Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 22

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CHAPTER XXII


ANOTHER MYSTERY


"Ready, Betty," said Miss Anderson briskly. "You enter at the left and begin 'I thought I heard voices——' Don't look toward the auditorium. Remember you are supposed to be in a small room."

Betty managed to command her voice, and the rehearsal went on. Miss Anderson herself took the part of the maid and, as she had foreseen, by the time they had finished the hour they were in a normal, happy frame of mind.

No reference was ever made by any one to Ada's speech, but she never appeared at another rehearsal. After two weeks' diligent practice, the players were pronounced perfect and a night was set for the performance of "The Violet Patchwork."

"Why don't we go to the woods and get some leaves to trim the assembly hall?" suggested Betty two days before the time for the play. "Mrs. Eustice's sister is coming to see her, and some other guests, and we want it to look nice. We might get some nuts, too. Aunt Nancy promised us nut cake with ice cream if we'll get her enough."

"All right, I like to go nutting," agreed Bobby. "But, for goodness' sake, if we're going to walk a hundred miles this time, let's have something to eat with us. Sandwiches and a regular spread. How many have boxes from home?"

A canvass showed that a round dozen of the girls had been favored that week, and, at Bobby's suggestion, they donated their goodies to "the common cause."

"Not all the girls will want to go," said Betty. "Some are such poor walkers, they'll decline at the first hint of a hike. Every one in the V. P. will want to go, I think, and that's eleven. Then, counting the girls with boxes and the others who have asked to come, we'll have twenty. Twenty of us ought to manage to bring home enough leaves to trim the hall respectably."

"We might ask for a holiday!" Bobby's face beamed at the thought. "We haven't had a day off in weeks, and Mrs. Eustice said a long time ago she thought we'd earned one. Will you do the asking, Betty?

Betty was accustomed to "doing the asking," and she said she would once more if Norma Guerin would go with her. Wherever possible, Betty drew Norma into every school activity, and she persistently refused to allow her friend to talk as though the Christmas holidays would end their days at Shadyside. Alice worried less than Norma, but both girls grieved at the thought of the sacrifice those at home were making for them and felt that they could not accept it much longer without vigorous protest.

Betty and Bobby, on the other hand, were determined to see to it that the sisters spent their holidays in Washington, and while Bobby cherished wild plans of filling a trunk with new dresses and hats and forcing it in some manner upon her chums, Betty concentrated her attention on the subject of cash. She intended to consult her uncle, in person if possible, and if that proved impossible, by letter, and Bob as to the feasibility of persuading Norma and Alice to borrow a sum sufficient to see them through to graduation day at Shadyside. Betty was sure her uncle and Bob, in both of whom she had infinite faith, could manage this difficult task satisfactorily, though the Guerin pride was a formidable obstacle.

Acting immediately on the decision to ask for a holiday, Betty and Norma went down to the office and preferred their request, which was cordially granted after an explanation of its purpose.

"All day to-morrow off!" shouted Betty, bursting in upon the six girls assembled to hear the result.

"We may go after breakfast and needn't come back till four o'clock when Miss Anderson has called a dress rehearsal," chimed in Norma.

Libbie and Louise were dispatched to notify the other girls and to give strict instructions to those who had boxes not to eat any more of the contents.

"Elsie Taylor had already eaten six eclairs when I requisitioned her box for the picnic," said Constance Howard. "It's lucky we're going to-morrow, or there wouldn't be much left to eat."

Betty and Bobby each had a box from Mrs. Littell, who sent packages of sensible goodies regularly to her girls in turn.

"I hope the sandwiches will keep fresh enough," worried Betty.

But she might have saved her worry.

Just as she and Bobby were going to bed that night Norma and Alice came in, wrapped in their kimonos, each carrying a large box under her arm.

"What do you suppose?" asked Norma. "Good old Aunt Nancy heard we were going after nuts for her cake and leaves for the hall, and she's made us dozens of sandwiches. She said she did it because Mrs. Eustice reserved one of the best seats for her at the play. Anyway, we'll be glad to have them, shan't we? And, oh yes, Aunt Nancy says she'll make us a cake as big as 'a black walnut tree' and two kinds of ice cream!"

"And she brought the sandwiches up to Norma and Alice because she was determined they should have something for the picnic," thought Betty after the girls had gone. "Talk about tact! Aunt Nancy has the real thing."

The girls were all up early the next morning, and soon after breakfast they were on their way to the woods. Many of those who were not of the nutting party went to Edentown, some took canoes and went paddling, others "puttered" around the school grounds, enjoying the beautiful autumn weather and the luxury of a holiday.

Ada Nansen and her friends had elected to go to Edentown, and passed the nutting party on the way. Betty took one glance into the bus and then looked at Bobby. That young person promptly giggled.

"Did you see what I saw?" she asked.

"Poor Ada!" said Betty. "She does have troubles of her own!"

For of all the teachers. Miss Prettyman alone had been available as chaperone, and to go to town under Miss Prettyman's eagle eye was anything but an exciting experience. She was usually bent on "improving" the minds of her charges, and she improved them with serene disregard of the victims' tastes and interests. Betty and Bobby had seen her sitting bolt upright in the bus, reading a thin volume of essays while Ada scowled at the happy crowd tramping in the road.

The woods reached, they separated, some to gather branches of leaves and others intent on fining their sacks with nuts. The boxes of lunch were neatly piled under a tree, and sweaters were left with them, for it was comfortably warm even in the shadiest spots.

"I don't believe we will have many more days like this," remarked Frances Martin, her near-sighted eyes peering into a hollow tree stump. "Girls, what have I found—a squirrel?"

"Plain owl," laughed Betty. "Isn't he cunning?"

They crowded around to admire the funny little creature, and then, admonished by Bobby, whom Constance declared would make a good drill sergeant, set busily to work again. Nuts were not plentiful, but they filled half a sack, and then, a large pile of flaming branches having been gathered, they decided to drag their spoils back to the tree and to have lunch.

"Girls, girls, girls!" shrieked Libbie, who was in the lead, "our lunch is gone—every crumb of it!"

Sure enough, the sweaters were all tossed about in confusion and the boxes had disappeared.

"Who took it?" demanded Bobby wrathfully. "You needn't tell me that lunch walked off!"

High and clear and shrill, a familiar whistle sounded back of them.

"That's Bob!" Betty's face brightened, "Listen!"

She gave an answering whistle, and Bob's sounded again.

There was a scrambling among the bushes, and a group of cadets burst through. Bob and the Tucker twins were first, and after them, came Gilbert Lane and Timothy Derby and Winifred Marion Brown.

"Hello, anything the matter?" was Bob's greeting. "You look rather glum."

"So would you," Betty informed him, "if you were starving after a morning's work and your lunch was stolen."

"Gee, that is tough!" exclaimed Bob sympathetically. "Who stole it?"

"We don't know," volunteered Bobby. "But all those boxes couldn't take wings and fly away."

"You go back and get the fellows," Bob commanded Tommy Tucker. "We were having a potato roast down by the lake, and while the potatoes were baking some of us came up for more wood," he explained to the girls. "We thought we heard voices, and so I whistled."

Tommy Tucker was flying down to the lake before half of this explanation was given.

"Have you a holiday, too?" Betty asked. "We're out to get decorations for the play."

"It's the colonel's birthday," explained Bob, "and the old boy gave us the day off. Here come the fellows."

Half a dozen more cadets joined them, all boys the girls had met at the games. They were loud in their expressions of sympathy for the disappointed picnickers and promptly offered their potatoes as refreshments when they should be done.

"Oh, we're going to get that lunch back," announced Bob Henderson confidently. "Look here!"

He pointed to some footprints in a bit of muddy ground.

"Cadet shoes!" cried Tommy Tucker. "Jimminy Crickets, I'll bet it's that Marshall Morgan and his crowd!"

"But this is a girl's shoe," protested Betty, pointing to another print. "See the narrow toe?"

"Ada Nansen or Ruth Royal!" guessed Bobby quickly. "They're the only ones who won't wear a sensible shoe."