A FIRST NIGHT.
It had been the dream of Molly Lavender’s life to go to Redgarth. Her education hitherto had been conducted partly at home, and partly in a small school; she longed to enter a wider world, and looked forward with much enthusiasm to the comradeship and esprit de corps which would form part of the education of her new life. A vacancy had been offered her at St. Dorothy’s, one of the most popular of the houses, and when her cab drew up there on this lovely evening, a very eager and excited young face peeped out.
Molly was fifteen, just the age when girls can be shy. She had lived in a whirl of excited feeling during all her long journey from London; but now that she had really arrived at Redgarth, a sense of unexpected timidity assailed her, and although she was not such a coward as to wish to run away, she heartily desired the first evening to be well over.
When she appeared, a group of girls were standing idly chatting in the beautiful entrance-hall. No one spoke for a moment; but before there was time for real embarrassment, the principal of the house, a tall, good-looking, dignified woman of about thirty, came out of a room at one side of the hall. She gave Molly a cordial welcome, introduced her to one or two of her companions, and then took her upstairs, to show her her own little room.
“I hope you will be thoroughly happy at Redgarth, my dear,” said Miss Leicester, in her brisk, energetic voice. “You are very fortunate in finding a vacancy in this house. We are all very happy here, and I think I can promise that you will have a good time. Our motto is, Plenty of work, and plenty of play; the life is as healthy and full of pleasure as life can be. For my part, I envy girls who, like yourself, come to a great school like this with all their future fresh before them. By the way, what is your Christian name? It is the custom at St. Dorothy’s to call the girls who are in residence by their Christian names.”
“My name is Molly,” replied Molly Lavender, looking, with her clear brown eyes full at Miss Leicester.
Miss Leicester could not help smiling at the sweet, frank face. “Molly is a very good name,” she said; “there is something lovable about it. I hope you will have a happy time here, Molly. And now tell me how you like your room.”
“Am I to have this room all to myself?” asked Molly.
“Certainly; how do you like it?”
“I think it lovely—only—is it my sitting room?”
“Sitting room and bedroom in one. Oh, you don’t see your bed! Let me show it to you.”
Miss Leicester walked across the little room, to where a luxurious-looking sofa stood: she pulled aside a pretty covering, and showed underneath a properly made-up bed, small, certainly, but looking most inviting, with its snowy sheets and white frilled pillows.
“There, Molly,” she said, “I hope you will sleep soundly in that little bed. Your washing apparatus is cleverly hidden away behind this screen. This pretty bureau contains a bookcase on the top, a writing table and desk at one side, a set of drawers for your linen at the other. Behind this curtain you will hang up your dresses. Now, my dear, I must leave you; but we shall meet, I hope, at supper time.”
Miss Leicester nodded brightly, and the next moment the tired girl was alone.
“If only Cecil were here!” thought Molly to herself. “I wonder if there is any chance of Cecil coming. Oh, yes, this is a sweet little room, but I feel shy just now. I feel quite stupidly shy, and like a fish out of water. Still, I’m determined not to remain in that uncomfortable position an hour longer than I can help. Grannie has sent me here, she sent me rather against her own inclination, and I’m determined to prove to her that she has done the right and only thing to satisfy me. I could not live if I didn’t make something of my life. Grannie objects to Girton and Newnham, but she has consented to my finishing my education at Redgarth. Now, then, for a good tussle with the fates; I shall win, I feel convinced. If only Cecil were here, I should feel certain on the subject.”
Molly took off her hat, brushed the dust carefully from her dress, rearranged her smooth brown hair, and washed her face and hands. Then she went over to the window, threw it open, and looked out. Redgarth is one of the most beautiful towns in northern England. It boasts of a lovely cathedral, and from where Molly stood she could see its four slender spires, and its gray turrets, hoary with age. The next moment the hour struck, and a chime of bells rang beautifully out on the evening air.
“It is lovely,” thought the girl, clasping her hands. “I know I shall adore that old cathedral. How joyous those chimes sound! how beautiful the evening sky looks at the back of the spires! Yes, this lovely sunset on my first arrival is a good omen. I hope, with all my heart, that I shall do well here.”
There came a knock at the door. Molly said “Come in,” and a girl with dark eyes and hair entered the room.
“My name is Hester Temple,” she said. “As you are quite new, I thought perhaps you would like to come down to supper with me.”
“You are very kind,” said Molly, with some timidity in her voice.
“I hope you like your room,” said Hester.
“Yes; I think it charming.”
Miss Temple went and stood by the bureau; she tapped her fingers on its polished surface somewhat impatiently.
“They all make that sort of remark at first,” she said; “they all call their rooms charming until they find out their defects.”
“Whom do you mean by they?” asked Molly.
“The girls at St. Dorothy’s. You belong to ‘they.'”
“Do I?” said Molly. The color flooded her cheeks.
Miss Temple regarded her with a fixed and critical stare.
“Why?” asked Molly.
“Won’t you oblige me?”
“Yes, certainly; here I am. Now, what do you want?”
“To take a good look at you, of course; do you know you are quite good-looking?”
“I wish you would not flatter me, Miss Temple,” she said.
“It is not flattery—I abhor flattery—I never flatter anyone; I am remarked all over the school for my brusqueness. I simply state a fact—a very patent fact; others will tell it to you in more glowing language. You are good-looking; you have a clear complexion; not much color, but that doesn’t really matter; your hair is thick and abundant, awfully prim and old-fashioned in the way it is arranged, but that can be altered. I can quite imagine that, if anything excites you, your face will wake up into real beauty. Now pray don’t begin the usual thing; don’t say, ‘Oh, Miss Temple!’ or anything commonplace of that sort. In the first place, I am not Miss Temple to you—I am Hester. We’re all Hester, and Jane, and Anne, and Mary, or whatever our Christian names happen to be, to each other. What is your name? Desdemona, I should think; or perhaps Ophelia—you’ve got something of the martyr droop.”
“Oh, what a horrid thing to say!” replied Molly, brisking up and laughing. “I am not so fortunate as to be distinguished by the name of either Desdemona or Ophelia: I am simply Molly.”
Hester Temple dropped a mock courtesy.
“Simply Molly,” she repeated; “what a dear little rustic English sound! Well, Molly, I can read your character already. I see you intend to go in for the whole thing. You will take up the life with zest. You will enthuse—yes, I know you will. Now, I never do; I don’t think it good form.”
“Well, I think it is,” said Molly stoutly.
“Didn’t I say as much. I knew you had lots of spirit. How your eyes flash! Oh, you will find no inconveniences in your room. Everything will be coleur de rose with you. You are just the sort of girl whom Miss Forester will adore.”
“I am longing to see Miss Forester,” said Molly. “She must be a splendid woman.”
Hester shrugged her shoulders.
“Chacun à son goût. Well, if you are ready, we had better go downstairs.”
“I am quite ready,” replied Molly.
The girls left the pretty little room together. They went down the broad, polished stairs, and stood for a moment or two in the hall. Molly, who was not accustomed to the beautiful parquetry which covered the floor, found herself slipping about as if on ice. Hester looked at her and laughed.
“Your first lesson at St. Dorothy’s,” she said, “is to get your footing; it is like being on board ship—you must get, not your sea legs, but your parquetry legs. Now, don’t be afraid; don’t attempt to walk on your toes—tread firmly, and the deed will be accomplished. I see some of my friends; I will introduce you. This is Annie Sinclair, and here, here is the romp of the house, Kate O’Connor. Come here, Kate, and let me present you to Molly Lavender; Molly is the new girl we have been expecting, you know; yes, I quite see that you two will be chums.
Oh, how I love her!”
Hester sang the couplet in a gay, clear voice. Kate’s splendid black eyes danced with mirth.
“I wish you wouldn’t be such a ridiculous creature, Hester,” she said, “you would prejudice anyone against me. Is your name Molly?” she continued, looking full at the newcomer. “What a pretty name! I heartily hope you will have a good time here.”
“It is so like you, Kate, to say the word ‘heartily,'” exclaimed Hester. “That’s because she is Irish, you know, Molly. Irish girls always exaggerate. I should consider it quite sufficient to say, ‘I hope you will have a good time,’ but the Irish girl has to put in the word ‘heartily.'”
“I heartily hope you will have a good time, Molly Lavender,” repeated Kate, in a stout voice.
“It will be her own fault if she hasn’t,” said Hester. “What do you say, Annie? What opinion would you form of a girl who found St. Dorothy’s dull?”
“That she was unworthy of our privileges,” replied Annie.
“I am most anxious to like everything,” said Molly.
She laughed slightly as she spoke.
The fact is, she was feeling more nervous than she dared to own. The girls rattled off their conversation in brisk, brusque voices; all the faces were new, all the voices strange; there was a great deal of badinage and repartee—a sort of ceaseless chaff was going on. Molly felt bewildered.
A great gong sounded at this moment through the house.
“Come and sit near me at supper,” said Kate, noticing the faint alarm which lurked in Molly’s brown eyes. “I will promise to steer you through the shoals this first evening. You will get on your own feet in no time.”
“No, she won’t; she’s slipping now,” said Hester, with a laugh.
“Take my arm,” said Kate. “This horrible parquetry! I nearly brained myself during the first fortnight. Now, here we are; this table to the left is mine. You must sit here at my right. I can’t talk to you for the first few minutes, for I have to carve. Oh, I forgot—I had better introduce you before I begin. Girls, this is the new girl—Molly Lavender. I’ll introduce you all in correct style presently.”
There were five or six tables in the large dining-hall. All the tables were surrounded by eager girlish figures. Most of the girls wore demi-evening dress. Pretty blouses of different colors were the rage. The principal, Miss Leicester, looked very handsome in black velvet, slightly open at the neck. The meal which was set before the hungry girls was plain but abundant. Molly, who had not eaten anything for hours, was glad to turn her attention to the well-filled plate which Kate placed before her.
“You were lucky not to sit at this table when Kate O’Connor first took the head of it,” said a laughing girl of the name of Amy Frost.
“Amy, you’re surely not going to tell tales?” cried Kate.
“Yes, I am! yes, I am!”
“Tell, Amy! do tell!” exclaimed several voices. “Kate deserves to be shown up in her true colors.”
Molly watched the girls as they spoke. Several pairs of eyes were turned on Kate’s laughing, beaming face. Notwithstanding the badinage in their tones, the glances which Kate received were full of affection.
“Oh, she’s the wildest, naughtiest, most daring, most forgetful, wild Irish girl in existence,” said Amy. “Being Irish, she is full of presumption; she has the utmost confidence in herself, and she dearly loves to take the lead. She never rested until she had persuaded Miss Leicester to make her head of a table. You perceive, Molly, that being head means responsibility. The head has to feed all the hungry members. Well, when Kate O’Connor first took this honorable position, she used to indulge in a little peculiarity of her own. This can only be spoken of as retiring into her castle in Spain. Kate lives in her own special castle in Spain most of her time. Oh, how happy she was in her castle, and how we suffered! It is not considered correct at St. Dorothy’s to ask the head to feed the members. The head must think of that for itself. Well, this head being high up in its castle, forgot all about us and our hunger, and oh, didn’t we starve, and didn’t we growl! It is all over now: we took her out of her castle in private; we won’t tell you how we did that. Kate, my dear, you needn’t blush; we have forgiven you.”
“Beware, Amy; don’t add another word,” interrupted Kate. “Think of the water-jug and the wet sponge. Remember that you are sleeping in the dormitory at present, and that my cubicle is only two doors away from yours. Oh, I say nothing, but I mean a good deal.”
The rest of the meal passed with much mirth and hilarity. Kate’s table was certainly the merriest in the room. Hester Temple did not belong to it. Molly did not know if she were glad or sorry. Hester puzzled her—she was not quite certain whether she liked her or not, but her whole heart had gone out to Kate O’Connor on the spot.
When supper came to an end—and the meal did not last very long—the girls all trooped into the great drawing room. Here a beautiful square of Indian carpet was hastily rolled up and an impromptu dance began. Kate opened a piano and began to play waltzes. The girls quickly found partners, and were soon revolving round and round. The barn-dance followed, and others. Molly could dance beautifully, and Amy Frost begged to be her partner.
When the dance came to an end a few girls still lingered in the room, but most went away to their private studies. Miss Leicester returned to the drawing room about ten o’clock. She then led the way into the dining hall, where all the members of the house, including servants, stood in rows. The principal read a psalm, which was followed by a collect; she then bade her assembled pupils a hearty “good-night.”
“Come along, Molly. I was your first friend, so I will take you back to your room,” said Hester Temple. “By the way, you are lucky to have a room to yourself. I also have a room, but it is a very small one. Kate O’Connor, Amy Frost, Annie Sinclair, and several others sleep in the big dormitory at the top of the house. I see you have taken to Kate. Let me give you a hint as to the way in which you can oblige her.”
“I should love to oblige her.”
“Didn’t I say you would enthuse?” she answered. “You might be Irish yourself, by the way you go on, and by the emphasis you put upon certain words. You’d love to oblige a girl you never saw before in the whole course of your life! Well, poor Kate is ambitious and clever—indeed, I may add that in some respects she is brilliant. She takes up life here from a serious point of view. There are scholarships given at Redgarth, and she is studying very hard to obtain one. The Ford Scholarship is to be competed for before Christmas. She finds it hard to prepare for such a serious examination in the room with a lot of other girls. You might ask her to be your chum, and to share this dear little study every evening with you. She’d love you forever if you did. Kate would rather die than ask you, but if you will, I’ll run up at once and tell her.”
“Oh, I would with pleasure,” said Molly, “only—only for Cecil.”
“Who, in the name of fortune, is Cecil?”
“My greatest, best friend. She is coming here, I trust and hope, in a week or two.”
“Your greatest, best friend!” repeated Hester. “I give you up, Molly Lavender; your enthusiasm quite crushes me.”
Categories: English Literature