Read CHAPTER XVI - “AN ENEMY HATH DONE THIS” of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

The short evening service was over, and one by one, in orderly procession, the girls left the chapel.  Annie was about to rise to her feet to follow her school-companions, when Mrs. Willis stooped down, and whispered something in her ear.  Her face became instantly suffused with a dull red; she resumed her seat, and buried her face in both her hands.  One or two of the girls noticed her despondent attitude as they left the chapel, and Cecil Temple looked back with a glance of such unutterable sympathy that Annie’s proud, suffering little heart would have been touched could she but have seen the look.

Presently the young steps died away, and Annie, raising her head, saw that she was alone with Mr. Everard, who seated himself in the place which Mrs. Willis had occupied by her side.

“Your governess has asked me to speak to you, my dear,” he said, in his kind and fatherly tones; “she wants us to discuss this thing which is making you so unhappy quite fully together.”  Here the clergyman paused, and noticing a sudden wistful and soft look in the girl’s brown eyes, he continued:  “Perhaps, however, you have something to say to me which will throw light on this mystery?”

“No, sir, I have nothing to say,” replied Annie, and now again the sullen expression passed like a wave over her face.

“Poor child,” said Mr. Everard.  “Perhaps, Annie,” he continued, “you do not quite understand me ­you do not quite read my motive in talking to you to-night.  I am not here in any sense to reprove you.  You are either guilty of this sin, or you are not guilty.  In either case I pity you; it is very hard, very bitter, to be falsely accused ­I pity you much if this is the case; but it is still harder, Annie, still more bitter, still more absolutely crushing to be accused of a sin which we are trying to conceal.  In that terrible case God Himself hides His face.  Poor child, poor child, I pity you most of all if you are guilty.”

Annie had again covered her face, and bowed her head over her hands.  She did not speak for a moment, but presently Mr. Everard heard a low sob, and then another, and another, until at last her whole frame was shaken with a perfect tempest of weeping.

The old clergyman, who had seen many strange phases of human nature, who had in his day comforted and guided more than one young school-girl, was far too wise to do anything to check this flow of grief.  He knew Annie would speak more fully and more frankly when her tears were over.  He was right.  She presently raised a very tear-stained face to the clergyman.

“I felt very bitter at your coming to speak to me,” she began.  “Mrs. Willis has always sent for you when everything else has failed with us girls, and I did not think she would treat me so.  I was determined not to say anything to you.  Now, however, you have spoken good words to me, and I can’t turn away from you.  I will tell you all that is in my heart.  I will promise before God to conceal nothing, if only you will do one thing for me.”

“What is that, my child?”

“Will you believe me?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Ah, but you have not been tried yet.  I thought Mrs. Willis would certainly believe; but she said the circumstantial evidence was too strong ­perhaps it will be too strong for you.”

“I promise to believe you, Annie Forest; if, before God, you can assure me that you are speaking the whole truth, I will fully believe you.”

Annie paused again, then she rose from her seat and stood a pace away from the old minister.

“This is the truth before God,” she said, as she locked her two hands together and raised her eyes freely and unshrinkingly to Mr. Everard’s face.

“I have always loved Mrs. Willis.  I have reasons for loving her which the girls don’t know about.  The girls don’t know that when my mother was dying she gave me into Mrs. Willis’ charge, and she said, ’You must keep Annie until her father comes back.’  Mother did not know where father was; but she said he would be sure to come back some day, and look for mother and me; and Mrs. Willis said she would keep me faithfully until father came to claim me.  That is four years ago, and my father has never come, nor have I heard of him, and I think, I am almost sure, that the little money which mother left must be all used up.  Mrs. Willis never says anything about money, and she did not wish me to tell my story to the girls.  None of them know except Cecil Temple.  I am sure some day father will come home, and he will give Mrs. Willis back the money she has spent on me; but never, never, never can he repay her for her goodness to me.  You see I cannot help loving Mrs. Willis.  It is quite impossible for any girl to have such a friend and not to love her.  I know I am very wild, and that I do all sorts of mad things.  It seems to me that I cannot help myself sometimes; but I would not willingly, indeed, I would not willingly hurt anybody.  Last Wednesday, as you know, there was a great disturbance in the school.  Dora Russell’s desk was tampered with, and so was Cecil Temple’s.  You know, of course, what was found in both the desks.  Mrs. Willis sent for me, and asked me about the caricature which was drawn in Cecil’s book.  I looked at it and I told her the truth.  I did not conceal one thing.  I told her the whole truth as far as I knew it.  She did not believe me.  She said so.  What more could I do then?”

Here Annie paused; she began to unclasp and clasp her hands, and she looked full at Mr. Everard with a most pleading expression.

“Do you mind repeating to me exactly what you said to your governess?” he questioned.

“I said this, sir.  I said, ’Yes, Mrs. Willis, I did draw that caricature.  You will scarcely understand how I, who love you so much, could have been so mad and ungrateful as to do anything to turn you into ridicule.  I would cut off my right hand now not to have done it; but I did do it, and I must tell you the truth.’  ‘Tell me, dear,’ she said, quite gently then.  ‘It was one wet afternoon about a fortnight ago,’ I said to her; ’a lot of us middle-school girls were sitting together, and I had a pencil and some bits of paper, and I was making up funny little groups of a lot of us, and the girls were screaming with laughter, for somehow I managed to make the likeness that I wanted in each case.  It was very wrong of me, I know.  It was against the rules, but I was in one of my maddest humors, and I really did not care what the consequences were.  At last one of the girls said:  ’You won’t dare to make a picture like that of Mrs. Willis, Annie ­you know you won’t dare.’  The minute she said that name I began to feel ashamed.  I remembered I was breaking one of the rules, and I suddenly tore up all my bits of paper and flung them into the fire, and I said:  ‘No, I would not dare to show her dishonor.’  Well, afterward, as I was washing my hands for tea up in my room, the temptation came over me so strongly that I felt I could not resist it, to make a funny little sketch of Mrs. Willis.  I had a little scrap of thin paper, and I took out my pencil and did it all in a minute.  It seemed to me very funny, and I could not help laughing at it; and then I thrust it into my private writing-case, which I always keep locked, and I put the key in my pocket and ran downstairs.  I forgot all about the caricature.  I had never shown it to any one.  How it got into Cecil’s book is more than I can say.  When I had finished speaking Mrs. Willis looked very hard at the book.  ’You are right,’ she said; ’this caricature is drawn on a very thin piece of paper, which has been cleverly pasted on the title-page.’  Then, Mr. Everard, she asked me a lot of questions.  Had I ever parted with my keys?  Had I ever left my desk unlocked?  ‘No,’ I said, ’my desk is always locked, and my keys are always in my pocket.  Indeed,’ I added, ’my keys were absolutely safe for the last week, for they went in a white petticoat to the wash, and came back as rusty as possible.’  I could not open my desk for a whole week, which was a great nuisance.  I told all this story to Mrs. Willis, and she said to me:  ’You are positively certain that this caricature has been taken out of your desk by somebody else, and pasted in here?  You are sure that the caricature you drew is not to be found in your desk?’ ‘Yes,’ I said; ’how can I be anything but sure; these are my pencil marks, and that is the funny little turn I gave to your neck which made me laugh when I drew it.  Yes; I am certainly sure.’

“‘I have always been told, Annie,’ Mrs. Willis said, ’that you are the only girl in the school who can draw these caricatures.  You have never seen an attempt at this kind of drawing among your schoolfellows, or among any of the teachers?’

“‘I have never seen any of them try this special kind of drawing,’ I said.  ‘I wish I was like them.  I wish I had never, never done it.’

“‘You have got your keys now?’ Mrs. Willis said.

“‘Yes,’ I answered, pulling them all covered with rust out of my pocket.

“Then she told me to leave the keys on the table, and to go upstairs and fetch down my little private desk.

“I did so, and she made me put the rusty key in the lock and open the desk, and together we searched through its contents.  We pulled out everything, or rather I did, and I scattered all my possessions about on the table, and then I looked up almost triumphantly at Mrs. Willis.

“‘You see the caricature is not here,’ I said; ’somebody picked the lock and took it away.’

“‘This lock has not been picked,’ Mrs. Willis said; ’and what is that little piece of white paper sticking out of the private drawer?’

“‘Oh, I forgot my private drawer,’ I said; ’but there is nothing in it ­nothing whatever,’ and then I touched the spring, and pulled it open, and there lay the little caricature which I had drawn in the bottom of the drawer.  There it lay, not as I had left it, for I had never put it into the private drawer.  I saw Mrs. Willis’ face turn very white, and I noticed that her hands trembled.  I was all red myself, and very hot, and there was a choking lump in my throat, and I could not have got a single word out even if I had wished to.  So I began scrambling the things back into my desk, as hard as ever I could, and then I locked it, and put the rusty keys back in my pocket.

“‘What am I to believe now, Annie?’ Mrs. Willis said.

“‘Believe anything you like now,’ I managed to say; and then I took my desk and walked out of the room, and would not wait even though she called me back.

“That is the whole story, Mr. Everard,” continued Annie.  “I have no explanation whatever to give.  I did make the one caricature of my dear governess.  I did not make the other.  The second caricature is certainly a copy of the first, but I did not make it.  I don’t know who made it.  I have no light whatever to throw on the subject.  You see after all,” added Annie Forest, raising her eyes to the clergyman’s face, “it is impossible for you to believe me.  Mrs. Willis does not believe me, and you cannot be expected to.  I don’t suppose you are to be blamed.  I don’t see how you can help yourself.”

“The circumstantial evidence is very strong against you, Annie,” replied the clergyman; “still, I promised to believe, and I have no intention of going back from my word.  If, in the presence of God in this little church, you would willingly and deliberately tell me a lie I should never trust human being again.  No, Annie Forest, you have many faults, but you are not a liar.  I see the impress of truth on your brow, in your eyes, on your lips.  This is a very painful mystery, my child; but I believe you.  I am going to see Mrs. Willis now.  God bless you, Annie.  Be brave, be courageous, don’t foster malice in your heart to any unknown enemy.  An enemy has truly done this thing, poor child; but God Himself will bring this mystery to light.  Trust Him, my dear; and now I am going to see Mrs. Willis.”

While Mr. Everard was speaking, Annie’s whole expressive face had changed; the sullen look had left it; the eyes were bright with renewed hope; the lips had parted in smiles.  There was a struggle for speech, but no words came:  the young girl stooped down and raised the old clergyman’s withered hands to her lips.

“Let me stay here a little longer,” she managed to say at last; and then he left her.