The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 10: A Plot

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER X.
A PLOT

IF there's anything I loathe it's a sneak and a telltale!" The Little Colonel's voice rang out so clearly that the girls in the cloak-room stopped to listen.

It was Monday morning, and the pupils were assembling in the chapel for opening exercises. Lloyd stood near the door, the centre of an indignant little group, which cast scornful glances at another little group, whispering together by one of the windows.

"It's the most contemptible thing that evah happened in the seminary," Lloyd continued. "It's a disgrace to have such a girl in school."

Katie, who had been anxiously watching the cloak-room door for the last five minutes, for the appearance of Allison and Kitty, suddenly exclaimed, "There they are now, hanging up their wraps. Let's hurry and tell them before school begins!"

The next instant the two late comers found themselves in a corner, hemmed in by Betty, Katie, and Lloyd, all so indignant that they could scarcely make themselves understood.

"Girls," began Lloyd, in a voice quavering with anger, "you nevah heard anything so outrageous! Satahday aftahnoon, all that time we were making fudge up in our room, somebody was hiding in the closet next to ours, listening to every word we said!"

"How do you know?" gasped Kitty, remembering with dismay several speeches she had made, which would sound decidedly foolish if repeated.

"Lollie Briggs said so. We'd hardly got into the room this mawning when some of the girls began to laugh and repeat every word we had said,"

"It's all over the school about our Shadow Club," chimed in Betty, and think how hard we tried to keep it secret! And the very girls who would have been glad to join, if they had been invited in the first place, are making fun of it. They keep pointing to the ground behind us, and pretend to be amazed at what they see there. Of course they are referring to our shadows, for they make all sorts of spiteful little side remarks about them." 

"But there's something worse than that," added Katie, almost tearfully. "I'll never hear the last of the speech I made about Charlie Downs and the apple-paring initials. Oh, you just wait! They've got hold of every foolish little thing we teased each other about that afternoon; Guy Ferris's valentine and brass button, and the little silver arrow Malcolm MacIntyre gave Lloyd years ago, and all we said about the way we'd like to be proposed to, you know --- when we were talking about the 'Fortunes of Daisy Dale.' They're telling it all over the school, and making us appear too ridiculous for any use."

"Who could be mean enough to hide and listen? " exclaimed Allison, indignantly. "The sneak!"

"Say snake, while you're about it," hissed Kitty. "They're spelled with the same letters."

"We haven't any idea," answered Betty, "or why the girls who are doing the most teasing and talking should take such a spiteful pleasure in it. They've seemed so friendly always, until this morning."

"Come, girls," called Mrs. Clelling, in passing. " It's time for the silence bell."

Hurrying out of the cloak-room, they took their places in chapel, and obediently opened their song-books at the signal, but it is doubtful if any member of the Shadow Club could have told afterward what was sung that morning. The letter in Ida's chatelaine-bag, which Lloyd had smuggled to her soon after breakfast, on her return from the post-office, absorbed all her thoughts. The other five girls were busy with the one question: "Who could have been such a sneak as to listen and tell?"

There were six bad records in every recitation that the club made that morning. Notes flew back and forth, and anxious eyes watched the clock, eager for recess to come. At the first signal, Lloyd flew to Ida, but before she could outline the plan of action she and Allison had decided upon in the history class, Ida said, hurriedly, "Oh, Princess, that letter has upset me so I don't know whether I'm walking on earth or air. I'll tell you to-morrow something awfully important, but I've got to plan something now, so I must go off by myself and put on my thinking-cap. Oh, I'm all in a flutter."

Wondering what news the letter could have contained to bring such a becoming flush to Ida's face, and such a glow of happiness in the beautiful violet eyes, Lloyd turned away disappointed. But she forgot both the wonder and the disappointment a few minutes later, as she and Allison walked up and down in front of the seminary arm in arm. Kitty and Katie were just behind them. Betty had not yet come out, having stopped at the sight of Janie Clung's tears to explain a problem in arithmetic.

Lollie Briggs, Flynn Willis, and Caddie Bailey stood on the front steps, and each girl who came out of the hall was called into their midst, and told something with many significant glances toward the four pacing back and forth past them in a fine unconcern.

Presently Caddie called out in a voice intended for them to hear, "I wonder if anybody can guess this conundrum. Nell, can you?"

The question was addressed to one of the older girls who came out of the front door just then, without a wrap around her. It was a frosty morning, and every one else had either a jacket or cloak.

"Wait till I run back and get my golf cape," she cried. "I didn't know it was so cold."

"Now look out," whispered Allison to Lloyd. " They're going to say something to her to try to set her against us. They're stopping everybody who comes out. That makes eight already they've set to whispering and looking at us, all standing there in that crowd on the steps."

Nell came out again, hugging her golf cape around her, and stood on the top step. "Well, what's your conundrum?" she asked, good-naturedly.

Caddie slightly raised her voice. "What's the difference between a person who wouldn't stoop to 'anything so common as a kissing-game; and a person who would get up a goody-goody club, pretending it was for the benefit of the poor, and yet all the time be using it simply as an excuse to meet and read silly novels on the sly, and talk about the boys, and roast the other girls behind their backs, whom they considered 'too common' to associate with them?"

In a flash Lloyd realized what had offended Caddie, and what was the cause of her covert sneers. Whoever it was who had played the sneak had taken pains to report every word she had said about the girls who had played Pillow at Carter Brown's party. She looked around to see who had been the most active in denouncing the club. There they were on the steps, Flynn Willis, Caddie Bailey, Lollie Briggs, all but Mittie Dupong. The same girls she had called common, because they had allowed the boys to take a liberty which she thought cheapened them. She knew now why they were so spiteful in their remarks. Before Nell could gather her wits together for a reply, Lloyd sprang forward, her eyes flashing.

"Why don't you come straight out and say what you mean, Cad Bailey?" she cried. "You're only telling part of the truth. Now I'll tell it all. I did say behind your backs that I thought it was common to play kissing games, and now I say it to yoah faces. I can't help thinking it. I've been brought up that way, and if you've been brought up differently, then you've a right to think yoah way. If I've hurt yoah feelings, I beg yoah pahdon, but I have a right to express my opinion in my own room to my best friends. We were not 'roasting' anybody. We only made a criticism that you must expect to have made on you, whenevah you do things that are common. And what are you going to say about the person who hid and listened all aftahnoon? Somebody was sneak enough not only to hide in a closet and betray secrets that no girl of honah would have listened to, but she misrepresented the club in repeating them."

Lloyd's temper was rapidly getting the best of her, but in the middle of her anger she seemed to hear her father saying, in the playful way in which he used to warn her long ago, "Look out, little daughter, the tiger is getting loose." She stopped short.

"Who did that?" cried Nell. "I didn't suppose there was such a dishonourable girl in the school."

"Neither did I," answered Flynn Willis. quickly. "I never stopped to ask how the report started. I was so mad at being talked about that I did just what Cad Bailey told me to do, repeated everything I was told, just to tease the club and get even."

All eyes were turned inquiringly to Caddie Bailey.

"I don't know how it started," she cried. " Honestly I don't  Lollie Briggs told me. She and several girls were talking about it this morning before breakfast, out in the hall. They were all furious, and they told me lots of things to say that would tease Lloyd and the rest of them nearly to death. I was mad, too, but I don't know who told in the first place."

"It was you, Lollie Briggs, who told me that somebody had hid in the Clark girls' closet," cried Lloyd. "You know you did, when I demanded to know who had started all this talk. Who was it?'' "I promised I wouldn't tell," said Lollie, sullenly, "and I won't. You needn't ask, for no power on earth could drag it out of me. So there!"

"It's like the story of Chicken Little," laughed Nell. "'Who told you, Goosey-Lucy? Ducky Lucky. Who told you, Ducky-Lucky? Henny Penny. Who told you, Henry-Penny? Seems to me I'd make it my business to find out who this particularly contemptible Chicken Little happens to be, before I'd report any more of her tales."

Nell swept back into the hall, and, as the four girls started to resume their walk, Betty knocked on the cloakroom window, beckoning violently for them to come inside. They ran in pell-mell and shut the door behind them.

"I've found out!" cried Betty, in a tragic whisper. "It was Mittie Dupong! Cassie found her class-badge on their closet floor, and just now brought it down to her. She denied it was hers, but there's no mistaking that queer little stick-pin and chain fastened to it that she uses as a guard. She's the only one in school who has one like that --- an owl's head in a wishbone, you know. Besides, there were her initials, M. D., on the under side of the badge. Cassie turned it over and showed them to her. She took it, then, but denied having been in the closet, and was so confused and contradicted herself so many times that anybody could see that she felt caught and was telling a story. She even vowed that she hadn't been near the west wing for a week. Then she ran out and banged the door, but Janie Clung said, 'Oh, what a story! I met her coming out of there Saturday night, on the way down to supper.'"

"What do you think we ought to do about it?" asked Katie. That was a question no one could answer. In the first flush of their indignation, it seemed to them that nothing they could do to Mittie would be sufficient punishment for such an act of meanness. They felt that she was a disgrace to the school, and decided that they would be conferring a benefit on the seminary if they could succeed in getting rid of her.

Even Betty failed for the time to remember the "Road of the Loving Heart" she was trying to leave behind her in every one's memory; and, if the little talisman on her finger pricked her tender conscience once or twice, she silenced it with the reflection that it was her duty to help punish the doer of such a contemptible deed. The name of the club finally suggested the means.

"She told all the secrets of the Shadow Club, and spoiled it." said Katie. "Now we just ought to shadow her. Haunt her, you know, like the Ku Klux Klan, or the White Caps, so she'll leave school and be afraid to listen again as long as she lives."

"Yes," agreed Kitty. "We'll hoodoo her. That is the way."

Such a plan never would have been thought of in a Northern school. Even in this little Kentucky seminary it is doubtful if it could have been carried out had not previous events paved the way. There was scarcely a pupil in the school whose earliest impressions had not been tinged in some degree by the superstitions of some old coloured nurse or family servant. Even Lloyd had not escaped them entirely, in spite of all her mother's watchful care. Mom Beck knew better than to talk of such things openly before her, but she had hinted of them to the other servants in her presence, till Lloyd had a vague uneasiness when she dreamed of muddy water, or spilled the salt, or saw a bird flying against a window. From babyhood such happenings had been associated in her mind with Mom Beck's portents of ill-luck.

There was not a coloured person in the neighbourhood who could have explained why so many graves in the negro cemetery had bottles or fruit-jars placed upon them, inside of which were carefully sealed the whitest of chicken feathers. Undoubtedly they were the relic of some old African fetish, and a reverence for them had been handed down from grizzled grandsire to little pickaninny since the beginning of the slave-trade. In the same way had come all those other superstitions at which white people laughed, but which influenced many of them also to some extent. For many a man who scoffed most, felt more comfortable when he saw the new moon in an open sky than when he caught first sight of it through the trees; and more than one, having once started on a journey, would not have turned back, no matter what important thing was left behind, preferring to do without at any cost or inconvenience rather than risk the ill-luck the turning back would bring.

Lloyd knew more than one housekeeper in the neighbourhood who, for the same reason, would not allow the ashes emptied after sundown, or an umbrella to be raised in the house; and who would turn pale if a mirror was broken or a picture fell from the wall or a dog howled in the night.

Probably not a pupil in the school would have admitted that she believed in ghosts, yet few would have been brave enough to venture into the cellar at night after Mary Phillips's encounter with the spirit of the "veiled lady" on Hallowe'en. That had been a frequent topic of conversation since that night, and had done much to prepare the way for the plot the club concocted.

So Kitty's proposition was received with enthusiasm. The performance began next day when she slipped up behind Mittie in the cloak-room, and solemnly touched her three times in quick succession on the left ear with something she held in her hand. It felt soft and furry, and Mittie, who had a horror of caterpillars, gave a little shriek as she put up her handkerchief to brush it away.

Kitty had already disappeared into the chapel, but Katie was waiting, ready to begin her part of the performance.

"Did you see that?" she said to Janie Clung, in an awed tone, just loud enough for Mittie to hear, and yet low enough to seem confidential.

"I know people who would go stark, raving crazy if that was done to them. What for? I thought everybody knew what for. My old nurse used to say that to be touched three times on the ear by the left hind foot of a rabbit that had been killed in a graveyard in the dark of the moon by a cross eyed person, was the worst luck anybody could have." She lowered her voice a trifle. "It's a hoodoo-mark! You're marked for the haunts to follow you!"

"The what?" asked another girl who stood near.

"The haunts --- ghosts --- you know. Jim Briddle calls them 'ha'nts.' Nobody could be more cross-eyed than he is, and he's the one who gave that rabbit's foot to Ranald Walton, and Ranald gave it to Kitty. I should think that Mittie Dupong would feel mighty creepy if she knew what's ahead of her."

Mittie heard and did feel creepy, although she shrugged her shoulders and tried hard to appear unconcerned. The fact that the club seemed to place so much reliance in the hoodoo made a strong impression on Janie Clung, and gave it a weight it would not have possessed otherwise when the occurrence was repeated to the other girls. Before the week was over it was whispered around the school that the charm was really working.

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