In Hamchester College the headmaster, Dr. Wentworth, like other
headmasters, is a much criticised man. He has his partisans, he has
also his detractors. Were an angel from heaven to descend and become
headmaster of a large public school he would find plenty of adverse
critics, and these were by no means lacking to Dr. Wentworth. But about
his wife, there were no two opinions. Six hundred boys and all the
masters agreed in thinking her perfectly delightful. So kind was she,
so friendly, so simple and believing in the good intentions of others,
that quite curmudgeony people melted into amiability in the sunshine of
her presence. Perhaps one of the boys best summed up her mysterious
charm when he said, “She doesn’t try to be nice to a chap, she just _is_
nice; and there’s such a difference.”
Therefore when Tony, having sat in her drawing-room for five minutes,
prepared to depart–not without misgivings as to how Lallie would take
it–that damsel nodded at him coolly, without so much as a supplicating
glance after his retreating form, and when he had gone she turned to her
hostess with a little laugh that ended in a sigh.
“Poor man,” she said, “I’m afraid I’m a regular white elephant to him
just now; but I can’t make myself invisible, can I?”
“I think we’d all be very sorry if you were invisible. Come now, and
see my chicks,” and kind Mrs. Wentworth led Lallie upstairs and down a
long passage to a big sunny room where two little girls sat painting at
“This is Pris and this is Prue, and that over there is Punch!” Mrs.
Wentworth said, indicating her offsprings.
Pris and Prue lifted small flushed faces from their artistic efforts,
and surveyed Lallie with large solemn eyes, and each held out a small
hand liberally besmeared with Prussian blue.
“How do you do?” said Pris politely. “I’m seven; how old are you?”
“I’m six,” added Prue.
Punch, a rolly-polly person who was apparently engaged in dismembering a
woolly lamb, remarked loudly and distinctly, “I’m a boy.”
“May I paint?” asked Lallie.
“Oh, do, you can have my seat for a bit. You might do some legs; they
run over so, somehow, with me.”
Lallie sat down in front of Prue’s picture, which was an elaborate
_Graphic_ illustration of the “Relief of Ladysmith.”
“I’m sure Sir George White’s tunic was not pink,” Lallie objected.
“They wore khaki, you know.”
“I don’t like khaki; it’s the colour of mustard, an’ I hate mustard; my
new sash is pink, an’ I like pink. _My_ soldiers wear pink; you may
paint their legs khaki if you like.”
“It looks very stormy overhead,” Lallie remarked. “Was there a
thunderstorm at the Relief of Ladysmith?”
“My uncle was there,” said Pris, as though that accounted for it.
“I’ll leave you for a few minutes while I write a note,” said Mrs.
Wentworth. “Take care of this young lady; be very kind to her. She has
come to stay with Mr. Bevan, and she’ll come and see you often if you
The moment the door closed behind their mother, regardless of the
protests of their nurse, who was sewing at the window, the children
crowded round Lallie, and all three tried to sit upon her at once.
“Are you _quite_ a grown-up lady?” asked Pris doubtfully.
“No,” said Lallie, “I’m a little girl—-”
“You’re a bit bigger than me,” Prue granted somewhat grudgingly, “but I
thought you weren’t quite grown-up. Punch is only four.”
“I’m a very old four,” Punch maintained.
“Do you think,” asked Prue, “that you could tell us a story?”
“Do I not?” Lallie answered, and in another minute she had the children
absorbed in the legend of that “quiet, decent man, Andrew Coffy”; so
that when her hostess came back to fetch her to lunch Lallie appeared,
as it were, buried beneath the family of Wentworth.
Dr. Wentworth seemed sufficiently awe-inspiring to the outside world,
but his family took a different view of him, and Pris at luncheon
generally addressed her father as “Poor dear,” or spoke of him as “That
Mrs. Wentworth was wont to declare to her intimates that no schoolmaster
could possibly be endurable who was not well sat upon in the bosom of
“Personally,” she said, “I have the greatest admiration for my husband,
and consider him quite an excellent sort of ordinary man; but being a
headmaster, if I didn’t make him positively skip off his pedestal his
sense of proportion would die of inanition.”
Certainly neither Miss Prudence nor Miss Patience Wentworth manifested
the smallest awe of their parent; and Lallie was moved to take his side
in several arguments that ensued during luncheon.
Prue was rosy and brown-eyed, with thick short hair that framed her
round face deliciously. Pris was fair-haired, blue-eyed, with a face
like a monthly rose. Punch’s countenance resembled a full moon, and all
three children were plump and healthy and absolutely good-tempered. In
fact, the whole Wentworth family were rather roundabout, which perhaps
accounted for their amiability. Lallie endeared herself immediately to
Mrs. Wentworth by her extreme popularity with the children. Even the
imperturbable Punch unbent so far as to say: “I like you. You may come
and have dinner with us every day. You speak in such a funny voice.”