One moment more, and the neat school hats of the new-comers had swelled the group of similar school hats already collected on the platform; ecstatic greetings were exchanged, urgent questions asked and hasty answers given, and items of choice information poured forth with the utmost volubility of which the English tongue is capable.
Urged by brief directions from a mistress in charge, the chattering crew surged towards a siding, and made for a particular corridor carriage marked “Reserved”. Here handbags, umbrellas, wraps, and lunch-baskets were hastily stowed away in the racks, and, Miss Moseley having assured herself that not a single lamb of her flock was left behind, the grinning porter slammed the doors, the green flag waved, and the local train, long overdue, started with a jerk for the Craigwen Valley.
Past the grey old castle that looked seawards over the estuary, past the little white town of Llangarmon, with its ancient walls and fortified gates, past the quay where the fishing smacks were lying idly at anchor and a pleasure-steamer was unloading its human cargo, past the long stretch of sandy common, where the white tents of the Territorials evoked an outcry of interest, then up alongside the broad tidal river towards where the mountains, faint and misty, rose shouldering one another till they merged into the white nebulous region of the cloud-flecked sky. Those lucky ones who had secured window seats on the river side of the carriage were loud in their acclamations of satisfaction as familiar objects in the landscape came into sight.
The little wayside station, erstwhile the quietest and sleepiest on the line, was soon overflowing with girls and their belongings. Miss Moseley flitted up and down the platform, marshalling her charges like a faithful collie, the one porter did his slow best, and after a few agitated returns to the compartments for forgotten articles, everything was successfully collected, and the train went steaming away down the valley in the direction of Craigwen. It seemed to take the last link of civilization with it, and to leave only the pure, unsullied country behind. The girls crossed the line and walked through the white station gate with pleased anticipation writ large on their faces. It was the cult at The Woodlands to idolize nature and the picturesque, and they had reached a part of their journey which was a particular source of pride to the school.
Ulyth Stanton was a decided personality in the Lower Fifth. If not exactly pretty, she was a dainty little damsel, and knew how to make the best of herself. Her fair hair was glossy and waved in the most becoming fashion, her clothes were well cut, her gloves and shoes immaculate. She had an artistic temperament, and loved to be surrounded by pretty things. She was rather a favourite at The Woodlands, for she had few sharp angles and possessed a fair share of tact. If the girls laughed sometimes at what they called her “high-falutin’ notions” they nevertheless respected her opinions and admired her more than they always chose to admit.
On that first morning, when Sara sat at Miss Minchin’s side, aware that the whole schoolroom was devoting itself to observing her, she had noticed very soon one little girl, about her own age, who looked at her very hard with a pair of light, rather dull, blue eyes. She was a fat child who did not look as if she were in the least clever, but she had a good-naturedly pouting mouth. Her flaxen hair was braided in a tight pigtail, tied with a ribbon, and she had pulled this pigtail around her neck, and was biting the end of the ribbon, resting her elbows on the desk, as she stared wonderingly at the new pupil.
If Sara had been a different kind of child, the life she led at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for the next few years would not have been at all good for her. She was treated more as if she were a distinguished guest at the establishment than as if she were a mere little girl.
Whatever good quality was in his natural state conspicuous in him, will, in a state of grace and newness of life, shine forth with double lustre; and he will find his besetting sin his greatest hindrance in pressing forward to the attainment of personal holiness.
It would not concern my readers much were I to describe the precise locality of the renowned Dr. Wilkinson’s establishment for young gentlemen—suffice it to say, that somewhere near Durdham Down, within a short walk of Clifton, stood Ashfield House, a large rambling building, part of which looked gray and timeworn when compared with the modern school-room, and sundry dormitories, that had been added at different periods as the school grew out of its original domains. Attached to the house was a considerable extent of park land, which was constituted the general play-ground.
It was always the custom for such Austinians as went up to represent the School at the annual competition to stop the night in the town. It was not, therefore, till just before breakfast on the following day that Tony arrived back at his House. The boarding Houses at St Austin’s formed a fringe to the School grounds.
It was a distressing time; and poor Jerusha Abbott, being the oldest orphan, had to bear the brunt of it. But this particular first Wednesday, like its predecessors, finally dragged itself to a close. Jerusha escaped from the pantry where she had been making sandwiches for the asylum’s guests, and turned upstairs to accomplish her regular work. Her special care was room F, where eleven little tots, from four to seven, occupied eleven little cots set in a row. Jerusha assembled her charges, straightened their rumpled frocks, wiped their noses, and started them in an orderly and willing line towards the dining-room to engage themselves for a blessed half hour with bread and milk and prune pudding.
The summer had been cool; but, as often happens after cool summers, the autumn proved unusually hot. It seemed as if the months had been playing a game, and had “changed places” all round; and as if September were determined to show that he knew how to make himself just as disagreeable as August, if only he chose to do so. All the last half of Cousin Helen’s stay, the weather was excessively sultry. She felt it very much, though the children did all they could to make her comfortable, with shaded rooms, and iced water, and fans. Every evening the boys would wheel her sofa out on the porch, in hopes of coolness; but it was of no use: the evenings were as warm as the days, and the yellow dust hanging in the air made the sunshine look thick and hot. A few bright leaves appeared on the trees, but they were wrinkled, and of an ugly color. Clover said she thought they had been boiled red like lobsters. Altogether, the month was a trying one, and the coming of October made little difference: still the dust continued, and the heat; and the wind, when it blew, had no refreshment in it, but seemed to have passed over some great furnace which had burned out of it all life and flavor.