Though the College only opened on Tuesday afternoon, the short remainder of the week seemed enormously long to Ingred. Her form mates were the same, but everything else was absolutely changed; she might have been at a new school. She appreciated the convenient arrangements of the handsome building: the lecture-hall, with its stained-glass window and polished floor, the airy classrooms, the studio with its facilities for every kind of art work, the three music-rooms, the laboratory, the gymnasium, and, last but not least, the hostel. Ingred had never before been a boarder, and she had not expected to like the experience, but there is a subtle charm in community life that infects everybody with “the spirit of the hive,” and in spite of herself she began to be interested in the particular set of faces that met round the table for meals. The greater part of the girls were in the middle and lower school, but there were a few members of the Sixth, who sat next to Mrs. Best, the matron, and Nurse Warner, and looked with superior eyes on the crowd of intermediates and juniors. To have secured such congenial roommates was an asset for which she could not be sufficiently thankful. Whatever troubles might await her downstairs, it was a comfort to know that she had three allies ready to flock to her support. She had not known any of them well in the past, but as they seemed prepared to offer their friendship, she also was ready to act the part of chum. By exchanging desks with Linda Slater, she managed to secure a seat next to Verity in school, and entered into an arrangement with her that they should supply the missing gaps in each other’s notes, for Miss Strong often lectured so rapidly that it was impossible to keep up with her.

“I wish I knew shorthand,” grumbled Ingred, comparing scribbles with Verity as the girls tidied their hair for tea. “How anybody’s expected to get down all Miss Strong tells us, I can’t imagine! It’s impossible.”

“I don’t try,” admitted Fil. “At least I do try⁠—I put a bit here and there, but I write so slowly, I’m only halfway through before she’s bounced on to something else, and I’ve missed the beginning of it. I have to stop, too, sometimes, to think how to spell the words.”

The others laughed, for Fil’s spelling was proverbial in the form, and was often of a purely phonetic character. Miss Strong had periodical crusades to improve it, but generally gave them up as a bad job, and recommended constant use of a dictionary instead.

“Though you can’t go about the world with a dictionary perpetually under your arm,” she had remarked on the last occasion. “If you have to write a letter in a hurry, and you begin ‘Dear Maddam’ and end ‘Yours trueley’⁠—well! Please don’t let anybody know you’ve been educated here, that’s all, or it will be a poor advertisement for the College!”

Ingred was not at all delighted to be still in Miss Strong’s form. She only moderately liked this mistress. Undoubtedly Miss Strong was a clever teacher, but sarcasm was one of her favorite weapons of discipline. Some of the girls did not mind it, indeed thought it rather amusing, even when directed against themselves, and enjoyed it hugely when someone else was the victim of the sally. Ingred, however, proud and sensitive, writhed under the attacks of Miss Strong’s sharp tongue, and would often have preferred a punishment to a witticism. As a matter of fact, the mistress rarely gave punishments, and was proud of her ability to control her form without resorting to them. She was short in stature, but made up in spirit for her lack of inches, and would fix her dark eyes on offenders against discipline with the personal magnetism of a circus trainer or a leopard-tamer. Schoolgirls are irreverent beings, and though to her face her pupils showed her all respect, behind her back they spoke of her familiarly as “The Bantam,” in allusion to her small size but plucky disposition, or sometimes, in reference to her sarcastic powers, as “The Sark,” which by general custom became “The Snark.” On the whole Miss Strong’s pithy, racy, humorous style of teaching made her a far greater favorite than mistresses of duller caliber. She had a remarkable faculty for getting work out of the most unwilling brains. Her form always made excellent progress, and she had a reputation for obtaining record successes in examinations. To judge from the first few days of term, she meant to keep up her standard of efficiency. Miss Burd had mapped out a heavy timetable for Va, and it was Miss Strong’s business to see that the girls got through it. Of course they grumbled. After the long weeks of the summer holidays it was doubly difficult to apply their minds to lessons, and set to work in the evenings to perform the enormous amount of preparation demanded from them. To some the task was well-nigh impossible, and poor Fil would send in very imperfect exercises, but others, Ingred and Verity among the number, had ambitions, and boosted up the record of the form.

It was after a most strenuous few days that Ingred came to the close of the first week of the new term, and, taking her books and handbag, started off to spend the weekend at home. She left the College with a feeling of intense relief. She had dreaded the return there, and the confession of her altered circumstances. It had not proved quite so disagreeable an ordeal as she had anticipated, for, after the first expressions of surprise, nobody had referred again to Rotherwood; yet Ingred, on the lookout for slights, imagined that she was not treated with as much consideration as formerly. Avis Marlowe and Jess Howard had hardly spoken to her, and, though the omission was probably owing to sheer lack of time or opportunity, she chose to set it down to a desire to show her the cold shoulder.

“Now I have no parties to offer them, they don’t care about me!” she thought bitterly. “They’ll hunt about till they find somebody else who’s likely to act entertainer.”

Fortunately, as Ingred stepped out of the College on that first Friday afternoon, the fresh breeze and the bright September sunshine blew away the cobwebs, and sent her almost dancing down the street. She had a naturally buoyant disposition, and her uppermost thought was: “I’m going home! I’m going home! Hurrah!”

The journey was really quite a little business. She had to take a tram to the Waterstoke terminus, then change on to a light electric railway that ran along the roadside for seven miles to Wynch-on-the-Wold. Grovebury, an old town that dated back to medieval times, lay in a deep hollow among a rampart of hills, so that, in whatever direction you left it, you were obliged to climb. The scenery was very beautiful, for trees edged the river, and clothed the slopes till they gave way to the gorse and heather of the wild moorlands. Wynch-on-the-Wold was a hamlet which, since the opening of the electric railway, was just beginning to turn into a suburb of Grovebury. Close to the terminus neat villas had sprung up like mushrooms; there were a few shops and a branch post office, and a brass plate to the effect that Dr. Whittaker had consulting hours twice a week. Tradesmen’s carts drove out constantly, and the electric railway did quite a little business in the conveyance of parcels.

Wynchcote, the house where the Saxons had retired to try their scheme of retrenchment, lay at some little distance beyond the terminus, and might be considered the outpost of the new suburb. It was a small, picturesque modern bungalow; Mr. Saxon had built it as an architectural experiment, intending it for a sort of model country cottage. The tenants who had occupied it during the period of the war had just returned to Scotland, so, as it was vacant, it had seemed a convenient place in which to settle. It was near enough to Grovebury to allow him to attend his office, and far enough away to cut them adrift from old associations. After four and a half years of war work, Mrs. Saxon wanted a complete rest from committees, crèches, canteens, and recreation huts, and would be glad to urge the excuse of distance to those who appealed for her help. Perhaps also she felt that in their straitened circumstances it was wiser to live where they could not enter into social competition with their former acquaintances.

“I just want to be quiet, to attend to my family, and to enjoy the moors and our garden,” she declared. “I believe I’m going to be very happy at Wynchcote.”

Though it was small, the bungalow was admirably planned, and had many advantages. The view from its French window was one of the finest in the district, and it faced a magnificent gorge, wild, rocky, and thickly wooded, at the bottom of which wound the silver river that ran through Grovebury. Civilization, in the shape of fields and hedges, stretched out fingers as far as Wynchcote, and there stopped abruptly. Past the bungalow lay the open wold with miles of heather, gorse, and bracken, and a road edged with low, grassy fern-covered banks instead of walls. The air blew freshly up here, and was far more bracing and healthy than down in the hollow of Grovebury. The residents of the new suburb affected seaside fashions, and went their moorland walks without hats or gloves.

Ingred was joined in the tramcar by Hereward, who attended the King George’s School, and made the journey daily.

“Getting quite used to it now!” he assured his sister airily. “I had a terrific run yesterday for the train, but I caught it! There’s another fellow in our form living up here, so we generally go together⁠—Scampton, that chap in the cricket cap standing by the door. He’s A1. He won’t come near now, though, because he says he’s terrified of girls. He’s going to give me a rabbit, and I shall make a hutch for it out of one of those packing-cases. See, I’ve bought a piece of wire-netting for the door. There’s heaps of room at the bottom of the garden. I believe I’ll ask him to bring it over after tea.”

“But the hutch isn’t ready,” objected Ingred.

“Oh, that won’t matter! I can keep it in a packing-case for a day or two.”

When Ingred and Hereward reached home they found that tea had been set out on the patch of grass under the apple trees, and Mother and Quenrede were sitting sewing and waiting for them. It was one of those beautiful September days when the air seems almost as warm as in August, and with the clock still at summer time, the sun had not climbed very far down the valley. The garden, where Mother and Quenrede had been working busily all the afternoon, was gay with nasturtiums and asters, and overhead hung a crop of the rosiest apples ever seen. Minx, the Persian cat, wandered round, waving a stately tail and mewing plaintively for her saucer of milk. Derry, the fox terrier, barked an enthusiastic greeting.

“Come along, you poor starving wanderers!” said Mrs. Saxon. “The kettle’s boiling, and we’ll make the tea in half a moment. Isn’t it glorious here? Queenie and I have been digging up potatoes, and we quite enjoyed it. We felt exactly as if we were ‘on the land.’ How is your cold, Hereward? Ingred, you look tired, child! Sit down and rest while Queenie fetches the teapot.”

Ingred sank into a garden-chair with much satisfaction. Wynchcote might not be Rotherwood, but it looked an uncommonly pretty little place in the September sunshine. To live there would be like a perpetual picnic. Mother and Queenie looked so complacently smiling that it seemed impossible to grouse, especially with newly-baked scones and rock-cakes on the tea-table.

The men kind of the family had not yet returned home. Mr. Saxon and Egbert rarely left their office before six, and Athelstane had that day gone over to Birkshaw on the motor-bicycle, to arrange about the medical course which he was to take at the University. There was plenty of news, however, to be exchanged. Ingred had to give a full account of her experiences at school and hostel, and to hear in return the various achievements in the shape of home-carpentry, mending, making, and altering which are always an essential part of settling into a new establishment.

“I hardly feel I’ve been round the estate properly yet,” she said, when tea was over, and she sat leaning back lazily in her deck-chair, with Minx purring upon her knee.

“Then come and lend me a hand with my rabbit-hutch,” suggested Hereward. “Put down that wretched pampered beast of a cat, for goodness sake! If it gets at my new rabbit, I’ll finish it! Yes, I will! I’ll hang it or drown it! Get along, you brute!”

Hereward’s bloodthirsty remarks were ignored by Minx, who, finding herself dropped from Ingred’s lap, took a flying run up his back, and settled herself on his shoulder, rubbing her head into his neck. He scratched her under the chin, swung her gently down, and shook a reproving finger at her.

“Don’t try to come round me with your blarneyings, you siren!” he declared. “Who was it ate my goldfinch? Yes, you may well look guilty! Don’t blink your eyes at me like that! I haven’t forgiven you yet, and I don’t think I ever shall. Ingred, old sport, are you coming to help me, or are you not? I want someone to hold the wire.”

“All right, Uncle Podger, I’ll come and ‘podge’ for you,” laughed Ingred. “Don’t hammer my fingers, that’s all I bargain for. Wait a moment till I get my overall. Your joinering performances are apt to be somewhat grubby and messy.”

There was quite a good garden at the back of the bungalow, with rows of vegetables and gooseberry bushes and fruit-trees. At the end was a wooden shed where the motor-bicycle was kept, and a small wired enclosure originally made for hens.

“It’s exactly the place for rabbits, when I get a hutch for them,” explained Hereward, putting down his box of tools, and turning over the packing-case with a professional eye. “Now a wooden frame covered with wire, and a pair of hinges will just do the job. I can saw these pieces to fit. Hold the wood steady, that’s a mascot!”

The two were kneeling on the ground by the side of the packing-case, much absorbed in the process of exact measurements, when suddenly there was a rustling and a scrambling noise, and on the wall close to them appeared a collie dog, growling, snarling, and showing its teeth. Ingred sprang to her feet in alarm. Wynchcote was so retired that they had scarcely realized that its garden adjoined the garden of another house. The collie must have jumped up on to the dividing wall, and, being an ill-tempered beast, did not use proper discrimination between neighbors and tramps.

“Shoo! Get away!” urged Ingred, with rather shaking knees.

“Be off, you ill-mannered brute!” shouted Hereward.

The dog, however, appeared to think the wall was his own special property, and that it was his business to drive them away from their own garden. It continued to bark and snarl. Now, as Hereward wished to fix the rabbit-hutch in exactly the spot over which the creature had mounted guard, he was naturally much annoyed, and sought for some ready means of dislodging it from its point of vantage. He did not relish the prospect of being bitten, so did not want to engage it at close quarters, and no pole or other weapon lay handy.

Looking hastily round, his eye fell upon the garden-syringe with which Athelstane sometimes cleaned the motor-bicycle. It had been left, with a bucket of water, outside the shed. He drew out the piston, filled the syringe, then discharged its contents straight at the dog. But at that most unlucky moment a quick change took place on the wall; the collie retired in favor of his master, and the stream of water charged full into the astonished countenance of a precise and elderly gentleman from next door. For a few moments there was a ghastly silence, while he wiped his face and recovered his dignity. Then he demanded in withering tones:

“May I ask what is the meaning of this?”

Ingred and Hereward, overwhelmed with confusion, stuttered out apologies and explanations. The old gentleman listened with his busy gray eyebrows knitted and his mouth pursed into a thin line.

“I shall immediately take steps to ensure that my dog has no further opportunities of annoying you,” he remarked stiffly, and took his departure.

“Who is he?” whispered Ingred, as the footsteps on the other side of the wall shuffled away.

“His name’s Mr. Hardcastle. He’s retired, and lives there with a housekeeper. Great Scot! I’ve put my foot in it, haven’t I? Who’d have thought he was just going to pop his head up? Dad was going to ask him to lend us his garden-roller, but it’s no use now. I expect I’ve made an enemy of him for life!”

“I hope he means to keep that savage dog fastened up,” said Ingred. “It’s a horrid idea to think that it may, any time, pounce over the wall at us. It’s like having a wolf loose in the garden.”

As a matter of fact, Mr. Hardcastle kept his word in a way that the Saxons least anticipated. Instead of chaining the dog, he had a tall wooden paling erected along the top of the wall, making an effectual barrier between the two gardens. It was not a beautiful object, and it cut off the sunshine from a whole long flowerbed; so, though it insured privacy, it might be regarded as a doubtful benefit for the bungalow.

“It makes one feel so suburban,” mourned Quenrede.

“We shan’t be visible, at any rate, when we’re digging potatoes,” laughed Mrs. Saxon, “and that’s a great point to me, for I’m past the age that looks fascinating in an overall. If we’ve Suburbia on one side of us, we’ve the open moor on the other, which is something to be thankful for.”

“Yes, until it’s sold in building plots,” sighed Quenrede, who was in a fit of blues, and unwilling to count up her blessings.