"What is the matter, Midge?" said her father, "You sigh as if you'd lost your last friend."
The family were in the pleasant living-room one evening, just after dinner.
All, that is, except Rosy Posy, who had gone to bed long ago. Kingdon was reading, and Kitty was idly playing with the kitten, while Marjorie, her head bent over a book on the table, was abstractedly moving her lips as if talking to herself.
"Oh, Father! it's this horrid old spelling lesson. I just can't learn it, and that’s all there is about it!"
"Can't learn to spell? Bring me your book, and let me have a look at it."
Very willingly Marjorie flew to her father's side, and, big girl though she was, perched herself on his knee while she showed him the page.
"Just look! There's 'deleble' spelled with an e, and 'indelible' with an i! Why can't they spell them alike?"
"I think myself they might as well have done so," said Mr. Maynard, "but, since they didn't, we'll have to learn them as they are. Where is your lesson?"
"All that page. And they're fearfully hard words. And words I'll never use anyway. Why would I want to use 'harassed' and 'daguerreotype' and 'macaroni' and such words as those?"
Mr. Maynard smiled at the troubled little face.
"You may not want to use them, dearie, but it is part of your education to learn to spell them. Come, now, I'll help you, and we'll soon put them through. Let's pick out the very hardest one first."
"All right; 'daguerreotype' is the hardest."
"Oh, pshaw, no! That's one of the very easiest. Just remember that it was a Frenchman named Daguerre who invented the process; then you only have to add 'o' and 'type,' and there you are!"
"Why, that is easy! I'll never forget that. 'Macaroni' is a hard one, though."
"Oh, because I always put two c's or two r's or two n's in it."
"Ho, that makes it easy, then. Just remember that there isn't a double letter in it, and then spell it just as it sounds. Why, macaroni is so long and thin that there isn't room for a double letter in it."
"Oh, Father, you make it so easy. Of course I'll remember that, now."
Down the long list they went, and Mr. Maynard, with some little quip or quibble, made each word of special interest, and so fixed it in Marjorie's memory. At the end of a half-hour she was perfect in the lesson, and had thoroughly enjoyed the learning of it.
"I wish you'd help me every night," she said, wistfully. "All this week, anyway. For there's to be a spelling-match on Friday, between our class and Miss Bates' class, and we want to win. But I'm such a bad speller, nobody wants to choose me on their side."
"They don't, don't they? Well, I rather think we'll change all that. You and I will attack Mr. Speller every evening, and see if we can't vanquish him."
"I think we can," said Marjorie, her eyes sparkling. "For it's only some few of those catchy words that I can't seem to learn. But after you help me they all seem easy."
So every night that week Midge and her father had a spelling-class of their own, and fine work was accomplished.
The spelling-match was to be on Friday, and Thursday night they were to have a grand review of all the lessons. Marjorie brought home her schoolbooks on Thursday, and left them in the house while she went out to play. But when she came in to get ready for dinner, her mother was dressing to go out.
"Where are you going, Mother?" said Marjorie, looking admiringly at her mother's pretty gown.
"We're going to Mrs. Martin's to dinner, dearie. She invited us over the telephone this morning. There's a very nice dinner prepared for you children, and you must have a good time by yourselves, and not be lonesome. Go to bed promptly at nine o'clock, as we shall be out late."
"Is father going, too?" cried Marjorie, aghast.
"Yes, of course. You may fasten my glove, Midget, dear."
"But I want father to help me with my spelling."
"I thought about that, Mops," said her father, coming into the room. "And I'm sorry I have to be away tonight. But I'll tell you what we'll do. When is this great spelling-match,—tomorrow?"
"Yes, tomorrow afternoon."
"Well, you study by yourself this evening, and learn all you can. Then skip to bed a bit earlier than usual, and then hop up early tomorrow morning. You and I will have an early breakfast, at about seven o'clock. Then from half-past seven to half-past eight I'll drill you in that old speller till you can spell the cover right off it."
"All right," said Marjorie. "It's really just as well for me to study alone tonight, and then you can help me a lot tomorrow morning. But won't it make you too late going to business?"
"No, I'll take a half-hour off for your benefit. If I leave here by half-past eight that will do nicely, and that's about the time you want to go to school."
So the matter was settled, and Mr. and Mrs. Maynard drove away, leaving the three children to dine by themselves. The meal was a merry one, for when thus left to themselves the children always "pretended."
"I'm a princess," said Marjorie, as she seated herself in her mother's place. "These dishes are all gold, and I'm eating birds of paradise with nectarine sauce."
Even as she spoke, Sarah brought her a plate of soup, and Midge proceeded to eat it with an exaggerated air of grandeur, which she thought befitted a princess.
"I'm not a prince," said Kingdon. "I'm an Indian chief, and I'm eating wild boar steak, which I shot with my own trusty bow and arrows."
"I'm a queen in disguise," said Kitty. "I'm hiding from my pursuers, so I go around in plain, dark garbs, and no one knows I'm a queen."
"How do we all happen to be dining at one table?" asked Marjorie.
"It's a public restaurant," said King. "We all came separately, and just chanced to sit at the same table. May I ask your name, Madam?"
"I'm the Princess Seraphina," said Marjorie, graciously. "My home is in the sunny climes of Italy, and I'm travelling about to see the world. And you, noble sir, what is your name?"
"I am Chief Opodeldoc, of the Bushwhack Tribe. My tomahawk is in my belt, and whoever offends me will add his scalp to my collection!"
"Oh, sir," said Kitty, trembling; "I pray you be not so fierce of manner! I am most mortal timid."
Kitty had a fine dramatic sense, and always threw herself into her part with her whole soul. The others would sometimes drop back into their every-day speech, but Kitty was always consistent in her assumed character.
"Is it so, fair Lady?" said King, looking valiant. "Have no fear of me. Should aught betide I will champion thy cause to the limit."
"And mine?" said Marjorie. "Can you champion us both, Sir Opodeldoc?"
"Aye, that can I. But I trust this is a peaceful hostelry. I see no sign of warfare."
"Nay, nay, but war may break out apace. Might I enquire your name, fair lady?"
"Hist!" said Kitty, her finger on her lip, and looking cautiously about, "I am, of a truth, the Queen of—of Macedonia. But disguised as a poor waif, I seek a hiding-place from my tormentors."
"Why do they torment you?"
"'Tis a dark secret; ask me not. But tell of yourself, Princess Seraphina. Dost travel alone?"
"Yes; with but my suite of armed retainers. Cavalrymen and infantry attend my way, and twelve ladies-in-waiting wait on me."
"A great princess, indeed," said King, in admiration. "We are well met!"
"Methinks I am discovered!" cried Kitty, as Sarah approached her with a dish of pudding. "This damsel! She is of my own household. Ha! Doth she recognize me?"
Although used to the nonsense of the children, Sarah couldn't entirely repress a giggle as Kitty glared at her.
"Eat your dinner, Miss Kitty," she said, "an' don't be teasin' me."
"Safe!" exclaimed Kitty. "She knows me not! 'Kitty' she calls me! Ha!"
The play went on all through the meal, for the Maynards never tired of this sort of fun.
"I'm going out for a few minutes," said King, as they at last rose from the table. "Father said I might go down to Goodwin's to get slides for my camera. I won't be gone long."
"All right," said Marjorie, "I'm going to study my spelling. What are you going to do, Kit?"
"I'm going up to the playroom. Nannie is going to tell me stories while she sews."
So Marjorie was alone in the living-room as she took up her school-bag to get her spelling-book from it. To her dismay it was not there! The book which she had mistakenly brought for her speller was her mental arithmetic; they were much the same size, and she often mistook one for the other.
But this time it was a serious matter. The spelling-match was to be the next day, and how could she review her lessons without her book?
Her energetic mind began to plan what she could do in the matter.
It was already after seven o'clock, quite too late to go to the schoolhouse after the missing book. If King had been at home she would have consulted him, but she had no one of whom to ask advice.
She remembered what her father had said about getting up early the next morning, and she wondered if she couldn't get up even earlier still, and go to the schoolhouse for the book before breakfast. She could get the key from the janitor, who lived not far from her own home.
It seemed a fairly feasible plan, and, though she would lose her evening's study, she determined to go to bed early, and rise at daybreak to go for the book.
"I'll write a note to mother," she thought, "telling her all about it, and I'll leave it on her dressing-table. Then, when she hears me prowling out at six o'clock tomorrow morning, she'll know what I'm up to."
The notion of an early morning adventure was rather attractive, but suddenly Marjorie thought that she might not be able to get the key from the janitor so early as that.
"Perhaps Mr. Cobb doesn't get up until seven or later, and I can't wait till then," she pondered. "I've a good notion to go for that key tonight. Then I can go to the schoolhouse as early as I choose in the morning without bothering anybody."
She rose and went to the window. It was quite dark, for, though the streets were lighted, the lights were far apart, and there was no moon.
Of course, Marjorie never went out alone in the evening, but this was such an exceptional occasion, she felt sure her parents would not blame her.
"If only King was here to go with me," she thought. But King was off on his own errand, and she knew that when he returned he would want to fix his camera, and, anyway, it would be too late then.
Mr. Cobb's house was only one block away, and she could run down there and back in minutes.
Deciding quickly that she must do it, Marjorie put on her coat and hat and went softly out at the front door. She felt sure that if she told Nurse Nannie or Kitty of her errand, they would raise objections, so she determined to steal off alone. "And then," she thought, "it will be fun to come home and ring the bell, and see Sarah's look of astonishment to find me at the door!"
It was a pleasant night, though cool, and Marjorie felt a thrill of excitement as she walked down the dark path to the gate, and then along the street alone.
In a few moments she reached Mr. Cobb's house, and rang the doorbell. Mr. Cobb was not at home, but when Mrs. Cobb appeared at the door, Marjorie made known her errand.
"Why, bless your heart, yes, little girl," said the kindly disposed woman. "I'll let you take the key, of course. Mr. Cobb, he always keeps it hangin' right here handy by. So you're goin' over to the school at sun-up! Well, well, you've got spunk, haven't you, now? And don't bother to bring 't back. Mr. Cobb, he can stop at your house for it, as he goes to the school at half-past seven. Mebbe he'll get there 'fore you do, after all. I dunno if you'll find it so easy to wake up at six o'clock as you think."
"Oh, yes I will, Mrs. Cobb," said Midget. "I'm going to set an alarm clock. The only trouble is that will awaken my sister, too. But I 'spect she'll go right to sleep again. You see it's a very important lesson, and I must have that book."
"All right, little lady. Run along now and get to bed early. Are you afraid? Shall I walk home with you?"
"Oh, no, thank you. It's only one block, and I'll run all the way. I'm ever so much obliged for the key."
"Oh, that's all right. I'm glad to accommodate you. Good-night."
"Good-night, Mrs. Cobb," said Marjorie, and in another moment the gate clicked behind her.
As she reached the first turning toward her own home, she looked off in the other direction, where the schoolhouse stood. It was several blocks away, and Marjorie was thinking how she would run over there the next morning. And then a crazy thought jumped into her brain. Why not go now? Then she could study this evening, after all. It was dark, to be sure, but it was not so very late,—not eight o'clock yet.
The thought of entering the empty schoolhouse, alone, and in utter darkness, gave her a thrill of fear, but she said to herself:
"How foolish! There's nothing to be afraid of in an empty schoolhouse. I can feel my way to our classroom, and the street lights will shine in some, anyway. Pooh, I guess I wouldn't be very brave if I was afraid of nothing! And just to think of having that book tonight! I can get it and be back home in twenty minutes. I believe I'll do it!"
Marjorie hesitated a moment at the corner. Then she turned away from her home and toward the schoolhouse, and took a few slow steps.
"Oh, pshaw!" she said to herself. "Don't be a coward, Marjorie Maynard! There's nothing to hurt you, and if you scoot fast, it won't take ten minutes to get that book."
In a sudden accession of bravery, Marjorie started off at a brisk pace.
As she went on, her courage ebbed a little, but a dogged determination kept her from turning back.
"I won't be a baby, or a 'fraidy cat!" she said angrily, to herself. "I'm not doing anything wrong, and there's no reason at all to be frightened. But I do wish it wasn't so dark."
The part of town where the school stood was less thickly settled than where Marjorie lived, and she passed several vacant lots. This made it seem more lonely, and the far-apart street lights only seemed to make darker the spaces between.
But Marjorie trudged on, grasping the key, and roundly scolding herself for being timid.
When at last she stood on the stone steps of the schoolhouse, her courage returned, and, without hesitation, she thrust the key in the lock of the door.
It turned with a harsh, grating sound, and the little girl's heart beat rapidly as she pushed open the heavy door. The hall was as black as a dungeon, but by groping around she found the banister rail, and so made her way upstairs.
Her resolution was undaunted, but the awful silence of the empty, dark place struck a chill to her heart. She ran up the stairs, and tried to sing in order to break that oppressive silence. But her voice sounded queer and trembly, and it made echoes that were worse than no sound at all.
She had to go up two flights of stairs, and as she reached the top of the second flight she was near her own classroom. As she turned the doorknob, the street door, downstairs, which she had left open, suddenly slammed shut with a loud bang. The sound reverberated through the building, and Midget stood still, shaking with an unconquerable nervous dread. She didn't know whether the door blew shut or had been slammed to by some person. She no longer pretended to herself that she was not frightened, for she was.
"I know I'm silly," she thought, as two big tears rolled down her cheeks, "but if I can just get that book, and get out of here, won't I run for home!"
Feeling her way, she stumbled into the classroom. A faint light came in from the street, but not enough to allow her to distinguish objects clearly. Indeed, it cast such wavering, ghostly shadows that the total darkness was preferable.
Counting the desks as she went along, she came at last to her own, and felt around in it for her speller.
"There you are!" she exclaimed, triumphantly, as she clutched the book. And somehow the feeling of the familiar volume took away some of the loneliness.
But her trembling fingers let her desk-cover fall with another of those resounding, reëchoing slams that no one can appreciate who has not heard them under similar circumstances.
By this time Marjorie was thoroughly frightened, though she herself could not have told what she was afraid of. Grasping the precious speller, she started, with but one idea in her mind,—to get downstairs and out of that awful building as quickly as possible.
She groped carefully for the newel-post, for going down was more dangerous than coming up, and she feared she might fall headlong.
Safely started, however, she almost ran downstairs, and reached the ground floor, only to find the front door had a spring-lock, which had fastened itself when the door banged shut.
Marjorie's heart sank within her when she realized that she was locked in the schoolhouse.
She thought of the key, but she had stupidly left that on the outside of the door.
"But anyway," she thought, "I don't believe you have to have a key on the inside. You don't to our front door at home. You only have to pull back a little brass knob."
The thought of home made a lump come into poor Marjorie's throat, and the tears came plentifully as she fumbled vainly about the lock of the door.
"Oh, dear," she said to herself, "just s'pose I have to stay here all night. I won't go upstairs again. I'll sit on the steps and wait till morning."
But at last something gave way, the latch flew up, and Marjorie swung the big door open, and felt the cool night air on her face once more.
It was very dark, but she didn't mind that, now that she was released from her prison, and, after making sure that the door was securely fastened, she put the key safely in her pocket, and started off toward home.
The church clock struck eight just as she reached her own door, and she could hardly believe she had made her whole trip in less than an hour. It seemed as if she had spent a whole night alone in the schoolhouse. She rang the bell, and in a moment Sarah opened the door.
"Why, Miss Marjorie, wherever have you been?" cried the astonished maid. "I thought you was up in your own room."
"I've been out on an errand, Sarah," answered Midge, with great dignity.
"An errand, is it? At this time o' night! I'm surprised at ye, Miss Marjorie, cuttin' up tricks just because the folks is away."
"Hello, Mopsy!" cried Kingdon, jumping downstairs three at a time. "What have you been up to now, I'd like to know."
"Nothing much," said Marjorie, gaily. Her spirits had risen since she found herself once again in her safe, warm, light home. "Don't bother me now, King; I want to study."
"Mother'll study you when she knows that you've been out walking alone at night."
"I don't want you to tell her, King, because I want to tell her myself."
"All right, Midge. I know it's all right, only I think you might tell me."
"Well, I will," said Midget, in a sudden burst of confidence.
Sarah had left the room, so Marjorie told King all about her adventure.
The boy looked at her with mingled admiration and amazement.
"You do beat all, Mopsy!" he said. "It was right down plucky of you, but you ought not to have done it. Why didn't you wait till I came home, and I would have gone for you."
"I didn't mean to go, you know, at first. I just went all of a sudden, after I had really started to come home. I don't think Mother'll mind, when I explain it to her."
"You don't, hey? Well, just you wait and see!"
It was not easy to settle down to studying the speller, after such an exciting adventure to get it, but Marjorie determinedly set to work, and studied diligently till nine o'clock, and then went to bed.
Next morning her father awakened her at an early hour, and a little before seven father and daughter were seated at a cozy little tête-à-tête breakfast.
At the table Marjorie gave her father a full description of her experiences of the night before.
Mr. Maynard listened gravely to the whole recital.
"My dear child," he said, when she finished the tale, "you did a very wrong thing, and I must say I think you should have known better."
"But I didn't think it was wrong, Father."
"I know you didn't, dearie; but you surely know that you're not allowed out alone at night."
"Yes; but this was such a very unusual occasion, I thought you'd excuse it. And, besides King was out at night."
"But he's a boy, and he's two years older than you are, and then he had our permission to go."
"That's just it, Father. I felt sure if you had known all about it, you would have given me permission. I was going to telephone and ask you if I might go to Mr. Cobb's, and then I thought it would interrupt the dinner party. And I didn't think you'd mind my running around to Mr. Cobb's. You know when I went there, I never thought of going to the schoolhouse last night."
"How did you come to think of it?"
"Why, I wanted my speller so much, and when I saw the schoolhouse roof sticking up above the trees, it made me think I could just as well run over there then, and so have my book at once."
"And you had no qualms of conscience that made you feel you were doing something wrong?"
"No, Father," said Marjorie, lifting her clear, honest eyes to his. "I thought I was cowardly to be so afraid of the dark. But I knew it wasn't mischief, and I didn't think it was wrong. Why was it wrong?"
"I'm not sure I can explain, if you don't see it for yourself. But it is not right to go alone to a place where there may be unseen or unknown dangers."
"But, Father, in our own schoolhouse? Where we go every day? What harm could be there?"
"My child, it is not right for anyone to go into an untenanted building, alone, in the dark. And especially it is not right for a little girl of twelve. Now, whether you understand this or not, you must remember it, and never do such a thing again."
"Oh, Father, indeed I'll never forget that old speller again."
"No; next time you'll do some other ridiculous, unexpected thing, and then say, 'I didn't know it was wrong.' Marjorie, you don't seem to have good common-sense about these things."
"That's what grandma used to say," said Midge, cheerfully. "Perhaps I'll learn, as I grow up, Father."
"I hope you will, my dear. And now, I'm not going to punish you for this performance, for I see you honestly meant no wrong, but I do positively forbid you to go out alone after dark without permission; no matter what may be the exceptional occasion. Will you remember that?"
"Yes, indeed! That isn't hard to remember. And I've never wanted to before, and I don't believe I'll ever want to again, until I'm grown up. Do you?"
"You're a funny child, Midget," said her father, looking at her quizzically. "But, do you know, I love you; and I suppose you get your spirit of adventure and daring from me. Your Mother is most timid and conventional. What do you s'pose she'll say to all this, Mopsy mine?"
"Why, as you think it was wrong, I s'pose she'll think so, too. I just can't make it seem wrong, myself, but as you say it was, why, of course it must have been, and I promise never to do it again. Now, if you've finished your coffee, shall we begin to spell?"
"Yes, come on. Since you have the book, we must make the most of our time."
An hour of hard work followed. Mr. Maynard drilled Marjorie over and over on the most difficult words, and reviewed the back lessons, until he said he believed she could spell down Noah Webster himself.
"And you must admit, Father," said Marjorie, as they closed the book at last, "that it's a good thing I did get my speller last night, for I had a whole hour's study on it, and besides I didn't have to go over there for it this morning."
"It would have been a better thing, my child, if you had remembered it in the first place."
"Oh, yes, of course. But that was a mistake. I suppose everybody makes mistakes sometimes."
"I suppose they do. The proper thing is to learn by our mistakes what is right and what is wrong. Now the next time you are moved to do anything as unusual as that, ask someone who knows, whether you'd better do it or not. Now, here's Mother, we'll put the case to her."
In a few words, Mr. Maynard told his wife about Marjorie's escapade.
"My little girl!" cried Mrs. Maynard, catching Marjorie in her arms. "Why, Midget, darling, how could you do such a dreadful thing? Oh, thank Heaven, I have you safe at home again!"
Marjorie stared. Here was a new view of the case. Her mother seemed to think that she had been in danger rather than in mischief.
"Oh," went on Mrs. Maynard, still shuddering, "my precious child, alone in that great empty building!"
"Why, Mother," said Marjorie, kissing her tears away, "that was just it. An empty building couldn't hurt me! Do you think I was naughty?"
"Oh, I don't know whether you were naughty, or not; I'm so glad to have you safe and sound in my arms."
"I'll never do it again, Mother."
"Do it again? Well, I rather think you won't! I shall never leave you alone again. I felt all the time I oughtn't to go off and leave you children last night."
"Nonsense, my dear," said Mr. Maynard, "the children must be taught self-reliance. But we'll talk this matter over some other time. Marjorie, you'll be late to school if you're not careful. And listen to me, my child. I don't want you to tell anyone of what you did last evening. It is something that it is better to keep quiet about. Do you understand? This is a positive command. Don't ask me why, just promise to say nothing about it to your playmates or anyone. No one knows of it at present, but your mother, Kingdon, and myself. I prefer that no one else should know. Will you remember this?"
"Yes, Father; can't I just tell Gladys?"
Mr. Maynard smiled.
"Marjorie, you are impossible!" he said. "Now, listen! I said tell no one! Is Gladys any one?"
"Yes, Father, she is."
"Very well, then don't tell her. Tell no one at all. Promise me."
"I promise," said Midget, earnestly, and then she kissed her parents and ran away to school.
Kingdon had also been bidden not to tell of Marjorie's escapade, and so it was never heard of outside the family. Ever again!