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The Girls at Mount Morris By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 19872

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Lilian Boyd did not want to cross the line of division that was acutely felt and yet so nicely projected that a faint move on her part would bring about a rebuff. She had the youthful longing for girlish friendships, for little confidences about books they liked, about aims and the future. Some of the pupils were so attractive; and it was because she was the caretaker's daughter; she saw it when they came in to her mother with any errand, when they passed her in the halls with a supercilious nod.

But then, why need she care? They would go their way presently and she might remain. She knew she had won Mrs. Barrington's favor. That lady made it a point of her joining the Sunday evening singing and she found that she had a good, flexible voice.

One lovely October afternoon she thought she would walk down to the river whose banks were now a blaze of color. Some one called and she turned. It was Alice Nevins who was sometimes tiresome. The girls were going down in town and one of them had really asked her if she would not like to join them. A gratified light shone in her eyes for a moment. There was something in the other's face that gave her a quick warning. There was some plot underneath.

"Thank you very much but I cannot go this afternoon. I hope you will all have a nice time."

Then she went to her room. Her mother was folding up some sewing. "There is so little to do," and she smiled vaguely.

"Come out and walk with me."

"No, I don't feel equal to it, I will put a shawl about me and sit on the porch."

"Shall I come and read to you?"

"No, dear, it is an effort to listen. I'll just sit and think."

"Mother, are you satisfied here?"

"Oh, my child, I could not have dreamed of anything so comfortable, and for your sake-you are happy?" with a touch of wistfulness.

"Oh, it is so delightful, and then to think that I shall fit myself for a nice position presently. Then mother dear we will have a few rooms and a real home again."

"Oh, you are so good," in a tremulous tone.

Lilian kissed her. She wondered why her mother's eyes rested on her at times with that unfathomable look and the lips would move, then suddenly compress.

So she walked down past the summer house where the Virginia creeper was flaunting long scarlet branches in the wind.

"Oh, Miss Boyd!"

She turned. Alice Nevins ran out. Her face was red and swollen with weeping.

"Oh, what is the matter?"

"Let me come with you? Oh, I'm so homesick, and I just hate some of the girls. They laugh when I blunder. I don't know things. I just hate school! Papa would send me here. Mamma begged to take me abroad. I'm sure I could have learned a great many things. People say travel is an education. I hate to study books. Do you really love it?"

"Yes, very much, and for all it brings to you. Were you never at school before?"

"Only a little. Then I had a governess. You see, I was growing fast and mamma thought I oughtn't study. She wasn't very well and papa wanted to take her somewhere in Italy, and he sent me here, and some of the girls do make fun of me. Can't you feel it when they are laughing at you?"

Lilian flushed. "I try to think of something else. They are not really worth minding."

"I know I'm not pretty. Oh, I wish I were! And you have such a lovely complexion. How is it made up?"

"Made up? What do you mean?"

"One of the girls said it was, and that sometimes you painted."

Lilian was angry then.

"My paint and powder are soap and water," she returned, indignantly. "It is a shame for a young girl to do such things."

"But you are pretty. Must your mother be the caretaker here? What does she have to do?"

"She looks after the sewing and the mending. Yes, because we are poor, we both have to earn our living. Some day I mean to teach and take care of her."

"Where is your father?"

"Oh, he died when I was a baby."

"Well-I'm awful sorry. Do you like that Phillipa Rosewald?"

"I don't know much about her."

"She makes fun of so many things, and she tells you words that sound wrong when you pronounce them. I said something yesterday and the girls giggled and Miss Davis thought I did it purposely and I was marked down."

"It was a very mean thing," Lilian's cheek glowed with indignation.

"Then Miss Rosewald tells such funny stories. Four or five of the girls just hang together and they think they are everything. But I guess father is as rich as any of their fathers. Only I wish I was real handsome."

"Oh, my dear, I would think of my studies instead. Now let us talk them over. What is it that bothers you most?"

"Oh, everything."

"But you must study. Now, won't you try this evening. I'll help you all I can."

"Oh, I wish I was with mamma. I shall just tell her that I hate school. What's the use of so much education anyhow? Girls get married."

Lilian felt that Mrs. Nevins was a very poor mother not to have taught her daughter a little common sense. Then she asked how old Alice was.

"I was fifteen last May."

"And I will be sixteen in June. I wasn't quite fourteen when I was promoted to the High School, where I spent two years."

"Oh, but I'm not going to teach or anything. Mamma said she would be sure to send for me next vacation, but that is almost nine dreary months away," with a profound sigh.

"And you ought to learn a good deal in that time, so that you will not be classed with the ignorant and conceited girls who think their money will cover everything. There are so many young people going abroad nowadays, college girls who have all the nice points of travel by heart?"

"Oh, dear, I just can't study!" desperately.

"Oh, try. Now this evening I will help you. You see," smiling, "very little knowledge comes natural. It is true some acquire easier than others, but it is the continued effort after all."

"Oh, dear, I wish you had been my sister. Papa is always bemoaning that there are not more of us, but mamma says if there were I would have to go without many things. I've some lovely jewelry but papa would put it in the safe deposit, and he went and bought this cheap little watch for school. My nice one cost one hundred dollars. It's a real beauty, and mamma has lots of diamonds. I have two, they were birthday rings. Don't they have parties here when you dress up? I brought my pretty white silk, and I have a pink one with lots of lace, and my fur coat will be sent to me, it is being altered a little. It's real seal, and mother has such a lovely Russian sable. Oh, I do like pretty clothes, but Mrs. Barrington made out a list that seemed very plain for a high-up finishing school-don't you think so?"

"I have not seen it. Most girls come to study and fit themselves for the station they are to occupy. Unless you are going in society I think there is little need of very fine clothes. Now let us talk a little about your studies. Miss Davis feels quite concerned about you."

Miss Nevins pouted a little. Lilian felt her nice walk was spoiled so she turned her attention to the ignorant girl who "just hated study." What a foolish mother she must have, while it seemed that her father was far more sensible.

Mrs. Barrington stood on the porch as they returned. She detained Lilian with a wave of the hand. When Miss Nevins was out of hearing she said in an approving tone-

"I am glad to see you take an interest in that poor child. Miss Davis thinks her lamentably ignorant. I am really sorry I accepted her, but her father wrote such urgent, sensible letters. Her mother must be a very foolish body and the girl is extremely backward. It is asking a good deal of you to take a little pains with her, but I see that you have an attractive way with you. You will make an excellent teacher, and I hope to keep you a long while."

"Oh, thank you, I will try to do my best," Lilian returned, delighted with the praise.

Miss Arran always came in the study room, generally bringing a bit of embroidery for it was not expected that Miss Boyd should attend to the upper division with some girls older than herself. The other class were quite at the lower end of the room, ranged around the table. Miss Boyd seated herself next to Miss Nevins and patiently explained, but it was very hard to keep the girl's attention to the subject in hand. She thought she had never seen any one so utterly indifferent and with so little ambition. There had been stolid, slow-witted girls among the operatives in Laconia in the grammar school, but they really desired to learn.

Miss Davis paused the next day to say-

"Miss Boyd your good training does begin to take effect. Miss Nevins had such excellent recitations today that I was pleased beyond measure. You are way up in Mrs. Barrington's good graces, I can tell you."

Lilian flushed at the commendation.

For the next hour the girls could have a social time in each others' rooms or the library. There was a crowd of eager talkers with Miss Rosewald.

"Yes," she was saying. "I ran over the housekeeper just as she was coming out of Rinsey's. Zay will be here by the 20th, and she's coming right to school, for the Major and Mrs. Crawford are going to the Mediterranean. The German doctors and the baths did wonders for her and she can walk without crutches. A friend is to take them on his yacht and they'll be home at Christmas, and there will be Vincent's graduation. Dear me! I hope I can go up to West Point. They say the balls are splendid. The Crawford house is to be all done over, and no doubt there will be a big housewarming there."

"Oh, it will be just delightful to have Zay back again. I suppose that's the reason Miss White was put in with Buttons and that room fixed up so nice. Mrs. Barrington has had word, of course. We just need her to round out, I was going to say, the atmosphere. It's too studious. Those Kirkland girls are going to college, dearly loved cousins, quite suf

ficient for themselves, and there's that granery, yallery, Grosvenor Gallery, one who writes poetry and is too lackadaisical for anything. What we want is a rollicking, fun loving girl to start us."

"And something's the matter with you, Phil. Have you been crossed in love?"

Phillipa Rosewald turned scarlet. "No," she answered, "it's two of them and I can't decide. One is rich and homely as a hedge fence and always says drawring and reel, but has lots of money and a fair enough family back of him. The other is handsome and oh, my! gay as a lark, but he had about run through with a fortune, and I'm afraid he will flirt now that the restraint of my serious and imposing presence is removed."

"Serious, that's good. Why didn't you say severe?"

Phil's love affairs were the entertainment of her coterie.

"Oh, girls, did you notice-well, I have a new name for them. 'Beauty and the Beast.' How devoted they were this evening!" broke in Louie Howe.

"Oh, you mean that Nevins girl? But do you call Miss Boyd handsome?"

"Well-she has a fine complexion-"

Louie wrinkled up her nose.

-"and lots of beautiful hair, a good figure and regular features. Maybe she lacks a certain style to make her noticeable-or something-"

"Money and position. I don't just see why a common sort of girl who has to earn her living should be above the average, and that Nevins girl's father is one of the firm of bankers in New York and London, and she's horrid!"

"Oh, girls," exclaimed May Gedney, "they kissed each other last night in the hall, a regular smack; I heard it. Fancy that pimply cheek being pressed against yours! and that lap-over tooth that sticks her lips out, and those pale gray-green eyes. Yes, Miss Boyd does look handsome by contrast."

There was a great giggle. "We must watch the course of this ardent love. Perhaps she understands the worth of contrast."

They went back to Zay Crawford, who was a general favorite. She and a brother nine years older than herself, a passed midshipman had gone to Germany in the summer, where her mother had been taking treatment. The Major had accompanied her. Miss Crawford had taken over the young people.

It was true, to Lilian's surprise, that Alice Nevins had clasped both arms around her and kissed her rapturously, exclaiming-"You are so sweet! Oh, I wish mother and father would adopt you! I'd just like to have you for a sister. I've never seen a girl before that I wanted."

Lilian freed herself and went to her room. She was not an effusive girl. At Laconia she had made some friends, but she was too proud to aspire to the higher ranks or accept overtures from them. She felt sorry for Alice Nevins but there was no real companionship. Yet was there not a duty? She seemed to occupy a peculiar position, and loved to listen to the fascinating bits of talk, places one and another had seen, music, operas, paintings, lectures, a knowledge of real things, not merely those gleamed from books.

Well, she must earn them herself. She used to dream of them at nights when the lights were put out. She was changing curiously, she felt it herself. It was not only in the added self-reliance, the nameless little ways of refinement and grace the intuitive knowledge of what we call good breeding, and the cordial smile of commendation from Mrs. Barrington thrilled every pulse.

Mrs. Boyd was not vulgar but she was undeniably commonplace. High thoughts such as stirred Lilian in verse, never roused her. Yet the girl did feel indignant at times at the manner in which some of the girls addressed her mother when they were uniformly polite to Miss Arran.

She was quite undecided about her duty to Miss Nevins. The kiss had come so suddenly she had no time to evade it but she took good care to do so the next night. Lilian had never been an effusive girl. She had almost broken her mother's heart in her little more than babyhood, when after a rapturous caress she had half pulled from the enclosing arms and said in a willful fashion-"Don't kiss me so hard, I don't liked to be kissed!" And later on when her mother had always called her Lily, she had said emphatically-"Why don't you call me Lilian! I'm too big a girl to be called by such a baby name as Lily and I don't like it."

That began a sort of gulf between them that the mother never had the courage to bridge over. There was a curious dignity about her that even the obtuse Miss Nevins could not surmount.

One day the girl brought her two beautiful orchids.

"You've been so good about my lessons that I wanted to do something, and these were"-hesitatingly-

"Handsome and expensive," in a chilling tone. "They were the finest things the florist had, and mamma always sends me some money in her letters, while papa sends my allowance to Mrs. Barrington. So I feel that is clear gain," laughing. "Mrs. Barrington is rather strict about allowances, and she's shut down on so much sweets and hot chocolates. Do you think it hurts one's complexion?"

"It certainly hurts yours. I would give them up, and so much cake; the regular school living is good enough, and you should take a cold bath in the morning."

"Ouch! That would be horrid," and the girl shuddered.

"But you want to be beautiful!"

"Oh, I am afraid that wouldn't make me beautiful, and when I am quite grown up I shall have lovely clothes, and it doesn't so much matter when you are rich."

Lilian glanced at her with a sort of pity that any girl could be so silly, and a sense of disgust, also.

"Miss Nevins, I must say one thing that I want you to observe for the future. You must not make me costly gifts nor any kind of gifts. The help I am giving you Mrs. Barrington wishes me to give to any girl who needs it. It is simply my duty, you see, and Mrs. Barrington repays me."

Miss Nevins looked as if she could not understand. Then she struck a rather tragic pose.

"Oh, if you would only love me!" she cried, clasping her hands together. "I am so lonely! I miss mamma every hour. Then I think I could learn to like it here, and I'd try to study. I'd give up cream soda and-yes, I would take the bath, but it must be warm."

"Oh, you foolish thing!" Lilian laughed in spite of herself. "There, I cannot stay here talking, and you must go to your lessons."

"No, I'll get some other girl and go down town. You are cold and cruel."

She was rather sullen all the evening and failed in some recitations the next day. After that she studied with a better grace.

"Miss Arran," Lilian said on Sunday morning, "do you think I might take mother to that little Chapel in Chester street. I think she would feel more at home there."

"Oh, certainly. Mrs. Barrington insists that the girls shall attend at least one service a Sunday. Then there is the Bible Class here, which she makes very interesting. She and many of the girls go to Trinity, but I like the Chapel a good deal myself. It is a Methodist, you know."

"Yes, mother was used to that service."

So they went together, though Louie Howe said-"We'll manage it so Beauty and the Beast will walk together," but she missed her plan.

It was a very simple and sweet service and the sermon was on hidden sins. Lilian wondered if hers was undue pride, the desire to rise above her station? She glanced at her mother. The tears were coursing silently down her sunken cheeks. Was she missing the love a daughter ought to give? She looked so frail and delicate that the girl's heart went out to her as it never had before.

In the vestibule stood a sweet faced young woman waiting while an elderly lady was talking to her friend. She came near and held out her hand in a friendly manner.

"You are a stranger here, but we are very glad to welcome you," she began cordially.

"You are one of the Seminary young ladies, I saw you on the porch one day when I was passing."

"Yes," Lilian returned, then added "in a way. And this is my mother, Mrs. Boyd."

"And I am Miss Trenham. This is my mother." The two ladies shook hands in an old-fashioned manner.

"Do you go up Elm Place? Then let us walk together. Is this your first year here?"

"Yes," answered Lilian.

"I hope you liked our clergyman and will come again."

"I think mother will feel more at home."

Miss Trenham smiled.

"I come here largely for my mother's sake. I think the simple service comes nearer the heart of the older people. I like Trinity church, I like the service of the whole year round, and the music is fine. I like coming in the house of God with a reverent hymn. You are one of the newer scholars, are you not?"

"Yes, we came in August. My mother has a position in the household." She would not sail under false colors. "And I am to study for a teacher."

"Oh, then we'll have a mutual bond. I am a teacher in the Franklin School."

"Oh, I know where that is," with a smile.

"You like your own school?"

"Oh, it is delightful, and such a beautiful home. Such a lovely town-"

Her face was radiant with pleasure. Then they paused.

"We go on a few blocks further. We live in Gray street. I am very glad to have met you. Shall I see you again next Sunday morning?"

"Oh, yes," promised Lilian.

Then she took her mother's arm.

"Did you like it mother dear? I thought the service very simple and sweet."

"And the lady was so friendly. I told her we were at the Seminary. The daughter teaches school, and she asked me to visit them-to come to tea some day. Do you suppose Mrs. Barrington would object? Would you like to go?" timidly.

"Why it would be very pleasant."

"Everybody seems so grand, I'm glad not to go to the high-up tables; I'm so afraid of mistakes. You see when people get along in life it isn't so easy to take up new ways. But that Mrs. Trenham seemed like some of the Laconia folks."

"Yes, we will go again next Sunday," said Lilian. "And to tea the first time we are invited."

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