Mrs. Freeman could scarcely restrain her impatience.Bridget was evidently not blessed with the bump of order. Valuable rings and bracelets lay, some on the mantelpiece, some on the dressing table; ribbons, scarfs, handkerchiefs, littered the chairs, the chest of drawers, and even the bed. A stray stocking poked its foot obtrusively out of one of the over-packed drawers of the wardrobe. Photographs of friends and of scenery lay face downward on the mantelpiece, and kept company with Bridget's brushes and combs in her dressing-table drawer."Now, how old am I?" she asked, stamping her arched foot. "Don't be shy, any of you. Begin at the[Pg 17] eldest, and guess right away. Now then, Miss Collingwood—you see, I know your name—the age of your humble servant, if you please."
"I'm very busy, Olive; I wish you'd go away!"What would the new girl be like? Was she rich or poor, handsome or ugly, tall or short, dark or fair? Why did she come in the middle of the term, and why did Mrs. Freeman, and Miss Delicia, and Miss Patience make such a fuss about her?Olive had no inclination to join them. They had taken no notice of her, and she was not sufficiently fascinated by Bridget to run any risk for her sake. She knew that her present proceedings were wrong, but she was not at all brave enough to raise her voice in protest. She walked slowly back to the house, wondering whether she should go and tell Janet, or sink down lazily on a cozy seat and go on with a story book which was sticking out of her pocket.
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"Are you coming, Dorothy?" called Janet May from the end of the passage.
"Oh, you darling, what do minutes signify when one loves? There, Dolly, I have fallen in love with you, and that's the fact. You shall come and stay with me at the Castle in the summer, and I'll teach you to fire a gun and to land a salmon. Oh, my dear, what larks we'll have together! I'm so glad you're taking me round this house, instead of that stiff Janet."
"But your father cannot pay for your disobedience—for the bad example you have set the little children, for the pain and anxiety you have given me."Mrs. Freeman could see them as she sat in her sitting room.
"Thanks!" she repeated again. "If I want your help I'll ask for it, Olive. I'm going into the house now, for I really must get on with my preparation."
"Do, my love, and call to me if you do. I would not have that dear girl frightened for the world. I am more vexed than I can say with Hickman."
"He will expect you to stay until the end of the term."
"And so do I"—"And I"—cried both Ruth and Olive.
"You deny that she's weak," repeated Janet. "I wonder what your idea of strength is, Olive."