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   Chapter 5 MOSS

The Mystery of Arnold Hall By Helen M. Persons Characters: 12724

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

One morning a couple of weeks later, Patricia was wakened suddenly by a marshmallow landing on her nose and scattering its fine, powdered sugar all over her face. Sitting up quickly, she saw through her open door Ruth and Jane in their room across the hall, sitting on their beds, doubled up with laughter.

"You fiends!" she cried softly. "Just you wait!"

"What's the matter?" inquired Betty sleepily, from the other bed, without even opening her eyes.

"Those Goths across the hall threw a marshmallow in my face!" replied Patricia, seizing the unfortunate bit of confectionery and returning it with such good aim that it struck Jane's hand and bounded off onto the rug, where it deposited the rest of its sugar.

"Get up, Lazy Bones!" ordered Jane. "We've got to go out for moss before breakfast."

"I forgot all about it," groaned Patricia. "I wish that botany class was in Hades."

"I wish you'd all shut up," complained Betty. "I want to sleep; and, thank Heaven, I don't take botany."

Patricia was soon ready, and the three girls stole softly down the hall and tried the front door.

"Who's that?" called Mrs. Vincent, who slept, not only with her door open, but also, so the girls said, with her eyes and ears wide as well.

"Patricia, Ruth, and Jane going out for moss for botany class," answered Jane. "We'll be back before breakfast time."

"Don't go far away."

"Does she think we can find moss on the fire escape?" demanded Jane scornfully.

"Just where are we going?" asked Patricia.

"I think we'll cut through the back yard here into Foth Road and head out toward the country."

They went around the side of the dormitory, and, to their surprise, saw Rhoda coming toward them across the back yard.

"Aren't you up pretty early, Rhoda?" asked Jane casually, as the girl flushed and looked embarrassed.

"Not so very," was the low reply. "I often run out here for a breath of fresh air before starting my work."

"How fussed she acted," commented Ruth, "just as if she'd been caught doing something she didn't want anybody to know about."

"Yes, I noticed that too," said Patricia, carefully following her companions down the treacherous, broken stone ledges into the yard behind Arnold Hall.

"Why, Ruth," cried Jane, "'Big House' is occupied! I didn't know that; did you?" The girl regarded in surprise the three-story brick house across a narrow stretch of green lawn.

"No, I didn't"-adding softly, "Come on; somebody is watching us from that bay window on the second floor."

"How do you know?" demanded Jane, hurrying after her room mate.

"I saw a woman's hand pull the curtain aside a little while we were waiting for Pat to come down the steps."

"It's a shame to spoil our short cut to Foth Road; for I suppose we can't go through there any more. That house was empty all last year," explained Jane, turning to Patricia, "which made it rather nice for us because, besides using the yard as a thoroughfare, we sometimes had little parties there or met our boy friends when we didn't want to go out the front way with them. Oh, I assure you it was useful in lots of ways."

They were out on the road by then, and walking briskly toward the country.

"We'll never find any moss if we keep to the road," objected Ruth, after they had walked a mile in vain. "I should think we'd have to go into the woods, see, over there."

"Not I!" replied Jane. "I'm too afraid of snakes."

Patricia laughed. "There aren't any snakes in a pine woods. They're mostly where there are lots of rocks."

"Well, anyway we'll go a little farther and then I, for one, take to the woods," decided Ruth. "We've got to find some moss soon, and go home; and I won't face Yates again with no specimens."

"Isn't he the old pill, though?" said Jane to Patricia. "Did you ever see anybody so cold and stone-like? Even when he says unpleasant things-and, oh, boy! can't he be disagreeable when he likes!-his face never changes from that set, gloomy expression."

"He certainly is most peculiar," agreed Patricia, "and I don't like him even any! For that matter, no love at all is lost between us; something in the way he looks at me tells me that."

"Ah, here we are!" exclaimed Jane, pointing to an old shed a few feet from the road. On its roof, near the ridge pole, was a luxuriant growth of bright green moss.

"How can we get at it?" asked Ruth, as they scrambled across a wire fence and crossed a stretch of rough, coarse grass. "I'm no good at climbing."

"Nor I," said Ruth. "How about you, Pat?"

"I think I could get up far enough to reach it, if you girls will boost a bit," replied Patricia.

"It's O. K. with us, but for Heaven's sake be as quiet as possible. We don't want the dog set on us."

"Oh, nobody's around so early as this; there's no window on this side of the shed, and the door is on the other. The farm house is back of that clump of trees."

"Easy telling you don't know anything about the country," said Jane scornfully; "these farmers get up early."

Stepping up on a log, which happened to lie conveniently close to the building, Patricia, with the aid of the girls, got a firm grip on the edge of the roof and drew herself up to a point where she could lie flat on its weather-worn boards and stretch her long arms up toward the coveted plants. With much effort, she succeeded in reaching the moss and in tearing up two big handfuls. Resting on her elbows for a moment to ease the strain on her arms, she was horrified to feel the boards underneath them begin to sag; and, with a dull splintering of ancient wood, her hands and lower arms disappeared into a yawning cavity. Simultaneously, the moss dropped from her fingers into the depths below.

A snort, a gasp, and a forceful exclamation from within the shed mingled with Patricia's startled cry of "Girls, I'm falling in."

"What shall we do? What shall we do?" demanded Ruth excitedly as Patricia, speechless with horror, gazed down through the hole over which she hung, and met the cold, grey eyes of Professor Yates! His immaculate shoulders and smooth black hair were covered with bits of moss.

"Pull me down, quick!" cried the horrified Patricia, finally recovering the power of speech.

"It will spoil your dress," warned Jane.

"I don't care! Get me down, for Pete's sake!" retorted Patrici

a wildly.

With their united efforts, the two girls succeeded in dragging Patricia safely to the ground, minus the moss, and with several long scratches on her arms.

"Where's the moss?" demanded Ruth in surprise.

"All over Professor Yates!" gasped Patricia, hysterically.

"What?" cried Ruth, while Jane looked as if she feared Patricia had lost her mind.

"He's in that shed!"

"You're crazy!" retorted Jane, feeling her pulse.

"Honest to goodness! Cross my heart!"

At that moment, the object of their discussion strolled around the corner of the shed. He had brushed himself off, and now looked as calm and neat as if he were in his classroom. His gaze traveled coldly from one to another, then, looking directly at Patricia, he drawled: "To what am I indebted for this most unconventional call?"

"To your demand for specimens of moss today 'without fail,'" quoted Jane glibly.

"A most novel situation, stealing it from my own roof, and ruining the roof in the bargain."

"We had no idea it was your roof," retorted Patricia hotly, "and I had no intention of breaking through it. It was anything but a pleasant experience, I assure you."

"Of course we expect to assume any expense involved," put in Jane soothingly, as they turned to go.

Professor Yates made no reply, but stood watching them scramble over the fence and start down the road toward college.

"Wasn't that just terrible?" gasped Patricia "I'm certainly done for with him now. Next time I do any climbing for specimens, you'll know it."

"Whatever do you suppose he was doing out there?" demanded Ruth.

"You heard him say it was his roof, didn't you?" retorted Jane. "Clarice said once that he had an old place where he raises all kinds of truck for the lab, but I didn't pay much attention to her. She talks so much that half the time I don't listen very attentively; and I haven't given it a thought since."

"Just wait until the girls hear about it!"

"We're going to have a spread tonight; did you know it?" asked Jane. "Doll's going out with one of her boy friends."

"The dark youth who's a 'special' in some year or other?" asked Patricia.


"She'll have to keep better tabs on him," commented Ruth; "he's a born flirt. I was at the Black Book the other night when he came in, and he tried to make a date with me."

"Did he succeed?" asked Jane mischievously.

"He did not! I can't bear him."

"Do you realize, girls," inquired Ruth, "that we are still moss-less?"

"Yes, and we'll continue to be, so far as I am concerned," retorted Patricia.

"Oh, somebody in the lab will be sure to have some," said Jane easily, "and we'll just borrow a little of it. I don't feel equal to hunting any longer."

The spread was about to get under way at eight-thirty that evening. Mrs. Vincent and her youthful escort, Ivan Zahn, had departed for a concert which the college was giving to entertain the Freshman Class. Rhoda was looking after the Black Book and the telephone; so the girls were quite free to enjoy themselves, without responsibility. The new maid had quickly become as much of a favorite as her predecessor; for she was accommodating and good-tempered, and the inhabitants of Arnold Hall, especially those on the first floor, treated her almost as one of themselves.

"Did anybody telephone the Varsity Coffee Shoppe for the eats?" demanded Hazel, coming out into the hall in a suit of bright red lounging pajamas.

"Yes," answered Jane from her room, where she was putting frantic last minute lines on a poster which was due the next morning.

"Who took the order?" asked Frances, rushing in to borrow some thread to run up a rip in her coolie coat.

"Al, and he said he'd send them right down," contributed Ruth from her bed, where she lay on her back trying to fix an important bit of psychology in her mind.

"Oh, cut the study!" ordered Anne, entering with Lucile, Betty, and Patricia.

"Got to get this tonight," cried Ruth, hanging onto the book which Anne tried to take out of her hands.

"No, you haven't; get up early in the morning and do it. Then it will be all the fresher in your mind."

"Yes, you like early rising," laughed Betty.

Anne continued to pull, and finally got Ruth off the bed. Katharine, who came in at that moment, attracted by the noise, slipped past Ruth and Anne, flopped into the recently vacated bed, and pulled up the covers.

"Of all things!" exclaimed Ruth indignantly, jerking away from Anne. "Get out of my bed!"

Katharine extended a long, strong arm and pulled Betty in beside her, while Frances piled in on the other side.

"Safety in numbers," laughed Katharine impishly. "Get us out if you can!"

"I'll help you, Ruth!" shouted Clarice, dashing in with a glass of water which she sprinkled freely on the three girls in the bed. With a cry of protest they sprang up and chased Clarice the length of the hall where she barricaded herself with a heavy chair in the corner beside the telephone booth. At the other end of the hall, on a couple of well-stuffed white laundry bags which were ready for the collector in the morning, perched Hazel, swinging her red-clad legs and singing: "I want a drink! Kathy wants a drink! Francy wants a drink!"

"Here's Al, girls!" called Clarice from her vantage point, where she could see out onto the street.

The feud was forgotten, as they all trooped forward to relieve Rhoda of the basket which the boy had brought. Sitting down on the runner which extended the length of the hall, the girls quickly disposed of orangeade, sandwiches, cakes, and ice cream, not forgetting to give Rhoda a share. A songfest followed, and a general romp the length of the alley was in full swing when the front door opened suddenly and Mrs. Vincent walked in, alone.

"Girls!" she cried sharply. "Stop that noise at once! You sound like a lot of hyenas! I could hear you up to the corner!"

"What brought her home so early?" muttered Betty to Patricia.

"Must have had a scrap with Ivan," whispered Anne. "She's so cross."

Just then the telephone rang, and Mrs. Vincent paused to gaze hopefully at Rhoda who answered it.

"Yes," said Rhoda, in a low tone. "Yes, I'll call her."

With an oddly excited expression on her usually calm face, Rhoda turned to Mrs. Vincent, saying, "Someone wants to speak with you."

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