For the first time there was a faint hesitation in her manner.Mrs. Freeman always presided at the head of the board, Miss Patience invariably sat at the foot, Miss Delicia wandered about restlessly, helping the girls to milk and fruit, patting her favorites on their backs, bending down to inquire tenderly how this girl's headache was, and if another had come off conqueror in her tennis match. No girl in the school minded or feared Miss Delicia in the least. Unlike her two sisters, who were tall and thin, she was a little body with a round face, rosy cheeks, hair very much crimped, and eyes a good deal creased with constant laughter. No one had ever seen Miss Delicia the least bit cross or the least bit annoyed with anyone. She was invariably known to weep with the sorrowful, and laugh with the gay—she was a great coddler and physicker—thought petting far better than punishment, and play much more necessary for young girls than lessons."Look, dear," said the governess. "What is that distant speck? I am so terribly near-sighted that I cannot make out whether it is a carriage or cart of some sort."
"But Mrs. Freeman said——" she began.
"The precious love, how nicely she talks, and how I love her gentle, refined words. But, darling, I'm not going to bed, for I'm not tired.""Faix, then, it does, honey. I'm all agog to see this lovely queen. Why has she been absent so long? Doesn't Mrs. Freeman require any lessons of the sweet creature? Oh, then, it's I that would like to be in her shoes, if that's the case."
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"Nonsense, Janet, you know you're one of the best French scholars in the school. You won't get out of answering my question by that flimsy excuse. Don't you hate Miss O'Hara?"
"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."
She called Bridget's name, but the wind, which was rather high this morning, carried her voice away from the young girl, who was gayly flitting from one rosebush [Pg 30]to another, ruthlessly pulling the large, full-blown flowers with buds attached.
Janet ran out of the room. Her heart was beating hard and fast. Should she tell Mrs. Freeman what Olive had just confided to her, that Bridget and a number of the smaller children of the school had rushed down the road to meet Evelyn, carrying boughs in their hands, and doubtless shouting loudly in their glee?
The period at which this story begins was the middle of the summer term. There were no half-term holidays at the Court, but somehow the influence of holiday time had already got into the air. The young girls had tired themselves out with play, and the older ones lay about in hammocks, or strolled in twos or[Pg 2] threes up and down the wide gravel walk which separated the house from the gardens.
"I'm afraid I have no more time to show you any of the house this evening," answered Janet. "The common room is very much the shape of this one, only without the desks. I have some of my studies to look over, so I must wish you good-evening."
"Did you speak?" asked Miss May in her coldest tones.