In the dusk of an October evening, a sensible looking woman of forty came out through an oaken door to a broad landing on the first floor of an old English country-house. A braid of her hair had fallen forward as if she had been stooping over book or pen; and she stood for a moment to smooth it, and to gaze contemplatively—not in the least sentimentally—through the tall, narrow window. The sun was setting, but its glories were at the other side of the house; for this window looked eastward, where the landscape of sheepwalks and pasture land was sobering at the approach of darkness.
The lady, like one to whom silence and quiet were luxuries, lingered on the landing for some time. Then she turned towards another door, on which was inscribed, in white letters, Class Room No. 6. Arrested by a whispering above, she paused in the doorway, and looked up the stairs along a broad smooth handrail that swept round in an unbroken curve at each landing, forming an inclined plane from the top to the bottom of the house.
A young voice, apparently mimicking someone, now came from above, saying,
“We will take the Etudes de la Velocite next, if you please, ladies.”
Immediately a girl in a holland dress shot down through space; whirled round the curve with a fearless centrifugal toss of her ankle; and vanished into the darkness beneath. She was followed by a stately girl in green, intently holding her breath as she flew; and also by a large young woman in black, with her lower lip grasped between her teeth, and her fine brown eyes protruding with excitement. Her passage created a miniature tempest which disarranged anew the hair of the lady on the landing, who waited in breathless alarm until two light shocks and a thump announced that the aerial voyagers had landed safely in the hall.
“Oh law!” exclaimed the voice that had spoken before. “Here’s Susan.”
“It’s a mercy your neck ain’t broken,” replied some palpitating female. “I’ll tell of you this time, Miss Wylie; indeed I will. And you, too, Miss Carpenter: I wonder at you not to have more sense at your age and with your size! Miss Wilson can’t help hearing when you come down with a thump like that. You shake the whole house.”
“Oh bother!” said Miss Wylie. “The Lady Abbess takes good care to shut out all the noise we make. Let us—”
“Girls,” said the lady above, calling down quietly, but with ominous distinctness.
Silence and utter confusion ensued. Then came a reply, in a tone of honeyed sweetness, from Miss Wylie:
“Did you call us, dear Miss Wilson?”
“Yes. Come up here, if you please, all three.”