Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School
The Merry Doings of the Oakdale Freshmen Girls
By JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.
Author of Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School, Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School, Etc.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY Copyright, 1910
I. The Accident of Friendships
II. The Sponsor of the Freshman Class
III. Mrs. Gray Engages a Secretary
IV. The Black Monks of Asia
V. Anne Has a Secret
VI. The Sophomore Ball
VII. All Hallowe'en
VIII. Miss Leece
IX. Thanksgiving Day
X. Grace Keeps Her Secret
XI. Mrs. Gray's Adopted Daughters
XII. Miriam Plans a Revenge
XIII. Christmas Holidays
XIV. A Midnight Alarm
XV. Tom Gray
XVI. The Marionette Show
XVII. After the Ball
XVIII. A Winter Picnic
XX. The Gray Brothers
XXI. The Lost Letter
XXII. Danger Ahead
XXIII. In the Thick of the Night
XXIV. The Freshman Prize
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
A Troop of Black-Robed Figures Were Stealthily Approaching.
"Miss Pierson, Do You Recognize This Figure?"
"Give That Back! It Is Not Yours."
Tom Gray Escapes from the Wolves
Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School
THE ACCIDENT OF FRIENDSHIPS
"Who is the new girl in the class?" asked Miriam Nesbit, flashing her black eyes from one schoolmate to another, as the girls assembled in the locker room of the Oakdale High School.
"Her name is Pierson; that is all I know about her," replied Nora O'Malley, gazing at her pretty Irish face in the looking glass with secret satisfaction. "She's very quiet and shy and looks as if she would weep aloud when her turn comes to recite, but I'm sure she's all right," she added good naturedly. For Nora had a charming, sunny nature, and always saw the best if there was any best to see.
"She is very bright," broke in Grace Harlowe decisively. "She went through her Latin lesson without a mistake, which is certainly more than I could do."
"Well, I don't like her," pouted Miriam. "I never trust those quiet little things. And, besides, she is the worst-dressed girl in——"
"Hush!" interrupted Jessica Bright, touching a finger to her lips. "Here she is."
A little, brown figure entered the room just as Miriam finished speaking. But Jessica was too late with her warning. The young girl had, without doubt, heard the cruel speech and her face flushed painfully as she pinned on a shabby old hat, slipped her arms into a thin black jacket and stepped out again without looking at the crowd of schoolmates who watched her silently.
"Miriam, I should think you'd learn to be more careful," exclaimed hot-tempered Nora, her soft heart touched by the appealing little stranger.
"Well, what difference does it make?" replied Miriam. "If Miss Pierson doesn't know already that she's the shabbiest girl in school, it's high time she found it out. I have a suspicion her mother takes in washing or something, and I mean to find it out right now. We can't invite a girl like that to our class parties and entertainments. She would disgrace us."
"Miriam," said Grace quietly, "I believe we are all privileged to invite whom we please to our homes. I intend to give a class tea next Saturday, and I mean to follow Miss Pierson right now and ask her to help me receive."
The two girls looked into each other's faces for a moment without speaking. Grace was quiet and contained, Miriam flushed and furiously angry. They had been rival leaders always at the Grammar School, but the rivalry had never come to open battle until now.
Miriam was the first to drop her eyes. She did not reply, but from that moment she was the sworn enemy of Grace Harlowe and her two friends, Nora and Jessica.
"Well, we had better hurry," said Jessica, trying to calm the troubled scene. "Nobody knows exactly where Miss Pierson lives and she will be out of sight before we can catch her."
The three girls ran lightly out of the basement of the fine old building that was the pride of Oakdale. It was large and imposing, built of smooth, gray stone, with four huge columns supporting the front portico. A hundred yards away stood the companion building, the Boys' High School, exactly like the first in every respect except that a wing had been added for a gymnasium which the girls had the privilege of using on certain days. A wide campus surrounded the two buildings, shaded by elm and oak trees. Certainly no other town in the state could boast of twin high schools as fine as these; and especially did the situation appeal to the people of Oakdale, for the ten level acres surrounding the two buildings gave ample space for the various athletic fields, and the doings of the high schools formed the very life of the place.
But we must return to our three girls who were hurrying down the shady street, followed in a more leisurely and dignified fashion by Miriam and her friends. The shabby figure of the little stranger had just turned the corner as the girls left the High School grounds.
"Come on," cried Grace breathlessly, leading the way. Having once made up her mind, she always pursued her point with a fine obstinacy regardless of opinion.
When they had come to the cross street they saw their quarry again, now making her way slowly toward the street next the river. This was the shabbiest street in Oakdale, though no one knew exactly why, since the river bank might have been the chosen site for all the handsomest buildings; but towns are as incorrigible as people, sometimes, and insist on growing one way when they should grow another, without the slightest regard for future appearances.
And so, when little Miss Pierson stopped in front of one of the smallest and meanest cottages on River Street, the girls knew she must, indeed, be very poor. The house, small and forlorn, presented a sad countenance streaked with tear stains from a leaky gutter. An uneven pavement led to the front door, which bore a painted sign: "Plain Sewing."
They paused irresolutely at the gate, and were taking counsel together when Miriam Nesbit passed with her friends. She pointed at the door and laughed.
"Really, that girl's conduct is contemptible!" exclaimed Grace, giving the wooden gate a vigorous push. "I simply won't tolerate her rudeness. She is an unmitigated snob!" Grace knocked on the door rather sharply to emphasize her feelings. It was opened almost immediately by Miss Pierson herself, still in her hat and coat; and in her surprise and embarrassment she almost shut the door in their faces. But Jessica's gentle smile reassured her, and Grace, who was a born leader, took her hand kindly and plunged at once into the subject.
"You left school so quickly this afternoon, Miss Pierson, that I didn't have a chance to see you. I have something very particular I want to ask you to-day."
"Won't you come in?" said the other, opening the door into the parlor, which had an air of refinement about it in spite of its utter poorness.
"Anne!" called a querulous voice down the passage.
"Yes, mother, I'm coming," answered the girl, hurrying out of the room with a frightened look in her eyes. In a few moments she was back again.
"Please excuse me for leaving you," she said. "My mother is an invalid and needs my sister or me with her constantly."
"Her name is Anne, then," thought Grace. "I shall call her so at once and break the ice."
"Anne," she said aloud, "I think you know my friends, don't you—Jessica Bright and Nora O'Malley? And I am Grace Harlowe."
"Oh, yes," replied Anne, brightening at the friendly advances of the others. "I remember your names from the roll call."
"Of course," replied Grace. "But I think we should all be more to each other than roll-call acquaintances, we freshmen. I am very ambitious for our class. I want it to be the best that ever graduated from Oakdale High School, and for that reason, I think all the girls in it should try to be friends and work together to advance the cause. I'm going to start the ball rolling by giving a tea to our class next Saturday afternoon. Will you come and receive with Jessica and Nora and me?"
Anne clasped her hands delightedly for a moment. Then her eyes filled with tears and her lips trembled so that the girls were afraid she might be going to cry. Tender-hearted Jessica turned her face away for fear of showing too much sympathy.
"I'm sorry," said Anne at last, rather unsteadily, "but I am afraid I can't accept your delightful invitation. I——"
"I beg your pardon," said a voice at the door, "I didn't mean to intrude on your visitors, Anne, but I couldn't help overhearing Miss Harlowe's invitation."
A small woman, much older than Anne, but very like her in face and figure, appeared at the door.
"This is my sister," said Anne, taking the other's hand affectionately.
"Anne imagines she can't go, but she certainly can," went on the older Miss Pierson, calmly, not in the least embarrassed by the strange young girls. "Of course, she must go. I can arrange it easily."
"But, Mary——" protested Anne.
"Never mind, little sister," interrupted Mary, "it will be all right. Miss Harlowe, what time must she be there?"
"At four o'clock," answered Grace, rising to go, "and I am delighted that she can come. Remember, Anne, I'm counting on you to pour the lemonade. The other girls are going to help with the sandwiches and ice cream. By the way," she added, as they went down the steps, "be sure and come to the basketball meeting at the gym this afternoon."
And so it was arranged that Anne Pierson, the shabbiest and poorest girl in Oakdale High School, was to help receive at one of the prettiest and most charming houses in town. Miriam Nesbit's rudeness was to bring about a friendship between Anne Pierson and her three schoolmates that lasted a lifetime.
After the half-past two o'clock dinner, which was the universal custom in Oakdale, the chums met again at the gymnasium in the Boys' High School. Wednesdays and Saturdays were nicknamed "ladies' days" by the High School boys, for on these afternoons the girls were permitted free use of the gymnasium.
The meeting to-day was not for gymnastic exercises, however, but an important subject was to be discussed—the Freshman Basketball Team. Also the captain of the team was to be elected.
Other club meetings were in full force when the girls arrived, and the great room vibrated with the hum of voices. The three freshmen, who knew better than to interrupt sophomores and juniors at their pow-wows, made their way quietly across the hall to the appointed place of rendezvous. Of course, the entire Freshman Class did not assemble to discuss this subject. Many members were not interested in basketball, except to look on. Girls who were overstudious, and not physically strong, could not at any rate play on the team, and therefore they seldom attended such meetings. Jessica Bright was one of these, nevertheless, she followed her two friends, who had always been foremost in athletics at the Central Grammar School.
The election of a captain was the first business of the meeting. That over, the captain, after due and serious consultation with a friendly cabinet, chose the players and their substitutes.
Undoubtedly Grace Harlowe had the coolest head in the class, and was the most to be relied upon at critical moments; yet Miriam Nesbit exerted a strange influence over her followers, who were almost her slaves. She was the richest of all the girls and wore the costliest clothes. The parties she gave, from time to time, in her mother's large and handsome home were the talk of the place. She was also the cleverest girl in the class, and had taken undisputed first place since she was a child. She was not a close student, but seemed to absorb her lessons in half the time that it took her friends to master them. Popular she certainly was, or rather she was feared by her schoolmates. Her masterful, overpowering spirit seemed to sweep everything before it.
Grace Harlowe was quite as powerful in her way, but she had a noble, unselfish disposition and was much beloved by her friends. She stood well in her studies, but had never taken first place. Perhaps this was because she had interested herself so much in outdoor sports that she had not given enough time to study.
Both girls were handsome—Miriam tall, dark and oriental-looking, with flashing eyes and an imperious curve to her lips; Grace was also tall, with wavy, chestnut hair, fine gray eyes, regular features, a full, generous chin and cheeks glowing with health.
Miriam Nesbit had already done a good deal of lobbying when the three girls arrived on the scene. She wished to be elected captain of the team at any cost; but Grace's adherents were holding off, quietly waiting for her arrival.
"Well, here you are at last!" said Marian Barber, who had been preparing the ballots for the coming election.
Marian was the busy girl of the class, and always made herself useful.
"Is everyone here?" demanded Nora, scanning the crowd of freshmen with a view to ascertaining what her chum's chances were.
"All that intend coming," replied Miriam. "The softies stayed away, as usual."
"Suppose we wait five minutes," said Grace, looking at her watch, "and then, if no one comes, we will cast the votes."
"No, no," exclaimed Miriam impatiently. "I have an engagement and can't spare any more time. I vote that we have the election at once, without waiting another moment."
"Very well," assented Grace. "I only suggested waiting because Anne Pierson promised to come, and, of course, every girl in the class has a right to vote at the class elections."
"Anne Pierson?" cried Miriam, turning crimson with suppressed rage.
"Yes," answered Grace calmly; "but, if everybody is agreeable, suppose we go ahead."
"Agreed!" cried the others and the ballots were cast.
There was not much parliamentary practice in these class elections. Each girl wrote the name of her choice on a slip of paper and dropped it in a hat. Four of the girls then counted the votes, and the one receiving the most slips was declared elected.
The slips were dropped into the hat, amid the silence of the company. Some of the sophomores and juniors, perched on parallel bars, watched the scene with superior amusement, but no notice was taken of their half-whispered jeers.
The four girls then retired to count the votes.
"It's a tie," announced Marian Barber, returning presently; "a tie between Grace and Miriam. I wish some of the others would come and settle the matter."
"Here's some one," cried Nora. "Here's Anne Pierson. Let her cast the decisive vote."
Miriam's eyes blazed, but she held her peace. There was nothing to do but submit with an uneasy grace. But who could doubt what the outcome would be? However, she felt somewhat relieved when Grace said:
"I think we should cast the votes over again, and, according to the rules we made last year, Miriam and I should not vote, since the election rests between us."
The votes were cast again, Anne timidly dropping her slip in the hat with the others, and, as might have been expected, Grace was elected captain of the Freshman Basketball Team of the Oakdale High School.
THE SPONSOR OF THE FRESHMAN CLASS
"Grace," asked Mrs. Harlowe, the day of the famous freshman tea, "have you asked some of the girls to help this afternoon? Bridget can attend to the sandwiches, but some one ought to pour the lemonade and generally look after the wants of the others."
Grace was arranging a bowl of China asters on the piano in her mother's charming drawing room. The shining mahogany chairs and tables reflected the glow of the wood fire, for the day was chilly, and bright chintz curtains at the windows gave a cheerful note of color to the scene.
"Oh, yes, mother," replied Grace. "Nora and Jessica, of course, and Anne Pierson."
"And who is Anne Pierson?"
"I don't know who she is," answered Grace. "I never knew her until she entered the High School. But she is terribly poor. Her mother is an invalid and her sister takes in plain sewing. I really asked her at first because Miriam Nesbit was rude to her one day. But I'm beginning to like her so much, now, that I'm glad I did it. She's as quiet as a little mouse, but she is fast taking first place in class. I believe she will outstrip Miriam before the end of the year. Don't ask me who she is, though. I haven't the least idea, but she's all right, I can promise you that. I'm sorry for her because she is poor. They live in a little broken-down cottage on River Street."
Mrs. Harlowe looked dubious. Grace was always bringing home stray people and animals, and the mother was accustomed to her daughter's whims. The young girl was familiar to all the ragamuffins of the town slum, and when she sometimes found one gazing wistfully through the fence palings of her mother's old-fashioned garden, she promptly led him around to the kitchen, gave him a plate of food on the back steps, picked him a small bouquet and sent him off half-dazed with her gracious and impetuous kindness.
"Well, my dear, I shall be prepared for anything," exclaimed Mrs. Harlowe; "but remember that feeding people on the back steps and asking them into the parlor to meet your friends and acquaintances are two different matters altogether."
"Don't be afraid, mother," replied Grace. "You will like Anne as well as I do, once you get to know her. You must be careful not to frighten her at first. She is the most timid little soul I ever met."
Just then the front gate clicked and two girls strolled up the red-brick walk, their light organdie dresses peeping out from the folds of their long capes.
"Here come Nora and Jessica," cried Grace excitedly, running to the door to meet her friends.
Mrs. Harlowe smiled. In spite of Grace's sixteen years she was still her little girl.
There was another click at the gate and Mrs. Harlowe saw through the parlor window a little, dark figure, pathetically plain in its shabby coat and hat.
"Poor little soul," thought the good woman. "How I wish I could put her into one of Grace's muslins, but, of course, I couldn't think of offering to do such a thing."
"Mother," said Grace some minutes later, when the girls had laid aside their wraps and descended into the drawing room, "this is Anne Pierson, our new friend."
Anne Pierson, small and shrinking, was dressed in a queer, old-fashioned black silk that had evidently been taken up and made short for the occasion. Mrs. Harlowe's heart was touched to the quick and she bent and kissed the young girl gently.
"How do you do, my dear?" she said kindly. "I am always glad to meet Grace's friends, and you are most welcome."
Anne was too frightened almost to speak. This was the first party she had ever attended, and the beautiful room, the girls in their light, pretty dresses, the bowls of flowers and the cheery firelight nearly stupefied her.
Mrs. Harlowe disappeared into the little conservatory off the dining room, returning in a moment with two big red roses which she pinned to Anne's dress.
"These red roses have been waiting for you all morning," she said, "and they're just in their prime now."
More guests began to arrive, and soon the room was full of young girls talking gayly together in groups or walking about, their arms around each other's waists after the manner of fifteen and sixteen.
Grace had seated Anne at the dining room table behind a large cut glass bowl which almost hid her small figure. Grace knew from experience that this would be the most popular spot in the room, and she cautioned many of her friends to be kind to the timid little stranger. She knew also that giving Anne something to keep her occupied would relieve her embarrassment. Anne conscientiously filled and refilled the glasses, and in the intervals answered the questions put to her; but never asked any herself.
Miriam Nesbit came in late with her two most intimate friends. She wore a resplendent dress of old rose crepe and a big black hat. Anne forgot her resentment when she caught sight of the vision and was lost in admiration. But she was brought sharply to her senses by a rude, sneering laugh from the ill-bred girl, who was staring insolently at the old black silk gown.
Anne flushed and hung her head.
"I am glad Mrs. Harlowe gave me the flowers," she thought. "They hide it a little, I think."
Meantime there was the bustle of a new and important arrival. Grace and her mother ushered in a charming little old lady and seated her in the place of honor, a big leather chair between the windows. She wore a gray silk dress and a lavender bonnet daintily trimmed in lace and white ostrich tips.
"Girls," said Grace, as a hush fell over the room, "there is no need for me to introduce any of you to Mrs. Gray, who is the sponsor for the freshman class."
There was a buzz of laughter and conversation again, and through the double doors Anne caught sight of the little old lady, talking gayly to her subjects, seated, like a diminutive queen, on a large throne.
"Why is she the sponsor of the class?" Anne asked of Jessica, who was hovering near by.
"Oh, have you never heard?" returned Jessica. "Mrs. Gray's daughter died during her freshman year at High School, long ago, and ever since then, Mrs. Gray has offered a prize of twenty-five dollars for the girl who makes the highest average in her examinations at the end of the freshman year. She was made sponsor of the freshman class about ten years ago, so each year, soon after school opens, some one of the freshmen gives a tea and invites her to meet the new girls. You must come in and be introduced, too, as soon as you are through here."
"A prize of twenty-five dollars," repeated Anne. "How I wish I might win it!"
"It's even more than that," said Jessica. "For a perfect examination she offers one hundred dollars. But, needless to say, no one has ever won the hundred. It is considered impossible to pass a perfect examination in every subject."
"One hundred dollars!" exclaimed Anne. "Oh, if I only could!"
"Well, you may win the twenty-five dollars, anyway, Anne," said Jessica. "I suppose the one hundred dollar prize is beyond the reach of human beings."
"And now, young ladies," Mrs. Gray was saying, smiling at the group of girls who surrounded her, as she examined them through her lorgnette, "most of you I have known since you were little tots, and your fathers and mothers before you; but I don't know which of you excels in her studies. Is it you, Grace, my dear?"
Grace shook her head vigorously.
"No, indeed, Mrs. Gray," she replied. "I could never be accused of overstudy. I suppose I'm too fond of basketball."
"It won't hurt you, my dear," said the old lady, tapping the girl indulgently with her lorgnette; "the open air is much better than that of the schoolroom, and so long as you keep up an average, I daresay you won't disappoint your mother. But none of you have told me yet who leads the freshman class in her studies."
"Miriam Nesbit," said several voices in unison.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Gray, looking intently at Miriam. "So you are the gold medal girl, Miriam? Dear me, what a young lady you are growing to be! But you must not study too hard. Don't overdo it."
Mrs. Gray had gone through this same conversation every year since any of the girls could remember, and never failed to caution the head girl not to overstudy.
"There's no fear of that, Mrs. Gray," replied Miriam boastfully. "My lessons give me very little trouble."
"Mrs. Gray," broke in Nora O'Malley mischievously, "Miriam Nesbit has a close second in the class. The first girl who has ever been known to come up to her."
Miriam flushed, half-angry and half-pleased at the adroit compliment.
"And who may that be, my dear?" queried Mrs. Gray, searching about the room with her nearsighted blue eyes.
"It's Anne Pierson" replied Nora.
"Pierson, Pierson?" repeated the little old lady. "Why have I not met her? I do not seem to remember the name in Oakdale. But where is this wonderful young woman who is outstripping our brilliant Miriam? I feel a great curiosity to see her."
"Anne Pierson, Anne Pierson!" called several voices, while Grace began to search through the rooms and hall.
At the first mention of her name Anne had darted from her seat behind the lemonade bowl, and rushed to the nearest shelter, which was the conservatory.
Grace found her, at last, in the conservatory crouched behind a palm.
"Come here, you foolish child!" exclaimed Grace. "You are wanted at once. Why did you run and hide? Mrs. Gray—the great Mrs. Gray—wishes to meet you. Think of that!"
Anne clasped the girl's strong hand with her two small ones.
"Oh, Grace," she whispered, "won't you excuse me? I—I——"
"You what? Silly, come right along!"
Grace fairly dragged the trembling little figure into the drawing room, where a silence had fallen over the group of young girls who watched the scene.
"Tut, tut, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Gray gently. "You mustn't be afraid of me. I'm the most harmless old woman in the world."
Then she tried to get a glimpse of Anne's downcast, crimson face.
"I wanted particularly to meet you, child," went on Mrs. Gray, "because I hear you are a formidable rival of the best pupil in the freshman class. That is a great boast for your friends to make for you, my dear. Miriam Nesbit is a famously smart girl, I'm told. But I wanted to meet you, too, because you bear the name I love best in the world."
Here the old lady's voice became very soft, and the girls suddenly remembered that the young daughter had been called Anne. Was there not a memorial window, in the chapel of the High School, of an angel carrying a lily and underneath an inscription familiar to them all: "In Memory of Anne Gray, died in her freshman year, aged sixteen"?
The girls moved off quietly, conversing in low voices, leaving Anne alone with her new friend.
"You are a very little girl to be so clever," said Mrs. Gray, patting one of Anne's small wrists as she looked into the dark eyes. "Where do you live, dear?"
"On River Street," replied Anne undergoing the scrutiny calmly, now she found herself alone.
"River Street?" repeated Mrs. Gray, trying to recall whom she had ever known living in that strange quarter of the town. "Have you been long in Oakdale?" she went on.
"A few years, ma'am," replied Anne.
"And what is your father's business, my child?" continued the old lady remorselessly.
Anne blushed and hung her head, and for a moment there was no reply to the question. Presently she drew a sharp breath as if it hurt her to make the confession.
"My father does not live here," was what she said. "My mother is an invalid. My sister supports us with sewing. As soon as I finish in the High School, I shall teach."
Mrs. Gray put an arm around the girl's waist and drew her down beside her.
"I'm a stupid old woman, child. You must forgive me. Old people forget their manners sometimes. Will you come and see me very soon? Perhaps to-morrow after church you will take luncheon with me? I want to know you better."
She drew a card from the beaded reticule that hung at her side.
"Remember, at half-past twelve," she said, giving the girl's hand an extra squeeze as she rose to go.
After Mrs. Gray had taken her departure a free and easy atmosphere was restored and the girls began talking and laughing without the restriction of an older person's presence. Mrs. Harlowe shortly after this also left them to themselves.
"Let's do some stunts," proposed Grace. "Nora, will you give us your imitations?"
"Certainly," replied Nora, "if Miriam will promise to sing, and Jessica will do her Greek dance, and Georgie will play for us."
"All right!" came a chorus of voices.
"We've done it oft before, but we'll do it o'er again if the company so wishes," said Georgie Pine, one of the brightest and gayest girls in the class.
The others seated themselves in a semicircle, while each girl gave her little performance, and, at the conclusion, was applauded enthusiastically. Nora had a real talent for mimicry; she convulsed her audience with imitations of some of the High School teachers. When it came Miriam's turn she sat down at the piano with a queer look on her face.
"I believe she means mischief," thought Grace to herself, as she watched the girl curiously.
Miriam ran a brilliant scale up the piano, for music was another of her many accomplishments. Then she paused and turned to the others.
"I won't sing," she said, "unless Miss Pierson promises to recite us something first, Poe's 'Raven,' for instance."
Grace flushed angrily and was about to interfere when, to her surprise, Anne herself replied:
"I shall be glad to if that is the poem you like best. I always preferred 'Annabel Lee.'"
Miriam was too amazed to answer. She could never form an idea of what it cost Anne in self-control to acquiesce; but the young girl had gained a new strength that day. So many people had been kind to her, and what is more, interested in her welfare. She rose quietly and walked to the middle of the semicircle.
Grace and her chums were in an agony of fear lest poor Anne should break down, and so distress them all except the unkind Miriam. However, they need not have troubled themselves. Anne fixed her eyes on the far wall of the dining room and commenced to recite "The Raven" in a clear, musical voice that deepened as she repeated the stanzas. The girls forgot the shabby little figure in its ill-fitting black silk and saw only Anne's small, white face and glowing eyes. Not Miss Tebbs, herself, teacher of English and elocution at the High School, could have improved upon the performance.
"It was perfectly done," said Grace afterwards, telling the story to her mother. "It was almost uncanny and quite creepy toward the last."
When the performance was over the girls crowded around little Anne with eager congratulations; but, strange to say, everyone forgot that Miriam had given her promise to sing.
What the crestfallen Miriam kept wondering was: "Wherever did she learn to do it?"
MRS. GRAY ENGAGES A SECRETARY
Grace and her two friends, Jessica and Nora, were also invited to Mrs. Gray's luncheon the next day, after church. Grace had often taken meals in the beautiful house on Chapel Hill, but the other girls had never been privileged to do more than sit in the large, shady parlors while their mothers paid an afternoon call.
It was with some excitement, therefore, that the three girls met in front of the Catholic Church, of which Nora was a member, and strolled up the broad street together. As they passed the little Episcopal Chapel, which had given the hill its name, Anne Pierson joined them. She looked grave and excited, and there was a feverish glow in her eyes.
"Anne, my child," exclaimed Grace, who always seemed much older than the others, "how late do you study at night? I believe you are working too hard. You look tired out."
"I'm not tired," replied Anne. "I don't mind studying. Only so much has happened in the last few days! And now we're going to luncheon with Mrs. Gray. I've seen her house. It's very beautiful from the outside, more beautiful than the Nesbits', I think, because it is older and there is such a pretty garden at the side."
"Anne," said Jessica, "we're counting on you to win the prize. There is no reason why a rich girl like Miriam Nesbit should get it. She doesn't need the money, in the first place; and, in the second, she's already had enough glory to turn her head. Being beaten won't hurt her at all."
"I would rather win it," answered Anne, with passionate fervor, "than almost anything in the world. And think of the big prize of $100! If I could win that——" Words failed to express her enthusiasm and she paused and clasped her hands.
"Oh, well, we won't expect that of you," replied Grace, "Nobody could be expected to pass a perfect examination. That's an impossible achievement."
"I shall try, anyway," said Anne in a low voice.
Just then they were joined by a young man of about eighteen, who lifted his hat politely to them.
"May I walk with you?" he asked of Grace. "You seem to be going my way this morning."
"Certainly, David, we are going your way. We are lunching with your next door neighbor, Mrs. Gray. But you must let me introduce you to Miss Pierson. Anne, this is Mr. Nesbit, Miriam's brother."
Anne flushed at the mention of Miriam's name and bowed distantly to the newcomer, who was a junior at the High School and quite grown-up to the young freshmen.
David Nesbit, like his sister, was tall, dark and handsome; but unlike her, he was quiet and unassuming. He, too, stood at the head of his classes, but he was not athletic, as Miriam was, and spent most of his time in the school laboratory, experimenting, or working at home on engines and machinery of his own contriving.
However, there was nothing snobbish in David's attitude. He greeted Anne as cordially as he had the others.
"We never see you now, David," continued Grace. "You are always so busy with your inventions and contrivances. What is the latest? A flying machine?"
"You guessed right the very first time," replied David. "It is just that."
"Really?" laughed the girls, incredulously, while Anne's eyes grew large with interest.
"Shall you fly around Oakdale in it?" asked Jessica.
"Oh, we are not building big ones yet," answered David. "These are little fellows. Models, you know. The big ones may come later. Six of the junior and senior fellows have been working on them all summer. We started it in the manual training course. After we had learned to hammer things out of silver, and do wood carving and a few other little useful accomplishments, I suggested a flying machine to Professor Blitz and he fell to it like a ripe peach. It was too late to do anything last spring except talk, however. But we are almost ready now, after our labors this summer."
"Ready for what?" demanded Grace. "If you are not going to fly yourselves."
"For our exhibition. Why don't you come and see it at the gym. next Friday night?"
"We can't. We aren't invited," answered Nora, tossing back her saucy little curls.
"I'll invite you," said David. "This will admit four young ladies to the High School gym.," he continued, taking out a card and writing on it, "At 7.30 Thursday evening."
"Then everybody isn't invited?" demanded Jessica.
"No, not everybody," replied David. "Just a chosen few. And you must be sure to come, too, Miss Pierson," he added, turning to Anne, who, all this time, had been silently listening to the conversation.
"I should love to," she answered, giving him a grateful glance.
"I'll leave you here," said David, turning in at a graveled driveway that led to the Nesbit house, a very large and ornate building standing far back from the street in the midst of a well-kept lawn.
"I wish Miriam would take a few lessons in manners from her brother," murmured Grace, when they were out of hearing distance.
"He is certainly one of the nicest boys in High School," said Jessica.
"If he only played football!" said Grace, with a sigh.
"And danced," added Nora.
"I don't know how to dance, nor did I ever see a game of football," said Anne.
"Meaning that Mr. David suits you, Miss Anne," said Grace teasingly.
"It was nice of him to ask me, too," was all Anne said in reply.
"How do you do, my dears?" said Mrs. Gray, a few moments later, when John, the aged butler, ushered the girls into the long, old-fashioned parlor. "You are most kind to come and cheer up a lonely old woman. I shall expect you to be very gay and tell me all the gossip of the Oakdale High School, the four of you."
"Luncheon is served, ma'am," announced John, whereat the sprightly old lady led the way to the dining room.
Over the delicious broiled chicken and other good things they discussed the affairs of the school, the new teacher in mathematics, Miss Leece, who was so unpopular; the girls' principal, Miss Thompson, beloved by all the pupils; the merits of the Freshman Basketball Team and a dozen other schoolgirl topics that seemed to delight the ears of Mrs. Gray.
"The truth is," she said, "I believe this freshman class is going to be one of the finest Oakdale High School has ever turned out. I have a feeling that I shall be very proud of my new girls, and at Christmas time I mean to do something I have never done before, if all goes well."
"Oh, do tell us what it is, Mrs. Gray," cried the girls in great excitement.
"I mean to celebrate with the largest Christmas party that's been given in Oakdale for many a long year. Grace, you shall manage it for me, and all of you shall help me decorate the tree and the house. We'll invite the freshmen boys and have a real dance with Ohlson's band for the music."
"Oh, oh!" cried the girls ecstatically, even quiet Anne joining in the chorus.
"By the way," went on Mrs. Gray, "do you know any girl who would like to come up and read to me twice a week, and write my notes for me? I'm getting to be an old woman. My eyesight is growing dim. Is there any girl who would like to earn a little pocket money? But she must have a sweet, soft voice, like Anne's here."
"Anne would be the very girl herself, Mrs. Gray," suggested Grace. "She reads and recites beautifully."
"You are not sure it would trespass on your time too much, Anne?" observed the wily old lady. "I don't want to impose on you."
Anne's face fairly radiated with happiness. Could those girls possibly guess how much it meant to her to earn a little money! Five dollars was to her an enormous sum, and perhaps she might earn as much as that in time.
"Might I do it?" she exclaimed, beside herself with joy.
Grace turned her face away a moment. She felt almost ashamed of her own comfortable prosperity. And how like Mrs. Gray it was to do a kind thing in that way, as if Anne would be conferring a favor by accepting the position.
"Indeed, you might, my dear. And I feel myself lucky to get the brightest girl in her class, and maybe in Oakdale High School, to come and entertain me twice a week."
THE BLACK MONKS OF ASIA
"Who wants to go nutting?" demanded Grace Harlowe in the basement cloakroom a few afternoons later.
"We do," came a chorus of voices.
"I don't," answered one.
"Don't you like nutting parties, Miriam?" asked Grace.
"She's too old," put in a sophomore. "This is a young people's party, I presume?"
"Well, it's not a sophomore party, at any rate," retorted Nora.
"Ma-ma, ma-ma," cried a number of other sophomores, imitating the cries of a baby.
The freshmen were nettled by the superior attitude of the older class, but they knew better than to say anything more just then.
"Never mind, girls," said Grace in a low voice, after the sophomores had strolled away, "we'll be sophomores ourselves next year. Now, all who want to join the party, meet Nora and Jessica and me at the old Omnibus House at three-thirty. And, above all, don't give the meeting place away."
"Not in a thousand years," said Marian Barber.
It was evident that Miriam Nesbit had hoped to break up the party by declining to go herself. But she was not quite strong enough in the class to divide it utterly, and she went off in a huff, with the secret wish to take revenge on somebody. As she started up Chapel Hill to her home she was joined by one of the sophomore girls, who lived across the street.
"Your plebes are getting away from you, Miriam," exclaimed the older girl in a bantering tone. "You haven't got them well in hand yet. Nutting parties should be left behind for the Grammar School pupils."
"They certainly should," replied Miriam in a disgusted tone. "It's Grace Harlowe who gets up all these foolish children's games. She's nothing but a tomboy, anyhow."
"She's the captain of the basketball team, isn't she?" asked the other dryly.
"Yes," admitted Miriam reluctantly, "but she never would have been if she hadn't brought along all her friends to vote for her."
"Whew-w-w!" whistled the sophomore. "You don't mean to say it wasn't a fair election?"
"Oh, fair enough," said Miriam, "except that I didn't bother to bring any of my special friends, and she did. I don't call that exactly fair."
"Oh, well," consoled the other, "you have a few things coming to you anyway, Miriam. You're at the head of your class, as usual, I suppose?"
Miriam nodded her head without answering. She was thinking of little Anne Pierson and what a close race they were running together. Even studying harder than she had ever had to do before, Miriam found it difficult to keep up with Anne.
"Where are they going?" asked the other girl suddenly, after they had walked along a few minutes in silence.
"Where are who going?" asked Miriam.
"Why, the nutting party, of course."
Here was Miriam's chance for revenge. The sophomores were a famously mischievous class, and this girl was one of its ringleaders. Back in Grammar School days they had played many pranks on their school fellows, and even in their freshman year they had dared to turn off all lights, one night at a dance of older schoolmates.
"If I tell, you won't give me away, will you?" asked Miriam.
"I promise," said the older girl.
"Very well, then. They meet at three-thirty at the Omnibus House on the River road."
"Good," said the sophomore. "Don't you want to come along and see the fun?"
"Don't count on me," answered Miriam, turning in at her gate, with mixed feelings of shame and triumph.
The Omnibus House, which had been chosen by Grace as the class meeting place, was an old stone building standing in the middle of an orchard. It was now in ruins, but tradition set it down as a former inn and stage coach station built before the days of railroads, and finally burned by the Indians. There was a curious hieroglyphic sign cut in a stone slab in the front wall which one of the High School professors interested in archaeology had deciphered as follows: "Peace and Justice Reign Over Mount Asia Tavern."
Here the crowd of High School "plebes," as the sophomores scornfully dubbed them, met in conclave, partly to gather nuts in the woods near by, partly to discuss class matters, but chiefly to enjoy the crisp autumn weather. The woods were still gorgeous in russets and reds, in spite of the recent heavy frosts, and there was a smell of burning leaves and dry bracken in the air. The girls skipped about like young ponies.
"If this is childish," cried Grace, "then I'd like to be a child always, for I shall play in the woods when the notion strikes me, even if I'm a grandmother."
There was a smothered snicker at this from the inside of the old stone house, but the girls were too intent on their enjoyment to notice it.
"Young ladies," exclaimed Nora O'Malley, trailing her cape after her to make her skirts look longer, and twisting her mouth down to give her face a severe expression, "you are not in your usual form to-day. I must ask for better preparation hereafter."
There was a peal of joyous laughter from the other girls.
"Miss Leece to a dot," cried Jessica.
"Miss Bright," went on Nora, "you will please pay attention to the lesson. If you do not, young woman, I shall have to punish you in the old-fashioned way."
"You will, will you?" cried Jessica, rushing gayly upon her friend. "Come on and try it then!"
The other girls followed, and there was a tussle to pull Nora down from the stone upon which she had clambered to protect herself.
Shrieks, struggles and wild laughter followed, while Nora fought desperately to hold her position. So absorbed were they in friendly battle that they had not noticed a troop of black-robed figures leaving the ruined Omnibus House and stealthily approaching.
Nora was the first to see the ominous circle. She stopped short, and pointed with unmistakable terror at the masked and hooded persons, who were watching them silently. There was a moment of frozen horror when the girls turned around. This was a lonely spot, too remote from any dwelling to call for help. Besides, the freshmen were outnumbered by these weird figures, who appeared not unlike monks in their somber cowls, although their faces were absolutely hidden by black masks.
The girls clustered together around the rock like a group of frightened chickens. Jessica had turned pale. She was not very robust and often overtaxed her strength to keep up with her two devoted friends.
The tallest of the masked figures then spoke in a queer, deep voice.
"Young women, are you not aware that this is a sacred spot, devoted for generations past to the Black Monks of Asia, whose home this building was before it became a roadhouse for stage coaches? Never invade this spot again with your hilarity. And now we will permit you to go, marching out single file, without looking back. But first, through your leader you must give your word never to mention this meeting to anyone. If you refuse this promise we shall punish you as only the Black Monks of Asia know how to punish persons who have offended the order. The leader will please step forward."
There was a moment's whispered conversation among the freshmen. Then Grace, urged by her friends, said:
"Now march out, single file, as agreed," resumed the Black Monk of Asia, his voice trembling a little with suppressed emotion of some sort.
The girls started to move out of the enclosure single file, Grace leading the procession, when a gust of wind blew the robe of the leading monk apart, disclosing a navy blue serge walking-skirt. Grace's quick eye caught sight of the skirt at once, and breaking from the line, she charged straight into the group of black monks, crying:
The other girls ran after her, screaming at the tops of their voices; and there might have been almost a free fight between the two classes had not the Black Monks of Asia scattered in every direction, running at utmost speed.
"Come on back, girls," cried Grace in a disgusted tone.
She had chased a monk half-way across the orchard; then stopped to wonder what she would do if she caught the tall, black-robed individual who had indecorously caught up her skirts and was flying well ahead over the rough ground.
One by one the plebes returned to their meeting place.
"Well, that was a sell!" uttered Nora disgustedly. "How shall we ever manage to get even with those mean sophomores!"
"If we don't," exclaimed Grace, "we shall never hear the last of it in Oakdale."
"But who gave us away?" demanded Jessica. "Did anyone drop a hint to the sophomores of our secret meeting place?"
"I didn't," said one girl after another.
"Perhaps they followed us," suggested Marian Barber.
"No one followed me," asserted Grace. "I was careful to look behind and see."
"Nor me," exclaimed several of her classmates.
"No," said Nora. "Somebody must have overheard and given the secret away."
"Not Mi——" but Grace stopped before she had finished the name.
The girls looked at each other.
Could Miriam Nesbit have been so false to her class?
No one replied, but each made a secret resolution to ferret out Miriam's suspected treachery if it were the last act of her life.
"Let's start home, now," said Grace. "It's too late to go nutting anyhow, and these foolish sophomores have spoiled the afternoon, for me at least. If we don't cook up something to pay them back, the name of freshman will be disgraced forever more."
However, the afternoon adventures were not at an end.
As the group of girls started toward the road, some distance away, trying not to look crestfallen, a gruff voice from the far side of the Omnibus House called:
"Hold up there!"
The girls took no notice, thinking it was more upper-class tricks.
Five rough-looking men emerged from a grove of alders which grew about the building.
The young girls were really frightened this time. No sophomore could disguise herself like this. These were undoubtedly genuine ruffians of the worst type, hungry, blear-eyed and ragged.
"What shall we do?" whispered Jessica, clinging to Grace desperately.
"Everybody run," answered her friend, trying to be calm as the five men advanced on them. But when they broke away to run toward the distant road they found their retreat cut off by the tramps, who were active enough as soon as the girls showed signs of flight. Back of them lay the dense woods into which the sophomores must have plunged and departed for town by another road. Seeing that escape was impossible, since, if some got away, others would be caught—and no girl was willing to desert her friends—the frightened plebes paused again and clustered about their leader.
"What do you want?" asked Grace of one of the men.
"First your money, then your jewelry," answered the tramp, insolently leering at her.
"But suppose we haven't any money or jewelry," replied Grace.
"So much the worse for you, then," answered the tramp in a threatening tone.
"He can have this gold bracelet," exclaimed Jessica, slipping the band from her arm.
But Grace was not listening. Her attention was absorbed by a group of people passing in a straggling line on the road. Lifting up her voice she gave the High School yell, which had been familiar to every High School boy and girl for the last twenty years:
"Hi-hi-hi; hi-hi-hi; Oakdale, Oakdale, HIGH SCHOOL!"
As she expected, the call was answered immediately, and some of the loiterers along the highway vaulted the fence at one bound.
"Help!" cried all the girls in chorus. "Help! Help!"
"It's some of the High School boys!" exclaimed Nora, in a relieved voice as the rescuers came bounding through the orchard.
The tramps looked irresolute for a moment, but when they saw that the newcomers were five boys they held their ground.
"What do you want?" said the tallest boy, with a flaming head of red hair, as he confronted one of the tramps.
"Thank heaven it's Reddy Brooks, pitcher on the sophomore baseball team!" whispered Grace, unable to conceal her joy.
"Is that any of your business, young man?" demanded the tramp, showing his teeth like an angry dog.
"It's my business to protect these young ladies," answered Reddy Brooks, "and I'll do it if I have to shed somebody's blood in the attempt."
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the big tramp, clapping his hands to his sides and almost dancing a jig in his amusement.
In the meantime Reddy had cast his eyes about for some kind of a weapon. There was not a stick nor stone in sight. The only thing he could find was a pile of winter apples that had evidently been collected by the owner of the orchard to be barreled next day.
Reddy made a rush for the pile, to the amazement of his fellow-students, who imagined for a moment that he was running away. They soon found out his purpose, however, when the apples came whizzing through the air with well-aimed precision.
The first one hit the biggest tramp squarely on the chin and almost stunned him. Each boy then chose his man and the five ruffians were soon running across the orchard to the wood, the boys after them, their pockets bulging with apples. Laughing and yelling like wild Indians, they pelted their victims until the men disappeared in the forest.
The girls, who had forgotten their fright in the excitement of the chase, were laughing, too, and urging on the attacks exactly as they would have done at one of the college football games. Perhaps they had had a narrow escape, but it was great fun, now, especially when Reddy Brooks threw one of his famous curved balls and hit a tramp plump on the back of the head.
"Oh," cried Nora, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, "I never had such a good time in all my life! Wasn't it great?"
"Wasn't it though?" grinned Reddy, as the boys returned from the field of victory. "Lots more fun than throwing balls at dummies at the county fair, wasn't it, fellows?"
"You girls ought to be careful how you walk out here alone at this time of the year," said Jimmie Burke. "There are a great many tramps around now, going south in bunches to spend the winter in Palm Beach, no doubt."
"We'll never do it again," answered Grace.
"Never again!" exclaimed Nora, raising her right hand to heaven.
"I suppose Farmer Smithson will wonder what became of his apples," observed Reddy.
"Oh, well, he has so many acres of orchards, I don't suppose he'll miss this one little pile."
And the crowd started gayly off to town.
But the girls of the freshman class had not forgotten—or forgiven—the Black Monks of Asia.
All along the walk Grace was turning over and over in her mind some scheme of revenge. Nothing seemed feasible, however. The sophomores were so well up in tricks that it would be difficult to deceive them.
"Suppose," Grace proposed suddenly, aloud, "we ask David Nesbit's advice to-morrow night, when we go to the flying machine exhibition."
After that she dismissed the subject from her mind for the time being.
ANNE HAS A SECRET
On the night of the flying machine exhibition, the four chums, for Anne had now been formally adopted by Grace and her friends, arrived somewhat early at the great arched doorway leading into the gymnasium.
They were all somewhat excited over this new experience. There had been many balloon ascensions at the State Fair, and once a dirigible airship had sailed over the town of Oakdale. But to see a real flying machine with all its grace and elegance and lightness was like stepping onto another planet where progress had advanced much faster than it had on this.
At least, so thought Anne as she followed her friends into the building. There was a sound of puffing and churning, during which David arrived in a cloud of smoke on his motor cycle.
"I mean to learn to ride one of those queer machines," exclaimed Grace from the doorway, never dreaming what an important part that very machine was one day to play in the history of Oakdale.
"All right, you're welcome to," replied David, jumping off as he stopped the motor. "Come over to the campus to-morrow afternoon, and I'll give you your first lesson."
"Is that really an invitation?" asked Grace. "For I shall accept it, if it is."
"It certainly is," answered the young man, "and I shall expect you to make a very excellent prize pupil, not like Reddy Brooks, who tumbled off and smashed his nose because he suddenly forgot how to manage the brakes."
A few other people gathered in the roomy gymnasium to see the exhibition, but the girls could see that it was a very exclusive company they had been invited to join. There were, in fact, no other girls, except Miriam Nesbit, who came late with her mother, a handsome, quiet woman to whom her son David bore a marked resemblance.
Grace and her friends spoke to Mrs. Nesbit cordially, while Miriam bowed coldly and confined all her attentions to Miss Leece, the unpopular teacher of mathematics. Miriam ignored Anne entirely.
"And now, ladies, if you will all be seated, the show will begin," announced David, leading them to the spectators' benches ranged against the wall. "Don't expect anything wonderful of mine," he added. "It's only in the first stages so far. I'm afraid she'll break down, but she's a great little machine, just the same. Isn't she, mother?"
"She is wonderful, I think, David," replied Mrs. Nesbit, who was a very shy, quiet woman, almost entirely wrapped up in her only son. Miriam had always been too much for her, and she had long since given up attempting to rule or direct her brilliant, willful daughter.
"Mrs. Nesbit," said Grace, "this is Anne Pierson, one of the brightest girls in the freshman class."
"How do you do?" said Mrs. Nesbit cordially, giving the girl her hand. "You are a newcomer, are you not? I haven't heard Miriam speak of you."
"She is a newcomer, mother, but I hear she's giving your daughter Miriam a stiff pull for first place," said David teasingly.
"I wish you'd keep quiet, David," exclaimed his sister angrily. "You always talk too much."
"Miriam!" remonstrated her mother.
"Miss Nesbit," said Miss Leece in a disagreeable, harsh voice, "will have no trouble, I think, in holding her own."
The teacher gave Anne such a glare from her pale blue eyes that the poor child shrank behind Grace in embarrassment.
"Dear, dear," murmured Mrs. Nesbit helplessly. She disliked exceedingly the scenes to which her daughter often subjected the family.
David only laughed good-naturedly.
"The exhibition is about to begin," he said, and disappeared into the room where the ships were to be put through their performances.
In a few moments six young airship builders appeared, each carrying in his arms the result of his summer's labors. There was vigorous applause from everybody except Miriam, who was too angry with her brother to enjoy the spectacle.
The aeroplanes were all copies of well-known models, except David's, which was of an entirely new and original design of his own invention. It looked something like a flying fish, the girls thought, with its slender, oblong body, gauzy fins at the sides and a funny little forked tail at the stern.
The models were too light for machinery, so rubber bands, secured cris-cross in the bows, when suddenly released with a snap gave the little ships the impetus they needed to fly the length of the gymnasium.
Only four of the six, however, were destined to fly that evening. They soared straight down the big room, as easily and gracefully as great white birds, and dropped gently when they hit the curtain at the other end, their builders running after them as eagerly as boys sailing kites. One of the models fluttered and settled down before it reached the other side, and David's machine, which had commanded most attention because it was different, started out bravely enough, its little propeller making a busy humming as it skimmed along. But it had gone hardly ten yards before it collapsed and ignominiously crashed to the floor.
"I'm glad of it," said Miriam above the din, for everyone had gathered about the young man to offer sympathy and congratulations at the same time.
"It's very, very clever, my boy," said Professor Blitz, "and you'll succeed yet, if you keep at it."
"She wouldn't go far, David," said Grace, stroking the little model, as if it had been a pet dog, "but she's the prettiest of all, just the same."
"Did it hurt it when it fell?" Anne asked him.
"I think it broke one of its little fins," laughed David. "It hurt me much more than itself, because it wouldn't be good and fly all the way."
"Anne," called Grace, "here is some one looking for you. It's a boy with a note."
Anne looked frightened as she opened a soiled looking envelope the boy handed her.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Jessica, seeing the expression of fear on her face.
"No—yes——," answered poor little Anne, undecidedly. "I must go home, or rather I mustn't go the way I came. Don't you think I could leave at a side entrance? I don't want to see the person who is waiting for me in front."
"Of course, child," spoke up Grace. "We'll see you home ourselves. Won't we, girls!"
"Wait until I lock up my motor cycle and I'll go along," called David. "We'll all protect Miss Anne."
"Tell him," said Anne to the boy, putting the note back in the envelope and giving it to him, "that what he asks is impossible."
"Couldn't you squeeze us into the carriage, mother?" asked David, returning presently with his hat.
"I have invited Miss Leece to drive home with us, mother," interrupted Miriam, giving her brother a blighting glance. "There is room for only one more person. Perhaps Jessica will take it."
"You are very kind," said Jessica coldly, "but I prefer to walk with the girls."
"You'd better walk, too, cross-patch, and learn a few manners from your friends," was David's parting advice to his sister.
"Children, children!" exclaimed Mrs. Nesbit, "don't, I beg of you, quarrel in public."
Presently the five young people had slipped out of a side door of the gymnasium and started down a back street in the direction of Anne's house. They had not gone far, however, before they became aware that they were being followed. Grace was the first to call the attention of Nora and Jessica to a long, slim figure stealing after them in the shadows.
"Here he comes," whispered Jessica. "What in the world do you suppose he wants with our poor little Anne?"
"I believe he's going to stop us," returned Grace. "He is coming nearer and nearer."
"Anne, I command you to wait!" called a voice from behind them.
They all stopped suddenly and Anne jumped as though she had received a shock.
A tall, theatrical-looking individual had come up to them. He wore a shabby frock coat and a black slouch hat, which he raised with an elaborate flourish when he saw the young girls.
"Pardon me, ladies," he said, "but I wish to speak with my daughter."
Anne controlled herself with an effort.
"I cannot see you now, father," she said. "It is quite late and I must get back."
"You shall not only speak to me but you shall come with me," exclaimed the man, with a sudden flare of anger. "I will not submit to disobedience again. Come at once!"
"Father, I cannot go with you," cried Anne, clinging to her friends. "I would rather be with mother and Mary. They need me more than you do and I want to go to school and study to be a teacher."
The man was now beside himself with theatrical rage.
"Miserable child!" he cried, waving his arms wildly. "I shall take you if I must by force." Breaking through the group, he seized the hand of his daughter and dragged her after him.
"Oh, save me!" cried the poor girl, struggling to release herself.
"I can't stand this! If she doesn't want to go with him, she shan't, father or no father," growled David, dashing after the pair.
"Stop, sir!" he cried, seizing Anne's other hand. "I must ask you to release this young lady at once."
"Insolent boy!" cried the other, giving each word an oratorical flourish, "are you not aware that this young lady, as you call her, is merely a child, and that she happens to be my daughter? I cannot see that you have a right to interfere in a family matter."
"But I have no proof that Miss Pierson is your daughter," retorted David. "It is enough that she doesn't want to go with you. I undertook to see her safely to her own home, this evening, and I mean to do it. After that you may settle your difficulties as you please."
"Miserable upstart!" cried the man, now so thoroughly angry that he let go Anne's hand, "I have a good mind to give you what you deserve. As for you, undutiful, wretched girl," he added, his voice rising to an emotional tremolo, "you shall be well punished for this!"
"Don't wait," whispered Anne. "If we run, we can get away, now, while he is so angry." At that they all took to their heels, David following after them, much relieved to have given Anne's father the slip without further disagreeable argument.
No one spoke until they had reached the Pierson cottage and had seen Anne safely to the front door.
"I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed at last, trying not to cry. "I wouldn't for anything have had it happen, and just when you were all beginning to like me a little. Will you forgive me?"
"Forgive you, Anne!" cried Grace. "It wasn't your fault. We are only awfully sorry for you."
"We will just forget all about it, and never speak of it to anyone," promised Jessica, taking the girl's hand kindly.
"But I want you to understand that I was right in not going," protested Anne. "Some day I will explain."
"Of course you were right," said David, "and I hope you will never be persuaded to go."
"Thank you, all, a thousand times!" came gratefully from Anne; "and good night." Then she disappeared into the cottage.
"Well, this was a night's adventure," observed Grace, as they started homeward.
"I am afraid Anne's father is a night's adventurer," muttered David. "He looks mightily like one of those strolling actors who go barnstorming through country towns."
"Poor Anne! Do you suppose he wants her to barnstorm?" asked Nora.
"I haven't a doubt of it," replied the young man. "I think you girls had better adopt that poor child and look after her."
"We have already," answered Grace. "Didn't Miriam tell you about it?"
"Miriam? No; she never tells me anything. Besides, what has she to do with it?"
The girls were silent.
"By the way," continued Grace, "speaking of barnstorming, we want to ask your advice, David. The sophomores played a mean trick on us the other day at the old Omnibus House."
"I heard something about the Black Monks of Asia," answered David, laughing.
"Can't your inventive brain devise a scheme of revenge?" went on Grace. "If we don't get even with them soon, the story will be all over town."
"Well," replied David, "I can tell you a secret I happened to have overheard when one of the sophomores was calling on Miriam. I was an eavesdropper entirely by accident, but what I heard might help some. The sophomores are going to give an initiation mask ball a week from Saturday night. Only the class and a few outsiders, among them Miriam, are to be present. Everybody is to be in fancy dress, and disguised out of all recognition. Can't you work up a scheme with that to go upon, girls?"
"We certainly can," cried Nora. "It's the chance of a lifetime."
"Just wait and see!" exclaimed Grace.
"By the way, David, you didn't happen to overhear the password, did you?" asked Jessica.
"I did," he replied. "Nothing escaped me, for I was caught in a trap. You know I don't care for that large, husky young damsel who leads the sophomores, and if I had made my presence behind the screen known, I should have had to speak to her. So I just sat still and said nothing. The password is 'Asia.'"
"They are trying to rub it in, I suppose," cried Grace. "But I think they won't be so ready to use that word after their old ball is over."
"If you want any help," offered David as he left Grace at her front door, "you know where to come for it, don't you?"
"You're a true brick, David!" said Grace. "Good night."
THE SOPHOMORE BALL
There was an undercurrent of excitement in the air on the day of the sophomore ball.
The sophomores themselves were full of secrets, whispering around in groups, their faces grave with self-important expressions. This was to be their annual Initiation Ball, and many new members, after receiving initiation into the various sophomore societies, were to be invited to the gymnasium, which had been turned over to the class for the evening.
There was no end to the fun of these balls, according to feminine gossip, for no male was ever admitted and only three invitations were issued to girls of other classes. It was, in fact, to be nothing but fun and frolic, and every costume had been planned weeks ahead.
One teacher was asked to be present to keep order in case of intrusion, for the gymnasium door, on that famous night, was always besieged by youths from the Boys' High School, who roared and jeered as each cloaked and masked figure rushed under the archway and disappeared.
The freshmen, all through the day, were unusually quiet. They kept to themselves and had little to say. Miriam and her three particular friends were carefully avoided by their classmates. Miriam, herself, felt the snub at once. Had she, after all, made a mistake, and was she losing ground in the class? But her vanity was like a life buoy to her sinking hopes. She refused to see that the other girls regarded her with growing dislike.
When school was over, that afternoon, six girls strolled down the High School walk arm in arm. They were Grace and her three chums and two other girls who were popular in the freshman class.
Anne's small figure seemed almost dwarfed next to Grace, who towered half a foot above her. Ever since Anne's trying scene with her father, Grace had been doubly tender and kind to her, until the young girl seemed to expand under the happy influence.
"Well, girlies, dear, we are the chosen six. I hope we shall be a credit to the class."
"Don't talk so loudly, Nora. I feel as if we were surrounded by spies to-day. Everybody has been so mysterious and queer."
"One thing is practically certain," whispered Grace: "I believe it was Miriam who told the sophomores about the Omnibus House. Why else did they invite her to their ball?"
"We can never prove it, though," said one of the others, "unless we get her up a tree some day and make her admit it."
"Remember, Anne," cautioned Grace, when they came to the cross street leading to the Pierson cottage, "eight o'clock sharp at my house! And don't bother about things. We shall have more than enough among us."
At half-past eight that night the sound of a stringed orchestra floated out on the breeze as the door of the gymnasium swung back and forth to admit disguised sophomores, who each whispered the countersign to the doorkeeper, after running the gauntlet of the waiting crowd, and slipped in.
The music was furnished by a troupe of women players especially engaged to play in this Adamless Eden. What would not the crowd of waiting boys have given for one glimpse of the ball room, where ballet girls, clowns and courtiers, Egyptian snake charmers, Mephistopholeses and Marguerites, priests and priestesses of the Orient, all whirled madly together?
Every door had been locked and bolted and every downstairs window securely closed. Ventilation was obtained through the half-open windows opening on the upper gallery, which ran around the four sides of the gymnasium. The doors to this gallery had also been locked and the only way to reach it was by steps leading up from the gymnasium.
Six masked and hooded figures swung down High School Street together, talking and laughing in low voices. The smallest of the six appeared to stumble over her feet, and once tumbled in the road. Her friends gayly helped her up, when it was disclosed that she wore a pair of boy's shoes much too large for her.
"If we don't break our necks stumbling over these brogans," whispered the tallest girl, "we'll be lucky."
As a matter of fact, each one of the six maskers was wearing a pair of men's shoes.
"I stuffed my toes with cotton," laughed another, "but even now they are hard to manage."
Just then a motor cycle shot past them, slowed down and stopped altogether.
The rider rested it against a tree and came back.
"I recognized you by your big feet," he said in a whisper. "Grace, here's the duplicate key to the laboratory. I had some trouble getting it, but no one knows, and you'll be safe enough. I'll let myself in with the other duplicate key and lock the door. They will be sure to try it at intervals. If you get into any trouble, early in the evening, make a dash for the steps and blow your horn loud. Now, that's all, I think. I'll be hidden in the laboratory until my turn comes. Good-bye and good luck!"
In another instant he was off on his motor cycle.
Six figures, well disguised in dominoes of as many hues, presently appeared on the ball room floor, just in time for the grand march. It was a pity no one, except the lone teacher, was permitted to look at the brilliant picture. But such was the tradition of the class. After the march, ten ballet girls in tarlatan skirts, their faces concealed by little black satin masks, gave a performance. Following this, a Spanish dancer, whom the six dominoes recognized at once as the treacherous Miriam Nesbit, gave an exhibition of her skill.
"I'm going to have some fun with her," whispered the blue domino to the red one. "Just follow me and see."
The last speaker joined the dancer as the music struck up a waltz.
"That was a good day's work you did for our class, not long ago," she whispered as they danced off together.
"What do you mean?" asked the Spanish dancer.
"I mean the Black Monks of Asia. Now, do you understand?"
"But I thought it was not to be told," exclaimed the dancer, flushing under her mask.
"Only to the committee so that you might be rewarded with an invitation," whispered the domino, as she slipped away.
"She did confess it, and every freshman in the class shall know it to-morrow!" the emissary exclaimed privately to her friend, the red domino.
"In spite of what her brother is doing for us to-night?" returned the red domino.
"You are quite right, child. I never thought of that. Perhaps that is the very reason he is helping us get even to-night."
"I think it is," added the other, quietly.
"Girls, we must hurry up and begin," whispered another of the six dominoes. "They are all going to unmask at half-past ten."
So the unrecognized intruders slipped away, stationing themselves about the room.
Pretty soon a rumor began to spread among the dancers that there were young men present. No one knew exactly how it started, but it grew and spread with such persistency that it finally reached the ears of the chaperon.
"Some of the girls saw their feet," said her informant, "and not only their feet but their trousers, too."
The teacher rose and rapped sharply for order.
"Young ladies," she called in a loud voice, "I am sorry to disturb the dancers, but we have every reason to believe there are some men in the room. Since it is not yet time for you to unmask, it will be simple to find out who does not belong here by having you file past me. I will lift each mask myself."
The dancers accordingly arranged themselves in a long line and walked single file past the teacher. She saw only girl's faces, however, as she peeped under the masks, and the dance proceeded.
The next disturbance came when the maskers had all taken their stand at one end of the room at the request of the six dominoes, who managed to whisper to each sophomore that there was presently to be a surprise.
An expectant hush fell over the company as the six dominoes filed out of a side room and stood, for a moment, in full view of the sophomores. Then the six deliberately lifted their dominoes, disclosing trouser legs and men's shoes. Instantly the place was in pandemonium; yet before the sophomores could rush upon the intruders six long horns were blown in unison, and immediately the lights went out. In the darkness the six dominoes made for the stairs, rushed along the gallery, and were admitted to the laboratory by the duplicate key. But, just before the blue domino disappeared, she called out in a loud voice from the gallery:
"The freshmen are avenged!"
When the doors were safely closed the lights were turned on again, disclosing the sophomores blinking foolishly at each other after the sudden startling change from darkness to light.
"They are in the laboratory!" cried one. "Let's cut off their escape!"
The angry sophomores made a rush for the door.
"Hurry girls!" urged David, who had just returned to the laboratory after manipulating the lights. "They'll catch us before we know it."
But the young fugitives were too late. Just then there was the sound of many feet running up the stairs from the other door.
"How about one of the gallery doors?" asked Grace.
"They are all locked," answered David. "There only remain the skylight trap-door and the roof. Do you think you could manage it if I helped you?"
"Of course; we could manage anything," protested the freshmen girls.
It was an easy matter to climb up the ladder, and clamber through the trap-door on to the roof.
"We're just in time," whispered David. "They have found the right key to the gallery door, and they'll be coming in both ways. Crawl carefully now, girls, for heaven's sake, and don't slip!"
The seven young people began slowly to draw themselves along the gymnasium roof on their hands and knees. Fortunately, it was not a very sloping roof, and their only danger lay in their movements being heard from below. Meanwhile the gymnasium had emptied itself, and parties of enraged sophomores were engaged in searching the adjoining class rooms and passages.
"Let's surround the building on the outside," cried one of the class leaders. "They can't escape, then, by any of the fire escapes, and we are sure to catch them!"
In a few moments, David peeping over the edge of the roof, saw figures stationed at every possible exit, waiting patiently.
"Lie low," he whispered, "and crawl on your stomachs, or you're surely caught."
Soon after the seven had reached the end of the hundred feet of gymnasium, where their flight was stopped short by a blank wall where the gymnasium joined the High School building.
"Here's a pretty pass," whispered David. "I forgot about this old school wall. The only thing to do, now, is to hide behind this chimney and wait for the row to quiet down."
There they lay, as flat as possible, listening with bated breath to the sophomores below. Presently there was a sound of footsteps on the gymnasium roof and they heard Miriam's voice saying:
"They must have escaped through the trap-door in the laboratory and come along here. Wait a minute, girls, and I'll see."
"O Grace, we're caught!" groaned Jessica. "What shall we do?"
"No we aren't yet," answered Grace. "Especially if she is coming alone, and that is what I am praying for."
"I'll come with you, Miriam," called the voice of the sophomore leader.
"Why don't you take the other side?" proposed Miriam. "And I'll go around and meet you."
"Very well," came the answer.
The freshmen clutched each other and waited.
Miriam ran lightly along the roof, and came upon the seven prostrate figures so suddenly that she almost lost her balance.
"Don't speak," said Grace, in a distinct whisper, "and don't give us away. If you do, you will regret it. Remember the blue domino who waltzed with you!"
She hoped Miriam would understand what she meant and so save her from further explanation. In this Grace was right. Miriam was trapped at last. She deliberately turned and walked away without a word.
"Come on, girls," they heard her call to the others, "let's waste no more time on them." When all was quiet the seven intriguers slipped down the fire escape and disappeared in the darkness—safely escaping discovery.
"Anne," called a chorus of boys' and girls' voices, "come out and have some fun. Have you forgotten it's Hallowe'en?"
The door of the Pierson cottage opened and Anne appeared on the threshhold.
"I can't," she answered; "I must study to-night."
"Oh, bother lessons!" exclaimed Grace Harlowe. "Skip them, for once, and join the crowd. We are going Hallowe'ening. Mother allowed it because David Nesbit and Reddy Brooks are along to look after us."
Anne looked longingly at the little company.
"I'll come," she sighed, "although it was my algebra I was working on. You know Miss Leece hates me, and, if I slip up, she'll be much harder than any of the other teachers."
"Hang Miss Leece!" said David promptly.
"Well, let's hang her, then," exclaimed Nora. "Let's dress her up and hang her on a limb of a tree."
"What do you mean by 'hang' her?" asked Grace, while Anne went in to put on her hat and coat.
"Don't you know?" replied Nora. "You stuff an old dress full of hay and paper, make a head out of any old thing, put a hat on it, and there you have her mighty fine."
"That's an old stunt, Nora," observed David. "Let's have something more improved and up-to-date. Suppose, for instance, we use Marian's Jack-o'-lantern for the head. I'll put some little electric bulbs in the eye holes and attach them to a battery so that we can turn her eyes off and on. And we'll ride her on a broomstick in good style."
"Only, nobody must know it's Miss Leece whose being effigied," urged Grace. "This must be merely for our own private satisfaction. Everybody promise not to tell."
Everybody promised; so, with Anne safely in tow, they started for Jessica's house to make the figure. Here they were not likely to be interrupted. Jessica's mother was dead and her father spent most of his evenings in his library.
Half a broomstick, with a small pumpkin attached to one end, formed the framework of Miss Leece's effigy. A cross beam gave a human touch to the shoulders and with the skeleton ready, the business of stuffing an old ulster and hanging it over the figure was simple. Tiny electric bulbs were placed in the eyes and a bonnet tied on the head with a green veil floating behind. Miss Leece, Nora insisted, always wore one growing out of her left ear. There was nothing left to do now, but to place the figure in a legless chair that had been nailed to two poles, and the procession was ready.
"She's a very fine lady," cried Grace, running ahead to get the effect of the absurd lopsided figure whose eyes glared and went out alternately. "I wish the real Miss L. could see herself now. She would know exactly what she looks like when she glares at poor little Anne in class."
"Yes, Anne," said David, "this shall be your party. We are going to give you satisfaction for your wrongs in the only way that lies in our power."
"Oh, I don't really mind her," replied Anne, "only I'm afraid she'll catch me unprepared, some day, and then I will get it in earnest."
"It's a perfect outrage," exclaimed Grace. "Miss Leece is so cruel to little Anne, David, that it makes my blood boil. I sometimes think she is trying to make Anne lose the freshman prize."
"The old Hessian!" cried David, who was on a sort of rampage that evening. "What shall I do to her, Anne? Give her an electric shock?" and he pressed the electric button rapidly up and down, which made the eyes glare hideously and go out several times in succession.
In a town the size of Oakdale strolling parties of boys and girls, on Hallowe'en night, made a not unusual sight, so when our young people paraded boldly down the main street, singing and blowing horns, nothing was thought of it. What they were doing might be considered exceedingly out of place by a few straightlaced persons, but boys and girls will have their fun, even if it must sometimes be at the expense of other people.
Certainly Miss Leece was the most unpopular teacher ever employed in the High School as far back as memory could reach. She was cruel, strict and sharp-tongued. Often her violent, unrestrained temper got the better of her in the class room; then she gave an exhibition that was not good for young girls to see. Anne, especially, was the victim of her rages—poor little Anne who never missed a lesson and studied twice as hard as the other girls. Miss Leece had but one weakness, apparently, and that was Miriam Nesbit.
Twice had the faculty convened in secret session to consider Miss Leece's case, but it had been decided to keep her through the year at least, since she was engaged by contract and was moreover an excellent instructor in mathematics.
So, it was no wonder that even this early in the school year, she was the object of dislike to the High School girls. But could our girls have foreseen what the evening's fun would bring forth, they would never have been so reckless in carrying the effigy about town.
"Suppose we take her across the square," cried Reddy; "then over the bridge to the old graveyard and hang her on the limb of the apple tree just outside the wall?"
Off they started, singing at the tops of their voices:
Hang a mean teacher on a sour apple tree, Hang a mean teacher on a sour apple tree.
When they reached the center of the public square, where a big electric light shed its rays, who should spring out of the shadows, from nowhere apparently, but Miss Leece herself? Nothing escaped her sharp ears and her cold blue eyes; neither words of the song nor the figure in detail, green veil and all; nor Anne Pierson, who happened to be standing quite near the effigy at the moment.
And what was worse, and still more incriminating to the guilty merrymakers, the moment they caught sight of her they stopped singing. The eyes in the pumpkin suddenly lost their glare, and a silent procession wound its way hurriedly from the square.
"Good heavens!" cried Grace. "Why did we stop the song? If we had only gone right ahead, it wouldn't have looked half as bad."
"It was a mistake," admitted David, gravely, "especially as she seemed to have seen Anne first of all. Anne, if she walks into you to-morrow morning, you can just lay the blame on me, do you hear? I got up the whole party and I'm willing to stand for it."
"No, no," cried Anne. "That wouldn't be fair, David. I couldn't think of doing that."
"Well, you are not to get the blame, at any rate," said David, "if I have to go up and make a confession to the principal herself."
"Let's go and hang her now, anyhow," cried Reddy. "We'll take no half-way measures with old Queen Bess."
But somehow the spice of the adventure seemed to have gone out of it.
"It really would be dangerous now," said Grace. "She would be certain to hear of it and make it worse for all of us."
"Why not burn her," put in Nora, who was afraid of nothing and had often looked at the scolding teacher with such cold, laughing eyes, that even Miss Leece was disconcerted.
"Good!" cried several of the others. "We will take her down below the bridge and burn her as a witch."
No one objected to this, since the ashes of the effigy would tell no tales. Once more they started singing: "Merrily we roll along!" as they marched out of the village, crossed the bridge over the little river and finally paused on the bank below.
"Plant the pole in deep," said David, "so she won't topple, and fix her up to suit yourselves, girls, while we get the fagots."
The boys began to search about for dried sticks and twigs, while the girls were arranging the figure for her funeral pyre.
Suddenly, there was a wild war whoop. A crowd of boys dashed out of a thicket near by, each one carrying a lighted Jack-o'-lantern on top of a pole, and surrounded the effigy of the teacher.
"Help!" cried the girls, trying to defend the absurd thing from the attack, but they were too late. One of the boys seized the pole and rushed off in the darkness.