Read CHAPTER III - AT LAVENDER HOUSE of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

Hester’s journey had really proved wonderfully agreeable.  She had taken a great fancy to the little old ladies who had fussed over her and made themselves pleasant in her behalf.  She felt herself something like a heroine as she poured out a little, just a little, of her troubles into their sympathizing ears; and their cheerful remarks with regard to school and school-life had caused her to see clearly that there might be another and a brighter side to the gloomy picture she had drawn with regard to her future.

But during the drive of two and a half miles from Sefton to Lavender House, Hester once more began to feel anxious and troubled.  The Misses Bruce had gone off with some other passengers in a little omnibus to their small villa in the town, but Lavender House was some distance off, and the little omnibus never went so far.

An old-fashioned carriage, which the ladies told Hester belonged to Mrs. Willis, had been sent to meet her, and a man whom the Misses Bruce addressed as “Thomas” helped to place her trunk and a small portmanteau on the roof of the vehicle.  The little girl had to take her drive alone, and the rather ancient horse which drew the old carriage climbed up and down the steep roads in a most leisurely fashion.  It was a cold winter’s day, and by the time Thomas had executed some commissions in Sefton, and had reached the gates of the avenue which led to Lavender House, it was very nearly dark.  Hester trembled at the darkness, and when the gates were shut behind them by a rosy-faced urchin of ten, she once more began to feel the cruel and desolate idea that she was going to prison.

They drove slowly down a long and winding avenue, and, although Hester could not see, she knew they must be passing under trees, for several times their branches made a noise against the roof of the carriage.  At last they came to a standstill.  The old servant scrambled slowly down from his seat on the box, and, opening the carriage-door, held out his hand to help the little stranger to alight.

“Come now, missy,” he said in cheering tones, “come out, and you’ll be warm and snug in a minute.  Dear, dear!  I expect you’re nearly froze up, poor little miss, and it is a most bitter cold night.”

He rang a bell which hung by the entrance of a deep porch, and the next moment the wide hall-door was flung open by a neat maid-servant, and Hester stepped within.

“She’s come,” exclaimed several voices in different keys, and proceeding apparently from different quarters.  Hester looked around her in a half-startled way, but she could see no one, except the maid, who smiled at her and said: 

“Welcome to Lavender House, miss.  If you’ll step into the porter’s room for one moment, there is a good fire there, and I’ll acquaint Miss Danesbury that you have arrived.”

The little room in question was at the right hand side of a very wide and cheerful hall, which was decorated in pale tints of green, and had a handsome encaustic-tiled floor.  A blazing fire and two lamps made the hall look cheerful, but Hester was very glad to take refuge from the unknown voices in the porter’s small room.  She found herself quite trembling with shyness and cold, and an indescribable longing to get back to Nan; and as she waited for Miss Danesbury and wondered fearfully who or what Miss Danesbury was, she scarcely derived any comfort from the blazing fire near which she stood.

“Rather tall for her age, but I fear, I greatly fear, a little sulky,” said a voice behind her; and when she turned round in an agony of trepidation and terror, she suddenly found herself face to face with a tall, kind-looking, middle-aged lady, and also with a bright, gypsy-looking girl.

“Annie Forest, how very naughty of you to hide behind the door!  You are guilty of disobedience in coming into this room without leave.  I must report you, my dear; yes, I really must.  You lose two good conduct marks for this, and will probably have thirty lines in addition to your usual quantity of French poetry.”

“But she won’t tell on me, she won’t, dear old Danesbury,” said the girl; “she couldn’t be so hard-hearted, the precious love, particularly as curiosity happens to be one of her own special little virtues!  Take a kiss, Danesbury, and now, as you love me you’ll be merciful!” The girl flitted away, and Miss Danesbury turned to Hester, whose face had changed from red to pale during this little scene.

“What a horrid, vulgar, low-bred girl!” she exclaimed with passion, for in all the experiences of her short life Hester had never even imagined that personal remarks could be made of any one in their very presence.  “I hope she’ll get a lot of punishment ­I hope you are not going to forgive her,” she continued, for her anger had for the time quite overcome her shyness.

“Oh, my dear, my dear! we should all be forgiving,” exclaimed Miss Danesbury in her gentle voice.  “Welcome to Lavender House, love; I am sorry I was not in the hall to receive you.  Had I been, this little rencontre would not have occurred.  Annie Forest meant no harm, however ­she’s a wild little sprite, but affectionate.  You and she will be the best friends possible by-and-by.  Now, let me take you to your room; the gong for tea will sound in exactly five minutes, and I am sure you will be glad of something to eat.”

Miss Danesbury then led Hester across the hall and up some broad, low, thickly-carpeted stairs.  When they had ascended two flights, and were standing on a handsome landing, she paused.

“Do you see this baize door, dear?” she said.  “This is the entrance to the school part of the house.  This part that we are now in belongs exclusively to Mrs. Willis, and the girls are never allowed to come here without leave.  All the school life is lived at the other side of this baize door, and a very happy life I assure you it is for those little girls who make up their minds to be brave and good.  Now kiss me, my dear, and let me bid you welcome once again to Lavender House.”

“Are you our principal teacher, then?” asked Hester.

“I? oh, dear, no, my love.  I teach the younger children English, and I look after the interests and comforts of all.  I am a very useful sort of person, I believe, and I have a motherly heart, dear, and it is a way with little girls to come to me when they are in trouble.  Now, my love, we must not chatter any longer.  Take my hand, and let us get to your room as fast as possible.”

Miss Danesbury pushed open the baize door, and instantly Hester found herself in a different region.  Mrs. Willis’ part of the house gave the impression of warmth, luxuriance, and even elegance of arrangement.  At the other side of the door were long, narrow corridors, with snow-white but carpetless floors, and rather cold, distempered walls.  Miss Danesbury, holding the new pupil’s hand, led her down two corridors, and past a great number of shut doors, behind which Hester could hear suppressed laughter and eager, chattering voices.  At last, however, they stopped at a door which had the number “32” written over it.

“This is your bedroom, dear,” said the English teacher, “and to-night you will not be sorry to have it alone.  Mrs. Willis received a telegram from Susan Drummond, your room-mate, this afternoon, and she will not arrive until to-morrow.”

However bare and even cold the corridors looked, the bedroom into which Hester was ushered by no means corresponded with this appearance.  It was a small, but daintily-furnished little room.  The floor was carpeted with green felt, the one window was hung with pretty draperies and two little, narrow, white beds were arranged gracefully with French canopies.  All the furniture in the room was of a minute description, but good of its kind.  Beside each bed stood a mahogany chest of drawers.  At two corresponding corners were marble wash handstands, and even two pretty toilet tables stood side by side in the recess of the window.  But the sight that perhaps pleased Hester most was a small bright fire which burned in the grate.

“Now, dear, this is your room.  As you have arrived first you can choose your own bed and your own chest of drawers.  Ah, that is right, Ellen has unfastened your portmanteau; she will unpack your trunk to-night, and take it to the box-room.  Now, dear, smooth your hair and wash your hands.  The gong will sound instantly.  I will come for you when it does.”