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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 19902

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The School Service Badge

Settling down at Abbey Close after a month at Highfield was like transferring oneself from a noisy farmyard to the calm of the cloister. The house was so near to the Minster that it seemed pervaded by the quiet Cathedral atmosphere. When Winona drew up her blinds in the morning, the first sight that greeted her would be the grey old towers and carved pinnacles, exactly opposite, where the jackdaws were chattering, and the pigeons wheeling round, and the big clock was going through the chimes and striking the hour of seven. There was a particular gargoyle at the corner of the transept roof which appeared to be grinning at her across the road, as if some imp were imprisoned in the stone image, and were peeping out of its fantastic eyes. Winona had grown to love the Minster. She would go in whenever she had ten minutes to spare after school. The glorious arches and pillars, the carved choir stalls, the light falling through the splendid rich windows on to the marble pavement, all appealed to the artistic sense that was stirring in her, and gave her immense satisfaction. But even the beauty of the Cathedral was as nothing when the organ began to play. Mr. Holmes, the organist, was a great musician, and could manage his instrument with a wizard touch. In the afternoons, between four and five o'clock, he was wont to practice his voluntaries, and to listen to these took Winona into a new world of sound. He was a disciple of the extreme modern school of music, and his interpretations of Debussy, César Franck, Medtner and Glazounow came to her as a revelation. The glorious weird harmonies, the strange, unaccustomed chords of these tone-poems stirred her like the memory of something long forgotten. As Anglo-Indians, whose knowledge of Hindustani faded with their childhood, yet start and thrill at the sound of the once familiar language, so this dream-music brought haunting elusive suggestions too subtle to be defined. It held a distinct part in Winona's development.

The girl was growing up suddenly. In the almost nursery atmosphere of Highfield, with nothing to stimulate her faculties she had remained at a very childish stage, but now, with a world of art, music, science and literature dawning round her she seemed to leap upward to the level of her new intellectual horizon. It is a glorious time when we first begin to reap the inheritance of the ages, and to discover the rich stores of delight that master minds have laid up for us to enjoy. Life was moving very fast to Winona; she could not analyze all her fresh thoughts and impressions, but she felt she could no more go back to her last year's mental outlook than she could have worn the long clothes of her babyhood. She was sixteen now, for her birthday fell on the 20th of January. Somehow sixteen sounded so infinitely older than fifteen! There was a dignity about it and a sense of importance. In another year she would actually be "sweet seventeen," and a member of that enviable school hierarchy the Sixth Form!

Winona could have made herself thoroughly happy at Abbey Close but for the shadow that existed between herself and Aunt Harriet. Percy's secret was a perpetual burden on her conscience. At meal times she would often find her eyes wandering towards the oak cupboard, and would start guiltily, hoping Miss Beach had not noticed. The more she thought about the subject the more convinced she became that she ought to give some hint of the state of affairs, though how to do so without implicating her brother was at present beyond her calculations. One day, however, a really hopeful opportunity seemed to arise. A case of a disputed will was being tried at the Seaton Sessions; the defendants were friends of Miss Beach's, and after reading the account of the proceedings, Aunt Harriet laid down the local paper with a few comments.

"I suppose people ought to make their wills very fast and firm," said Winona. It was seldom she ventured on an independent remark. As a rule she left her aunt to do the talking.

"Undoubtedly. Nothing causes more trouble than carelessness in this respect."

"Ought we all to make wills?"

"If we have anything to leave it's advisable."

"Ought I?"

"Well, hardly at present, I should say!"

"Ought mother?" Winona was growing redder and redder.

"No doubt she has done so."

"Have you made yours, Aunt Harriet?"

The horrible deed was done, and Winona, crimson to the roots of her hair, felt she had, metaphorically speaking, burnt her boats.

Miss Beach stared at her as if electrified.

"What do you want to know for?" she asked, suspiciously. "I think that's decidedly my business and not yours!"

Winona collapsed utterly, and murmuring something about preparation, fled to her bedroom.

"There! I've just gone and put my foot in it altogether!" she groaned. "I've no tact! I went and blurted it out like an idiot. She'll never forgive me! Oh, why can't I go and tell her the whole business, and then she'd understand! I do hate this sneaking work. Percy, you wretched boy, I'd like to bump your head against the wall! It's too bad to land me in your scrape! Well, I suppose it can't be helped. I've said it, and it's done. But I know I'll be in disgrace for evermore."

Certainly Aunt Harriet's manner towards Winona, after this unfortunate episode, was stiffer than formerly. She was perfectly kind, but the gulf between them had widened. They still discussed conventional topics at meal-times, or rather Miss Beach made leading remarks and Winona said "Yes," or "No," for such a one-sided conversation could hardly be termed discussion. The girl felt it a relief when, as often happened, her aunt took refugein a book. Occasionally Winona would pluck up courage to relate news from her home letters, but of her school life and all her new impressions and interests she scarcely spoke at all. Judging from the children's correspondence the new governess at Highfield, after a stormy beginning, was making some impressions upon her wild little pupils.

"I hated her at first," wrote Mamie, "but she tells us the most lovely fairy tales, and we're learning to model in clay. I like it because it makes such a mess. Ernie smacked her yesterday, and she wouldn't let him do his painting till he'd said he was sorry."

Winona laughed over the letters, picturing the lively scenes that must be taking place at home.

"Do the kids a world of good!" she commented. "They were running to seed. Even I could see that, as long ago as last summer, and I don't mind confessing, quite to myself, that I was fairly raw then. I didn't know very much about anything till I came to the 'Seaton High.'"

Winona's second term was running far more smoothly than her first. Thanks to Miss Lever's coaching she could now hold her own in her Form, and though she might not be the most shining light, at any rate she was not numbered among the slackers.

Her progress was marked in more quarters than she suspected. Margaret Howell had had the Scholarship winners under observation ever since their arrival. As head girl she made it her business to know something about every girl in the school. "The General," as she was nicknamed, was universally voted a success. She and Kirsty Paterson between them had organized a new era of things. Every one felt the "Seaton High" was waking up and beginning to found a reputation for itself. The various guilds and societies were prospering, and following Margaret's pet motto "Pro Bono Publico," had exterminated private quarrels and instituted the most business-like proceedings and the strictest civility at committee meetings. Already the general tone was raised immeasurably, and public spirit and school patriotism ran high. To encourage zeal and strenuousness, Margaret and Kirsty had laid their heads together and decided to found what they called "The Order of Distinguished School Service." Any girl who was considered to have performed some action worthy of special commendation or who had otherwise contributed to the general benefit, was to be rewarded with a badge, and her name was to be chronicled in a book kept for the purpose.

The very first to gain the honor was little Daisy Hicks, a Second Form child, who won 9,400 marks out of a possible 10,000 in the Christmas exams, so far the highest score known in the school. Agnes Heath, who wrung special praise from the doctor who conducted the Ambulance examination, and Gladys Vickcrs, whose photograph of the hockey team was published in the Seaton Weekly Graphic, were also placed upon the distinguished list, having substantially helped the credit of the school. The badge was only a rosette made of narrow ribbons, stitched in tiny loops into the form of a daisy, with a yellow disk, and white and pink outer rays. If meant very much, however, to the recipient, who knew that her name would be handed down to posterity in the school traditions, and every girl was immensely keen to earn it.

A new institution in the school this term was the foundation of a library. It had been a pet project of Margaret's ever since her appointment as head prefect. Just before the Christmas breaking up she had called a general meeting and begged everybody after the holidays to present at least one contribution.

"It may be a new book or an old one," she had explained, "but it must be really interesting. Please don't bring rubbish. Give something you would enjoy reading yourself and can recommend to your friends."

The response to her appeal had been greater than she anticipated. Nobody failed to comply, and some of the girls brought several books apiece. A start was made with three hundred and forty-one volumes, which was regarded as a most creditable beginning. For the present they were piled up in the prefects' room until shelves had been made to receive them. Miss Bishop had given the order to the joiner, but owing to the war it mi

ght be some time before the work was finished.

Meanwhile Margaret decided that the books ought to be catalogued and labeled, so that they would be quite ready when the bookcases arrived. She cast about for helpers in this rather arduous task, and her choice fell upon Winona, who happened to have a spare half-hour between her classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Winona, immensely flattered, accepted the responsibility with glee, and was put to work under the "General's" directions. She thoroughly enjoyed sorting, dusting, pasting on labels, and making alphabetical lists.

"I shouldn't mind being a librarian some day in a big public library," she assured Ellinor Cooper, her fellow-assistant.

"You'd have to be quicker than you are at present, then," remarked Margaret dryly. "They wouldn't think you worth your salt if you spent all your time reading the books. Buck up, can't you? and get on!"

At which Winona guiltily shut "Shirley" with a bang and turned her attention to the paste-pot.

While Margaret was cultivating the intellectual side of the school, Kirsty was carefully attending to her duties as Games Captain. Her work among the juniors prospered exceedingly. They were taking to hockey with wild enthusiasm and gave evidence of considerable promise. As most of them were free at three o'clock, they got the chance of playing almost every day. Kirsty was extremely anxious that these practices should be properly supervised. She was too busy herself to take them personally, so she was obliged to delegate the work to anybody who had the spare time.

"The girls I want most are all at classes or music lessons," she lamented. "Not a single one of the team's available. Winona Woodward, I've been looking at your time-table, and find you've two vacant half-hours. Wouldn't you like to help?"

"Like! I'd sell my birthright to do it!" gasped Winona. "But I'm fearfully sorry; I'm cataloguing for Margaret!"

"Then I mustn't take you away from the General! It's a nuisance though, for you'd have done very well, and I don't know who else I can get."

Winona considered it was one of the sharpest disappointments she had ever gone through.

"Oh, the grizzly bad luck of it!" she wailed to Garnet. "It would have been idyllic to coach those kids. And it would have given me such a leg up with Kirsty! To think I've lost my chance!"

"I suppose Margaret might get some one else to do cataloguing?"

"I dare say: but I couldn't possibly ask her, and I'm sure Kirsty won't. No, I'm done for!"

School etiquette is very strict, and Winona would have perished sooner than resign her library duties. She felt a martyr, but resolved to smile through it all. Garnet contemplated the problem at leisure during her drawing lesson, and arrived at a daring conclusion. Without consulting her friend she marched off at four o'clock to the prefects' room, a little sanctum on the ground floor where the minutes' books of the various guilds and societies were kept, and where the school officers could hold meetings and transact business.

As she expected, Margaret was there alone, and said "Come in" in answer to her rap at the door. The members of the Sixth kept much on their dignity, so it was rather a formidable undertaking even for a Fifth Form girl to interrupt the head of the school. Margaret looked up inquiringly as Garnet entered.

"Yes, I'm fearfully busy," she replied to the murmured question. "What is it? I can give you five minutes, but no more, so please be brief."

Thus urged, Garnet, though greatly embarrassed, did not beat about the bush.

"I've come to ask a frightfully cheeky thing," she blurted out. "Kirsty wants Winona to coach the kids at hockey, and Winona's cataloguing for you, so of course she can't-and-" but here Garnet's courage failed her, so she paused.

"Do you mean that Winona would prefer to help with the juniors?"

"She'd be torn in pieces rather than let me say so, but she's just crazy over hockey. I hope I haven't made any mischief! Win doesn't know I've come."

"All right. I understand. I'll see what can be done in the matter," returned the General, opening her books as a sign of dismissal.

Garnet was not at all sure whether her mission had succeeded or the reverse, but the next day Margaret sent for Winona.

"I hear Kirsty wants you for a hockey coach. Just at present I think games are of more importance in the school than the library, so please report yourself to her, and say I've taken your name off my list. You've done very well here, but I'm going to lend you to Kirsty for a while."

Winona was so astounded she hardly knew whether to stammer out apologies, gratitude, or regrets, and was intensely relieved when the head girl cut her short kindly but firmly, and sent her away. She lost no time in seeking out the Games Captain.

"Very decent of Margaret," remarked Kirsty. "It's got me out of a hole, for I couldn't find anybody else with that special time free. You'll do your best I know?"

"Rather!" beamed Winona ecstatically.

Under her tuition the children's play improved fast. Kirsty said little-she was not given to over-praising people-but Winona felt she noticed and approved.

Among the season's fixtures perhaps the most important was the match with the Seaton Ladies' Hockey Club that was to come off on March 7th. Their opponents possessed a fair reputation in the city, so it would behove the school to "play up for all they were worth," as Kirsty expressed it. It would be a glorious opportunity of showing their capabilities to the world at large, and demonstrating that they meant to take their due place in local athletics.

Three days before the event, Kirsty appeared in the morning with the air of a tragedy queen.

"What's the matter?" queried Patricia. "You've a face as long as a fiddle!"

"Matter enough! Barbara Jennings is laid up with influenza! What'll become of the match I don't know. It makes me feel rocky. Where's Margaret? I want to confab. Did you ever hear of such grizzly luck in your life?"

At five minutes past eleven, when Winona was eating her lunch in the gymnasium, Kirsty tapped her on the shoulder.

"I've something to tell you, Winona Woodward. You're to play for the School on Saturday instead of Barbara."

Winona swallowed a piece of biscuit with foolhardy haste. She could scarcely believe the news, so great was its magnitude. To be asked to fill a vacant place in the team was beyond her wildest dreams.

"Thanks most immensely!" she stammered, with her eyes shining like stars.

Through the next few days Winona simply lived for Saturday. To be able to represent the School! The glorious thought was never for a moment absent from her mind. She even ventured to tell Aunt Harriet the honor that had been thrust upon her, and was astonished at the interest with which her information was received.

On the Saturday afternoon the High School turned up almost in full force to view the match; juniors were keen as seniors, and the children whom Winona had coached were wild with excitement. The field was packed with spectators, for the Ladies' Club had brought many friends. It was even rumored that a reporter from the Seaton Weekly Graphic was present. The High School team in navy blue gymnasium costumes, bare heads and close-plaited pigtails, looked neat and trim and very business-like. "A much fitter set than we showed last year!" murmured Margaret with satisfaction. All eyes were riveted on the field as the two opponents stood out to "bully" and the sticks first clashed together. Winona, her face aglow with excitement, waited a chance to run. A little later her opportunity came: she dashed into the masses of the opponents' force, and with one magnificent stroke swept the ball well onward towards the goal.

"Oh! how precious!" shouted the girls.

Nobody had imagined Winona capable of such a feat. She at once became the focus of all eyes. It had not occurred to the High School that there was a real possibility of their winning the match. They had expected to make a gallant fight and be defeated, retiring with all the honors of war. Perhaps the Ladies' Club team, who had come to the field secure of victory, began to feel pangs of uneasiness under their white jerseys. The situation was supreme. The score had become even. Could the School possibly do it? That was the question. All looked to Winona for the answer. She was playing like one inspired. She had not realized her own capacities before: the wild excitement of the moment seemed to lend wings to her feet and strength and skill to her arm. One heroic, never-to-be-forgotten stroke, and the ball was spinning between the posts. It was a magnificent finish. Frantic applause rose up from the spectators. The High School cheered its champions in a glorious roar of victory. The Ladies' Club team were magnanimous enough to offer congratulations, and their captain shook hands with Winona.

"Glad to see how your standard's gone up!" she remarked to Kirsty aside. "That half-back of yours is worth her salt!"

Kirsty was literally purring with satisfaction. Last year the High School had been badly beaten in more than half its matches. This was indeed a new page in its records.

On Monday morning Winona received a message summoning her to the prefects' room. She found Margaret, Kirsty, and the other school officers assembled there.

"Winona Woodward," said the head girl, "we have decided to present you with the School Service Badge, in recognition of your play on Saturday. It is felt that you really secured the match, and as this is our first great victory we consider you deserve to have it recorded in your favor. Your name has been entered in the book. Come here!"

Winona turned crimson as Margaret pinned the daisy badge on to her blouse.

"I-I've been only too proud to do what I can!" she blurted out. "Thanks most awfully!"

* * *

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