The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 6: Uninvited Guests

THE LITTLE COLONEL AT BOARDING-SCHOOL
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI.
UNINVITED GUESTS

"THIS is the last day of October," announced Betty, one morning, tearing a leaf from the calendar, as was her habit as soon as she finished dressing. "To-night will be Hallowe'en."

" Do you realize," answered Lloyd, "that we have been at school six whole weeks without doing a single thing we had planned? We have been painfully good. Yestahday when I passed the music-room where Professah Steinwig was giving a violin lesson, I heard him say, 'Ach, you must let down der strings when you have feenish playing. If you keep him keyed to von high pitch alway, some day bif!  He go break!'  That's just the way I feel this morning; that I've been thinking so much about my shadow-self. and the work we've undehtaken for the mountain people, that it's kept me keyed up to too high a pitch of goodness. I've got to let down and get into some sort of mischief, or bif I I'll go break! "

Betty laughed. "Maybe the changes in the atmosphere affect people as well as fiddle-strings, and it is because it's Hallowe'en, and witches are in the air, that you feel so."

It may have been that the faculty were of Betty's opinion, and felt the spell lurking in the atmosphere. Warned by some mysterious "pricking of the thumbs" of coming wickedness, they sought to avert it. It was announced at breakfast that the usual rules would be suspended that night, and that from seven until eleven the resident pupils would be at liberty to observe the customs of Hallowe'en anywhere in the building, and that a spread of nuts, gingerbread, and apples would be furnished in the gymnasium.

"Headed off again!" exclaimed one of the larger girls who sat near Lloyd. "It's good of them to grant us such privileges, but we won't have half the fun that we could have had if they hadn't put us on our honour this way. I had planned to slip out and go over to Julia Ferris's tonight. Some of the cadets from the Lyndon military school are coming up. I wouldn't have hesitated a moment if they had shut down on our having some fun here, but now they've treated us so handsomely, even to furnishing a spread, of course I can't go. Hallowe'en is stupid with just a lot of girls --- the same old set we've been going with straight along."

"We might have a masquerade," suggested Susie Figgs. "That would make us feel as if we were meeting strangers."

The suggestion ran along the table like wild-fire, and was so enthusiastically received that Susie felt herself a public benefactor, and beamed with importance the rest of the day.

"Oh, what shall I go as?" was the despairing question immediately heard in every quarter, for the time was short in which to improvise costumes. The matron was besieged by distracted borrowers with requests for everything, from a blanket for Pocahontas, to a sunshade and watering-pot for "Mistress Mary, quite contrary."

Lloyd's costume cost her little trouble aside from borrowing a horn from one of the children in the neighbourhood; for Mom Beck, coming in with the laundry before school, volunteered her services. In an old chest in the linen-room at Locust were many odds and ends left over from private theatricals and fancy-dress occasions. Mom Beck remembered an old blue velvet skirt that she thought could be made into a suit for Little Boy Blue before night, if Aunt Cindy's daughter would help her with the knickerbockers, and hurried away to begin, carrying Lloyd's measure and a Zouave jacket belonging to one of her summer suits, for a pattern.

From that same chest came a dress and hat which Mrs. Sherman had worn in a tableau years before as a Dresden shepherdess, which transformed Betty into the prettiest little Bo-Peep that could be imagined.

Allison and Kitty, taking advantage of the relaxed rules, slipped up the stairs before going home after school, to look at the costumes lying spread out on Lloyd's bed.

"I think it's a shame that day pupils can't come, too," said Allison, wrathfully. "We're left out all around, for we're not old enough to be invited to Julia Ferris's party. We were going to have a party at our house, but mother and auntie had to go to town to stay all night. Aunt Elise is entertaining some old army officer's wife. So we can't have any fun."

"Don't you think that for a moment!" exclaimed Kitty. "Mrs. Mallard said that Katie might come and stay all night with us. Mother telephoned to her just before she started to town."

A daring thought popped into Lloyd's mind. "Why don't you come to-night? It's a masquerade.  You could slip in heah to our room befoah they unmask, and nobody would evah find out who you were. It couldn't be moah fortunately arranged. Little Elise is in town with yoah mothah, and you could easily slip away from Barbry and the cook. You could sleep in heah with us, and run home early in the mawning befoah anybody was up. I'll unlock the doah at the head of the outside stairs, and you can sneak in back way while we are at suppah."

"Oh, how I'd love to!" began Allison, "but I'm sure that mother and Mrs. Mallard wouldn't like it, and ---"

"Now, Allison," interrupted Kitty, "you know that nobody ever told us not to come, did they? It wouldn't be disobeying unless we'd been forbidden."

"All sorts of larks are allowed on Hallowe'en," urged Lloyd. "Not a soul outside of the Shadow Club will know who you are, and it will be such fun to set everybody to guessing who you are and where you've gone, when you suddenly disappear." 

"Yes, we'll come," said Kitty, seizing Allison by the waist and dancing her toward the door. "I'll take the blame if there is any. Hurry up, old Grandma Prim, we'll have to hustle. We've barely time to run home and eat our supper and get dressed and back here before the affair begins."

Kitty's enthusiasm, like an energetic young whirlwind, swept away every objection her sister could offer, and a few minutes later they were on their way home, eagerly discussing with Katie Mallard what costumes they could get ready in an hour.

Lloyd, who had followed them to the head of the stairs, turned back to her room with a naughty thrill of enjoyment. This escapade would add a spice of excitement to the evening, and she already tingled with the anticipation of it. There was a mischievous smile on her face as she walked down the hail. But it disappeared as she caught the muted sound of some one sobbing. She stood still to listen. It seemed to come front Magnolia Budine's room, the door of which stood ajar.

Since the day that the old autograph-album had been put into her hands, Lloyd had felt a peculiar interest in the child who prayed every night that some day she might "grow nice enough for the Princess to like her." She had showed this interest by many little attentions which kept Magnolia in a flutter of happiness for hours afterward. Although she still coloured with embarrassment to the roots of her flaxen hair when the Princess stooped to speak to her, she no longer choked and swallowed her chewing-gum. In fact, she no longer chewed, since she noticed that the Princess disdained the habit.

It was Elise who confided this fact to Lloyd, and many other things which not only flattered her vanity, but aroused a real affection for the ardent little soul who showed her admiration by copying her in every way possible.

"She looks up to me as I look up to Ida," thought Lloyd. "I ought to be good to the poor little thing."

As she paused an instant in the hall, wondering whether it would be kinder to go in and offer comfort or to go away showing no sign of having overheard her sobs, it suddenly occurred to her what was the cause of Magnolia's grief. Probably she had no costume for the masquerade. Nothing the huge carpet-bag held could be made into one. There was no one to help her, and she felt left out of the Hallowe'en frolic. Lloyd hesitated no longer. The next moment she was wiping Magnolia's eyes, and restoring her to her usual blushing cheerfulness.

"I'll tell you what we'll do" she said. "We'll run over to Clovercroft, and ask Miss Katherine to lend us something. I have to go, anyhow, to borrow a horn. Mrs. Marks told me that I could have one that Buddy left there last summah. He's one of her grandchildren. Miss Katherine is an artist. She has a great big camera in her studio, and takes bettah pictuahs than any professional photographah could, because she thinks of all sorts of beautiful things to pose people for . She gets a medal or a prize every time she places a pictuah on exhibition, and I'm suah she can think of something for you to be."

In such a state of rapture that she felt she must be dreaming, Magnolia followed Lloyd down-stairs to ask the principal's permission to go over to Clovercroft.

"I know a place where there are two pickets loose," said Lloyd, as they hurried across the lawn. "If you can squeeze through the fence we'll save time. Every minute is precious now."

Breathless and panting from their run, the children reached the side door just as the coloured man opened it on his way out for an armful of wood.

"Frazer, we want to see Miss Katherine," announced Lloyd. who was enough at home at Clovercroft to know all the servants.

"She's in the music-room, Miss Lloyd," he answered. "You all kin walk right in."

"Is there any company there? We want to see her alone," said Lloyd, with a dignified air that made Magnolia look at her admiringly.

"No'm, jes' she an' her maw, listenin' to Miss Flora play." He held the door open for them to enter, and motioned toward the music-room door, which stood ajar. A bright fire blazed on the white tiled hearth. On one side sat a gentle, sweet-faced lady in black; "Buddy's grandmother," thought Magnolia, as she noticed her gray hair. On the other side, on a low stool, with her hands clasped over her knees, sat Miss Katherine, looking into the embers. The firelight shone on her red dress, and cast a rosy glow to every part of the cheerful room. Both were listening so intently to the soft nocturne that Miss Flora was playing, that Lloyd's knock made them start with surprise.

"Well, well! It's the Little Colonel!" exclaimed the lady in black, holding out her hand to welcome her. "Come up to the fire, my dear. Both of you." She smiled reassuringly at Magnolia, who leaned against a chair by the door, staring around her with big blue eyes, like a frightened kitten.

Lloyd plunged into her story at once, for the time was too short to stand on ceremony. At the mention of costumes Miss Katherine was all attention, and turned to Magnolia with critical interest.

"Suppose you take her hair out of those tight little tails," she suggested," and let me see how long it is."

Lloyd obeyed instantly, and the soft, light hair, released from its plaits, stood out in a short, frizzy crop, reaching only a little below her collar. It was very becoming. Lloyd was amazed at the change it made in the child's appearance.

"The very thing I want for my Knave of Hearts!" cried Miss Katherine, clasping her hands enthusiastically, and turning toward her mother. "I am illustrating that old jingle about the Queen of Hearts who made some tarts upon a summer day. I've a lovely picture for the queen, but I haven't been able to find a suitable boy for the knave 'who spied those tarts and stole them all away.' But there she stands. Her hair is exactly the right length, and she's so fat and cute that if I can just get her to roll those round blue eyes the way I want them, it will make a perfect love of a picture."

"But the costume," suggested Mrs. Marks. "It is so elaborate, and the time is short"

Miss Katherine looked at the clock. "One can do wonders in an hour," she said, and burying her face in her hands a moment, she thought intently.

"Genius burns," she announced in a moment, looking up at her sister. "Where's that little white duck stir that Lucien outgrew and left here one summer? I saved it for just such an emergency. I'm sure it will fit her."

"Packed away in the tower-room." answered Miss Flora. "I know just where to put my hand on it, though. Is there anything else you want while I am up there?"

"Yes, some scraps of red velvet if there are any left in the piece-bag. I have everything else we'll need, in the studio. That red canton flannel I sometimes use for draping backgrounds, will make a long flowing cape to hang from the back of his neck and sweep the ground behind him."

Magnolia felt as if she were a big doll as she was handed around from one to another in the trying on process, when Miss Flora came back with the suit. It did fit her passably well, and she and Lloyd were set to work at once, cutting out dozens of red velvet hearts.

"Makes me think of the time that I was the Queen of Hearts at Gingah's valentine pah'ty, and the old bear that the boys tied to the bedpost frightened us neahly to death," said Lloyd.

Snip, snip went both pair of scissors, and as fast as the hearts were cut, Miss Katherine and Miss Flora sewed them on to the little white duck blouse and knickerbockers. Even Mrs. Marks helped, fastening frills of black ribbon and great gilt buckles on some old red house-slippers of Buddy's. It grew dark while they worked. Frazer lighted the lamps and piled more wood on the fire, and Lloyd began to think uneasily that the supper-bell would be ringing at the seminary soon.
But in shorter time than seemed possible, everything was done. When Magnolia was led to the long hall mirror to look at herself, she was unable to believe that what she saw was her own reflection. It looked like some bright-coloured illustration taken from a lovely picture-book.

Red hearts dotted the white duck suit, and white hearts the long red cape which trailed gracefully from her shoulders. A funny little crown copied in red and white pasteboard from the one they found on the Jack of Hearts in a deck of cards, rested on the short, light hair, curling up around her ears. There were lace ruffles at her wrists, and a tin sword at her side, and in her outstretched hands a little pie-tin, borrowed from the cook.

"Turn your head to one side. as if you were looking over your shoulder," commanded Miss Katherine, "and hold the tart up high in front. Now lift your feet and sway back as if you were cake-walking. There, mamma, isn't that a perfect reproduction of the picture in our old Mother Goose? I'm charmed!"

The dropping of the tight-waisted, old-fashioned blue dress for this story-book attire changed the child's appearance so completely that she looked into the mirror half-frightened, feeling that her old self had run away from her. But there were Mrs. Marks and Miss Flora exclaiming "How pretty!" and the Princess clapping her hands and fluttering around her, calling out that she was perfectly lovely, and made the darlingest little Knave of Hearts that ever was seen, and Miss Katherine saying that if she would come over the next day at noon she would take her photograph.

No one had even called her pretty before, and she had never had her picture taken. Her eyes sparkled and her face lighted up as she turned again to the mirror.

"You and Betty come over to-morrow, too," said Miss Katherine to Lloyd, as she buttoned up the blue dress again, so that Magnolia could go back to supper. "I'd like to add Boy Blue and Bo-Peep to my Mother Goose gallery."

It was dark when Lloyd and Magnolia squeezed through the fence again and ran up the stairs to the room. As Lloyd passed the portière at the end of the hall she pushed it aside and drew back the bolt, as she had promised Kitty to do. They had barely time to lay their bundles on Magnolia's bed when the supper-bell rang, and they ran down to the dining-room. Lloyd was all aglow with excitement and pleasure over the success of the last hour's work, but Magnolia had shrunk back into the same timid little creature she was before her transformation. She had put her hair back into the tight little tails again before leaving Clovercroft, so that her disguise would be the more complete when she unloosed it and appeared as the little knave.

Meantime, Allison and Kitty, hurrying home with their guest, had delighted Norah by a demand for early supper. She and Barbry were expecting some friends from Rollington, a little Irish village near the Valley, and would be glad to be through with their work an hour earlier than usual.

"And you needn't light up for us down-stairs, except in the dining-room," said Allison, "for we're going straight to our rooms after supper, and we don't want to be disturbed till tomorrow morning."

"Very well, miss," answered Barbry, who a middle-aged woman, was the most trustworthy of well-trained maids. Mrs. Walton never felt any hesitancy in leaving the children in her care.

"And-oh, Barbry," said Allison, as she turned to leave the room. "To-night is Hallowe'en, and they say the witches are out and ghosts rise out of their graves. What is that tale they tell about a ghost that used to be seen about the seminary grounds?"

"Sure an' your mother would be afther gettin' angry if I filled your heads with such nonsense. Who said there was ever a ghost at all in the Valley?"

But after much teasing Barbry allowed herself to be persuaded into telling a tale that had been afloat for years, of the little woman in gray who had once owned the land on which the seminary was built. She lived all alone, and was an odd character. Her peculiar mode of living, and the mystery surrounding her death, gave rise to the rumour that her spirit still haunted the seminary grounds. It was said that the little woman never appeared in public without a gray veil, and her wraith was recognized by the long gauzy covering floating loosely back from its face, not gray but white, as more becoming a spirit.

No sooner had Barbry finished her tale than Allison beckoned the girls to follow, and led the way up-stairs to the sewing-room. "I thought at first I'd just put a pillowcase over my head and wrap up in a sheet, but I'm going to make the girls think I'm the real article. How will this do?"

Taking a roll of cotton from one of the shelves, she pinned it over her hair to make a short white wig, powdered her face till it was as white as the cotton, and over it all threw along piece of tulle, which she brought from a bureau drawer in her room. "Aunt Elise gave it to me last time I was in town," she said. "She had yards and yards of it that had been used some way in decorating with lilies for a luncheon. Wait till I wrap a sheet around me. Now how do I look?"

"Perfectly awful! " exclaimed Kitty, gazing at her in fascinated wonder that flesh and blood could look so truly ghost-like. Katie hid her eyes with a little scream.

"Don't look at me that way," she begged. "If you are this terrifying in daylight to people who know who you are, what will you be at night?"

Well satisfied with the effect she had produced, Allison folded up the veil, carefully removed the wig, and washed the powder from her face, while Kitty and Katie rummaged in the drawers for some old, long-sleeved gingham aprons that had been discarded long ago. They had decided to go as rag dolls, as that would be the most complete disguise they could think of. Even their hair would be covered, and they would not need to speak.

"It will be terribly hot with all that cotton stuffed about our heads and necks," said Katie. "But we'll look so funny. And we must hold ourselves limp and lean up against things or flop over, just as real rag dolls do."

"Here are the aprons," cried Kitty, at last. "See? They'll fit up close around the neck and hide the place where the muslin that covers our head is tied on."

"I'll paint the faces on you the last thing before we start," said Allison.

"Mercy me! Allison!" exclaimed Katie. "We can't walk down past the depot and the store rigged up that way, even if it is dark. Somebody might think we were escaped freaks, and chase us. We ought to wait till we get to the seminary before we dress."

"No, there won't be time then, and everybody will know it's only a Hallowe'en frolic. If Kitty wears her golf-cape and you wear mine, and pull the hoods away over your faces, nobody will notice. I'll not dress till afterward, for I'm not going to appear till the middle of the evening. I'm not going to go up to the gymnasium at all, but just glide around on the outskirts and lay a cold finger on some one now and then. I'll get a lump of ice out of the cooler if I can manage to slip into the dining-room. Now if you'll bring me the scissors I'll cut the muslin and fit it over your heads."
Mrs. Walton, sorry that her absence would deprive the girls of their anticipated Hallowe'en party, compensated for their disappointment as far as possible by ordering an unusually delicious little supper for them and their guest.

"Isn't it too tantalizing!" exclaimed Kitty, when Barbry had left the room for some hot biscuits. "Here's everything I like best, and I'm in such a hurry and so excited that I can hardly choke down a mouthful."

"Don't talk, then," commanded Allison. "Just eat!"

The meal proceeded in silence for a few moments, but the silence itself grew funny as they thought of the ludicrous figures they would soon present, and they began to giggle.

The giggles grew into shrieks of laughter a little later, when they had gone up-stairs, and the two rag dolls, all stuffed, painted, and dressed, leaned limply against the wall and leered at each other. Even their hands looked comical, covered in white woollen gloves, each finger held stiffly out from the other. After one glance Allison rolled on the bed, holding her sides, laughing and gasping in turn.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, finally, sitting up and wiping her eyes and then going off into afresh paroxysm of laughter as she looked at them again. "I never saw anything so funny in my life. The girls will simply shriek when they see you ."

Norah and Barbry, sitting over their own supper, heard the laughing far down in the kitchen. They looked at each other and smiled, and then, as the contagious sound continued, laughed themselves. The merriment was irresistible. But a little later, busy with their preparations for their coming friends, they did not notice that the house grew strangely still, and that not another sound came from the rooms above all that evening.

Kitty's room adjoined Allison's. Bolting the door which opened into her mother's, on the inside, she passed through Allison's with Katie, and out into the hall. Then Allison locked her door on the outside and hid the key under the hall rug. Creeping down the stairs, they stole out at the side door, locked it after them, and hid the key inside a large flower-pot on the porch.

"That's safer than carrying it," said Allison. "We'd be sure to lose it, and then we would be in a pretty pickle."

The moon, overcast by shifting clouds, was just beginning to throw a faint, ghostly glimmer over the Valley as the girls hurried out.

"Let's go back way until we are past grandmother's gate," said Kitty. Edgewood, Mrs. MacIntyre's place, was just across from The Beeches, and some one was strolling up the avenue toward it. "Uncle Harry," whispered Allison, crouching down in the shadow of a tree until he had gone in.

Rustling along in the dry leaves, they passed the rear of the cottage next door, the manse, and the little stone church. That brought them out into the wide, open space below the ridge, where the lights gleamed from every window in the Soldiers' Home. The girls drew their hoods closer over their faces as they hurried across the churchyard, out through the iron gate into the road. 

"It makes me think of the night we had a Hallowe'en party at the haunted house of Hartwell Hollow," said Katie, looking up at the bare branches overhead, which were beginning to toss in the rising wind. Then she clapped a white-gloved hand over her rag mouth to choke back a giggle. Kitty had begun holding her arms in the aimless fashion peculiar to rag dolls, and was walking along as if she had no bones.

"For goodness' sake, behave yourself," begged Allison. "Don't get us to laughing out here on the road!"

Kitty straightened up as they passed the deserted post-office, and they quickened their pace until they were safely beyond the store and the depot. A moment later they had passed through the woodland gate of Clovercroft, raced along the path below the ice-house, and were squeezing through the gap in the picket fence to the seminary grounds.

"They must be almost through supper," whispered Katie, peeping in at one of the dining-morn windows, over which the blind had not been entirely drawn. "With all that laughing and talking they'll never hear us go up the stairs. We can make as much noise as we please"

A dim light burned in the upper ball, but no lamp was lighted in Betty and Lloyd's room.

"Let's not make any," suggested Allison.  "They'll think we haven't come. Let's hide and see what they do when they suddenly discover us." As she spoke there was a sound of many feet in the lower hall, then on the stairs, and an unusual buzz of voices. The girls were scattering to their rooms to dress for the masquerade.

"Hurry!" gasped Allison, stooping down behind a tall rocking-chair. Kitty rolled under one bed and Katie under the other, and there they lay waiting, trying to stifle the giggles which nearly choked them.

< Chapter 5  Chapter 7 >

The Little Colonel At Boarding-School - Table of Contents