The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 13: The Shadow Club In Disgrace

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII.
THE SHADOW CLUB IN DISGRACE

"THE president wishes to see the members of the Shadow Club in his office immediately. They will please pass out before we proceed with the opening exercises."

That was the announcement Professor Fowler made in chapel next morning, and a clap of thunder from a clear sky could not have been more unexpected or more startling in its effect. A frightened silence pervaded the room so deep that every girl could hear her heart beat. A message to Doctor Wells's office at that hour was almost unheard of. He always conducted the chapel exercises himself. It must be a matter of grave importance indeed that would cause his absence now, and the sending of such a message.

Lloyd and Betty exchanged startled glances, then slowly rose, followed by Allison and Kitty. Katie stood up next and looked back with a giggle at Lucy, Retta, Rose and Dora, who, being only of the Order of W. V.'s, hesitated to follow. But emphatic beckonings brought them to their feet, and they filed out into the hall after the other girls, their heads held high, and smiling as if indifferent to the whisperings around them.

But the instant the door closed upon them and they found themselves alone in the hall outside, they began demanding of each other the reason for the summons.

"You needn't ask me!" exclaimed Lucy. "We didn't do a thing last night on our side of the building. I've no more idea than a chipmunk why we were sent for."

"Nothing happened in our wing," protested Betty and Lloyd, in the same breath.

"Oh, girls, I'm all in a shake!" exclaimed Retta Long, almost in tears. "It frightens me nearly to death to think of being called up before the president. Such a thing never happened to me before, nor to any of our family."

"Oh. boo!" exclaimed Kitty, with a reassuring smile. "We haven't done anything so killing bad that we need care. We've only had a little fun. Come on! I'm not afraid of all the king's horses and all the king's men."

But in spite of her brave words she sat down as shyly as the rest of them when Doctor Wells, tall and commanding, motioned them to seat, in front of his desk. He looked so big and dignified, standing before them erect and silent, while he waited for them to be seated, that her courage failed her. But when he sat down in his armchair and looked gravely from one frightened face to the other, Kitty saw a twinkle in the kind eyes behind the spectacles which reassured her.

"We caught a ghost in the seminary last night, young ladies," he began, abruptly, with a smile twitching an instant at the corners of his mouth. It was only for an instant. His face was unusually grave as he proceeded. "It was just in time to prevent a very serious occurrence which would have been a great calamity to the school. It made a partial confession which implicated some one in your club, and I have sent for you in order that you may clear yourselves at once. Most of your mischief has been only innocent amusement, I know, but I must have a complete history of the club, from the beginning six weeks ago, up till twelve o'clock last night."

At mention of a ghost, they looked at each other with startled faces, wondering how much he already knew. Evidently some one outside of the club had been playing their own game, and they wondered who could have made a confession which could truthfully have included them. Instinctively they turned to Betty to be their spokesman. With her truthful brown eyes looking straight into the doctor's, Betty clasped her hands in her lap and gave a simple account of the club.

She began with the verse Miss Edith had written in their albums, and the story she had told them of the girls who walked forty miles to the mountain school. She told of the impulse it had awakened in them to do something for the mountain people, and the club that had grown out of that desire.

"We didn't intend to play any pranks in the beginning," she said, "all we wanted to do was to cast our shadow-selves where we could never be. But just after Hallowe'en we met in our room one Saturday afternoon, and a girl hid in the closet next to ours and heard all our secrets and went and told them, and we decided to shadow her awhile, to punish her for being so mean. But one-half of the club lived outside the seminary, and Ida Shane resigned about that time, so we established a new order, and took these four girls in as Wraiths of Vengeance." She nodded toward the new members.

A grim smile flitted across the doctor's face an he listened to her explanation of their duties, and heard the use they had made of Lot's wife and the magic lantern. But he smoothed his white moustache to cover his amusement, and when she finished he sat in deep thought a moment, his brows drawn closely together.

"If there was any ghost around last night, we weren't responsible for its doings," she added. "It didn't belong to the club."

"Why did Ida Shane resign?" he asked, suddenly.

"I don't know, sir," answered Betty. "She wouldn't tell."

"There must have been a reason," he continued, sternly. "Do you know, Kitty?"

" No, sir."

" Do you, Katie?"

"No, Sir."

The same question and the same answer passed down the line until it came to Lloyd. She blushed a vivid scarlet and hesitated.

"Yes, I know," she exclaimed. "But I am not at liberty to tell."

The president held out part of a torn envelope, on which was written with many flourishes in a bold, masculine hand, "Lloydsboro Seminary. Kindness of bearer."

"Have any of you seen this handwriting before?" he asked.

The envelope was passed from hand to hand, each girl shaking her head in denial, until it came to Lloyd. With a sick sinking of heart she recognized the familiar penmanship that had been such a bugbear, and which she had hoped never to see again. All the colour faded from her face as she faintly acknowledged that it was familiar.

"That is all," he said, carelessly tossing the paper back on the desk. " I am glad to find that the club, as a club, is in no way accountable for the affair that I mentioned. I shall have to forbid any more games of ghost, however, and must ask the owners of the magic lantern to take their property home."

He kept them a moment longer, with a few earnest words which they never could forget, they were so fatherly, so helpful, and inspiring. They went away with a higher value of the motive of their little club and its power to influence others; and an earnest purpose to measure up to the high standard he set for them, made them quiet and thoughtful all that morning.

"Just a moment, please, Lloyd," he said, as she was about to pass out with the others. " There's another matter about which I wish to speak to you."

She dropped into her seat again. When the last girl had passed out, closing the door behind her, he picked up the scrap of envelope again, saying, "I must ask you one more question, Lloyd. Where have you seen this handwriting before?"

She looked up at him imploringly. "Oh, please, Doctah Wells," she begged, "don't ask me! I'm not at liberty to tell that, eithah. I promised that I wouldn't, on my honah, you know."

"But it is imperative that I should know." he answered, sternly. "You are here in my charge, and I have the right to demand an answer."

"I am in honah bound not to tell," she repeated, a trifle defiantly, although her lips quivered. "It would get some one else into trouble, and I have to refuse, even if you expel me for it."

The doctor and the old Colonel had been friends since their youth, and he recognized the "Lloyd stubbornness" now in the firmly set mouth and the poise of the head.

"My dear child," he said, kindly, seeing a tear begin to steal from under her long lashes. "It is for your own sake, in the absence of your parents, and for the sake of the school's reputation, that I am obliged to make these inquiries. The somebody whom you are trying to shield is already in trouble, and your telling or not telling can make no difference now."

Lloyd looked up in alarm.

"Yes, it was Ida Shane whom the matron discovered trying to steal out of the seminary last night. Ned Bannon was waiting outside to take her on the fast express to Cincinnati. They were to have been married there this morning at his cousin's had they not been interrupted in their plans."

Lloyd gave a gasp, and the tree outside the window seemed to be going round and round.

"We have telegraphed for her aunt. She will be here this afternoon to take her home, and the affair will be ended as far as the seminary is concerned. Now what I must know, is just what connection have you had with it. Ida confessed that a member of the Shadow Club had helped her carry on a clandestine correspondence for awhile, but for some reason suddenly refused to be the bearer of their letters any longer. It was for that reason she said, feeling that her only friend had failed her, that she consented to the elopement, which happily has been prevented."

"Oh, Doctah Wells! Do you think I am to blame for it?" cried Lloyd, wishing that the ground would open and swallow her if he should say yes.

"It was so hard to know what to do. It neahly broke my heart to refuse her, but --- it was this way."

With the tears running down her face she poured out the whole story, from the beginning of her devotion to Ida, to the day when, under her grandmother 's portrait she fought the battle between her love for her friend and loyalty to the family honour.

"There wasn't anybody to tell me," she sobbed at the last. "And if I was wrong and am to blame for Ida's running away, nobody will evah trust me again!"

A very tender smile flashed across the doctor's stern face and the eyes gleamed through the spectacles with a kinder light than she had ever seen in them, as he leaned forward to say;

"I have known George Lloyd many, many years, my child, and I want to say that he has never had more reason to be proud of anything in his life than that his little granddaughter, under such a test, recognized the right and stood true to the traditions of an old and honourable family when it cost her a friendship that she held very dear. Just now Ida feels that she has been cruelly used, and that her happiness is wrecked for life; but in time she will see differently. Poor mistaken child! I talked with her this morning. Ned is only a selfish, overgrown boy, with many bad habits, and like many another of his kind knows that the plea that she is reforming him is the strongest argument he can use in influencing her. He tells her she is doing that, but to my certain knowledge he has not given up a single vice since he has known her. She thinks that it is her duty to cling to him. I admire her devotion in one way, but it makes her blind to every other duty. She is too infatuated to be able to judge between the right and wrong, and at present feels bitter toward the whole world.

"But by and by, when she grows wiser and learns that the judgment of a sixteen-year-old girl in such matters cannot safely be trusted, she will be glad that you helped bring the affair to a crisis.  When she has outgrown her infatuation she will see that you have done her a kindness instead of a wrong, and she will thank you deeply."

Lloyd had not felt so light-hearted for days, as when she left the president's office, both on her own account and Ida's. When she went into the classroom it was with such a bright face that every one felt the message to the Shadow Club must have been some mark of especial honour.

When Doctor Wells thought the affair ended as far as the seminary was concerned, he had not taken the newspapers into account.

No one could guess where they got their information. Friday morning a Louisville paper came out to the Valley with startling headlines: "Pretty Schoolgirl at Lloydsboro Valley Attempts to Elope with Son of Prominent Judge! Granddaughter o/ Well-Known Kentucky Colonel Plays Important Part! Shadow Club in Disgrace! Ghosts and Lovers vs. Good Behaviour and Learning!"

No names were mentioned, but the badly garbled account made a buzz of wonder and criticism in the Valley. Doctor Wells came into chapel looking worried and haggard. He simply stated the facts of the case and held up the paper with the false account, speaking of the effect such a report would have on the school.

"It puts us in a bad light." he said. "The public will say we should have been more watchful. This will be copied all over the State before the week is out. One girl has already been ordered home by telegraph on account of it."

Lloyd did not see the paper until noon. She read it hastily, standing in the hall, and then ran up to her room to throw herself across her bed in a violent spell of crying.

"Oh, how could they tell such dreadful stories!" she sobbed to Betty. "They might as well have published my name in big red lettahs as to have described Locust and grandfathah so plainly that every one will know who is meant. He and mothah will be so mawtified! I nevah want to look anybody in the face again, aftah having such lies copied all ovah the State about me, as Doctah Wells says they will be, I can't follow them up and prove to everybody that they are not true, and it's such an awful disgrace to be talked about that way in the papahs. If grandfathah or Papa Jack were home I believe they'd shoot that horrid editah!"

The matron came in and tried to comfort her, but she would not listen. She was in a nervous state when trifles were magnified into great troubles, and she persisted in thinking that she was too disgraced by the false report to ever appear in public again. Betty could not coax her down to dinner, and it was not long before she had cried herself into a throbbing headache.

Toward the middle of the afternoon, exhausted by her crying, she fell into such a sound sleep that she did not hear the girls go tramping out for their daily walk. Betty stole in and looked at her and went sorrowfully out again. Magnolia Bodine, passing the door with her carpet-bag on the way to the old carryall waiting at the gate, stopped a moment and listened. It was an exciting tale she was carrying home to Roney thus Friday afternoon. She was glad the sobs had ceased. She had heard them at noon, and had gone around with the cloud of Lloyd's trouble resting on her like a heavy burden.

It was nearly dark when Lloyd awoke. Some one was tapping at the door. Before she could find her voice to say Come in, Mrs. Walton was standing beside her. It was as if a burst of sunshine had suddenly brightened the dull November twilight. Lloyd started to scramble up, but Mrs. Walton insisted on her lying still. Sitting down on the side of the bed. she began stroking her hot forehead with soft, motherly touches.

"I had a conversation with Doctor Wells over the telephone about that affair in the paper," she began. "He told me what a state you were in about it, so I immediately wrote to your mother a full explanation and sent it off on the two o'clock train, stamped 'special delivery.'  She'll get it as soon as the paper, so put your mind at rest on that point. Now I've come over to tell you something I found out about you the other day. You don't even know it yourself. You'll be surprised and glad, I'm sure. It's quite a story, so I shall have to begin it like one.

"One blustery day last week an old farmer stopped at Clovercroft and asked to see Miss Katherine. It proved to be Magnolia Budine's father. He had been there once before with a crock of apple-butter, which he brought as a sort of thank-offering to Katherine because she had made Magnolia so happy about the costume and the picture she took of her in it.

"Katherine said he would have made a striking picture himself as he stood there with his slouched hat pulled over his ears, a blue woollen muffler wound around his neck, and an enormous bronze turkey gobbler in his arms. He wouldn't go in at first, but finally stepped inside out of the wind, still holding the turkey in his arms.

"It seems that there is a man living on his place who used to be an old neighbour of the Budines when they lived near Loretta. This man has been unable to work for some time, and is occupying the cabin free of rent. He has a daughter about sixteen who is very ill. She is Magnolia's best friend, and the child was afraid that Roney, as be called her, was going to die. She wanted her picture above all things, and anything that Magnolia wants the old fellow evidently makes an effort to get for her. He seems completely wrapped up in her. So there he stood with his best bronze gobbler in his arms and tears in his eyes, wanting to know of Katherine if it would be a sufficient inducement for her to drive over with him and take the sick girl's picture.

"She told him she never took pictures for pay, and said she would be glad to do it for nothing if it were not such a bleak day that she was afraid to ride so far in the cold. He was greatly distressed at his failure to persuade her to go, for he was afraid that Roney might die before the weather changed, and then his little girl would be so grieved that she would never get over it. Katherine was so touched by the old fellow's disappointment that she relented, and told him she would risk the cold if I would be willing to go with her. They came by for me, and I went.

"Oh, Lloyd, I wish you could have seen that poor, bare room where Roney was lying. It was clean, but so pitifully bare of all that is bright and comfortable. I looked around and saw not a picture except an unframed chromo tacked over the mantel, till my eyes happened to rest on the old wooden clock. There behind its glass door, swinging back and forth on the pendulum, was your picture; the Princess with the dove."

Lloyd raised herself on one elbow. "My Pictuah!" she cried, in astonishment. "How did it get there?"

"That is what I couldn't help asking Roney. I wish you could have seen her face light up as she looked at it. 'That's my Princess, Mrs. Walton,' she said. 'Magnolia gave it to me. You don't know how she has helped me through the long days and nights. Of course I cant see her in the dark, but every time the clock ticks I know she is swinging away there, saying, "For love --- will find --- a way."'

"I found that Roney's case is one for the King's Daughters to take in hand. She has a small annuity left her by her mother's family; that is all her father and she have to live on. That will stop at her death, and it is her one anxiety that in spite of all her pain she may hang on to life in order that her father may be provided for. The King's Daughters sent for a specialist to come out and examine her. He says she can be cured, so next week we are to move her into Louisville to a hospital for treatment.

"You never saw such a happy face as hers when we told her. 'Oh,' she cried, 'I almost gave up last week. The pain was so terrible. I couldn't have borne it if I hadn't watched the pendulum and, every time it ticked, said, "I'll stand it one more second for daddy's sake, and one more, and one more; I'm spinning the golden thread like the Princess, and love will find a way to help me hang on a little longer!"'

"So you see, dear," said Mrs. Walton, with a playful pat of the cheek, "your face and Betty's song brought hope and strength to a poor suffering little soul of whom you never heard. Your shadow-self reached a long, long way when it brought comfort to Roney and helped keep her brave. What do you care for this trifle you are crying about? The whole affair will blow over and be forgotten in a short time. Get up and go to counting the pendulum with Roney, and sing like the real princess you are. 'Love will find a way' to make us forget the unpleasant things and remember only the good"

Lloyd sat up and threw both her arms around Mrs. Walton's neck. "You're the real princess," she said, softly, with a kiss. "For you go about doing good all the time, like a real king's daughtah."

"Now run along, little girl," said Mrs. Walton, gaily, as Lloyd slipped off the bed. "Bathe your eyes and pack your satchel. I am going to take you and Betty home with me to stay until Monday morning."

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