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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 20749

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Concerns a Camera

Winona went home at Christmas with a whole world of new experiences to call her own. Her first term had indeed been an epoch in her life, and though the holidays were naturally welcome, she felt that she could look forward with pleasure to the next session of school. Her family received her with a certain amount of respect. The younger ones listened enviously to her accounts of hockey matches and symposiums, and began to wish Fate had wafted their fortunes to Seaton. They had left Miss Harmon's little school, and next term were expecting, with some apprehension, a governess whom Aunt Harriet had recommended. Winona, who after thirteen weeks at Abbey Close found the home arrangements rather chaotic, could not help privately endorsing Miss Beach's wisdom in instituting such a change. Poor Mrs. Woodward had been greatly out of health for the last few months, and kept much to her bedroom, while the children had been running wild in a quite deplorable fashion. Letty, who ought to have had some influence over the others, was the naughtiest of all, and the ringleader in every mischievous undertaking. Having occupied the position of "eldest" for thirteen weeks, she was not at all disposed to submit to her sister's authority, and there were many tussles between the two.

"You'll have to do as your governess tells you, when she comes!" protested Winona on one particularly urgent occasion.

"All right, Grannie!" retorted Letty pertly. "I'll settle that matter with the good lady herself, and in the meantime I'm not going to knuckle under to you, so don't think it! You needn't come back so precious high and mighty from your High School, and expect to boss the whole show here. So there!"

And Winona, who aforetime had been able to subdue her unruly sister, found herself baffled, for their mother was ill, and must not be disturbed, and Percy, who might have been on her side, would only lie on the sofa and guffaw.

"Fight it out, like a pair of Kilkenny cats!" was his advice. "I'll sweep up the fragments that remain of you afterwards. No, I'm not going to back either of you. Go ahead and get it over!"

Percy had grown immensely during this last term. He was now seventeen, and very tall, though at present decidedly lanky. The Cadet Corps at his school absorbed most of his interests. He held emphatic opinions upon the war, and aired them daily to his family over the morning paper. According to his accounts, matters seemed likely to make little progress until he and his contemporaries at Longworth College should have reached military age, and be able to take their due part in the struggle, at which happy crisis the Germans would receive a setback that would astonish the Kaiser.

"Our British tactics have been all wrong!" he declared. "I can tell you we follow things out inch by inch at Longworth, and you should just hear what Johnstone Major has to say. Some of those generals at the Front are old women! They ought to send them home, and set them some knitting to do. If I'd the ordering of affairs I'd give the command to fellows under twenty-five! New wine should be in new bottles."

The younger children listened with admiration to Percy's views on war topics, much regretting that the Government had not yet obtained the benefit of his advice. Godfrey even hoped that the war would not be over before there was a chance for precept to be put into practice, and already, in imagination, saw his brother in the uniform of a Field Marshal. Winona smiled tolerantly. She took Percy's opinions for what they were worth. If his school report was anything to go by, he had certainly not won laurels at Longworth this term, in the direction of brainwork, and the headmaster's comment: "Lacking in steady application," had probably been amply justified.

Winona was not altogether happy about Percy, these holidays. Jack Cassidy was spending Christmas at the Vicarage, and claimed much of his time, and the influence was not altogether for good. Young Cassidy had already given the Vicar, his guardian and former tutor, considerable trouble. At twenty-two he had run through a large proportion of the money which had come to him at his majority, though fortunately he could not touch the bulk of his property till he should be twenty-five. At present he was waiting for a commission, and amusing himself as best he could in the village until the welcome missive should arrive. For lack of other congenial companions he sought Percy's society. Neither Mr. James, the Vicar, nor Mrs. Woodward realized how much the two young fellows were together, or they certainly would not have encouraged the intimacy. Winona, who was just old enough to recognize certain undesirable features, tackled Percy in private.

"Mother wouldn't like your going into 'The Blue Harp,' and playing billiards with Jack!" she remonstrated. "You were there hours yesterday. Doesn't it cost a lot?"

"Oh, Jack pays for it! At least he settles with old Chubbs. I have a bit on the score, of course, but he says that can wait a while. I'm improving, and I'll beat him yet, and win my own back."

"You promised mother you wouldn't bet again, after what happened last Easter."

"Now don't you go jaw-wagging!"

"Well, I must say something! If Mr. Joynson-"

"Old Joynson may go and boil his head! I'm seventeen now. Look here, Win, if you're going to turn sneak-"

"Sneak, indeed! Do I ever tell your secrets? Think what you did at Aunt Harriet's!"

Percy changed color.

"You've not breathed a word about that?"

"Of course I haven't, but I'm always terrified that she'll find out."

"It was a rocky little business. I say, Win, I was looking up wills in 'Every Man his Own Lawyer.' If Aunt Harriet died intestate all her estate would go to her next-of-kin, and that's Uncle Herbert Beach out in China. The mater wouldn't have a look-in, because her mother was only Aunt Harriet's half-sister. Uncle Herbert would just get the lot. She ought to make another will at once."

"Had you better tell, then?" faltered Winona.

"Tell? Certainly not! But you might very well suggest it to her. You've plenty of opportunities, as you're living there. Bring the conversation round to wills, and ask casually if she's made hers."

"Oh, I couldn't!"

"Yes, you could. You ought to do it, Winona. The mater stands to lose everything as it is. It would probably make Aunt Harriet look inside the drawer, and then she'd see her paper was gone."

"And suspect us!"

"Why should she know we'd had anything to do with it? The servants might have been rummaging. I certainly think it's your duty, Win, to take some steps."

It was rather fine to hear Percy preaching duty on a subject in which he was so plainly a defaulter. Winona at first indignantly repudiated the task he wished to impose upon her. Nevertheless, the idea kept returning and troubling her. She was sure Aunt Harriet ought to know that the will had been destroyed, and if it was impossible to tell her outright, this would certainly be a means of putting her on the track. Winona's whole soul revolted from the notion of speculating upon possible advantages to be gained from a relative's death. She would rather let Uncle Herbert inherit everything than interfere for herself. But for her mother it was a different matter. Aunt Harriet might wish her goddaughter to receive part of her fortune, and to conceal the destruction of the will might mean depriving Mrs. Woodward of a handsome legacy. How to make Miss Beach realize the loss of the paper without getting Percy into trouble was a problem that might have perplexed older and wiser heads.

Meanwhile it was holiday time, and there were many more pleasant subjects to think about. Winona's Christmas present had been a small hand camera, the very thing for which she had longed during the whole of the past term. She contemplated it with the utmost satisfaction. Now she would be able to join the Photographic Club at school, to go out on some of the Saturday afternoon expeditions, and to have a few of her prints in the Exhibition. She could take snap-shots of the girls and the classroom, and make them into picture postcards to send to her mother, and she could make a series of home photos to hang up in her bedroom at Abbey Close. There seemed no limit indeed to the possibilities of her new camera. She guarded it jealously from the prying fingers of the younger members of the family.

"Paws off!" she commanded. "Anybody who interferes with this Kodak will quarrel with me, so I give you full and fair warning! Oh, yes, Dorrie! I dare say you'd just like to press the button! I'd guarantee your fairy fingers to smash anything! It's 'mustn't touch, only look' where this is concerned. No personal familiarities, please!"

December and January were scarcely propitious months for the taking of snap-shots, but Winona attempted some time exposures, with varying results. It was difficult to make the children realize the necessity of keeping absolutely still, and they spoilt several of her plates by grinning or moving. She secured quite a nice photo of the house, however, and several of the village, and promised herself better luck with family portraits when the summer came round again. She turned a large cupboard in the attic into her dark-room, and spent many hours dabbling among chemicals. She had urgent offers of help, but rejected them steadfastly, greatly to the disappointment of her would-be assistants. Her sanctum became a veritable Bluebeard's chamber, for to prevent possible accidents she locked the door, and kept the key perpetually in her pocket during the day time, sleeping with it under her pillow at night. In the summer she meant to try all kinds of experiments. She had visions of rigging up a shelter made of leaves and branches, and taking a series of magnificent snap-shots of wild birds and animals, like those in the books by Cherry Kearton, and she certainly intended to secure records of the sports at school. In the meantime she must content herself with landscape and still life. "I'll have one of the de Claremont tomb, at any rate," she resolved.

The de Claremont tomb was the glory of Ashbourne Church. It was of white marble, and beautifully sculptured. Sir Guy de Claremont lay represented in full armor, with his lady in ruff and coif

by his side. Six sons and four daughters, all kneeling, were carved in has relief round the side of the monument. Long, long ago, in the Middle Ages, the de Claremonts had been the great people of the neighborhood. They had fought in the Crusades, had taken their part in the wars of the Barons, had declared for the White Rose in the struggle with the House of Lancaster, and cast in their lot for the King against Oliver Cromwell. The family was extinct now, and their lands had passed to others, but a few tattered banners and an old helmet still hung on the wall of the side chapel, above the tomb, testifying to their former achievements. From her seat in church Winona had a good view of the monument. She admired it immensely, and had often woven romances about the good knights of old who had carried those banners to the battle-field. She felt that she would like to secure a satisfactory photo. She started off one morning at about half-past eleven, when the light was likely to be best.

It was a sunny day, and wonderfully bright for January. She had meant to go alone, but the children were on the look-out, and tracked her, so she arrived at the church door closely followed by Letty, Mamie, Godfrey, Ernie and Dorrie. She hesitated for a moment whether to send them straight home or not, but the church was a mile from Highfield, and the mill weir, a place of fascination to Ernie, lay on the way, so she decided that it would be safest to let well alone.

"They're imps, but they'll have to behave themselves decently in church," she said to herself.

At present the conduct of the family was exemplary. They walked in on tip-toe, and talked in whispers. Mamie, indeed, cast an envious eye towards the forbidden ground of the pulpit, into which it was her ambition some day to climb, and wave her arms about in imitation of the Vicar, but she valiantly restrained her longings, and kept from the neighborhood of the chancel. Letty took a surreptitious peep at the organ, and was disappointed to find it locked, as was also the little oak door that led up the winding staircase to the bell tower. She decided that the parish clerk was much too attentive to his duties.

"Come along over here, can't you?" said Winona suspiciously. "Leave those hymn-books alone, and tell Dorrie she's not to touch the font, or I'll stick her inside and pop the lid on her. Go and sit down, all of you, in that pew, while I take the photo."

The family for once complied obediently, if somewhat reluctantly. It was better to play the part of spectators than to be left out of the proceedings altogether. In the circumstances they knew Winona had the whip-hand, and that if she ordered them from the church there would be no appeal. They watched her now with interest and enthusiasm.

It took her a long time to fix her camera in good position. It was difficult to see properly in the viewfinder, and she wanted to be quite sure that when the head of Sir Guy was safely in the right-hand corner, his feet were not out of the picture at the left, to say nothing of the ten kneeling children underneath.

"It's impossible to get the wall above if I'm to take the inscription on the monument," she declared, "and yet I mustn't leave out the old helmet on any account. I shall take it down, and put it at the bottom of the tomb while I photograph it. It ought to come out rather well there."

Rejecting eager offers of help from Mamie and Ernie, Winona climbed up on to the stately person of Dame Margaret de Claremont, and managed to take the helmet from the wooden peg on which it was suspended. She posed it at the foot of the monument, on the right hand side.

"There's a splendid light from this window-full sunshine! I think if I give it five minutes' exposure, that ought to do the deed. Now don't any of you so much as cough, or you'll disturb the air."

The family felt that five minutes the very limit of endurance. The moment it was ended they dispersed to ease their strained feelings. Letty and Ernie walked briskly up the nave. Mamie went to investigate the stove. Winona herself took the camera to the opposite side of the church to photograph a Jacobean tablet. Six-year-old Dorrie remained sitting on a hassock in the pew. She had a plan in her crafty young mind. She wanted to examine the helmet, and she knew Winona would be sure to say "Paws off!" or something equally offensive and objectionable. She waited till her sister was safely out of the way, then she stole from her cover, grabbed the helmet, and returned to the shelter of the pew. It made quite an interesting and fascinating plaything in her estimation. She amused herself with it for a long time, until she heard Winona's voice proclaiming that if they didn't trot home quickly they'd be late for dinner, whereupon she popped it under the seat, and joined the others. Winona, of course, ought to have replaced it on its peg on the wall, but her memory was far from perfect, and she completely forgot all about it.

The whole thing seemed a most trivial incident, but it had an amazing sequel. On Saturday afternoons Mrs. Fisher, the caretaker, always came to sweep and tidy up the church in preparation for Sunday. She was a little, thin, sharp-nosed, impulsive woman, and just at present her nerves were rather in a shaky condition for fear of Zeppelins. She lived in perpetual terror of bombs or German spies, and always slept with half her clothing on, in case she should be forced to get up in a hurry and flee for her life. On this particular Saturday afternoon Mrs. Fisher, as was her wont, washed the pavement of the nave, and then took her broom and her duster into the side chapel. Nobody sat there as a rule, so she did not give it very much attention. She flicked the duster over the monument, hastily swept the floor in front, and was just about to turn away, having done her duty, when she caught sight of something under the seat of a pew. She put her hand to her heart, and turned as white as her own best linen apron. She divined instantly what it must be. With great presence of mind she stole softly away on tip-toe. Once outside the church she indulged in a comfortable little burst of hysterics. Then she felt better, and went to tell the parish clerk. Before evening the news had spread all over the village.

"It was brought in a motor car," Mrs. Pikes at the shop informed her customers, "and Wilson's little boy says he heard them talking German."

"There was a foreign-looking sort of a chap rode past our house on a bicycle the other day," volunteered the blacksmith's assistant.

"You never know where you are with strangers in war time," said another.

Everybody agreed that it was a mercy Mrs. Fisher had seen it when she did, and they were glad the church was a goodish way from the village.

The Woodward family generally started off for service almost directly after the bells began to ring. On the following Sunday morning, however, they were considerably perplexed. The familiar "ding-dong, ding-dong" which ought to have been pealing forth was not to be heard. They listened in vain, and consulted all the clocks in the house.

"It's certainly after ten," said Mrs. Woodward. "I'm afraid something must have happened! I hope Mr. James isn't ill. Well, we'd better go at any rate, and see what's the matter."

So the family, which was ready in its best Sunday garments, sallied forth. Ashbourne Church stood a whole mile away from the village, in a lonely spot with only a couple of cottages near it. The Woodwards took a short cut across the common from Highfield, so that they did not pass any houses or meet any neighbors by the way. They arrived at the church to find the door locked, and the Vicar and his family standing in consternation outside. Mr. James hailed them with relief.

"So it is Sunday!" he exclaimed. "I began to think we must have mistaken the day! I can't understand what's the matter. Nobody's here except ourselves. What's becomes of Stevens?"

It was certainly an unprecedented circumstance to find choir, congregation, organist, organ-blower, bell-ringer and verger all conspicuous by their absence. Mr. James went to the cottages near to make inquiries as to the cause. The first was locked up, but by knocking long and loudly at the door of the second, he at last succeeded in rousing Jacob Johnson, a deaf old man of eighty-three.

"Nobody come to church!" he repeated, when after some difficulty and much shouting the situation had been explained: "Well, 'tain't likely there should be! I'm told there's a German bomb there, one of the dangerous sort for going off. Some men brought it yesterday in a motor car. Spies of the Kaiser, they were. It may explode any minute, they say, and wreck the church and everything near. The Greenwoods next door locked up the house, and went to their aunt's in the village. My daughter came over here asking me to go home with her, but I said I'd stay and risk it. At eighty-three one doesn't care to move!"

"Where is this bomb?" asked Mr. James.

"In a pew nigh the old monument, so I'm told." At this juncture Jack Cassidy, who when the church was first found to be locked had volunteered to run back to the Vicarage and fetch the Vicar's own key, now arrived after a record sprint.

"Give me a bucket of water, and I'll go and investigate," said Mr. James.

He came out of the church in the course of a few minutes, holding in his hand-the old helmet!

"This is the nearest approach to a bomb of any description that I've been able to discover," he announced. "I'm going to carry it to the village to convince the wiseacres there. Perhaps Stevens will pluck up courage to ring the bell for afternoon service. If not, I'll ring it myself."

Winona's share in the business might have remained concealed but for the indiscretion of Mamie, who by an incautious remark gave the show away entirely.

"You little silly!" scolded Winona afterwards. "What possessed you to go and say anything at all? Mr. James will never forgive me! I could see it in his eye. And Mrs. James was ice itself! I've never felt so horrible in all my life. If you'd only had the sense to keep mum, they might never have found out. You kids are the most frightful nuisance! If I'd had my choice given me when I was born, I wouldn't have been an eldest sister."

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