Read CHAPTER XIV - “SENT TO COVENTRY” of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

There were many girls in the school who remembered that dismal half-holiday ­they remembered its forced mirth and its hidden anxiety; and as the hours flew by the suspicion that Annie Forest was the author of all the mischief grew and deepened.  A school is like a little world, and popular opinion is apt to change with great rapidity.  Annie was undoubtedly the favorite of the school; but favorites are certain to have enemies, and there were several girls unworthy enough and mean enough to be jealous of poor Annie’s popularity.  She was the kind of girl whom only very small natures could really dislike.  Her popularity arose from the simple fact that hers was a peculiarly joyous and unselfish nature.  She was a girl with scarcely any self-consciousness; those she loved, she loved devotedly; she threw herself with a certain feverish impetuosity into their lives, and made their interest her own.  To get into mischief and trouble for the sake of a friend was an every-day occurrence with Annie.  She was not the least studious; she had no one particular talent, unless it was an untrained and birdlike voice; she was always more or less in hot water about her lessons, always behindhand in her tasks, always leaving undone what she should do, and doing what she should not do.  She was a contradictory, erratic creature ­jealous of no one, envious of no one ­dearly loving a joke, and many times inflicting pain from sheer thoughtlessness, but always ready to say she was sorry, always ready to make friends again.

It is strange that such a girl as Annie should have enemies, but she had, and in the last few weeks the feeling of jealousy and envy which had always been smoldering in some breasts took more active form.  Two reasons accounted for this:  Hester’s openly avowed and persistent dislike to Annie, and Miss Russell’s declared conviction that she was under-bred and not a lady.

Miss Russell was the only girl in the first class who had hitherto given wild little Annie a thought.

In the first class, to-day, Annie had to act the unpleasing part of the wicked little heroine.  Miss Russell was quite certain of Annie’s guilt; she and her companions condescended to discuss poor Annie and to pull all her little virtues to pieces, and to magnify her sins to an alarming extent.

After two or three hours of judicious conversation, Dora Russell and most of the other first-class girls decided that Annie ought to be expelled, and unanimously resolved that they, at least, would do what they could to “send her to Coventry.”

In the lower part of the school Annie also had a few enemies, and these girls, having carefully observed Hester’s attitude toward her, now came up close to this dignified little lady, and asked her boldly to declare her opinion with regard to Annie’s guilt.

Hester, without the least hesitation, assured them that “of course Annie had done it.”

“There is not room for a single doubt on the subject,” she said; “there ­look at her now.”

At this instant Annie was leaving Cecil’s compartment, and with red eyes, and hair, as usual, falling about her face, was running out of the play-room.  She seemed in great distress; but, nevertheless, before she reached the door, she stopped to pick up a little girl of five, who was fretting about some small annoyance.  Annie took the little one in her arms, kissed her tenderly, whispered some words in her ear, which caused the little face to light up with some smiles and the round arms to clasp Annie with an ecstatic hug.  She dropped the child, who ran back to play merrily with her companions, and left the room.

The group of middle-class girls still sat on by the fire, but Hester Thornton now, not Annie, was the center of attraction.  It was the first time in all her young life that Hester had found herself in the enviable position of a favorite; and without at all knowing what mischief she was doing, she could not resist improving the occasion, and making the most of her dislike for Annie.

Several of those who even were fond of Miss Forest came round to the conviction that she was really guilty, and one by one, as is the fashion not only among school girls but in the greater world outside, they began to pick holes in their former favorite.  These girls, too, resolved that, if Annie were really so mean as maliciously to injure other girls’ property and get them into trouble, she must be “sent to Coventry.”

“What’s Coventry?” asked one of the little ones, the child whom Annie had kissed and comforted, now sidling up to the group.

“Oh, a nasty place, Phena,” said Mary Bell, putting her arm round the pretty child and drawing her to her side.

“And who is going there?”

“Why, I am afraid it is naughty Annie Forest.”

“She’s not naughty!  Annie sha’n’t go to any nasty place.  I hate you, Mary Bell.”  The little one looked round the group with flashing eyes of defiance, then wrenched herself away to return to her younger companions.

“It was stupid of you to say that, Mary,” remarked one of the girls.  “Well,” she continued, “I suppose it is all settled, and poor Annie, to say the least of it, is not a lady.  For my own part, I always thought her great fun, but if she is proved guilty of this offense I wash my hands of her.”

“We all wash our hands of her,” echoed the girls, with the exception of Susan Drummond, who, as usual, was nodding in her chair.

“What do you say, Susy?” asked one or two; “you have not opened your lips all this time.”

“I ­eh? ­what?” asked Susan, stretching herself and yawning, “oh, about Annie Forest ­I suppose you are right, girls.  Is not that the tea-gong?  I’m awfully hungry.”

Hester Thornton went into the tea-room that evening feeling particularly virtuous, and with an idea that she had distinguished herself in some way.

Poor foolish, thoughtless Hester, she little guessed what seed she had sown, and what a harvest she was preparing for her own reaping by-and-by.