The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 7: The Hallowe'en Masquerade

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

 CHAPTER VII.
THE HALLOWE'EN MASQUERADE

"I'LL make a light," said Betty, groping across the room with a handful of matches which she had taken from the box in the hall. Lloyd started to follow, but, stumbling over a footstool, felt her way to the bed and sat down on the edge of it to wait for a light. On the way up from supper she had started to repeat a funny story which she had heard at Clovercroft that afternoon, and she kept on with it as Betty, having found her way to the table, struck a match. But she stopped again, as the match went out with a sudden puff, as if a strong draught had blown it.

"There! It never fails to do that when I'm in a hurry," exclaimed Betty, striking another match as she spoke. It was extinguished as suddenly as the first. She tried another and another with the same result.

"How strange!" she said, wonderingly. "There isn't a window open anywhere, is there?"
"It's the witches," declared Lloyd, laughing. " There must be one standing there by yoah elbow."

The laugh ended in a piercing shriek as she felt something clutch her ankle. " Murdah! Murdah! " she yelled. "Ow! There's something awful undah the bed! It grabbed me by the foot! Ow! Ow!"

"Hush up, goosey!" commanded a familiar voice, and as Betty struck her fifth and last match, which burned steadily, they saw Allison dashing to the door to lock it. Doors were opening all along the corridors, and footsteps hurrying from every direction in response to Lloyd's terrified cry.

"Tell them that it's all right! That it's only a Hallowe'en scare," demanded Allison, in a stage whisper. "Don't let them in. I blew out the matches, and it's only Kitty and Katie under the beds."

"It's all right." called Lloyd, in a quavering tone, but the matron's knock was imperative, and Betty, beckoning the girls frantically toward the closet, fumbled with the bolt until they had whisked into hiding. The one brief glimpse of the rag dolls, falling over each other in their mad haste to escape, was so comical that both Lloyd and Betty were choking with laughter when the matron entered. They could hardly control their voices while they tried to tell her how the matches had gone out and Lloyd had imagined that there were witches in the room.

Smiling indulgently at their foolishness, which she attributed to the excitement of the occasion, the matron withdrew. She could hear them still laughing when she passed through the hall again, several minutes later, for the rag dolls, coming out of the closet as soon as she disappeared, began taking one ridiculous pose after another, in the middle of the floor. The solemn silence in which they struck their limp, boneless attitudes, made the scene all the funnier, and as the girls looked at the surprised expressions Allison had painted on the flat muslin faces, they went into such hysterical laughter that the tears streamed down their faces.

"Oh, girls, do stop!" begged Lloyd, finally, wiping her eyes. "I've laughed till I ache, and it's time for me to dress, for I promised Magnolia to help her into her costume."

Katie and Kitty subsided into a heap on the divan. "Could you have told who we were if you hadn't known we were coming?" asked Katie.

"Never in the world," answered Betty. "I couldn't tell which is which now, if it were not for your voices."

"We're not going to say a word to any one," said Katie. "We oughtn't to talk, you know, if we carry out our part as it should be. We'll slip up into the gymnasium pretty soon, and be sitting on the door in a corner when the others come up. We'll lop around and watch the fun till the unmasking begins, then we'll come down here and wait for the rest of you."

All the time they had been performing, Allison had been busy before the mirror, and now turned around in her spectral attire.

"The ghost of the veiled lady!" cried Lloyd. "Oh, Allison, yoah make-up is splendid. You're enough to freeze the blood in one's veins. There couldn't be anything moah spooky-looking than that thin tulle veil. I wish Mom Beck could see you. I've heard her talking about that queah little woman whose house used to stand where the seminary cellah is dug now, till I couldn't close my eyes at night. All the darkies believe she still haunts the place."

Betty had never heard the story, so Allison repeated it while she dressed, adding, "You two must do all you can to spread the report that I'm lurking around. You have seen me yourself, you know. If I had my lump of ice, you'd soon feel the touch of my clammy fingers. I wish you'd give me a piece of newspaper to wrap it in, Betty. Then it won't drip."

"I wish we could carry a lump of ice around with us," gasped Kitty. " All this cotton packed around my head and neck makes me so hot I can scarcely breathe."

Miss Edith and Mrs. Clelling, putting the finishing touches to the decorations in the gymnasium looked around, well pleased. A score of jack-o'-lanterns grinned sociably from the brackets between the windows. Two more kept guard on each side of the piano, and at least a dozen lighted the long table stretched across one end of the room, on which the spread was arranged. Graceful sprays of bittersweet-vine trailed their bright berries over the white cloth. A huge pumpkin-bowl piled with grapes formed the centrepiece. A pitcher of sweet cider stood at each end, and nuts, persimmons, pop-corn balls, gingerbread, and apples filled all the space between.

It is well worth the trouble." said Miss Edith, lighting the last candle. "The girls will enjoy it thoroughly."

Some one called both teachers from the room just then, and in their absence two uninvited guests, who had been waiting behind the door, flurried in and seated themselves on the floor in the dimmest corner.

"I should say it is worth the trouble'" whispered one rag doll to the other, as they looked around the room at the fantastic decorations. "It's lots more fun coming here thus way, than having the party at home, and it's more fun than if we'd been invited."

"I'm nearly roasted," panted the other one, "but I'm glad I'm here. Oh, how pretty!"

It was the entrance of one of the older girls in court train and powdered hair that caused the exclamation, and while they were trying to guess who it could be, the others began to arrive. Old King Cole and Pocahontas came in arm in arm. followed by Red Riding Hood and a brownie, while Puss in Boots proudly escorted Aladdin with his lamp.

Little Bo-Peep and Boy Blue were soon recognized, for Betty had made no attempt to hide the brown curls which helped to make her such a pretty little Dresden shepherdess; and while Lloyd had gathered up her long, light hair under the wide-brimmed hat with its blue ribbon, every graceful gesture and every step she took, holding herself erect with a proud lifting of the head, proclaimed the Little Colonel.

For once in her short life, little Magnolia Bodine tasted the sweets of social success, for no one there was more popular or more admired than the saucy Knave of Hearts. With the putting on of the costume she had put on a courage and self-possession that never could have been assumed with the old-fashioned tight-waisted blue merino and the stiff short tails of hair. Grasping the stolen tart firmly in her chubby hands, and lifting the little slippers with their huge bows and buckles in the high, mincing step Miss Katherine had taught her, she swaggered coquettishly up and down the room. her red mantle sweeping behind her. Wherever she went a flock of admiring girls crowded around her

For many a month afterward her red and white crown hung over her mirror, not only as a souvenir of the jolly revel, but as a token that for one night, at least, she had found favour in the eyes of the Princess. Not only had Lloyd circled around her when she was dressed, exclaiming again that she looked perfectly lovely, but when they chose partners for the ghost-walk, to march solemnly through the halls to the slow music of the Dead March, the Princess had chosen her. Lloyd had looked around for Ida, who had come as a Puritan Maid; but the cap and kerchief were nowhere to be seen. She had evidently grown tired of the affair and gone to her room.

[Left:  "'This little knave must be my partner'"]

Magnolia did not know that she was second choice. Her cup of happiness was overflowing when Boy Blue turned away from Aladdin and Red Riding Hood, who were both trying to claim her, and said. "No, this little Knave must be my partner. He has stolen my heart as well as the queens tarts."

In their corner near the piano Kitty and Katie sat stiffly against the wall, seemingly incapable of moving themselves. Several times some of the larger girls made an attempt to lift them, and in whatever position they fell when they were dropped, they lay with hands thrust out and heads lolling to one side. There was a laughing crowd around them continually.

"Oh, my country!" gasped Katie, as the first solemn chords of the Dead March struck her ear and all light in the room was suddenly extinguished except what gleamed from the eyes and mouths of the jack-o'-lanterns. " They've gone and dragged in old Sally, the skeleton. It's bad enough to hear her bones rattle in the physiology class in the daytime; but this is more than I bargained for."

"Now is the time for us to go," whispered Kitty. They'll unmask soon. We've seen how they all look and set them to guessing, and we'd better miss the refreshments than run the risk of being discovered."

Katie eyed the table wishfully. "It seems a pity to miss all that spread. Couldn't we creep around the wall to the far side and slip something into our apron pockets? The cloth is so long it would hide us"

"What's to hinder our getting under the table and staying through the whole performance?" suggested Kitty. "The cloth comes nearly to the floor, and I don't believe anybody would think of looking under it. Then we could hear them wonder who we are and where we've disappeared to when they unmask and we are missing."

"Quick, then, while their backs are turned! " exclaimed Katie, not waiting to consider consequences or means of escape later in the evening. Slowly, solemnly, with measured tread, the long procession filed by, and, wheeling to the music, started back toward the other end of the long gymnasium.

Creeping on hands and knees, fearful lest some backward glance might discover them should they stand erect, the two girls, like wary mice, scuttled across the room and disappeared under the sheltering table-cloth.

Grown bold with their successful venture, Kitty proposed that each time the procession turned away from them, they should reach out and grab something from the table. It was an exciting performance. Time after time, as the motley figures turned their backs, two ludicrous heads popped up above the table, and four white woollen gloves clawed hastily at different dishes. When the marauders dropped from sight the last time, there was a goodly store of provisions gathered up in each gingham apron.

"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," giggled Katie some time later, when the unmasking began, and the girls crowded around the table for nuts and apples with which to try their fortunes. In such a babel of voices there was no danger of being overheard.

"Listen! we can tell from the different remarks who every one represented," they whispered to each other.

"Oh, Evelyn Ward, I knew all the time that you were the court lady. I recognized your rings."

"That's what fooled me about Aladdin. Susie Figgs had changed rings with Ada."

" Well, I guessed nearly everybody the first half, hour, except those ridiculous rag dolls. Does anybody know where they have gone? "
That started the discussion the two under the table had been waiting for, and the various guesses, falling wide of the mark, were so amusing that their mirth nearly betrayed their hiding-place. Once they thought their discovery was certain. They had been feeding themselves from the store of provisions in their aprons as well as the size of their muslin mouths would allow. The mouths had been only small slits at first, but they had stretched and torn them with their fingers until they were large enough to allow them to take a good-sized bite of apple. As they sat there. munching nuts and pop-corn, Kitty whispered, " We're like the man in the verse: 

"'There was a young man so benighted.
He never knew when he was slighted.
He went to a party,
And ate lust as hearty
As if he'd been really invited."'

Katie tried hard not to laugh, but the effort ended in a snort, and she almost choked on a grain of pop-corn. If some one had not upset a jack-o'-lantern just then and started a wild scramble to put out the candle before it burned the cloth, the unbidden guests must certainly have been discovered.

Gradually the crowd around the table dwindled away, as little groups gathered in different parts of the room, intent on various ways of fortune-telling. Having eaten all they could, and not being able to hear anything more of interest, the girls under the table began to grow tired of their position.  Moreover, the heat of their costumes seemed to grow more unbearable every minute.

"We're in a trap," groaned Katie. "How we are ever going to make our escape is ---"

Kitty never heard the rest of the sentence, for half a dozen girls, who had ventured down the cellar steps with candle and looking-glass, came bursting into the room almost hysterical with fright. Breathless from their headlong race up three flights of stairs, they gasped out their news in broken sentences, each voice in a different key.

"Oh, a real ghost! None of your sheet and pillowcase affairs!"

" White hair and a face like marble and a long floating veil!"

"And it clutched Mary Phillips with fingers that were like the dead! Didn't it, Mary?"

"No, it didn't come out of the cellar. It just appeared!"

"The most awful wail as it vanished!"

"The cook saw it earlier in the evening, floating away toward the graveyard, not walking, you know, byt floating! About a foot above the ground!"

"Allison has evidently had as much fun as anybody," whispered Kitty. "Oh, will you listen! There goes Lloyd vowing it's the spirit of the veiled lady, and that she saw it twice this evening."

"And Betty, too! That will convince them if anything could. Betty is always so serious in the way she tells things."

"Now is the time to go, while they're all so excited and in the other end of the room," whispered Kitty. "Let's make a wild dash for the door nearest us, bang it behind us, and blow out the hall light. Then we can slide down the banister, put out the light in the lower hall, and be safe in the west wing before they come to their senses. Now, ready!"

It was a daring move, but it proved successful. Every one heard a scramble, and turned in time to see two crouching figures dash into the hall. They were too startled to know whether they were human or not. Somebody screamed when the door banged violently, and Mary Phillips, who had been in a tremble ever since her flight from the cellar, was nearly paralyzed with fright. She clutched her nearest neighbour, wailing, "Oh, what is it?"

By the time matches were brought and the lamps were relit, Katie and Kitty were safely locked in Lloyd's room, tearing off their disguises and wiping the perspiration from their flushed faces. For a few minutes they waited, half-expecting that a search would be made, but as time went on and no one ventured into that part of the house, they began to try the Hallowe'en charms that they could not take part in up-stairs. When Allison came in half an hour later, she found them whirling apple parings around their heads and flinging them over their shoulders, to see what initials they would form in falling.

By the time Allison had washed the powder from her face and picked the cotton from her hair, Lloyd and Betty came in. It seemed as if they could never settle down enough to think of sleep. There was so much to talk over.  Allison curled up on the divan, announcing that it was not worth while to undress, as it would soon be time for them to start home. Kitty and Katie followed her example, appropriating Lloyd's single bed. Lloyd and Betty  took the other one, and they lay whispering until midnight.

Just as the clock struck twelve Lloyd got up and lighted a candle. Five eggs, which she had boiled in the chafing-dish earlier in the evening, lay on a plate on the table. The yolks had been removed and the space filled with salt. According to a previous agreement, each girl got up and took one of the eggs. Standing in the middle of the floor in solemn silence they ate them stoically, although the salt burned and choked them. Then without a drop of water afterward, they walked backward to bed. According to the charm, whatever they dreamed after that performance would come true, and unless they were to be old maids, some one would appear in their dreams bearing a cup of water. That one would be their " fate."

None of the five slept soundly that night. The salt made them thirsty, the crowded quarters restless. Allison wakened every time a rooster crowed or a dog barked, because she felt that the responsibility of getting home before Barbry wakened rested upon her. Once when she was about to sink into a delicious doze, the shrill whistle of a locomotive aroused her to the consciousness that the early freight-train was rumbling past the depot. Opening her eyes she saw that the gray dawn was beginning to steal over the Valley. With a groan she sat up and stumbled across the room to arouse the others.

She had to shake Kitty several times, and when she at last staggered to her feet she yawningly quoted old Aunt Cindy's expression, that she was "as tired as a thousand of dawgs," and vowed she could never get home unless she was dragged there. Katie complained of a headache and a miserable "after the ball" feeling. It was a sorry-looking little trio which finally stumbled down the back stairs and out into the frosty dawn. Not a word was spoken on the way home. In silence they slipped up the stairs at The Beeches; in silence they undressed and crept into bed, and three hours later, when Barbry came as usual to call them, she knocked half a dozen times before she succeeded in arousing them.

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