The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 12: Ghost Or Girl

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII.
GHOST OR GIRL

ALLISON, struggling into her jacket as she ran, hurried along the path through Clovercroft to overtake Kitty and Katie on their way home at noon.

"Wait!" she called, waving her gloves frantically to attract their attention as they looked back from the woodland gate.

"I have some news for you." She was almost breathless when she caught up with them.

"What do you think of this? Ida and Lloyd have had a falling out of some kind. Neither one will say what it's about, but they don't have anything more to do with each other, and Ida has resigned from the Shadow Club. She told me just now to tell you all that she couldn't come any more, and that we might as well invite somebody else to join in her place. She didn't give any reason for leaving. and you know when she puts on that dignified, grown-up air of hers, one doesn't feel at liberty to ask questions. I told her I was sorry, and started to beg her to change her mind, but she wouldn't listen; just smiled in a mournful sort of way as if she had lost her last friend, and hurried past me.

"I asked Betty if she knew what was the matter, and she said it must he a quarrel of some kind, for Lloyd was dreadfully unhappy. After she came back from Locust yesterday evening she threw herself across the bed and cried, and cried, and wouldn't tell what for. She wouldn't go down to supper, either, and afterward, when Betty fixed her something on the chafing-dish, she barely tasted it."

"We'll have a gay old club meeting to-morrow," said Katie, "with Ida gone and Lloyd in the dumps and Betty unable to come on account of her cold ---"

"And her head so full of the book she's writing that she can't take any interest in anything else." interrupted Kitty. "It's too bad that there's only half a club left. Three of us can't get enough things ready to have a fair by Easter."

"That isn't the worst of it," answered Katie "The three of us alone never can get even with Mittie Dupong and carry out our hoodoo plot to punish her, because we are all outside of the seminary. I'm tired of having the girls laugh whenever they see me eating an apple and make remarks about C. D."

"And I'm tired of hearing everlastingly about that old valentine!" chimed in Kitty. "If the other girls won't help us I think we ought to act on Ida's suggestion and take in some new members who would."

"Lucy Smith would be glad to join in Ida's place;" said Allison. "She rooms across the hall from Mittie, and she'd dare do anything that we would suggest."

"And Retta Long's room is just above, and she's a good friend of ours," added Kitty. "Let's talk it over with Betty and Lloyd as soon as we get back to the seminary after dinner, and if they're willing we'll swear in the new members at recess."

"All right," assented Katie. "I'll hurry back and meet you here at the depot as soon as I get through dinner. We'll settle this before night."

But much running back and forth and consulting and discussing was necessary before the new addition to the club was in full working order. Lloyd and Betty were willing to admit Retta and Lucy, but Retta and Lucy were not willing to join unless their roommates were included in the invitation; and their roommates, Dora Deersly and Rose Parker, were not willing to spend any time in making fancy articles for the fair. It was too near the holidays, they said. They needed all their spare time for the presents they were trying to finish before Christmas.

"Couldn't they be sort of honorary members, and not have to work?" suggested Kitty. "They needn't even meet with us on Saturdays, if they'll help us play ghost to scare Mittie."

"Yes, there are some secret societies, like the Masons, that have different orders," Allison said. "Why couldn't we have, too? We'll be one kind of shadow, the kind that casts the influence, and the other four can be another kind and do the mischief. We can call ourselves the G. G.'s for good ghosts. Betty, can't you fix up something for the others?"

"Yes," answered Betty, "if you'll give me enough time."

She turned to the little note-book she always carried, and began looking over a list of words on the last page. The girls often laughed at Betty's devotion to the dictionary. Frequently they found her poring over its pages, picking out new words that pleased her fancy, as they would pick out the kernels of a nut, and jotting them down for future use.

"Here it is," she cried, presently, "wraith! It means spirit or apparition. They can be the wicked wraiths --- the W.W.'s. No," she added, as another chosen word caught her eye. "They can be the W. V.'s. Wraiths of Vengeance; that sounds better. That will fit in with the story of the veiled lady who haunts the seminary, because it is supposed she comes back to try to wreak vengeance on the people who wronged her. Allison, you tell little Elise that story to-night, and let her spread it among the primary grades, and it'll be all over the school by the time the girls are ready to perform, that the Wraith of Vengeance has been seen again, floating near Mittie Dupong's door:"

There was no regular meeting of the Shadow Club that Saturday. Mrs. Walton had not been taken into the secret of the Wraiths of Vengeance, and when it was explained to her that Betty had a cold and could not come, and Lloyd and Ida had had a misunderstanding and were not on good terms, she was quite willing to compensate the girls for their disappointment by inviting Lucy Smith and Retta Long to tea.

Some of the neighbours came in to spend the evening, so Allison and Kitty took their guests up-stairs to make some experiments with a magic lantern which had often afforded them amusement. Little Elise, who bad seen all the pictures many times before, went back to the library, and Barbry soon finished her evening duties upstairs; so no one ever knew just what those experiments were.

Among the slides was a picture of Lot's wife; a tall, white figure with a half-lifted veil, turning for a backward look. The lurid flames of burning Sodom glowed in the background the first time Lucy and Retta saw it thrown upon the wall, but the last time it was changed into a ghostly figure that made those Wraiths of Vengeance dance for joy. Allison, with a thick coat of black paint, had carefully covered all the background, blotting out everything in the circle except the figure itself, which stood out with startling distinctness. Then from the top of a step-ladder they practised throwing it from the transom of Allison's room through the opposite transom of the room across the hall.

"It will be even easier than this at the seminary," said Lucy, " for the hall between Mittie's room and mine is narrower, and the transoms are lower. That will throw the figure directly above the foot of Mittie's bed. I think it will be all the better that we have to throw it high, for it will give the floating effect the veiled lady is famous for, to have the head so near the ceiling. I'll have to lay in a stock of provisions so that I need not go down to supper Monday night. Then while everybody is in the dining-room I'll hide the step-ladder under my bed, and experiment with the lantern from my transom to get exactly the right position."

"What if Mittie shouldn't wake up when you flash it in?" suggested Allison.

Retta was equal to providing for such an emergency. "I'll set my watch with Lucy's," she said, "and at exactly the moment we agree upon, I'll tap on Mittie's window just below mine with a bottle let down on a string. I'll give three sepulchral knocks, then wait a minute and give three more. I should think that an empty bottle knocking against the glass would give a hollow sort of sound. That's the window we always keep open at night."

"When it's time for Barbry to take you home," said Allison, "we'll go, too, and help carry the lantern. Now this is a case of our shadow-selves being where we can not. We can't do the actual scaring, but it's our lantern that's going to cast the shadow that will make Mittie Dupong afraid to listen again as long as she lives."

It took considerable self-denial on Lucy's part to forego supper when the time came to carry out the plan, but the spirit of mischief was stronger than her appetite. She was rewarded by finding the daintiest of luncheons in the box Allison left upon her table, and as she sat down to enjoy it after bringing in the step-ladder from the chambermaid's supply-closet and making her experiments, she thought the Order of Wraiths was a most excellent thing to which to belong.

Although midnight is the prescribed time for all ghostly visitants, these wraiths had arranged for a much earlier appearing. It would cost too great an effort to keep awake until that witching hour. It was not more than half-past ten, although the seminary had been in darkness and silence for an hour, when Retta leaned out of her window, dangling an empty shoe-polish bottle on the end of along string. It swung against Mittie's window just below with three hollow knocks. Ten seconds after by Lucy's watch the knocking was repeated. She could not hear it from her room, but her faith in Retta's punctuality in carrying out her part of the programme made her send a dazzling circle of light from the lantern she was manipulating, to rest on the wall above the foot of Mittie's bed.

[Left: "Mittie sat up in bed, too startled to utter a sound."]

Mittie sat up in bed, too startled to utter a sound. The light instantly disappeared and a white-veiled figure took its place. To her horror she could distinctly see the dark wall-paper through its ghostly outlines She buried her face in the bedclothes with a moan of terror.

"What's the matter, Mittie?" asked her roommate, from the opposite bed, who had been aroused by the knocking and the light, but had not opened her eyes until she heard the moan. The sound of a human voice gave Mittie courage to look out again. The apparition was gone.

"Oh," she quavered, " I must have been dreaming. I thought there was a knocking at the window, then there was a blinding light, and the next instant the veiled lady seemed to float across the at the foot of my bed. I never was so frightened in my life. My tongue is stiff yet, and I am all in a shiver. Oh, it was awful!"

"It must have been the potato salad you ate for supper," answered Sara, drowsily; but as she spoke the three slow knocks sounded again at the window, and she raised herself on her elbow to listen.

"Oo-oo-oh! There it is again! " wailed Mittie, burrowing under the bedclothes again. The hair fairly rose on Sara's head as the outlines of a veiled figure appeared above the foot of Mittie's bed, floating hesitatingly a little space, and then vanished. In a flash Sara had disappeared from view also, and lay almost smothered under the blankets, so rigid with fear that she dared not move a muscle. She held herself motionless until she began to ache. It seemed hours before either one dared look out again, although it was barely five minutes.

"It was the hoodoo beginning to work," gasped Sara, in a hoarse whisper. "Oh, if I ever live through this night I tell you I'll get out of this room in the morning, Mittie Dupong. I'll never spend another night with a girl that's marked for the haunts to follow."

It was hours before they fell asleep, for they kept opening their eyes to assure themselves that the apparition had not reappeared. Even in broad daylight the memory of their fright was not a pleasant thing to think about. It required all the persuasion that Mittie could bring to bear, and the gift of a coral fan-chain to prevail upon Sara not to go to the teachers with the matter. She finally consented to room with Mittie one more night, but announced in case the ghost came back she'd certainly alarm the Seminary.

"But if the teachers found out that I really was marked that way," sobbed Mittie, "they'd go to investigating, and find out about my eavesdropping, and they wouldn't let me stay in the school, if the spirits made such a disturbance about it"

Sara promised secrecy, but while no hint of the appearance reached the faculty, every girl in the seminary heard of it before night. Nothing was talked of but table-tippings and spirit-rapping and "appearances." No ghostly visitant disturbed Mittie's and Sara's slumbers the second night. The Shadow Club, in secret session, decided it would not be safe to venture again so soon. But a spirit of unrest seemed to pervade the whole seminary. Mischievous girls knocked on the walls to see their roommates turn pale. Cold hands reached suddenly out of dark corners to clutch unwary passers-by, and a panic spread in a single evening among the pupils, more contagious than mumps or measles. Every one not infected with the fear seemed infected with a desire to make some one else afraid.

Even gentle little Jean Wilson, whose deportment was always perfect, and who was too tender-hearted to watch a spider killed, so the girls declared, felt moved to do something. Her roommate, Ada Day, loudly proclaimed that she was not afraid of spooks and she didn't have any patience with girls who were silly enough to believe such tales. Nothing could frighten her!

While Ada was in the bath-room that evening, Jean emptied a tin box of talcum powder, slipped a spool of thread inside, and drawing the end of the thread through one of the holes in the perforated lid, hid the box in the springs of Ada's bed. The black thread trailing across the carpet to Jean's pillow was not visible in the dimly lighted room when Ada came back and found Jean lying with her eyes closed. She did not turn up the lamp, but began undressing as quietly as possible, and was soon in bed herself. Both girls were wakeful that night. Both heard the clock strike several times. Ada tossed and turned whenever she roused, but Jean lay as quiet as possible, breathing regularly, so that Ada thought she was asleep and did not venture to speak.

As the clock in the lower hall stopped striking twelve, Jean reached for the thread fastened to her pillow by a pin, and gave it several quick uneven jerks. The spool rattling in the tin box sounded like the mysterious rappings at which Ada had turned up her nose. To hear it thus in the dead of night was a different matter to Ada.

"Jean!" she called, in a hoarse stage-whisper. "Jean! Did you hear that? What do you suppose it is?"

Jean gave the thread another tweak, and then answered, in the same loud whisper, "It sounds to me as if something was trying to spell your name by tapping --- It comes from under your bed, but then of course you don't believe in such things.  It may be a warning."

"I wish I dared put my foot out of bed," said Ada, her teeth chattering. "I'd get up and make a light. You do it, Jean. I'd do that much for you if the noise was under your bed."

"Sh!" warned Jean. "I believe something is really calling you. It's certainly spelling your name. Now count. One knock--- that is A. One, two, three. four---D. One again---A. Yes, that spelled Ada. Now it's beginning again. One, two, three, four---D. One---A." The knocks followed in rapid succession until Ada, realizing that they were going all the way to Y, was almost paralyzed with terror.

"Oh, Jean! " she wailed. "Stop it! Stop it! Get up and make a light, or call the matron, or something! I can't stand it a minute longer! I'll be a gibbering idiot if you don't stop that awful knocking!"

Jean still continued to jerk the thread, till she heard Ada spring up desperately as if to jump out of bed. Then she said, " Oh, do be still, Ada Day. It's nothing but a spool in a tin box. See! I'll strike a match and show you. I was only playing a trick on you because you boasted nothing could frighten you. Don't rouse the house, for mercy's sake."

It took much time and much pleading on Jean's part to convince Ada that there was really no spirit under her bed, and then it took more time and pleading to appease her anger. The sound of voices and the striking of a match aroused the matron. She lay for a moment, wondering what was the matter; thinking that some one might be ill and in need of her services, she got up, slipped on a warm bathrobe and her felt bedroom slippers, and stepped out into the hall to investigate.

All was quiet, but she had a feeling that some mischief was afloat. An inkling of the disturbing element in the school had reached her early in the day, and although she had said nothing to the teachers, she had made a careful round of inspection just before going to bed. Some rumour of the doings of the Shadow Club which had come to her made her go to the west wing and push aside the portière hanging over the door that led to the outside stairway. The bolt was in place but it slipped easily in its sheath as if it had lately been oiled. Selecting a key on the ring at her belt, she locked the door. "I'll risk a fire for one night," she thought, "but I can't risk some other things."

Although the hall was quiet when she stepped out now in the midnight silence, some feeling that all was not right made her slip on down the front stairs. There was no light, excepting a faint starlight, that served to show where the windows were. As she stood there listening, about to strike a match, something in white brushed down the stairs past her. Half in a spirit of mischief, thinking to pay the girl or ghost, whichever it was, back in her own coin, the matron threw her arms around the sheeted figure.

There was a muffled scream of terror. But, holding her captive fast with one strong hand, the matron struck a match with the other.

"Hush!" she said. "There's no use in disturbing everybody." Then as the match flared up she saw that it was no Wraith of Vengeance she held. The sheet fell to the floor, revealing Ida Shane, dressed even to hat and furs, and carrying her leather travelling-bag.

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