side of the river?" suggested Sybil.
Edith shook her head.
"We could; but there isn't a bridge till you get to Parlingford, and
that's five miles round. I think we'd better stay here."
"I could slay that wretched boat for playing us such a trick!" said
Meantime Miss Mitchell and the rest of the girls had finished their
survey of the various monuments, and, catching sight of the church clock,
realised how late it was, and that they must start back at once. Of
course the four truants were missed, and a hasty search was made for
them, in the chancel, and behind the organ, and outside among the
"They're not anywhere here!" reported the scouts.
"Then they must have walked on," said Miss Mitchell. "Beata knew she had
to be back by four o'clock. I expect we shall catch them up on the road.
[Illustration: "WHY DIDN'T 'EE FASTEN UP THE CHAIN"]
So the party set off at full speed, all unwitting that four disconsolate
maidens were marooned on the farther side of the river, waiting for some
faerie boat to ferry them across. For a long time no knight-errant
arrived for their relief, but at last, as chance would have it, an urchin
came down on to the wharf, with a string and a bent pin, intent on
fishing. He was at least a link with the outer world, and they yelled
hopefully to him across the water. He stopped and stared, then took to
his heels and ran, but whether in terror or to fetch help they were
uncertain. After what seemed a weary while, however, he returned,
escorted by his father, who evidently understood the situation, for he
shouted something which the girls could not catch, then went away.
"Has he left us to our fate?" asked Merle indignantly.
"Gone to get somebody else, perhaps!" ventured Edith more hopefully.
She proved correct, for after another eternity of time an old man hobbled
on to the wharf, unlocked a boat-house, and slowly took out a punt, by
means of which he reached the ferry-boat, climbed in, and worked it
across the river to the farther bank.
"Why didn't 'ee fasten up the chain?" he asked; but as he was almost
stone-deaf he did not understand either their excuses or professions of
gratitude, and simply motioned to them to enter.
Arriving back on the wharf the girls, after subscribing a shilling
amongst them to reward their rescuer, hurried up to the churchyard,
where, of course, there was no sign of their party, then started as fast
as they could to walk along the high road. They had gone perhaps half a
mile when they heard a warning hoot behind them, and, looking round, what
should Merle see but the little Deemster car with Dr. Tremayne at the
driving-wheel. She shouted wildly and stopped him.
"Oh, Uncle David! Are you going back to Durracombe? Could you possibly
take Beata at any rate! Her car will be waiting for her at school. We'd
be everlastingly grateful!"
"I'll try and cram you all in if you like," smiled Dr. Tremayne. "Open
the dickey, Merle!"
It was a decided squash. Edith and Sybil sat in front, and Merle and
Beata managed to get together into the little dickey seat behind, where
they each held one another in and clutched the hood for support.
"I have to pay a visit, but I'll run you back first," said Uncle David,
setting off at a pace that made Merle and Beata cling for their lives as
they whisked round corners. They arrived at 'The Moorings' exactly as the
town-hall clock was chiming the quarter after four. Mr. Vicary, his face
a study of patience, was standing by the side of the 'sardine-tin,' which
was already packed for transit, and whose occupants set up a joyful
screech of welcome.
"Of course, if Dr. Tremayne motored you back with Merle it's all right,
though you ought to have asked me first," said Miss Mitchell, to whom
Sybil gave a much edited explanation, omitting the ferry-boat incident
altogether, and suppressing the violets.
So the four culprits, who had expected trouble, got off a great deal
better than they deserved.
Fifth Form Justice
Easter was coming--Easter with its birds and flowers and hope of summer.
Already there were hints of plans for the holidays, though these had not
yet absolutely crystallised into shape. The mere mention of one of them
had been enough to send Merle dancing round the house, but, as she had
overheard by accident, and was strictly pledged not to reveal the secret
to Clive, for the present she restrained her ecstasies and kept her lips
Meantime there was plenty to be done at school. The term-end examinations
were due, and Miss Mitchell, who had been rather disappointed with
Christmas results, was urging everybody to make heroic efforts. Mavis and
Merle had missed much on account of the mumps, and when they attempted
some revision they were absolutely appalled at the amount that had to be
made up. They did their most creditable best, and toiled over text-books
till heads ached. On the evening before the first examination they were
sitting in Dr. Ramsay's study giving a farewell grind to several rather
rusty subjects, when Clive walked in.
"Hello, kid! You're not allowed in here! We're working!" warned Merle.
Her young cousin grinned.
"I know! And you've got to stop it. I've been sent to tell you to shut
those books up at once!"
"Did Mother say so?"
"She did. She says you've done enough, and you'll only muddle yourselves
if you go on any longer."
"We shan't pass!" sighed Mavis.
"Yes, you will! Listen to the Oracle and he'll give you a tip or two. A
little bird told him, look up Keltic words in the English language, and
the life and works of William Cowper, and the products of Java and
"How clever you are all of a sudden! What do you know about our exam
Clive winked solemnly, first with one eye and then with another.
"Perhaps I'm in communication with the occult!" he remarked. "Don't
people go to clairvoyants and crystal-gazers and astrologers when they
want to get tips about the future? I'm your wizard to-night."
"All right. Tell us our fortunes."
Clive reached over for the pack of Patience cards that Merle had left on
the table, and shuffled them elaborately.
"The wizard is now ready to wizz. I may mention that my fee is only a
guinea. You mustn't laugh or it might break the spell. Will you please to
choose a card, look at it, and put it back in the pack."
"O Fate! wangle me a decent fortune!" chuckled Merle, selecting at
random. It was the six of spades, and her cousin shook his head gravely.
"That's a bad omen, but wait a bit! Stick it back in the pack and we'll
see where it comes. Oh, this is better now-a dark woman is going to bring
you trouble, but a fair man will come to the rescue and help you out.
You're going amongst a number of people, but the general result will be
fortunate. I see a number of diamonds, which means that prizes are in
store for you."
"We don't have prizes at Easter! Is that all?"
"All that the cards tell me, but I'll do a little crystal-gazing if you
like!" and Clive seized a glass paperweight, and, staring intently at it,
pretended to throw himself into a state of abstraction.
"I see an examination-room!" he declared. "I see rows of desks, and girls
writing at them. There are lists of questions. I am peeping over their
shoulders, and they are puzzling about the products of Java and Borneo,
and the life and works of William Cowper, and the Keltic words in the
English language. You and Mavis are scribbling ahead for all you're
"A very pretty picture, I'm sure! Can't you tell us some more?"
"Alas! The crystal has grown milky."
"And it's your bedtime!" said Mavis. "I expect you were on your way
upstairs when you came in here. Confess!"
"There's no hurry. I'll stay and tell yours too if you like."
"No, thanks. This will do for both of us. Is Mother in the drawing-room?
Come along, Merle, we won't work any more to-night."
"Oh, I must just look up what was it?--the products of Java and Borneo,
and William Cowper, and Keltic words. There's luck in them! Just for five
minutes! Get off to bed, you kid, and leave me to work."
Rather reluctantly Mavis fell in with her sister's humour and reopened
"Clive's only fooling!" she remonstrated.
"I know; and so am I! Here we are--Keltic words in use in the English
language. You can squint over my shoulder if you like."
The five minutes lengthened out till Mrs. Ramsay came herself and put a
finish to the preparation.
"It's silly to overdo it. You'll only have headaches to-morrow and be
able to remember nothing. Come along to the drawing-room and sing to
"Yes, Mummie darling, I'm just strapping up my books. There, I'll leave
them here on the hall-table. I promise you I won't take them upstairs.
Hello! Here's my jersey! I was hunting for it everywhere after tea and
couldn't find it. It feels wet! How funny! Has anybody been out in it?"
"Give it to Alice and ask her to put it by the kitchen fire to dry.
Father wants to hear that Devon folksong you're learning. It will do you
good to have a little music after such hard brain-work."
Merle marched into school next morning joking about her fortune. She told
the girls what the oracle had said, and how she had ground up those
particular bits of information.
"I'm sporting enough to give you the tip!" she laughed.
"Clive was only making fun and ragging us!" qualified Mavis. "He's a
There was no time for any more last looks, however. The bell was ringing
for call-over, and all books must be put away. In the Fifth form room a
clean sheet of blotting-paper was laid upon every desk, and the inkwells
had been newly filled. Miss Mitchell dealt round typewritten sheets of
questions, and the agony began. The English Language and Literature paper
was not nearly so bad as Mavis and Merle had expected, and curiously
enough there were questions both on William Cowper and on Keltic words.
It was such a coincidence that Merle could not help looking at Mavis and
smiling. They were both well prepared, and wrote away at full speed,
almost enjoying themselves, and worked steadily till Miss Mitchell said,
"Pens down." After eleven o'clock came the examination on the text-book
geography, which had this term--owing to Miss Pollard's influence
--supplemented the lantern lectures on that subject. When she saw the
first question, "Describe the products of Java and Borneo," Merle gave
such an audible chuckle that many eyes were cast in her direction, and
Miss Mitchell glared a warning. Again Mavis and Merle found themselves
well prepared, and scribbled continuously till the bell rang.
"How did you get on?" said Merle to Muriel, as they walked downstairs
from their classroom. "I say! Wasn't it funny about my fortune? Why, we
had the exact questions! I never heard of anything so queer in my life!"
"Very queer!" answered Muriel, with restraint in her voice. She was
looking at Iva, who shrugged her shoulders significantly.
"Some people have all the luck!" remarked Sybil.
"Well, it was lucky, for it was pure guessing of Clive's."
"How did he know what exams you were going to have?"
"Oh, he's heard us talking about them, of course."
"I wish I had a cousin who could guess the questions beforehand."
"We'd all get Honours on those lines."
When Mavis and Merle returned to school after lunch, they each found a
little note laid upon their desks marked 'Urgent.'
You are requested to attend a most important meeting
to be held in the boarders' sitting-room at the hostel
immediately after four.
There was no signature, but the writing was Iva's. The Ramsays were much
mystified. As day-girls they had nothing to do with the hostel, and could
only go there by special invitation. When afternoon school was over they
asked some of the boarders the meaning of the missive. Nobody would
"You'll find out when you get there," was Nesta's cryptic reply.
Puzzled, and considerably distressed at a certain offensive attitude
exhibited by Sybil and others, Mavis and Merle walked across the garden
to the hostel. Iva had cleared all the younger girls out of the boarders'
sitting-room, and was waiting in company with Nesta, Muriel, Aubrey,
Edith, and Kitty. As soon as the Ramsays and Sybil came in, she closed
"I've called a general meeting of the Fifth," she said, "because there's
something we all feel we ought to go into. Would you like to elect some
one into the chair?"
"I beg to propose yourself," piped Aubrey.
"And I beg to second," said Nesta.
Iva settled herself and looked somewhat embarrassed, as if not knowing
quite how to begin. She fidgeted for a moment with her pencil, and
cleared her throat.
"We're all here," she said at last, "except Fay and Beata, who couldn't
stay. What we've met for is to ask Mavis and Merle to explain how it was
they got to know some of the examination questions beforehand. It seems
to us queer, to say the least of it!"
The Ramsays, overwhelmed with amazement at such a palpable insinuation,
turned wrathfully red.
"Why, we've told you! Clive guessed!" gasped Merle.
"How could he?"
"Very convenient guessing, I'm sure!"
"It's no use telling us such utter fibs!"
"They're not fibs! How dare you say so!" flamed Merle.
"It's the absolute truth!" endorsed Mavis.
"Do you stick to that?"
"Of course we do."
"Then I shall have to call on Sybil to tell us something she saw
Sybil, who was red, nervous, and even more uncomfortable than Iva, rose
from her seat to make her accusation.
"I was in the garden yesterday after school, and I saw Merle come back,
hurry among the bushes, and climb in at the study window. I waited, and
presently she came out again and scooted off as if she didn't want to
"O--o--oh! You _didn't_ see me! I wasn't there! Was I, Mavis?"
"Most certainly not. You were at home all the time. I can prove that!"
"I think the thing proves itself!" said Iva. "First of all, you're seen
by a witness entering the study, where, no doubt, the exam papers were
spread out on the table, and then you come to school primed with the
questions. There isn't a shadow of doubt."
"Wait a minute!" said Mavis, rising with a very white face. "To begin
with, you've got to prove that it was Merle. One witness isn't enough."
"Catie and Peggie saw her down the drive. They told me so."
"What time was it?"
"About five o'clock."
"She was practising at home then. I can bring witnesses to prove that.
Besides, if she had really seen the questions, do you think she'd have
been silly enough to tell them to you before the exam?"
The girls looked puzzled at that, but Nesta murmured that Merle was silly
enough for anything.
"As she's one of the monitresses, we thought we ought to give her a
chance to clear herself before we told Miss Mitchell," said Iva.
"She _can_ clear herself and she will. It's not fair to condemn her
like this. You must give her time to bring her own witnesses. I ask you
all, is it like Merle to do such a thing?"
"Well, no, it certainly isn't like either of you. That's what's surprised
us so much."
"You feel you can't be sure of anybody," added Aubrey.
The boarders' tea-gong, sounding at that moment, brought the meeting to
an unsatisfactory conclusion. The Ramsays hurried home, bubbling over
with indignation, to pour their woes into Mother's sympathetic ear, and
were highly put out to find the drawing-room full of callers, and to be
expected to hand tea-cups and make pleasant conversation instead of
retailing their grievances. They beat a retreat as soon as they possibly
could, and, for fear of being asked to play or sing for the benefit of
visitors, deemed it wise to escape into the garden.
"We'll sit in the summer-house, only I must have my jersey," declared
Merle, catching up the garment in question from its peg in the hall, and
pulling it on. "I want some place where I can explode. This is just the
beastliest thing that's ever happened to me in all my life."
"I can't understand it!" puzzled Mavis, with her forehead in wrinkles.
Merle was stumping along the path with her hands in the pockets of her
"Why should they accuse _me_, of all people in the world, of
climbing in through the study window? Sybil must have been dreaming.
She's an idiot of a girl. She'd imagine anything from a ghost to a
burglar. What are we going to do about it? I wish to goodness they
_would_ tell Miss Mitchell! I'd rather she knew. I've a jolly good
mind to go and tell her myself. Then I should have first innings and
she'd hear our side of it. Hello! There's Clive."
It was that lively young gentleman who came walking along the garden wall
and took a flying leap on to the path, just avoiding one of Tom's best
"There's a whole tribe of ladies in the drawing-room!" he volunteered. "I
carried my tea into the summer-house! You won't catch me 'doing the
polite' if I can help it. Rather not! Have you bunked too? I don't blame
you. You're looking down in the mouth, both of you! Exams gone wrong this
afternoon? Shall I tell your fortunes again?"
"Your precious fortune has got us into a great deal of trouble," answered
Merle. "How did you manage to guess those questions? They were actually
in our papers!"
Clive pulled his face into a variety of grimaces.
"Ah! Wouldn't you just like to know!" he retorted. "Perhaps I keep a
familiar spirit, or perhaps I read things in the stars. I prophesy you'll
fail in all the rest of your exams! There!"
"You young wretch!" cried Merle, chasing him down the path as he fled.
She took her hands from her pockets to catch hold of him, and as she did
so out flew a penknife on to the grass. Clive pounced upon it immediately
and picked it up.
"I've been looking for this everywhere!" he declared.
"How did it get inside my pocket?" asked Merle.
"_I_ never put it there!"
"Clive!" exclaimed Mavis, with a sudden flash of intuition. "Did you wear
Merle's jersey yesterday? I remember she found it wet. I verily believe
you dressed up in her clothes and went to school."
For answer Clive burst into fits of laughter.
"Oh, it was topping!" he hinnied. "I stuck on her skirt and jersey and
tam o' shanter and took in everybody. I walked down the street, and up
the drive to the school door, and prowled round the garden. There was a
window open, so in I went and found exam questions all over the table. I
thought I'd rag you about them!"
"You atrocious imp! Look here! You don't know what a scrape you've got us
into. You'll just have to own up and get us out of it again, that's all!"
Irresponsible Clive was full of thoughtless mischief, and it was a long
time before the girls could get him to see the serious side of his
escapade, and realise what an exceedingly grave charge had been brought
against their honour. In the end, by dint of scolding, entreaty,
coercion, and even bribery, they succeeded in persuading him to come
along with them to 'The Moorings,' where they asked for Miss Mitchell,
and told her the whole story.
"I'm extremely glad to know," she said, looking hard at Clive. "The fact
is I was deceived myself. He's very like you, Merle! I happened to see
him climbing out of the window, and I certainly thought I recognised you.
I've felt upset all day about it. I couldn't understand your doing such a
"Will you explain to the boarders, please! I hate them to think me a
"I'll make that all right."
"And about those exam questions--Mavis and I wouldn't have dreamt of
looking them up beforehand, and I don't suppose we should have known
them. Wouldn't it be fairer just to cross them off in our papers and not
count them? We'd much rather you did."
"Yes, it's the only thing to be done."
Clive, much subdued, blurted out a kind of apology before he left, which
Miss Mitchell accepted with dignity. Perhaps she did not think it good
for him to forgive him too easily. His evil prophecies about the exams
were fortunately not fulfilled, for his cousins, though they did not
score brilliant successes, just managed to scrape through without any
The Fifth form, when they heard the true facts of the story, repented
their hasty court of justice and made handsome amends.
"It doesn't matter!" said Merle. "You were quite right if you thought
we'd been cheating. I should pull anybody else up myself, fast enough. It
must have been the acting we did at Christmas that put the idea into
Clive's idiotic young head. He was dressed up as a girl then, and rather
fancied himself. He really is the limit."
"We shall always be a little uncertain now which is you and which is your
cousin!" laughed Iva.
"Oh, he won't do it again! We've put him on his honour, and I don't think
he'd break his word."
The great Easter secret, which Merle had surprised and preserved with so
much difficulty, was out at last. Clive's father and mother were coming
to Devonshire for a holiday; they had taken rooms at a farm in Chagmouth,
and they had not only arranged for their own son to join them, but they
had also asked Mavis and Merle to be their visitors. The girls thought
that no invitation could have been more delightfully acceptable. They
adored Chagmouth, and the Saturdays they managed to spend there were
always red-letter days, so the prospect of three whole weeks in this El
Dorado sent their spirits up to fizzing-over point.
"Bevis will be at Grimbal's Farm!"
"And Tudor will be at home!"
"The Castletons are expecting Morland and Claudia!"
"And, of course, Fay will be there, and Tattie, and the Colvilles!"
"Goody! What a lovely tribe of us to go out picnics!"
"We'll have the time of our lives!"
Burswood Farm, where Mr. and Mrs. Percy Tremayne had taken rooms, was on
the hillside above Chagmouth. It was a delightful spot, with that airy
feeling about it that comes from looking down upon your neighbours'
"I wouldn't live in Chagmouth, not if you paid me hundreds a year!"
declared Mrs. Treasure, their landlady. "Once I'm up here, here I stay!
I've not been in the town for over six months. I go on Sundays to the
little chapel close by, and if I want shops we get out the gig and drive
into Kilvan or Durracombe. It isn't worth the climb back from Chagmouth.
I carried William up when he was a baby, and it nearly killed me. I set
him down in his cradle and I said: 'There, my boy! I don't go down to
Chagmouth again till you can walk back yourself!' And I didn't! He was
three years old before I went--even to the post office. How do I manage
about stamps? Why, the postman brings them for me and takes my letters.
The grocers' carts come round from Kilvan, and the butcher calls once a
week, and what can you want more? I say when I've got a nice place like
this to live in I'll stay here, and not worry myself with climbing up and
Though Mavis and Merle might not hold with Mrs. Treasure's depreciation
of Chagmouth, they thoroughly agreed with her eulogy of Burswood. There
was a view of the sea from the farm, and it had an old-fashioned garden
with beehives and hedges of fuchsia and blue veronica, and at the back
there was a small fir wood, with clumps of primroses and opening
bluebells. The girls christened it 'Elfland.'
"You can almost see the fairies here," said Mavis. "Why is it that some
places feel so much more romantic than others?"
"Because you're in the right mood, I suppose. This is almost as nice as
"Not quite. Nothing can ever come up to that! When Bevis gets The Warren
he's going to build up the Bower again."
"Why doesn't he do it now? The Glyn Williams would let him if he wanted.
It's his property."
"He wouldn't care to ask them; especially after what happened there
between him and Tudor."
"They've forgotten that, surely!"
"Well, I sympathise with Bevis. He doesn't care to interfere with
anything until The Warren is really his own. I think he feels they'd
laugh at the Bower, and so they would!"
"It's not in their line, of course."
However much we may love old and familiar scenes, there is always a
novelty in something new, and the bird's-eye aspect of Chagmouth was
attractive, especially to those whose young limbs did not mind the climb.
Mr. and Mrs. Percy Tremayne were most enthusiastic about their quarters.
They were charming people, and ready to fall in with the young folk's
plans and give them a thoroughly happy holiday. They had brought a motor-
bicycle and side-car, and took some excursions round the neighbourhood,
going over often to Durracombe to see Dr. and Mrs. Tremayne, glad to have
the opportunity of a private chat with them while their lively son was
safely picnicking with Mavis and Merle. Picnics were the established
order of the day. The girls declared that Society at Chagmouth this
Easter began with a big S. The Castletons were a host in themselves. They
were all at home, and all equally fascinating. Musical Mavis attached
herself to Claudia with a great admiration, and Merle found a devoted
knight in ten-year-old Madox, who clung to her with the persistency of a
chestnut burr, chiefly because she had the charity to answer his
perpetual questions. "The interrogation mark," as he was called by his
own family, was a typical Castleton, and most cherubic of countenance,
though his curls had been sheared in deference to school, spoiling him,
so his father declared, for artistic purposes. He was a mixture of
mischief and romance, and Merle, who accepted his temporary allegiance,
never quite knew whether his embraces were marks of genuine affection or
were designed for the chance of dropping pebbles down her back.
Some delightful friends of the Castletons were also spending a holiday in
rooms at Chagmouth--Miss Lindsay, an artist, and Lorraine Forrester, a
chum of Claudia's, both of whom were sketching the quaint streets and the
quay and the harbour with the wildest enthusiasm. Morland had also taken
a sudden fancy for painting, and insisted upon going out with them daily,
producing some quite pretty little impressionistic pictures, with a touch
of his father's style about them. In Morland the family talent ran high
but never rose to genius. His touch on the piano was perfect. He
scribbled poems in private. His achievements, however, in either music,
art, or poetry were insufficient to justify taking one of them for a
"I'd rather make him a chimney-sweep!" declared Mr. Castleton eloquently.
"The public nowadays don't appreciate pictures! They'll look at them in
galleries, especially when the admission is free, but you can't get them
to buy. They hang their drawing-rooms with cheap prints instead of water-
colours, and go to the photographers instead of the portrait-painter. If
you can design something to advertise mustard or cocoa you may make a
little money, but not by pure art! It's as dead as the ancient Greeks.
This is a commercial age. Music's as bad. Your pianists are glad to take
posts to play at the cinemas! I wish Claudia success; but her training is
the business of the college, not mine, and _they'll_ have to bring
her out. I've nothing to do with it. No; Morland must realise he's living
in the twentieth century, and has to earn his bread and butter. Art
doesn't pay, and that's the fact! Have it as a hobby if you wish, but
don't depend upon it!"
So Morland, who, like many young fellows of artistic calibre, had a
general affection for the muses but no very marked vocation for anything,
had been pitchforked into engineering, and was making quite tolerable
progress, and would possibly support himself later on, but always with
the feeling that life was commonplace and unromantic, and that a splendid
vision had been somewhere just round the corner, only unfortunately
missed. He allowed his artistic temperament to run loose during the
holidays. He would go up to Bella Vista and play for hours on the
Macleods' new grand piano, improvising beautiful airs, and sending Fay
"Why don't you write them down right away?" she demanded.
"What's the use? No one would publish them if I did. The publishers are
fed up with young composers wanting a hearing. I've made up my mind to be
just an amateur--nothing more."
"I'm not sure," ventured Mrs. Macleod, "whether you won't have the best
of it. After all, 'amateur' means 'lover,' and the art and the music that
you pursue for pure pleasure will be more to you than what you might have
had to produce for the sake of bread and butter. Why must our standard in
these things always be the commercial one, 'does it pay?' The fact of
making it pay often degrades it. My theory is that a man can have his
business, and love his hobby just as he loves his wife, without turning
it into L s. d. Look at my husband! In his own office there isn't any one
in America knows more about motor fittings, but once outside the office
his heart and soul is in painting. I believe he's a happier man for doing
"Do you really think so? It cheers me up! When I'm a full-blown engineer,
perhaps I'll make enough to buy a grand piano at any rate. That's one way
of looking at it. It's awfully kind of you to let me come here and thump
away on yours."
"We enjoy having you, so use it whenever you like. It's always absolutely
at your disposal."
Morland was not the only one of the party who was amusing his leisure
hours. Bevis also had hobbies. He had taken up photography, had turned an
attic at Grimbal's Farm into a dark room, and was trying many
experiments. Moreover, his lawyers had at last yielded to his urgent
entreaties and had allowed him to buy a small sailing yacht. She was not
a racing craft, or remarkably smart in any way, but she was his own, and
the joy of possession was supreme. He rechristened her The Kittiwake,
painting in her new name with much satisfaction, and he made trial trips
in her along the coast as far as Port Sennen. He was extremely anxious to
take Mavis and Merle and Clive with him, but that was strictly prohibited
by Mrs. Tremayne, who would not allow either her son or her visitors to
"It's too big a risk, and I know what Clive is! Young Talland can swim
like a fish if he upsets his yacht, but _you_ can't!"
"We can swim!" protested Merle.
"A little, close by the shore, I daresay, but that's nothing if you're
plunged into deep water. I can't take the responsibility of letting you
go. Never mind! We'll make up a party one day and take a motor-boat with
a proper experienced boatman. Young Talland can join us then if he
Mavis and Merle were disappointed almost to the point of tears. They had
duly admired _The Kittiwake_ in the harbour, and they simply longed
to go on board. It seemed so particularly tempting when they had such a
cordial invitation, and so aggravating to be obliged to decline.
"Cousin Nora's very nervous," urged Mavis in extenuation. "She'd be
afraid of our being drowned if we went on a duck-pond."
Bevis passed over the slur on his seamanship.
"It's all right!" he answered quietly, but there was a certain set
obstinate look about his mouth which the girls knew well, and which meant
that he intended if possible to get his own way, though he said nothing
more at the time.
[Illustration: HE KEPT THEM DAWDLING]
It was perhaps as well for everybody's peace of mind that he should not
take Clive boating, for the boy was venturesome and mischievous, and
rather out of hand except when his father was by. He often made the
girls' hair almost stand on end by his pranks at the verge of the cliffs,
and was sometimes the cause of considerable bad language among the
sailors when he interfered with their nets or tar-pots down on the quay.
It was a relief to Mavis and Merle when Mr. Tremayne took him out in the
side-car, and they knew that for some hours at least they need not be
responsible for his behaviour. They were both fond of botany, and were
enthusiastically making collections of wild flowers to press for their
holiday task. Bevis was a good ally in this respect, and would often call
in at Burswood Farm with some uncommon specimen which he thought they had
not yet found for themselves. He had come on this errand one morning, and
was helping Mavis to screw up her pressing boards, when Mrs. Tremayne
happened to mention the scarcity of shells in the neighbourhood of
"I've hardly found any!" she remarked. "And I'm so annoyed, because it
happens to be my particular hobby. I'm collecting them. I suppose the
coast is too rocky and they get broken. They're always very local
"There's just one place I know where you might find some," said Bevis.
"It's a particular patch of sand near Gurgan Point. I saw some beauties
there a while ago. I'll show you where it is with pleasure if you like."
"Oh, thanks! That would be delightful," beamed Mrs. Tremayne. "The girls
and I could go to-day if you can take us. My husband and Clive are out
with the motor-bike, so it's a splendid opportunity."
"Let me see! The tide should be just right this afternoon," agreed Bevis
cheerfully. "Mavis and Merle know the way to Gurgan Point. If they'll
take you there and down the path to the cove, I'll come round in the
yacht and meet you. Shall we say at three o'clock?"
"That would be exactly nice time after lunch."
"Very well, I'll be there."
Bevis went back to Grimbal's Farm chuckling to himself, though he did not
betray the cause of his amusement to anybody. He hunted out a hamper and
packed it with cups and saucers, a methylated spirit-lamp, and other
picnic requisites. On his way to the quay he stopped at the
confectioner's and bought cakes and fancy biscuits. He placed these
comestibles inside the hamper, and stowed it away in the locker of _The
Kittiwake_. At two o'clock he was out of the harbour, and was off in
the direction of Gurgan Point.
Mavis and Merle and Cousin Nora, bearing baskets in which to place
shells, had a pleasant walk along the cliffs, and descended the path to
the trysting-place. They found Bevis waiting for them in the cove. He had
moored _The Kittiwake_ to a buoy, and now led the way over the sands
to a sort of little peninsula that jutted out into the sea. Here he had
beached his dinghy.
"This is the shell-bank. You'll find heaps of them here!" he said.
Undoubtedly he had brought them to the right place. There were shells in
abundance, and of many different kinds, delicate pink ones, tiny cowries,
twisted wentletraps, scallops, screw-shells, and some like mother-of-
pearl. Mrs. Tremayne was in raptures, and went down on her knees to
gather them. There was such a tempting variety that it was difficult to
stop, and in the excitement of the quest the time simply fled.
"I haven't brought my watch!" declared Mrs. Tremayne once.
"Oh, it's quite early yet!" Bevis assured her. "I've lighted the spirit-
lamp, and I'm going to make you some tea."
He had carried the hamper on to the sands, and was busy setting out his
cups and saucers in a sheltered place behind some rocks, 'to be out of
the wind,' as he carefully explained. When his kettle boiled he filled
the tea-pot, and summoned his guests.
"You've chosen a snug spot!" said Mrs. Tremayne, walking along with her
eyes on the sands still looking for shells.
And Merle, who was watching a white line of advancing waves, added:
"Lovely and snug, only I hope we shan't get--"
She meant to say 'surrounded,' but Bevis pulled such a fearful face at
her behind Cousin Nora's back that she stopped short and let him finish
"We shan't get shells while we're having tea, of course! You can look for
some more afterwards if you haven't enough."
"Oh, surely, we have heaps and heaps! And simply exquisite ones! These
tiny yellow babies are just perfect. I like them better than the big
grandfathers," exulted Mavis.
Bevis made a polite but leisurely host. He insisted on boiling some more
water, which was not really wanted, but which took a long time, and he
spun out his own tea interminably.
"It's so jolly here under the rocks!" he declared. "I like the _dolce
far niente_--makes one think of lotus-eaters and all the rest of it.
Shall I help you sort your shells? You could wash them in the tea-cups.
It's no use carrying home surplus sand. There's some water left in the
On one pretext or another he kept them dawdling under the rocks, till
Mrs. Tremayne at last rose up and declared they really must be starting
back for the cove.
"We shall be having the tide coming in if we don't mind," she said. "Why!
She might well exclaim, for while they had been sitting with their backs
to the sea the water had all the while been lapping slowly in and had
changed their peninsula into an island. They were entirely surrounded,
and quite a wide channel lay between themselves and the shore. Mrs.
Tremayne looked much alarmed, but Bevis took the matter with the utmost
"It's all right! I've the dinghy here, and I can row you to the yacht.
I'd land you in the cove if I could, but it really wouldn't be safe
because of the rocks. I'll sail you all back to Chagmouth and run you
into the harbour."
There was evidently nothing else to be done, and though Cousin Nora might
not enjoy the prospect of yachting, she was obliged to accept Bevis's
It was quite a pleasant little excursion from Gurgan Point to the
harbour; the sea was luckily calm, but there was sufficient breeze to
enable The Kittiwake to skim over the water like her sea-gull namesake.
The girls, who by this time had grasped the depths of their friend's
plot, enjoyed the situation immensely. They were actually having their
coveted sail in the very company of the dear lady who had so expressly
forbidden the jaunt, and all without the slightest friction or trouble.
Bevis, indeed, was posing as rescuer and accepting grateful thanks.
"It's a lesson to us all to watch the tide and not sit talking with our
backs to the sea!" said Cousin Nora virtuously.
"It is indeed!" answered Bevis, so gravely that Merle had to stuff her
handkerchief into her mouth to stifle her chortles of mirth.
He brought them into the harbour, and helped them to land on the steps of
"Wasn't I clever?" he whispered, as he handed Mavis her basket of shells.
"When I really make up my mind to get a thing, I get it!"
The Haunted Tree
There were so many jolly friends staying at Chagmouth at present that
they made a most delightful circle. Generally they all managed to meet
every day, and the usual trysting-place was The Haven, partly because it
was in so central a situation for everybody, but chiefly because the
kind-hearted, unconventional Castletons were ready at any and every time
to welcome visitors, and would allow friends to 'drop in' in true
Bohemian fashion, quite regardless of whatever happened to be taking
place in the household. From the studio, indeed, they were excluded while
Mr. Castleton was at his easel, but they were allowed to use it when he
was not working, and it proved admirable for either games, theatricals,
or dancing. With so many costumes in the cupboard it was easy to get up
charades, and they had much fun over acting. Perhaps the most successful
was a small performance of 'The Babes in the Wood,' given by the
Castleton children, with Perugia and Gabriel, lovely in Elizabethan
costume, as 'the babes' John and Jane; Madox and Constable as the two
villains 'Daggersdrawn' and 'Triggertight,' who abandoned them in the
wood; and Lilith as the beneficent fairy 'Dewdrop,' who found them and
whisked them away to bonny Elfland. The little Castletons had natural
dramatic instincts and were adepts at posing, so their play was really
very pretty. Madox, in especial, absolutely excelled himself as a robber
and came out tremendously. He bowed gallantly in response to the storm of
applause, and blew an airy kiss to Merle, who nearly collapsed with
mirth. She thought her ten-year-old admirer deserved something in return
for so graceful an attention, so she sent him a box of chocolates with a
few verses written on a sheet of paper and placed inside.
You're a very handsome fellow,
So gallant and so gay;
And I really blush to tell you,
But you've stole my heart away.
When you took the part of Daggersdrawn,
My bosom swelled with pride
To hear your voice of thunder
And see your manly stride.
You seized the nasty pistols up
Without a sign of fear,
And thrust and parried with your sword
Just like a Cavalier.
As you've escaped the lonesome wood--
For so the story ends--
I send these chocs, with best regards,
And beg we may be friends.
Merle had no doubt the chocolates would be appreciated, but she had not
expected to receive back a poetical effusion from her small knight. He
evidently, however, had some slight gift for minstrelsy, for one day
there was a tremendous rap on the front-door knocker at Burswood Farm,
then a sound of running footsteps, and inside the letter-box was a note
addressed to 'Miss Merle Ramsay,' in a rather wobbly and unformed hand.
At the top of the sheet of paper was painted a boat with brown sails on a
blue sea, and underneath was written:
You ask me, dear, will I be thine?
How can you such a question ask
When, 'neath the robber's fearful mask,
I languish for thee, lady mine!
Thou art the lady that I love;
Thou art the lady that I chose.
Oh, fly with me from friends and foes!
Oh, for the wings of a dove!
O sail with me to a southern sea,
To where an isle is fair and warm,
And the sea around it bright and calm:
O Merle, will you come with me?
But for the nasty pistols, miss,
I have one ready to shoot me dead!
For already my heart is heavy as lead
Unless you favour my wish!
[Footnote: These verses were really composed by a little boy.]
It's rather silly but it's the best I can rite. M C.
In the privacy of the parlour Merle had a good laugh with Mavis over what
they termed her first love-letter.
"'Oh, for the wings of a dove!'" quoted Merle. "It's so Biblical, isn't
it? He's a dear, all the same! I love him better even than Constable.
He's such a bright little chap. Don't tell Clive, or he'd tease Madox to
death about this. It must be an absolute secret. I can just picture the
child sitting writing it with his sticky little fingers!"
"You mustn't let him know about 'Sweet William,' or there'll be a free
fight!" laughed Mavis.
William was Mrs. Treasure's little boy, and also an ardent admirer of
Merle, who gave him chocolates when she met him in the garden or the
stackyard. In spite of his mother's injunctions to 'Behave and not
trouble the visitors,' he would hang about the passages to present Merle
with handfuls of ferns and flowers grabbed at random from the hedgerows
and of no botanical value whatever; or sometimes the parlour window would
be cautiously opened from the outside, a pair of bright eyes would
appear, and a small grubby hand would push in a bird's egg or some other
country trophy as an offering. It was William who told Merle about the
'headless horseman,' a phantom rider who was reported to gallop down the
road after dusk, and whom Chagmouth mothers found useful as a bogey to
frighten their children with.
"He'll get you if you're out when it's dark!" said William, with round
"What would he do with you if he did?" asked Merle.
But such a pitch of horror was beyond the limit of William's imagination,
and he could only reaffirm his original statement.
Of course the girls and Clive were very excited to learn that a real live
ghost was supposed to haunt the neighbourhood. They discussed it at the
dinner-table over the jam-tart and cream.
"We've certainly heard a sort of trotting sound when we've been in bed at
night," said Mavis, anxious to establish evidence. "We didn't think of
getting up to look out of the window, but I don't suppose we could have
seen on to the road if we had."
"Yes; I remember people used to believe in the 'headless horseman,'" said
Mr. Tremayne, who had known Chagmouth very well as a boy. "There was a
demon dog, too, that ran down Tinkers' Lane, and an old lady who 'walked'
by the well."
A delighted howl arose from the family at the mention of two more spooks.
"O--o--h! Tell us about the demon dog!" implored Clive.
"It had eyes as big as saucers, and they shone like fire. It used to
scuttle along the lane, and no one ever waited to see where it went,
though there used to be a hole in a bank where I was told it had once
"Was it _really_ ever seen?" asked Merle.
"I believe all these phantoms were clever devices of the smugglers in the
old days, when it was very desirable to have the roads quiet at night in
order to carry about contraband goods. It would be quite easy to fake a
demon dog. You take a black retriever, fasten two cardboard circles
smeared with phosphorus round his eyes, give him a kick, and send him
running down a dark road, and every one who met him would have hysterics.
As for the headless horseman, that's also a well-known smugglers' dodge
--false shoulders can be made and fixed on a level with the top of your
head, and covered with a cloak, so that the apparently headless man has
eyes in the middle of his chest, and can see to ride uncommonly well. It
was generally to somebody's interest to make up these ghosts and frighten
"You take all the romance out of it!" pouted Mavis.
In spite of Mr. Tremayne's most reasonable explanations they clung to the
supernatural side of the stories. It was much more interesting to picture
the demon dog as the property of his Satanic Majesty, than to believe it
an ordinary black retriever with circles of phosphorus round its eyes.
"I vote we go and try and see it for ourselves!" suggested Clive, waxing
bold one evening. The girls agreed, so just before bedtime they sallied
forth in the direction of Tinkers' Lane, a lonely stretch of road that
led from the hillside towards the sea. They were all three feeling half
valiant and half scared, and each had brought some species of protection.
Mavis carried a prayer-book and a little ivory cross, Merle grasped a
poker, and Clive was armed with the hatchet from the wood-pile. So long
as they were on the uplands and could see the stars they marched along
tolerably bravely, but presently Tinkers' Lane turned downhill, and, like
most of its kind in Devon, ran between high fern-grown banks, on the tops
of which grew trees whose boughs almost met overhead and made an archway.
To plunge down here was like taking a dip into Dante's 'Inferno,' it
looked so particularly dark and gloomy, and such a suitable place for
"I wish we'd brought a lantern with us!" murmured Mavis.
"Then we shouldn't see any spooks!" declared Merle. "Come along! Let's go
as far as the old gate at any rate. I dare you both to come! Who's
Clive certainly was not going to show the white feather, and Mavis,
though rather nervy, preferred to venture forward with the others than to
remain by herself, so it ended in their all going on, arm-in-arm. They
had worked themselves to such a pitch of excitement that the whole
atmosphere seemed charged with the supernatural. There were mysterious
groanings and rustlings in the hedge, and the long branches of the trees
moaned as they swayed. It was so dark they were almost groping their way,
and could barely see the banks on either side. Suddenly, through a rift
in the trees came a faint gleam of starlight, and oh! horror of horrors!
What was that black dog-like object running rapidly towards them up the
lane? Mavis, whose over-sensitive nerves were strung up to the last
point, yelled with terror, and clung screaming to Merle, who gave a
shriek of agony herself as the phantom approached and leaped at them.
"Whatever's the matter?" cried a voice, and a figure came hurrying
forward and flashed an electric torch upon the scene.
In the circle of light thus formed the girls saw nothing more alarming
than Bevis and his spaniel Fan, who was jumping up affectionately at
Merle and licking her hands. They drew long breaths and then laughed.
"They thought you were Old Nick himself and his demon dog!" vouchsafed
Clive, very brave now the alarm was over.
"What are you all doing down Tinkers' Lane so late as this?" asked Bevis.
"We came out to see spooks!"
"You won't find anything worse than Fan and myself! Better let us take
"Oh, I wish you would," said Mavis, accepting the escort with alacrity.
"I don't think I like this dark place. I'm rather scared still. I don't
wonder people see bogeys here. If you'd been riding, Bevis, I should
certainly have taken you for the headless horseman. He rides here,
"I'll tackle him for you if we meet him, never fear!" laughed Bevis.
"I'll tell him it isn't respectable to go about without a head, and he
must put it on again at once! All the same, though" (more gravely), "I
think, if I were you, I wouldn't come down this lane in the dark all by
"We certainly shan't!"
"It's a good thing I didn't use the hatchet on poor Fan," said Clive,
forbearing to mention that he had been huddling in the hedge, much too
paralysed to take such violent measures.
"Bless her! She's an angel dog--not a demon!" murmured Merle, fondling
the silky ears that pressed close to her dress. "But you gave your auntie
rather a scare, darling! Another time you mustn't bounce upon her in the
dark! You must be a good girlie, and remember!"
The adventurous trio were not at all sorry to be taken safely to their
own gateway by Bevis, but all the same they felt a little disappointed
that they had no real peep at phantom forms in the lane. The girls did
not intend to tell their experience to William, but Clive let it out, so
they had to give him the full account. He looked at them with awe-struck
"Suppose it had really been the ghost and it had got you!" he ventured.
William took the supernatural side of life seriously. It was no laughing
matter to him. On the very next day he came to Merle with important news.
"There's something queer in the wood above the house. I was up there with
Connie, and we both heard it!"
Of course Merle had to go and investigate. William escorted her at once
to the spot. There was a large elm just at the edge of the wood, and
certainly it was emitting very strange sounds. At intervals a curious
clicking whirr came from among the branches. Mr. and Mrs. Treasure, who
had also been informed of the mysterious noises, had hurried up from the
farm with little Connie. They stood staring upwards in much perplexity.
"Could it be a bird?" suggested Merle.
"That's no bird! It's something beyond that!" said Mr. Treasure solemnly.
"Oh! Is it an omen? My mother's been ill the last fortnight!" exclaimed
Mrs. Treasure in much distress.
"Maybe it's a warning of some kind or another!" opined the postman, who
had been passing and had joined the party.
Whatever might occasion the noises, they continued with great regularity.
The postman, continuing his round, spread news of the strange happening,
and soon quite a number of people came into the wood to listen for
themselves. No one was in the least able to account for the sounds, and
the general opinion was that the tree was haunted. Superstition ran rife,
and most of the neighbours considered it must be a portent. Poor Mrs.
Treasure began to be quite sure it had some intimate connection with her
mother's illness. Several girls were weeping hysterically, and one of
them asked if the end of the world was coming. Meantime, more and more
people kept crowding into the wood, and the idea spread that some
disaster was imminent.
"My John's out with the trawler!" wailed one woman. "I wish I'd not let
him go! As like as not he'll be wrecked!"
"You never know!" agreed a friend.
Old Grandfather Treasure, who had hobbled up from the stackyard, quoted
texts from Scripture and began to improve the occasion. His daughter-in-
law, with Connie clasped in her arms, sobbed convulsively.
Into the midst of all this excitement suddenly strode Bevis.
"I heard about it down on the quay," he said. "I came up at once. I'll
soon show you what it is!"
He was buckling climbing-irons on to his legs while he spoke, and with
the aid of these he rapidly mounted the elm tree to where the boughs
forked, put his hand into a hollow, and drew out a wooden box, which he
brought down with him.
"It's nothing at all ghostly," he explained. "The fact is I'm fearfully
keen on photographing birds, and I've just got a cinema camera. There's a
sparrow-hawk's nest in the next tree, and I want to take pictures of it;
only I knew the clicking of the cinema business would scare them away
probably for hours, so I made a little mechanical contrivance that would
go on clicking and let them get used to the noise, so that they'd take no
notice when I really went to work. You can look at it if you want to."
It was such a simple explanation that those among the neighbours who had
most loudly expressed superstitious fears looked rather foolish, and the
crowd began to melt away.
"Why didn't you tell us about it, Bevis?" asked Merle in private.
"Well, Soeurette, the fact is the birds are so shy that the fewer people
who go and watch them the better for the success of a photograph. I'm
afraid this will have sent them off altogether. Annoying, isn't it? Can't
be helped, though, now. It's a good dodge all the same, and I shall try
it again in some other tree when I can find a nest I want to take. Better
luck next time, I hope!"
The precious delightful holidays at Chagmouth seemed to be flying only
too fast. All the various young people were busy with their several
hobbies, but they liked to meet and compare notes about them, and took a
keen interest in one another's achievements. Bevis's bird-photography,
and especially his cinema camera, was highly appreciated, particularly by
the younger members of the party, who persistently tried to track him and
follow him, greatly to his embarrassment, for their presence frightened
the birds away and defeated the very object for which he had gone out.
Mavis had struck up a friendship with Miss Lindsay and Lorraine
Forrester, and often went to see them at the studio which they had
temporarily hired. Lorraine's principal branch of art was sculpture, and
she was modelling a bust of Morland, who came readily for sittings,
though he had refused point-blank to act model for his father.
The two were on terms of what Lorraine called "sensible friendship,"
which Mavis suspected might mean a good deal more some day, if Morland
stopped merely drifting and put his shoulder in dead earnest to the wheel
of life. Lorraine was much the stronger character of the two, and could
generally wind up Morland's ambition while he was with her, though it
often came down again with a run as soon as her influence was removed.
Whether or no her feelings went deeper than she would at present allow,
she was a loyal chum to him, and almost the only person who could really
persuade him to work. To Claudia also Lorraine was a splendid friend. The
girls lived together at a Students' Hostel in London, and shared all
their jaunts and pleasures. Claudia held a scholarship at a college of
music, and was training for grand opera. With her talent and lovely face
she had good prospects before her, but the Castleton strain was strong in
her, as also in Morland, and it needed Lorraine's insistent urging to
make her realise that it does not do only to dream your ideals, that you
must toil at them with strong hands and earth-stained fingers, and that
on this physical plane no success can ever be achieved without hard work.
"They'll both of them absolutely have to be towed through life!" thought
Mavis. "I could shake the whole family sometimes. Beata's the most
practical, but the others might have strayed out of a poetry book! Of
course they're all perfectly charming and romantic, but you want to frame
them and glaze them and hang them in exhibitions, not set them to do
ordinary every-day things. They don't fit somehow into the twentieth
century. Lorraine stirs them up like yeast. She'll be the making of
Morland if she elects to take on so big a job."
The Ramsay girls were very much attracted by the Macleods. They liked Fay
and her father and mother, whose experience of the world and sensible
views appealed to them. They often went to Bella Vista and enjoyed a
chat, or sat looking at American art magazines, while Morland, who could
not keep away from the grand piano, sat improvising memories of Debussy
or compositions of his own. Mrs. Macleod was one of those delightful
women who can appreciate other people's daughters as well as their own.
Her adoration for Fay did not hinder her from genuinely admiring Mavis
and Merle and Romola, and the other young friends who flocked to her
hospitable house. She had a nice word for them all, and was so
sympathetic that they always wanted to tell her of their little
achievements. It was a most congenial atmosphere.
"She's such a _dear_!" commented Mavis. "Now when Fay and I went out
painting together, she praised my sketch, although it was a daub compared
with Fay's! Once I was silly enough to show one of my efforts to Mrs.
Earnshaw; she put on her pince-nez, and looked at it most critically, and
said,' Oh, you must see _Opal's_ work! She's done some really
_beautiful_ paintings at Brackenfield! They know how to teach
there!' I felt so squashed!"
"Mrs. Earnshaw is the limit!" agreed Merle. "The last time I went to tea
there-when you had a cold and couldn't go-she asked me to play the piano.
I'd brought my music, but I didn't like to seem too anxious, so I said
I'd rather not. 'Oh, never mind then!' she said, 'you play something,
darling!' (to Opal). And then she whispered proudly to me, 'Opal plays
magnificently since she's been to Brackenfield!' I wanted to sing out
'Cock-a-doodle-doo!' only I remembered my manners. Then a friend came in,
and she introduced us. 'This is Miss Ramsay,' she said casually, 'and
this (with immense pride) is our daughter Opal!' I felt inclined to
quote, 'Look on this picture and on that!' It was so evident which of us
he was expected to take notice of! I simply wasn't to be in it at all!"
"Opal's more decent, though, since she's been at Brackenfield."
"There was room for improvement. I shall never like her, not if I know
her to all eternity."
The glorious three weeks at Chagmouth were over at last, and there would
be no more picnics on the beach, or walks down primrose-decked lanes, or
rambles on the cliffs, or merry parties at The Haven or Bella Vista, or
expeditions in search of flowers or shells. The girls were almost weeping
when it came to saying good-bye to Burswood Farm, and to Mr. and Mrs.
Treasure, and William and little Connie, and Ethel the small servant
(brought up from the village to wait on the visitors), and Charlie, the
boy who helped to milk the cows and weed the fields. Mavis and Merle had
been very busy concocting one of their wonderful rhyming effusions, and
wrote it in the Visitors' Book, much to the delight of their landlady,
who appreciated such souvenirs.
Who welcomed us to Burswood Farm
Amid the heart of Devon's charm,
With skies so blue and seas so calm?
'Twas Mrs. Treasure.
Who was it chopped our logs of wood
To make our fires so bright and good,
And brought from Durracombe our food?
'Twas Mr. Treasure.
Who brought our luggage to the door
And then went back to fetch some more,
And showed us cows and pigs galore?
Who made our boots and shoes to shine,
And brought us plates wherewith to dine,
And boiled our breakfast eggs by nine?
Who was it gave us ferns so green
From hedges that we'd often seen,
And called the holiday a dream?
Who was it down the passage ran
And shouted, 'Kiss me if you can!'
And hid her face when we began?
Who was it left with many a sigh,
As to the farm we said good-bye,
And wanted sheets wherein to cry?
The very best of things, however, must come some time to an end; schools
were reopening, college terms recommencing, Mr. Tremayne's duties claimed
him in London, and, most prosaic of all, another batch of visitors was
expected at Burswood, so that they could no longer have the rooms. After
tremendous leave-takings the jolly party separated, Dr. Ramsay fetching
Mavis and Merle in the car, while Mr. and Mrs. Tremayne took Clive home
with them, for he was to try another term at his preparatory school. It
seemed quite quiet at Bridge House without their lively young cousin,
though in some ways his absence was rather a relief. After his many
escapades at Chagmouth the girls felt that discipline under a headmaster
would be very wholesome for him. They themselves were busy with the work
of the coming term, and not sorry to be free from his continual
interruption of their preparation time. There were other things besides
lessons. They meant to take up tennis very seriously, and practise both
on the school courts and at home. Miss Mitchell was a tennis enthusiast
and also Miss Barnes.
"If we can only persuade Miss Hopkins and Mademoiselle to do their duty
we could have a match 'Mistresses versus Girls,'" sighed Merle. "It would
be something new at 'The Moorings,' and such an excitement for every
"I wish they would!"
"If I were a boarder I'd simply _make_ them! What they want is
somebody to keep them up to it. Day-girls are really very much hampered.
They haven't half a chance when they go home from school at four o'clock.
I really sometimes think I'd like to be a boarder, just for the fun of
It is not very often we get what we want, but on this occasion Fortune
waved a fairy wand and gave Merle the luck she coveted. It happened that
the cook at Bridge House developed a sore throat, and Dr. Ramsay, having
his suspicions, had the drains examined and found them to be in an
exceedingly wrong condition. It was necessary to take them up at once,
and as the process would probably be unpleasant, Mrs. Ramsay arranged for
the girls to stay at 'The Moorings' until everything was once more in
good sanitary condition.
"You can't be too careful where young people are concerned," was her
motto. "Mavis is so marvellously well now that we don't want to run any
risks, and Merle, too, strong though she is, will be better out of the
way of drains. We elders can take our chance."
To be temporarily transformed into boarders was a novel experience for
the girls. To Merle it meant an opportunity for making a much more
intimate acquaintance with her idol Miss Mitchell, with whom she would
now be at close quarters. To sit at the same table with her for meals
seemed an unspeakable privilege. Merle was at the age for enthusiastic
hero-worship, and in her eyes the popular mistress almost wore a halo.
That she bestowed no particular tokens of favour made the devotion none
the less, because it gave an added incentive for trying to win at least a
glance or a smile.
Though Merle's schoolgirl affections centred in Miss Mitchell, whose
modern, up-to-date, twentieth-century methods and opinions entirely
appealed to her, Mavis was glad to see something more of Miss Pollard and
Miss Fanny. She had loved 'The Moorings' best as it was a year ago, a
little 'homey' school, where the classes had been like working with a
private governess. She immensely admired the two sweet, grey-haired
sisters, with their refined, cultured atmosphere and beautiful,
courteous, dignified manner. They seemed the epitome of the nineteenth
century, and marked a different era, a something very precious that was
rapidly passing away. If flowers are the symbols of our personalities she
would have set them down as rosemary and lavender. They had withdrawn
almost entirely from teaching, so that the day-girls now saw little of
them, but in the hostel they still reigned supreme, and kept to their old
custom of amusing the youngest boarders for half an hour before bedtime.
The elder ones, owing to the large amount of preparation required under
the new regime, could very rarely find time now to come and join this
pleasant circle, which met in quite an informal manner in Miss Pollard's
room. To Mavis it was a bigger attraction even than tennis, and she would
give up her turn at the courts, or would hurry over her home-work, in
order to creep in among the juniors for that cosy half-hour.
"Have you written down any more Devonshire folk-tales?" she asked once.
"I do so love your stories of the neighbourhood. It makes the pixies seem
almost real when you tell about them!"
"They seemed real to the old people from whom I heard them years ago, and
who had learnt them from their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. I
loved them when I was a child. Yes; they're written in my little
manuscript book. I put them carefully down for fear I might forget them.
Read you one? If the others would like it! We haven't had a fairy tale
for quite a long time, have we, Doreen?"
As the younger children plumped for a story, Miss Pollard fetched her
manuscript volume, and hunted for something they had not yet heard. She
was a most excellent reader, having that charm of voice and vividness of
expression which makes a narrative live before its hearers. It was as if
some electric cord linked her with those who listened, and restless
little fidgets would sit quite quietly for as long as she chose to go on.
The tale which she selected to-night was:
In the days when good King Arthur ruled all the west country from Exeter
to Land's End, a maiden named Ginnifer lived with her father in a little,
round, stone hut on the top of Dartmoor. They were poor, but she was a
good girl, and she could spin, and weave baskets, and do many things
about the house. One day a young hunter knocked at the door and asked for
hospitality, and as there was much game to be had in the neighbourhood he
remained for many weeks as a guest of the cottage, going out every day
fishing or fowling, and sharing his captures with his hosts. No doubt
Ginnifer's blue eyes and gentle glances were the main attraction, and in
a short time indeed the young folk became attached to one another. It was
only when Ginnifer's father at length questioned the youth, that he
confessed to being the son of the great lord of the neighbourhood, who
lived in the big Castle beside the river beyond the moor. This was sad
news for Ginnifer, for in those days a young noble might not wed with a
poor girl, and must marry a bride who could bring a rich dowry with her
of jewels and ornaments and silver money. So she quietly told her
sweetheart to go back to his father, and learn to forget her; and he went
away very sadly, vowing he would get permission to return and marry her,
or else he would never wed anyone. When he was gone, Ginnifer went out
over the moor among the heather, where she might fight her grief alone,
with only the birds and the flowers to see her weep. She lay on the short
moorland grass among the sweet bog-myrtle and asphodel, until the sun was
setting in a red ball over the hillside. Then, all of a sudden, she heard
a rustling and a whispering like countless leaves blown by an autumn
"Who is this?" said a voice. "Who dares to lie in our pixie ring?"
"It's a mortal! A mortal!" cried another.
Ginnifer raised her head. All the moor was alive with tiny pixies, whose
green garments were like moving fronds of fern. They crowded eagerly
"It's Ginnifer!" they said. "Ginnifer who lives in the stone hut on the
moor! Ginnifer who tended the plover with the broken wing, and watered
the harebells that were withering in the burning sun, and who treads so
lightly that the birds don't trouble to fly away from her. We know her
kindness and her gentle heart, for the 'good folk' watch over the
children of the earth, and, unseen, we have followed her through all her
simple life. Pretty Ginnifer, tell us your trouble. The pixies cannot
bear to see you weep."
They stroked her hair with their tiny fingers, they bathed her eyes with
dewdrops and wiped them with the petals of a wild rose. At first Ginnifer
was frightened, but the little folk were so kind that she took courage
and told them her trouble. They began to dance and jump about with
delight, and clapped their little hands.
"Is that all?" they shouted. "Would he wed you if you were a great lady?
Tell us what dowry his father would expect his bride to bring?"
"Silks and jewels!" sobbed poor Ginnifer, "and rich embroidered dresses,
and trinkets of gold, and caskets of silver money! And I have nothing at
The pixies laughed lustily, throwing up their wee green caps into the air
and catching them again for sheer joy.
"Ginnifer dear! We'll find you your dowry! Quick! Let us set to work! We
must finish our task before daybreak."
By this time the moon had risen and had flooded the moor with light. Like
a flight of busy buzzing bees the little people went flitting up and
down. They pulled the gossamer from the gorse bushes and wove it into the
finest silk; they caught the great brown moths and sheared their soft fur
and spun it on the daintiest little spinning-wheels in the world; and
with skilful touches they wove together the harebells and the wild rose
petals into the most wonderful of embroidered gowns. The tears which
Ginnifer had shed in her sorrow lay shining among the grass, and gathered
up by magic fingers they turned into pearls and diamonds fit for a queen.
The gorse flowers became golden ornaments, and the little smooth pebbles
in the brook changed into pieces of silver money.
The pixies dressed Ginnifer in the softest of the gossamer silk robes,
they clasped the golden bracelets round her arms and twisted diamonds
into her hair.
"Now she is a fairy princess," they said. "There is none lovelier in all
Elfland. We must build her a palace worthy of her!"
Hither and thither they ran, gathering up the dewdrops, and piling them
one above the other till the most wonderful Castle rose up on the
hillside: as clear as glass, it shone with all the colours of the
rainbow, and here they stored the silks and the beautiful ornaments and
the caskets of silver money.
Next morning Ginnifer's lover came riding back to tell her that his
father forbade the match, but that he meant to marry her whether or no.
And lo and behold! he found her at the door of a pixie palace, and
directly he set foot inside it, it sank through the ground and carried
them both with it into Elfland. And there they have lived ever since, as
happy as the pixies themselves, though no one on earth saw them any more.
But sometimes when the late sickle moon shines over the moor, travellers
who have lost their way have been set in the right path by a lovely lady
in gauzy green garments, who sprang up, as it seemed, from nowhere, and
vanished away again into the mist, and to this day the children, hunting
for bilberries on the hillside, call the shining dewdrops 'Ginnifer's
"Have you ever seen any pixies yourself, Miss Pollard?" asked Doreen
"No; but I've seen the dewdrops shining just like diamonds, and I've seen
the mist make wonderful pixie castles in the moonlight. We can live in a
fairy world of our own if we look at the right things. It depends on your
eyes. Those people who keep their childhood have the pixies all round
"You have!" said Mavis, as Miss Pollard rose to say good-night to her
circle of listeners. "You're like Peter Pan, and never grow old!"
"I had such a happy childhood! And it seemed so much the best part of
life that I've always been reluctant to let the glamour go. Children
ought to be brought up on fairy tales! They're incipient poetry, and
should be woven into the web of our lives as a beautiful border, before
all the dark prose part follows. If the shuttle only weaves matter-of-
fact threads it spoils the pattern!"
The Tadpole Club
It was quite interesting to be a boarder at 'The Moorings,' though it had
its more sober side, particularly for Merle. Her trouble lay in the fact
that though she was a school officer from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M., out of those
hours her authority was non-existent. Iva and Nesta were hostel
monitresses, and they had quite plainly and firmly given her to
understand that they did not expect any interference. They were perfectly
within their rights, and Merle knew it, but she chafed nevertheless. The
fact was that Iva and Nesta, accustomed to the old traditions of 'The
Moorings,' when there were only about a dozen boarders, were quite unable
to cope with the new order of things, and girls who had been to other
schools took decided advantage of their slackness. Merle, whose motto was
'once a monitress always a monitress,' could not see why she might
reprove Norma Bradley in the playground, but must allow that damsel
ostentatiously to do exactly the same act in the recreation room under
her very nose.
"It's so bad for the kids!" she raged. "They know Iva and Nesta are weak
and just pretend not to notice, so as to have no fuss. I'm sure Miss
Mitchell can't know all that goes on or she'd make some different
arrangement. You feel in another element when you get into the hostel.
It's 'do as you like and don't bother me so long as you don't go too far
and aren't found out.' It might be all very well in the old days last
year, but it's wrecking the show now. I wouldn't have believed it if I
didn't see it with my own eyes."
The chief offenders were three Third form girls, Norma Bradley, Biddy
Adams, and Daisy Donovan, who, with those former firebrands Winnie
Osborne and Joyce Colman, had formed a kind of Cabal, whose object seemed
to be to find out how far rules might be evaded.
"They've more time than we have, and they simply 'rag' about and 'play
the giddy goat'!" complained Merle to her sister.
"They don't seem to have enough to do with their spare time," commented
Mavis. "It's all very well to say they must have absolute recreation, but
both they and the babies turn it into a sort of bear-garden. You were
rather a terror yourself when you were that age! I remember Mother used
to quote, 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands'."
"Was I? And now I'm a monitress!"
"It makes all the difference when you're in authority, and have some
stake in the school."
This chance remark set Merle thinking, and she thought to some purpose.
Her natural disposition was always to obtain results by blunt, matter-of-
fact methods. In school her policy was, 'Come along with you now, I'm not
going to have any nonsense!' Backed by her position, her strong
personality, and her prowess at games it succeeded. But here in the
hostel, if she wished to effect any improvements, she must go about it
another way. The old fable of the wind and the sun would apply, school
breezes would be useless, and she must switch on the love-radiator and
"I believe I _was_ rather a terror at twelve," she acknowledged to
herself. "It's such a tiresome age; you're no longer a pet lamb, and yet
you're not a senior. You get all the snubs and none of the kisses. I used
to long to do a little bossing on my own, instead of trailing like a
comet's tail after the big girls. What those kids want is a properly
organised club. They'd work the steam off in that. I've a very good mind
to draw up a scheme, show it to Miss Mitchell, and ask her if I may start
it among the juniors. If I have her leave, then Iva and Nesta can't call
It took Merle a little trouble to evolve her idea, but with a remembrance
of Girl Guiding she decided on forming a company corresponding to the
Brownies, the objects of which should be to train its members to win
various school honours. It was to have its own officers, and its own
committees, and to concentrate upon cricket practice, badminton, and net-
ball, as well as First Aid, knot-tying, and signalling.
Feeling rather nervous and a little uncertain whether she would meet with
approval or a rebuff, she carried her scheme to Miss Mitchell's study.
The mistress listened quite composedly and thought for a moment or two.
"You may try it, Merle, if you can persuade the children to join," she
said at length. "You have my full sanction, and you may tell them so.
We'll see how it succeeds."
It was something to have leave from headquarters. Merle hurried away and
lost no time in collecting the junior boarders, who came to her meeting
out of sheer curiosity to see what she could possibly want with them. For
once blunt plain-spoken Merle was silver-tongued, and advocated her club
with all the ingenuity of which she was capable.
"A school is no good if it depends entirely on its elder girls," she said
artfully. "In a year or two they'll have left, and it's the middle forms
who'll be at the top. If those middle forms will only begin and train
themselves _now_, they'll be champions by the time they reach the
Sixth, and there'd be some sense in making fixtures for tennis and
cricket. It generally takes a school years before it begins to win
matches. Why? Because it must train its champions, of course. You"
(nodding at the Cabal) "are the sort who ought to win cups and shields
for 'The Moorings' in another four years or so. And it's your business to
teach the younger ones. I saw Doreen and Elsbeth playing cricket with
Joyce to-day in a way that absolutely made me shudder. She should show
them how to hold their bats, and never allow leg-before-wicket even with
the veriest kid. It's no use letting them start bad habits, is it? My
suggestion is that you form yourselves into a club; let the elder ones be
officers, and give efficiency badges for certain things. You've so much
more time than we seniors have, that you ought to get on like a house on
fire. You'd be laying the foundations of some very good work later on. I
should call you the 'Pioneers,' because you'd be starting on a new
venture to spread the fame of 'The Moorings.' What d'you think about it?"
The idea decidedly appealed to the juniors. It was far more flattering to
be told they were the coming strength of the school than that they were
nuisances and in the way of the older girls. Moreover, the notion of
being officers was attractive to such temperaments as Winnie's, Biddy's,
and Daisy's. They thought they should rather enjoy training the younger
ones, and giving their opinions at committee meetings. It was so dull
simply to form audiences while the seniors did the talking.
"I vote we do!" said Winnie, looking at the rest of the Cabal, who nodded
approvingly in reply.
"Very well. You must organise your own committees, but I think every now
and then there should be an inspection to show how you're getting on. You
can choose any one you like for your commissioner. A teacher if you
"Might as well have you as anybody!" murmured Winnie.
"You can decide that later. What I advise you to do is to hold a
committee among yourselves, write down your officers and your rules and
everything, and then set to work."
The plan answered admirably, from the mere fact that it gave the restless
juniors something definite to do in their recreation time. Instead of
tearing aimlessly about and getting into mischief, they suddenly became
the most busy little mortals, and absolutely bristled with importance.
Their committees were conducted with as much solemnity as the meetings of
Cabinet ministers to decide the fate of a nation. They had taken the
burden of the future success of the school upon their youthful shoulders,
and it gave them huge satisfaction to think that so much depended upon
them. They practised cricket quite diligently, and made even the youngest
observe the rules, and they bandaged one another's arms and legs in
well-meant efforts at ambulance work. Their ambition soared as high as a
debating society, where they evidently allowed full freedom of speech on
popular topics, for Mavis, by mistake getting hold of one of their secret
notices, found the subject for discussion was: "_Monnitresses. Are they
a Neccessary Evil?_"
She showed it to Merle with much amusement.
"I should suggest, 'Need Spelling copy the Dictionary?' for their next
debate!" she laughed. "I wish I could creep in, Merle, and hear them
slanging you four. I expect they'll give you some hard hits. How
priceless they are!"
With the exception of Mavis the elder girls were not entirely in sympathy
with the new movement. They considered the Pioneers exhibited signs of
swollen head, and nicknamed their society the 'Tadpole Club,' declaring
its members to be still in that elementary stage of their development.
They made very merry at their expense, and poked fun at Merle for having
evolved the idea.
"Have you arranged for the Queen to come down and inspect them?" asked
Nesta sarcastically. "No one but royalty is good enough! By the time
they've worked their way up into the Sixth the school will be so reformed
it'll be a pattern for all England. I think we seniors had better retire
gracefully now and have done with it. We don't seem of much account
according to their notions. One of them actually had the impudence to
criticise my bowling yesterday!"
"Yes; and the little beggar was right too!" put in Iva. "You'll have to
buck up over cricket, old sport! It never was your strong point, you
"Well, I'm not going to be corrected by a kid of eleven at any rate!"
Though the seniors might be scornful, indignant, or otherwise hostile
towards the Tadpole Club, it certainly had the effect of increasing their
own efforts and making them keep up their standards. A craze came over
the school for physical fitness and efficiency, and the most persistent
shirkers were forced by public opinion into exerting themselves. Miss
Mitchell said little, but her hazel eyes saw everything that was going
on. Her manner towards Merle, which had been rather off-hand, gradually
softened, and though she showed her no special favour, she gave her, on
one occasion, a word of praise.
"You've shown me that you possess certain powers of organisation, and
that you know how to use your influence," she remarked.
And Merle, to whom Miss Mitchell's good opinion seemed almost the most
important thing in the world, went about as if she were treading on air,
and repeated the precious sentence to herself as proudly as if it were a
patent of nobility.
"She wouldn't notice me when I used to bring her flowers!" thought Merle.
"It's only when I've done something for the school that she really cares.
Some day, perhaps, I'll make her like me for myself!"
The Fourth of July
Mavis and Merle went home to Bridge House feeling as if they had had a
peep at the inner life of 'The Moorings.' They had seen fresh aspects of
Miss Pollard and Miss Fanny, and though Merle could not honestly assure
herself that she knew Miss Mitchell any better than before, she had at
least the remembrance of a few words of approval.
"I'm afraid she's one of those people whom you never do get to know very
well!" ruminated Merle. "You go a little way, but never any further. We
see the school side of her, and a quite jolly-all-round-to-everybody
holiday afternoon side. I wonder what she's like to her private friends,
and at home?"
Miss Mitchell, however, was not at all disposed to make a confidante of
any of her pupils, particularly of a girl who was not yet sixteen, and
much preferred to preserve business-like relations and confine her
conversation to school topics, than to give any details of her private
life. She made it quite manifest that whoever wished to please her must
do so on general and not individual grounds, so Merle accepted the
inevitable, and worked very hard in class and at preparation, making a
sudden burst of progress in her lessons that astonished herself even more
than everybody else. It meant a certain amount of heroism to stick
steadily to her books on glorious summer evenings, when even her own
family tempted her to play tennis or go out in the car. Most of the other
members of the Fifth form showed a marked slacking off in their homework,
particularly the day-girls, whose preparation was not regulated. The
Castletons, who had another wee baby brother at home, declared they found
so much to do on their return that it was impossible to spend long over
"Violet's not very strong, and she's often just about done in when we get
back," explained Beata to Mavis. "Romola and I take the baby and put the
kids to bed, so as to give her a rest. I can't tell that to Miss Mitchell
as an excuse for not having touched my Latin, but it's the truth. What
else can I do? We've only one maid, and she's busy in the kitchen.
Somebody has to look after the children!"
And Mavis, who adored the new Castleton baby, and would have flung
lessons to the winds to nurse it, cordially agreed with her.
Another girl whose work suffered in summer, though for a different
reason, was Fay. Her father was better in health, but he still needed
somebody to interest him and keep him amused, and found no more lively
companion than his own daughter. He had taught her to row, and wanted her
to go out boating with him now the evenings were so long and light.
"Never mind your prep! It's more important to help to get Father well!"
Mrs. Macleod would say. "He looks forward so much to this rowing, and the
exercise is good for him. We want a companionable daughter, not a
Minerva, and you may tell Miss Mitchell so with my compliments if she
grumbles. If we can't have any of your society when you get home, you
might as well be away at boarding-school. I bargained with Miss Pollard
that you weren't to be overworked."
Fay was clever, and a hasty run through her books usually served to make
her pass muster in class. She was a jolly and amusing girl, and was
generally the life and soul of the 'sardine' party. She was great chums
with the Castletons, though she sparred occasionally with Tattie Carew or
with Nan Colville. The latter gave general offence because she always
insisted upon taking up more than her fair share of room in the crowded
car. She would wear her satchel, and let its knobby corners press against
her expostulating neighbour, or she would spread out her elbows instead
of keeping them by her side. One day Nan, after a scrimmage on the way to
school, begged a lift back from Babbie.
"But we don't go down the hill to Chagmouth," objected Babbie, who had
received instructions from her mother to allow the 'sardines' to use
their own car, and not to offer to motor any of them. "We turn off at the
cross-roads to go to The Warren."
"I know. But you always start first, and you could leave me at the
cross-roads, and the others would pick me up as they passed. Be a sport,
"All right. You can come if you like."
Now it happened that Fay overheard Nan telling Lizzie that she would wait
at the cross-roads, and further witnessed the magnificent start in the
Glyn Williams' car.
"Too good for us to-day, are you?" she murmured. "Then I think you may
just do without us altogether! I've got a brain throb! It'll serve you
right, Miss Nan Colville!"
Fay went privately to Mr. Vicary and asked him if he would mind driving
them home that afternoon by Brendon, which was a slightly different route
from their ordinary one.
"I want to call for a parcel there," she explained.
"As it happens, I have an errand I can do there too," agreed Mr. Vicary.
"It won't take above five minutes or so longer, I daresay."
"That's all right then. By the by, Miss Colville won't be with us to-day.
Miss Williams is motoring her home."
"Yes; I saw them set off."
Fay took care that Lizzie Colville sat at the back of the car that
afternoon and not in front with Mr. Vicary. She stifled her objections
when they turned off in the direction of Brendon.
"I tell you Mr. Vicary has to go on an errand and so have I, so just shut
up! Nan? If she chooses to wait at the cross-roads it's her own fault.
She should have come with us."
The 'sardine-tin' entered Chagmouth that afternoon from the direction of
Brendon, and Nan, after sitting a long time by the roadside expecting its
appearance, gave it up and walked the rest of the way home, very annoyed
at the trick that had been played her.
"You shouldn't have let them, Lizzie!" she scolded.
"How could I help it? Fay wouldn't let me speak, and Mr. Vicary just flew
on to Brendon. Why didn't Babbie take you into Chagmouth?"
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