Chapter XVII. The Collision.
 

It was a blessing to Lulu at this time that she had such a friend as Evelyn Leland constantly at her side in the schoolroom and on the playground. Their mutual affection grew and strengthened day by day. Eva was most anxious to be a true and helpful friend to her dear Lulu; and how could she better prove herself such than by assisting her to conquer in the fight with her fiery temper which had so often got her into sore trouble?

Evelyn set herself earnestly to the task; urged Lulu to renewed efforts, encouraged her after every failure with assurances of final victory if she would but persevere in the conflict; also was ever on the watch to warn her of threatening danger.

Did she see anger begin to flash from Lulu's eye or deepen the color on her cheek, she would remind her of her good resolutions by an entreating look or a gentle touch or pressure of her hand.

She thus warded off many an outburst of passion, and Lulu, like the others, was able each week to carry home a good report of conduct; of lessons also, for she was much interested in her studies, very ambitious to excel, and therefore very industrious and painstaking.

All went well for the five or six weeks between their entrance into the school and the Christmas holidays.

The older people were careful to make that holiday week a merry time for the children. Each one received numerous beautiful gifts, and visits were exchanged with the families of Magnolia Hall and the parsonage.

Scarcely ever a day passed in which there was not more or less intercourse between the three families, but at this holiday time there were special invitations and more than ordinary festivity.

Then, the holidays over, it was a little difficult to settle down again to work and study; the children, and probably the teachers also, found it so. However that may have been, there was certainly more than usual friction in the working of the school machinery: the teachers reproached the scholars with want of attention and lack of industry, and the latter grumbled to each other that the professor and Miss Diana snubbed them, and Mrs. Manton and the French teacher wasted neither patience nor politeness upon them.

Also those whose turn it was to take a music-lesson reported Signor Foresti as unbearable, testy, and fault-finding.

Fortunately Lulu was not of the number, but her respite was only for a day, and her heart sank as she thought of the danger of a collision between him and herself.

She thoroughly disliked him, but hitherto had been able to control herself and avoid any clashing of her temper with his; and it had not always been an easy thing for her to do, he having bestowed upon her many a sharp word which she felt to be altogether undeserved.

She gave herself great credit for her continued forbearance, and thought she could not reasonably be expected to exercise it much longer, yet knew that failure would entail dire consequences.

Evelyn knew all about it, and trembled for her friend.

"Oh, Lu," she said, when they found themselves alone together at home on the evening of that first day after their return to school duties, "do let us make up our minds to bear and forbear to-morrow when we take our music-lessons, and not give Signor Foresti the pleasure of seeing that we care for his crossness."

"Indeed," cried Lulu, "I've put up with enough of it; and I'll be apt to tell him so if he's much worse than usual."

"Oh, Lu, don't!" entreated Evelyn; "you have borne so splendidly with him, and what a pity it would be to spoil it now by giving way to impatience!"

"Yes; but I can't bear everything. I'm only astonished at myself for having put up with so much. I don't believe I ever should if it hadn't been for your help, Eva."

"I'm very glad if I have been of any assistance to you, dear Lulu," Evelyn answered, with a look of pleasure; "and oh, I should like to help you to go on as you have begun."

"Well, if I don't it will be his fault; it would take the patience of a saint to bear forever with his injustice and ill-temper. I know I have a bad temper, but I'm sure his is a great deal worse."

"I do really think it is, Lu; but other people having worse faults doesn't make ours any better. Besides, do you suppose he has had as good religious teaching as you and I?"

"No; of course not. But I never thought of that before. He's a man, though, and a man ought to be expected to have better control of himself than a little girl."

Evelyn and Lulu took their music-lessons on the same day of the week, Evelyn first, Lulu immediately after.

They met the next day at the door of the music-room, the one coming out, the other just about to enter.

Evelyn was looking pale and agitated, Lulu flushed and angry, having been scolded--unjustly, she thought--by Miss Diana, who accused her of slighting a drawing with which she had really taken great pains.

"Oh, Lu, do be careful; the slightest mistake angers him to-day," whispered Evelyn in passing.

"It always does," said Lulu, gloomily.

"But you will be on your guard?" Lulu nodded, and stepped into the room with a "Good-morning, signor."

"Good-morning, mees; you are von leetle moment too late."

Deigning no reply to that, Lulu took possession of the piano-stool, spread out her music and began playing.

"Dat ish too fast, mees; you should not make it like to a galop or a valtz," stormed the little man.

Without a word Lulu changed her time, playing very slowly.

"Now you make von funeral-dirge," he cried fiercely. "Play in de true time or I vill--"

"You will what?" she asked coolly, as he paused without finishing his sentence.

"Report you, mees."

She merely flashed a scornful glance at him out of her great dark eyes, and went on with her exercise, really doing her best to play it correctly.

But nothing would please him; he continued to fume and scold till he succeeded in confusing the child so that she blundered sadly.

"You are striking false notes, mees," he roared; "I will not have it!" And with the words a stinging blow from his pointer fell across the fingers of her left hand.

Instantly Lulu was on her feet, white with concentrated passion; the next she had seized the music-book in both hands and dealt her cowardly assailant a blow with it on the side of his head and face that nearly stunned him and gave him a black eye for a week.

At the same moment the piano-stool came down upon the floor with a crash, upset by her in whirling round to reach him, and before he knew what had happened she was out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Never had she been in a greater fury of passion. She rushed out into the grounds and paced rapidly to and fro for several minutes, trying to regain sufficient calmness to dare venture into the schoolroom; not caring to appear there either for some minutes, as the hour for her music-lesson had not yet fully expired.

When she thought it had, she went quietly in and took her accustomed seat.

Miss Diana was busy with a recitation and took no notice; but Evelyn, glancing at Lulu's flushed face and sparkling eyes, perceived at once that something was wrong with her.

The rules of the school, however, forbade questioning her then, and she could only wait to do so until they should be dismissed.

Another pupil had gone to Signor Foresti a moment before Lulu's entrance into the school-room.

When her hour had expired she came back with a face full of excitement and curiosity. She glanced eagerly, inquiringly at Lulu, then turning to Miss Diana said, "Signor Foresti says Miss Raymond did not finish her lesson, and he wishes her to come back and do it now."

"Singular!" remarked Miss Diana, elevating her eyebrows. "Do you hear, Miss Raymond? You can go."

"I do not wish to go, Miss Diana," replied Lulu, steadying her voice with some difficulty.

"Indeed! that has nothing to do with it, and you will please go at once."

Lulu sat still in her seat with a look of stubborn determination on her face.

"Do you hear, Miss Raymond?" asked the teacher, raising her voice to a higher key.

"Yes, ma'am; but I shall never take another lesson from that man."

"And why not, pray?"

"Because he is not a gentleman."

Miss Diana looked utterly astonished. "Well, really!" she exclaimed at length. "I shall not discuss that point with you at present, but it has nothing to with the matter in hand. Will you be pleased to go and finish your music-lesson?"

"No, ma'am; I have said I shall never be taught by him again; and I am not one to break my word," concluded Lulu, loftily.

"Very well, miss; we will see what my father has to say to that."

She stepped to the door and summoned him.

He came, marching in with his most pompous air, and glancing frowningly around, inquired what was wanted.

A great hush had fallen on the room; there was not a whisper, not a movement; eyes and ears were intent upon seeing and hearing all that should pass.

Miss Diana, glancing from her father to Lulu, drew herself up haughtily and replied, "Miss Raymond refuses obedience to orders."

"Indeed!" he said, his frown growing darker and expending itself entirely upon the culprit. "How is that? What were the orders, and what reason does she assign for refusing obedience?"

"The signor sent word that she had not finished her music-lesson, and that he desired her to return and do so. I directed her to obey the summons, and she flatly refused; giving as her only reason that he was not a gentleman."

"Not a gentleman!" repeated the professor in accents of astonishment and indignation--"not a gentleman! In making such an assertion, young miss, you insult not the signor merely, but myself also; since it was I who engaged him to give instruction in music to the pupils of this establishment. Pray, miss, on what do you found your most absurd opinion?"

"Upon his conduct, sir," replied Lulu, returning the man's stare unblenchingly, while her cheeks reddened and her eyes flashed with anger; "he has treated me to-day as no gentleman would ever treat a lady or a little girl."

"How?"

"Scolding and storming when I was doing my very best, and going on to actually strike me--me whom he was forbidden from the very first ever to strike. Both Grandpa Dinsmore and Grandma Elsie--I mean Mrs. Travilla--forbade it when they put me in his class; for I had told them I wouldn't be taught by him if he was allowed to treat me so; and they said he should not."

"Ah! he should not have done so; I do not allow girls to be punished in that manner here. I shall speak to the signor about it. But you will go and finish your lesson."

Lulu made no movement to obey, no reply except a look that said plainly that she had no intention of obeying.

"Did you hear me, miss?" he asked wrathfully.

"I did; but I have already said several times that I would never be taught by that man again."

He made a step toward her and a threatening gesture, but paused, seemed to consider a moment, then saying, "We will see what your guardians have to say about that," turned and left the room.

Every one seemed to draw a long breath of relief, and smiles, nods, and significant glances were exchanged.

"The hour for the closing of school has arrived, young ladies, and you are dismissed," said Miss Diana; and she also sailed from the room.

Instantly the girls, some twenty in number, flocked about Lulu with eager, excited exclamations and questions.

"Did he really strike you, Lu?"

"How did you take it?"

"I hope you returned the blow? I certainly shall if ever he dares to lift his hand to me." This from a haughty-looking brunette of fourteen or fifteen.

"Brings it down, you mean, with a snap of his pointer on your fingers," laughed a merry little girl with golden hair and big blue eyes.

Neither Rosie nor Evelyn had spoken as yet, though the one was standing, the other sitting, close at Lulu's side.

Lulu's left hand lay in her lap, her handkerchief wrapped loosely about it. Eva gently removed the handkerchief, and tears sprang to her eyes at sight of the wounded fingers.

"Oh, Lu!" she cried in accents of love and pity, "how he has hurt you!"

A shower of exclamations followed from the others. "Hasn't he? the vile wretch!"

"Cruel monster! worst of savages! He ought to be flogged within an inch of his life!"

"He ought to be shot down like a dog!"

"He ought to be hung!"

"It's a very great shame," said Rosie, putting her arm affectionately round Lulu's neck. "I hope grandpa will have him arrested and sent to prison."

"But oh, Lu," cried Nettie Vance, the one who had brought the signor's message, "do tell me, didn't you strike him back? He looked as if he had had a pretty heavy blow on the side of his face."

"So he had; as hard a one as I could give with the music-book in both hands," replied Lulu, smiling grimly at the recollection.

Her statement was received with peals of laughter, clapping of hands and cries of,

"Good for you, Miss Raymond!"

"Oh, but I'm glad he got his deserts for once!"

"I think he'll be apt to keep his hands--or rather his pointer--off you in the future."

"Off other people too," added a timid little girl who had felt its sting more than once. "I was rejoiced to hear the professor say he didn't allow such punishment for girls. I'll let the signor know, and that I'll inform on him if ever he touches me with his pointer again."

"So should I," said Nettie; "I wouldn't put up with it. But he has never hurt you as he has Lulu. See! every one of her fingers is blistered!"

"Yes; it must have hurt terribly. I don't wonder she struck him back."

"Indeed, it wasn't the pain I cared so much for," returned Lulu, scorning the implication; "it was the insult."

"Young ladies," said a severely reproving voice behind them, "why are you tarrying here? It is high time you were all on your homeward way. Miss Rosie Travilla, Miss Evelyn Leland, and Miss Raymond, the Viamede carriage has been in waiting for the last half-hour."

The speaker was no other than Mrs. Manton, who had entered unperceived by them in their excitement.

No one replied to her rebuke, but there was a sudden scurrying into the cloak-room, followed by a hasty donning of hats and wraps.

Rosie brought up the rear, muttering, as she drew out and glanced at a pretty little watch, "Hardly so long as that, I am sure!"

"Ah, you can't expect perfect accuracy under such trying circumstances," laughed Nettie Vance.

"Wait, Lu," said Evelyn, softly; "let me help you with your cloak, or you will be sure to hurt those poor fingers."

"How kind you are, Eva!" whispered Lulu, her face lighting up with pleasure as she accepted the offer; "how good to me! Oh, it is nice to have such a friend as you!"