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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 21332

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


An Autumn Foray

Winona felt that she now started life at the High School on an entirely new basis. Miss Bishop and Miss Huntley understood her limitations and judged her accordingly. It was not by any means that they lowered their standard, but that they appreciated her difficulty in keeping up with the Form and gave her credit for her hard work. And hard work it undoubtedly was. She would get up early in the morning to revise her lessons before breakfast, and would sit toiling over books and exercises in the evenings till even Aunt Harriet-indefatigable worker herself-would tell her to stop, and wax moral on the folly of burning the candle at both ends. The coaching from Miss Lever was of inestimable value. It supplied just the gaps in which she was deficient, and gave her an adequate grasp of her three toughest subjects. Slowly she began to make headway, she saw light in mathematical problems that had before been meaningless formul?, chemistry was less of a hopeless tangle, and Vergil's lines construed into understandable sentences instead of utter nonsense. It was only gradual progress, however. She had much ground to cover before she caught up the Form. She was plodding, but not a brilliant all-round scholar like Garnet. The fact was that Winona was only clever in one direction: in the realm of imagination her mind ran like a racehorse, but harnessed to heavy intellectual burdens it proved but a sorry steed.

It was fortunate for both her health and her spirits that head work did not represent the only side of school activities. Miss Bishop was wise enough to lay much stress on physical development. A ten minutes' drill was part of the daily routine, a gymnasium practice was held twice a week, and Wednesday afternoons were devoted to hockey. In addition to this the girls played tennis on the asphalt courts during the winter and spring terms, whenever the weather was suitable, and basket ball was constantly going on in the playground. Athletics was decidedly the fashionable cult of the school. Kirsty Paterson, as Games Captain, made it her business to see that nobody slacked without justifiable cause. She would break up knots of chatting idlers, and cajole them forth to "cultivate muscle" as she expressed it, while her keen eye was quick to note anybody's "points" and employ them for the general benefit. Kirsty's jolly, breezy manner and strict sense of justice made her an admirable captain. She was highly popular with juniors as well as seniors, for she took the trouble to organize the games of the little girls as carefully as those of their elders.

"It's insane short-sighted policy to neglect the kids," was her creed. "Now's the time to be training them. Get them thoroughly well in hand and make them understand what's expected from them, and in four or five years' time they'll be crack players. Yes, I know it's looking far ahead, and we prefects won't be here to see the result, but the school will reap the benefit some day and that's the main thing to aim at. I'm proud of my cadets and, in the future, when they're winning laurels for the Seaton High, perhaps they'll remember I started them on the right track. 'Keep up the standard all round' is going to be the motto while I'm Captain."

To Winona athletics and organized games came as a revelation. She had a slim wiry little figure and was a good runner, with a capacity for keeping her breath, and had also a considerable power of spring, all of which stood her in good stead both in the hockey field and in the gymnasium. Though Kirsty said little, she could feel her efforts were being watched and approved, and the knowledge gave her a tingling sense of satisfaction. It was delightful to feel that she was a factor in this big school, and that she was doing her bit-however insignificant-to help up the athletic standard. In physical agility Winona was superior to Garnet. She could beat her easily at tennis, and there was already a wide gap between their gymnastic achievements. It was a fortunate circumstance, for it just balanced their friendship, and put them on a footing of equality which would have been otherwise absent. Garnet, so manifestly first in Form work, possessed of greater confidence and savoir faire in school life and older in experience for her years than Winona, might have monopolized the lead too entirely, had she not been obliged to yield the palm of outdoor sports to her friend.

Garnet was, in truth, just a trifle inclined to "boss." She liked Winona, and wanted her for a chum, but she loved to lay down the law and to constitute herself an authority upon every possible subject. There was no doubt it was owing to her initiative that the two scholarship-holders were gaining a position for themselves in the school. As Garnet had foreseen, the part they had taken in the Symposium won them favorable recognition. To be singled out as soloists and to have the honor of playing an accompaniment for the prefects had raised them above the common herd, and though a few were jealous, more were ready to extend the hand of good fellowship. In their own Form they were living down the prejudice which had at first existed against them. Hilda Langley and Estelle Harrison were not very friendly and influenced Olave Parry and Mollie Hill against them, but these formed a minority, and the bulk of the girls seemed to have decided in their favor.

With the enormous demands made on her time by her home preparation, Winona did not venture to join many of the school guilds. She would have liked immensely to put her name down for election to the Dramatic Society, the Debating Club and the Literary Association, but these all required rather strenuous brain work from their members, and in the circumstances she knew it would be folly to take them up. At some future date, when her ordinary subjects proved less of a burden, she promised herself the pleasure of being numbered among that select clique known as "The Intellectuals," but for the present her motto must be "grim grind." The Patriotic Knitting Guild seemed more feasible. She paid her subscription, received her skeins of khaki wool, and started mittens to fill up odd moments. She found the knitting a soothing occupation, it could be taken up and laid down so easily; it often went to school with her, and would come out during the interval, or while she was waiting for a class. The Photographic Union was beyond her, for as yet she had no camera, but she thought she was justified in joining the Natural History League. This society did not for the present demand papers from its members, but contented itself with encouraging the collection of objects for the school museum. Its main activities would be during the summer term, though a weather record was kept throughout the year, and any nature notes that were worthy of being written down were duly chronicled in the Field Book. Linda Fletcher and Annie Hardy, two of the prefects, were the leading spirits in the League. Linda was great on entomology, and, having a brother who was interested in the subject, had been out "sugaring" in his company in August and September, and had secured some fine specimens of moths. She had boxes full of chrysalides which she fondly hoped would emerge in the spring into perfect insects, and she had made quite a good little collection of beetles. Annie was more interested in botany, she pressed flowers and leaves, dried fruits and seed vessels, and made praiseworthy efforts at preserving funguses in bottles, though these latter attempts were not always attended with the success they deserved, as they were apt to acquire a gamey odor, to which her mother very naturally objected, and she would be obliged disconsolately to turn them out into the dust-bin.

November happened to be a particularly fine month at Seaton. There had been little rain, and no high winds to blow the leaves away. Though the trees in the city were bare, those in the country round about remained almost in their October glory, and in sheltered woods some were still green. The persistent sunshine encouraged the Natural History League to plan an excursion for its members, and after a consultation with Miss Lever, the Botany mistress, Linda pinned up the following announcement on the school notice board:-

Natural History League. An Autumn Foray will be held on Saturday next, visiting Monkend Woods and Copplestone Quarry. Members will meet at station for the 12.45 train to Powerscroft, returning by the 5.30 from Chartwell. Tea at farm-house. Walking distance five miles. Leaders: Miss Lever, Linda Fletcher and Annie Hardy. Those intending to join kindly give their names to the Secretary on Wednesday at latest.

L. Fletcher,

Hon. Sec.

The prospect of a ramble was alluring. Winona was a country lover, so she forthwith secured Aunt Harriet's permission for the outing and placed her name upon the list.

"I don't think there'll be more than a dozen of us altogether," said Linda, "but really a small party's more manageable than a big one, and I'll undertake we enjoy ourselves. Miss Lever can get permission for us to walk through the private part of the woods-there's no shooting this autumn, you know-so that will be simply glorious, and she says we ought to find some fossils in the quarry, if we've luck. I hope the weather will keep up. Don't forget to take a vasculum or a basket, and a hammer for fossils, and be sure you put on strong boots. The tea will probably be eightpence a head. Miss Lever is writing beforehand to the farm to make arrangements."

Garnet also was to join the excursion and she promised to call for Winona, so that they might walk to the station together. The latter had an early lunch, and was ready dressed and waiting for her friend by twenty minutes past twelve. Garnet's tram was late, and by the time she reached Abbey Close the clock pointed to the half-hour.

"I'm frightfully sorry! You must think me a Juggins, but it wasn't my fault!" she apologized. "We shall have to sprint, but we'll just do it."

The girls set off at a tremendous pace along the Close and down the Abbey avenue, but it was difficult to keep the same speed through the town, where the streets were thronged with country people who had come in for the Saturday market. They got along as best they could, walking first on the pavement and then on the road, dodging round stout females bearing baskets, avoiding hooting motors, and finally making a dash down a back street that led to the railway bridge. They clattered down the steps to the booking office, secured their tickets and rushed on to the platform. The hands of th

e big clock were at 12.45 exactly, the guard was about to wave his green flag. They were too late to look for their party; they simply pelted towards the nearest carriage, a porter opened the door and they scrambled in just in the very nick of time.

"Oh, thank goodness! Thank goodness!" gasped Garnet. "I thought we'd miss it! I never had such a run in my life before! Oh! It's given me a stitch in my side!"

"They've put us in a first!" exulted Winona, breathlessly. "We have it all to ourselves! What luck! Hope they won't make a fuss about our tickets when we get out!"

"It was the porter's fault. He opened the door. We'll ask Miss Lever to explain. I suppose the others are further along somewhere in the train. I wonder if they saw us get in?"

"If they didn't, it will be a surprise packet for them when we turn up."

"Yes, they'll have made up their minds we're left behind."

The two girls leaned back, enjoying the luxury of traveling in a first-class compartment. They felt the excursion had begun well as far as they were concerned. Their satisfaction was short-lived, however. When they neared Barnhill, the train, instead of stopping, rushed through the station at thirty-five miles an hour. Garnet turned to Winona in utter consternation.

"Oh, good-night!" she ejaculated. "I verily believe we've gone and got into the express!"

They saw at once how it had happened. The 12.40 fast train to Rockfield must have been five minutes late. In their hurry they had mistaken it for the stopping train, which probably had been drawn up behind it in the station.

"Well, this is a pretty go!" agreed Winona. "We shall be carried on to Rockfield and have to come back."

"We shall miss the ramble! Oh, it's the limit of hard luck-to see ourselves whizzing through Powerscroft!"

"I say, I believe we're stopping after all!"

They let down the window and looked out. They were still about a mile from Powerscroft, but the train drew up, probably in obedience to an adverse signal. Then the girls did a terrible and awful thing. They never remembered afterwards which suggested it, probably the idea occurred to both simultaneously, but in defiance of the law of the realm and the rules of the railway company, they opened the door of the carriage and climbed down on to the line. There were some railings near, and they scrambled over these and dodged down an embankment into a coppice before anybody in the train had time to give an alarm. They hoped their flight had not been noticed, but of that they could not be sure. They hid behind some bushes until they heard the train rumble away.

"That was the smartest thing we've ever done in our lives!" chuckled Garnet. "I believe we could be fined about ten pounds each if they caught us!"

"Let us hurry on and try to find the road," said Winona, who was rather frightened at her own temerity, and had a nervous apprehension lest a guard or a signalman or some other railway official might even now be in pursuit and arrest them on a charge of breaking the law.

After crossing a field they struck a path which led them eventually into a by-lane.

"I know where we are," affirmed Garnet. "I bicycled this way once. Monkend Woods are in that direction, and if we turn to the left and through this village we shall get there sooner than the others, I believe, and be waiting for them when they arrive. Their train won't have reached Powerscroft yet."

"We'd better step out all the same," urged Winona.

Fortunately Garnet possessed the bump of locality. Her recollection of the district was correct, and after a brisk walk of about a mile they found themselves in the high road close to the wood, and sat down on a wall to wait. Their fast train and short cut had given them an advantage: it was nearly half an hour before they spied the rest of the party strolling leisurely up the hill with baskets and vasculums. The surprise of the League at seeing them was immense, and naturally there were many inquiries as to how they had thus stolen a march upon their friends.

"Oh, we came in an a?roplane!" said Garnet jauntily. "It just dropped us in the field over there. Very pleasant run, though a little chilly in the clouds!"

She was obliged to own up, however, in answer to Miss Lever's inquiries, give a precise account of their adventure, and cry "peccavi."

"Of course Dollikins had to be orthodox and preach a short sermon," she confided afterwards to Winona, "but I'm sure she'd have done the same thing herself in the circumstances. I could see admiration in her eye, although she talked about running risks and the possibility of broken necks."

Miss Lever, otherwise Dollikins, from the fact that her Christian name was Dorothy, held high favor among the girls. She was brisk and jolly, decidedly athletic, and a first-rate leader of outdoor expeditions. She had called at the gamekeeper's cottage en route and shown the letter of permission from the owner of the property, so that the party was able to explore the wood with a clear conscience, despite the trespass notice nailed on to the gate. And what a delightful wood it was! To enter it was like stepping into one of Grimm's fairy tales. An avenue of splendid pines reared their dark boughs against a russet background of beeches; everywhere the leaves seemed to have donned their brightest and gayest tints, as if bidding a last good-by before they fell from the trees. The undergrowth was gorgeous: bramble, elder, honeysuckle, briony, rowan, and alder vied with one another in the vividness of their crimson and orange, while the bracken was a sea of pale gold. There were all sorts of delightful things to be found-acorns lay so plentifully in the pathway that the girls could not help scrunching them underfoot. A few were already sending out tiny shoots in anticipation of spring, and these were carefully saved to take home and grow in bottles. A stream ran through the wood, its banks almost completely covered with vivid green mosses, in sheets so thick and compact that a slight pull would raise a yard at a time. Some resembled tufted tassels, some the most delicate ferns, and others showed the split cups of their seed-vessels like pixie goblets. Annie Hardy, whose experienced eyes were on the look-out for certain botanical treasures reported to grow at Monkend, was searching among the dead twigs under the hazel bushes, and was rewarded by finding a clump of the curious little birds-nest fungus with its seeds packed like tiny eggs inside. Some orange elf-cups, a bright red toadstool or two, and a few of the larger purple varieties that had lingered on from October made quite a creditable fungus record for the League, and specimens of wild flowers were also secured, a belated foxglove or two, a clump of ragwort, some blue harebells, campion, herb-robert, buttercup, yarrow, thistle, and actually a strawberry blossom. The leaders had brought note-books and wrote down each find as reported by the members, taking the specimens for Miss Lever to verify if there were any doubt as to identification. Animal and bird life was not absent. Shy bunnies whisked away, showing a dab of white tail as they dived under the bracken; a splendid squirrel ran across the path and darted up an oak tree, a wood-pigeon whirred from a pine top, a great woodpecker, scared by their approach, started from the bushes and flew past them so near that they could see the green flash of its wings and the red markings on its head, while a whole fluttering flight of long-tailed tits were flitting like a troop of fairies round the hole of a lichen-covered beech.

Miss Lever was as enthusiastic as the girls; she climbed over fallen tree trunks, grubbed among dead leaves, jumped the brook and scaled fences with delightful energy. It was she who pointed out the heron sailing overhead, and noticed the gold-crested wren's nest hanging under the branch of a fir, a little battered with autumn rain, and too high, alas! to be taken, but a most interesting item to go down in the note-books. The girls could hardly be persuaded to tear themselves away from the glory of the woods, and would have spent the whole time there, but Miss Lever had other plans.

"Come along! We've scared the pheasants quite enough," she declared. "My mind is set on fossils, and if we don't go on to Copplestones at once we shall be caught in the dark, or miss our tea or our train or something equally disagreeable."

The quarry was only half a mile away, and it proved as interesting as the wood. Being Saturday afternoon the men were not working, so they had the place to themselves, and wandered about examining heaps of shale, and tapping likely-looking stones with their hammers. Garnet and Winona knew nothing of geology, so they listened with due meekness while the instructed few discoursed learnedly on pal?ozoic rocks, stratified conglomerates and quartzites. They rejoiced with Miss Lever, however, when she secured a fairly intact belemnite. It was the only good find they had, though some of the girls got broken bits of fossil shells.

"The fact is one needs a whole day to hunt about in this quarry, and my watch tells me we ought to be going," said Miss Lever. "Who feels inclined for tea?"

Everybody felt very much disposed, so the procession started off cheerfully for the farm close by, and the nature-lovers were soon hard at work consuming platefuls of bread and butter, jars of jam, and piles of plum cake.

"Sixteen varieties of wild flowers, seven various specimens of fungi, nine different sorts of berries, twelve species of birds noticed, also rabbits and squirrel, one bird's nest and one perfect fossil-not a bad record for an autumn foray!" said Linda, proudly consulting her note-book.

"Especially when you remember we're well on in November!" added Annie. "It will be something to enter in the League minutes book."

"I'm afraid it's the last ramble we shall get this year," said Miss Lever, "but I've one or two nice little schemes on hand for the spring, so the League must look forward to next April. Will any one have any more tea? Then please make a move, for it's time we were starting."

"Good old Dollikins!" murmured Linda as the girls put on their coats. "She's A1 at a foray. Got something ripping for next season in her head. I can tell by the twinkle in her eye. She'll ruminate over it all winter, and drop it on us as a surprise some day. Oh, thunder! Yes, we ought to be starting! Come along, you slackers, do you want to be left standing on the platform with a couple of hours to wait for the next train? Then sprint as hard as you can!"

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