"Sit there, Miss O'Hara, please," said Mrs. Freeman. She tried to suppress a smile, which was difficult. "Girls," she said, addressing the fifth and sixth forms, "girls, this young lady is your new schoolfellow—her name is Bridget O'Hara. I meant to introduce her to you formally to-morrow, but she has taken the matter into her own hands. I am glad you are not tired, Miss O'Hara, for you have had a very long journey.""I don't think I ever felt my temper more irritated," murmured the good lady under her breath. "Why did I undertake an Irish girl, and one who had never been from home before? Well, the deed is done now, and I must not show impatience, however I may feel it. Bridget, my dear! Bridget O'Hara! Do you hear me?""Now, how old am I?" she asked, stamping her arched foot. "Don't be shy, any of you. Begin at the[Pg 17] eldest, and guess right away. Now then, Miss Collingwood—you see, I know your name—the age of your humble servant, if you please."
Mrs. Freeman was very particular with regard to tidiness, and the condition of this very pretty room filled her with grave displeasure. The rules with regard to tidy rooms, neatly kept drawers, a place for everything and everything in its place, were most stringent at Mulberry Court, but up to the present rules mattered nothing at all to Bridget O'Hara.
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"Well, it's a very fine sort of place, as free and easy as you please; lots of fishing in the lakes and in the rivers. I'm very fond of my gun, too. Can you handle a gun, Mrs. Freeman? It kicks rather, if you can't manage it."
"If she had any strength, she'd be ashamed of her ignorance," retorted Janet.The period at which this story begins was the middle of the summer term. There were no half-term holidays at the Court, but somehow the influence of holiday time had already got into the air. The young girls had tired themselves out with play, and the older ones lay about in hammocks, or strolled in twos or[Pg 2] threes up and down the wide gravel walk which separated the house from the gardens."You don't suppose I mind her?" exclaimed Bridget. "Rudeness always shows ill-breeding, but it is still more ill-bred to notice it—at least, that's what papa says. She spoke rather as if she did not like me, which is quite incomprehensible, for everybody loves me at home."
"I'm afraid I have some unpleasant things to talk about, Miss O'Hara," she said. "But, before I begin, I must distinctly request you to remember that you are a young girl in the presence of the lady who has been appointed by your father to guide, direct, and command you.""After all, what does the Fancy Fair signify—I[Pg 5] mean—oh, don't be shocked, girls—I mean, what does it signify compared to a real living present interest? While we are discussing what is to take place in six weeks' time, Mrs. Freeman and Miss Patience are driving up the avenue with somebody else. Girls, the new inmate of Mulberry Court has begun to put in an appearance on the scene."
She called Bridget's name, but the wind, which was rather high this morning, carried her voice away from the young girl, who was gayly flitting from one rosebush [Pg 30]to another, ruthlessly pulling the large, full-blown flowers with buds attached.
"I don't think I ought to listen to you, Bridget."