Under the Lanterns

It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, and though Nora, Fil, Ingred, and Verity might chafe at being debarred from tennis for a whole week, their adventure in the garden had given them an idea. How it exactly originated could not be decided, for each fiercely claimed the full credit for it. Its evolution, however, was somewhat as follows:

  1. Stage 1. How lovely the garden looked in the evening.

  2. Stage 2. Why should we not all enjoy it some time?

  3. Stage 3. Miss Burd evidently does.

  4. Stage 4. And looked very fascinating in her white dressing-gown.

  5. Stage 5. It was exactly like a fancy dress.

  6. Stage 6. Why should not we all wear fancy dress?

  7. Stage 7. Let us ask Miss Burd to let the hostel have a fancy-dress dance in the school garden.

Great minds generally think in company, and often hit upon the same invention at the same moment, so perhaps all four girls had an equal share in the brainwave. They communicated it cautiously to companions, and as it “caught on” they sounded Mrs. Best, and finding her favorably disposed to the scheme, begged her to intercede for them with Miss Burd. The headmistress was wonderfully gracious about the matter, gave full permission for the dance, promised to be present herself, and allowed the invitation to be extended to any mistresses and seniors who would care to join the party. It was quite a long time since the hostel had had any particularly exciting doings, so that the girls flung themselves into their preparation with much enthusiasm. Those who were lucky enough already to possess fancy costumes, or who were able to borrow them, of course scored, and the rest set to work to manufacture anything that came to hand. It was to be in the nature of an impromptu affair, but a few days’ notice was given, and the girls were able to devote a Saturday to the all-absorbing problem. Ingred, home for the weekend, enlisted the help of Mother and Quenrede, and turned the bungalow almost upside down in her quest for suitable accessories. She thought of a number of characters she would have liked to impersonate, but was always balked by the lack of some vital article of dress.

“It’s no use!” she lamented. “I can’t be ‘Joan of Arc’ without a suit of armor, or ‘Queen Elizabeth’ when I haven’t a flowered velvet robe! I’m so tired of all the old things! It’s too stale to twist some roses in my hair for ‘Summer,’ and I’ve been a gipsy so often that everybody knows my red handkerchief and gilt beads. I’d as soon be a Red Indian squaw!”

“And why shouldn’t you be?” asked Quenrede. “It’s a remarkably pretty costume.”

“Oh, I dare say, if I could beg, borrow, or steal it!”

“You’ve no need to do either, my dear. I’ve had a brainwave, and we’ll fix it up for you at home. Yes, I mean it! Allow me to introduce myself: ‘Miss Quenrede Saxon, Court Costumier. The very latest theatrical productions.’ I’ll make you look so that your own mother will hardly know you!”

“I’d like to puzzle them!” rejoiced Ingred. “Miss Burd said she should have a parade, and hinted something about a prize. They always give points to whoever has the best disguise. Masks are barred, but we may paint our faces. I think I shall be rather choice as a squaw!”

“You ought to have me with you as your ‘brave’!” chuckled Hereward.

“It’s a ‘Ladies Only’ dance, so you can’t be invited, my boy! There won’t be a solitary masculine individual present⁠—even the gardener will have gone home.”

“You bet folks will peep in!”

“No, they won’t. The premises are strictly private.”

Quenrede was in some respects a clever and ingenious little person. She was not much good at ordinary dressmaking, where fashion must be followed, but she displayed great originality in her construction of Ingred’s fancy costume. There were two clean sacks in the house, and she commandeered them. She cut one into a skirt and the other into a jumper, stitched up the sides, and frayed out the bottoms to represent fringes. Then she took her watercolor paints, mixed them with Chinese white to form a strong body color, and painted Indian patterns on both garments. The headdress she considered a triumph. She went to a neighboring poultry farm, and boldly begged the tail feathers which had been plucked the day before from some game fowls. These she glued round a cardboard crown, and the effect was magnificent. A dress rehearsal was held, and the family rejoiced over Ingred’s most decidedly Wild West appearance.

“You have a pair of real moccasins that Uncle Ernest sent you for bedroom slippers. I’ll cut some strips of cloth into fringe for leggings, and you can wear Athelstane’s leather belt, and carry an axe for a tomahawk,” said Quenrede, surveying her work with critical satisfaction. “Don’t forget to paint your face!”

“I shan’t show anyone my costume beforehand,” chuckled Ingred. “I really don’t believe anyone will know me! What luck if I won a prize for the best disguise!”

“Bet you anything you like you don’t!” murmured Hereward.

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because there may be others even better!”

“Well, of course, that’s for Miss Burd to judge! But I think I’ve a sporting chance, at any rate!”

The dance was to be held on Monday evening after supper, when it was just beginning to grow dusk. The mistresses had taken the matter up quite enthusiastically, and had stretched some wires across the garden, and hung up Chinese lanterns. The hostel piano had been pulled close to the window, so that the strains of music could float out into the garden. At least fifteen seniors had accepted the invitation, and it was rumored that Miss Burd had invited a few private friends. Supper was held earlier than usual, so as to allow time for the all-important operation of dressing, and the moment it was finished every inmate of the hostel fled to her bedroom. Dormitory 2 was naturally a scene of much confusion. The girls tried to put on their own costumes and help each other at the same time. Fil, as a Dresden China Shepherdess, needed much assistance in the settling of her panniers, and the arrangement of her curls, which by special permission from Mrs. Best had been twisted up in curl papers from four o’clock until the last available moment, and came out, much to Fil’s satisfaction, in quite creditable ringlets. The effect was so altogether charming that her roommates called a general halt for admiration.

“You look like a mixture of Dolly Varden and Sweet Lavender, with a dash of Maid Marian thrown in,” decided Verity.

“I hope my hair’ll keep in curl! There’s rather a damp feeling in the air,” fluttered Fil anxiously.

“You could fly indoors, and give it a twist with the tongs, if it gets very limp,” suggested Nora.

Nora herself was going as a personification of “The Kitchen.” Her skirt was draped with dusters and dishcloths, she wore a small dish-cover as a hat, clothes-pegs were suspended round her neck as a necklace, and she brandished a rolling-pin in her hand.

“I’m bound to be something comic,” she assured the others. “I’d never keep my face straight for a romantic character. I could no more live up to Lady Jane Grey than I could fly! She’s above me altogether!”

Verity, who had borrowed a Dutch costume slightly too small for her, was trying to squeeze her proportions into the tight velvet bodice, and looked dubiously at the sabots.

“I’ll never be able to dance in those!” she decided. “I’ll put them on to start with, and then kick them off and slip on my sandals instead. They’re the most extraordinary clumpy things in the world, I feel like a cat walking in walnut shells!”

Ingred’s toilet progressed very favorably till it came to the stage of coloring her face. She was not quite sure as to the best means of obtaining a Red Indian complexion. First she tried rubbing it with soil from the garden, but that was a painful process which almost scraped the skin from her cheeks. So she washed her face and used cocoa. She mixed it in a cup and dabbed it over, but it would not go on smoothly, and the result was so patchy and hideous that once more she brought out her sponge and wiped it off. At that point Verity came to the rescue, smeared the poor cheeks (already sore through such ill-treatment) with vanishing cream, then powdered on some dry cocoa, which certainly gave a dusky and non-European aspect to her features, especially when combined with the feather headdress. Her dark hair, plaited in two long tails, completed the illusion. The girls held a complacent review of their toilets, then walked downstairs with caution, for Nora’s dish-cover was difficult to balance as a hat, and Verity’s heels kept slipping out of the sabots. Fil’s ringlets, alas! were already beginning to untwist, and Ingred’s jumper, put on in too big a hurry, showed symptoms of splitting down the seam. There was no time for repairs of any sort, however. They were five minutes late, and the rest of the company were assembled on the lawn. The boarders from the hostel, together with mistresses and seniors who had come by invitation, made a total of more than fifty persons, all in fancy dress.

These gay costumes were a pretty sight against the background of trees and bushes and flowerbeds. The sun had set, leaving a yellow glow in the sky, and the Chinese lanterns were beginning to glow in the gathering twilight. It was certainly a varied crowd; all centuries had met together. A Japanese damsel walked arm-in-arm with a Lancashire witch; an Italian peasant hob-a-nobbed with “The Queen of Sheba,” a Spanish lady was talking to “Old Mother Hubbard,” while such characters as “A Medicine Bottle,” or “An Aeroplane” rubbed shoulders with an “Egyptian Princess” or “Dick Whittington’s Cat.”

Miss Burd, garbed appropriately as Chaucer’s Prioress, received the company at the top of the sundial steps, looking, in the opinion of the Foursome League, quite sufficiently like the ghost of yesterday to have justified squeals had they met her alone. When the ceremony of introduction was over, the guests dispersed about the lawn, Miss Perry struck up a waltz on the piano, and the fun began. Dancing on the grass, in the growing darkness, with the Chinese lanterns sending out a soft but uncertain radiance overhead, was a new experience to most of the school. It was difficult not to step on to the flowerbeds, or to brush against the bushes. Trailing garments were decidedly in the way, and came to grief. There was a delirious sort of Eastern feeling about it⁠—a kind of combination of The Thousand and One Nights and the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyam. The Abbey tower for once seemed out of place, and ought to have changed miraculously into a pagoda or a minaret.

It was after the girls had been dancing for some little time that Ingred first noticed a couple whom she did not remember to have seen before. They followed persistently in her steps, and even gently bumped into her once or twice, thus compelling her attention. She looked at them, considerably mystified. One was attired in Early Victorian Costume, with a crinoline, a little tippet, and a poke bonnet, from which peeped some bewitching ringlets; the other, in a gorgeous Turkish costume, was enveloped in a shimmering gauze veil.

“Who are those?” Ingred asked her partner.

But Verity could not tell.

In the twilight it was, of course, easy to make mistakes, but Ingred began to have a strong suspicion that neither of the mysterious partners belonged to the school. They were certainly not members of the Fifth or Sixth. Perhaps some of the Juniors had forced themselves in? No, they were too tall for Juniors.

“Perhaps they are ghosts!” shivered Verity.

“Ghosts don’t bump into people. These are real substantial flesh and blood!”

“It’s so dark, we can hardly see.”

“Well, I vote we keep close to them, and next time we get near a lantern, we’ll turn the tables and bump into them, and try to see who they are.”

It was easier said than done, however; the strangers seemed to have changed their tactics, and instead of pursuing Ingred and Verity now endeavored to avoid them. No “elusive Pimpernels” could have been more difficult to follow. They would come quite close and then suddenly dodge and glide away, only to reappear and repeat the same tantalizing performance. Ingred and Verity began to get on their mettle. It was so evidently done on purpose that they were fully determined to catch the errant pair. After a long game at hide-and-seek they at last managed to dance along side them, and laying violent hands upon them, to drag them into the light of a lantern. As Ingred gazed for a moment in perplexity, the Early Victorian lady gave a most un-Early Victorian wink inside the poke bonnet.

“Hereward! How dare you!” gasped his sister.

A firm hand drew her away from the light, and in the shelter of a laurel bush, a voice, choking with laughter, proclaimed:

“Done you, old girl! Done you brown! What about that bet? I told you you’d never know me!”

“You abominable young wretch,” replied Ingred, laughing in spite of herself. “How did you manage it? And who is your friend?”

“Allow me to introduce Vashti, Queen of Persia!”

“Bunkum! It’s a boy! I know it is!”

The explosive sounds issuing from under the shimmering veil of Queen Vashti certainly sounded more masculine than feminine, and that Persian princess confessed presently to the name of Franklin.

“He’s a chum of mine,” explained Hereward, “and he lives close by, so we made it up to come together. His sister lent us the clothes and dressed us. I say, your Prioress never found us out, did she? What about that prize?”

“There isn’t going to be a prize, and you certainly wouldn’t have deserved it! Look here, you’d better wangle yourselves off before it gets about who you are. I should get into a row, not you!”

“Would the Prioress kick up rough?”

“She’d probably think I’d planned the whole business, and encouraged you to come.”

“Even if we apologized?”

“She wouldn’t accept an apology. If you want me to have any tennis next week, you had better clear out.”

“Just a round with you first, and Franklin can take your friend, or vice versa if you prefer it!”

“You impudent boy! Certainly not. I daren’t risk it. Look, Miss Strong is bringing out the lamp, and putting it on the sundial, and I believe Miss Perry is going to take a flashlight photo presently. If you want to disgrace me forever⁠—”

“We’ll go!” sighed a mournful voice. “Though it’s Adam and Eve turned out of Paradise. I say, Franklin, they don’t want us, after all our trouble! We’d better be getting on, I suppose. Our deepest respects to the Prioress. She’s given us a delightful evening, if she only knew it. We’d like to come again some time. Ta-ta!”