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- Winding Paths - 2/78 -
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 really disgracefully 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 na´ve 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 continually 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 naturally rather worldly-minded and ambitious, whereas you -" She paused.
"Whereas I am a simpleton," suggested Hal, with a mischievous light in her eyes. "Well, 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 still 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, well-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 will lie apart. Both of us will have to be breadwinners at any rate, and that will be a bond."
Her mobile face seemed to change. "Miss Walton, I'm devoted to Lorraine. I always shall 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 will 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 will 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."
If Dudley Pritchard's imagination did not actually picture the lurid and violent descent Hal suggested, it certainly did view with the utmost alarm his lively young sister's friendship with a fully fledged actress.
As a matter of fact, Miss Walton's prognostications concerning his attitude to Lorraine Vivian, even as a schoolgirl, had been instantly confirmed upon their first meeting.
For no particular reason he disapproved of her. That was rather typical of Dudley. He disapproved of a good many things without quite knowing why, or being at any particular pains to find out.
Not that it made him bigoted. He could in fact be fairly tolerant; but as Hal affectionately observed, Dudley was so apt to pat himself on the back for his toleration towards things that it would never have occured to most persons needed tolerating.
She knew perfectly well that he considered himself very tolerant towards much that was to be deprecated in her, but, far from resenting his attitude, she shaw chiefly the humorous side, and managed to glean a good deal of quiet amusement from it.
Considering the fifteen years' difference in their ages, and the fact that Dudley was a hard-working architect in London, seeing life on all sides, while Hal was still a hoydenish schoolgirl, it was really remarkable how thoroughly she grasped and understood his character, and a great deal concerning the world in general, while he seemed to remain at his first decisions concerning her and most things.
It was just perhaps the difference between the book-student and the life-student. Dudley had always had a passion for books and for his profession. His clever brain was a well of knowledge concerning ancient architectures and relics of antiquity. He studied them because he loved them, and, before all things else, to him they seemed worth while.
He loved his sister also - he loved her better than any one, but it would never have occured to him that she should be studied, or that there was anything in her to study. To him she was quite an ordinary girl, rather nice-looking when she was neat, but with a most unfortunate lack of the sedate dignity and discretion that he considered essential to the typically admirable woman.
That there might be other traits in their place, equally admirable, did not occur to him. They ware not at any rate the traits he most admired.
Hal, on the other hand, was different in every respect. She loated books, and learning, and what she called "dead old bones and rubbish." But she loved human nature, and studied in in every phase she could.
Left at a very tender age to Dudley's sole care and protection, she had to grow up without the enfolding, sympathetic love of a mother, or the gay companionship of brothers and sisters. Not in the least depressed, she started off at an early age in quest of adventure to see what the world was like outside the four walls of their home.
Brought back, sometimes by a policeman, with whom she had already become on the friendliest terms, sometimes in a cab in which some one else had placed her, sometimes by a kindly stranger, she would yet slip
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