What Katy Did at School/Chapter 6
THE S. S. U. C.
T was Saturday afternoon; and Clover, having finished her practising, dusting, and mending, had settled herself in No. 6 for a couple of hours of quiet enjoyment. Every thing was in beautiful order to meet Miss Jane's inspecting eye; and Clover, as she sat in the rocking chair, writing-case in lap, looked extremely cosy and comfortable.
A half-finished letter to Elsie lay in the writing-case; but Clover felt lazy, and instead of writing was looking out of window in a dreamy way, to where Berry Searles and some other young men were playing ball in the yard below. She was not thinking of them or of any thing else in particular. A vague sense of pleasant idleness possessed her, and it was like the breaking of a dream when the door opened and Katy came in, not quietly after her wont, but with a certain haste and indignant rustle as if vexed by something. When she saw Clover at the window, she cried out hastily, "O Clover, don't!"
"Don't what?" asked Clover, without turning her head.
"Don't sit there looking at those boys."
"Why? why not? They can't see me. The blinds are shut."
"No matter for that. It's just as bad as if they could see you. Don't do it. I can't bear to have you."
"Well, I won't then," said Clover, good-humoredly, facing round with her back to the window. "I wasn't looking at them either,-—not exactly. I was thinking about Elsie and John, and wondering— But what's the matter, Katy? What makes you fire up so about it? You've watched the ball-playing yourself plenty of times."
"I know I have, and I didn't mean to be cross, Clovy. The truth is I am all put out. These girls with their incessant talk about the students make me absolutely sick. It is so unladylike, and so bad, especially for the little ones. Fancy that mite of a Carrie Steele informing me that she is 'in love' with Harry Crosby. In love! A baby like that! She has no business to know that there is such a thing."
"Yes," said Clover, laughing: "she wrote his name on a wintergreen lozenge, and bored a hole and hung it round her neck on a blue ribbon. But it melted and stuck to her frock, and she had to take it off."
"Whereupon she ate it," added Rose, who came in at that moment.
The girls shouted, but Katy soon grew grave. "One can't help laughing," she said, "but isn't it a shame to have such things going on? Just fancy our Elsie behaving so, Clover! Why, papa would have a fit. I declare, I've a great mind to get up a society to put down flirting."
"Do!" said Rose. "What fun it would be! Call it 'The Society for the Suppression of Young Men.' I'll join."
"You, indeed!" replied Katy, shaking her head. "Didn't I see Berry Searles throw a bunch of syringa into your window only this morning?"
"Dear me! did he? I shall have to speak to Mary again. It's quite shocking to have her go on so. But really and truly do let us have a Society. It would be so jolly. We could meet on Saturday afternoons, and write pieces and have signals and a secret, as Sylvia's Society did when she was at school. Get one up, Katy,—that's a dear."
"But," said Katy, taken aback by having her random idea so suddenly adopted, "if I did get one up, it would be in real earnest, and it would be a society against flirting. And you know you can't help it, Rosy."
"Yes, I can. You are doing me great injustice. I don't behave like those girls in Attic Row. I never did. I just bow to Berry and the rest whom I really know,—never to anybody else. And you must see, Katherine darling, that it would be the height of ingratitude if I didn't bow to boys who made mud pies for me when I was little, and lent me their marbles, and did all sorts of kind things. Now wouldn't it?"—coaxingly.
"Per—haps," admitted Katy, with a smile. "But you're such a witch!"
"I'm not,—indeed I'm not. I'll be a pillar of society if only you'll provide a Society for me to be a pillar of. Now, Katy, do,—ah, do, do!"
When Rose was in a coaxing mood, few people could resist her. Katy yielded, and between jest and earnest the matter was settled. Katy was to head the plan and invite the members.
"Only a few at first," suggested Rose. "When it is proved to be a success, and everybody wants to join, we can let in two or three more as a great favor. What shall the name be? We'll keep it a secret, whatever it is. There's no fun in a society without a secret."
What should the name be? Rose invented half a dozen, each more absurd than the last. "The Anti-Jane Society" would sound well, she insisted. Or, no!—the "Put-him-down Club" was better yet! Finally they settled upon "The Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct."
"Only we'll never use the whole name," said Rose: "we'll say, 'The S. S. U. C.' That sounds brisk and snappy, and will drive the whole school wild with curiosity. What larks! How I long to begin!"
"Now, Katy, do, ah, do, do."—Page 108. The next Saturday was fixed upon for the first meeting. During the week Katy proposed the plan to the elect few, all of whom accepted enthusiastically. Lilly Page was the only person who declined. She said it would be stupid; that for her part she didn't set up to be "proper" or better than she was, and that in any case she shouldn't wish to be mixed up in a Society of which "Miss Agnew" was a member. The girls did not break their hearts over this refusal. They had felt obliged to ask her for relationship's sake, but everybody was a little relieved that she did not wish to join.
No. 6 looked very full indeed that Saturday afternoon when the S. S. U. C. came together for the first time. Ten members were present. Mary Silver and Louisa were two; and Rose's crony, Esther Dearborn, another. The remaining four were Sally Alsop and Amy Erskine; Alice Gibbons, one of the new scholars, whom they all liked, but did not know very well; and Ellen Gray, a pale, quiet girl, with droll blue eyes, a comical twist to her mouth, and a trick of saying funny things in such a demure way that half the people who listened never found out that they were funny. All Rose's chairs had been borrowed for the occasion. Three girls sat on the bed, and three on the floor. With a little squeezing, there was plenty of room for everybody.
Katy was chosen President, and requested to take the rocking-chair as a sign of office. This she did with much dignity, and proceeded to read the Constitution and By-Laws of the Society, which had been drawn up by Rose Red, and copied on an immense sheet of blue paper.
They ran thus:—
Constitution of The Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct, known to the Uninitiated as the S. S. U. C.
The object of this Society is twofold: it combines having a good time with the pursuit of Virtue.
The good time is to take place once a week in No. 6 Quaker Row, between the hours of four and six p. m.
The nature of the good time is to be decided upon by a Committee to be appointed each Saturday by the members of the Society.
Virtue is to be pursued at all times and in all seasons, by the members of the Society setting their faces against the practice of bowing and speaking to young gentlemen who are not acquaintances; waving of pocket handkerchiefs, signals from windows, and any species of conduct which would he thought uuladylike by nice people anywhere, and especially by the mammas of the Society.
The members of the Society pledge themselves to use their influence against these practices, both by precept and example.
In Witness whereof we sign.
Katherine Carr, President.
Rosamund Redding, Secretary.
Clover E. Carr.
Mary L. Silver.
Sally P. Alsop.
Amy W. Erskine.
Ellen Whitworth Gray.
Next followed the By-Laws. Katy had not been able to see the necessity of having any By-Laws, but Rose had insisted. She had never heard of a Society without them, she said, and she didn't think it would be "legal" to leave them out. It had cost her some trouble to invent them, but at last they stood thus:—
By-Law No. 1.
The members of the S. S. U. C. will observe the following signals:—
1st. The Grip—This is given by inserting the first and middle finger of the right hand between the thumb and fourth finger of the respondent's left, and describing a rotatory motion in the air with the little finger. N. B. Much practice is necessary to enable members to exchange this signal in such a manner as not to attract attention.
2d. The Signal of Danger—This signal is for use when Miss Jane, or any other foe-woman, heaves in sight. It consists in rubbing the nose violently, and at the same time giving three stamps on the floor with the left foot. It must be done with an air of unconsciousness.
3d. The Signal for Consultation.—This signal is for use when immediate communication is requisite between members of the Society. It consists of a pinch on the back of the right hand, accompanied by the word "Holofernes" pronounced in a low voice.
By-Law No. 2.
The members of the S. S. U. C. pledge themselves to inviolable secrecy about all Society proceedings.
By-Law No. 3.
The members of the S. S. U. C. will bring their Saturday corn-balls to swell the common entertainment.
By-Law No. 4.
Members having boxes from home are at liberty to contribute such part of the contents as they please to the afore-mentioned common entertainment.
Here the By-Laws ended. There was much laughter over them, especially over the last.
"Why did you put that in, Rosy?" asked Ellen Gray: "it strikes me as hardly necessary."
"Oh," replied Rose, "I put that in to encourage Silvery Mary there. She's expecting a box soon, and I knew that she would pine to give the Society a share, but would be too timid to propose it; so I thought I would just pave the way."
"How truly kind!" laughed Clover.
"Now," said the President, "the entertainment of the meeting will begin by the reading of 'Trailing Arbutus,' a poem by C. E. C."
Clover had been very unwilling to read the first piece, and had only yielded after much coaxing from Rose, who had bestowed upon her in consequence the name of Quintia Curtia. She felt very shy as she stood up with her paper in her hand, and her voice trembled perceptibly; but after a minute she grew used to the sound of it, and read steadily.
At its mingled rose and white,
Of the pink lips of children
Put up to say good-night.
Cuddled its green leaves under,
Like babies in their beds,
Its blossoms shy and sunny
Conceal their pretty heads.
And when I lift the blanket up
And peep inside of it,
They seem to give me smile for smile,
Nor be afraid a bit.
Dear little flower, the earliest
Of all the flowers that are;
Twinkling upon the bare, brown earth,
As on the clouds a star.
How can we fail to love it well,
Or prize it more and more!
It is the first small signal
That winter time is o’er;
That Spring has not forgotten us,
Though late and slow she be,
But is upon her flying way,
And we her face shall see.
This production caused quite a sensation among the girls. They had never heard any of Clover's verses before, and thought these wonderful.
"Why!" cried Sally Alsop, "it is almost as good as Tupper!" Sally meant this for a great compliment, for she was devoted to the "Proverbial Philosophy."
"A Poem by E. D." was the next thing on the list. Esther Dearborn rose with great pomp and dignity, cleared her throat, put on a pair of eye-glasses, and began.
If I the slightest rule forgot,
Believing and excusing not?
Who lurked outside my door all day,
In hopes that I would disobey,
And some low whispered word would say?
Who sternly bade me come and go,
Do this, do that, or else forego
The other thing I longed for so?
Who caught our Rose-bud halfway through
The wall which parted her from two
Friends, and that small prank made her rue!
Who is our bane, our foe, our fear?
Who's always certain to appear
Just when we do not think her near?
"Who down the hall is creeping now
With stealthy step, but knowing not how
Exactly to discover"—
broke in Rose, improvising rapidly. Next moment came a knock at the door. It was Miss Jane.
"Your drawers, Miss Carr,—your cupboard,"—she said, going across the room and examining each in turn. There was no fault to be found with either, so she withdrew, giving the laughing girls a suspicious glance, and remarking that it was a bad habit to sit on beds,—it always injured them.
"Do you suppose she heard?" whispered Mary Silver.
"No, I don't think she did," replied Rose. "Of course she suspected us of being in some mischief or other,—she always does that. Now, Mary, it's your turn to give us an intellectual treat. Begin."
Poor Mary shrank back, blushing and protesting.
"You know I can't," she said, "I'm too stupid."
"Rubbish!" cried Rose. "You're the dearest girl that ever was." She gave Mary's shoulder a reassuring pat.
"Mary is excused this time," put in Katy. "It is the first meeting, so, I shall be indulgent. But, after this, every member will be expected to contribute something for each meeting. I mean to be very strict."
"Oh, I never, never can!" cried Mary. Rose was down on her at once. "Nonsense! hush!" she said. "Of course you can. You shall, if I have to write it for you myself!"
"Order!" said the President, rapping on the table with a pencil. "Rose has something to read to us."
Rose stood up with great gravity. "I would ask for a moment's delay, that the Society may get out its pocket-handkerchiefs," she said. "My piece is an affecting one. I didn't mean it, but it came so. We cannot always be cheerful." 'Here she heaved a sigh, which set the S. S. U. C. to laughing, and began.
A SCOTCH POEM.
Wae's me, drear, dree, and dra,
A waeful thocht, a fearsome flea,
A wuthering wind, and a'.
Sair, sair thy mither sabs her lane,
Her een, her mou, are wat;
Her cauld kail hae the corbies ta'en,
And grievously she grat.
Ah, me, the suthering of the wind!
Ah, me, the waesome mither!
Ah, me, the bairnies left ahind,
The shither, hither, blither!
"What does it mean?" cried the girls, as Rose folded up the paper and sat down.
"Mean?" said Rose, "I'm sure I don't know. It's Scotch, I tell you! It's the kind of thing that people read, and then they say, 'One of the loveliest gems that Burns ever wrote!' I thought I'd see if I couldn't do one too. Anybody can, I find: it's not at all difficult."
All the poems having been read, Katy now proposed that they should play "Word and Question." She and Clover were accustomed to the game at home, but to some of the others it was quite new.
Each girl was furnished with a slip of paper and a pencil, and was told to write a word at the top of the paper, fold it over, and pass it to her next left-hand neighbor.
"Dear me! I don't know what to write," said Mary Silver.
"Oh, write any thing," said Clover. So Mary obediently wrote "Any thing," and folded it over.
"What next?" asked Alice Gibbons.
"Now a question," said Katy. "Write it under the word, and fold over again. No, Amy, not on the fold. Don't you see, if you do, the writing will be on the wrong side of the paper when we come to read?"
The questions were more troublesome than the words, and the girls sat frowning and biting their pencil—tops for some minutes before all were done. As the slips were handed in, Katy dropped them into the lid of her work-basket, and thoroughly mixed and stirred them up.
"Now," she said, passing it about, "each draw one, read, and write a rhyme in which the word is introduced and the question answered. It needn't be more than two lines, unless you like. Here, Rose, it's your turn first."
"Oh, what a hard game!" cried some of the girls; but pretty soon they grew interested, and began to work over their verses.
"I should uncommonly like to know who wrote this abominable word," said Rose, in a tone of despair. "Clover, you rascal, I believe it was you."
Clover peeped over her shoulder, nodded, and laughed.
"Very well then!" snatching up Clover's slip, and putting her own in its place, "you can just write on it yourself,—I shan't! I never heard of such a word in my life! You made it up for the occasion, you know you did!"
"I didn't! it's in the Bible," replied Clover, setting to work composedly on the fresh paper. But when Rose opened Clover's slip she groaned again.
"It's just as bad as the other!" she cried. "Do change back again, Clovy,—that's a dear."
"No, indeed!" said Clover. guarding her paper: "you've changed once, and new you must keep what you have."
Rose made a face, chewed her pencil awhile, and then began to write rapidly. For some minutes not a word was spoken.
"I've done!" said Esther Dearborn at last, flinging her paper into the basket-lid.
"So have I!" said Katy.
One by one the papers were collected and jumbled into a heap. Then Katy, giving all a final shake, drew out one, opened it, and read.
Question.—How do you like your clergymen done?
How do I like them done? Well, that depends.
I like them done on sleepy, drowsy Sundays;
I like them under-done on other days;
Perhaps a little over-done on Mondays.
But always I prefer them old as pa,
And not like radishes, all red and raw.
"Oh, what a rhyme!" cried Clover.
"Well,—what is one to do?" said Ellen Gray. Then she stopped and bit her lip, remembering that no one was supposed to know who wrote the separate papers.
"Aha! it's yours, is it, Ellen?" said Rose. "You're an awfully clever girl, and an ornament to the S. S. U. C. Go on, Katy."
Katy opened the second slip.
Question.—Would you rather be a greater fool than you seem,
or seem a greater fool than you are?
I wouldn't seem a fool for anything, my dear,
If I could help it; but I can't, I fear.
"Not bad," said Rose, nodding her head at Sally Alsop, who blushed crimson.
The third paper ran,—
Question.—Does your mother know you're out?
Rose and Clover exchanged looks.
Why, of course my mother knows it,
For she sent me out herself, and
She told me to run quickly, for
It wasn't but a mile;
But I found it was much farther,
And my feet grew tired and weary,
And I couldn't hurry greatly,
So it took a long, long while.
Beside, I stopped to read your word,
A stranger one I never heard!
I've met with Pa-pistical,
"Oh, Clovy, you bright little thing!" cried Rose, in fits of laughter. But Mary Silver looked quite pale.
"I never heard of any thing so awful!" she said. "If that word had come to me, I should have fainted away on the spot,—I know I should!"
Question.—What is the best way to make home happy?
To me 'tis quite clear I can answer this right:
Sew on the buttons, and sew them on tight.
"I suspect that is Amy's," said Esther: "she's such a model for mending and keeping things in order."
"It's not fair, guessing aloud in this way," said Sally Alsop. Sally always spoke for Amy, and Amy for Sally. "Voice and Echo" Rose called them: only, as she remarked, nobody could tell which was Echo and which Voice.
The next word was "Mrs. Nipson," and the question, "Do you like flowers?"
Do I like flowers? I will not write a sonnet,
Singing their beauty as a poet might do:
I just detest those on Aunt Nipson's bonnet,
Because they are like her,—all gray and blue,
Dusty and pinched, and fastened on askew!
And as for heaven's own buttercups and daisies,
I am not good enough to sing their praises.
Nobody knew who wrote this verse. Katy suspected Louisa, and Rose suspected Katy.
The sixth slip was a very brief one.
Question.—Are you willing?
If I wasn't willing, I would tell you;
But when—Oh, dear, I can't!
"What an extraordinary rhyme!" began Clover; but Rose spied poor Mary blushing and looking distressed, and hastily interposed,—
"It's very good, I'm sure. I wish I'd written it. Go on, Katy."
So Katy went on.
Question.—Which would you rather do, or go fishing?
I don't feel up to fishing, or sich;
And so, if you please, I'd rather do—which?
"I don't seem to see the word in that poem," said Rose. "The distinguished author will please write another."
"The distinguished author" made no reply to this suggestion; but, after a minute or two, Esther Dearborn, "quite disinterestedly," as she stated, remarked that, after all, to "don't feel" was pretty much the same as unfeeling. There was a little chorus of groans at this, and Katy said she should certainly impose a fine if such dodges and evasions were practised again. This was the first meeting, however, and she would be merciful. After this speech she unfolded another paper. It ran,—
Question.—What would you do, love?
What would I do, love? Well, I do not know.
How can I tell till you are more explicit?
If 'twere a rose you held me, I would smell it;
If 'twere a mouth you held me, I would kiss it;
If 'twere a frog, I'd scream than furies louder;
If 'twere a flea, I'd fetch the Lyon's Powder.
Only two slips remained. One was Katy's own. She knew it by the way in which it was folded, and had almost instinctively avoided and left it for the last. Now, however, she took courage and opened it. The word was "Measles," and the question, "Who was the grandmother of Invention?" These were the lines:—
The night it was horribly dark,
The measles broke out in the Ark:
Little Japhet, and Shem, and all the young Hams,
Were screaming at once for potatoes and clams.
And "What shall I do," said poor Mrs. Noah,
"All alone by myself in this terrible shower?
I know what I'll do: I'll step down in the hold,
And wake up a lioness grim and old,
And tie her close to the children's door,
And give her a ginger-cake to roar
At the top of her voice for an hour or more;
And I'll tell the children to cease their din,
Or I'll let that grim old party in,
To stop their squeazles and likewise their measles."—
She practised this with the greatest success.
She was every one's grandmother, I guess.
"That's much the best of all!" pronounced Alice Gibbons. "I wonder who wrote it?"
"Dear me! did you like it so much?" said Rose, simpering, and doing her best to blush.
"Did you really write it?" said Mary; but Louisa laughed, and exclaimed, "No use, Rosy! you can't take us in,—we know better!"
"Now for the last," said Katy. "The word is 'Buckwheat,' and the question, 'What is the origin of dreams?'"
When the nuns are sweetly sleeping,
Mrs. Nipson comes a-creeping,
Creeping like a kitty-cat from door to door;
And she listens to their slumbers,
And most carefully she numbers,
Counting for every nun a nunlet snore!
And the nuns in sweet forgetfulness who lie,
Dreaming of buckwheat cakes, parental love, and—pie,
Moan softly, twist and turn, and see
Black cats and fiends, who frolic in their glee;
And nightmares prancing wildly do abound
While Mrs. Nipson makes her nightly round.
"Who did write that?" exclaimed Rose. Nobody answered. The girls looked at each other, and Rose scrutinized them all with sharp glances.
"Well! I never saw such creatures for keeping their countenances," she said. "Somebody is as bold as brass. Didn't you see how I blushed when my piece was read?"
"You monkey!" whispered Clover, who at that moment caught sight of the handwriting on the paper. Rose gave her a warning pinch, and they both subsided into an unseen giggle.
"What! The tea-bell!" cried everybody. "We wanted to play another game."
"It's a complete success!" whispered Rose, ecstatically, as they went down the hall. "The girls all say they never had such a good time in their lives. I'm so glad I didn't die with the measles when I was little!"
"Well," demanded Lilly, "so the high and mighty Society has had a meeting! How did it go off?"
"Delicious!" replied Rose, smacking her lips as at the recollection of something very nice. "But you mustn't ask any questions, Lilly. Outsiders have nothing to do with the S. S. U. C. Our proceedings are strictly private." She ran down stairs with Katy.
"I think you're real mean!" called Lilly after them. Then she said to herself, "They're just trying to tease. I know it was stupid."