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The Girls at Mount Morris By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 19925

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The closing week of school was full of girlish excitements. Friday and Saturday most of the girls would go home. Christmas came on the following Monday. The Miss Kirklands were going to remain and devote the time to study. Alice Nevins and Elma Ransome had no homes to go to at present. Mrs. Barrington generally took this for a resting-up time.

Louie rushed into Phillipa's room, breathless and eyes full of wonder. There was some fancy things strewn around. Phil and Zaidee were at some gifts.

"What now? Has there been a mistake in the calendar and is Christmas put off and are we to be aliens from the family bosom?"

Louie laughed and fanned herself vigorously.

"I've been hearing wonderful things about that Clairvoyant. Do you really know what clairvoyance is? It isn't mere fortune telling. Madge Hayne went the other day and she was told some really remarkable things. They had not heard from that brother in a year and didn't know whether he was dead or alive. She said they would hear from him and that he would return soon with a fortune, and this very morning the letter came. He's been in Alaska and British Columbia and goodness knows where all, and he's tired of rambling and hardships. So he's coming home as he has made his pile, which I suppose means a fortune. They are all just wild with joy, and there are to be two marriages this year."

"Then Madge's lover will get his promotion. That is what she is waiting for," laughed Phil. "But I have heard that the woman told some wonderful things."

"And while we were abroad in the summer Aunt Kate and I took little tours around; we were at a Fair in a small town where there were some real Romany gypsies and one insisted on reading Aunt Kate's future. She spoke of mamma's walking without crutches, which we couldn't believe and said after we came home something mysterious would happen to us, that a member of the family would come from a great distance, that the person who had her in charge would die, but Aunt Kate laughed and said we had had no mysterious marriages nor sudden disappearances, so that could hardly come true."

Phillipa had been considering. "Girls let's go," she exclaimed. "Mrs. Barrington didn't actually forbid it. She said: 'Girls I hope none of you will be foolish enough to spend your money on such nonsense. Those people are generally impostors.' I'd like to have a peep into the future. There's a young man I am interested in. Now, if he's all fair and square and means business-"

"You're always on the anxious seat of lovers," said Louie, "and you seem to have them by dozens."

"I want the very best and richest. Girls, my mother was married when she was seventeen, and I'll be nineteen in June; but she didn't go to boarding school for three years and waste her time."

"And I want a tour abroad-a winter or summer in Paris-which is most attractive, and there may be a little chance of some one leaving father a fortune. Oh, let us go-just for the fun if nothing else," and Louie glanced up in her radiant prettiness.

There is something tempting to the young in a peep in the wide mysterious future. Joys and the so-called good luck are delights to hope for and it is seldom that any dark pages are unfolded to youth. So the girls talked and agreed to go the next afternoon.

Examinations were in the morning and the girls had the afternoon to themselves. Four were going to a musicale, half a dozen to do some last shopping.

"We'll put on something out of the ordinary line," said Phil. "Hoods and veils and I'll wear my old gray coat. Mother would make me bring it and I've not had it on once. We'll trot across the park, shortest route, and hold our heads down."

"And then run round to Crawford House and have some hot chocolate," said Zay.

It was a winter when Tam o' Shanters were all the rage. Zay had a white one with two fluffy rose-colored rosettes. As she passed through the hall she saw Clara Arnold's blue one lying on the bed. She had always tabooed blue. Now with a sudden impulse she put it on. Clara had gone to the musicale and would not be home until late. Then she gathered up her curls and stuffed them in the crown. Yes, she did suggest the Boyd girl. The resemblance teased her, and the girls had found that out. She wound a veil around her head and they stole through the hall when it was deserted and went scuddering through the Park.

It was a cloudy afternoon, not one to go out for pleasure, and then everybody had wanted to go down town. Mrs. Trenham lived in the corner house. There was a garden space between, then a high fence. Phillipa rang the bell.

A rather unkempt, middle-aged woman answered it.

"Could we see the Clairvoyant?"

"Well," hesitatingly. "All of you? I'm rather-yes, walk in."

The room was untidy, the books on the table dusty, and some clothing thrown over several chairs.

"Young girls always want a peep in the future," and she gave an abrupt laugh. "You don't any of you look as if you needed medical advice. My, I seldom see such rosy, good looking girls. Now, I'll tell you-it's a dollar if I go into a trance and see you inside, up and down and I can tell to a T whether there's anything the matter. But I don't believe you want that. S'pose I just run over the cards and see what kind of a Christmas you're going to have and how many lovers and who's going to wear a diamond. That's fifty cents."

"That's enough to spend on such foolery," laughed Phillipa.

She pushed out some chairs and took up a pack of cards, threw them aside and took a clean pack off of the mantlepiece. "Now you try first," motioning to Phillipa. "Why I can see by your face there's lots of fortune coming to you. You're the kind of girl men quarrel over."

She had become a very astute reader of faces and could tell by the brightening of an eye or the movement of a feature whether she was on the right tack.

"Your home isn't here and you are going to it in a few days. You see-here's the house and there's a distance between," pointing out the cards. "They are making a big time and lots of company, a great Christmas dinner, and a dance in the evening, and you'll get kissed under the mistletoe-but you won't marry that man. There's two of them-three of them and two offers of marriage. Some one you haven't seen much of, and there'll be talk of a diamond."

She shuffled the cards and ran over them again, enlarging upon the lovers and jealous girls as well as men, presents and fun. "But you're going to turn your back on it all and you don't want to a bit, and you're going to have some trouble, and a journey with a trunk, and-why you'll be in school and you'll be most crazy to hear from the young man with the diamond, but you just keep your faith, he'll be all right and there'll be a wedding before the leaves fall. Oh, you'll be as happy as a queen."

Phillipa laughed and nodded.

"Now, you next," to Zaidee.

Zay hesitated, but took the chair Phillipa vacated.

At first she seemed a puzzle to the fortune teller. "She had traveled a good deal. Some one was coming across water that she would be glad to see-three people, a fair lady who had had a great deal of trouble, sickness, but was well now. Why they would soon be here and all have Christmas dinner together. There would be a great surprise with a fair young man who cared a great deal for her, and there were wonderful surprises that wouldn't make her happy at first. Here was a strange girl-but she doesn't want to come. Gifts and friends, and this stout man-your father," and she knew by Zay's face she had guessed right. "He is very fond of you-oh, you needn't ever be afraid any one will crowd you out. Plenty of lovers, too, when it comes your time; a happy marriage and children, and prosperity. A little sickness, but nothing to be alarmed about."

Louie's fortune did not seem so serene. "She was at school and would go home to keep Christmas. This was elaborated in very agreeable styles. Then she would come back, but she would be troubled about a prize, be disappointed in a girl friend who would try to injure her and who would say mean things, but she must not mind them. Then there were journeys and pleasures and lovers, but she would not marry very young and would be engaged twice, and oddly enough be married the second time."

Then they rose, gathered up their wraps and the fortune teller her money, with profuse wishes for their happiness and a merry Christmas, and shut the door. Zay was leading and opened the hall door, stepping out on the stoop.

"Oh, my goodness! There's the Dane across the way! Let us run out back and across lots" and they started in a huddle, opening the door that led to another room.

"You can't come in here," declared a voice but they pushed through to the outer door, flew down the path and across a space over to the next street, but did not stop until they had reached the side gate to Crawford House.

"It's only three of us girls," exclaimed Zay. "We are going to my room."

Then they stood in breathless terror, looking in each other's faces. Phillipa gave a half hysterical laugh, dropped into a chair and went on laughing.

"I don't see anything funny," said Louie. "And to come so near being caught! Do you suppose the Dane was watching out-suspecting? And that horrid smell in the room, and the girl holding up one of those boys who was struggling for breath-"

"You had a good view, Louie," sarcastically.

"Well, I was behind. Oh, what if it was small pox?" and Louie was white as a ghost.

"Small pox! Louie don't be an idiot! See here, we'd heard a thing like that quick enough. Now I'll tell you-Zay have you any aromatic ammonia? Let's all take a dose to quiet our nerves and ward off whatever it may be, and get a lump of gum camphor to take to bed with us tonight, and Louie if you dare to act suspicious I'll murder you."

"I don't think it was just the thing for her to let us in if there

was any sickness."

"I wanted a real Clairvoyant. They do tell you wonderful things, but she hit a good deal about you, Zay. I wonder who is coming to try to oust you out? Oh, maybe your brother will bring home a wife."

"I shouldn't like that," the girl said frankly. "And maybe he will be sent on a three years' cruise and leave her with us!"

"Nonsense! Don't bother your pretty curly head. Here let us all take our composing draught and then wend our way to school with a bold front. Only we must have some other hats."

"I'll wear my Gainsborough, and you, Phil, shall have my brown turban with the bunch of plumes. Louie-"

"Let me wear the black straw with those yellow daisies. I almost grudge that to you."

"Then take it as a Christmas gift."

The cook stopped them in the hall and said they must have a cup of hot chocolate. The wind was blowing up cold.

Then they started home in very good spirits. It was well they had changed their headgear. Mrs. Dane sat in the hall looking over some mail. She glanced up and nodded, but she had some suspicions and she meant to see who came home wearing a light blue Tam.

Zay flung her borrowed article on Miss Arnold's bed. She had not come home from the musicale yet.

Lilian Boyd had gone out for her usual walk. She wanted to see some pretty things Claire was making for Christmas, but before she reached the corner she saw Edith Trenham coming rapidly from her mother's, so she halted.

"Oh, Lilian-don't go. You can't see Claire-"

"Is she ill?" in affright.

"No, no, only-come with me to the druggist; I can't tell you just now-oh, I'll write you a note. You cannot go there this week. Mother has a friend staying with her and I have gone to Mrs. Lane's to board for a week, there is so much school work just now."

"How very mysterious you are," studying her while she colored under the scrutiny.

"Well, it threatens snow and it would be easier for me there. Don't worry about us-I'll write this evening and tell you the 'whys;' and now dear, don't feel vexed if I leave you. I have a number of errands to do, and I'll surely see you on Sunday."

She had taken a few steps, then she turned and said: "Lilian, do not mention meeting me today; I ask it as a favor. I will explain it all to you. Trust me."

What did it mean? Was Claire ill? She had never seen Miss Trenham so confused. Evidently she could not have her come to the house. Lilian felt curiously dismal. There were the shops in holiday attire, but she said she did not feel joyous, Christmasy. She rambled about a little. There was the Clairvoyant's sign. Could any one tell about the future, even another's health? For, somehow it seemed as if her mother had been curiously distraught of late. If she could know about the future! Oh, her mother must live the year out, and she was learning a great many things. She would do for an under teacher then, and by the time she was twenty-

It was cloudy and raw and she hurried up a little. A merry group of girls passed her laughing and chatting. Why, she had never felt so alone, not even back in Laconia. Last Christmas had been gay and pleasant with girls in Sunday and everyday school.

She went in at the side entrance. She could have taken the other but this was nearer. She had the right to a good many privileges that under some circumstances she would have claimed, but the supercillious nod or the lifting of the brows cut like a knife. Her place was on her mother's side.

Mrs. Dane opened her door on the landing and crossed the hall.

"Oh, you have returned. Did you see your friend, Miss Trenham?" There was something curious in the tone.

"I did not go to the house." Yet she colored as if it was a prevarication.

"No?" was all the comment in the same tone.

But her mother was not so easily put off.

"Did you see your pretty invalid friend and her Christmas work?"

"No, I did not go in."

"That's queer. I thought you were going there. Where, then, did you go?"

"Oh, I only walked around and said over French verbs. It's grown very chilly."

"Yes. Miss Arran came in and opened a window. I felt so cold-I wish people would let you have your room as you want it. They can swing their's wide open if they want to."

She was lying on the bed. She looked old and gray and wrinkled.

"Do you feel poorly, mother?"

"No, not when I am good and warm."

"Shall we have tea together here?"

"I don't want any, I'm very comfortable now. You go and get yours."

But Lilian sent for it, yet she could not persuade her mother to taste the toast or the bit of broiled steak. She was hungry.

Afterward she took up her book to study as she was not due down stairs. Then there was a tap at the door.

"Mrs. Barrington would like to see you in her room," was the message.

She walked thither. Mrs. Dane sat there in her austerest fashion.

"Miss Boyd," she said, "were you at your friend's, Mrs. Trenham's, this afternoon?"

Lilian flushed at the repeated question.

"I was not," she said rather hesitatingly. "I meant to go, but"-then she paused. She must not say she met Edith.

Mrs. Barrington's penetrating eyes were fixed on her face and brought a vivid color to it.

"Were you at any other person's house?"

"No, I was not," she answered quietly. Oh, what does it all mean?

"Do you mean to deny that you were at the Clairvoyant's from half past four to about five?" Mrs. Dane said in her most judicial manner.

Lilian flushed indignantly but her voice was unsteady as she said-"I was not there, if you"-then she paused.

"Think again. I saw you walking about nearly at the corner. I went to make a call on a friend who is ill. When I came out I walked a few doors, when I saw the Clairvoyant's door open and a girl stepped out on the stoop. I think there was some one behind her. She saw me and bolted back in the hall. There are just two girls in the school who have light blue Tams. Miss Arnold went to a musicale and found hers lying on the bed just where she left it. I watched, but you did not come out again. Then I walked around to the rear but saw no one. I had a fair glance at your face, I think I cannot be mistaken."

Lilian was speechless with amazement.

"I met Miss Trenham at the side of the park and we walked together a short distance. Believe it or not, I went to no one's house."

"It is important for us to know the truth on account of the terrible ending," said Mrs. Barrington gravely. "Two boys have been ill with what their mother thought was measles. The doctor was not sent for until noon, and did not get there until nearly six. He found one boy dead of malignant scarlet fever, the other dying and one girl seriously ill. So you see we cannot afford to have contagion brought in the house!"

"Oh, what a horrible thing!" Lilian cried. Then she faced Mrs. Dane. "Oh, you are mistaken, as God hears me, I was not in that house nor on that side of the street," and she almost gasped for breath.

"You may go to your room. You will be excused from study hour tonight. We must consider. I am glad it is so near closing time."

Lilian felt like one dazed. Yet she was passionately indignant when she had reached her room. There might be other blue Tams in the town but she did not remember to have seen many in light blue except Miss Arnold's. Somehow, Mrs. Dane had never taken to her cordially like Miss Arran and the teachers.

Mrs. Barrington was much distressed. She had become warmly interested in Lilian. She had smiled a little over Mrs. Dane's strictures.

"There's something about her, a sort of loftiness that doesn't belong to her life, though she takes things with outward calmness, but I have a feeling that some day she will break out in an awful tempest, and I doubt her being that woman's daughter. Mrs. Boyd never talks frankly about her," Mrs. Dane said, severely.

"But she is devoted to the poor mother."

"Well, it seems so," rather reluctantly.

After dinner Mrs. Barrington summoned Miss Arran and laid the matter before her. She listened with a kind of terrified interest.

"I can't believe Miss Boyd would tell such a dreadful falsehood, when she saw the necessity of the truth. Mrs. Dane has very strong prejudices. That Nevins girl is about her size and has a long braid of fair hair."

"Oh, she was in disgrace in her room, but what a horrible thing that it should have gone on without even a physician, or any care to prevent the spread of contagion. Well-I suppose tomorrow it will be all over town. I gave Matthew strict orders to say nothing about it tonight."

Presently Mrs. Barrington knocked at Mrs. Boyd's door. Lilian opened it. She had been crying. Now she stretched out her hands imploringly.

"Oh, Mrs. Barrington you cannot believe I would tell you such a cruel, willful falsehood! I was not even very near that house. After all your kindness to me-"

"There, dear, I believe you. I know there has been some mistake. Mrs. Dane has always been so anxious, one might say jealous for my welfare, and you see this would mean a great deal to me. You must pardon her until the truth comes out."

"Oh, thank you a thousand times," cried Lilian in broken tones, her eyes suffused with tears.

"You need not come down to the study this evening. How is your mother?"

"She is having a lovely sleep."

"Do not say anything to her, and the girls will be going away before there is any real fright. I do not anticipate any danger with us. Be comforted. We shall hear all tomorrow."

Lilian was almost happy. She had not lost her dear friend. Under any other circumstances Lilian would have given Mrs. Barrington an unreasoning adoration. She could not define it to herself. She liked Miss Arran, but this was beyond a mere kindly liking.

"She believes in me, she believes in me," and the girl poured the fragrant balm on her wounded heart. But there seemed an awful undefined fear.

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