Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 13
THE MYSTERIOUS FOUR
"Well, for mercy's sake!" said Betty in exasperation, "if you know where the property is, why don't you claim it? Why doesn't your mother? Where is it?"
"At the bottom of Indian Chasm," declared Norma calmly.
"I don't know exactly," admitted Norma. "It's around here somewhere. You see the Indians streaked for the woods, and mother got out by way of a window and ran to the next estate. The men and boys there armed themselves and took horses and chased the Redskins, and when they were almost up with them the robbers tossed everything down this great canyon in the earth. There was no way to get into it, and though they tried lowering men with ropes, they couldn't find a solitary gold piece. As far as any one knows it is all at the bottom of the chasm now."
"And grandma had to mortgage the house and they couldn't pay the interest and it was sold and all the lovely mahogany furniture," mourned Alice. "And grandma and mother moved to New York and mother taught school and met dad, who was a medical student. And they were married when he graduated, and grandma came to live with 'em."
Betty crept away to her own bed when the story was finished. Bobby was asleep, for which her chum was thankful. Betty wanted to think. Surely there must be a way to recover the Macklin fortune, if it was still down in the big chasm.
"I'll tell Bob and we'll go and find that place. Perhaps he can think of a plan," was Betty's last thought before she went to sleep.
The next few days were very busy ones for every pupil. Ada and Ruth, in tears, submitted to having their wardrobes censored, and thereafter appeared in clothes that were not too striking.
The appointments with Mrs. Eustice materialized, and Betty, after her interview, was conscious of a sincere affection for the woman who seemed to understand girls so thoroughly.
Bobby was "crazy," to quote her own expression, about the gymnasium classes, and Miss Anderson beamed approvingly upon her. Betty, too, was often to be found in the gymnasium after school hours, but Libbie had to be driven to regular exercise. She liked to dance, but unless some one was made responsible for her, she was prone to cut her regular gymnasium period and devote the time to some thrilling novel. When the other girls discovered this they good-naturedly made up a schedule for the week, assigning a different day to every girl whose duty it should be to "seal, sign and deliver" the reluctant Libbie at the gymnasium door at the appointed time.
Mrs. Eustice, rather peculiarly some people thought—Ada Nansen's mother among them—held the theory that school girls should spend a fair proportion of their time in study. She had small patience with the faddist type of school that abhorred "night work" and whose students specialized on "manners" to the neglect of spelling.
"I dislike the term 'finishing school,'" she had once said. "I try to teach my girls that what they learn in school fits them for beginning life."
So from seven to half-past eight every night, except Friday, the pupils at Shadyside were busy with their books. They might study in their rooms, provided their marks for the preceding week were satisfactory, but those who fell below a certain percentage were sentenced to prepare their lessons in the study hall under the eye of a teacher.
The second Friday night of the term the new students were warned by little pink cocked notes to remain in their rooms after dinner until they had been inspected by the "Mysterious Four."
"It's a secret society," Bobby announced the moment she had read her note. "Well, let's go upstairs and prepare to be inspected."
The eight gathered in Betty and Bobby's room, and though they were expecting it, the knock, when it finally did come, made them all jump.
"Come—come in," stammered Betty and Bobby together.
Four veiled figures entered, each carrying something in her hand. They spoke in disguised voices, though as they were upper classmen they were fairly safe from recognition; the new girls were hardly acquainted among themselves and knew few of the older students by name.
"Freshmen," said the tallest figure, "when we enter, rise."
The eight leaped to their feet at a bound.
"Do you wish to become members of the Mysterious Four?" demanded the second figure.
"Oh, yes," chorused the willing victims.
"It is well," chanted the third figure.
"It is well," echoed the fourth.
"I don't," said Libbie calmly.
"Don't what?" questioned the tallest figure, evidently appointed chief spokesman.
"Want to be a member of the Mysterious Four," announced Libbie, who had an obstinate streak in her make-up.
"Unfortunately," the spokesman informed her, "you haven't any choice in the matter; you're elected one already."
While Libbie was thinking up an answer, which considering the finality of that statement, was not an easy matter, the tall draped figure went on to explain to the interested girls that there were two degrees to be undergone before one could be a full fledged member of the Mysterious Four.
"You must take the first degree to-night," they were told. "The second will be several weeks later."
"Are we allowed to ask a question?" asked Betty respectfully.
"Oh, yes. But we may not answer it," was the cheering response.
"Why is the society called the 'Mysterious Four'?" asked Betty "All the freshman class received notes, so the membership must be large; where does the four enter?"
"You'll learn that at the close of your first degree," said the spokesman with firm kindness. "Now you're to remain here for five minutes, and then go down to the study hall. Five minutes, remember."
They departed majestically, and the girls were left to spend their five minutes in discussion of the visit.
"I don't see why I have to belong," grumbled Libbie.
"It will do you good," said Bobby severely. "When I promised Aunt Elizabeth to look after you, I didn't know that meant I would have to risk my head by sleeping under 'Lady Gwendolyn' in two volumes—and fat ones at that."
Libbie had the grace to blush. Bobby, who was fond of books but whose taste ran to "Rules for Basketball" and "How to Gain Health Through Exercise," had put up a small shelf directly over her bed to hold her literary treasures. Libbie, exhausting the space in her tiny corner bookcase had thoughtlessly placed the two heavy volumes of the story Bobby mentioned on top of her cousin's books with the awful result that the shelf broke in the night and spilled the books on the wrathful Bobby.
"Let's go down to the study hall," suggested peace-loving Louise. "The five minutes are up."
Down they trooped, to find a number of girls already there, for the most part looking rather frightened.
At five minute intervals other groups entered, until all the freshman class was assembled.
"I don't care anything about this society," whispered Ada Nansen to Ruth Royal. "I wouldn't give fifty cents for an organization where no discrimination is shown in choosing the members. However, this is Mrs. Eustice's pet scheme, they tell me, and I want to stand well with her. Next year I'm going to get elected to the White Scroll, you see if I don't."
The Mysterious Four came in as the last group of girls were seated and slowly mounted the platform.
"Candidates," announced the leader, "you are summoned here to take your first degree. It is simple, but no shirking is to be permitted. You are to do the one thing that you do best. As your names are called, you will mount the platform and comply. Four minutes is allowed for decision—on the platform."
There was a gasp from the audience, and one could almost see the mental cog wheels of sixty girls going furiously to work.
"Betty," whispered the desperate Bobby, "what can you do best?"
"Ride, I guess," said Betty, recollections of Clover coming to mind.
There was a crashing chord from the piano. One of the veiled figures had seated herself at the instrument and now proceeded to play "appropriate selections" as the candidates performed their turns.
As the clever leader had foreseen, no one relished spending her allotted four minutes for reflection on the platform in full view of the audience, and the majority of the victims made up their minds with a rush.
After they had entered into the spirit of the thing, it was fun, and their shrieks of laughter aroused sympathetic smiles in other rooms. No teachers and no member of the other classes were permitted to enter, but Aunt Nancy, the fat cook, and half a dozen young waitresses peeped in at the door and enjoyed the spectacle hugely.
Betty Gordon obligingly cantered across the platform on a chair and won applause by her realistic interpretation of western riding. Bobby convulsed the room with her imaginary efforts to cut and fit a dress, her mistakes being glaring ones, for Bobby never touched a needle if she could help it. Clever Constance Howard had gone for her ukulele and played it charmingly. Libbie insisted on giving the "balcony scene" from Romeo and Juliet, In which she was supported by the unwilling Frances, who was certainly the stiffest Romeo who ever walked the stage.
"Ada Nansen," called the leader, when the eight chums had made their individual contributions to the program.