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.
There was a sound, a commotion. Several steps were heard; eager voices were raised in expostulation and distress.
"But Mrs. Freeman said——"
"I'd punish her very severely," said Miss Patience. "I am sure punishment is what she wants. She ought to be broken in."Miss Patience had a thin voice, and her words fell like tiny drops of ice on the girl's excited hearts. They followed their teachers with a certain sense of flatness, and with very little desire to attend to French verbs and German exercises.
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"Bridget, my dear, before you come into the schoolroom I must request that you go upstairs and change your dress."
A loud booming sound filled the air."Come, my dears," said Miss Patience to the girls[Pg 29] near her, "let us lose no more valuable time. Please don't scrape your chair in that atrocious way, Alice. Rose, what a poke! Susie, hold back your shoulders. Now, young ladies, come to the schoolroom quietly; quietly, if you please."
Bridget opened her eyes wide, and started at the transformation scene which had taken place during the brief moment she had remained in darkness. The room was painted a pale, cool green. The walls were divided into several panels. One of these had now absolutely disappeared, and in its place was a deep recess, which went far enough back into the wall to contain shelves, and had even space sufficient for a chair or two, a sewing machine, and one or two other sacred possessions.Her attempts were extremely good, but when it came to laboriously struggling through her written score, all was hopeless confusion, tears, and despair."No fruit, thank you. Oh, what a lovely ring you have on! It's a ruby, isn't it? My poor mother—she died when I was only three—had some splendid rubies—they are to be mine when I am grown up. Papa is keeping them for me in the County Bank. You always keep your valuables in the Bank in Ireland, you know—that's on account of the Land Leaguers."
Bridget was sitting in the middle of the dusty road with a girl's head on her lap. The girl's figure was stretched out flat and motionless; her hat was off, and Bridget was pushing back some waves of fair hair from her temples.