"How do you do, Mrs. Freeman?" said Bridget. "I'm afraid I'm a little late; I overslept myself, and then I could not find the right belt for this dress—it ought to be pale blue to match the ribbons, ought it not? But as I could not lay my hand on it, I have put on this silver girdle instead. Look at it, is it not pretty? It is real solid silver, I assure you; Uncle Jack brought it me from Syria, and the workmanship is supposed to be very curious. It's a trifle heavy, of course, but it keeps my dress nice and tight, don't you think so?"The doctor had come to see Evelyn, had pronounced her whole in limb, and not as much shaken by her fall out of her carriage as might have been expected. After prescribing a day in bed, and all absence of excitement, he went away, promising to look in again in a few days.
"Sit down, Dorothy," cried Ruth, "we have kept your favorite armchair vacant for you. Now, then, to discuss the Fancy Fair in all its bearings. Is it not kind of Mrs. Freeman to consent to our having it? She says it is quite an unusual thing for girls like us to do, but in the cause of that poor little baby, and because we wish the Fancy Fair to be our break-up treat, she consents. The only stipulation she makes is that we arrange the whole programme without troubling her."
"That I was to take you round and introduce you to a few companions," continued Janet hastily. "Miss Collingwood, Miss O'Hara—Miss Moore, Miss O'Hara—Miss Bury, Miss O'Hara. Now I have done my duty. If you like to see the common room for yourself, you can go straight through this folding door, turn to your left, see a large room directly facing you; go into it, and you will find yourself in the common room. Now, good-night."
Mrs. Freeman got up, and sounded an electric bell in the wall."Here, Miss O'Hara," she said good-naturedly, "here's a lovely slice of lamb; and I saved some peas for you. Them young ladies always do make a rush on the peas, but I secured some in time. I'll bring you some cherry tart presently, miss, and some whipped cream. You eat a good dinner, miss, and forget your[Pg 67] troubles; oh, dear! I don't like to see young ladies in punishment—and that I don't!"The summer sounds came in to her, for the window of her dull room was open, the birds were twittering in the trees, innumerable doves were cooing; there was the gentle, soft whisper of the breeze, the cackling of motherly hens, the lowing of cows, and, far away beyond and over them, the insistent, ceaseless whisper of the gentle waves on the shore.
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"Nothing in the world could be stupider than French poetry," she muttered. "How am I to get this into my head? What a nuisance Olive is with her stories—she[Pg 46] has disturbed my train of thoughts. Certainly, it's no affair of mine what that detestable wild Irish girl does. I shall always hate her, and whatever happens I can never get myself to tolerate Evelyn. Now, to get back to my poetry. I have determined to win this prize. I won't think of Evelyn and Bridget any more.""How solemnly you speak," said Bridget, tears [Pg 32]coming slowly up and filling her eyes. "Is that a sermon? It makes me feel as if someone were walking over my grave. Why do you say things of that sort? I'm superstitious, you know. I'm very easily impressed. You oughtn't to do it—you oughtn't to frighten a stranger when she has just come over to your hard, cold sort of country.""Oh! hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! What will my dear dad say when I tell him that? Biddy O'Hara seventeen! Don't I wish I were! Oh, the lovely balls I'd be going to if those were my years! Now, another guess. It's your turn now—you, little brown one there—I haven't caught your name, darling. Is it Anne or Mary? Most girls are called either Anne or Mary.""And now," she said, turning to her two sisters, "the question of questions is this: what is to be done with Bridget O'Hara? Is she to continue at Mulberry Court after such a daring act of disobedience? Must the safety of the other scholars be sacrificed to her?"
"I think you must mean Dorothy Collingwood," said Janet in her clear, cold English voice. "May I ask if you have ever been at school before, Miss O'Hara?"
Janet, accompanied by Olive and Ruth, was pacing slowly backward and forward under some shady trees. Her satellites were devoted to her, and Janet's slender figure was very erect, and her manner somewhat dictatorial. Dorothy Collingwood was not to be seen, she had evidently gone to join Evelyn upstairs. The girls of the middle school were preparing to exert themselves over more than one tennis match. The smaller children were going down to the shore.
It would have been impossible for a much colder heart than Dorothy Collingwood's to resist her.
"No, no—do forgive me!"
"Oh, I declare, the little dear is huffed about something! Well, then, I'll tell. I'll be fifteen in exactly a month from now! What do you say to that? I'm well grown, am I not, Janet?"