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The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 23444

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The Symposium

By the aid of diligent practicing in private, and several rehearsals at Garnet's house, the girls at last got their duet to run smoothly. Garnet was frankly pleased.

"The two instruments go so nicely together! A mandoline's ever so much better played with a guitar accompaniment than with the piano. I say, suppose we were to get an encore!"

"I don't suppose anything of the sort."

"Don't be too modest. It's as well to be prepared."

"I'm not going to practice anything more, so I warn you."

"Well, take something you know, from your own book. This song. I could play the air very softly on the mandoline, and we'd both sing it. That won't give you any extra trouble."

"It isn't the trouble so much as the state of my fingers. They're getting sore. If I let a blister come, I shan't be able to play at all."

"Then for goodness' sake don't play any more to-day, and soak your fingers in alum when you get home."

The general meeting on Tuesday was a very important event, for it marked the opening of the winter session of games and guilds. During the first week or ten days of the autumn term the girls had enough to do in settling into the work of their new forms, but now October was come everybody began to think about hockey, and to consider the advisability of beginning rehearsals for various Christmas performances.

"I always hate the end of September," proclaimed Grace Olliver. "It's so fine, and the geraniums are still so fresh in the park, that you're deceived into thinking it's still summer, yet when you try to play tennis, you find the courts horrible, and you cut up the grass in half an hour. I'm glad when the leaves all come off, and you know it's autumn, and you look up your hockey jersey, and think what sport you had last winter over 'The Dramatic.' I'm fond enough of cricket, but I'd really rather have winter than summer. On the whole, there's more going on."

"I'm glad Margaret Howell's head of the school," replied Evelyn Richards. "She's A1 at all the guilds, though I don't think she's much chance of being elected Games Captain."

"All the better. It's quite enough for Margaret to act head. She's good enough at that, I admit. Makes an ideal president. But a girl who's literary isn't generally sporty as well. It stands to reason she can't do both properly."

"Meg doesn't want to be Games Captain; it's not in her line," volunteered Beatrice, Margaret's younger sister. "She told me to tell you all to vote for Kirsty Paterson."

"Kirsty's topping!"

"What's this Symposium we're to have after the meeting?" asked Grace.

"Why, I don't exactly know," laughed Evelyn. "I looked 'symposium' up in the dictionary, and it said: 'literally a drinking together; a merry feast; a convivial party.' I don't know what we're going to drink, unless we bring lemon kali and pass it round, like they used to do the loving cup in the Middle Ages!"

"I suppose it'll be just a kind of concert. But how about the collection? What are we supposed to give?"

"Anything you like, from a penny upwards," replied Beatrice. "Meg calculated that two hundred and six pennies would be seventeen and twopence, and some girls will probably give more, so she thinks we're sure of a sovereign, and that ought to buy a decent trophy, something to begin upon, at any rate. One must make a start."

"Right you are! A penny won't break the banks of even the First Form babes, and millionaires can give their half-crowns, if they're so disposed!"

Punctually at 3 p.m. on the following Tuesday, the whole school assembled in the gymnasium. No mistress was present, for on occasions such as this Miss Bishop believed in self-government. She could trust her head girl and prefects, and had armed them with full authority. Winona anticipated the meeting with excitement and curiosity. It was altogether outside her experience. She had never in her life attended such a function. Garnet, whose elder sisters had been at large schools, had sketched an outline of what was likely to take place, but even Garnet's information was second-hand. Though she had now been exactly a fortnight at Seaton, Winona still felt more or less of a new-comer. She had hardly spoken to any one outside her own form, and knew the names of comparatively few of her two hundred and five schoolfellows. Without Garnet she would have been quite at a loss how to steer her course in this great ocean of school life; she thankfully accepted her friend as pilot, and for the present was content to follow her lead. The two girls presented themselves in the gymnasium in good time, and took their seats among the other members of V.a. The front bench was occupied by a row of ten-year-olds who had come up this term from the Preparatory, and who sat squeezing each others' arms, highly impressed with the importance of their remove. Behind them Form II., a giggling crew rather more au fait with the ways of the school, effervesced occasionally into excited squeals, and were instantly suppressed by a prefect. The Third and Fourth, which comprised the bulk of the girls from twelve to fifteen, occupied the middle of the hall, a lively, self-confident and rather obstreperous set, all at that awkward age which is anxious to claim privileges, but not particularly ready to submit to the authorized code. Every one of them was talking at the extreme pitch of her voice, and the noise was considerable. Patricia Marshall and Clarice Nixon looked at each other and frowned ominously, but as the hands of the big clock pointed almost to three, they judged it better not to interfere, and the din continued.

At the stroke of the hour, Margaret Howell strode on to the platform. She was a tall, fine-looking girl of seventeen, with bright hazel eyes, regular features, and a thick brown plait that fell below her waist. Her ready powers of speech, clear ringing voice, brisk decisive tone, and a certain personal magnetism showed her to be that rara avis, a born leader. It was fortunate indeed for the school that its headship this year should have fallen to Margaret. The need for a firm but judicious hand on the reins was great. During the two previous years of the school's existence the self-government had been in a state of evolution. For the first year, when everybody was new together, comparatively little could be done. The school must find itself before it began to form its private code of laws. In the second year ill-luck had raised to the post of honor Ivy Chatterton, a clever but most untactful girl, whose quick temper had brought her into constant collision with her prefects. Many were the squalls which had swept over the school, of so serious a nature sometimes as almost to wreck several of the guilds. The younger girls, following the example of their elders, had quarreled hotly, and indulged in an incredible amount of petty spite, and altogether the current tone had been anything but desirable. Miss Bishop, who had seen, to her sorrow, this downward trend, had welcomed the advent of Margaret, believing her to have the ability to cope with difficult situations, and at the same time to have the grit and self-control not to allow her head to be turned by her elevation to office.

"You will have a great responsibility: I am giving you unusual power, and I trust that you will make the highest use of it," she had said to the girl, during a certain quiet ten minutes' talk in her study, and Margaret had held herself very straight, and had answered: "I'll do my level best, Miss Bishop!"

All eyes were now fixed on the head girl as she stood in the center of the platform, ringing the bell for silence. The clamor subsided as if by magic, and in the midst of a dead hush she began her speech.

"Girls! We've been back now for a whole fortnight-time for most of us to shake down into our places, isn't it? The school year's fairly started, and we've met together this afternoon to talk about a number of things that are of very great importance to us all. You all know that a school-to be worth anything-has two sides. There's the inside part, with classes and prep. and exams.-what's generally called the 'curriculum'-that's managed by the mistresses. And there's the outside part, the games and sports and concerts and guilds-that's run by the girls themselves. Now I think, if we arrange well, we ought to be able to look forward to three very jolly terms. Everything depends upon making a good start. I've been getting to know how they manage in several other big schools, and I propose that we frame our code by theirs. What we want first of all is a feeling of unity and public spirit. Each girl must make up her mind to do all she can to push on the 'Seaton High.' We want to win matches, and have a good sports record, and generally build up a reputation. Slacking at games must be out of the question. Everybody must buck up all round. Those who aren't playing themselves can show their interest by attending the matches. It makes the greatest difference to an eleven to know that their own side is watching their play, and ready to cheer them on. There's nothing so forlorn and depressing as to see whole rows of the enemy's school hats on the spectators' benches, and only half-a-dozen of one's own-yet that's what happened when we played Harbury last spring. No wonder we lost! I'm going to ask you presently to elect a Games Captain, and then I want you to support her loyally for the whole of the year. Let her feel that she can depend upon you, and that instead of getting together scratch teams, her difficulty will be how to choose among so many crack players. But as you know, games are not the whole of our business to-day. We have our guilds to consider as well. I want to put these upon a good and firm basis. Last winter we didn't quite know where we were with them, did we? At present we have 'The Dramatic Society,' 'The Debating Club,' 'The Literary Association,' and 'The Patriotic Knitting Guild.' We might very well add a 'Photographic Union' and a 'Natural History League.' They ought all to be run on the same lines. Each must have a President, a Secretary, and a Committee of eight members, who will undertake the business of the Society, and settle all its events. Any difficulty or dispute must be referred to the Prefects' meeting, the decision of which shall be final. Each guild must draw up a list of its own rules; these must be submitted first to the Prefects, then, if passed as satisfactory, they must be written in the minutes book, and strictly adhered to. I want you all to realize that this school is still in its infancy. It's a baby of only two years! But a very promising baby! It's we who are going to make its history. So far we can't say it has had any annals; in the future it must show a whole splendid list of achievements and successes. Years afterwards, when it's the most famous school in the county, we shall be proud to have had the privilege of taking our share in pushing it on, and our names may be handed down to long generations of girls as those who founded its best traditions."

Margaret paused, quite out of breath with her long speech. A storm of applause rose from the audience; the girls clapped and stamped, a few even cheered. Margaret had touched the right string. The idea of making school history appealed to them, and they were ready to respond with enthusiasm to her appeal. Even the ten-year-olds were eager to show their zeal. Winona had never taken her eyes off the speaker. It was a new gospel to her that she was one of the great community, bound to help the common weal. The realization of it stirred her spirit; her imagination danced ahead, and performed prodigies.

Suppose she could do something wonderful for the school, and leave her name as a memory to others? The vision gleamed golden. It would be worth living to accomplish that.

"Not half a bad speech!" murmured Garnet approvingly by her side.

Winona started, and came back from the clouds.

"I think it's-just immense!" she answered with a long sigh of admiration.

Margaret was again ringing the bell for silence.

"I'm glad to find you all agree with me," she announced. "Now I want us to get solidly to business, and elect a Games Captain. You remember I asked each to nominate a candidate, and I find that more than two-thirds have handed in the same name-that of Kirsty Paterson. I therefore put Kirsty up for election. It's only fair that I should first go over her qualifications for the office. She was our best center forward last year at hockey, and our best bowler at cricket. She's a thoroughly steady and reliable player herself, and-this is most important-she's able to train others. You know from experience that she's fair and just, and she's tremendously keen. I feel sure that in her hands the games would prosper, and we'd soon show some improvement. Will all those in favor of electing Kirsty kindly stand up?"

There was such a general rising among the girls that most presidents would have considered the matter settled. Margaret, however, liked to do things strictly in order.

"Thanks I Will you please sit down again. Now those against the election kindly stand."

A certain section in the school had intended to vote against Kirsty, but when they saw themselves so enormously outnumbered, they changed their minds. To belong to a minority often means to be unpopular, and it is wise to go with the stream. After all, Kirsty was a thoroughly eligible and desirable candidate. So though a few neighbors elbowed each other, nobody rose.

Margaret waited a moment.

"Do I understand that you're all in favor? Then the motion is carried unanimously. I'm very glad, for I think Kirsty will make an ideal captain. Let's give three cheers for her. Are you ready? Hip-hip-hip hooray!"

The girls responded with full lung power. Some even began to sing: "For she's a jolly good fellow!" and there was a general outcry of "Speech! Speech!" The blushing Kirsty-a bonny, rosy, athletic looking lassie-was seized by her fellow prefects, and dragged, in spite of her protests, to the front of the platform. Kirsty had been born north of the Tweed, and in moments of excitement her pretty Scottish burr asserted itself.

"It's verra kind of you to elect me," she began. "I'm afraid I'm no hand at making speeches. I preferr deeds to worrds. We'll all put ourr shoulderrs to the wheel, and win forr the school, won't we? I hope we'll have a splendid yearr!"

At that she retired amidst rapturous applause. Margaret again rang the bell for silence, and proceeded with the business of the meeting, which was to elect the officers for the various societies and guilds. This being satisfactorily settled, she turned to affairs of lighter moment.

"I'm sure you'll all agree that it is very desirable for us to have a form trophy, for hockey, at any rate. Perhaps by next summer we'll get one for cricket as well. It will spur us on to have a little wholesome competition amongst ourselves. As I announced on the notice board, we are now going to give a short entertainment, at the close of which a collection will be taken for the object I have just mentioned. I hate begging, so give what you like, but of course it depends on your generosity this afternoon what kind of a trophy we are able to buy. The first item on our program is a piano solo by Hester King."

Hester was one of the best music pupils in the school. She had a good crisp touch and considerable execution, and led off the concert with a sprightly tarantella. A violin solo followed, by Sibyl Lee, a member of V.b., who was rather nervous, but acquitted herself fairly well on the whole.

"I thought I'd break down," she confided to her friends. "The sight of all those eyes staring at me quite put me off. I don't wonder blind musicians are generally successes, they can't see the audience. Well, never mind, I've done my bit, at any rate!"

The next on the list was a song from Annie Hardy. She had chosen "Keep the Home Fires Burning," and rendered it with great effect, the whole room joining with enthusiasm in the chorus. It took so well that there were shouts of "Encore!" and Annie came back smiling to give "Khaki Boys," which roused her audience to an even higher pitch of patriotic fervor. A recitation, "Our Hockey Match," by Agnes Heath, was felt to be particularly appropriate to the occasion. It was a very good "school piece," humorous as well as exciting, and Agnes had enough dramatic ability to do justice to it. Her own form in particular stamped lustily. The prefects motioned her forward again, but she shook her head. The clapping redoubled. Agnes, escorted to the front by Margaret, bowed and announced:

"Fearfully sorry not to oblige, but this is absolutely the only thing I know, and it's too long to say all over again!"

There was a general laugh, and the audience settled itself to enjoy the next item on the program. Margaret was signaling to Winona and Garnet, and the pair slipped from their places, and made their way to the platform.

"I'm all upset! I hope I shan't break down!" whispered Winona.

"Nonsense! A duet's not so bad as a solo. You'll get on all right. Do for goodness' sake brace up!" implored Garnet. "If you muddle your accompaniment you'll spoil my part. You'll surely never go and fail me!"

The instruments had been put under the piano. Patricia Marshall handed them forth, and sounded the notes for them to be tuned. Clarice Nixon was placing chairs and music-stands. Garnet was tolerably composed, but Winona was suffering from a bad attack of that most unpleasant malady "stage fright." She would have given worlds for a trapdoor in the platform to open, and allow her to subside out of sight. No such convenient arrangement, however, had been provided for the use of bashful performers, the planks were solid, and guaranteed not to give way under any circumstances. There was nothing for it but to take her seat in full view of the audience. There were slightly over two hundred girls in the room, but to Winona's fevered imagination there appeared to be thousands. She wondered how she could ever have had the folly to place herself in such a public situation. Garnet was sounding a few notes and looking at her to begin. For one dreadful moment the room whirled. Perhaps Margaret saw and understood; she laid her hand on Winona's shaking arm, and whispered encouragingly:

"Go on! Don't mind the audience. Just remember that you're playing for the form trophy!"

A sudden revulsion of feeling swept over Winona. All the school patriotism aroused within her by Margaret's speech surged up to meet the crisis. She was no longer an isolated atom, a girl fresh from home, and on trial before the critical eyes of her new form, but a unit in the great life of the school, bound to play her part for the good of the whole, and specially pledged not to fail Garnet in this emergency. Self faded in the larger vision. The color flooded back into her face. She made a desperate effort, and struck the opening chords.

As her friend had reminded her, a duet was quite a different matter from a solo. Directly the mandoline part began, her confidence returned. She tried to think that she was only playing an accompaniment for Garnet. The piece was not difficult, it was in D, quite the easiest key for the guitar, with very few accidentals or high positions. She took courage, and struck her strings crisply, so that the tone rang out well. Her instrument was a good one, very true and mellow, and her mother had taught her the liquid Spanish touch which showed it to its best advantage. Garnet also was doing her best. Her plectrum vibrated evenly and rapidly, and the metallic twang, her gravest fault, was not nearly so evident as usual. The audience, unfamiliar with these particular instruments, was not hypercritical, and so long as the players kept well together, and sounded no discords, their skill was judged to be excellent. The Barcarolle had an attractive swing about it, and a romantic suggestion of gondolas and lapping water and moonlight serenades. As the last notes of the air on the mandoline died away, Winona swept her thumb over the strings of her guitar in a tremendous final chord. It had quite a magnificent and professional effect. There was no mistake about the applause; it was simply clamorous.

"Stand up and bow!" whispered Margaret, nudging the unaccustomed performers. "That's right! Bow again! It's most clearly an encore. Have you brought anything else with you? Good biz! Don't waste any more time, then. We're rather late."

The song that Winona had chosen was a bright little Irish ditty, with a catchy tune and lively accompaniment. Garnet played the air softly on the mandoline, and the two girls sang in unison, keeping strictly together, and pronouncing very plainly, so that the point of the amusing words should not be lost. The audience shrieked with laughter, and would have demanded a further encore, had not Margaret pointed to the clock, and shaken her head firmly. There were other items on the program and time was going all too fast.

Another violin solo, a recitation and a Highland fling followed; then the concert wound up with a Christy Minstrel song from several members of the Sixth. This last was the triumph of the afternoon. Patricia prided herself on her preparations. She had placed a newspaper inside the grand piano over the strings, and when the hammers struck against it the effect of the accompaniment was exactly that of a banjo. She had borrowed two sets of castanets, a pair of cymbals, and a triangle, and with these loud-sounding instruments she and her companions emphasized the chorus. Garnet and Winona helped with mandoline and guitar, so the general result was quite orchestral. During the performance of this chef-d'?uvre some of the prefects went round with collecting bags, which were passed along the benches.

"Come, my dark-eyed honey,

And help to spend my money,"

chanted the minstrels lustily, and the audience smiled at the appropriateness of the words.

It was felt that the Symposium had been an enormous success. The girls were quite loath to leave, and dispersed slowly from the gymnasium. Many eyes were turned on Winona and Garnet as they carried their instruments down from the platform. "Who are they?" every one was asking, for so far their names were not known outside their own form. "The two County Scholarship holders," somebody replied, and the information was passed on.

Next morning, Margaret proudly posted up the result of the collection, which amounted to £2 13s. 7d.-a very substantial sum in the estimation of the school.

"It ought to be sufficient to buy a cup!" she triumphed. "Miss Bishop has promised to send for some catalogues, so that we can look up the prices. We shall start the season well, at any rate. Kirsty's almost ready to stand on her head! I never saw any one so elated!"

"Except yourself!" smiled Patricia.

"Cela va sans dire, camarade!"

Garnet and Winona, walking down the High Street together after the performance, also compared notes.

"It was fine! I do admire Margaret. Mustn't it be splendid to be head of the school?" sighed Garnet enviously.

"Do you think so? Yes, I suppose it is, but if I had my choice, I'd a dozen times over rather be Games Captain," answered Winona.

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