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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 20815

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The Open-air Camp

If this particular Friday had been an exciting day to the girls of V.a., it had certainly proved a most agitating one to the Medical Officer of Health for Seaton. Upon his energy and organization depended the prevention of a serious epidemic in the city, and he had shown himself admirably able to cope with the sudden emergency. The Corporation had lately set up a camp for children threatened with tuberculosis, and this was commandeered by Dr. Barnes as a suitable place for quarantine. It lay five miles away from Seaton, on the top of a hill in a very open situation in the midst of fields, so was excellently fitted for the purpose. The children under treatment there had been hurriedly taken back to their homes in Seaton, extra beds and supplies had been sent out, and a hospital nurse installed in charge, so that all was in readiness when the char-à-banc arrived.

The Camp consisted of a long wooden shelter or shed, the south side of which was entirely open to the air. The boarded floor was raised about three feet above the level of the field, and projected well beyond the roof line, thus forming a kind of terrace. Inside the shelter was a row of small beds, and a space was curtained off at either end, on one side for a kitchen and on the other to make a cubicle for Miss Huntley. Outside, under a large oak tree, stood a table and benches. Nothing could have been more absolutely plain and bare as regards furniture. The girls took possession, however, with the utmost enthusiasm. The idea of "living the simple life" appealed to them. Who wanted chairs and chests of drawers and wash-stands? It would be fun to sleep in the shelter, and spend the whole day out of doors.

"It's too topping for anything!" declared Marjorie Kemp, after a careful inspection of the premises. "We shall have to keep all our things inside our bags, and wash in an enameled tin basin, and drink our tea out of mugs!"

"It will be precious having meals under that tree!" agreed Bessie Kirk.

"What shall we do if it rains?" inquired Irene Mills.

"Go to bed with hot bottles, like the children did," replied Nurse Robinson. "They always thought that prime fun, so I expect you will too. You'll soon get into the life here."

The view from the shelter was most beautiful. In the far away distance they could see the towers of Seaton Minster and the spires of the churches, while all around lay lush meadows, fields of growing corn, and woods in the glory of June foliage. The Camp stood in the corner of a very large pasture, with hedges all covered with lovely wild roses and tangles of honeysuckle, while a wood close by showed a tempting vista of pine trees. The fresh country air and the smell of flowers and pines were delicious.

Life at the Camp was arranged according to a strict time-table. Every one rose at seven, and a certain number of volunteers helped to prepare breakfast. Then came bed-making, crockery washing and potato peeling, at which duties the girls took turns. From 9.30 to 12.30 they had classes with Miss Huntley, while Nurse Robinson superintended the cooking of the dinner on the large oil stove. With the exception of an hour's preparation the rest of the day was free from lessons. Tea was at four and supper at seven, and by half-past nine every one was in bed, well covered with blankets, and with a hot bottle if she liked, for the nights were apt to be chilly to those unaccustomed to sleeping in the open-air. The rules of quarantine were of course sternly kept. No girl might go outside the pasture without special permission. Sometimes Miss Huntley took her flock for a walk along quiet country roads and rambling by-lanes, but the vicinity of their fellow-creatures was carefully avoided.

"We're like the lepers in the Middle Ages!" laughed Garnet. "I feel as if I ought to wear a coarse white cassock, and ring a bell as I go about, to warn people to give me a wide berth!"

"It's amusing that the farmer has even driven his cows out of the pasture since we arrived," said Evelyn. "He let them feed here while the tuberculous children had their innings, and I should have thought consumption germs were as bad as small-pox ones."

"They weren't real consumptives though, only threatened!"

"Well, we're not small-pox patients, either, only contacts!"

"I'm sorry for those poor kids, sent suddenly back to their slum homes after being here for weeks," said Jess Gardner.

"Oh, the kids have had luck! There were only ten of them, and a lady at Hawberry has rigged up a tent in her garden, and has them all there, so Nurse told me this morning. They're living on the fat of the land, and gaining pounds and pounds in weight, by the look of them."

"Good! I don't feel so bad at having turned them out, then. It's great here!"

"Rather! On the whole, I feel thoroughly grateful to Joyce."

From the girls' point of view there really was matter for congratulation. None of them was ill, and all were having a most delightful and quite unexpected three weeks' holiday in idyllic surroundings. Their arms, to be sure, had "taken," and were more or less sore, but that was a trifling inconvenience compared with the pleasures of living in Camp. There was no anxiety to be felt about Joyce, she had the disease very slightly, and was being treated with such extreme care that her face would not be marked afterwards. It was ascertained that she had caught the infection from some Belgians who had come over lately from Holland, and who were now isolated by Dr. Barnes in a Cottage Hospital. The Seaton High School was undergoing elaborate disinfection, and as June was well advanced, the Governors had decided not to re-open until September, when all possibility of contagion would have passed away. This was the only part of the proceedings that did not please the girls.

"It's rather sickening to have no end to the term," groaned Marjorie. "Our matches are all off, and no swimming display or sports. It's rough on Margaret and Kirsty particularly. Do you realize that when we go back in September they'll both have left? All the prefects are leaving."

"Oh, hard luck! Who'll take their places?"

"Some of our noble selves, I suppose, if we're promoted to the Sixth."

"Who'll be General and Games Captain?"

"Ah! Ask me a harder, my intelligent child."

"I think I could put my finger on one of them, at any rate."

"So could I, perhaps, but I don't care to prophesy too soon," sighed Bessie.

Whoever might be destined to wear future laurels at school, Winona, as Captain of the V.a. team, assumed direction of the games at the Camp. Part of the pasture was sufficiently level to make quite a fair cricket pitch, while a piece in the opposite corner served as a tennis court. An old man from the farm was bribed to come and cut the grass with a scythe, but as no lawn-mower or roller was available, the result was decidedly rough. The tennis enthusiasts rigged up a tape in lieu of a net, and marked some courts with lime begged from the farmer. Their games, owing to the general bumpiness of the ground, had at least the charm of variety and excitement, and four umpires had to keep careful and continual watch in order to decide whether the balls went over or under the tape, which indeed collapsed occasionally, as the poles were only sticks cut from the hedge.

If the tennis was funny, the cricket was even funnier. Many of the girls could not use their left arms at all, consequently the batting was extraordinary, and sometimes the easiest catches were missed. It was very amusing, however, and perhaps for that reason provided more entertainment than the most strict and orthodox play under the critical eye of Kirsty might have done.

Really the quarantine party had a most idyllic time. In the warm June weather it was delightful to live out of doors. There were rosy-violet dawns and golden-red sunsets, and clear starry nights when the planet Venus shone like a lamp in the dark blue of the sky, and owls would fly hooting from the woods, and bats come flitting round the shelter in search of moths. One day, indeed, was wet, but the girls sat or lay on their beds, and read or talked, and played games, with intervals of exciting dashes in mackintoshes to fetch cans of water, or dishes from the larder.

On Sundays there was of course no church-going, but Miss Huntley read morning prayers, and in the evening they sang hymns, each girl in turn choosing the one she liked best. "All things bright and beautiful," "Nearer, my God, to Thee," and "Now the day is over" were prime favorites, but perhaps the most popular of all was the ancient Hymn of St. Patrick, which Miss Huntley had copied from a book of Erse literature, and had adapted to an old Irish tune. The girls learnt it easily, and its fifth century Celtic mysticism fascinated them. They liked such bits as:

"In light of sun, in gleam of snow

Myself I bind;

In speed of lightning, in depth of sea

In swiftness of wind.

God's Might to uphold me,

God's Wisdom to guide,

God's shield to protect me

In desert and wild."

* * *

"Christ with me, before me,

Behind me and in me,

O Threeness in Oneness

I praise and adore Thee."

"In Ireland it is sometimes called the Shamrock Hymn," said Miss Huntley, "because St. Patrick used the little green shamrock leaf to explain to the chiefs the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The original is in a very ancient dialect of the Irish Celtic, and was preserved in an old manuscript book written on parchment. It always reminds me of the 'Benedicite omnia opera' of our prayer-book; the thought is the same in both: 'O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord' is about the sum of it all."

Except for the trifling trouble of vaccination, the effects of which in most cases were soon over, the quarantine party enjoyed radiant health. Dr. Barnes came twice a week to inspect, and Nurse Robinson kept a vigilant watch for headaches, back-aches, and sickness. None of these symptoms appeared, however, and all began to congratulate themselves that the infection had been avoided. There was a burst of warm weather at the beginning of July, which made the hill breezes of Dunheath highly acceptable. It was too hot during the daytime to play active games; the girls lounged about under the shade of the trees, and read the illustrated

papers with which they were kept plentifully supplied.

"I've never really had time before to study the toilet hints," said Beatrice Howell one afternoon, poring over a certain page headed "My Lady's Boudoir." "It seems to me that we ought to take our complexions more seriously. We actually wash our faces with soap and water, and 'Lady Veronica' says here that that's an absolutely suicidal practice for delicate skins. She gives all kinds of recipes for what one should do. I wish I could have a few lessons in face massage. I wonder how hard one ought to rub? And why a downward movement all the time?" (Beatrice was stroking her cheeks contemplatively as she spoke.) "Why mayn't you rub upwards?"

"The Princess recommends gentle pinching," said Mollie Hill, who was studying the columns of a rival paper, "and then an application of Mrs. Courtenay's lavender cream. We ought to be careful not to get freckled or sunburnt. 'Lady Marjorie' gives some splendid prescriptions against both. I wonder how the papers always get the aristocracy to write their Beauty Hints? I shouldn't have thought they'd have condescended to reveal their secrets!"

"My good girl! Don't flatter yourself that either 'Lady Veronica' or 'Lady Marjorie' is a member of the aristocracy," chuckled Bessie Kirk. "They're probably most plebeian and dowdy-looking individuals living in Bloomsbury boarding-houses, with pasty complexions and freckled noses, and they get a percentage on the preparations they recommend. If you notice, they always tell you to use Mrs. Somebody's pomade or face cream, and it's generally very expensive."

"Oh, but this one's home-made!" declared Beatrice. "Look here! It says: 'Take an ounce of spermaceti, and melt it in a pan with a teacupful of rose water. When thoroughly mixed, add an ounce of Vodax, which may be obtained from any chemist, stir until quite cold, then put into pots.' I'm sure that sounds simple enough, in all conscience."

"What about the Vodax, though? If you went to the chemist's you'd find it is a patent preparation, and very expensive, and it would just knock the bottom out of the 'home-made' theory of the recipe."

"There must be something in all these hints, though," said Mollie plaintively, "or the paper wouldn't publish them every week."

"Well, perhaps there is, to a certain extent, but just think of the time it would take to carry them out, to say nothing of the expense of cosmetics. Here, give me the book a sec, and a piece of pencil. I want to make a calculation. Now, if you really follow 'Lady Marjorie's' advice, your day will run something like this. It's a kind of beauty time-table:

Face Massage, Morning 10 minutes

" " Evening 10 "

Hair Drill, Morning 15 "

" " Evening 15 "

Application of cloths wrung out in hot water to face daily 30 "

Breathing Exercises 15 "

Physical " 15 "

Manicure 5 "

Oatmeal applications 5 "


Total 2 hours.

Now, if you're going to put in two hours every day at your toilet, it seems to me that you won't have much time left for games, unless you can get your prep. excused on the ground that you're studying beauty culture. I'd like to see Bunty's face if you asked her!"

"Don't be piggish!" said Mollie. "One has no need to cultivate a tough skin, just because one's fond of cricket and hockey. I hate to see girls with hard red cheeks and freckles."

It was certainly not possible to obtain Mrs. Courtenay's lavender cream or any other toilet specialties at the Camp. Beatrice and Mollie, however, impressed with the necessity of preserving their complexions, commandeered some of the buttermilk which was sent daily from the farm, and dabbed it plentifully over their faces before retiring to bed, following the application with massage to the best of their ability. They were emulated in these toilet rites by Agatha James, Mary Payne and Olave Parry, who also studied the beauty hints columns, and liked to try experiments. One day Agatha found an entirely new suggestion in a copy of "The Ladies' Portfolio." A correspondent wrote strongly advocating common salt as a hair tonic. It was to be rubbed in at night, and brushed out again in the morning.

Apparently nothing could be more simple. Beatrice, being on kitchen duty, had access to the salt-box. She purloined a good breakfastcupful, and divided the spoils with her four confederates. They all rubbed the salt carefully into the roots of their hair. Next morning, however, when they essayed to brush it out again, it obstinately refused to budge, and remained hard and gritty among their tresses. They were very much concerned. What was to be done? The only obvious remedy was to wash their hair. Now the one drawback of the Camp was its shortage of water. The daily supply had to be carried in buckets from the farm, and as, owing to the warm dry weather, the well was getting low, their allowance at present was rather small, and had to be carefully husbanded. The amount doled out for washing purposes certainly was quite inadequate for the due rinsing of five plentiful heads of hair.

"I suppose we shall just have to grin and bear it till we can get home and can mermaid properly in a bath!" sighed Mary.

"Oh, I can't! I'm going to wash mine somehow. Look here, suppose we sneak off quietly this afternoon, and go on a water hunt?"

"There isn't a stream or a pond anywhere near."

"We haven't tried the wood!"

"Well, we're not allowed there, of course."

"I don't see why we shouldn't go. The young pheasants must be all hatched, and running about by this time, so what harm could we do? Besides which, nobody's troubling about preserving game during the war. They're shooting Germans instead of birds this year."

"Very likely the gamekeeper has enlisted," suggested Beatrice, "in which case there'd be no one to stop us."

Now the strict law of the Camp confined the girls to the pasture, but as it was the last week of the quarantine, they were beginning to grow a little slack about rules. The five victims of the salt cure waited until Miss Huntley and Nurse Robinson were enjoying their afternoon siesta; then, without waiting for any permission, they climbed the fence into the lane, found a thin place in the hedge, and scrambled into the wood. It was a thrillingly exciting experience. Rather scratched and panting, they surveyed the prospect. Trees were everywhere, with a thick undergrowth of bramble and bracken. Apparently there was no path at all.

"I suppose we shall just have to wander about till we see a pond!" remarked Agatha.

"I believe some people can find water with a forked hazel twig," said Olave. "They hold it loosely in their hands, and it jerks when the water's near. I wish I knew how to do it!"

"Oh, water-finders are occult people," laughed Beatrice, "the sort that see spooks and do table-turning, you know. Besides, they find underground water, and tell where wells ought to be dug. We want a pond which any one can see with the naked eye, without being endowed with psychic powers. My natural reason tells me to go down hill, and perhaps we'll strike it in a hollow."

The girls rambled on, thoroughly enjoying the coolness of the shade and the beauty of the wood. As Beatrice had prophesied, when they reached the foot of the incline they came across quite a good-sized pool, with reeds and iris growing on its banks. They rejoiced exceedingly.

Now it is one thing to wash one's hair in a bath or a basin, but quite another to perform that operation in a pond with shallow muddy edges. The girls took off their shoes and stockings, tucked up their skirts and waded into the middle, where they made gallant efforts at dipping and rinsing their heads, and contrived to get uncommonly wet in the process. They wrung out their dripping tresses, mopped them with handkerchiefs (for nobody had dared to take a towel), and spread them out over their shoulders to dry. There was an open glade close by, where they could squat in the sunshine, and let the breeze help the process. Mary had had the forethought to put a comb in her pocket and she lent it round in turns. They were sitting in a row, like five mermaids, extremely complacent and satisfied with themselves, when footsteps suddenly crashed through the wood, and a middle-aged man approached them. For once Beatrice's calculations were wrong. The gamekeeper had not yet enlisted. No doubt he would have been far better employed in the trenches somewhere in France, but here he was, still in England, and looking extremely surly and truculent.

"You've no business to be in this wood," he began. "Can't you read the trespass notices? There's plenty of them about. What do you mean by coming in here, disturbing the pheasants?"

"We aren't doing any harm!" protested Olave.

"That's neither here nor there. You've no business here, and you know it! Are you from that camp up the hill?"


"Then take yourselves off at once-spreading small-pox!"

"We've none of us had small-pox!" returned Beatrice indignantly. "We've told you we weren't doing any harm. Still, if this will make things right--" and she slipped half-a-crown into his hand.

The gamekeeper's expression changed considerably, and his tone instantly became more respectful.

"Well, young ladies, I have to do my duty, and of course you understand the pheasants mustn't be disturbed anyhow. Perhaps you won't mind going back to the Camp now. I'll show you a path that will take you into the lane."

He led the way, and the girls followed in subdued silence, feeling rather crestfallen. Mollie was yearning to tell him that he ought to be doing his duty by his country instead of by the pheasants. If at that moment she could have found a white feather, I believe she would have presented it to him. The path ended in a small gate which he unlocked. He ushered them solemnly into the lane, pointed out a trespass notice that was nailed conspicuously on to a tree, and then retired into the fastnesses of the wood. The girls decided that, unless actually compelled, they would not divulge where they had been.

"It was a bit of hard luck to be caught!" giggled Olave. "Didn't you feel queer when he came up?"

"I thought he was a beast, and didn't deserve propitiating with a tip!" declared Agatha.

"But we washed our hair!" rejoiced Mary, plaiting her long dark pigtail.

* * *

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