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The Silver Star by Nellie Holderness

 

Maysie Grey had set her heart on the Drawing Society's Silver Star. She kept her ambition to herself as a thing too audacious to be put into words. That she possessed talent, the school fully recognised. She was only thirteen, and by dint of steady perseverance was making almost daily progress. Her painting lessons were a source of unmixed pleasure to her, for hers was a nature that never yielded to discouragement, and never magnified difficulties.

“You must aim at the Bronze Star this year,” her science mistress had said to her, while helping her to fix the glass slides she was to paint from, under the microscope, “and next year you must go on to the Silver——”

“Look, how beautiful the colours are!” Maysie exclaimed in delight. The delicate, varying tints fascinated her. She set to work with enthusiasm, never having done anything of the kind before. “'Mycetozoa,' do you call them?” she asked.

“Yes. Be sure you spell it rightly.”

The next day, when the first of her three sheets was finished, Miss Elton came in to examine it. Though she said little, she was evidently more than satisfied. It was nearly tea-time, and Maysie spent the few minutes before preparation was over in tearing up some old drawings. After breakfast, on the following morning, before the bell rang for class, she went over to Ruth Allen's desk to ask her how to spell “Mycetozoa.” Ruth was her particular chum, and the best English scholar in the form.

“I've got something to show you, Maysie,” she said, when she had furnished the desired information. She brought out a piece of paper as she spoke, and passed it on to her friend behind the cover of her open desk. It was a fragment of one of Maysie's zoological drawing-sheets, evidently picked up out of the waste-paper basket—a wasp with wings outspread, showing the three divisions of an insect's body. The head was roughly altered so as to form a caricature of a human face, and above was printed, in letters that might have done credit to Maysie herself: “Miss E. in a tantrum,” and below: “How doth the little waxy wasp rejoice to snap and snarl!”

Maysie did not share Ruth's unreasonable animosity towards Miss Elton, but she could not repress a smile at this specimen of school-girl wit. Just then the bell rang, and she went back to her own desk, while Ruth, letting the lid of hers slip down, was so startled by the noise it made in the sudden silence that she did not see a piece of paper flutter out on to the ground, and gently glide underneath the platform of the mistress's desk, which was just in front of her.

That morning Maysie began her second sheet, and joined the others in the garden after dinner. Molly Brooks, another of her friends, came eagerly running up to her.

“Why didn't you come to botany?” she asked.

“I've been doing my exhibition work.”

“Oh, of course! I suppose it's nearly finished?”

“About half. It hasn't to be sent off till next week, so there's plenty of time.”

At that moment Ruth Allen linked her arm in Maysie's.

“I'm in my third row,” she began casually.

“What, already?” asked Maysie.

“Yes, haven't you heard?” Molly chimed in.

“Oh, it's Miss Elton again!” went on Ruth. “We never can hit it off. You weren't at botany class this morning.”

“No, what happened?”

Ruth shrugged her shoulders. Molly looked expressively at Maysie. Ruth seldom got through a botany class without an explosion.

“I hate botany,” said Ruth recklessly, “and I hate Miss Elton. I'm supposed to be in silence now, but as Miss Bennet came in and told us all to go out, I thought I'd better not risk another disobedience mark.”

Miss Elton, who had been stooping down over some flower-beds, in search of museum treasures, came up at this point. Her face was grave and white, and her manner very stern and quiet.

“What are you doing out here, Ruth?” she demanded.

“Miss Bennet sent us all out; she said it was such a lovely day,” answered Ruth carelessly.

“Then you can go and explain to Miss Bennet why I told you to remain in this afternoon.”

Ruth looked at Miss Elton, and then looked away; she slowly withdrew her arm from Maysie's, and walked off without a word. At the door she came face to face with Miss Bennet, the headmistress.

“Where are you going to, Ruth?” asked the latter.

“Miss Elton sent me in.”

“Why?” There was grave rebuke in Miss Bennet's voice.

“Because I'm in silence.”

“I do not understand why you were out at all.”

Ruth made no attempt to defend herself.

“You'd better come to my room,” continued Miss Bennet. “There is something here that needs explaining.... Now, what were you in silence for?” she continued, seating herself in her chair by the fire.

“I got sent out of botany class.”

“And how many times have you been sent out of botany class?”

Ruth did not answer.

“Well, it has come to this, Ruth,” Miss Bennet went on gravely, “that a girl of your age—you are fourteen now, I believe—can no longer be allowed to go on setting an example of insolence and disobedience to the younger girls in the school. Now, remember, this is the last time. Let me have no more complaints about you, or it will be my unpleasant duty to write to your mother, and tell her that you cannot remain here.”

There was a pause. The colour had left Ruth's face, and she was staring moodily into the fire.

“You will apologise to Miss Elton,” added Miss Bennet, rising, “and you will remain in silence at meals for the rest of the week. And try to make an effort over your botany. Your other work is good: you were top last week. Now, promise me that you will make an effort.”

Ruth, moved to penitence at the thought of her mother, promised to do her best. That afternoon she apologised to Miss Elton, and made a resolution to keep out of rows for the rest of the term. Maysie and she walked about in the garden as usual, and talked things over. Maysie looked grave when Ruth told her what Miss Bennet had said about sending her away.

“Oh, Ruth!” she said, “you really must be careful! Why, if you got expelled, it would be almost as bad for me as if I were expelled myself. Miss Elton's awfully nice, if you only knew. I had such a lovely talk with her on Sunday, all about home, and drawing. And then she's so jolly at games, and she's never cross when you don't cheek her. And think how horrid it must be for her whenever she comes to botany class, always knowing that you're going to be dense! And you do do it on purpose sometimes, dear, you know you do.”

Ruth forced a laugh.

“Oh, I'm going to be awfully good,” she said. “You'll see!”

It was Saturday the next day, and Maysie was just settling down to her drawing in the music-room, when Miss Elton appeared. Maysie looked up and smiled at her. It was no unusual thing for her science-mistress to come in and remark on her progress. But on this occasion no answering smile greeted her. Maysie was puzzled. Her inquiring grey eyes fell before Miss Elton's; she began to search her conscience. What had she done?

“I think it is a pity, Maysie,” began Miss Elton, “that you put your talents to such an improfitable use.”

As she spoke she laid before Maysie the paper that Ruth had exhibited to her in such triumph the day before. Maysie grew scarlet, and remained quite speechless. Her name up in the corner, the neat, even printing, so like her own, the altered diagram that Miss Elton had seen in its original form—they stared her in the face, condemning her beyond hope of appeal. She raised her head proudly, and tossed back the thick curly hair that hung over her shoulder.

“Where did it come from?” she asked.

“I picked it up from under the edge of my platform, but that is of no concern.”

“But, Miss Elton——” stammered Maysie, growing suddenly confused.

“You have no excuse,” put in Miss Elton, and her voice was all the harder because of the disappointment that she felt. “This is a piece of your paper, is it not?”

Maysie admitted that it was.

“And your diagram?”

“Yes; at least——”

“Is it, or is it not?”

Maysie's voice was very low.

“Yes, it is,” she said.

Silence ensued, a brief, awkward silence. It was at this moment that Maysie made up her mind. She would not clear herself at the expense of her chum! Ruth should not be expelled through her!

Miss Elton believed her guilty; she would not undeceive her.

Miss Elton waited with her eyes on Maysie's paintings.

They were done as no other girl in the school would have done them, but the thought afforded her no satisfaction, though she had always prophesied great things of Maysie. Then she glanced at the child's downcast face.

“I am sorry about this, Maysie,” she said, with the faintest suspicion of reproach in her voice, “I thought we were better friends.”

A lump came into Maysie's throat, and the tears into her eyes. She looked at the microscope, at the tiny glass slides, at her unfinished sheet; but she had nothing to say.

“Of course,” continued Miss Elton, “I shall have to show it to Miss Bennet. This comes, no doubt, of your friendship with Ruth. I have always said that she would do you no good.”

Maysie listened with a swelling heart. Supposing Ruth should be sent for, and hear the whole story? Miss Elton was at the door; she ran up to her in desperation.

“Miss Elton,” she faltered, “don't say anything to the girls, will you?”

Miss Elton made no promise. The petition made her think no better of Maysie.

The Fourth Form girls soon discovered that Maysie was in trouble, but no one could get anything out of her. Ruth was forbidden to join her in recreation, but on Sunday evening she managed to get a few minutes' talk with her.

“Do tell me what the row's about, Maysie,” she said.

“Oh, nothing much,” said Maysie. “Do let's talk about something else.”

“But I always thought you liked Miss Elton?”

“So I do. Can't you get into a row with a mistress you like?”

“Well, I'd apologise, if I were you. She was very nice to me.”

“I can't, so it's no good.” And Maysie sat silent, confronting this new difficulty with a sinking heart. For how could she apologise, she asked herself, for what she had never done?

“Well, I think you might tell me,” Ruth went on. “I told you about my row; and what's the good of being chums if we can't keep each other's secrets?”

But Maysie only sighed impatiently, and took up her library book.

“I wish you'd hurry up and finish those paintings of yours, and come back properly to class,” went on Ruth. “Aren't they nearly done?”

Maysie grew white, and turned away her face.

“I'm not going to try this year,” she said.

“Why, I thought——” began Ruth. “Oh, I see! What a shame!”

Maysie choked down a sob. After a pause she said:

“Perhaps I shall have more chance of a Star next year.”

“You'd have got one this!” said Ruth indignantly. “How mean to punish you like that! And it's the only thing you care about!”

Maysie smiled. “Oh, never mind, dear,” she said. “Everything seems mean to us. You don't understand.”

“But if you apologised it would be all right?”

“I daresay it might, but I don't think so. Besides, they've got to be sent in by Wednesday, and I should hardly have time to do another sheet.”

Things went on like this until Monday evening. Though there was only one day left, Maysie made no attempt to apologise. Miss Elton gave her every opportunity, for she, too, hoped that Miss Bennet might thus be induced to allow Maysie to finish her exhibition work, even at the last moment.

Maysie went to bed early that night. Her head had been aching all day, and by the time tea was over she could hardly hold it up. Ruth was greatly concerned about her, and, as a last resource, determined to speak to Miss Bennet.

Maysie soon got into bed, and, being alone in the dormitory, hid her face under the bed-clothes and sobbed. She was terribly homesick, poor child, and now, for the first time, she began to doubt whether she had done right after all; whether it would not have been wiser to have taken Miss Bennet into her confidence, and trusted to her to set things right. And then, there was that Silver Star! And a year was such a long time to have to wait. But, thinking of Ruth, she grew ashamed of herself, and dried her tears, and tried to go to sleep, though it was still quite light out of doors.

Ruth, meanwhile, was sitting on the floor in front of Miss Bennet's fire.

“It's about Maysie, Miss Bennet,” she was saying. “I don't understand what she has done, but I'm sure there must be some reason for her not apologising.”

Miss Bennet made no remark.

“She's so fond of Miss Elton, too. I don't see how she could have meant to be rude to her.”

“I'm afraid there is not much doubt about that,” was the answer.

“It seems to me,” went on Ruth nervously, “that there's some mystery about it. Maysie won't tell me anything.”

“Maysie has no reason to be proud of herself,” replied Miss Bennet coldly.

“It seems so horrid her not going in for the exhibition, and she's so good at painting.”

“There are various ways of making use of one's talents,” said Miss Bennet, rising. “Now this——”

Ruth jumped to her feet, and stood gazing. There, on Miss Bennet's writing-table, lay the identical scrap of paper that she had shown to Maysie the Friday before. “Miss E. in a tantrum!” There, too, was Maysie's name in the corner. In a moment everything was clear.

“That!” she exclaimed. “Maysie didn't do that!”

Miss Bennet looked at her doubtfully.

“I did it!” she went on. “Oh, if I'd only known! Why didn't some one tell me about it?”

“My dear child,” began Miss Bennet.

“Yes, I did it!” repeated Ruth passionately. “It's Maysie's drawing, but I altered it, I made up the words. Poor little Maysie! And she was so keen on trying for the exhibition! It's so horribly unfair, when I did it all the time!” She broke off with a sob, hardly knowing what she was saying.

“But why——”

“I didn't know, and of course she wouldn't sneak about me—catch Maysie sneaking! I told her I should be expelled if I got into another row.”

Miss Bennet tried to calm her.

“Come, dear child,” she said gravely; “if Maysie has been punished for your fault, we must do our best to set things right at once. Tell me how it happened.”

Ruth explained as well as she could.

“And now Maysie's gone to bed,” she added regretfully.

“Then I will go up to her. You can go back to your class-room.”

Miss Bennet found Maysie asleep, with flushed cheeks, and eyelashes still wet with tears. She stooped down, and kissed her gently. Maysie opened her eyes with a sigh, and then sat up in bed. It had seemed almost as if her mother were bending over her. “I am going to scold you, Maysie,” said Miss Bennet, but her smile belied her words.

Maysie smiled faintly in answer.

“Why have you allowed us to do you an injustice?”

The child was overwrought, and a sudden dread seized hold of her.

“Why—what do you mean, Miss Bennet?” she faltered.

“Ruth has explained everything to me. It is a great pity this mistake should have been made——”

Maysie interrupted her.

“It was before she got sent out of class, Miss Bennet,” she said. “Oh! don't be angry with her! Don't send her away, will you?”

In her earnestness she laid her hand on Miss Bennet's arm. Miss Bennet drew her to her, and kissed her again.

“Poor child!” she said. “So that's what you've been worrying your little head about. No, I won't send her away, Miss Elton tells me that she has improved already, and I am sure she will forgive her when she knows everything.”

Maysie thanked her with tears in her eyes.

“And now, I have one other thing to say,” Miss Bennet continued. “You must go to sleep at once, and wake up quite fresh and bright to-morrow morning, and you shall give up the whole day to your painting. What do you say to that?”

“How lovely!” exclaimed Maysie. “I shall get it done after all! Thank you very, very much, Miss Bennet. Oh, I am so happy!” And she put her arms round Miss Bennet's neck, and gave her an enthusiastic hug.

Maysie worked hard at her “Mycetozoa” the next day, and finished her third sheet with complete success. Some weeks afterwards, Miss Bennet sent for her to her room.

“I am glad to be able to tell you, Maysie,” she said, “that you have gained the Drawing Society's Silver Star.”

Maysie drew a long breath; her heart was too full for words. The Silver Star! Could it be true?

Ruth was one of the first to congratulate her.

“I always said you'd get it, dear,” she remarked as they walked round the garden together. “And I'm just as glad as you are about it. I haven't forgotten that it was through me you nearly lost the chance!”

Maysie returned the pressure of Ruth's hand without answering. Was not the Silver Star the more to be prized for its association in thought with those hours of lonely perplexity that she had gone through for the sake of her friend?

 
 
 

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