What Katy Did at School/Chapter 12
WAITING FOR SPRING.
In another week Miss Jane was so much better as to be hearing her classes again. Illness had not changed her materially. It is only in novels that rheumatic fever sweetens tempers, and makes disagreeable people over into agreeable ones. Most of the girls disliked her as much as ever. Her tongue was just as sharp, and her manner as grim. But for Katy, from that time forward, there was a difference. Miss Jane was not affectionate to her,—it was not in her nature to be that,—but she was civil and considerate, and, in a dry way, friendly and gradually Katy grew to have an odd sort of liking for her.
Do any of you know how incredibly long winter seems in climates where for weeks together the thermometer stands at zero? There is something hopeless in such cold. You think of summer as of a thing read about somewhere in a book, but which has no actual existence. Winter seems the only reality in the world.
Katy and Clover felt this hopelessness growing upon them as the days went on, and the weather became more and more severe. Ten, twenty, even thirty degrees below zero, was no unusual register for the Hillsover thermometers. Such cold half frightened them, but nobody else was frightened or surprised. It was dry, brilliant cold. The December snows lay unmelted on the ground in March, and the paths cut then were crisp and hard still, only the white walls on either side had risen higher and higher, till only a moving line of hoods and tippets was visible above them, when the school went out for its daily walk. Morning after morning the girls woke to find thick crusts of frost on their window-panes, and every drop of water in the wash-bowl or pitcher turned to solid ice. Night after night, Clover, who was a chilly little creature, lay shivering and unable to sleep, notwithstanding the hot bricks at her feet, and the many wraps which Katy piled upon her. To Katy herself the cold was more bracing than depressing. There was something in her blood which responded to the sharp tingle of frost, and she gained in strength in a remarkable way during this winter. But the long storms told upon her spirits. She pined for spring and home more than she liked to tell, and felt the need of variety in their monotonous life, where the creeping days appeared like weeks, and the weeks stretched themselves out, and seemed as long as months do in other places.
The girls resorted to all sorts of devices to keep themselves alive during this dreary season. They had little epidemics of occupation. At one time it was "spattering," when all faces and fingers had a tendency to smudges of India ink; and there was hardly a fine comb or tooth-brush fit for use in the establishment. Then a rage for tatting set in, followed by a fever of fancy-work, every one falling in love with the same pattern at the same time, and copying and recopying, till nobody could bear the sight of it. At one time Clover counted eighteen girls all at work on the same bead and canvas pincushion. Later there was a short period of decalcomanie; and then came the grand album craze, when thirty-three girls out of the thirty-nine sent for blank books bound in red morocco, and began to collect signatures and sentiments. Here, also, there was a tendency toward repetition.
Sally Austin added to her autograph these lines of her own composition:—
When on this page your beauteous eyes you bend,
Let it remind you of your absent friend.
Sallie J. Austin,
The girls found this sentiment charming, at least a dozen borrowed it, and in half the albums in the school you might read,—
"When on this page your beauteous eyes," &c.
Esther Dearborn wrote in Clover's book: "The better part of Valor is Discretion." Why she wrote it, nobody knew, or why it was more applicable to Clover than to any one else; but the sentiment proved popular, and was repeated over and over again, above various neatly written signatures. There was a strife as to who should display the largest collection. Some of the girls sent home for autographs of distinguished persons, which they pasted in their books. Rose Red, however, out-did them all.
"Did I ever show you mine?" she asked one day, when most of the girls were together in the school-room.
"No, never!" cried a number of voices. "Have you got one? Oh, do let us see it."
"Certainly, I'll get it right away, if you like," said Rose, obligingly.
She went to her room, and returned with a shabby old blank book in her hand. Some of the girls looked disappointed.
"The cover of mine isn't very nice," explained Rose. "I'm going to have it rebound one of these days. You see it's not a new album at all, nor a school album; but it's very valuable to me." Here she heaved a sentimental sigh. "All my friends have written in it," she said.
The girls were quite impressed by the manner in which Rose said this. But, when they turned over the pages of the album, they were even more impressed. Rose had evidently been on intimate terms with a circle of most distinguished persons. Half the autographs in the book were from gentlemen, and they were dated all over the world.
"Just listen to this!" cried Louisa, and she read,—
"Thou may'st forget me, but never, never shall I forget thee!"
Alphonso of Castile.
The Escurial, April 1st.
"Who's he?" asked a circle of awe-struck girls.
"Didn't you ever hear of him? Youngest brother of the King of Spain," replied Rose carelessly.
"Oh, my! and just hear this," exclaimed Annie Silsbie.
If you ever deign to cast a thought in my direction, Miss Rose,
remember me always as
Thy devoted servitor,
"And this," shrieked Alice White.
"They say love is a thorn, I say it is a dart,
And yet I cannot tear thee from my heart."
Antonio, Count of Vallambrosa.
"Do you really and truly know a Count?" asked Bella, backing away from Rose with eyes as big as saucers.
"Know Antonio de Vallambrosa! I should think I did," replied Rose. "Nobody in this country knows him so well, I fancy."
"And he wrote that for you?"
"How else could it get into my book, goosey?"
This was unanswerable; and Rose was installed from that time forward in the minds of Bella and the rest as a heroine of the first water. Katy, however, knew better; and the first time she caught Rose alone she attacked her on the subject.
"Now, Rosy-Posy, confess. Who wrote all those absurd autographs in your book?"
"Absurd autographs! What can you mean?"
"All those Counts and things. No, it's no use. You shan't wriggle away till you tell me."
"Oh, Antonio and dear Potemkin, do you mean them?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"And you really want to know?"
"And will swear not to tell?"
"Well, then," bursting into a laugh, "I wrote every one of them myself."
"Did you really? When?"
"Day before yesterday. I thought Lilly needed taking down, she was so set up with her autographs of Wendell Phillips and Mr. Seward, so I just sat down and wrote a book full. It only took me half an hour. I meant to write some more: in fact, I had one all ready,—
'I am dead, or pretty near:
David's done for me I fear'
Goliath of Gath.
but I was afraid even Bella wouldn't swallow that, so I tore out the page. I'm sorry I did now, for I really think the geese would have believed it. Written in his last moments, you know, to oblige an ancestor of my own," added Rose, in a tone of explanation.
"You monkey!" cried Katy, highly diverted. But she kept Rose's counsel, and I daresay some of the Hillsover girls believe in that wonderful album to this day.
It was not long after that a sad piece of news came for Bella. Her father was dead. Their home was in Iowa, too far to allow of her returning for the funeral; so the poor little girl stayed at school, to bear her trouble as best she might. Katy, who was always kind to children, and had somewhat affected Bella from the first on account of her resemblance to Elsie in height and figure, was especially tender to her now, which Bella repaid with the gift of her whole queer little heart. Her affectionate demonstrations were rather of the monkey order, and not unfrequently troublesome; but Katy was never otherwise than patient and gentle with her, though Rose, and even Clover, remonstrated on what they called this "singular intimacy."
"Poor little soul! It's so hard for her, and she's only eleven years old," she told them.
"She has such a funny way of looking at you sometimes," said Rose, who was very observant. "It is just the air of a squirrel who has hidden a nut, and doesn't want you to find out where, and yet can hardly help indicating it with his paw. She's got something on her mind, I'm sure."
"Half a dozen things, very likely," added Clover: "she's such a mischief."
But none of them guessed what this "something" was.
Early in January Mrs. Nipson announced that in four weeks she proposed to give a "Soiree," to which all young ladies whose records were entirely free from marks during the intervening period would be allowed to come. This announcement created great excitement, and the school set itself to be good; but marks were easy to get, and gradually one girl after another lost her chance, till by the appointed day only a limited party descended to join the festivities, and nearly half the school was left upstairs to sigh over past sins. Katy and Rose were among the unlucky ones. Rose had incurred a mark by writing a note in study-hour, and Katy by being five minutes late to dinner. They consoled themselves by dressing Clover's hair, and making her look as pretty as possible, and then stationed themselves in the upper hall at the head of the stairs to watch her career, and get as much fun out of the occasion as they could.
Pretty soon they saw Clover below on Professor Seccomb's arm. He was a kingly, pleasant man, with a bald head, and it was a fashion among the girls to admire him.
"Doesn't she look pretty?" said Rose. "Just notice Mrs. Searles, Katy. She's grinning at Clover like the Cheshire cat. What a wonderful cap that is of hers! She had it when Sylvia was here at school, eight years ago."
"Hush! she'll hear you."
"No, she won't. There's Ellen beginning her piece. I know she's frightened by the way she plays. Hark! how she hurries the time!"
"There, they are going to have refreshments, after all!" cried Esther Dearborn, as trays of lemonade and cake-baskets appeared below on their way to the parlor. "Isn't it a shame to have to stay up here?"
"Professor Seccomb! Professor!" called Rose, in a daring whisper. "Take pity upon us. We are starving for a piece of cake."
The Professor gave a jump; then retreated, and looked upward. When he saw the circle of hungry faces peering down, he doubled up with laughter. "Wait a moment," he whispered back, and vanished into the parlor. Pretty soon the girls saw him making his way through the crowd with an immense slice of pound-cake in each hand.
"Here, Miss Rose," he said,—"catch it." But Rose ran half-way downstairs, received the cake, dimpled her thanks, and retreated to the darkness above, whence sounds proceeded which sent the amused Professor into the parlor convulsed with suppressed laughter. Pretty soon Clover stole up the back stairs to report.
"Are you having a nice time? Is the lemonade good? Who have you been talking with?" inquired a chorus of voices.
"Pretty nice. Everybody is very old. I haven't been talking to anybody in particular, and the lemonade is only cream-of-tartar water. I guess it's jollier up here with you," replied Clover. "I must go now: my turn to play comes next." Down she ran.
"Except for the glory of the thing, I think we're having more fun than she," answered Rose.
Next week came St. Valentine's Day. Several of the girls received valentines from home, and they wrote them to each other. Katy and Clover
"Rose ran half-way down stairs, received the cake, dimpled her thanks, and retreated."—Page 256.
both had one from Phil, exactly alike, with the same purple bird in the middle of the page, and "I love you" printed underneath; and they joined in fabricating a gorgeous one for Rose, which was supposed to come from Potemkin de Montmorencey, the hero of the album. But the most surprising valentine was received by Miss Jane. It came with the others, while all the household were at dinner. The girls saw her redden and look angry, but she put the letter in her pocket, and said nothing.
In the afternoon, it came out through Bella that "Miss Jane's letter was in poetry, and that she was just mad as fire about it." Just before tea, Louisa came running down the Row, to No. 5, where Katy was sitting with Rose.
"Girls, what do you think? That letter which Miss Jane got this morning was a valentine, the most dreadful thing, but so funny!" she stopped to laugh.
"How do you know?" cried the other two.
"Miss Marsh told Alice Gibbons. She's a sort of cousin, you know; and Miss Marsh often tells her things. She says Miss Jane and Mrs. Nipson are furious, and are determined to find out who sent it. It was from Mr. Hardhack, Miss Jane's missionary,—or no, not from Mr. Hardhack, but from a cannibal who had just eaten Mr. Hardhack up; and he sent Miss Jane a lock of his hair, and the recipe the tribe cooked him by. They found him 'very nice,' he said, and 'He turned out quite tender.' That was one of the lines in the poem. Did you ever hear of any thing like it? Who do you suppose could have sent it?"
"Who could it have been?" cried the others. Katy had one moment's awful misgiving; but a glance at Rose's face, calm and innocent as a baby's, reassured her. It was impossible that she could have done this mischievous thing. Katy, you see, was not privy to that entry in Rose's journal, "Pay Miss Jane off," nor aware that Rose had just written underneath, "Did it. Feb. 14, 1869."
Nobody ever found out the author of this audacious valentine. Rose kept her own counsel, and Miss Jane probably concluded that "the better part of valor was discretion," for the threatened inquiries were never made.
And now it lacked but six weeks to the end of the term. The girls counted the days, and practised various devices to make them pass more quickly. Esther Dearborn, who had a turn for arithmetic, set herself to a careful calculation of how many hours, minutes, and seconds must pass before the happy time should come. Annie Silsbie strung forty-two tiny squares of card-board on a thread and each night slipped one off and burned it up in the candle. Others made diagrams of the time, with a division for each day, and every night blotted one out with a sense of triumph. None of these devices made the time hasten. It never moved more slowly than now, when life seemed to consist of a universal waiting.
But though Katy's heart bounded at the thought of home till she could hardly bear the gladness, she owned to Clover,—"Do you know, much as I long to get away, I am half sorry to go! It is parting with something which we shall never have any more. Home is lovely, and I would rather be there than anywhere else; but, if you and I live to be a hundred, we shall never be girls at boarding-school again."