Chapter I

It was growing dark in the empty class-room, but there was nothing left to do, and the French mistress, sitting alone at her high desk, made no move to turn on the light. All the lesson books were packed away out of sight. There was not so much as a stray pencil trespassing upon that desert of orderliness. Only the waste-paper basket, standing behind Mademoiselle Treves's chair, gave evidence of the tempest of energy that had preceded this empty calm in the midst of which she sat alone. It was crammed to overflowing with torn exercise books, and all manner of schoolgirls' rubbish, and now and then it creaked eerily in the desolate silence as though at the touch of an invisible hand.

It was very cold in the great room, for the fire had gone out long ago. There was no one left to enjoy it except mademoiselle, who apparently did not count. For most of the pupils had departed in the morning, and those who were left were collected in the great hall speeding one after another upon their homeward way. All day the wheels of cabs had crunched the gravel below the class-room window, but they were not so audible now, for the ground was thickly covered with snow, which had been drearily falling throughout the afternoon.

It lay piled upon the window-sill, casting a ghostly light into the darkening room, vaguely outlining the slender figure that sat so still before the high desk.

Another cab-load of laughing girls was just passing out at the gate. There could not be many left. The darkness increased, and mademoiselle drew a quick breath and shivered. She wished the departures were all over.

There came a light step in the passage, and a daring whistle, which broke off short as a hand impetuously opened the class-room door.

"Why, mademoiselle!" cried a fresh young voice. "Why, cherie!" Warm arms encircled the lonely figure, and eager lips pressed the cold face. "Oh, cherie, don't grizzle!" besought the newcomer. "Why, I've never known you do such a thing before. Have you been here all this time? I've been looking for you all over the place. I couldn't leave without one more good-bye. And see here, cherie, you must--you must--come to my birthday-party on New Year's Eve. If you won't come and stay with me, which I do think you might, you must come down for that one night. It's no distance, you know. And it's only a children's show. There won't be any grown-ups except my cousin Reggie, who is the sweetest man in the world, and Mummy's Admiral who comes next. Say you will, cherie, for I shall be sixteen--just think of it!--and I do want you to be there. You will, won't you? Come, promise!"

It was hard to refuse this petitioner, so warmly fascinating was she. Mademoiselle, who, it was well known, never accepted any invitations, hesitated for the first time--and was lost.

"If I came just for that one evening then, Gwen, you would not press me to stay longer?"

"Bless you, no!" declared Gwen. "I'll drive you to the station myself in Mummy's car to catch the first train next morning, if you'll come. And I'll make Reggie come too. You'll just love Reggie, cherie. He's my exact ideal of what a man ought to be--the best friend I have, next to you. Well, it's a bargain then, isn't it? You'll come and help dance with the kids--you promise? That's my own sweet cherie! And now you mustn't grizzle here in the dark any longer. I believe my cab is at the door. Come down and see me off, won't you?"

Yet again she was irresistible. They went out together, hand in hand, happy child and lonely woman, and the door of the deserted class-room banged with a desolate echoing behind them.