|Chapter Title||TWO NEW PUPILS.|
|Newspaper Title||Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)|
|Trove Title||Mildred Austin's Two Christmas Eves|
CHAPTER III. TWO NEW PUPILS. THE weather was unpleasant, to say the least of it, on that twenty-third day of December on which we again get a glimpse of Mildred Austin. Heavy showers of sleet had been falling at intervals during the afternoon, and lay in the form :of half-wetted, half-frozen heaps on the pavement of High-street. Mildred had altered considerably since we saw her last, and who would not alter through all the changes and worries of a decade ? Her pretty brown hair was t rned back in a stiff knot as though 'a nged more with a view to conveniente than beauty, her face was thinner, iand'her blue eyes looked out on the world more thoughtfully than ever, aid'had a resigned expression that told;niore of patience than of.hope. But we must glance back a little at the past.: Mrs. Austin had been dead five years, and Floy, always wilful and headstrong, had a few months after wards married Fred Hurst, a clerk in Hillcross .factory. In vain Mildred told her, what all HillcroEs knew, that Fred was wild, unsettled, a "ne'er-do weel," never remaining long in any em ployment. Floy would not believe a word of it ; his handsome face and pleading eyes had more influence than all her sister's persuasions-and they were marriedi A short time afterwards Fred lost his appoinment through his own folly, and.then followed mote vicis situdes than we can recount. Floy's little property was soon spent, and the end was that Mildred handed over to her nearly the whole of her own share of the nmney left by her mother, to enable the hapless couple to emigrate to AustraliaT. They were now in the bush, learning some of the realities of life, and finding out by stern experience that people must work steadily and .well if they wish to succeed. Mildred gathered up the small amount of property remaining to her, and finding she could not possibly subsist on it, she decided to turn her
talents to account, and with this view had purchased the " goodwill" of a ladies' school in Hladleigh. It was breaking.day, a dozen or more girls were busily getting ready to go home, and the inuterior of fl adleigh House from bedro:m to hall showed signs'of preparations for travelling. A pile of boxtes stood in the vestibule, and every now and then one and another of the girls flitted into the, schoolroom to say ahurried '- good-bye" to Miss Austin. "An uncomfortable day for travell ing," said she, as she looked to see that her papils were well wrapped up ere they set forth to brave the inclemency of the weather. But what cared these young lively spirits for bad roads, sleet showers, or even for the tender solicitude of their principal ? Were they not flitting home as birds to their nests, where all would be snug and warm, bright and joyous ? They had hardly time to reply to her, so full were they of anticipations of a merry Christmas. For the time being they were willing to forget the school and all belonging to it. Bell Burnett-the last of the girls -a bright, black-eyed little gipsy, ran into the room with her wraps on her arm. " I'm going now, Miss Austin," said she-in her excitement-presenting the tip? qf'- . bar y to?b kised" My r , a;Tombans epqitie pony ,cami ge" for'me;" an" "o'glad to go aWaiy, and P Iish'itheholid ysi ere ten times as long. Careless words, not meant for un kindness, but Mildred felt keenly both the words and the manner. She had nursed Bell through a.sharp and serve illness during the last term, watched over her by night and day with a care equal to a mother's, and now the child had rushed off, gay and smiling, as eager to escape as a prisoner from his cell. Mildred stood at the window, watch ed the carriage drive away down the muddy street, and quick tears came to her eyes. She dashed them away at once, and took herself to task. "I must be growing silly, I think. Why should I blame my girls for for getting me in their raptures at going home ? Human nature does not much vary, whether in schools or beyond their walls, and to be forgotten seems a natural law in the world's creed." Mildred turned away from the win dow. the driving sleet was falling faster than ever, and the wind was keeping up a dismal monotone as it sighed round the corners. She went into the inner sitting-room, that was a degree more dreary than the schoolroom, for it was smaller and contained the furniture she had purchased with the " goodwill " of the school. Chairs and sofa were covered with cinder-coloured damask, carpet to match, and the wall-paper was of that peculiar tint of brown that no amount of light will brighten. Mildred gave a shudder as she thought of the dreary Christmastide she must spend alone in that now desert ed house, and then she turned thelamp higher, poked the fire, drew a large desk towards her, and determined to drive away sentimental thoughts by setting hard to work. Hard work, in every sense of the word. She essayed to add up her ex penses during the past year, the incom ing profits, and to discover whether the purchase of the "Select Ladies' School" was proving a success or otherwise. And the deeper Mildred went into her accounts the more she became convinced that it was NOT paying well, and unless more pupils came it would prove a total failure. The lady from whom she had taken the school had been guilty of a kind of tacit deceit, for she had never even mentioned that it was fast going down, or that Mrs..Day had opened an estab lishment in Hsdleigh, that had for some time past been rather too successful in enticing away pupils from the older establi-hment. Mrs. Day had taken a large house in the fashionable part of the town, and with much pomp, show, and dash was making a name and fame for herself Did shte not keep a carriage, in which she frequently took out favorite pupils to drive with her ? and had she not two saddle horses in the stable, on which the girls took turns to ride. Besides, her concerts were stylish in the extreme. The young ladies beauti fully dressed, assisted by amateur per formers, sang glees, part songs, and duets. To get tickets for these con certs, BEadleigh people would go through any amount of contrivance, and shift, and meanness to win Mr.. Day's favor, and it was quite fashionable to be seen there. So it had been uphill work with Mil. dred from the very first. To win back favour to a school when it is fast falling off isno easy task, and now she was beginning to realise that her efforts were unsuccessful-tle select school proving a failure. So engrossed was Mildred in her abstruse calculations, so dee'ply and direfully interested in the totals, that she never heard the sound of carriage wheels driving rapidly through the muddy streets, and then stopping before the gate of Hadleigh House. She never heard steps in the hall outside, so she started a little with surprise when the servant suddenly announced "Miss Beresford." Mildred knew the young lady quite well by sight, for she had often seen her in church, and had met her riding and driving in the town, but she had never been introduced to her. She was the only daughter of Squire Beresford, of Hadleigh Hall, a very pretty girl of seventeen, with merry blue eyes, light hair, and a rosebod of a month that seemed formed for smiles and pleasant words. She came in dressed in rich velvet and fure, making the small dingy room look smaller, more dingy than ever, by contrast with her bright presence. Mildred for the moment felt pain folly conscious she had pushed her hair back most ungracefully from her throb bing brow, that her collar was awry, the fire dull and low, and that the table, floor, and chairs were strewed with bills, scholars' accounts, ledgers, sheets of roughly added-up figures, and torn scrape of paper. (To be continued).