Winding Paths by Gertrude Page - HTML preview
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There were several interesting points about Hal Pritchard and Lorraine Vivian, but perhaps the most striking was their friendship for each other. From two wide-apart extremes they had somehow gravitated together, and commenced at boarding-school a friendship which only deepened and strengthened after their exit from the wise supervision of the Misses Walton, and their entrance as "finished" young women into the wide area of the world at large.
Lorraine went first. She was six years older than Hal, and under ordinary circumstances would hardly have been at school with her at all. As it was, she went at nineteen because she was not very strong, and sea air was considered good for her. She was a short of parlour-boarder, sent to study languages and accomplishments while she inhaled the sea air of Eastgate. Why, among all the scholars, who for the most part regarded her as a resplendent, beautiful y dressed being outside their sphere, she should have quickly developed an ardent affection for Hal, the rough-and-ready tomboy, remained a mystery; but far from being a passing fancy, it ripened steadily into a deep and lasting attachment.
When Hal was fifteen, Lorraine left; and it has to be admitted that the anxious, motherly hearts of the Misses Walton drew a deep breath of relief, and hoped the friendship would now cease, unfed by daily contact and daily mutual interests. But there they under-estimated the depth of affection already in the hearts of the girls, and their natural loyalty, which scorned a mere question of separation, and entered into one another's interests just as eagerly as when they were together.
Not that they, the Misses Walton, had anything actually against Lorraine, beyond the fact that she promised a degree of beauty likely, they felt, coupled as it was with a charming wit and a fascinating personality, to open out some striking career for her, and possibly become a snare and a temptation.
On the other hand, Hal was just a homely, nondescript, untidy, riotous type of schoolgirl, with a very strong capacity for affection, and an unmanageable predilection for scrapes and adventures, that made her more likely to fal under the sway of Lorraine, should it promise any chance of excitement.
And one had only to view Lorraine among the other "young ladies" of the seminary to fear the worst. Miss Emily Walton would never have admitted it; but even she, fondly clinging to the old tradition that the terms "girls" or "women" are less impressive than "young ladies", felt somehow that the orthodox nomenclature did not successfully fit her two most remarkable pupils. Of course they were ladies by birth and education, else they would certainly not have been admitted to so select a seminary; but whereas the rest of the pupils might be said more or less to study, and improve, and have their being in a milk and biscuit atmosphere, Hal and Lorraine were quite uncomfortably more like champagne and good, honest, frothing beer.
No amount of prunes and prism advice and surroundings seemed to dul the sparkle in Lorraine, nor daunt nor suppress fearless, outspoken, unmanageable Hal. In separate camps, with a nice little fol owing each, to keep an even balance, they might merely have livened the free hours; but as a combination it soon became apparent they would waken up the embryo young ladies quite alarmingly, and initiate a new atmosphere of gaiety that might become beyond the restraining, select influence even of the Misses Walton.
The first scare came with the new French mistress, who had a perfect Parisian accent, but knew very little English. Of course Lorraine easily divined this, and, being something of a French scholar already, she soon won Mademoiselle's confidence by one or two charmingly expressed, lucid French explanations.
Then came the translation lesson, and choosing a fable that would specially lend itself, she started the class off translating it into an English fabrication that convulsed both pupils and mistress. Hal, of course, followed suit, and the merriment grew fast and furious after a few positively rowdy lessons.
Mademoisel e herself gave the fun away at the governesses' dinner, a very precise and formal meal, which took place at seven o'clock, to be fol owed at eight by the pupils' supper of bread-and-butter with occasional sardines. She related in broken English what an amusing book they had to read, repeating a few slang terms, that would certainly not, under anu circumstances, have been allowed to pass the lips of the young ladies.
After that it was deemed advisable Lorraine should translate French alone, and Hal be severely admonished.
Then there was the dreadful affair of the Boys' College. It was not unusual for them to walk past the school on Sunday afternoons; but it was only after Lorraine came that a system was instituted by which, if the four front boys al blew their noses as they passed, it was a signal that a note, or possibly several, had been slipped under the loose brick at the school entrance.
Further, it was only Lorraine who could have sent the answers, because none of the other girls had an uncle often running down for a breath of sea air, when, of course, he needed his dear niece's company. He was certainly a very attentive uncle, and a very generous one too, judging by the Buszard's cakes and De Brei's chocolates, and Miss Walton could not help eyeing him a little askance.
But then, as Miss Emily said, he was such a very striking, distinguished-looking gentleman, people had already been interested to learn he had a niece at the Misses Walton's seminary. Besides, one could not reasonably object to a relative calling, and he had seemed so devoted to Lorraine's handsome mother when they had together brought her to school.
But of course, after the disgraceful episode of the notes that blew into the road, the windows had to be dulled at once, so that no one could see the boys pass. It was a mercy the thing had been discovered so soon.
Then shortly after came the breaking-up dances, one for the governesses, when the masters from the college were invited, and one the next night for the girls, when the remains of the same supper did duty again, and with reference to which Miss Walton gently told them she had not been able to ask any of the boys from the school, as she was afraid their parents would not approve; she hoped they were not disappointed, and that the big girls would dance with the little ones, as it pleased them so.
Lorraine immediately replied sweetly that none of them cared about dancing with boys, and some of the children would be much more amusing.
She made herself spokeswoman, because Miss Walton had half-unconsciously glanced at her at the mere mention of the word boys, fondly believing that the other well-brought-up pupils would prefer their room to their company, whereas Lorraine might think the party very tame. Her answer was a pleasant surprise.
But then, who was to know that the night of the governesses' dance she had bribed the three girls in the small dormitory to silence, and after some half-dozen of them had gone to bed with their night-gowns over their dresses, had given the signal to arise directly the dance was in ful swing. After that they adjourned to the small dormitory and spread out a repast of sweets and cakes, to which such of the younger masters as were brave enough to risk detection slipped away up the school staircase at intervals, to be more than rewarded by Lorraine's inimitable mimicry.
"There wil be no boys for you to dance with, dear girls," she told them gently, "as your parents might not approve," then added, with roguish lights in her splendid eyes: "No boys, dear girls, only a few masters to supper in the small dormitory."
Hal's misdemeanours were of a less subtle kind. Neither boys nor masters interested her particularly as yet; but there were a thousand-and-one other ways of livening things up, and she tried them all, sometimes getting off scot free, and sometimes finding herself uncomfortably pil oried before the rest of the school, to be cross-questioned and severely admonished at great lenght before being
"sent to Coventry" for a stated period.
But, had she only known it, there were many chicken-hearted girls who envied her even her disgrace, for the sake of the dauntless, shining spirit of her that nothing ever crushed. And as for being "sent to Coventry", well, Hal and Lorraine easily coped with that through the twopennyworth system.
If an offender was sent to Coventry, any other girl who spoke to her had to pay a fine of twopence, and if either of these two glay spirits found themselves doomed to silence, they persuaded such of the others as were "game" enough, to have occasional "twopennyworths".
Of the two, Hal was far the greater favourite; she was in fact the popular idol; for though the girls were ful of admiration for Lorraine, and not a little proud of her, they were also a little afraid of a wit that could be sharp-edged, and perhaps resentful too of that nameless something about her striking personality that made them feel their inferiority.
Hal was quite different, and her unfailing spirits, her vigorous championing of the oppressed, or scathing denunciation of anything sneaky and mean, made them all look up to her, and love her, whether she knew or not.
Even the governess felt her compelling attraction, and would often, by a timely word, save her from the consequences of some forgetful moment.
At the same time, the one who warned Miss Walton against the possible il results of the girl's growing love for Lorraine little understood the nature she had to deal with.
When Hal found herself in the private sanctum, being gently admonished concerning a friendship that was thought to be growing too strong, she was quick instantly to resent the slur on her chum. She had been sent for immediately after "evening prep.," and having, as usual, inked her fingers generously, and rubbed an ink-smudge across her face, to say nothing of real y disgraceful y tumbled hair, she looked a comical enough object standing before the impressive presence of the head mistress.
"Really, Hal," Miss Walton remonstrated, "can't you even keep tidy for an hour in the evening?"
"Not when it's German night," answered outspoken Hal; "where to put the verbs, and how to split them, makes my hair stand on end, and the ink squirm out of the pot."
Miss Walton tried to look severe, remarking: "Don't be frivolous here, my dear"; but, as Hal described it later, "she looked as if having so often to be sedate was beginning to make her tired."
But when she proceeded to explain to Hal that neither she nor her sister were easy in their minds about her growing devotion to Lorraine, Hal's expressive mouth began to look rather stern, and neither the ink-smudges nor the tousled hair could rob her of a certain naïve dignity as she asked, "Are you implying anything against Lorraine?"
"No, no, my dear, certainly not," Miss Walton replied, feeling slightly at a loss to express herself, "but I have never encouraged a violent friendship between two girls that is apt to make them hold aloof from the others, and be continual y in one another's society. And in this instance, Lorraine being so much older than you, and of a temperament hardly likely to appeal to your brother, as a desirable one in your great friend -"
"I am not asking Dudley to make her his great friend -"
"Don't interrupt me, dear. I am only speaking of what I am perfectly aware are your brother's feeling concerning you; and seeing you have neither father nor mother, I feel my responsibility and his the greater."
"But what is the matter with Lorraine?" Hal cried, growing a little exasperated. "She is not nearly so frivolous as I am, and works far harder."
Miss Walton hesitated a little. "We feel she is natural y rather worldly-minded and ambitious, whereas you -" She paused.
"Whereas I am a simpleton," suggested Hal, with a mischievous light in her eyes. "Wel , then, dear Miss Walton, how fortunate for me that some one clever and briljant is willing to give me her friendship and help to lift me out of my slough of simpletondom!"
Miss Walton looked up with a reproof on her lips, but it died away, and a new expression came into her eyes as she seemed to see something in this unruly pupil she had not before suspected. Hal stil looked as if a smothered sense of injustice might presently explode into hot words; but in the meantime the air of dignity stood its ground in spite of smudges and untidiness.
Neither spoke for a moment, and then Miss Walton remarked: "You do not mean to be guided by me in this matter?"
"Lorraine is my friend," Hal answered. "I cannot let myself listen to anything that suggests a slur upon her."
"Not even if your brother expressed a wish on the subject?"
"I do not ask Dudley to let me choose his friends."
"That is quite a different matter. He is fifteen years your senior."
Hal was silent. She stood with her hands behind her, and her head held high, and her clear eyes very straight to the front; well-knit, wel -built, with a promise of that vague something which is so much stronger a factor in the world than mere beauty.
Miss Walton, who necessarily saw much of the mediocre and commonplace in her life-work of turning growing girls into presentable young women, felt her feelings undergo a further change. She also had the tact to see an appeal would go farther than mere advice.
"I was only thinking of you, Hal," she said, a trifle tiredly. "I have nothing against Lorraine, except that she is dangerously attractive if she likes, and her love of admiration and excitement does not make her a very wise friend for a girl of your age. You are different, and your paths are likely to lead far apart in the future. It did not seem to me desirable you should grow too fond of each other."
Even as she spoke she found herself wondering what Hal would say, and in an unlooked-for way interested.
Hal answered promptly :
"I do not think our lives wil lie apart. Both of us wil have to be breadwinners at any rate, and that wil be a bond."
Her mobile face seemed to change. "Miss Walton, I'm devoted to Lorraine. I always shal be. But you needn't be anxious. The stronger influence is not where you think. I can bend Lorraine's will, but she cannot bend mine. It wil always be so. And nothing that you nor any one can say will make me change to her."
They said little more, but when she was alone the head mistress stood silently for some minutes looking into the dying embers of her fire.
Then she uttered to herself an enigmatical sentence:
"Beauty will give to Lorraine the great career; but the greater woman wil be Hal."
Shortly after that Lorraine departed, and about a year later embarked in the theatrical world.
No one was surprised, but very adverse opinions were expressed among the girls concerning her success or otherwise; those who were jealous, or who had felt slighted during her short reign as school beauty, condemning any possible likelihood of a hit.
Hal said very little. She was already reaching out tentacles to the wider world, where schoolgirl criticisms would be mere prattle; and it was far more serious to her to wonder what Brother Dudley would think of her having an actress for her greatest friend.
She foresaw rocks ahead, but smiled humorously to herself in spite of them.
"What a tussle there'll be!" was her thought, "and how in the world am I to convince Dudley that Lorraine does not represent a receptacle for all the deadly sins? Heigho! The mere fact of my disagreeing will persuade him I am already contaminated, and he will see us both heading, like fire-engines, for the nethermost hell."