Read CHAPTER XXV of The Rebel of the School, free online book, by Mrs. L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

KATHLEEN HAS A GOOD TIME IN LONDON

So the head-mistress had written; she had dared to write to Kathleen’s father. What she said to him was a matter of no moment; she had written, and to complain of her!

“She thinks, I suppose,” said Kathleen, “that she’ll subdue me by these means. She wants to bring, not the long arm of the law, but father’s arm right across the sea to stop me. No, no, daddy, your Kathleen will be your Kathleen to the end-always loving, always daring, always true, but always rebellious; the best and the worst. I am going to-night, and I am going all the more surely because you wired to me not to go, and because they are daring to bully dear little Ruth Craven. And after I have had my fling I will come back in good time. No fear; nothing will go wrong. Your Kathleen wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less your heart. But I mean to have my fun to-night.”

Kathleen quite sobered down as these thoughts came to her. It was now getting dusk. The girls were to meet at the station at half-past five. They were to go in quite quietly by twos and twos; each couple of girls was to go to the booking-office and take their tickets, and walk away just as though nothing special had happened. They were on no account to collect in a mass. They were not even to take any notice of each other until they were off. Once the train was in motion all would be safe; they might meet then and talk and be merry to their hearts’ content. Oh, it was a good, good time they were about to have!

This arrangement about meeting one another had been suggested by Kate Rourke, who knew a good deal about theatres, and who also knew how dangerous it would be for so many girls to be seen at the station together; but dressed quietly, and just dropping in by couples, nobody would remark them.

“And then we must go straight to the theatre,” she said, “and stand outside the pit, and take our chance; but we will have time enough for that if we leave Merrifield by the quarter-to-six train.”

Kathleen noticed that evening that Alice watched her as she moved about the room; that Alice occasionally lifted her eyes and glanced at her when she sat down to read; and when she approached the tea-table and helped herself to tea and bread-and-butter and jam, Alice also kept up that gentle sort of espionage. It annoyed Kathleen; she found herself watching for it. She found herself getting red and annoyed when the calm, steadfast gaze of Alice’s brown eyes was fixed on her face. Finally she said:

“What are you doing? Why do you stare at me?”

“Sorry,” replied Alice. She bent over her book, and did not glance again at Kathleen.

By-and-by Kathleen went upstairs. She went to their mutual room, and turned the key in the lock.

“I must get out of the window,” she said to herself. “I can easily do it; it is but to swing on to that thick cord of ivy and I shall reach the ground without the slightest trouble. The back-gate that leads into the garden is never locked, and the window I mean to emerge from looks into the garden. I shall go off without anybody’s noticing me.”

Kathleen had to take a great deal of money with her. If there were forty girls, their tickets would cost a good deal. It is true they were to buy their own in the first instance, but Kathleen was to return them the money in the train. Then the omnibuses they were to go on, the seats at the theatre, their supper of some sort must be paid for by the head of the society.

“I promised to frank them, and I must frank them,” thought the girl.

She slipped some sovereigns into her purse, tucked it for safety into the bosom of her dress, and then put on her hat and jacket. Some instinct told the wild, ignorant child to dress quietly. She put on her plainest hat and a little reefer coat which looked neat and substantial. She was just drawing a pair of gloves on her hands when Alice was heard turning the handle of the door.

“Let me in at once, Kathleen,” she cried.

Kathleen did not reply at all for a moment; then she said in a sleepy, smothered sort of voice which seemed to proceed from the bed:

“I have a splitting headache; don’t disturb me.”

“Very sorry,” answered Alice, “but I really must come in.”

Kathleen made no answer. After a long pause, during which Alice once or twice felt the handle of the door again, the sound of her retreating footsteps was heard.

“Now is my time,” thought Kathleen.

To tell the truth, Alice was not at all taken in by Kathleen’s headache.

“She is very clever,” thought that young lady, “but she has tried that dodge on so often before that I am not going to be deceived by it now.”

Accordingly she went into her mother’s room and stood by the window. Now the window of Mrs. Tennant’s bedroom looked also into the garden, and was really parallel with the window by which Kathleen meant to escape. There was an interval of silence, and then Alice had her reward! for the window of their mutual bedroom was flung wide open, and Kathleen, neatly dressed, appeared on the window-sill. She looked around her for a minute. Alice caught a glimpse of her bright face by the light of the moon, which was already getting up in the sky. The next minute Kathleen caught firm hold of the arm of old ivy and let herself down deftly and quickly to the ground. The action was done so neatly, and in fact so beautifully, that Alice in spite of herself felt inclined to cry “Bravo!” She knew that if she were to trust herself to that ivy she would probably fall to the bottom and get, if not really killed, at least half so. But Kathleen stood serenely on the ground, and glanced up at the window from which she had let herself down. Just at that moment Alice rushed into their bedroom. Kathleen had shut the window behind her before she trusted herself to the ivy; she had also unlocked the door. In a moment Alice had put on her hat and jacket, had rushed downstairs, opened the hall door, and was following Kathleen across the common. Now, quite the nearest way to the railway station was across the common. Kathleen walked fast.

“Kathleen, Kathleen!” cried Alice.

Kathleen looked behind her. She saw Alice, and took to her heels.

“No, no, Kathleen; I will follow you until I drop. You must let me come up with you.”

But Kathleen made no answer. If she could do anything well, she could run in a race. Her swift feet scarcely touched the ground. She ran and ran. How soon would Alice get tired? She did not dare to go to the railway station as long as she was following. And the time to catch the train was very short. At the other side of the common was a long, narrow, winding passage which, after a quarter of a mile of tortuous turning, led right up a back-way to the great terminus. Kathleen had given herself exactly the right length of time. Had nothing happened to hinder her, she would have been on the platform three minutes before the train came in. For reasons of her own she did not wish to be long there. She had crossed the common when she looked behind her; Alice was still running, but she was also in the distance.

“If I could only double, hide for a minute, and make her give up the chase, all would be well,” thought the mischievous Irish girl.

There was a great tree, which cast a huge shadow, just before the winding passage was reached. Kathleen darted towards it. In an instant she had climbed up and was seated securely in one of its lower branches.

“Now, if only she will be quick, she will run past me into the passage. She will never get to the end in time. I shall slip down and go the long way. I know it is a good bit farther, but she is not in it with me as far as running is concerned,” was Kathleen’s thought.

Alice came up as far as the tree; she paused a minute and looked around her. Kathleen in the gray darkness looked down at her. Kathleen’s face was completely in the shadow, but the light fell full on Alice’s, and her face, white and anxious, almost made the other girl laugh.

“If the situation wasn’t quite so tremendous I could enjoy this,” she thought.

Presently Alice ran down the passage. Kathleen waited until her footsteps had died away, and then she descended from the oak-tree. She flew as fast as she could the long way to the railway station.

“Alice can’t think that I want to go by train,” thought Kathleen.

Now she was truly a very swift runner, but as she was running to-night, whom should she meet but Mrs. Hopkins. Mrs. Hopkins was on her way home after doing a little shopping on her own account. She saw Kathleen, observed her panting for breath, and stood directly in her path.

“Miss O’Hara,” she said, “can I speak to you for a moment? It is something very particular indeed. I am very thankful I happened to meet you.”

“I will see you to-morrow-to-morrow,” panted Kathleen. “I am in a great hurry. To-morrow, Mrs. Hopkins.”

“No, Miss O’Hara; it ought to be to-night. You are going to the railway station, aren’t you, miss?”

Kathleen felt inclined to knock that interfering woman down. She darted to one side of the road.

“Oh, let me pass!” she said. She was shaking with her quick run. She knew the moments were flying; already she heard the bell at the station ring. The train for London was signaled; she had not an instant to lose.

“Don’t-don’t keep me,” she said.

“But you mustn’t go, miss; it would be madness-wicked. You musn’t; you daren’t.”

Kathleen pushed past her. This time Mrs. Hopkins had no power to stop her. She rushed on, reached the station, flew up the steps, and found herself on the platform just as the train was coming in.

Instead of the forty girls she expected to meet, she saw not more than about half-a-dozen. They all crowded up to her at once.

“I have got your ticket for you,” said Susy. “I was just able to screw out the money to get one for you and myself. Here’s the train; let us hop in at once.”

“But where are all the others-the forty?” gasped Kathleen.

“They funked it, almost all of them. Oh! come along; here’s the train.”

The great train thundered into the station. The girls ran wildly looking for a third-class carriage. At last they found one and tumbled into it; the door was slammed, and they were off. Kathleen wondered-she was not sure, but she wondered-if she really did see, or if it was only a dream, a pair of brown eyes looking at her from the station, and the severe young figure and shocked face of Alice Tennant.

“It must have been a dream; she could not have guessed that I was going to the station. What a good thing she didn’t meet Mrs. Hopkins!” thought Kathleen. Then she turned to her companions-to the six girls who had decided to brave all the terrors of their expedition. They were Susy Hopkins, Kate Rourke, Clara Sawyer, Rosy Myers, Janey Ford, and Mary Wilkins.

Kathleen sat quite still for a minute until she had recovered her breath. She looked around her. To her relief, she saw that they were alone. There was no one else in the compartment.

“Now then,” she said, “how is it that all the others have funked it?”

“There has been so much muttering and whispering and suspecting going on during the whole livelong day that they were positively afraid,” said Susy. “Indeed, if it hadn’t been for you, Kathleen, I doubt if any of us would have come.”

“Well, girls, we can’t help it,” said Kathleen. “If the rest are so timid, there’s more fun for us; isn’t that so?”

She looked round at her companions.

“I mean to enjoy myself,” said Kate Rourke. “I have been to a theater twice before. Once I went with my grandfather, and another time with an uncle from Australia. I didn’t go to the pit when I went with uncle. He took me to a grand stall, and we rubbed up against the nobility, I can tell you.”

It suddenly occurred to Kathleen that Kate Rourke was rather a vulgar girl. She drew a little nearer to her, however, and fixed her very bright eyes on the girl’s face.”

“But we needn’t go to the pit, need we?” she said. “I meant to pay for forty. If there are only six, why shouldn’t we have jolly seats somewhere, and not waste our time outside the theater?”

“That would be nice,” said Kate Rourke. “I always enjoy myself so much more if I am in good company. I have been looking up the plays at the theaters, and there is a very fine piece on at the Princess’. That is in Oxford Street. It is a sort of melodrama; there’s a deal of killing in it, and the heroine has to do some desperate deeds.”

“Oh, dear!” said Susy, with a sigh; “I don’t feel, somehow, as if I much cared where we went. It will be awful afterwards when the fun is over.”

“But we will enjoy ourselves, Susy, while the fun lasts,” said Kathleen. She tried to believe that she was enjoying herself and was having a right good time. She tried to forget the fact that Alice Tennant might really have seen her off, and that Mrs. Hopkins had justice in her remarks when she begged and implored of Kathleen not to go to the train.

“What can she have found out?” she thought.

She now turned to Susy.

“Has your mother learned anything, Susy?” she said.

“What do you mean?” said Susy, turning very pink.

“Well, you know, as I was running here-Oh, girls, I had such a lark! What do you think happened? That horrid Alice-Alice Tennant-ran after me as I was leaving the house. I raced her across the common, and then to get rid of her I climbed up into an oak-tree. She never saw me, and ran on down the passage. Of course, my only chance of getting to the station was to go by the long way.-Half-way there I came across your mother, Susy, and she tried to stop me, and said she must speak to me. Dear, she did seem in a state! Evidently there’s a great deal of excitement and watching going on in that school.”

“There will be a great deal of excitement to-morrow,” said Susy. “It strikes me it will be all up with us to-morrow-that is, if Ruth tells.”

“If Ruth tells! What do you mean?”

“They are going to do their utmost to get her to tell; and if she does tell they will call out our names and expel us, that’s all. Oh! I can’t bear to think of it-I can’t bear to think of it.”

Susy’s voice broke. Tears trembled in her bright black eyes, and she turned her head to one side. Kathleen gave her a quick glance.

“It will be all right,” she said. “Ruth won’t tell. Ruth is the kind who never tells. She told me to-day she wouldn’t.”

“She’ll be a brick if she doesn’t,” said Kate Rourke. “But then, of course, you know-

“I know what?”

“Oh, nothing. What’s the good of making ourselves melancholy on a night like this?”

“If I were expelled,” said Clara Sawyer, “I should leave Merrifield. I could never lift up my head again. You can’t think what impudent sort of boys my brothers are, and they have always twitted me for my good fortune in getting into the Great Shirley School. They say that if we are to be expelled it will be done in public. The governors are determined to read us a lesson. That’s what they say.”

“Who cares what they say?” said Kathleen. “Let them say.”

“Well, that’s what I think; and I dare say half of it is untrue,” said little Janey Ford.

“I am sure, Janey, wonders will never cease when we see you in this thing,” said Susy. “It was disgusting of the others to funk it. But I suppose they were on the right side; only I do sometimes hate being on the right side.-Don’t you, Kathleen?”

“Yes,” said Kathleen in a whisper, and she squeezed Susy’s hand. It seemed to her that her soul and Susy’s had met at that moment, and had saluted each other like comrades true.

“But how was it you came, Janey? Didn’t your little heart funk it altogether?” continued Kate.

“I was so mad to come,” said Janey. “I am shaking and trembling now like anything. But I had never been to a theater, and it was such a tremendous temptation. I said about ten times to myself that I wouldn’t come, but eleven times I said that I would; and the eleventh time conquered, and here I am. I do hope we’ll have a right good time.”

With this sort of chatter the girls got to London. Here Kate Rourke took the lead. She marshaled the little party in two and two, and so conveyed them out of the station. Outside the yard at Charing Cross they all climbed on the top of an omnibus, and soon were wending their way in the direction of the Princess’ Theater, which Kate most strongly advocated. There was no crowd at the theater this special evening. The piece which was presented on the boards happened to be a fairly good one. The girls got excellent seats, and found themselves in the front row of the family circle. From there they could look down on dazzling scenes, and Kathleen, who had never been to a theater in the whole course of her life, was delighted. She at least had forgotten what might follow this expedition. Oh, yes, they were having a glorious time; and it was quite right to do what you liked sometimes, and quite right to defy your elders. Oh, how many she was defying: Ruth Craven, who would almost have given her life to keep her back from this; Miss Ravenscroft, the head-mistress, to whom Kathleen’s heart did not go out; her own father; her own aunt; Alice Tennant-oh, bother Alice Tennant! And last, Mrs. Hopkins.

“Quite an army of them,” thought Kathleen. “I have dared to do what none of them approved of, and I am not a bit the worse for it. Darling dad, your own Kathleen will tell you everything, and you may give me what punishment you think best when the fun is over. But now I am having a jolly time.”

So Kathleen did enjoy herself, and made so many saucy remarks between the acts, and looked so radiant notwithstanding her very plain dress, that several people looked at the beautiful girl and commented about her and her companions.

“A school party, my dear,” said a lady to her husband.

“But I don’t see the chaperone,” he remarked.

And then the lady, who looked again more carefully, could not help observing that these seven girls were certainly not chaperoned by any one. A little wonder and a little uneasiness came into her heart. She was a very kind woman herself; she was a motherly woman, too, and she thought of her own girls tucked up safely in bed at home, and wondered what she would feel if they were alone at a London theater at this hour. Presently something impelled her to bend forward and touch Kathleen on her arm. Kathleen gave a little start and faced her.

“Forgive me,” she said; “I see that you and your companions are schoolgirls, are you not?”

To some people Kathleen might have answered, “That is our own affair, not yours;” but to this lady with the courteous face and the gentle voice she replied in quite a humble tone:

“Yes, madam, we are schoolgirls.”

“And if you will forgive me, dear, have you no lady looking after you?”

“No,” said Kate Rourke, bending forward at that moment; “we are out for a spree all by our lone selves.”

Kate gave a loud laugh as she spoke. The lady started back, and could not help contrasting Kathleen’s face with those of the other girls. She bent towards her husband and whispered in his ear. The result of this communication was that, the curtain having fallen for the last time, the actors having left the stage, the play being completely over, and the seven girls being about to get back to Charing Cross as best they could, the lady touched Kathleen on her arm.

“You will forgive me, dear,” she said; “I am a mother and have daughters of my own. I should not like to see girls in the position you are in without offering to help them.”

“But what do you mean?” said Kathleen.

“I mean this, my dear, that my husband and I will see you seven back to your home, wherever it is.”

Kathleen burst out laughing; then she looked very grave, and her eyes filled with tears as she said:

“But wouldn’t mother approve of it?”

“If your mother is the least like me she would not approve of it; she would be horrified.”

“I don’t think the lady can see us home,” here remarked Clara Sawyer, “for we live at Merrifield, a good long way from London.”

Again the lady and her husband had a talk together, and then she suggested that they should take the girls back with them to Charing Cross and put them into their train.

“But we thought we’d have a bit of supper,” said Kate Rourke.

“I can get you some things at the railway station; you ought not to wait for supper in town,” said the gentleman in a stern voice.

Then somehow all the girls felt ashamed of themselves, Kathleen slightly more ashamed than the others. They left the theater very slowly, with all the lightsomeness and gladness of heart gone.

Two cabs were secured for the little party, and with their kind protectors they were taken back to Charing Cross. Eventually they got seats in a comfortable carriage, and found themselves going back again to Merrifield.

“Well, it has been a dull sort of thing altogether,” said Clara Sawyer. “What meddlesome people!”

“Don’t!” said Kathleen.

“Don’t what, Kathleen O’Hara? Why should you speak to me in that reproving voice?”

“It isn’t that; only they were like two angels. I know it; I am sure of it. We did an awful thing coming to town; I know we did, and I feel-oh, detestable!”

Kathleen bent her head forward, covered it with her hands, and sat still. No tears shook her little frame, but there was a storm within. To her dying day Kathleen never forgot that return journey. Truly the fun was all over; the dregs of the cup of pleasure were in their mouths, and there was a fear, great, certain, and very terrible, in their hearts. But with all her fears-and they were many-Kathleen thought again and again of the lady who had girls of her own, and of the gentleman who was both stern and chivalrous, who had the manners of a prince and the look of a gentleman. As long as she lived she remembered those two faces, and the words of the lady, and the smile with which she said good-bye. She never learned their names; perhaps she did not want to.