What Katy Did at School/Chapter 7
UMMER was always slow in getting to Hillsover, but at last she arrived, and woods and hills suddenly put on new colors and became beautiful. The sober village shared in the glorifying process. Vines budded on piazzas. Wisteria purpled whitewashed walls. The brown elm boughs which hung above the Common turned into trailing garlands of fresh green. Each walk revealed some change, or ended in some delightful discovery, trilliums, dog-tooth Violets, apple-trees in blossom, or wild strawberries turning red. The wood flowers and mosses, even the birds and bird-songs, were new to our Western girls. Hillsover, in summer, was a great deal prettier than Burnet, and Katy and Clover began to enjoy school very much indeed.
Toward the end of June, however, something took place which gave them quite a different feeling,—something so disagreeable that I hate to tell about it; but as it really happened, I must.
It was on a Saturday morning. They had just come back from the bath-house, and were going upstairs, laughing, and feeling very merry; for Clover had written a droll piece for the S. S. U. C. meeting, and was telling Katy about it, when, just at the head of the stairs, they met Rose Red. She was evidently in trouble, for she looked flushed and excited, and was under escort of Miss Barnes, who marched before her with the air of a policeman. As she passed the girls, Rose opened her eyes very wide, and made a face expressive of dismay.
"What's the matter?" whispered Clover. Rose only made another grimace, clawed with her fingers at Miss Barnes's back and vanished down the entry which led to Mrs. Florence's room. They stood looking after her.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Clover, "I'm so afraid Rose is in a scrape."
They walked on toward Quaker Row. In the wash-room was a knot of girls, with their heads close together, whispering. When they saw Katy and Clover, they became silent, and gazed at them curiously.
"What has Rose Red gone to Mrs. Florence about?" asked Clover, too anxious to notice the strange manner of the girls. But at that moment she caught sight of something which so amazed her that she forgot her question. It was nothing less than her own trunk, with "C. E. C." at the end, being carried along the entry by two men. Miss Jane followed close behind, with her arms full of clothes and books. Katy's well-known scarlet pin-cushion topped the pile; in Miss Jane's hand were Clover's comb and brush.
"Why, what does this mean?" gasped Clover, as she and Katy darted after Miss Jane, who had turned into one of the rooms. It was No. 1, at the head of the row,—a room which no one had wanted, on account of its smallness and lack of light. The window looked out on a brick wall not ten feet away; there was never a ray of sun to make it cheerful; and Mrs. Nipson had converted it into a store-room for empty trunks. The trunks were taken away now, and the bed was strewn with Katy's and Clover's possessions.
"Miss Jane, what is the matter? What are you moving our things for?" exclaimed the girls in great excitement.
Miss Jane laid down her lead of dresses, and looked at them sternly.
"You know the reason as well as I do," she said icily.
"No, I don't. I haven't the least idea what you mean!" cried Katy. "Oh, please be careful!" as Miss Jane flung a pair of boots on top of Cousin Helen's vase, "you'll break it! Dear, dear! Clover, there's your Cologne bottle tipped over, and all the Cologne spilt! What does it mean? Is our room going to be painted, or what?"
"Your room," responded Miss Jane, "is for the future to be this,—No. 1. Miss Benson and Miss James will take No. 6; and, it is to be hoped, will conduct themselves more properly than you have done."
"Than we have done!" cried Katy, hardly believing her ears.
"Do not repeat my words in that rude way!" said Miss Jane, tartly. "Yes, than you have done!"
"But what have we done? There is some dreadful mistake! Do tell us what you mean, Miss Jane! We have done nothing wrong, so far as I know!"
"Indeed!" replied Miss Jane, sarcastically. "Your ideas of right and wrong must be peculiar! I advise you to say no more on the subject, but be thankful that Mrs. Florence keeps you in the school at all, instead of dismissing you. Nothing but the fact that your home is at such a distance prevents her from doing so."
Katy felt as if all the blood in her body were turned to fire as she heard these words, and met Miss Jane's eyes. Her old, hasty temper, which had seemed to die out during years of pain and patience, flashed into sudden life, as a smouldering coal flashes, when you least expect it, into flame. She drew herself up to her full height, gave Miss Jane a look of scorching indignation, and, with a rapid impulse, darted out of the room and along the hall towards Mrs. Florence's door. The girls she met scattered from her path right and left. She looked so tall and moved so impetuously that she absolutely frightened them.
"Come in," said Mrs. Florence, in answer to her sharp, quivering knock. Katy entered. Rose was not there, and Mrs. Florence and Mrs. Nipson sat together, side by side, in close consultation.
"Mrs. Florence," said Katy, too much excited to feel in the least afraid, "will you please tell me why our things are being changed to No. 1?"
Mrs. Florence flushed with anger. She looked Katy all over for a minute before she answered, then she said, in a severe voice, "It is done by my orders, and for good and sufficient reasons. What those reasons are, you know as well as I."
"No, I don't!" replied Katy, as angry as Mrs. Florence. "I haven't the least idea what they are, and I insist on knowing!"
"I cannot answer questions put in such an improper manner," said Mrs. Florence, with a wave of the hand which meant that Katy was to go. But Katy did not stir.
"I am sorry if my manner was improper," she said, trying to speak quietly, "but I think I have a right to ask what this means. If we are accused of doing wrong, it is only fair to tell us what it is."
Mrs. Florence only waved her hand again; but Mrs. Nipson, who had been twisting uneasily in her chair, said, "Excuse me, Mrs. Florence, but perhaps it would be better—would satisfy Miss Carr better—if you were to be explicit."
"It does not seem to me that Miss Carr can be in need of any explanation," replied Mrs. Florence. "When a young lady writes under-hand notes to young gentlemen, and throws them from her window, and they are discovered, she must naturally expect that persons of correct ideas will be shocked and disgusted. Your note to Mr. Abernethy Searles, Miss Carr, was found by his mother while mending his pocket, and was handed by her to me. After this statement, you will hardly be surprised that I do not consider it best to permit you to room longer on that side of the house. I did not suppose I had a girl in my school capable of such conduct."
For a moment Katy was too much stunned to speak. She took hold of a chair to steady herself, and her color changed so quickly from red to pale and back again to red, that Mrs. Florence and Mrs. Nipson, who sat watching her, might be pardoned for thinking that she looked guilty. As soon as she recovered her voice, she stammered out, "But I didn't! I never did! I haven't written any note! I wouldn't for the world! Oh, Mrs. Florence, please believe me!"
"I prefer to believe the evidence of my eyes," replied Mrs. Florence, as she drew a paper from her pocket. "Here is the note! I suppose you will hardly deny your own signature."
Katy seized the note. It was written in a round, unformed hand, and ran thus:—
"Dear Berry,—I saw you last night on the green. I think you are splendid. All the nuns think so. I look at you very often out of my window. If I let down a string, would you tie a cake to it, like that kind which you threw to Mary Andrews last term? Tie two cakes, please; one for me and one for my room-mate. The string will be at the end of the Row.
In spite of her agitation. Katy could hardly keep back a smile as she read this absurd production. Mrs. Florence saw the smile, and her tone was more severe than ever, as she said,—
"Give that back to me, if you please. It will be my justification with your father if he objects to your change of room."
"But, Mrs. Florence," cried Katy, "I never wrote that note. It isn't my handwriting; it isn't my— Oh, surely, you can't think so! It's too ridiculous."
"Go to your room at once," said Mrs. Florence, "and be thankful that your punishment is such a mild one. If your home were not so distant, I should write to ask your father to remove you from the school; instead of which, I merely put you on the other side of the entry, out of reach of farther correspondence of this sort."
" But I shall write him, and he will take us away immediately," cried Katy, stung to the quick by this obstinate injustice. "I will not stay, neither shall Clover, where our word is disbelieved, and we are treated like this. Papa knows! Papa will never doubt us a moment when we tell him that this isn't true."
With these passionate words she left the room. I do not think that either Mrs. Florence or Mrs. Nipson felt very comfortable after she was gone.
That was a dreadful afternoon. The girls had no heart to arrange No. 1, or do any thing toward making it comfortable, but lay on the bed in the midst of their belongings, crying, and receiving visits of condolence from their friends. The S. S. U. C. meeting was put off. Katy was in no humor to act as president, or Clover to read her funny poem. Rose and Mary Silver sat by, kissing them at intervals, and declaring that it was a shame, while the other members dropped in one by one to re-echo the same sentiments.
"If it had been anybody else!" said Alice Gibbons; "but Katy, Katy of all persons! It is too much!
"So I told Mrs. Florence," sobbed Rose Red. "Oh, why was I born so bad? If I'd always been good, and a model to the rest of you, perhaps, she'd have believed me instead of scolding harder than ever."
The idea of Rose as a "model" made Clover smile in the midst of her dolefulness.
"It's an outrageous thing," said Ellen Gray, "if Mrs. Florence only knew it, you two have done more to keep the rest of us steady than any girls in school."
"So they have," blubbered Rose, whose pretty face was quite swollen with crying. "I've been getting better and better every day since they came." She put her arms round Clover as she spoke, and sobbed harder than ever.
It was in the midst of this excitement that Miss Jane saw fit to come in and "inspect the room." When she saw the crying girls and the general confusion of every thing, she was very angry.
"I shall mark you both for disorder," she said. "Get off the bed, Miss Carr. Hang your dresses up at once, Clover, and put your shoes in the shoe-bag. I never saw any thing so disgraceful. All these things must be in order when I return, fifteen minutes from now, or I shall report you to Mrs. Florence."
"It's of no consequence what you do. We are not going to stay," muttered Katy. But soon she was ashamed of having said this. Her anger was melting, and grief taking its place. "Oh, papa! papa! Elsie! Elsie!" she whispered to herself, as she slowly hung up the dresses; and, unseen by the girls, she hid her face in the folds of Clover's gray alpaca, and shed some hot tears. Till then she had been too angry to cry.
This softer mood followed her all through the evening. Clover and Rose sat by, talking over the affair and keeping their wrath warm with discussion. Katy said hardly a word. She felt too weary and depressed to speak.
"Who could have written the note?" asked Clover again and again. It was impossible to guess. It seemed absurd to suspect any of the older girls; but then, as Rose suggested, the absurdity as well as the signature might have been imitated to avoid detection.
"I know one thing," remarked Rose, "and that is that I should like to kill Mrs. Searles. Horrid old thing!—peeping and prying into pockets. She has no business to be alive at all."
Rose's ferocious speeches always sounded specially comical when taken in connection with her pink cheeks and her dimples.
"Shall you write to papa to-night, Katy?" asked Clover.
Katy shook her head. She was too heavy-hearted to talk. Big tears rolled down unseen and fell upon the pillow. After Rose was gone, and the candle out, she cried herself to sleep.
Waking early in the dim dawn, she lay and thought it over, Clover slumbering soundly beside her meanwhile. "Morning brings counsel," says the old proverb. In this case it seemed true. Katy, to her surprise, found a train of fresh thoughts filling her mind, which were not there when she fell asleep. She recalled her passionate words and feelings of the day before. Now that the mood had passed, they seemed to her worse than the injury which provoked them. Quick-tempered and generous people often experience this. It was easier for Katy to forgive Mrs. Florence, because it was needful also that she should forgive herself.
"I said I would write to papa to take us away," she thought. "Why did I say that? What good would it do? It wouldn't make anybody disbelieve this hateful story. They'd only think I wanted to get away because I was found out. And papa would be so worried and disappointed. It has cost him a great deal to get us ready and send us here, and he wants us to stay a year. If we went home now, all the money would be wasted. And yet how horrid it is going to be after this! I don't feel as if I could ever bear to see Mrs. Florence again. I must write.'
"But then," her thoughts flowed on, "home wouldn't seem like home if we went away from school in disgrace, and knew that everybody here was believing such things. Suppose, instead, I were to write to papa to come on and make things straight. He'd find out the truth, and force Mrs. Florence to see it. It would be very expensive, though; and I know he oughtn't to leave home again so soon. Oh, dear! How hard it is to know what to do!"
"What would Cousin Helen say?" she continued, going in imagination to the sofa-side of the dear friend who was to her like a second conscience. She shut her eyes and invented a long talk,—her questions, Cousin Helen's replies. But, as everybody knows, it is impossible to play croquet by yourself and be strictly impartial to all the four balls. Katy found that she was making Cousin Helen play (that is, answer) as she herself wished, and not, as something whispered, she would answer were she really there.
"It is just the 'Little Scholar' over again," she said, half aloud, "I can't see. I don't know how to act." She remembered the dream she once had, of a great beautiful Face and a helping hand. "And it was real," she murmured, "and just as real, and just as near, now as then."
The result of this long meditation was that, when Clover woke up, she found Katy leaning over, ready to kiss her for good morning, and looking bright and determined.
"Clovy," she said, "I've been thinking; and I'm not going to write to papa about this affair at all!"
"Aren't you? Why not?" asked Clover, puzzled."Because it would worry him, and be of no use. He would come on and take us right away, I'm sure; but Mrs. Florence and all the teachers, and a great many of the girls, would always believe that this horrid, ridiculous story is true. I can't bear to have them. Let's stay, instead, and convince them that it isn't. I think we can."
"I would a great deal rather go home," said Clover. "It won't ever be nice here again. We shall have this dark room, and Miss Jane will be more unkind than ever, and the girls will think you wrote that note, and Lilly Page will say hateful things!" She buttoned her boots with a vindictive air.
"Never mind," said Katy, trying to feel brave. "I don't suppose it will be pleasant, but I'm pretty sure it's right. And Rosy and all the girls we really care for know how it is."
"I can't bear it," sighed Clover, with tears in her eyes. "It is so cruel that they should say such things about you."
"I mean that they shall say something quite different before we go away," replied Katy, stroking her hair. "Cousin Helen would tell us to stay, I'm pretty sure. I was thinking about her just now, and I seemed to hear her voice in the air, saying over and over, 'Live it down! Live it down! Live it down!'" She half sang this, and took two or three dancing steps across the room.
"What a girl you are!" said Clover, consoled by seeing Katy look so bright.
Mrs. Florence was surprised that morning, as she sat in her room, by the appearance of Katy. She looked pale, but perfectly quiet and gentle.
"Mrs. Florence," she said, "I've come to say that I shall not write to my father to take us away, as I told you I should."
Mrs. Florence bowed stiffly, by way of answer.
"Not," went on Katy, with a little flash in her eyes, "that he would hesitate, or doubt my word one moment, if I did. But he wished us to stay here a year, and I don't want to disappoint him. I'd rather stay. And, Mrs. Florence, I'm sorry I spoke as I did yesterday. It was not right; but I was angry, and felt that you were unjust."
"And to-day you own that I was not?"
"Oh, no!" replied Katy, "I can't do that. You were unjust, because neither Clover nor I wrote that note. We wouldn't do such a horrid thing for the world, and I hope some day you will believe us. But I oughtn't to have spoken so."
Katy's face and voice were so truthful as she said this, that Mrs. Florence was almost shaken in her opinion.
"We will say no more about the matter," she remarked, in a kinder tone. "If your conduct is perfectly correct in future, it will go far to make this forgotten."
Few things are more aggravating than to be forgiven when one has done no wrong. Katy felt this as she walked away from Mrs. Florence's room. But she would not let herself grow angry again. "Live it down!" she whispered, as she went into the school-room.
She and Clover had a good deal to endure for the next two or three weeks. They missed their old room with its sunny window and pleasant outlook. They missed Rose, who, down at the far end of Quaker Row, could not drop in half so often as had been her custom. Miss Jane was specially grim and sharp; and some of the upstairs girls, who resented Katy's plain speaking, and the formation of a society against flirting, improved the chance to be provoking. Lilly Page was one of these. She didn't really believe Katy guilty, but she liked to tease her by pretending to believe it.
"Only to think of the President of the Saintly Stuck-Up Society being caught like this!" she remarked, maliciously. "What are our great reformers corning to? Now if it had been a sinner like me, no one would be surprised!"
All this naturally was vexatious. Even sunny Clover shed many tears in private over her mortifications. But the girls bore their trouble bravely, and never said one syllable about the matter in the letters home. There were consolations, too, mixed with the annoyances. Rose Red clung to her two friends closely, and loyally fought their battles. The S. S. U. C. to a girl rallied round its chief. After that sad Saturday the meetings were resumed with as much spirit as ever. Katy's steadiness and uniform politeness and sweet temper impressed even those who would have been glad to believe a tale against her, and in a short time the affair ceased to be a subject for discussion,—was almost forgotten, in fact, except for a sore spot in Katy's heart, and one page in Rose Red's album, upon which, under the date of that fatal day, were written these words, headed by an appalling skull and cross-bones in pen-and-ink:—
"N. B.—Pay Miss Jane off."