Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 23

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"Who," demanded Betty, "is Marshall Morgan?"

"He's a pest," said Tommy, with characteristic frankness. "He has one mission in life, and that is to plague those unfortunates who have to be under the same roof with him. He never does anything on a large scale, but then a mosquito can drive you crazy, you know."

"Dear me, he ought to know Ada," rejoined Bobby. "Perhaps he does. She is a pestess, if there is such a word."

"There isn't," Betty assured her. "Anyway, this won't get our lunch back. What are you going to do, Bob?"

"A little Indian work," was Bob's reply. "We'll send out scouts to locate the thieves and then we'll surround them and let the consequences fall."

"I'll be a consequence," declared Bobby vindictively. "I'll fall on Ada with such force she'll think an avalanche has struck her."

Bob sent some of the boys to trace the steps, and while they were gone outlined his plans to the others. Once they knew where the marauders were, they were to spread out fan-shape and swoop down upon the enemy.

"I figure they'll get a safe distance away and then stop to eat the lunch," said Bob. "It is hardly likely that they will take the stuff back to school with them."

"But Ada went to Edentown," protested Libbie. "We saw her in the bus, didn't we, girls? And Ruth, too."

"They could easily come back in the same bus," said Betty. "Indeed, I'm willing to wager that is just what they did. Miss Prettyman as a chaperone probably killed any desire Ada had to go shopping."

The scouts came back after fifteen or twenty minutes to report that they had discovered the invaders camped under a large oak tree and preparing to open the boxes.

"They were laughing and saying how they'd put one over on you," said Gilbert Lane.

"Well, they won't laugh long," retorted Bob grimly. "How many are there?"

"Marshall Morgan, Jim Cronk, the Royce boys, all three of 'em, Hilbert Mitchell and George Timmins," named Gilbert, using his fingers as an adding machine. "Then there are nine girls."

"Has one of them a brown velvet hat with a pink rose at the front and brown gaiters and mink furs and a perfectly lovely velvet handbag?" asked Betty. "And did you see a girl with black pumps and white silk stockings and a blue tricotine dress embroidered with crystal beads?"

The boys looked bewildered.

"Don't believe we did," admitted Gilbert regretfully. "But one of 'em called a skinny girl 'Ada' and somebody is named 'Gladys.'"

"Never mind the clothes," Bobby told him gratefully. "We knew those two were mixed up in this."

They started cautiously, mindful of Bob's instructions not to make a noise, and succeeded, after ten or fifteen minutes creeping, in getting within hearing distance of the despoilers.

"You girls will have to tend to your friends," grinned Bob. "You can't expect us to discipline them. But we'll give the boys something to remember!"

The party spread out, and at his signal whistle they sprang forward, shouting like wild Indians. Straight for the oak tree they charged and closed in on the group beneath it. Those seated there rose to their feet in genuine alarm.

"Rush 'em!" shouted Bob.

Pushing and scrambling, those in the attacking party began to force the others down the narrow path. The boys were struggling desperately and the girls were resisting as best they could and some were crying.

"Let us out!" wept Ada. "Ow! You're stepping on me! Let us out!"

She kicked blindly, and fought with her hands. The first person she grasped was Ruth, who was nearly choked before she could jerk her fur collar free.

"I will get out!" panted Ada. "Push, girls!"

The circle opened for them, and following Ada they dashed through straight into a tangle of blackberry bushes. Half mad with rage and blind from excitement they ploughed their way through, fighting the bushes as though they were flesh and blood arms held out to stop them. When they were clear of the thicket their clothes were in tatters and their faces and hands scratched and bleeding cruelly.

There was nothing for them to do but to go back to the school and try to invent a plausible story for their condition. All the cold cream in the handsome glass jars on Ada's dressing table could not heal her smarting face and thoughts that night.

Bob and his friends continued on their resolute way, pushing the luckless cadets before them. Once out of the woods, they seized them by the jacket collars and rushed them down to the lake and into the icy waters. They generously allowed them to come out after a few minutes immersion, and the sorry, dripping crew began the long run that would bring them to dry clothes and, it is to be hoped, mended ways.

"Now the potatoes are done," Bob reported, after examining the oven hollowed out and lined with stones. "Why not combine forces and eat?"

Every one was famished, and they found plenty of good things left in the boxes. The uninvited guests could not have had those packages open long before they were overtaken.

After a hearty picnic meal the boys helped the girls gather up their branches and walked with them to the point where their boats were tied. They had rowed over because of the attraction of the woods—Salsette being located on the flat side of the lake—and now they must go back for the afternoon drill that was never omitted even for such an important occasion as the colonel's birthday.

Ada and her chums did not come down to dinner that night, and so did not help with the decorating of the hall. That was pronounced an unqualified success, as was the performance of "The Violet Patchwork" the following night and the nut cake and the chocolate and the pistache ice-cream that was served at the close.

Both audience and players were treated to two surprises in the course of the evening. Bobby was responsible for one and, much to the astonishment of the school, Ada Nansen and Constance Howard for the other.

True to her promise, the dauntless Bobby had accepted the humble role of stage hand rather than have no part in the play, and she trundled scenery with right good will and acted as Miss Anderson's right hand in a mood of unfailing good humor. There was not an atom of envy in Bobby's character, and she thought Betty the most wonderful actress she had ever seen.

"You look lovely in that dress," she said, as Betty stood awaiting her cue at the opening of the second act.

Betty smiled, took her cue and walked on the stage.

A ripple of laughter that grew to hilarity greeted her after the first puzzled moment.

"Oh, oh!" cried Madame hysterically, in the wings. "See, that Bobby! Some one call her! She is walking with the tree!"

The rather primitive arrangements of the background provided for the play called for a girl to stand behind each tree in the formal garden scene as support. In her admiration of Betty, Bobby had unconsciously edged after her to keep her in sight, and the startled audience saw the heroine being persistently pursued by a pretty boxwood tree. Bobby was recalled to herself, the tree became rooted in its place, and "The Violet Patchwork" proceeded smoothly.

Between the third and fourth acts, the lights went out at a signal and to the general surprise—for the players had known nothing of what was to come—a velvety voice rolled out in the darkness singing the words of "A Maid in a Garden Green," a song a great singer had made popular that season.

"It's Ada," whispered the school with a rustle of delight. "No one else can sing like that."

They encored her heartily, and she responded. Then the lights flared up and died down again for the last act.

"Constance got her to do it," whispered Betty to Bobby. "I heard Miss Anderson telling Miss Sharpe. Ada's face is so scratched she couldn't, or rather wouldn't, show herself, and Constance said why not sing in the dark the way they do at the movies? That tickled Ada—who'd like to be a movie actress, Connie says—and she said she would."

"Constance Howard has a way with her," remarked Bobby sagely. "Any one that can persuade Ada Nansen to do anything nice is qualified to take a diplomatic post in Thibet."

Soon after the play the weather turned colder and skating and coasting became popular topics of conversation. There was not much ice-skating, as a rule, In that section of the country, but snow was to be expected, and more than one girl had secret aspirations to go from the top of the hill back of the school as far as good fortune would take her.

"Coasting?" Ada Nansen had sniffed when the subject was mentioned to her. "Why, that's for children! Girls of our ages don't go coasting. Now at home, my brother has an ice-boat—that's real sport."

"Well, Ada, I suppose you think I'm old enough to be your grandmother," said Miss Anderson, laughing. "I wonder what you'll say when I tell you that I still enjoy a good coast? If you girls who think you are too old to play in the snow would only get outdoors more you wouldn't complain of so many headaches."

But Ada refused to be mollified, and she remained indifferent to the shrieks of delight that greeted the first powdering of snow. Thanksgiving morning saw the first flakes.

The holiday was happily celebrated at Shadyside, very few of the girls going home. Mrs. Eustice preferred to add the time to the Christmas vacation, and the girls had found that this plan added to their enjoyment. Aunt Nancy and her assistants fairly outdid themselves on the dinner, and that alone would have made the day memorable for those with good appetites, and where is the school girl who does not like to eat?

The Dramatic Club gave another play to which the Salsette boys were invited as a special treat, and a little dance followed the play.

"You're a great little actress, Betty," Bob told her when he came to claim the first dance. "I'm almost willing to let you steer the new bobsled the first time it snows."

The bobsled, built by Bob and his chums, was an object of admiration to half of Salsette Academy. It was large and roomy and promised plenty of speed. The boys, of course, were wild to try it, and Betty and Bobby, who had been promised one of the first rides, joined them in earnestly wishing for snow. Betty had a sled of her own, too, a graceful, light affair her uncle had sent her.

The desired snow did not come for several days. Instead the weather grew still and cold and the girls were glad to stay indoors and work on their lessons or on things they were making for Christmas gifts.

"You may not have much money to spend, Norma," remarked Bobby one afternoon, "but then you don't need it. Just look at the things you can do with a crochet hook and a knitting needle."

Norma, bent over a pretty lace pattern, flushed a little.

"I'd like to be able to give grandma the things she needs far more than a lace collar," she said quietly.

Betty knew that Mrs. Macklin was still in the Philadelphia hospital. Every letter from Glenside now meant "a spell of the blues" for Norma, who was beginning to have dark circles under her eyes. She looked as though she might lie awake at night and plan.

When the girls put away their books and their sewing to go down to dinner, a few uncertain feathery flakes were softly sifting down and late that night it began to snow in earnest, promising perfect coasting.