What Katy Did at School/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV.

THE NUNNERY.

THE night seemed short; for the girls, tired by their journey, slept like dormice. About seven o'clock, Katy was roused by the click of a blind, and, opening her eyes, saw Clover standing in the window, and peeping out through the half-opened shutters. When she heard Katy move, she cried out,—

"Oh, do come! It's so interesting! I can see the colleges and the church, and, I guess, the Nunnery; only I am not quite sure, because the houses are all so much alike."

Katy jumped up and hurried to the window. The hotel stood on one side of a green common, planted with trees. The common had a lead-colored fence, and gravel paths, which ran across it from corner to corner. Opposite the hotel was a long row of red buildings, broken by one or two brown ones, with cupolas. These were evidently the colleges, and a large gray building with a spire was as evidently the church; but which one of the many white, green-blinded houses which filled the other sides of the common, was the Nunnery, the girls could not tell. Clover thought it was one with a garden at the side; but Katy thought not, because Lilly had said nothing of a garden. They discussed the point so long that the breakfast bell took them by surprise, and they were forced to rush through their dressing as fast as possible, so as not to keep papa waiting.

When breakfast was over, Dr. Carr told them to put on their hats, and get ready to walk with him to the school. Clover took one arm, and Katy the other, and the three passed between some lead-colored posts, and took one of the diagonal paths which led across the common.

"That's the house," said Dr. Carr, pointing.

"It isn't the one you picked out, Clover," said Katy.

"No," replied Clover, a little disappointed. The house papa indicated was by no means so pleasant as the one she had chosen.

It was a tall, narrow building, with dormer windows in the roof, and a square porch supported by whitewashed pillars. A pile of trunks stood in the porch. From above came sounds of voices. Girls' heads were popped out of upper windows at the swinging of the gate, and, as the door opened, more heads appeared looking over the balusters from the hall above.

The parlor into which they were taken was full of heavy, old-fashioned furniture, stiffly arranged. The sofa and chairs were covered with black haircloth, and stood closely against the wall. Some books lay upon the table, arranged two by two; each upper book being exactly at a right angle with each lower book. A bunch of dried grasses stood in the fire-place. There were no pictures, except one portrait in oils, of a forbidding old gentleman in a wig and glasses, sitting with his middle finger majestically inserted in a half-open Bible. Altogether, it was not a cheerful room, nor one calculated to raise the spirits of new-comers; and Katy, whose long seclusion had made her sensitive on the subject of rooms, shrank instinctively nearer papa. as they went in.

Two ladies rose to receive them. One, a tall dignified person, was Mrs. Florence. The other she introduced as "my assistant principal, Mrs. Nipson." Mrs. Nipson was not tall. She had a round face, pinched lips, and half-shut gray eyes.

"This lady is fully associated with me in the management of the school," explained Mrs. Florence. "When I go, she will assume the entire control."

"ls that likely to be soon?" inquired Dr. Carr, surprised, and not well pleased that the teacher of whom he had heard, and with whom he had proposed to leave his children, was planning to yield her place to a stranger.

"The time is not yet determined," replied Mrs. Florence. Then she changed the subject, gracefully, but so decidedly that Dr. Carr had no chance for further question. She spoke of classes, and discussed what Katy and Clover were to study. Finally, she proposed to take them upstairs to see their room. Papa might come too, she said.

"I dare say that Lilly Page, who tells me that she is a cousin of yours, has described the arrangements of the house," she remarked to Katy. "The room I have assigned to you is in the back building. 'Quaker Row,' the girls call it." She smiled as she spoke; and Katy, meeting her eyes for the first time, felt that there was something in what Lilly had said. Mrs. Florence was a sort of queen.

They went upstairs. Some girls who were peeping over the baluster hurried away at their approach. Mrs. Florence shook her head at them.

"The first day is always one of license," she said, leading the way along an uncarpeted entry to a door at the end, from which, by a couple of steps, they went down into a square room; round three sides of which, ran a shelf, on which stood rows of wash-bowls and pitchers. Above were hooks for towels. Katy perceived that this was the much-dreaded wash-room.

"Our lavatory," remarked Mrs. Florence, blandly.

Opening from the wash-room was a very long hall, lighted at each end by a window. The doors on either side were numbered "one, two, three," and so on. Some of them were half open; as they went by, Katy and Clover caught glimpses of girls and trunks, and beds strewed with things. At No. 6 Mrs. Florence paused.

"Here is the room which I propose to give you," she said.

Katy and Clover looked eagerly about. It was a small room, but the sun shone in cheerfully at the window. There was a maple bedstead and table, a couple of chairs, and a row of hooks; that was all, except that in the wall was set a case of black—handled drawers, with cupboard-doors above them.

"These take the place of a bureau, and hold your clothes," explained Mrs. Florence, pulling out one of the drawers. "I hope, when once you are settled, you will find yourselves comfortable. The rooms are small; but young people do not require so much space as older ones. Though, indeed, your elder daughter, Dr. Carr, looks more advanced and grown-up than I was prepared to find her. What did you say was her age?"

"She is past sixteen; but she has been so long confined to her room by the illness of which I wrote, that you may probably find her behind hand in some respects, which reminds me" (this was very adroit of papa!) "I am anxious that she should keep up the system to which she has been accustomed at home,—among other things, sponge-baths of cold water every morning; and, as I see that the bedrooms are not furnished with wash-stands, I will ask your permission to provide one for the use of my little girls. Perhaps you will kindly tell me where I would better look for it?"

Mrs. Florence was not pleased, but she could not object; so she mentioned a shop. Katy's heart gave a bound of relief. She thought No. 6, with a wash-stand, might be very comfortable. Its bareness and simplicity had the charm of novelty. Then there was something very interesting to her in the idea of a whole house full of girls.

They did not stay long, after seeing the room, but went off on a shopping excursion. Shops were few and far between at Hillsover; but they found a neat little maple wash-stand and rocking-chair, and papa also bought a comfortable low chair, with a slatted back and a cushion. This was for Katy.

"Never study till your back aches," he told her: "when you are tired, lie flat on the bed for half an hour, and tell Mrs. Florence that it was by my direction."

"Or Mrs. Nipson," said Katy, laughing rather ruefully. She had taken no fancy to Mrs. Nipson, and did not enjoy the idea of a divided authority.

A hurried lunch at the hotel followed, and then it was time for Dr. Carr to go away. They all walked to the school together, and said good-by upon the steps. The girls would not cry, but they clung very tightly to papa, and put as much feeling into their last kisses as would have furnished forth half a dozen fits of tears. Lilly might have thought them cold-hearted, but papa did not; he knew better.

"That's my brave girls!" he said. Then he kissed them once more, and hurried away. Perhaps he did not wish them to see that his eyes too were a little misty.

As the door closed behind them, Katy and Clover realized that they were alone among strangers. The sensation was not pleasant; and they felt forlorn, as they went upstairs, and down Quaker Row, toward No. 6.

"Aha! so you're going to be next door," said a gay voice, as they passed No. 5, and Rose Red popped her head into the hall. "Well, I'm glad," she went on, shaking hands cordially; "I sort of thought you would, and yet I didn't know; and there are some awful stiffies among the new girls. How do you both do?"

"Oh! are we next door to you?" cried Clover, brightening.

"Yes. It's rather good of me not to hate you; for I wanted the end room myself, and Mrs. Florence wouldn't give it to me. Come in, and let me introduce you to my room-mate. It's against the rules, but that's no matter: nobody pretends to keep rules the first day."

They went in. No. 5 was precisely like No. 6, in shape, size, and furniture; but Rose had unpacked her trunk, and decorated the room with odds and ends of all sorts. The table was covered with books and boxes; colored lithographs were pinned on the walls; a huge blue rosette ornamented the head-board of the bed; the blinds were tied together with pink ribbon; over the top of the window was a festoon of hemlock boughs, fresh and spicy. The effect was fantastic, but cheery; and Katy and Clover exclaimed, with one voice, "How pretty!"

The room-mate was a pale, shy girl, with a half-scared look in her eyes, and small hands which twisted uneasily together when she moved and spoke. Her name was Mary Silver. She and Rose were so utterly unlike, that Katy thought it odd they should have chosen to be together. Afterward she understood it better. Rose liked to protect, and Mary to be protected; Rose to talk, and Mary to listen. Mary evidently considered Rose the most entertaining creature in the world; she giggled violently at all her jokes, and then stepped short and covered her mouth with her fingers, in a frightened way, as if giggling were wrong.

"Only think, Mary," began Rose, after introducing Katy and Clover, "these young ladies have got the end room. What do you suppose was the reason that Mrs. Florence did not give it to us? It's very peculiar."

Mary laughed her uneasy laugh. She looked as if she could tell the reason, but did not dare.

"Never mind," continued Rose. "Trials are good for one, they say. It's something to have nice people in that room, if we can't be there ourselves. You are nice, aren't you?" turning to Clover.

"Very," replied Clover, laughing.

"I thought so. I can almost always tell without asking; still, it is something to have it on the best authority. We'll be good neighbors, won't we? Look here!" and she pulled one of the black-handled drawers completely out and laid it on the bed. "Do you see? your drawers are exactly behind ours. Any time in silent study hour, if I have something I want to say, I'll just rap and pop a note into your drawer, and you can do the same to me. Isn't it fun?"

Clover said, "Yes;" but Katy, though she laughed, shook her head.

"Don't entice us into mischief," she said.

"Oh, gracious!" exclaimed Rose. "Now, are you going to be good,—you two? If you are, just break the news at once, and have it over. I can bear it." She fanned herself in such a comical way that no one could help laughing. Mary Silver joined, but stopped pretty soon in her sudden manner.

"There's Mary, now," went on Rose: "she's named Silver, but she's as good as gold. She's a Paragon. It's quite a trial to me, rooming with a Paragon. But, if any more are coming into the entry, just give me fair notice, and I pack and move up among the sinners in Attic Row. Somehow, you don't look like Paragons either,—you especially," nodding to Clover. "Your eyes are like violets; but so are Sylvia's,—that's my sister,—and she's the greatest witch in Massachusetts. Eyes are dreadfully deceitful things. As for you,"—to Katy,—"you're so tall that I can't take you all in at once; but the piece I see doesn't look dreadful a bit."

Rose was sitting in the window as she made these remarks; and, leaning forward suddenly, she gave a pretty, blushing nod to some one below. Katy glanced down, and saw a handsome young man replacing the cap he had lifted from his head.

"That's Berry Searles," said Rose. "He's the president's son, you know. He always comes through the side yard to get to his room. That's it,—the one with the red curtain. It's exactly opposite your window: don't you see?"

"So it is!" exclaimed Katy, remembering what Lilly had said. "Oh! was that the reason?"—she stopped, afraid of being rude.

"The reason we wanted the room?" inquired Rose, coolly. "Well, I don't know. It hadn't occurred to me to look at it in that light. Mary!" with sudden severity, "is it possible that you had Berry Searles in your mind when you were so pertinacious about that room?"

"Rose! How can you? You know I never thought of such thing," protested poor Mary.

"I hope not; otherwise I should feel it my duty to consult with Mrs. Florence on the subject," went on Rose, with an air of dignified admonition. "I consider myself responsible for you and your morals, Mary. Let us change this painful subject." She looked gravely at the three girls for a moment; then her lips began to twitch, the irresistible dimples appeared in her cheeks, and, throwing herself back in her chair, she burst into a fit of laughter.

"O Mary, you blessed goose! Some day or other you'll be the death of me! Dear, dear! how I am behaving! It's perfectly horrid of me. And I didn't mean it. I'm going to be real good this term; I promised mother. Please forget it, and don't take a dislike to me, and never come again," she added, coaxingly, as Katy and Clover rose to go.

"Indeed we won't," replied Katy. As for sensible Clover, she was already desperately in love with Rose, on that very first day!

After a couple of hours of hard work, No. 6 was in order, and looked like a different place. Fringed towels were laid over the wash-stand and the table. Dr. Carr's photograph and some pretty chromos ornamented the walls; the rocking-chair and the study chair stood by the window; the trunks were hidden by chintz covers, made for the purpose by old Mary. On the window-sill stood Cousin Helen's vase, which Katy had brought carefully packed among her clothes.

"Now," she said, tying the blinds together with a knot of ribbon in imitation of Rose Red's, "when we get a bunch of wild flowers for my vase, we shall be all right."

A tap at the door. Rose entered.

"Are you done?" she asked "may I come in and see?

"Oh, this is pretty!" she exclaimed, looking about: "how you can tell in one minute what sort of a girl one is, just by looking at her room! I should know you had been neat and dainty and housekeepery all your days. And you would see in a minute that I'm a Madge Wildfire, and that Ellen Gray is a saint, and Sally Satterlee a scatterbrain, and Lilly Page an affected little hum—oh, I forgot! she is your cousin, isn't she? How dreadfully rude of me!" dimpling at Clover, who couldn't help dimpling back again.

"Oh, my!" she went on, "a wash-stand, I declare! Where did you get it?"

"Papa bought it," explained Katy: "he asked Mrs. Florence's permission."

"How bright of him! I shall just write to my father to ask for permission too." Which she did; and the result was that it set the fashion of wash-stands, and so many papas wrote to "ask permission," that Mrs. Florence found it necessary to give up the lavatory system, and provide wash-stands for the whole house. Katy's request had been the opening wedge. I do not think this fact made her more popular with the principals.

"By the way, where is Lilly?" asked Katy: "I haven't seen her to-day."

"Do you want to know? I can tell you. She's sitting on the edge of one chair, with her feet on the rung of another chair, and her head on the shoulder of her room-mate (who is dying to get away and arrange her drawers); and she's crying"——

"How do you know? Have you been up to see her?"

"Oh! I haven't seen her. It isn't necessary. I saw her last term, and the term before. She always spends the first day at school in that way. I'll take you up, if you'd like to examine for yourselves."

Katy and Clover, much amused, followed as she led the way upstairs. Sure enough, Lilly was sitting exactly as Rose had predicted. Her face was swollen with crying. When she saw the girls, her sobs redoubled.

"Oh! isn't it dreadful?" she demanded. "I shall die, I know I shall. Oh! why did pa make me come?"

"Now, Lilly, don't be an idiot," said the unsympathizing Rose. Then she sat down and proceeded to make a series of the most grotesque faces, winking her eyes and twinkling her fingers round the head of "Niobe," as she called Lilly, till the other girls were in fits of laughter, and Niobe, though she shrugged her shoulders pettishly and said, "Don't be so ridiculous, Rose Red," was forced to give way. First she smiled, then a laugh was heard; afterward she announced that she felt better.

"That's right, Niobe," said Rose. "Wash your face now, and get ready for tea, for the bell is just going to ring. As for you, Annie, you might as well put your drawers in order," with a wicked wink. Annie hurried away with a laugh, which she tried in vain to hide.

"You heartless creature!" cried the exasperated Lilly. "I believe you're made of marble; you haven't one bit of feeling. Nor you either, Katy. You haven't cried a drop."

"Given this problem." said the provoking Rose: "when the nose without is as red as a lobster, what must be the temperature of the heart within, and vice versa?"

The tea-bell rang just in time to avert a fresh flood of tears from Lilly. She brushed her hair in angry haste, and they all hurried down by a side staircase which, as Rose explained, the school-girls were expected to use. The dining-room was not large; only part of the girls could be seated at a time; so they took turns at dining at the first table, half one week and half the next.

Mrs. Nipson sat at the tea-tray, with Mrs. Florence beside her. At the other end of the long board sat a severe-looking person, whom Lilly announced in a whisper as "that horrid Miss Jane." The meal was very simple,—tea, bread and butter, and dried beef:—it was eaten in silence; the girls were not allowed to speak, except to ask for what they wanted. Rose Red indeed, who sat next to Mrs. Florence, talked to her, and even ventured once or twice on daring little jokes, which caused Clover to regard her with admiring astonishment. No one else said any thing, except "Butter, please," or "Pass the bread." As they filed upstairs after this cheerless meal, they were met by rows of hungry girls, who were waiting to go down, and who whispered, "How long you have been! What's for tea?"

The evening passed in making up classes and arranging for recitation-rooms and study-hours. Katy was glad when bed-time came. The day, with all its new impressions and strange faces, seemed to her like a confused dream. She and Clover undressed very quietly. Among the printed rules, which hung on the bedroom door, they read: "All communication between room-mates, after the retiring bell has rung, is strictly prohibited." Just then it did not seem difficult to keep this rule. It was only after the candle was blown out, that Clover ventured to whisper,—very low indeed, for who knew but Miss Jane was listening outside the door?—"Do you think you're going to like it?" and Katy, in the same cautious whisper, responded, "I'm not quite sure." And so ended the first day at the Nunnery.