said Rhoda, loftily; but she veered away from the subject of games all the same and tackled lessons instead.
“Are you working for any special examination, or just taking it easily?”
“I’m going in for the Oxford Senior in summer. My birthday is so horribly arranged that it comes just one week before the limit. A few days later would give me a year to the good, but as it is it’s my last chance. If I can only scrape through in preliminaries I am not afraid of the rest, but I am hopelessly bad in arithmetic. I add up with all my fingers, and even then the result comes wrong; and when so much depends upon it I know I shall get flurried and be worse than ever.”
“The great thing is to keep cool. If you don’t lose your head, I shouldn’t wonder if the excitement helped you. Say to yourself, ‘Don’t be a fool!’ and makeyourself keep quiet,” quoth Miss Rhoda, with an air of wisdom which evidently impressed her hearers. They glanced first at her and then at each other, and the glance said plainly as words could speak that here was a girl who had strength of mind—a girl who would make her mark in the school!
“I’ll try!” said Kathleen, meekly. “I am terribly anxious about this exam., for if I do well and pass better than any one else in the school I shall get a scholarship of £40 towards next year’s fees. That would be a great help to my parents, for they are poor, and have only sent me here that I may have a chance of getting on and being able to teach some day. I should be so thankful if I could help, for it’s horrid to know the people at home are stinting themselves for your sake. I lie awake at nights imagining that the report is in, and I am first, and then I write a long letter home and tell them about it. Each time I invent a fresh letter, and they are so touching, you can’t think! I cried over one, one night, and Tom came round to see what was the matter. At other times I imagine I’m plucked, and I go cold all over; I think I should die! Never mind, nine months yet! I’ll work like a slave, and if I do fail no one can say it’s my own fault.”
“You won’t fail. Don’t imagine anything so horrible! You will get over your nervousness and do splendidly, and write your letter in real earnest,” cried Dorothy cheerily. “I am going in for the Oxford too, but you need fear no rival in me. I am one of those deadly, uninteresting creatures, who never reach anything but a fair medium. There isn’t a ‘distinction’ in me, and one could never be first at that rate. A scrape-through pass is all I’m good for!”
“I could get two distinctions at once! I know more German and French than ninety girls out of a hundred. Two distinctions! It’s a big start. I wonder—I wonder if I could possibly be first!” said Rhoda to herself, and her breath came fast, and her cheeks grew suddenly hot. “Nine months! Nine months!” If she studied hard, and worked up the subjects on which she was behind, might she not have a chance with the rest? The first girl! Oh, if only it could be possible, what joy, what rapture! What a demonstration of power before the school. She went off into a blissful dream in which she stood apart, receiving the congratulations of Miss Bruce and her staff, and saw Thomasina’s face regarding her with a new expression of awe. Then she came back to real life, to look remorsefully at her new friend, and notice for the first time her pinched and anxious air.