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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 21509

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


A Friend in Need

Under the coaching of Miss Goodson the Sixth Form had settled down to grim work. Twelve girls were to present themselves for examination for entering Dunningham University, and though the teacher naturally concentrated her greatest energies on this elect dozen, the rest by no means slipped through her intellectual net. There were stars among the candidates of whom she might feel moderately certain, and there were also laggers whose success was doubtful. In this latter category she classed Winona. Poor Winona still floundered rather hopelessly in some of her subjects. A poetic imagination may be a delightful inheritance and a source of infinite enjoyment to its owner, but it does not supply the place of a good memory. Examiners are prosaic beings who require solid facts, and even the style of a Macaulay or a Carlyle would not satisfy them unless accompanied by definite answers to their set questions. By a piece of unparalleled luck, Winona had secured and retained her County Scholarship, but her powers of essay writing were not likely to serve her in such good stead again. She often groaned when she thought of the examinations. Miss Bishop, Aunt Harriet, and her mother would all be so disappointed if she failed, and alas! her failure seemed only too probable.

"Miss Goodson doesn't tell me plump out that I'll be plucked, but I can see she thinks so!" confided Winona to Garnet one day.

"Then show her she is wrong!"

"Not much chance of that, I'm afraid, but I'm doing my level best. I get up at six every morning, and slave before breakfast."

"So do I, but I get such frightful headaches," sighed Garnet. "I've been nearly mad with them. My cousin took me to the doctor yesterday. He says it's my eyes. I shan't be at school to-morrow. I have to go to Dunningham to see a specialist."

"Poor old girl! You never told me about your headaches."

"You never asked me! I've seen so little of you lately;"

Winona's conscience smote her. She had rather neglected Garnet since they had entered the Sixth Form. During their year in V.a. they had been fast friends. As new girls together and scholarship holders, a close tie had existed between them, and they had shared in many small excitements and adventures. When Winona was chosen Games Captain, however, their interests seemed to separate. Garnet was not athletic, she cared little for hockey or cricket, and preferred to devote her surplus energies to the Literary Society or the Debating Club. Almost inevitably they had drifted apart. Winona, wrapped up in the supreme fascinations of hockey matches and gymnasium practice, had chummed with Marjorie Kemp, Bessie Kirk, and Joyce Newton, who shared her enthusiasm for games. She remembered with a pang of self-reproach that she had not walked round the playground with Garnet once this term. Winona admired fidelity, but she certainly could not pride herself upon having practiced that virtue of late.

Garnet was absent from her desk next day, but when she returned to the school on Thursday, Winona sought an opportunity, and bore her off for a private talk. Garnet was looking very pale.

"I'm dreadfully upset," she confessed. "I told you I had to see a specialist about my eyes? Well, yesterday we went to Dunningham, to consult Sir Alfred Pollard. He says there's very serious trouble, and that if I'm not careful, I may ruin my sight altogether. He absolutely forbids any home work in the evenings."

"Forbids home work!" gasped Winona.

"Yes, utterly! Just think of it! With the examinations only six weeks off! I begged and implored, but he said I might choose between my sight and my exam. I suppose I shall have to fail!"

"Oh, Garnet!"

"Yes," continued her friend bitterly, "to fail at the very end, after all my work! And I have worked! When other girls have been getting all sorts of fun, I've sat in my bedroom with my books. Oh, it's too cruel!... Don't think me conceited, but I thought I might have a chance for the Seaton Scholarship. It was worth trying for! If you knew how I long to go to College! It would be so glorious to write B.A. after one's name! Besides, I must do something in life. All my sisters have chosen careers, and I had, quite decided to take up teaching as a profession. I talked it over with Miss Goodson one day. She was so nice about it, and strongly advised me to go to College if I could possibly get the opportunity. Well, I suppose that dream's over now! Not much chance of a scholarship with one's prep knocked off!"

"Oh, Garnet, I'm so sorry! Will the doctor let you take the exams, at all?"

"Yes, I may attend school as usual, and go in for the exam., but I'm not to look at a book after 4 p.m. or before 9 a.m., so it's a very empty permission. How I shall rage all the evenings! I wish I had a gramophone to howl out my work into my ears, as I mayn't use my eyes!"

"Would that help you?" asked Winona eagerly.

"Of course it would! It isn't my brain that's wrong, only my eyes. I asked my cousin to read my prep. to me one evening, but it was beyond her, and we only got into a muddle. Oh dear, I could cry! To have worked to within six weeks of the exam., and then to have to slack like this! I'm the unluckiest girl in the world!"

Winona comforted her poor friend as best she could. She had an idea at the back of her mind, but she did not venture to confide it to Garnet until she had first consulted Aunt Harriet about it. It was no less a proposal than that they should do their preparation together, and that by reading the work aloud she could act eyes for her chum. It. would be difficult, no doubt, but not an utter impossibility, and it was absolutely the only way in which Garnet could receive help. It would necessitate their spending many hours daily in each other's company, and to arrange this seemed to be the difficulty. She explained the situation to Miss Beach, with some diffidence and hesitation. She was terribly afraid of receiving a snubbing, and being told that her own work was more than sufficient for her, without taking up her friend's burdens. To her surprise, however, Aunt Harriet proved sympathetic, and heartily acquiesced in the scheme. She indeed made the very kind proposal that for the six weeks until the exam. Garnet should sleep with Winona at Abbey Close, so that they might have both the evening and early morning preparation together.

Winona carried her friend to a quiet corner of the gymnasium to communicate her thrilling news.

"Win! You don't really mean it? Oh, you're big! I didn't think any one in the world would have done that for me. Do you realize what you're undertaking? It's the one thing that can save me! And only a girl who's in my own Form, and going in for the exams. herself, could do it. Nobody else understands exactly what one wants. Win! I'm ready to worship you!"

"Will your cousin let you come to stay with us?"

"I've no fear of that. She'll be as grateful to you as I am!"

Without any further loss of time, Garnet was installed at Abbey Close, and the friends began their joint preparation. Garnet, by the doctor's orders, sat with a black silk handkerchief tied over her eyes, so as to give them all the rest which was possible. Her brain was very alert, however, and her excellent memory retained most of what Winona read to her. At first there were many difficulties to be overcome, for each had had her own way of studying, but after a while they grew used to their united method, and began to make headway with the work. They thoroughly enjoyed being together. To Winona it was almost like being back at the hostel to have a companion in her bedroom, and her many jokes and bits of fun kept up Garnet's spirits. They set their alarm clock for 5.30, and began study promptly at six each morning, after eating the bread and butter and drinking the glasses of milk which, by Aunt Harriet's orders, were always placed in readiness for them. These early hours, when the day was cool, and a fresh breeze blew in through the open window, seemed the most valuable of all; their brains felt clearer, and they were often able to grasp problems and difficult points which had eluded them the evening before.

Except for the ordinary practices which formed part of the school curriculum, Winona was obliged for the present to appoint Bessie Kirk as her deputy-Captain. She had no time herself to train juniors, to act referee, or to stand watching tennis sets. It meant a great sacrifice to relinquish these most congenial duties, but she knew Miss Bishop and Miss Goodson approved, and she promised herself to return to them all the more heartily when the examination should be over. She would ask Bessie wistfully for reports of the progress of various stars who were in training, and managed to keep in touch with the games, though she could not always participate in them.

"Wait till June's over, and I'm emancipated! Then won't I have the time of my life!" she announced. "Thank goodness the match with Binworth isn't till July 21st!"

The weeks of strenuous work passed slowly by. The weather was warm and sultry, with frequent thunderstorms, not a favorable atmosphere for study. Garnet flagged palpably, and lost her roses. To Winona the time seemed interminable. The task she had undertaken of helping her friend was a formidable one. It needed all her courage to persevere. Sometimes she longed just for an evening to throw it up, and go and play tennis instead, but every hour was important to Garnet, and must not be lost. Winona often had to set her teeth and force herself to resist the alluring sound of the tennis in the next-door garden, where she had a standing invitation to come and play, and it took all the will power of which she was capable to focus her attention on the examination subjects. She tried not to let Garnet see how much the effort cost her; the latter was sensitive, and painfully conscious of being a burden. Miss Beach dosed both the girls with tonics, and insisted upon their taking a certain amount of exercise.

"Work by all means, but don't over-work," was her recommendation. "There's such a thing as bending a bow until it breaks. I don't like to see such white cheeks!"

The examination was for entering Dunningham University, and must be taken at that city. The Governors of the Seaton High School had offered a scholarship, tenable for three years, to whichever of their candidates, obtaining First Class honors, appeared highest on the list of passes. They had arranged with the examiners to place the names of the successful candidates in order of merit and on the receipt of the results they would award their exhibition. If no one obtained First Class honors, the offer wou

ld be withdrawn, and held over until another year.

Several of the girls were well up in their work, and seemed likely to have a chance of winning. Linda Fletcher had the advantage of two years in the Sixth, Agatha James was undoubtedly clever, and Beatrice Howell, though not brilliant, possessed a steady capacity for grind. With three such formidable rivals Garnet's heart might very reasonably fail her. The doctor's prohibition was a most serious handicap for invaluable as her chum's help proved, it was not so effective as being able to use her own eyes. Sometimes she lost courage altogether, and it needed Winona's most dogged determination to keep her mind fixed unwaveringly upon the end in view.

"It's like playing in a match," Winona assured her. "If you think the other side's going to win, you may as well throw up the sponge at once. Don't give way an inch until you absolutely know you're beaten. I'm just determined you're to have that scholarship!"

"If I could only think so!" sighed Garnet. "Oh, Win! what should I do without you? When I'm with you my spirits go up, and I've courage enough for anything, and when I'm by myself I feel a wretched jelly-fish of a creature, just inclined to sit in a corner and blub!"

"No blubbering, please! Worst thing possible for the eyes!" commanded Winona.

"Well, I won't! You've cheered me up tremendously. I'm glad you'll be in the exam. room with me. I shall feel twice as brave if I know you're there!"

The days sped on, and the very last one came. Miss Bishop and Miss Goodson had given their final coachings and their most valuable help. Winona and Garnet devoted the evening to mastering one or two doubtful points.

"We've done our best, and it depends now whether we've luck in the questions," said Winona. "I think we'd better put the books away. We shall only muddle ourselves if we try any more to-night. Aunt Harriet says we're not to get up at five to-morrow. We shall have quite a hard enough day as it is."

"It wouldn't be much use," said Garnet, thrusting back the hair from her hot forehead. "I feel I've taken in the utmost my brains can hold. There's no room for anything more. How close the air is!"

"I believe we're going to have another storm," replied Winona, leaning out of the widely opened window, to gaze at the lurid sky. "There's a feeling of electricity about. Ah! There it begins!"

A vivid flash behind the tower of the old Minster was followed by a long rumble of thunder. The atmosphere was painfully oppressive. Again a white streak ran like a corkscrew over the clouds, and a louder peal resounded. The storm was drawing nearer.

"Come from the window, Winona. It's not safe!"

Garnet was terribly afraid of thunder. The electricity in the air has a powerful effect upon some temperaments, and at the first sound of heaven's artillery she was crouching beside her bed, with her head buried in the pillow.

"Don't be a silly ostrich!" retorted her chum. "It's quite far away yet, and if it does come, the chances are a thousand to one against it hitting this particular house. Why, you weren't half so scared of Zeppelins! For goodness' sake don't get hysterical! Show some pluck!"

Winona's remarks might not be complimentary, but they were bracing. Garnet laughed nervously, and consented to sit upon a chair. In about half-an-hour the storm blew over, leaving a clear sky and stars.

"Come and put your head out of the window, and feel how deliciously fresh and cool it is!" commanded Winona. "Look at that bright planet! I think it must be Jupiter. I take it as a good omen for to-morrow. The storm will have cleared your brain, and your star's in the ascendant. Here's luck to the exam.!"

The city of Dunningham was about thirty miles away from Seaton. It was a big manufacturing city, with a highly flourishing modern university, which had lately come much to the fore, and had begun to make itself a reputation. The three days' examination was to be held in the University buildings, and all candidates were bound to present themselves there. Miss Bishop had decided that the contingent of twelve from the Seaton High School should travel to Dunningham each morning by the early express, under the charge of Miss Lever, who would take them out for lunch, and escort them safely back to Seaton again in the evening. The arrangement necessitated an early start, but nobody minded that.

The little party met at the railway station in quite bright spirits. It was rather fun, all going to Dunningham together, and having a special compartment engaged for them on the train. It was a difficult matter for thirteen people to cram into seats only intended for the accommodation of ten, but they preferred over-crowding to separation, and cheerfully took it in turns to sit on one another's knees.

"It's more like a beanfeast than the exam.!" laughed Mary Payne, handing round a packet of chocolates. "I feel I absolutely don't care!"

"I feel like a criminal on the road to execution!" groaned Helena Maitland. "Usedn't they to give the poor wretches anything they asked for? Oh, yes, thanks! I'll have a chocolate by all means, but it's crowning the victim with a garland of roses!"

"Rather mixed metaphors, my child! If you don't express yourself more clearly in your papers, I'm afraid you won't satisfy the examiners!"

"I wonder who corrects the papers?" asked Freda Long.

"Oh! some snarling old dry-as-dust, probably, who's anxious to get through the job as quickly as he can. It must be a withering experience to go through thousands of papers. Enough to pulverize your brains for the rest of your life!"

"I don't mind the examiners' brains. It's my own I'm anxious about. If they'll last me out these three days, I'll be content to exist at a very low mental level afterwards!"

"Right you are! Ditto this child! I'm going to read nothing but the trashiest novels during the holidays!" announced Mary aggressively.

"And I'm not going to read at all! I shall just lounge and play tennis," added Hilda.

"Poor dears! I used to feel like that, but one gets over it!" smiled Miss Lever. "Don't eat too many caramels, or you'll be so thirsty in the exam room. Malted milk tablets are the best thing; they're sweet, but sustaining. Plain chocolate is the next best. I shall think of you all the whole morning."

"You'll have a lovely time gallivanting round Dunningham and shop-gazing, while we're racking our brains!" said Garnet. "We're all envious!"

"Remember, I've had my purgatory before!" returned Miss Lever, laughing. "You must allow me a good time in my old age!"

Arrived at Dunningham station, they took the tramcar, and proceeded straight to the University. It was a very fine modern building, erected round three sides of a large quadrangle, the fourth side being occupied by a museum. They were directed to the Women Students' Department, and took off their hats and coats in the dressing-room. Miss Lever, who had herself graduated at Dunningham, knew the place well, and was able to give them exact directions. She escorted them across the quadrangle to the big hall where the examination was to be held.

"The place has a classic look," said Garnet, gazing at the Corinthian columns of the portico. "I'm afraid they won't consider my Latin up to standard. May the fates send me an easy paper!"

"You should have asked them before!" giggled Winona. "The papers are printed now, and not all the gods of Olympus could alter a letter. I accept my fortunes in the spirit of a Mahomedan. It's Kismet!"

The first set of questions was easier than the girls had dared to expect. They scribbled away eagerly. It was encouraging, at any rate, to make a good beginning. They compared notes at the end of the morning, and arrived at the conclusion that all had done fairly well. Miss Lever was waiting for them in the quadrangle when they came out, and announced that she had engaged a special table for the party at a restaurant, and had ordered a particularly nice little lunch, with coffee afterwards to clear their brains. Some of the girls were tired, and inclined to groan, others were exhilarated, but the enthusiasts cheered up the weaker spirits, and by the time the coffee course was reached, everybody was feeling courageous.

"Should I dare to suggest ices?" murmured Winona.

"All right, if you like. There's just time," assented Miss Lever, consulting her watch. "I passed my Intermediate on ices during a spell of intensely hot weather. I can allow you exactly five minutes, so choose quickly-strawberry or vanilla?"

The three days of the examination seemed to Winona like a dream. She grew quite accustomed to the big hall full of candidates, and to her particular desk. Garnet sat at the other side of the aisle, and Winona would sometimes pause a moment to watch her. To judge from her friend's absorbed appearance and fast moving pen, the papers appeared to suit her. To Winona's immense astonishment she herself was doing quite moderately well. The six weeks' coaching of Garnet had been of inestimable benefit to her own work. She had not then thought of this aspect of the matter, but she was certainly now reaping the reward of her labor of love. For the first time the possibility of gaining a pass occurred to her.

"If I do, it'll be the limit!" she reflected. "Miss Bishop will have about the surprise of her life!"

On the whole the girls quite enjoyed their three days at Dunningham. There were intervals between their various papers, which they spent partly in the University museum and partly in the City Art Gallery, where a fine collection of Old Masters was on loan. It was the first time Winona had seen paintings by world-famous artists, though she had often pored over reproductions of their works in The Studio or The Connoisseur. She felt that the experience added another window to her outlook on life.

"I wish I'd the talent to be an artist!" she thought. "There are so many things I'd like to do! Oh, dear! Painting and music (both beyond me utterly) and physical culture and poultry farming, and Red Cross nursing, and I probably shan't do any of them, after all! I want to be of solid use to the world in a nice interesting way to myself, and I expect I'll just have to do a lot of stupid things that I hate. Why wasn't I born a Raphael?"

"How do you think you've got on altogether?" Garnet asked Winona, as, thoroughly tired out, the two girls traveled homeward to Seaton at the end of the third day's examination.

"Um-tolerably. Better, perhaps, than I expected, but that's not saying much. And you?"

"I never prophesy till I know!"

But Garnet's dark eyes shone as she leaned back in her corner.

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