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

If Hester Thornton went to sleep that night under a sort of dreamy, hazy impression that school was a place without a great deal of order, with many kind and sympathizing faces, and with some not so agreeable; if she went to sleep under the impression that she had dropped into a sort of medley, that she had found herself in a vast new world where certain personages exercised undoubtedly a strong moral influence, but where on the whole a number of other people did pretty much what they pleased ­she awoke in the morning to find her preconceived ideas scattered to the four winds.

There was nothing of apparent liberty about the Lavender House arrangements in the early morning hours.  In the first place, it seemed quite the middle of the night when Hester was awakened by a loud gong, which clanged through the house and caused her to sit up in bed in a considerable state of fright and perplexity.  A moment or two later a neatly-dressed maid-servant came into the room with a can of hot water; she lit a pair of candles on the mantel-piece, and, with the remark that the second gong would sound in half an hour, and that all the young ladies would be expected to assemble in the chapel at seven o’clock precisely, she left the room.

Hester pulled her pretty little gold watch from under her pillow, and saw with a sigh that it was now half-past six.

“What odious hours they keep in this horrid place!” she said to herself.  “Well, well, I always did know that school would be unendurable.”

She waited for five minutes before she got up, and then she dressed herself languidly, and, if the truth must be told, in a very untidy fashion.  She managed to be dressed by the time the second gong sounded, but she had only one moment to give to her private prayers.  She reflected, however, that this did not greatly matter as she was going down to prayers immediately in the chapel.

The service in the chapel the night before had impressed her more deeply than she cared to own, and she followed her companions down stairs with a certain feeling of pleasure at the thought of again seeing Mr. Everard and Mrs. Willis.  She wondered if they would take much notice of her this morning, and she thought it just possible that Mr. Everard, who had looked at her so compassionately the night before, might be induced, for the sake of his old friendship with her mother, to take her home with him to spend the day.  She thought she would rather like to spend a day with Mr. Everard, and she fancied he was the sort of person who would influence her and help her to be good.  Hester fancied that if some very interesting and quite out of the common person took her in hand, she might be formed into something extremely noble ­noble enough even to forgive Annie Forest.

The girls all filed into the chapel, which was lighted as brightly and cheerily as the night before; but Hester found herself placed on a bench far down in the building.  She was no longer in the place of honor by Mrs. Willis’ side.  She was one of a number, and no one looked particularly at her or noticed her in any way.  A shy young curate read the morning prayers; Mr. Everard was not present, and Mrs. Willis, who was, walked out of the chapel when prayers were over without even glancing in Hester’s direction.  This was bad enough for the poor little dreamer of dreams, but worse was to follow.

Mrs. Willis did not speak to Hester, but she did stop for an instant beside Annie Forest.  Hester saw her lay her white hand on the young girl’s shoulder and whisper for an instant in her ear.  Annie’s lovely gypsy face flushed a vivid crimson.

“For your sake, darling,” she whispered back; but Hester caught the words, and was consumed by a fierce jealousy.

The girls went into the school-room, where Mdlle.  Perier gave a French lesson to the upper class.  Hester belonged to no class at present, and could look around her, and have plenty of time to reflect on her own miseries, and particularly on what she now considered the favoritism shown by Mrs. Willis.

“Mr. Everard at least will read through that girl,” she said to herself; “he could not possibly endure any one so loud.  Yes, I am sure that my only friend at home, Cecilia Day, would call Annie very loud.  I wonder Mrs. Willis can endure her.  Mrs. Willis seems so ladylike herself, but ­Oh, I beg your pardon, what’s the matter?”

A very sharp voice had addressed itself to the idle Hester.

“But, mademoiselle, you are doing nothing!  This cannot for a moment be permitted.  Pardonnez-moi, you know not the French?  Here is a little easy lesson.  Study it, mademoiselle, and do not let your eyes wander a moment from the page.”

Hester favored Mdlle.  Perier with a look of lofty contempt, but she received the well-thumbed lesson-book in absolute silence.

At eight o’clock came breakfast, which was nicely served, and was very good and abundant.  Hester was thoroughly hungry this morning, and did not feel so shy as the night before.  She found herself seated between two strange girls, who talked to her a little and would have made themselves friendly had she at all encouraged them to do so.  After breakfast came half an hour’s recreation, when, the weather being very bad, the girls again assembled in the cozy play-room.  Hester looked round eagerly for Cecil Temple, who greeted her with a kind smile, but did not ask her into her enclosure.  Annie Forest was not present, and Hester breathed a sigh of relief at her absence.  The half-hour devoted to recreation proved rather dull to the newcomer.  Hester could not understand her present world.  To the girl who had been brought up practically as an only child in the warm shelter of a home, the ways and doings of school-girl life were an absolute enigma.

Hester had no idea of unbending or of making herself agreeable.  The girls voted her to one another stiff and tiresome, and quickly left her to her own devices.  She looked longingly at Cecil Temple; but Cecil, who could never be knowingly unkind to any one, was seizing the precious moments to write a letter to her father, and Hester presently wandered down the room and tried to take an interest in the little ones.  From twelve to fifteen quite little children were in the school, and Hester wondered with a sort of vague half-pain if she might see any child among the group the least like Nan.

“They will like to have me with them,” she said to herself.  “Poor little dots, they always like big girls to notice them, and didn’t they make a fuss about Miss Forest last night!  Well, Nan is fond enough of me, and little children find out so quickly what one is really like.”

Hester walked boldly into the group.  The little dots were all as busy as bees, were not the least lonely, or the least shy, and very plainly gave the intruder to understand that they would prefer her room to her company.  Hester was not proud with little children ­she loved them dearly.  Some of the smaller ones in question were beautiful little creatures, and her heart warmed to them for Nan’s sake.  She could not stoop to conciliate the older girls, but she could make an effort with the babies.  She knelt on the floor and took up a headless doll.

“I know a little girl who had a doll like that,” she said.  Here she paused and several pairs of eyes were fixed on her.

“Poor dolly’s b’oke,” said the owner of the headless one in a tone of deep commiseration.

“You are such a breaker, you know, Annie,” said Annie’s little five-year-old sister.

“Please tell us about the little girl what had the doll wifout the head,” she proceeded, glancing at Hester.

“Oh, it was taken to a hospital, and got back its head,” said Hester quite cheerfully; “it became quite well again, and was a more beautiful doll than ever.”

This announcement caused intense wonder and was certainly carrying the interest of all the little ones.  Hester was deciding that the child who possessed the headless doll had a look of Nan about her dark brown eyes, when suddenly there was a diversion ­the play-room door was opened noisily, banged-to with a very loud report, and a gay voice sang out: 

“The fairy queen has just paid me a visit.  Who wants sweeties from the fairy queen?”

Instantly all the little feet had scrambled to the perpendicular, each pair of hands was clapped noisily, each little throat shouted a joyful: 

“Here comes Annie!”

Annie Forest was surrounded, and Hester knelt alone on the hearth-rug.

She felt herself coloring painfully ­she did not fail to observe that two laughing eyes had fixed themselves with a momentary triumph on her face; then, snatching up a book, which happened to lie close, she seated herself with her back to all the girls, and her head bent over the page.  It is quite doubtful whether she saw any of the words, but she was at least determined not to cry.

The half-hour so wearisome to poor Hester came to an end, and the girls, conducted by Miss Danesbury, filed into the school-room and took their places in the different classes.

Work had now begun in serious earnest.  The school-room presented an animated and busy scene.  The young faces with their varying expressions betokened on the whole the preponderance of an earnest spirit.  Discipline, not too severe, reigned triumphant.

Hester was not yet appointed to any place among these busy workers, but while she stood wondering, a little confused, and half intending to drop into an empty seat which happened to be close, Miss Danesbury came up to her.

“Follow me, Miss Thornton,” she said, and she conducted the young girl up the whole length of the great school-room, and pushed aside some baize curtains which concealed a second smaller room, where Mrs. Willis sat before a desk.

The head-mistress was no longer dressed in soft pearl-gray and Mechlin lace.  She wore a black silk dress, and her white cap seemed to Hester to add a severe tone to her features.  She neither shook hands with the new pupil nor kissed her, but said instantly in a bright though authoritative tone: 

“I must now find out as quickly as possible what you know, Hester, in order to place you in the most suitable class.”

Hester was a clever girl, and passed through the ordeal of a rather stiff examination with considerable ability.  Mrs. Willis pronounced her English and general information quite up to the usual standard for girls of her age ­her French was deficient, but she showed some talent for German.

“On the whole I am pleased with your general intelligence, and I think you have good capacities, Hester,” she said in conclusion.  “I shall ask Miss Good, our very accomplished English teacher, to place you in the third class.  You will have to work very hard, however, at your French, to maintain your place there.  But Mdlle.  Perier is kind and painstaking, and it rests with yourself to quickly acquire a conversational acquaintance with the language.  You are aware that, except during recreation, you are never allowed to speak in any other tongue.  Now, go back to the school-room, my dear.”

As Mrs. Willis spoke she laid her finger on a little silver gong which stood by her side.

“One moment, please,” said Hester, coloring crimson; “I want to ask you a question, please.”

“Is it about your lessons?”

“No ­oh, no; it is ­”

“Then pardon me, my dear,” uttered the governess; “I sit in my room every evening from eight to half-past, and I am then at liberty to see a pupil on any subject which is not trifling.  Nothing but lessons are spoken of in lesson hours, Hester.  Ah, here comes Miss Good.  Miss Good, I should wish you to place Hester Thornton in the third class.  Her English is up to the average.  I will see Mdlle.  Perier about her at twelve o’clock.”

Hester followed the English teacher into the great school-room, took her place in the third class, at the desk which was pointed out to her, was given a pile of new books, and was asked to attend to the history lesson which was then going on.

Notwithstanding her confusion, a certain sense of soreness, and some indignation at what she considered Mrs. Willis’ altered manner, she acquitted herself with considerable spirit, and was pleased to see that her class companions regarded her with some respect.

An English literature lecture followed the history, and here again Hester acquitted herself with eclat.  The subject to-day was “Julius Cæsar,” and Hester had read Shakespeare’s play over many times with her mother.

But when the hour came for foreign languages, her brief triumph ceased.  Lower and lower did she fall in her schoolfellows’ estimation as she stumbled through her truly English-French.  Mdlle.  Perier, who was a very fiery little woman, almost screamed at her ­the girls colored and nearly tittered.  Hester hoped to recover her lost laurels in German, but by this time her head ached and she did very little better in the German which she loved than in the French which she detested.  At twelve o’clock she was relieved to find that school was over for the present, and she heard the English teacher’s voice desiring the girls to go quickly to their rooms, and to assemble in five minutes’ time in the great stone hall, equipped for their walk.

The walk lasted for a little over an hour, and was a very dreary penance to poor Hester, as she was neither allowed to run, race, nor talk a word of English.  She sighed heavily once or twice, and several of the girls who looked at her curiously agreed with Annie Forest that she was decidedly sulky.  The walk was followed by dinner; then came half an hour of recreation in the delightful play-room, and eager chattering in the English tongue.

At three o’clock the school assembled once more; but now the studies were of a less severe character, and Hester spent one of her first happy half-hours over a drawing lesson.  She had a great love for drawing, and felt some pride in the really beautiful copy which she was making of the stump of an old gnarled oak-tree.  Her dismay, however, was proportionately great when the drawing-master drew his pencil right across her copy.

“I particularly requested you not to sketch in any of the shadows, Miss Thornton.  Did you not hear me say that my lesson to-day was in outline?  I gave you a shaded piece to copy in outline ­did you not understand?”

“This is my first day at school,” whispered back poor Hester, speaking in English in her distress.  Whereupon the master smiled, and even forgot to report her for her transgression of the French tongue.

Hester spent the rest of that afternoon over her music lesson.  The music-master was an irascible little German, but Hester played with some taste, and was therefore not too severely rapped over the knuckles.

Then came tea and another half-hour of recreation, which was followed by two silent hours in the school-room, each girl bent busily over her books in preparation for the next day’s work.  Hester studied hard, for she had made up her mind to be the intellectual prodigy of the school.  Even on this first day, miserable as it was, she had won a few plaudits for her quickness and powers of observation.  How much better could she work when she had really fallen into the tone of the school, and understood the lessons which she was now so carefully preparing!  During her busy day she had failed to notice one thing:  namely, the absence of Annie Forest.  Annie had not been in the school-room, had not been in the play-room; but now, as the clock struck eight, she entered the school-room with a listless expression, and took her place in the same class with Hester.  Her eyes were heavy, as if she had been crying, and when a companion touched her, and gave her a sympathizing glance, she shook her head with a sorrowful gesture, but did not speak.  Glasses of milk and slices of bread and butter were now handed round to the girls, and Miss Danesbury asked if any one would like to see Mrs. Willis before prayers.  Hester half sprang to her feet, but then sat down again.  Mrs. Willis had annoyed her by refusing to break her rules and answer her question during lesson hours.  No, the silly child resolved that she would not trouble Mrs. Willis now.

“No one to-night, then?” said Miss Danesbury, who had noticed Hester’s movement.

Suddenly Annie Forest sprang to her feet.

“I’m going, Miss Danesbury,” she said.  “You need not show me the way; I can find it alone.”

With her short, curly hair falling about her face, she ran out of the room.