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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 19457

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Hostel

Aunt Harriet had intended to return home towards the end of September, but her health continued so unsatisfactory that her doctor ordered her to Harrogate to drink the waters, and advised a long period of rest and change before again taking up the many occupations with which she busied herself in Seaton. Miss Beach was a restive patient, and Dr. Sidwell knew that if he once allowed her to be within reach of committees, she would plunge herself into work, while to keep away from the scenes of her former activity was her only chance of recovery.

The house in Abbey Close was still shut up, and Winona for the present term was established at the Hostel. On the whole she liked it. She missed certain things, particularly her own bedroom, and the quiet dining-room where she had been accustomed to prepare her lessons, but life in a community had its compensations. It was a nuisance to have to sleep in the same dormitory with Betty Carlisle, who snored offensively, but, on the other hand, Winona's cubicle was next to the window, with the little balcony that overlooked the park, and every morning she could watch an a?roplane hovering and flitting like a beautiful dragon-fly over the city. Seaton possessed a Government aircraft factory, and each finished machine had to be carefully tested. All the girls in the school were extremely interested in the exploits of Lieutenant Mainwaring, a member of the Flying Corps, who might constantly be seen practicing. He was a cousin of Elsie Mainwaring, a Fifth Form girl. Elsie recorded his doings with immense pride, and provided up-to-date information of his whereabouts. He was a very daring young fellow, and was reported to have looped the loop. Winona had never witnessed the performance of this feat, so she looked out eagerly each day, hoping she might have the luck to see him do it. When the biplane came swooping over the park, she would wave her handkerchief to it from the balcony by way of encouragement. She was immensely patriotic, and she considered that our airmen deserved praise almost beyond any other branch of our forces. She often wished Percy were in the Flying Squadron. She cut out all the pictures of a?roplanes from the Seaton Graphic, and pinned them up in her cubicle. There was a portrait of Lieutenant Mainwaring among the number, and this she placed on her dressing-table, side by side with Percy's photograph. According to Elsie it was a very bad likeness, but as Winona had not seen the original, except at a distance, she had no means of judging. Curiosity led her to borrow a pair of field-glasses from Garnet. She was standing one morning on the balcony when the a?roplane came in sight, and hovered quite low down over the park, exactly opposite the hostel windows. Through her glasses Winona could plainly see the occupant. The impulse to smile and wave was irresistible. To her immense surprise the signal was returned. In frantic excitement she waved again, and shouted "Hooray!"

"What are you doing, Winona Woodward?" snapped a voice behind her, and turning guiltily, she found herself face to face with Miss Kelly.

"I-I was only looking at the a?roplane," stammered Winona.

"Come in at once! You know perfectly well that this sort of thing is not allowed. I am very much surprised and disgusted. If I find you signaling to gentlemen again from this balcony, I shall change your dormitory. Whose field-glasses are those?"

"Garnet Emerson's," said Winona sulkily.

"Then you must give them back to Garnet this morning. Remember, that such unladylike conduct must never happen again at the hostel."

Winona considered herself very much aggrieved. She had waved on the spur of the moment, and to have her innocent and impulsive act construed into "signaling to gentlemen," and reproved as "unladylike conduct," was highly aggravating. Miss Kelly was a disciplinarian, and of a very suspicious temperament. Her idea of duty was the French one of "surveillance." She never trusted the girls, or put them upon their honor; her mode of procedure was to keep an eye upon them, and to pop in suddenly and surprise them. They resented this attitude extremely.

"Miss Kelly always gives us credit for going to do the very worst!" grumbled Betty Carlisle.

"She puts ideas into our heads!" declared Doris Hooper indignantly.

The gist of the trouble was this: the girls at the hostel expected to have as much liberty as if they were in their own homes, while Miss Kelly, who had formerly been a mistress at St. Chad's, wished to enforce strict boarding-school rules. It was much more difficult to do this because the hostel only formed part of a large day school; the general atmosphere of the place was more free than at a college where all alike are boarders, and the girls naturally were infected by the prevailing spirit. A constant source of annoyance was the rule that they must report themselves in the hostel at 4.15. It was the fashion to linger after school, and chat in the "gym" or in the playground. It was a delightful little time, when everybody could meet every one else, and discuss school news and matches and guilds and other interesting topics. To be obliged, for no particular reason, to cut short their conversations and race back to the hostel was annoying. The boarders evaded the rule as far as possible, but Miss Kelly kept a roll-call, and they knew that their absences would be duly reported to Miss Bishop.

To Winona, in especial, many of the rules were extremely irksome. At more than sixteen and a half, she felt it ridiculous to be obliged to ask permission to go out and buy a lead pencil at the stationer's. "It's like living in a convent!" she fumed.

Another bone of contention was her preparation. She had been so accustomed to work in a room by herself at Abbey Close that she found the presence of others highly distracting. Though silence was enforced, the girls fluttered the leaves of their books, scratched with their pens, or even murmured dates under their breath, all of which sounds were most irritating. Winona begged to be allowed to take her books to her cubicle, but Miss Kelly would not hear of it.

"I cannot make an exception for one," she replied, "and it would be impossible to allow girls to work as they liked in the dormitories. There would be more talking than preparation! You'll stay here with the others, and I can see for myself what you're doing."

The hint that Miss Kelly suspected her of some ulterior motive for wishing to study upstairs enraged Winona, but she was obliged to submit, and to sit, close under the mistress' eye, at the long table, in company with her fellow-boarders. Her work suffered in consequence, and Miss Goodson's sarcasms descended on her head. Miss Goodson was not so patient a teacher as Miss Huntley, and Winona tried her temper at times. Winona was subject to curious fits of stupidity. Her brains were like a clock with a broken cog. Sometimes they would work easily, and on other days she seemed quite unable to grasp the most obvious problems. A lively imagination may be a very delightful possession, and of use in the writing of history and literature exercises, but it cannot supply the place of solid facts, nor is it of the least aid in mathematics, so Winona's form record was not high.

The hockey season would commence at the beginning of October, but during September, while the weather was still warm, the girls continued to play cricket on Wednesdays. The school was fortunate enough to possess large playing fields; these adjoined the public park, in itself a big area, so that quite a fine open space lay below the buildings. One afternoon, just as Winona was having her innings, Elsie Mainwaring uttered a cry, and pointed overhead. Far up in the clouds was the a?roplane, and it was gracefully looping the loop.

"It's Harry! He's showing off for our benefit!" squealed Elsie excitedly. "I told him we should be playing cricket to-day. Oh! didn't he do it cleverly? He went just straight head over heels in the air! Let's wave to him, and perhaps he'll come down a little."

Handkerchiefs fluttered out so briskly that the field resembled a washing day. Miss Barbour was signaling as vigorously as the rest. Evidently Lieutenant Mainwaring took the display for an invitation, the biplane descended like a hawk, and to every one's immense gratification alighted on the school ground. To see a real live airman at such close quarters was not an ordinary experience. Elsie promptly introduced her cousin to Miss Barbour and begged that they might all inspect the machine. Lieutenant Mainwaring good-naturedly explained the various parts; perhaps he rather enjoyed a visit to a Ladies' School! He did not stay long, however, but after a few minutes started his engine and went soaring up again into the blue of the sky, and wheeling over the towers of the old Minster was soon lost to sight behind some clouds.

"TO SEE A REAL LIVE AIRMAN AT SUCH CLOSE QUARTERS WAS NOT AN ORDINARY EXPERIENCE"

"It must be glorious to fly!" sighed Winona.

In spite of Miss Kelly's injunctions she could not help looking out of her window every morning for the a?roplane, and giving a surreptitious wave. She told herself that she was only acting patriotically in cheering on our a?rial defenses. The back of the hostel opened into the school playground, and one day Winona, taking a run there for exercise before breakfast, heard the familiar whirring, and looking up, beheld the flying-machine poised just overhead. She heard a shout from the occupant, and something dropped into the playground. She ran to pick it up. It was a packet of chocolates! She tried to wave thanks, but the bipla

ne had moved on, and was now far over the town, Lieutenant Mainwaring no doubt having enjoyed his little joke of innocent bomb-dropping.

Now most unfortunately for Winona, Miss Kelly's bedroom window overlooked the playground, and she had been a witness of the whole incident. She came out now in extreme wrath, confiscated the chocolates, and scolded Winona sharply.

"But it's not my fault! I'd no idea he was going to drop anything!" protested Winona indignantly.

"After what has happened before, I can only draw my own conclusions," returned the mistress icily. "You will change to Number 3 dormitory to-day."

"But, Miss Kelly--"

"Don't argue! I warned you that I should move you if I found any more signaling going on. Your aunt will have to hear about this!"

When Winona returned to the hostel that afternoon, and went upstairs, she found that all her possessions had been cleared out of Number 2 dormitory, and placed in Number 3, which being at the side of the house had no view except the school buildings. The contents of her drawers had been transferred intact; her brushes, books and home photos were placed on her new dressing-table, but all the pictures of a?roplanes and the portrait of Lieutenant Mainwaring, which she had cut out of the Seaton Graphic, had disappeared. Winona sat down on the bed and laughed. She was very much annoyed, but the humor of the situation appealed to her.

"It's too idiotic of Miss Kelly! Does she think I'm going to elope in an a?roplane? I never heard of anything so silly in my life! She may tell Aunt Harriet if she pleases. I don't care! Why, I don't suppose Lieutenant Mainwaring knows me from any other girl in the school. He just dropped those chocs. on spec. It was a shame I wasn't allowed to eat them!"

Miss Kelly, very keen on upholding discipline in her new hostel, considered that she had successfully squashed an incipient flirtation, and kept a stern eye on all the elder girls, and most particularly on Winona, for fear some repetition of the offense might occur. The boarders were justly indignant.

"Too bad!" was the general verdict. "Winona's not a scrap that sort of girl really, if Miss Kelly only knew. It's absurd to make such a fuss."

Out of sheer bravado and love of mischief, the remaining occupants of Number 2 dormitory waved not only handkerchiefs but towels from the balcony when they heard the whirring of the a?roplane overhead, enjoying the exciting sensation that any moment they might be pounced upon by Miss Kelly. No doubt in time they would have been discovered in the act, but at the end of three days Lieutenant Mainwaring was sent to the front, and his successor, not having a cousin at the Seaton High School, took no interest in school girls, and flew over the city oblivious of everything except his engines.

"I don't suppose he'd notice if we waved a sheet!" said Betty Carlisle disappointedly.

"The police might though, and they'd think you were signaling to Germans," replied Doris Hooper. "Come in, Bet, it's no use! Girl alive, quick! I hear the dragon's fairy footsteps in the passage. Do you want to get your head bitten off?"

In spite of occasional hostilities with Miss Kelly, Winona managed to have a good deal of fun at the hostel. The other girls were jolly, and in the evenings, when preparation was finished, they would play games together in their sitting-room. There were high jinks in the dormitories, and small excitements over little happenings, which, however trivial they might be, provided considerable entertainment to the participants. Only one really stormy incident occurred during Winona's term at the hostel, and that had nothing to do with Miss Kelly.

One Saturday morning, when Winona, Betty and Doris were in the town shopping, they happened to meet Clarice Nixon, who stopped to chat, and ask for school news.

"I feel fearfully out of things now I've left," said Clarice. "It'll be a stale winter without hockey."

"Why don't you join a Club?" suggested Winona.

"Shouldn't care to! It would be no fun to play with a team I don't know. The Seaton Ladies' Club is the only decent one, and I hear they're so cliquey. I wish we could get up an Old Girls' Hockey Club!"

"Why, that would be simply glorious! What a splendiferous idea! Oh, do let us try! Then we could have a Past versus Present match. Oh! wouldn't it be precious?"

"Have you settled up your fixtures?"

"Very nearly."

"Then we ought to get this thing in hand at once. You're Games Captain, so you ought to organize it. Write round to-day to all the old girls you know, and ask them to come to a meeting on Monday."

"Isn't that rather soon?" said Betty.

"Not a bit. No time must be wasted, if the club's to be a going concern for this season. Don't let the grass grow under your feet, is my advice."

Winona was naturally impulsive. The idea appealed to her so immensely, that she straightway bought a packet of postcards and a number of halfpenny stamps, and sent out her invitations. As she was bound to report herself in the hostel at 4.15, she decided to call the meeting there at 4.20. It could be held in the sitting-room, and there would be plenty of time to discuss matters before five o'clock tea. She wrote to Margaret Howell, Kirsty Paterson, and all the former members of the Sixth, and was already exulting over the success which she hoped would accrue. She was sure every one in the school would like the notion when they heard about it.

On Monday morning when she walked into her form room, she noticed several of the prefects talking together. They looked at her significantly as she entered, and Evelyn Richards made a movement as if about to speak. Grace Olliver, however, laid her hand on Evelyn's arm, and pointed to the clock, as if deferring the matter. At eleven "break," as the girls filed out of the room, Agatha James laid a paper on Winona's desk. It bore the words:

"Kindly report yourself at once in the prefects' room."

Rather mystified, Winona obeyed the summons. She found the prefects assembled in their den, looking dignified and perturbed.

"Winona Woodward," began Linda Fletcher, "are you responsible for this post-card?" showing one of the invitations which had been written on Saturday. "Beatrice Howell brought it to me first thing this morning, by Margaret's advice. Margaret couldn't understand why you had sent it to her."

"I explained on the card," replied Winona eagerly. "It was to try to get up an Old Girls' Hockey Club!"

"And who gave you authority to call such a meeting?" asked Linda icily.

"Why, I thought as Games Captain--" began Winona, then she stopped, for the faces of the prefects expressed a righteous wrath that staggered her.

"It was a most unwarrantable liberty!" continued the head girl. "As Games Captain you are responsible for the school play and for the fixtures, but you're certainly not to take upon yourself a matter of this kind. Why, you're not even a prefect! And no prefect would have dreamed of calling such a meeting on her own account without consulting her colleagues."

"I-thought-there wasn't time-to ask," stammered Winona, overcome with confusion.

"As a matter of fact the suggestion had already been placed before the prefects, and it was proposed to form an Old Girls' Guild, which would include several branches, a Hockey Club being among the number. An initial committee meeting is to be held next Thursday. Margaret Howell was perfectly well aware of this, and could not understand why you should have stepped in and called a meeting at the hostel, thus forestalling our arrangements."

"It's the most abominable cheek I ever heard of!" burst out Agatha James.

"What were you dreaming of?" demanded Grace Olliver.

Poor Winona! She suddenly saw her innocent, impulsive act in the light in which it must appear to the prefects. It had never struck her that she was exceeding her authority, and that she ought to have referred the matter to the head of the school. The urgency of getting the club started, so as to enter a Past v. Present in her list of fixtures, had been her uppermost thought. She had indeed made a most terrible blunder. The feeling against her was evidently one of general censure. Even Garnet looked grave, and Bessie Kirk was bridling. Linda's manner was coldly official. The stateliness of her speech was more cutting than Agatha's explosive wrath. Winona collapsed utterly, and groveled.

"I'm most fearfully sorry!" she apologized. "Indeed I'd never have done it if I'd thought about it. I was an utter idiot! I really don't know what possessed me! I just sent off those cards in a hurry. What shall I do? There isn't time to write back to everybody!"

"I think I can send messages to most of the girls, and if any turn up at the hostel this afternoon they must be told." Linda's tone was slightly mollified. "I hardly need impress upon you the necessity in future of referring everything to headquarters. No school can be run on the basis of individual enterprise."

Duly chastened, Winona left the prefects' room. She had the further annoyance in the afternoon of explaining the situation to several comers who turned up in answer to her invitation. Notwithstanding this preliminary disturbance, the Old Girls' Guild was started with thirty-five members on the roll. A Hockey Club and a Dramatic Society were formed, both of which promised to have a flourishing existence, and Winona had the satisfaction of fixing a Past v. Present match for the following March. The prefects were magnanimous enough to bear her no ill-will, so on the whole she came out of a very unpleasant dilemma much better than she expected.

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