With despair -cold, sharp despair- buried deep in her heart
like a wicked knife, Miss Meadows,
in cap and gown and carrying a little
trod the cold corridors that led to the music hall. Girls of all ages, rosy from
the air, and bubbling over with that gleeful excitement that comes from running
to school on a fine autumn morning, hurried, skipped, fluttered by; from the
hollow class-rooms came a quick
drumming of voices; a bell rang; a voice like a
bird cried, "Muriel." And then there came from the staircase a tremendous knock-knock-knocking.
Some one had dropped her
The Science Mistress stopped Miss Meadows.
"Good mor-ning," she cried, in her sweet, affected
it cold? It might be win-ter."
Miss Meadows, hugging the knife, stared in hatred at the
Science Mistress. Everything about her was sweet, pale, like honey. You wold not
have been surprised to see a bee caught in the tangles of that yellow hair.
"It is rather sharp," said Miss Meadows, grimly.
The other smiled her sugary smile.
"You look fro-zen," said she. Her blue eyes opened wide;
there came a mocking light in them. (Had she noticed anything?)
"Oh, not quite as bad as that," said Miss Meadows, and she
gave the Science Mistress, in exchange for her smile, a quick grimace and passed
Forms Four, Five, and Six were assembled in the music hall.
The noise was
deafening. On the platform, by the piano, stood Mary Beazley, Miss
Meadows' favourite, who played accompaniments. She was turning the music
stool. When she saw Miss Meadows she gave a loud, warning "Sh-sh! girls!" and
Miss Meadows, her hands
in her sleeves, the baton under her arm, strode
down the centre aisle, mounted the steps, turned sharply, seized the brass music
stand, planted it in front of her, and gave two sharp taps with her baton for
"Silence, please! Immediately!" and,
looking at nobody, her
glance swept over that sea of coloured flannel blouses, with bobbing pink faces
and hands, quivering butterfly
hair-bows, and music-books outspread. She knew
perfectly well what they were thinking. "Meady is
in a wax." Well, let them
think it! Her eyelids quivered; she tossed her head,
defying them. What could
the thoughts of those creatures matter to some one who stood
there bleeding to death, pierced to the heart, to the heart, by such a letter...
..."I feel more and more strongly that our marriage would be
a mistake. Not that I do not love you. I love you as much as it is possible for
me to love any woman, but,
truth to tell, I have come to the conclusion that I
marrying man, and the idea of
settling down fills me with nothing but--"
and the word "disgust" was scratched out lightly and "regret" written over the
Basil! Miss Meadows
stalked over to the piano. And Mary
Beazley, who was waiting for this moment, bent forward; her
curls fell over her
cheeks while she breathed, "Good morning, Miss Meadows," and she motioned
towards rather than handed to her mistress a beautiful yellow chrysanthemum.
This little ritual of the flower had been gone through
for ages and ages, quite
a term and a half. It was as much part of the lesson as opening the piano. But
this morning, instead of
taking it up, instead of
tucking it into her belt while
she leant over Mary and said, "Thank you, Mary. How very nice! Turn to page
thirty-two," what was Mary's horror when Miss Meadows
totally ignored the
chrysanthemum, made no reply to her greeting, but said in a voice of ice, "Page
fourteen, please, and mark the
Staggering moment! Mary blushed until the tears stood in her
eyes, but Miss Meadows was gone back to the music stand; her voice rang through
the music hall.
"Page fourteen. We will begin with page fourteen. 'A
Now, girls, you ought to know it by this time. We shall take it all together;
not in parts, all together. And without expression. Sing it, though, quite
beating time with the left hand."
She raised the baton; she tapped the music stand twice. Down
came Mary on the opening chord; down came all those left hands, beating the air,
and in chimed those young, mournful voices:
"Fast! Ah, too Fast Fade the Ro-o-ses of Pleasure;
Soon Autumn yields unto Wi-i-nter
Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly Mu-u-sic's Gay Measure
Passes away from the Listening Ear."
Good Heavens, what could be more tragic than that lament!
Every note was a sigh, a
sob, a groan of awful mournfulness. Miss Meadows lifted
her arms in the wide gown and began conducting with both hands. "...I feel more
and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake..." she beat. And the
voices cried: "Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly."
What could have possessed him to write
such a letter! What could have
led up to it!
It came out of nothing. His last
letter had been all about a fumed-oak bookcase he had bought for "our" books,
and a "natty little hall-stand" he had seen, "a very neat affair with a carved
owl on a bracket, holding three hat-brushes in its claws." How she had smiled at
that! So like a man to think one needed three hat-brushes! "From the Listening
Ear," sang the voices.
"Once again," said Miss Meadows. "But this time in parts.
Still without expression." "Fast! Ah, too Fast." With the
gloom of the
contraltos added, one could scarcely
help shuddering. "Fade the Roses of
Pleasure." Last time he had come to see her, Basil had worn a rose in his
buttonhole. How handsome he had looked in that bright blue suit, with that dark
red rose! And he knew it, too. He couldn't help knowing it. First he stroked his
hair, then his moustache; his teeth gleamed when he smiled...
"The headmaster's wife keeps on asking me to dinner. It's a
nuisance. I never get an evening to myself in that place."
"But can't you refuse?"
it doesn't do for a man in my position to be
"Music's Gay Measure,"
wailed the voices. The
outside the high, narrow windows, waved in the wind. They had lost half their
The tiny ones that clung wriggled like fishes caught on a line. "... I am
not a marrying man..." The voices were silent; the piano waited.
"Quite good," said Miss Meadows, but still in such a strange,
stony tone that the younger girls began to feel positively frightened. "But now
that we know it, we shall take it with expression. As much expression as you
can put into it. Think of the words, girls. Use your imaginations. Fast! Ah,
too Fast," cried Miss Meadows. "That ought to break out -a loud, strong
forte- a lament. And then in the second line, 'Winter Drear,' make that
'Drear' sound as
if a cold wind were blowing through it. Dre-ear!" said she so awfully that
Mary Beazley, on the music stool, wriggled her spine. "The third line should be
one crescendo. 'Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly Music's Gay Measure.'
Breaking on the first
word of the last line, Passes. And then on the word, 'Away,' you must begin to
die... to fade... until the listening ear is nothing more than a faint whisper... You
can slow down as much as you like almost on the last line. Now, please."
Again the two light taps; she lifted her arms again. 'Fast!
Fast.' "... and the idea of settling down fills me with nothing but
disgust..." Disgust was what he had written. That was
as good as to say
their engagement was definitely
broken off. Broken off! Their engagement!
People had been surprised enough that she had got engaged. The Science
Mistress would not believe it at first. But nobody had been as surprised
as she. She was thirty. Basil was twenty-five. It had been a miracle,
simply a miracle, to hear him say, as they walked home from church that
very dark night, "You know, somehow or other, I've got fond of you." And
he had taken hold of the end of her ostrich feather
boa. "Passes away from
the Listening Ear."
"Repeat! Repeat!" said Miss Meadows. "More expression, girls!
"Fast! Ah, too Fast." The older girls were crimson; some of
ones began to cry. Big spots of rain blew against the windows, and one
the willows whispering, "... not that I do not love you..."
"But, my darling, if you love me," thought Miss Meadows, "I
don't mind how
much it is. Love me as little as you like." But she knew he didn't love
her. Not to have
cared enough to scratch out that word "disgust," so that
she couldn't read it! "Soon Autumn yields unto Winter Drear." She would
have to leave the school, too. She could never
face the Science Mistress
or the girls after it got known. She would have to disappear somewhere. "Passes away." The voices began to die, to fade, to whisper... to vanish...
Suddenly the door opened. A little girl in blue walked
fussily up the
aisle, hanging her head, biting her lips, and twisting the silver bangle on
her red little wrist. She came up the steps and stood before Miss Meadows.
"Well, Monica, what is it?"
"Oh, if you please, Miss Meadows," said the little girl,
Wyatt wants to see you in
the mistress's room."
"Very well," said Miss Meadows. And she called to the girls,
"I shall put
on your honour to talk quietly while I am away." But they were too
subdued to do anything else. Most of them were blowing their noses.
The corridors were silent and cold; they echoed to Miss
The head mistress sat at her desk. For a moment she did not look up. She
was as usual
disentangling her eyeglasses, which had got caught
in her lace
tie. "Sit down, Miss Meadows," she said
very kindly. And then she picked
up a pink envelope from the
blotting-pad. "I sent for you just now because
this telegram has come for you."
"A telegram for me, Miss Wyatt?"
Basil! He had committed suicide, decided Miss Meadows. Her
hand flew out,
but Miss Wyatt held the telegram back a moment. "I hope it's not bad
news," she said,
so more than kindly. And Miss Meadows
tore it open.
"Pay no attention to letter, must have been mad, bought hat-stand
Basil," she read. She couldn't take her eyes off the telegram.
"I do hope it's nothing very serious," said Miss Wyatt,
"Oh, no, thank you, Miss Wyatt," blushed Miss Meadows. "It's
at all. It's"--and she gave an apologetic little laugh--"it's from my
fiance saying that...saying that--" There was a pause. "I see," said Miss
Wyatt. And another pause. Then--"You've fifteen minutes more of your
class, Miss Meadows, haven't you?"
"Yes, Miss Wyatt." She got up. She half ran towards the door.
"Oh, just one minute, Miss Meadows," said Miss Wyatt. "I must
say I don't
approve of my teachers having telegrams sent to them in school hours,
unless in case of very bad news, such as death," explained Miss Wyatt, "or
a very serious accident, or something to that effect. Good news, Miss
Meadows, will always keep, you know."
On the wings of hope, of love, of joy, Miss Meadows
sped back to the music
up the aisle, up the steps,
over to the piano.
"Page thirty-two, Mary," she said, "page thirty-two," and,
picking up the
yellow chrysanthemum, she held it to her lips to hide her smile. Then she
turned to the girls,
rapped with her baton: "Page thirty-two, girls. Page
"We come here To-day
with Flowers o'erladen,
With Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons
"Stop! Stop!" cried Miss Meadows. "This is awful. This is
And she beamed at her girls. "What's the matter with you all? Think,
girls, think of what you're singing. Use your imaginations. 'With Flowers
o'erladen. Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot.' And 'Congratulate,' Miss Meadows broke off. "Don't look so
doleful, girls. It ought to sound
warm, joyful, eager. 'Congratulate.' Once more. Quickly. All together.
And this time Miss Meadows' voice sounded over all the other
voices - full,
deep, glowing with expression.