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   Chapter 19 No.19

The Luckiest Girl in the School By Angela Brazil Characters: 20223

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Swimming Contest

Once the examinations were over, Winona's spirits, which had been decidedly at Il Penseroso, went up to L'Allegro. The strain of coaching Garnet had been very great, but the relief was in corresponding proportion. She felt as if a burden had rolled from her shoulders. There was just a month of the term left. The Sixth would of course be expected to do its ordinary form work, but the amount of home study required would be reasonable, quite a different matter from the intolerable grind of preparation for a University examination. The extra afternoon classes with Miss Goodson were no longer necessary, leaving a delightful period of leisure half-hours at school. Winona intended to employ these blissful intervals in cricket practice, at the tennis courts, in helping to arrange the museum, and in carrying out several other pet schemes that she had been forced hitherto to set aside. Bessie Kirk had made a good deputy, but it was nice to take the reins into her own hands once more, and feel that she was head of the Games department. She coached her champions assiduously. At tennis Emily Cooper and Bertha March stood out like planets among the stars. They had already beaten Westwood High School and Hill Top Secondary School, and hoped to have a chance against Binworth College, of hitherto invincible reputation. The match would not take place for a fortnight, which gave extra time for practice. In cricket, Betty Carlisle had come to the front at bowling, while Maggie Allesley and Irene Swinburne were heroines of the bat. It is inevitable that some girls should overtop the rest, but Winona would not on that account allow the others to slack. She knew the importance of a high general average of play, and urged on several laggers. She thoroughly realized the importance of fielding, and made her eleven concentrate their minds upon it.

"We lost Tamley on fielding," she affirmed, "and if we've any intention of beating Binworth, we've just got to practice catching and throwing in."

Of the two matches in which the school had so far taken part, the first, with Baddeley High School, had been a draw, and in the second, with Tamley, they had been beaten. It was not an encouraging record, and Winona felt that for the credit of the school it was absolutely necessary to vanquish Binworth. Its team had a fairly good reputation, so it would be no easy task, but after the hockey successes of last winter she did not despair. Apart from school she had a very pleasant time. Nearly every evening after supper Aunt Harriet would suggest a short run in the car before sunset. She generally allowed her niece to take the wheel as soon as they were clear of the town traffic, and Winona soon became quite expert at driving. She liked to feel the little car answering to her guidance; there was a thrill in rounding corners and steering past carts, and every time she went out she gained fresh confidence. She was not at all nervous, and kept her head admirably in several small emergencies, managing so well that Aunt Harriet finally allowed her to bring the car back down the High Street, which, as it was the most crowded portion of the town, was considered the motorist's ordeal in Seaton. She acquitted herself with great credit, passed a tramcar successfully, and understood the signals of the policeman who waved his hand at the corner. Aunt Harriet had taken out a driver's license for her, so having proved her skill in the High Street, she now felt quite a full-fledged lady chauffeur.

Winona immensely enjoyed these evening runs when the sky was aflame with sunset, and the trees were quiet dark masses of color, and the long road stretched out before her, pink from the glow above, and the lacey hemlocks and meadowsweets made a soft blurred border below the hedgerows. With an open road in front of her she was tempted sometimes to put on speed, and felt as if she were flying onwards into a dream country where all was vague and mysterious and shadowy and unknown. She was always loth to return, but Aunt Harriet was extremely particular that they must be home before lighting-up time, and would point remorselessly to the small clock that hung facing the seat. Perhaps Winona's greatest triumph was when, one evening, she managed without any assistance to run the car into its own shed in the garage, a delicate little piece of steering which required fine calculation, a quick hand, and a rapid turn. She was learning something of the mechanism, too, could refill the petrol tank, and was almost anxious for a tire to burst, so that she might have the opportunity of putting on the Stepney wheel, though this latter ambition was not shared by her aunt.

"When all the men have gone to the war, I'll be able to drive a taxi or a war van, and make myself useful to the Government! I believe I could clean the car perfectly well if Sam should be called up, and has to leave the garage. I'd just enjoy turning the hose on it. What would they give me a week to take Sam's place here?"

"They'd give you a snubbing if you asked them!" laughed Aunt Harriet. "Cleaning a car is uncommonly hard work. You might manage our small one, but by the time you'd done the whole round of the garage, you'd be ready to declare it wasn't a woman's job."

"I'd chance it!" retorted Winona.

She had her opportunity after all, for the garage attendant was taken ill, and remained off duty for several days. On the Saturday morning Winona set to work and cleaned, polished and oiled the car thoroughly. It was very dirty after a muddy day's use, so she had her full experience. It was certainly far harder than she had anticipated, and she felt devoutly thankful that she was not bound to attack the cars in the other sheds, and perform similar services for each.

"Sam earns his money," she assured Aunt Harriet, when she returned at lunch-time. "On the whole, I've decided I won't be a lady chauffeur. It's bad enough to have to clean one's bicycle, but if I had to go through this car performance every day, I don't think there'd be very much left of me."

"Ah! I told you so!" returned, Aunt Harriet triumphantly.

Motoring was not the only fresh form of activity which Winona had taken up this summer. The school had organized swimming classes, and on certain clean-water days detachments of girls were conducted to the public baths. Owing to her college entrance examinations, Winona had not been able to attend the full course, but she had learnt to swim last summer at the baths, and was as enthusiastic as anybody. Miss Medland, the teacher, was an expert from Dunningham; she was skillful herself, and clever at training her pupils. The girls soon gained confidence in the water, and began to be able to perform what they called "mermaid high jinks."

The Public Baths at Seaton were most remarkably good, so good indeed that many of the citizens had raised a protest against the Corporation for spending so much money upon them. The High School girls, who had not to pay the rates, did not sympathize with the grumbles of ratepayers, and rejoiced exceedingly in the sumptuous accommodation. They specially appreciated the comfort of the dressing-rooms, and the convenience of the hot-air apparatus for drying their hair. The restaurant, where tea or bovril could be had, was also a luxury for those who were apt to turn shivery after coming from the water.

"I can understand why the Romans were so enthusiastic about their public baths," said Audrey Redfern. "Just think of having little trays of eatables floating about on the water, so that you could have a snack whenever you wanted, and slaves to bring you delicious scent afterwards, and garlands of flowers. I wish I'd lived some time b.c. instead of in the twentieth century!"

"Be thankful you didn't live in the twelfth, for then you mightn't have had a bath at all!" returned Winona; "certainly not a public one, and probably not the private one either. An occasional canful of water would have been thought quite sufficient for you, with perhaps a dip in a stream if you could get it. The people who bathed were mostly pilgrims at Holy Wells, and they all used the same water, no matter what their diseases were."

"How disgusting! Well, on the whole I'm tolerably satisfied to belong to the poor old twentieth century. It might be better, but it might be worse."

"How kind of you! I'm sure posterity will be grateful for your approval."

"D'you want me to push you into the water, Winona Woodward? I will, in half a second!"

At the end of the course it was arranged that a swimming contest should take place among the girls, and that various prizes should be offered for championships. It was the first event of the kind in the annals of the school, so naturally it aroused much enthusiasm. About thirty candidates were selected by Miss Medland as eligible for competitions, the rest of her pupils having to content themselves with looking on. A special afternoon was given up to the display, and invitations were sent out to parents to come and help to swell the audience.

"Are you in for the mermaidens' fête?" Winona asked Marjorie Kemp.

"Mermaidens' fête, indeed! How romantic we are all of a sudden! The frog fight, I should call it."

"There speaks the voice of envy! You're evidently out of it."

"Don't want to be in it, thanks! It'll be wretched work shivering round the edge of the bath for a solid hour!"

"Sour grapes, my child!" teased Winona.

"Go on, my good girl-if you want to make me raggy, you just shan't succeed, that's all!"

"Now I should like to have been chosen!" mourned Evelyn Richards. "I don't mind confessing that I've had a disappointment. I thought I could swim quite as well as Freda, and it's grizzly hard luck that she was picked out and I wasn't. Rank favoritism, I call it!"

"Poor old Eve! Look here, I'll tell you a secret. You head the reserve list. I know because I saw it. If anybody has a cold on the day of the event, you'll take her place."

"You mascot! Shall I? Oh! I do hope somebody'll catch cold-not badl

y, but just enough to make it unsafe to go into the water. You can't think how I want to try my luck. I don't suppose I've a chance of a prize, but if I did get one, why I'd cock-a-doodle-do the school down!"

"I'm quite sure you would! Trust you to blow your own trumpet!"

"Winona Woodward, if you'd been properly and thoroughly spanked in your babyhood, you'd be a much more civil person now. I decline your company. Ta-ta!"

"Poor old Eve! Take it sporting!" said Winona soothingly.

On the afternoon of the great event, the ladies' large bath was specially reserved for the school. A goodly crowd of spectators filled almost to overflowing the galleries that ran round the hall; interested fathers and mothers, sympathetic aunts, and a sprinkling of cousins and friends made up the visitors' list, and the rest of the space was crammed with school girls. Each likely champion had her own set of supporters, who murmured her name as a kind of war cry, and were only restrained from shouting it at the pitch of their lungs by the sight of Miss Bishop, who stood below, talking to Miss Medland and the judge. The enthusiasm went perhaps more by favor than by actual prowess, and could hardly be taken as an augury of success, for Barbara Jones, who was popular, received much more encouragement than Olga Dickinson, who had distanced her every time at the practices. Juniors will be juniors, however, and the fourth and third forms stamped solidly for Barbara, ignoring the superior claims of her rival.

The bath, with its blue and white tiles, looked tempting. All the school envied the candidates as they came marching in in their costumes.

"Evelyn's got a place after all!" said Garnet, who was among the spectators, to Gladys Cooper, who sat next to her. "Some one else must be off, then. Who is it? Freda Long? Poor old Freda! Got toothache? It's hard luck on her! There's Winona. I don't believe she'll win, but I'll cheer her! Rather!"

Winona also did not think it likely that she would win. She had only had time for half the lessons, which put her at a serious disadvantage with girls who had taken the full course. It was unsporting, however, to go in confident of defeat, so she meant to do her best.

The first event was the Upper School Championship for the fastest swimmer. The candidates stood ready at the edge of the bath, then at the given signal they flung themselves into the water, and started. At first they were fairly even, but after a dozen yards or so several shot ahead. The irrepressible juniors lost all control in their excitement, and cheered on each as she appeared to be gaining.

"Audrey Redfern!"

"No, no! Jess Gardner!"

"Winona Woodward!"

"Elsie Parton's passed her!"

"No, no! Winona's making up!"

"She'll never do it, though!"

"It's a draw!"

As a matter of fact Winona and Elsie Parton touched the winning tape at the very identical moment. It was a great surprise for both of them. Winona had expected Jess or Audrey to be first, and never thought of Elsie as a possible champion. Elsie was in V.b. and had not been very long at the school. No one had taken much notice of her up to now, and the girls were rather staggered at her success. They did not even clap her as she climbed up from the bath. The judge wrote down the result, and called the next event. This was the Lower School Championship, and the juniors were soon screaming for Barbara Jones and Daisy James. The latter had it by a length, and walked away smiling, to be wrapped up in a towel by Miss Lever, for she was a chilly little creature, and apt to be taken with fits of shivers if she stood long out of the water.

Diving followed, both from the edge of the bath and from the diving board. In the Senior division Audrey and Jess secured the highest scores, neither Winona nor Elsie coming near them. Winona was not really very fond of diving, while Elsie staked her all upon extreme speed. The Juniors did almost better than their elders, Olga Dickinson's achievement quite carrying the enthusiasm of the hall.

The next competition was for style. The candidates swam first on their sides, then on their backs, and finally on their backs moving their legs only, their arms being placed on their hips. The judge put down marks for each according to what she considered their deserts; until the list should be made up, nobody knew who, in her expert opinion, had done the best.

It was now the turn of the Midnight Race, a most important event, to which the spectators were looking forward keenly. Only the best swimmers were allowed to take part, the other candidates had to content themselves with watching. The selected ten retired to the dressing-room, and in a few moments emerged, each clad in a long white nightdress, and holding a candlestick with a lighted candle in her hand. A roar of applause rose from the gallery as the white-robed figures formed into line. Every girl placed her candlestick on the edge of the bath, and getting into the water, held on to the rail at attention. When the judge gave the signal, each seized her candlestick and commenced to swim on her back to the other side of the bath, holding up the candle in her left hand. It was a feat that required steadiness and skill. Evelyn Richards tried to hurry too fast, and the draft caused by her over-quick passage blew out her flame. Mollie Hill caught her foot in her nightdress, and dropped her candle altogether. Jess Gardner pursued the original method of holding her candlestick in her teeth, and using both arms to swim. There was keen excitement as the candidates cautiously worked their way across. Each was required to place her candle for a second on the edge of the bath, and then to swim back to the original starting point. Only five competitors were in the running for the return journey-Winona, Audrey Redfern, Elsie Parton, Dora Lloyd (a Fourth Form girl), and little Olga Dickinson. The temptation to swim too fast was overwhelming, and Audrey fell a victim to it, her flame going out just in the middle of the bath. Olga Dickinson actually reached the starting point the first, but Winona and Elsie Parton were only a second behind her, placing their candlesticks down at the very same moment.

"I wonder how the score's going?" said Winona, as the Seniors stood watching the Junior Handicap Race.

"I've no idea," returned Audrey. "You see we don't know what marks Miss Gatehead has given for style, and several other things. She doesn't judge exactly like Miss Medland does. It's a pity Freda Long's out of it."

"What happened to Freda?"

"Got toothache. Can't you see her sitting up there in the gallery, holding her cheek? She's looking at you!"

"Poor old Freda! Beastly hard luck!" murmured Winona, waving a sympathetic greeting to her friend.

The Midnight Race had been intensely interesting, but the Obstacle Race proved an even greater excitement. Two thin planks of wood were placed across the bath, floating upon the water. The competitors started from the deep end, dived under the first plank, and then scrambled over the second. At the shallow end were a number of large round wash-tubs; each candidate had to seize upon one of these and seat herself in it, a most difficult feat of fine balancing, for unless she hit upon the exact center of gravity, the tub promptly overturned, and flung her into the water. It was a most mirth-provoking competition, candidates and spectators bursting into shouts of laughter as one after another the girls gingerly climbed into their tubs, and toppled over into the bath. Those who managed at last to preserve their equilibrium were given paddles, and had to navigate themselves to the nearest plank, where they invariably fell out, and were rescued and towed back by attendant nymphs told off for the purpose. Nobody succeeded in paddling to the plank and back again, and the competition resolved itself into a series of splashes, squeals and bursts of mirth. Even stately Miss Bishop was laughing heartily, and the girls in the gallery were in a state bordering on hysteria.

At last Miss Gatehead called order, and the dripping candidates retired from their water carnival to await the judging. The scores were rapidly added up, and the result was announced.

"Winona Woodward and Elsie Parton equal. They will therefore swim the length of the bath to decide the championship."

Planks and tubs were hastily cleared away from the field of action, and the rival candidates started on their final contest. The sympathies of the gallery went strongly with Winona; the girls wanted their Games Captain to win, and they cheered her vigorously. But Winona was tired, Elsie Parton was lithe and active, and had made fast swimming her specialty. Winona did her sporting best, but by the middle of the bath Elsie had distanced her, and reached the winning post a whole length ahead.

There was dead silence from the girls in the gallery. Their Captain had failed, and they did not mean to applaud her opponent. Winona, looking upwards, saw the popular feeling in their faces. All her generous spirit rose in revolt. She was standing close to Miss Bishop, Miss Gatehead and Miss Medland, and therefore it was certainly a breach of school etiquette for her to do what she did, but acting on the impulse of the moment she shouted: "Cheer, you slackers! Three cheers for Elsie Parton!" and waving her hand as a signal, led off the "Hip-hip-hip hurrah!" A very volume of sound followed, and the roof rang as Miss Bishop presented the winner with the cup for the Championship.

"Thanks awfully, Winona!" said Elsie, as the girls walked away to the dressing-rooms. "I'm afraid I've disappointed the school-but I did want to win!"

"Of course you did-and why shouldn't you? I hope I can take a beating in a sporting way! I think I made them ashamed of themselves. Fair play and no favoritism is the tradition of this school, and I mean to have no nasty cliquey feeling in it so long as I'm Games Captain, or my name's not Winona Woodward! That's the law of the Medes and Persians!"

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