Read CHAPTER XXX - “A MUDDY STREAM” of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

In the morning Dora Russell sat down as usual before her orderly and neatly-kept desk.  She raised the lid to find everything in its place ­her books and exercises all as they should be, and her pet essay in a neat brown paper cover, lying just as she had left it the night before.  She was really getting quite excited about her river, and as this was a half-holiday, she determined to have a good work at it in the afternoon.  She was beginning also to experience that longing for an auditor which occasionally is known to trouble the breasts of genius.  She felt that those graceful ideas, that elegant language, those measured periods, might strike happily on some other ears before they were read aloud as the great work of the midsummer holidays.

She knew that Hester Thornton was making what she was pleased to term a poor little attempt at trying for the same prize.  Hester would scarcely venture to copy anything from Dora’s essay; she would probably be discouraged, poor girl, in working any longer at her own composition; but Dora felt that the temptation to read “The River,” as far as it had gone, to Hester was really too great to be resisted.  Accordingly, after dinner she graciously invited Hester to accompany her to a bower in the garden, where the two friends might revel over the results of Dora’s extraordinary talents.

Hester was still, to a certain extent, under Dora’s influence, and had not the courage to tell her that she intended to be very busy over her own essay this afternoon.

“Now, Hester, dear,” said Dora, when they found themselves both seated in the bower, “you are the only girl in the school to whom I could confide the subject of my great essay.  I really believe that I have hit on something absolutely original.  My dear child, I hope you won’t allow yourself to be discouraged.  I fear that you won’t have much heart to go on with your theme after you have read my words; but, never mind, dear, it will be good practice for you, and you know it was rather silly to go in for a prize which I intended to compete for.”

“May I read your essay, please, Dora?” asked Hester.  “I am very much interested in my own study, and, whether I win the prize or not, I shall always remember the pleasure I took in writing it.”

“What subject did you select, dear?” inquired Miss Russell.

“Well, I am attempting a little sketch of Marie Antoinette.”

“Ah, hackneyed, my dear girl ­terribly hackneyed; but, of course, I don’t mean to discourage you. Now I ­I draw a life-picture, and I call it ‘The River.’  See how it begins ­why, I declare I know the words by heart, ’As our eyes rest on this clear and limpid stream, as we see the sun sparkle ­’ My dear Hester, you shall read me my essay aloud.  I shall like to hear my own words from your lips, and you have really a pretty accent, dear.”

Hester folded back the brown paper cover, and wanting to have her task over began to read hastily.  But, as her eyes rested on the first lines, she turned to her companion, and said: 

“Did you not tell me that your essay was called ’The River’?”

“Yes, dear; the full title is ‘The Windings of a Noble River.’”

“That’s very odd,” replied Hester.  “What I see here is ’The Meanderings of a Muddy Stream.’ ’As our dull orbs rest on this turbid water on which the sun cannot possibly shine.’ Why, Dora, this cannot be your essay, and yet, surely, it is your handwriting.”

Dora, with her face suddenly flushing a vivid crimson, snatched the manuscript from Hester’s hand, and looked over it eagerly.  Alas! there was no doubt.  The title of this essay was “The Meanderings of a Muddy Stream,” and the words which immediately followed were a smart and ridiculous parody on her own high flown sentences.  The resemblance to her handwriting was perfect.  The brown paper cover, neatly sewn on to protect the white manuscript, was undoubtedly her cover; the very paper on which the words were written seemed in all particulars the same.  Dora turned the sheets eagerly, and here for the first time she saw a difference.  Only four or five pages of the nonsense essay had been attempted, and the night before, when finishing her toil, she had proudly numbered her tenth page.  She looked through the whole thing, turning leaf after leaf, while her cheeks were crimson, and her hands trembled.  In the first moment of horrible humiliation and dismay she literally could not speak.

At last, springing to her feet, and confronting the astonished and almost frightened Hester, she found her voice.

“Hester, you must help me in this.  The most dreadful, the most atrocious fraud has been committed.  Some one has been base enough, audacious enough, wicked enough, to go to my desk privately, and take away my real essay ­my work over which I have labored and toiled.  The expressions of my ­my ­yes, I will say it ­my genius, have been ruthlessly burned, or otherwise made away with, and this thing has been put in their place.  Hester, why don’t you speak ­why do you stare at me like this?”

“I am puzzled by the writing,” said Hester; “the writing is yours.”

“The writing is mine! ­oh, you wicked girl!  The writing is an imitation of mine ­a feeble and poor imitation.  I thought, Hester, that by this time you knew your friend’s handwriting.  I thought that one in whom I have confided ­one whom I have stooped to notice because, I fancied we had a community of soul, would not be so ridiculous and so silly as to mistake this writing for mine.  Look again, please, Hester Thornton, and tell me if I am ever so vulgar as to cross my t’s.  You know I always loop them; and do I make a capital B in this fashion?  And do I indulge in flourishes?  I grant you that the general effect to a casual observer would be something the same, but you, Hester ­I thought you knew me better.”

Here Hester, examining the false essay, had to confess that the crossed t’s and the flourishes were unlike Miss Russell’s calligraphy.

“It is a forgery, most cleverly done,” said Dora.  “There is such a thing, Hester, as being wickedly clever.  This spiteful, cruel attempt to injure another can have but proceeded from one very low order of mind.  Hester, there has been plenty of favoritism in this school, but do you suppose I shall allow such a thing as this to pass over unsearched into?  If necessary, I shall ask my father to interfere.  This is a slight ­an outrage; but the whole mystery shall at last be cleared up.  Miss Good and Miss Danesbury shall be informed at once, and the very instant Mrs. Willis returns she shall be told what a serpent she has been nursing in this false, wicked girl, Annie Forest.”

“Stop, Dora,” said Hester suddenly.  She sprang to her feet, clasping her hands, and her color varied rapidly from white to red.  A sudden light poured in upon her, and she was about to speak when something ­quite a small, trivial thing ­occurred.  She only saw little Nan in the distance flying swiftly, with outstretched arms, to meet a girl, whose knees she clasped in baby ecstasy.  The girl stooped down and kissed the little face, and the round arms were flung around her neck.  The next instant Annie Forest continued her walk alone, and Nan, looking wistfully back after her, went in another direction with her nurse.  The whole scene took but a moment to enact, but as she watched, Hester’s face grew hard and white.  She sat down again, with her lips firmly pressed together.

“What is it, Hester?” exclaimed Dora.  “What were you going to say?  You surely know nothing about this?”

“Well, Dora, I am not the guilty person.  I was only going to remark that you cannot be sure it is Annie Forest.”

“Oh, so you are going to take that horrid girl’s part now?  I wonder at you!  She all but killed your little sister, and then stole her love away from you.  Did you see the little thing now, how she flew to her?  Why, she never kisses you like that.”

“I know ­I know,” said Hester, and she turned away her face with a groan, and leaned forward against the rustic bench, pressing her hot forehead down on her hands.

“You’ll have your triumph, Hester, when Miss Forest is publicly expelled,” said Dora, tapping her lightly on the shoulder, and then, taking up the forged essay, she went slowly out of the garden.