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The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 17617

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Athletic Display

The Easter term was passing quickly away. It had been a strenuous but nevertheless successful season. Out of nine hockey matches the team had lost only three-not a bad record for a school that was still in the infancy of its Games reputation. The Old Girls' Guild had got up its eleven, and had practiced with enthusiasm under the captaincy of Kirsty Paterson. A most exciting Past versus Present match had been played, resulting in a narrow victory for the school. Winona felt prouder of this success than of any other triumph the team had scored, for Kirsty had congratulated her afterwards, and praise from her former captain was very sweet. It had been the last match of the season, so it made a satisfactory finish to her work. She felt quite sentimental as she put by her hockey-stick. Next season there would be a fresh captain, and she would have left the High School! She wished she were staying another year, but her scholarship would expire at the end of July. She could hardly believe that she had been nearly two years at the school, and that only one term more remained to her. Well, it would be the summer term, which was the pleasantest of all, and though hockey was over, she had the cricket season before her. The Seaton High should score at the wicket if it were in her power to coach a successful team.

Towards the end of March Winona had an interlude which for the time took her thoughts even from the omnipresent topic of sports. Percy, who had been in training with his regiment at Duncastle, was ordered to the Front. He was allowed thirty-six hours' leave, and came home for a Sunday. Winona spent that week-end at Highfield, and the memory of it always remained a very precious one. Percy in his khaki seemed much changed, and though she only had him for a few minutes quite to herself, she felt that the old tie between them had strengthened. Her letters to him in future would be different. During the last year they had both slacked a little in their correspondence, each perhaps unconsciously feeling that the other's standpoint was changing; now they had met again on a new basis, and realized once more a common bond of sympathy. Percy, absorbed in describing his new life, scarcely mentioned Aunt Harriet. The episode of the burning of the paper seemed to have faded from his memory, or he had conveniently buried it in oblivion. Winona had never forgotten it. It remained still the one shadow in her career at Seaton. Now especially, since Miss Beach's recent ill-health, the secret weighed heavily upon her. She felt her aunt ought to know that the will was destroyed, so that she might take the opportunity of making another. More than once she tried indirectly to refer to the subject, but it was a tender topic, and at the least hint Miss Beach's face would stiffen and her voice harden; the old barrier between them would rise up again wider than ever, and impossible to be spanned. Winona would have been glad to do much for her aunt, but Miss Beach did not care to be treated as an invalid. Like many energetic people, she refused to acknowledge that she was ill, and the acceptance of little services seemed to her a confession of her own weakness. It is rather hard to have your kindly meant efforts repulsed, so Winona, finding that her offers of sympathy met with no response, drew back into her shell, and the two continued to live as before, on terms of friendship but never of intimacy. After almost two years spent in the same house Winona knew her aunt little better than on the day of her arrival. They had certain common grounds for conversation, but their mutual reserve was maintained, and as regarded each other's real thoughts they remained "strangers yet."

Miss Beach, however, took an interest in Winona's doings at school. She read her monthly reports, and scolded her if her work had fallen below standard. She expressed a guarded pleasure over successful matches, but rubbed in the moral that games must not usurp her attention to the detriment of her form subjects.

"You came here to learn something more than hockey!" she would remind Winona. "It's a splendid exercise, but I'm afraid it won't prove a career! I should like to see a better record for Latin and Chemistry; they might very well have more attention!"

Winona had tried to persuade her aunt to come and watch one of the matches, but Miss Beach had always found some engagement; she was concerned in so many of the city's activities that her time was generally carefully mapped out weeks beforehand. She consented, however, to accept Miss Bishop's invitation to the Gymnasium Display, which was to be given at the High School at the close of the Easter term.

This was a very important occasion in the estimation of the girls. It was their first athletic show since the advent of Miss Barbour, the Swedish drill mistress. Governors and parents were to be present, and the excellence of the performance must justify the large amount which had been spent upon gymnastic apparatus during the past year.

For two whole terms Miss Barbour had been teaching and training her classes with a view to this exhibition, and woe betide any unlucky wight whose nerves, memory or muscles should fail her at the critical moment! A further impetus was given to individual effort by the offer, on the part of one of the Governors, of four medals for competition, to be awarded respectively to the best candidates in four classes, Seniors over 16, Intermediates from 13 to 16, Juniors from 10 to 13, and Preparatories under 10. It was felt throughout the school that the offer was munificent. The Governors had been stingy over the matter of the hockey field, and had been reviled accordingly, but Councillor Jackson was retrieving the character of the Board by this action, and the girls reversed their opinion in his favor. They hoped that other Governors, warmed by his example, might open their hearts in silver medals or book prizes for future occasions.

"He's a dear old trump to think of it!" said Winona.

"You drew a picture of him floundering in the mud at hockey!" twinkled Garnet.

"Well, I forgive him now, and I'll draw another of him standing on the platform, all beaming with benevolence, and distributing medals broadcast. Look here, Bessie Kirk, you needn't be congratulating yourself beforehand with such a patently self-satisfied smirk, because I'm going to win the Senior Medal."

"No, you're not, my child! Take it patiently, and compose your mind. The medal's coming this way!"

"How about me?" put in Marjorie Kemp.

"You'll do well, but you're not a champion! You're too fat, Jumbo, and that's the fact. You're all right when it's a question of brute strength, but when agility matters, those superfluous pounds of flesh of yours are an impediment. I'd back Joyce sooner than you; she's as light as a feather!"

Hearing herself commended, Joyce fluttered up to the group, smiling.

"I did four feet six, yesterday," she announced, "and I'd have cleared four feet seven, I believe, only I had to stop. It's always my luck!"

"Why had you to stop?"

"My back ached!"

Instant apprehension overspread the faces of her friends.

"Joyce Newton!" exclaimed Winona, "you're never going to get small-pox again, and stop the athletic display?"

"You don't feel sick, or head-achy, or sore-throaty, do you?" implored Bessie. "For goodness sake stand away, if you're infectious! I don't want to be another contact case!"

"What pigs you are!" said Joyce plaintively, "One can't catch small-pox twice!"

"But you might be going to get scarlet fever, or measles, or even influenza!"

"Stop ragging! Mayn't I have a back-ache if I want? It's my own back!"

"Have as many back-aches as you choose, my hearty, but don't disseminate germs! If the athletic display doesn't come off, I'll break my heart, and you can write an epitaph over me:

"Here lies one who young in years,

Left this mortal vale of tears;

Cruel fate hath knocked her down,

Tom from her the laurel crown,

To win the gym display she sighed,

But as she might not jump, she died!"

"Look here!" said Marjorie. "I suppose the medal lies fairly well between us four. I vote that we make a compact-whoever wins treats the other three to ices! It would be some compensation for losing!"

"Good for you, Jumbo! I'm game!" agreed Bessie.

"If you'll undertake they'll be strawberry ices!" stipulated Winona.

"I mayn't eat ices, they disagree with me!" wailed Joyce, "but if you'll make it chocolates."

"Done! I won't forget. Ices for Bessie and Winona, and a packet of Cadbury's for Joyce. I'll go and be ordering them!" chirruped Marjorie, dancing away.

"Cheek! Don't make so sure."

"It's my medal, so be getting your handk

erchiefs ready," maintained Winona.

Though Winona, just for the fun of teasing her friends, had pretended to appropriate the prize, she had really no anticipation of winning. She was fairly good at gymnasium work, but could not be considered a champion. She knew her success or failure would depend very much on luck. If she happened to feel in the right mood she might achieve something, but it was an even chance that at the critical moment her courage might fail her. In a match she was generally swept away by the intense feeling of cooperation, the knowledge that all her team were striving for a common cause buoyed her up, but in a competition where each was for herself, the element of nervousness would have greater scope. When she thought about it, she felt that she would probably be shaking with fright.

The great day came at last. The Gymnasium was decorated with flags in honor of the occasion, and pots of palms were placed upon the platform where the Governors and a few of the most distinguished visitors were accommodated with seats. Winona, marching in to take part in the senior drill, gave one glance round the building, and grasped the fact that Aunt Harriet was sitting on the platform next to Councillor Jackson, and only a few places away from the expert who was to act as judge. She was chatting affably with her august companions. Think of chatting with a Governor! Winona felt that it was some credit to have such a relation! She had not always been very sure how much she valued Aunt Harriet's opinion, but this afternoon she longed to shine before her. Yet the very wish to do so made her nervous. She glanced at her companions. Bessie was looking stolidity itself, Marjorie's usually high color had reached peony point, Joyce was palpably in the throes of stage fright. All were soon marching and countermarching, swinging Indian clubs, and performing the intricate maneuvers of Swedish drill. Fortunately they had practiced well, and it went without a hitch. They breathed more freely as they retired to the ante-room to make way for the babies who were to do skipping exercises to music.

"It's more awful to show off before Governors than I expected!" sighed Joyce. "I'm just shivering!"

"What'll you be at the rings, then?" asked Bessie.

"Silence!" urged Miss Lever, who was in charge of the ante-room.

The strains of "Little Grey Home in the West" and the regular thud of small feet were wafted from the gymnasium.

"Don't you wish you were a kid again?" whispered Joyce.

"No, I don't!" retorted Bessie, so imprudently loud that Miss Lever glared at her.

"It's horrid having to stay in here, where one can't see!" murmured Marjorie under her breath.

They knew by the music, however, what was taking place. The juniors were doing wand exercises, the intermediates followed with clubs.

"Our turn again soon," whispered Winona.

Olave Parry, from a vantage post near the door, could see into the gymnasium, and report progress. Her items of news passed in whispers down the ranks. The babies had skipped like a row of cherubs, and the Governors were wreathed in smiles. Kitty Carter had dropped one of her clubs, and it nearly hit a visitor on the head, but fortunately missed her by half an inch. Laura Marshall was performing prodigies on the horizontal ladder-she undoubtedly had a chance for a medal. Bursts of applause from the audience punctuated the performance. Olave continued her report, which Miss Lever, who took occasional excursions into the gymnasium, verified from time to time. The juniors were competing now. Natalie Powers was about to do the ring exercises. It was a swing and a pull-up in front, and she managed that neatly, but when it came to the swing and the turn, she lost her nerve, turned too soon and spun round helplessly in the air until Miss Barbour hurried to her aid. Natalie was done for, without doubt! It was a good thing she had not fallen and hurt herself. Her rivals were rope-climbing. Madge Collins had reached the top in six seconds, and was sliding down again, to the accompaniment of loud clapping. Lennie Roberts had beaten her, for she had performed the same feat in exactly five seconds. The juniors were in a ferment of excitement. The interest of the audience had waxed to enthusiasm point.

"Seniors!" announced Miss Lever briefly, and the row of waiting figures in the ante-room fell into line, and marched into the gymnasium for the special trials. The Swedish drill exercises, where all worked together, had not seemed half so formidable. A well practiced part is not easily forgotten even by a nervous girl, if it must be done in company with others. It was another matter, however, to perform single athletic feats before a big audience. For a moment Winona turned almost dizzy with fright. The big room seemed full of eyes, every one of which would be watching her when it came to her turn. She looked round with the feeling of a martyr in the arena, and for a moment met the calm steady gaze of Miss Beach. Winona said afterwards that Aunt Harriet must have mesmerized her, for in that second of recognition she felt a sudden rush of courage. The thrill of the contest took possession of her, and every nerve and muscle, every atom of her brain, was alert to do its best. She would let Aunt Harriet see that, though she might fail sometimes in form work, she could hold her own at gymnastics.

Contestants climbed, traveled on rings, and vaulted the horse. Winona seemed to herself as easy and agile as she had ever been. She had a possible chance of winning, and her heart exulted. Then came the ladders. Up and up she went, holding herself now by her hands and now by her feet swinging for her hold. She had thought she was light, but now she suddenly realized how heavy she was! She summoned every bit of strength as she went down the ladder. From one contest to another she passed, doing her best.

Last of all came the rings. Winona swung out, grasped the next ring, and so on down the line. Oh, how many there were! She had never before realized what it meant to weigh 7 st. 10 lbs. She held her breath as she reached for the next ring, but it slipped from her fingers. Only for a second, however, for she caught it on the next swing, and a moment later was waiting at the end. Bessie was just starting. Down the line she traveled, not so gracefully, perhaps, as Winona, but catching her ring on every swing. Joyce followed, but mid-way her courage deserted her, and she failed utterly. Marjorie came next. She was doing well surely! She was nearly through, reached for the last ring, missed it, and fell! There was an instant murmur of consternation from the audience. Was she injured? She sprang up unhurt, however, though deeply humiliated.

Thrilling in every nerve, Winona started back. Refreshed by her little rest, she swung lightly, steadily and unfalteringly, never missing a ring till she came to the end. She was almost too occupied to notice the cheers. Bessie reached mid-way, then missed a ring, caught it on the second swing, missed another, and reached for it three times before she caught it and finished her course.

The girls had been too much excited for comparisons. They scarcely guessed how their averages would stand. Winona had a general impression that Bessie had scored at vaulting, and Marjorie had undoubtedly cleared the rope at four feet eight. Her own performances seemed lost in a haze; she had noticed the judge jot down something, but she felt incapable of reckoning her chances.

The judge was conferring with Miss Bishop at the back of the platform, and while the room waited for their decision the school marched, singing an Empire song.

At last the judge stepped to the front of the platform. The singing ceased. Winona's heart beat suffocatingly.

"I have great pleasure in giving the results," announced the judge. "Preparatory prize, Elaine Jennings; Junior prize, Lennie Roberts; Intermediate prize, Laura Marshall; Senior prize, Winona Woodward."

The applause was ringing out lustily. Bessie, Marjorie and Joyce were pressing congratulations upon her. Miss Bishop (actually the Head!) was looking at her and smiling approval. Miss Lever was telling her to walk forward. In a delirious whirl, Winona climbed the steps on the platform. As Councillor Jackson pinned the medal on to her tunic, a storm of clapping and cheers rose from the school. Their Games Captain was popular, and everybody felt it right and fitting that this afternoon she should have proved herself the athletic champion.

"Don't forget the ices!" whispered Bessie, as Winona rejoined Marjorie and Joyce.

"We'll stop at the café on the way home, and you shall each choose what you like!" declared Winona, with spendthrift liberality.

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