Read AN APRIL FOOL of A Flock of Girls and Boys, free online book, by Nora Perry, on ReadCentral.com.

CHAPTER I.

“Have you written it, Nelly?”

“Yes, I have it here in my pocket. I’ll show it to you when I get a chance.”

“Oh, show it now! There’s as good a chance now as you’ll have, for the rest of the girls are all on the other side of the room. Come;” and Lizzy Ryder held out her hand coaxingly.

Nelly sent a quick glance around the school-room, and then took from her pocket a small square envelope. The envelope was directed to Miss Angela Jocelyn. Lizzy Ryder gave a little giggle as she read this name; but as she drew forth the note-sheet and read written upon it in a slender pointed handwriting, “Miss Marian Selwyn requests the pleasure of Miss Angela Jocelyn’s company on the evening of April 1st,” her giggle became a smothered shriek, and she said to her cousin,

“Oh, Nelly, it’s perfect; she’ll never suspect. It looks just like Marian Selwyn’s writing. Wouldn’t it be too good if we could somehow get hold of Angela’s acceptance and keep it back, and have her actually go to the party. What do you suppose Marian would say to her when she walked in?”

“She wouldn’t say anything, but she’d look so astonished, and she’d be so stiff that Miss Angela would very soon find out she wasn’t very welcome. But we can’t keep back the note very well, even if we could get hold of it, it might get us into trouble, for it would be against the law; but there’s no law against an April Fool letter of our own, and ’twill be just as good fun in the end, for Marian Selwyn, of course, will set Miss Angela right in double quick time after she receives her note. Oh, I can just imagine the top-lofty style in which she will inform Miss Angela that there must be some mistake.”

“And then, of course, they’ll both find out that somebody’s been April-fooling them.”

“Of course. But that isn’t going to interfere with our fun. Miss Angela will be set down by that time just where I want her, when she discovers that her invitation is nothing but an April fool on her. I wish But, hush, somebody’s coming this way;” and in an instant Nelly had whisked into her pocket the note she had written, and the cousins were walking down the room, talking in a loud tone about their lessons. The “somebody coming” was a very quiet but a very observing girl, who, as she saw the sudden start of Lizzy and Nelly, also caught sight of the little white missive as it was whisked into Nelly’s pocket, and immediately thought,

“There’s some mischief going on. I wonder what it is.”

“That sly Mary Marcy, she’s always spying ’round,” whispered Nelly to her companion, as they passed along. Then in a high voice, thinking to mislead Mary, she cried, “Oh, Lizzy, now I’ve shown you my composition you must show me yours.”

Mary Marcy was a shrewd girl as well as an observant one, and she laughed in her sleeve as she heard this.

“Composition! that was no school composition”, she said to herself; and when a few minutes later the bell rang for the close of recess, and she saw Nelly send a significant glance to Lizzy as the two hurried to their seats, this shrewd, observant Mary was surer than ever that there was mischief going on, and when she went home that afternoon she told her mother what she had seen and heard, and how she felt about it, for Mary was very confidential with her mother, and told her most of her school secrets. Mrs. Marcy listened to this telling with that placid Quaker way of hers, and remarked in her quaint Quaker phrase, “Thee mustn’t be too suspicious, my dear; it maybe harmless mischief, after all.” And then Mary had replied, “I shouldn’t be suspicious of any of the other girls, mother; but Lizzy and Nelly Ryder are always doing and saying the mischievous things that have a sting in them;” and Mrs. Marcy, spite of her Quaker charity, then admitted that she had never quite liked the ways of those girls, and had often been sorry that they were in the Westboro’ High School; “but, poor things,” she added the moment she had made this admission, “they are more to be pitied than the persons they hurt, for they can get over the hurt, but these poor girls can’t get over their own wrong-doing so easily. It makes a black mark on them every time, and black marks are hard to rub off; and thee’ll see if they are up to any wrong-doing now, it will leave a mark, and so they’ll get the worst of it in the long run.”

“But it’s always such a long run before a mark of that kind shows,” laughed Mary. “Girls of that sort seem to succeed in making everybody but themselves uncomfortable, and these two specially always appear to be so gay and full of good times with their giggle and chatter.”

“But the Bible says, Mary, ’for as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool;’ and thee can think of this the next time thee hears the chatter, and then thee can say to thyself, ’It may be nothing but foolish folly, after all.’”

“Yes, it may be nothing but that,” Mary allowed; but when the next morning she heard it again, her first doubts and suspicions returned in full force, and she said to herself, “I’m perfectly sure that there’s something more than mere foolishness in this crackling of thorns. I’m perfectly sure there’s mischief with a sting in it. I feel it in the air, and I’m just going to watch out and see if I can’t stop it as I did that horrid St. Valentine business last winter.”

And while good kind Mary was thus “watching out” for this mischief, there, only two or three seats away from her, sat Angela Jocelyn, about whom all the mischief was gathering as a dark cloud gathers over a fair sky. And Angela’s sky was particularly fair to her just then, for she had been made very happy by the invitation she had received that morning, so happy that she had said to her elder sister, Martha Jocelyn, “To think of Marian Selwyn’s inviting me. Isn’t it beautiful of her?” and Martha had answered back rather tartly, “I don’t see why you should put such an emphasis on ‘me,’ as if you were so inferior. You’re as good as Marian Selwyn.”

“Yes, Martha, I know it isn’t that I feel inferior in in myself,” Angela exclaimed; “but the Selwyns have always had money and everything always, and we are poor and have lived so out of the way that I say it’s beautiful and kind of Marian, when she knows me so little. Why, Martha, I never see her anywhere but on the street and at Sunday-school.”

“Well, she likes you, I suppose. She’s taken a fancy to you, and she’s independent enough, I should hope, to invite any girl she likes, if the girl is poor and lives out of the way,” was Martha’s cool reply.

Liked her! Taken a fancy to her! How Angela’s heart jumped at this suggestion! Could it be possible that this lovely fortunate Marian Selwyn, that she had always admired from afar off, had taken a fancy to her, poor, plain little Angela Jocelyn, was her thought. And it was with this thought quickening her pulses that she wrote a cordial acceptance to the note of invitation; and it was this thought that sent such a bright look into her face that morning, that Mary Marcy said to her friend and seat-mate, Anna Richards, “Look at Angela Jocelyn, she is really growing pretty;” and a little later at the recess that followed directly after a recitation where Angela had easily led, as usual, Mary, catching sight of the frowning faces of Lizzy and Nelly Ryder, exclaimed: “Anna, if Angela Jocelyn is going to add good looks to her braininess, those Ryder girls will be more jealous of her than ever.”

“And they pretend to look down on Angela because she is poor and her mother and sister take in sewing,” responded Anna.

“All the same they don’t look down on what Angela really is. She is superior to them in brains, and they know it, and that makes them want to pull her down,” answered Mary.

“Yes, I heard Nelly Ryder say last week that Angela was altogether too conceited, and ought to be ‘taken down’; and it would be just like Nelly Ryder to try to do it sometime.”

Sometime! I believe she is trying to do it now. I believe that that is the mischief she and her cousin Lizzy are planning this moment,” cried Mary.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll tell you;” and Mary related, as she had related to her mother, what she had seen and heard.

“Nelly Ryder has never forgiven Angela for getting the history prize; Nelly thought herself sure of it, she as good as told me so,” was Anna’s only remark upon this.

“And now she’s going to play some trick on Angela to take her down, as she calls it; that’s what you think, isn’t it? And that’s what I think. Oh, Anna, I wish I could ferret out the mischief and stop it. It will be something hateful and mortifying to poor Angela, I know. If I could only get some clew to what it is, so as to warn her.”

“Yes; but as we are not sure that there is any mischief, after all, you mustn’t say anything to anybody yet.”

“No, of course not; but I’ll keep a sharp lookout, and I may hear or see something that will give me a hint. What fun it would be to outwit one of the Ryder schemes!”

“Mary! with all your Quaker bringing-up, I do believe you are just pining for what our Jack would call ‘a scrimmage.’”

“Well, I am, if that means getting the better of mischief-makers,” Mary confessed with a laugh.

“But you won’t succeed, if the mischief-makers are Nelly and Lizzy Ryder, Those, girls seem to get the best of everything and everybody. Think now, for one thing, of their being acquaintances of Marian Selwyn’s, and invited to her birthday party!”

“Oh, well, that is family acquaintance, Anna. The Ryders have always known the Selwyns, just as we have. The Selwyns and Ryders and Marcys have lived in Westboro’, and visited each other for ages.”

“I wish I had, and then I might have been invited to this wonderful birthday party,” exclaimed Anna, with a certain earnestness of tone that belied her gay little laugh, and made Mary say regretfully,

“I wish I’d known you felt like this last week, I would have had you and Marian ’round to tea, and then you would have got acquainted, and she’d have been sure to have invited you; but it’s too late now, for the party comes off Thursday, you know.”

“Thursday! Why, Thursday is the first of April.. How funny that one’s birthday should come on the first of April!”

“Funny why?”

“Why? Because it’s April-fool’s day.”

“Oh, I see; but I’m so used to Marian’s birthdays, I don’t always stop to think of that.”

“But don’t some people think of it? Don’t they sometimes play Oh, oh, Mary, Mary, mayn’t this be your clew? Don’t you believe that Nelly Ryder has been planning an April-fool trick upon Angela in connection with this party?”

Mary, who had been sitting on one of the wide window-seats in the recitation-room, jumped to her feet at this, with a little scream of: “Oh, Anna, you’ve hit it. I do believe it is the clew. Why didn’t I think of April-fool’s day, that it would be just the opportunity Nelly Ryder would take advantage of to play a trick, because she could throw it off from herself as a mere April joke, if her hand was found out in it. Yes, yes, she has planned to drag Angela into some performance or other on the birthday that will make her ridiculous and offensive to Marian, sending her on some fool’s errand to Marian, perhaps the night of the party, as somebody sent poor little Tilly Drake last year with a silly message to Clara Harrington that made Clara furious, and mortified Tilly dreadfully.”

“Oh, well, Angela wouldn’t be taken in like that; she’s brighter than Tilly.”

“Angela is just the one to be taken in. She’s one of the brightest persons I ever saw about books and things of that kind, but she is very innocent and unsuspecting. Anna, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to see Marian this noon, and I’m going to tell her what I suspect.”

“No, I wouldn’t do that; it wouldn’t be fair, for it’s only our suspicion, and we may be on the wrong track altogether.”

“But what am I to do? Sit still and let some horrid thing perhaps go on that I might stop?”

“I’ll tell you what you might do. You might say to Marian that you had got an idea that somebody was going to play a trick on her birthday, upon her and some unsuspecting person; that you didn’t know what the trick was to be, and you might be all wrong in your suspicion that there was to be one, but you thought that you ought to put her on her guard. You might say this to her without mentioning a name.”

“Oh, Anna, Anna, what a cautious little thing you are with your ‘mays’ and your ‘mights;’ but you are right, you are right, and I’ll go to Marian this noon, and say just what you’ve told me to say, and not a word more.”

CHAPTER II.

Mary thought it would be a very easy matter to say to Marian what Anna had suggested, but it wasn’t so easy as she thought. Marian was a year older than herself, and that meant a good deal to a girl of fifteen, a year older and more than a year beyond her, with the experience of Washington city life and schools during the winter months. In fact, to Mary, who had not seen her for the past few months, she appeared so experienced and grown-up, as she came into the room to meet her, that that young person felt all at once very young and awkward, and as a consequence made such a boggle of what she had to say, that Marian, entirely misunderstanding, exclaimed in amazement,

“You want me to get up an April joke on my birthday, Mary? I couldn’t think of such a thing; I hate April jokes.”

“No, no, you misunderstand,” burst forth Mary; and then, forgetting all her awkwardness, she made her little statement over again, and this time succinctly and clearly. And now it was her turn to be amazed; for before she had got entirely to the end of her statement, Marian starting up pulled a note from her pocket and cried, “Read this, Mary! read this!”

It was Angela’s cordial note of acceptance.

“And she had no invitation from me. I never invited her, I scarcely knew her,” went on Marian.

“She had no invitation from you, but she thought she had. It isn’t Angela who is playing a trick upon you. Somebody has played a trick upon her, has written in your name. Oh, don’t you see? She is the innocent person I meant.”

“But who who is the guilty one, the one who has dared to do this?” cried Marian.

“I can’t tell you yet whom I think it is, because I haven’t any proof, and it wouldn’t be fair to call names unless I had sure proof.”

“Well, look here. All my notes were sealed with my monogram seal, but I used a variety of colored wax. Everybody is interested in comparing seals now, and so can’t you make an excuse to Angela that you want to compare the seals in the different colors, and borrow her note of invitation, and then bring it to me? If I could see that note, I might know the handwriting, and then I’d know who played this shabby, cruel trick. And I ought to know, that I mayn’t suspect an innocent person.”

“But the note that Angela received may not be sealed with wax.”

“Oh, yes, it will. Whoever sent that note had seen mine, I am certain, and of course would use wax, as I did. Now, won’t you do this little service for me, Mary?” urged Marian, entreatingly.

Mary laughed. “Yes, I’ll do it,” she answered, “though I’m not very clever at playing theatre. I’ve too much Quaker blood in me for that; but it’s a good cause, and I’ll do the best I can, and I’ll do it now, for Angela’s sure to be at home now;” and suiting her action to her word, Mary started off then and there upon her errand.

And so surely and swiftly did she do her best on this errand that Marian gave a little scream of surprise as she saw her coming back, and, “You’ve not got it already?” she cried, running to meet her.

“Yes, here it is. Angela gave it to me at once.”

“Just the size of my paper, and the wax you see I was right. There is wax, and a seal-stamp that looks like my stamp, but isn’t,” exclaimed Marian. “Now for the handwriting!” One glance at the address on the envelope; then, pulling out the note, she bent breathlessly over it for a moment. In another moment she was calling out triumphantly: “I know it! I know it! She tried to imitate mine, but I know these M’s and r’s and A’s. They’re Nelly Ryder’s! they’re Nelly Ryder’s! Look here;” and running to her desk, the excited girl produced another note, and placed it beside the one that Angela had received. It was Nelly Ryder’s acceptance of her invitation; and Mary, looking at the peculiar M’s and r’s and A’s saw as clearly as Marian herself the proof of the same hand in each note.

“And I should know her ‘hand’ anywhere, for I’ve had hundreds of notes from her, first and last,” Marian went on. “But to think of her playing such a trick as this! I never had any admiration for her, or her cousin either; but I didn’t think either one of them could do such a mischievous, vulgar thing. But you did, Mary, for this is the girl you suspected.”

“Yes, because I had known more of her than you had, going to school with her every day;” and then Mary told what she had known, and what she had seen herself, winding up with, “But I didn’t like to tell you all this before I had certain proof, for I wanted to be fair, you know.”

“And you have been fair, more than fair; and now ”

“Well, go on, what do you stop for now what?”

“Wait and see;” and Marian nodded her head, and compressed her lips into a firm, resolute line.

“Oh, Marian, are you going to punish Nelly?” cried Mary, a little alarmed at these indications.

Marian nodded again.

“Yes, I’m going to punish her.”

“Oh, how, when, where?”

“When? On Thursday night. Where? At the birthday party. How? Wait and see.”

CHAPTER III.

It was the evening of the first of April, a beautiful, still, starry evening, with all the chill and frost of early spring blown out of it by the friendly winds of March, and all the lovely promises of summer buddings and flowerings wafting into it from waiting May and June.

A “just perfect evening,” said more than one girl delightedly, as she set out arrayed in all her furbelows for the birthday party. A “just perfect evening.” And no one said this more emphatically, and felt it more emphatically, than Mary Marcy and Angela Jocelyn, Mary in her pretty and becoming if rather plain white gown of China silk, and Angela in her old white cambric that had been ‘done over’ for the hundredth time, perhaps, and was neither pretty nor becoming, with its skimp skirt and sleeves and shrunken waist. But a new gown had been out of the question just then with the Jocelyns, and Angela had to make the best of the old one; and it did not seem at all hard to make a very good ‘best’ of it, when she stood in her own little bedroom, with Martha tying the well-worn blue sash around the shrunken waist, and her mother looking on and saying, “It really looks very nice, and that sash does wash so well.”

But when she went up into the great brilliantly lighted bedchamber at the Selwyns’, and saw Mary Marcy in her perfectly fitting gown drawing on her delicate gloves, and talking with several young ladies beautifully dressed in fresh muslin and silk, the skimp skirt and sleeves, the shrunken waist and washed sash, seemed all at once very mean and shabby to Angela. They seemed still meaner and shabbier when two other girls appeared in yet prettier costumes of fresh daintiness; and when these two dropped their little hooded shoulder-wraps of silk and lace, and she saw that they were the two Ryder cousins, poor Angela suddenly began to feel a strange sense of awkwardness and unfitness. This feeling increased as she noticed the unmistakable start that the cousins gave as they caught sight of her, and heard Nelly’s astonished exclamation, “What! you here?”

It was a bitter moment; but a bitterer was yet to come, when Lizzy Ryder, with that innocent little way of hers, said,

“Oh, if you’ve come to help take our things off, do help me with this scarf, Angela!”

If Angela could but have known then and there that this was only a petty stab from one petty jealous girl! But she did not know. She heard the words, apparently so innocently spoken, and said to herself, “They think I am here as a servant, not as a guest!” and with a miserable confused feeling that everything was wrong, from her acceptance of the invitation to her shabby gown, she started back with all her confusion merging into one thought to get away out of the sight of these well-dressed happy girls. But as she started back, Mary Marcy, who had heard Lizzy Ryder’s speech, started forward and called out: “Oh, Angela, how do you do? I didn’t see you when you came in. I I’ve been expecting to see you, though; and now shall we go down together?”

Angela couldn’t speak. She could only give a little nod of assent, and yield herself to kind Mary’s guidance, with a deep breath of relief. It was only a partial relief, however. She had yet to go down into the brilliant parlor with its crowd of Selwyn cousins, yet to face, in that old shrunken gown with its washed sash, all those critical eyes. Oh, what if all those eyes should look at her with a stare of astonishment, such as Lizzy and Nelly Ryder had bestowed upon her? What if Marian herself should give a glance of surprise at the old shabby gown? These were some of the troubled questions that whirled through Angela’s head as she went down the stairs with Mary Marcy. And down behind them, following closely, though Angela did not know it, came the two Ryder girls, full of eager curiosity, for they were both of them now quite certain that Marian had received no note of any sort from Angela. “She didn’t know enough to write an acceptance. How should she? I don’t suppose she’s ever had an invitation to a party in her life,” whispered Nelly to her cousin in the first shock of surprise at seeing Angela in the dressing-room.

“No, of course not,” whispered back Lizzy; and so, confident and secure in this belief, and in the anticipation of “fun,” as they called the displeased astonishment they expected to see Marian express at the sight of her uninvited guest, and the guest’s mortification thereat, the conspirators stepped softly along down the stairs and across the great hall into the beautiful brilliant parlor.

Marian was standing at the farther end of the parlor facing the doorway, with two of the Selwyn cousins beside her, as the fresh arrivals appeared. She was laughing joyously as they entered; but at her very first glimpse of the approaching group, the laugh ceased, and a look of sudden resolve flashed into her face, a look that the Selwyn cousins, who had been told the whole story of the fraudulent invitation, understood at once to mean, “Here is my opportunity and I’ll make the most of it!” But to the others to the four who were approaching this sudden change in their hostess’s face was thus variously interpreted: “She has seen Angela,” thought the Ryder girls, triumphantly. “She has seen the Ryder girls, and she is going to punish them,” thought Mary, nervously. “She is looking at my dreadful old gown,” thought Angela, miserably.

And moved thus differently by such different anticipations, the little group came down the room, Mary’s nervousness increasing at every step, for her shyness and the Quaker love of peace rose up within her at the sight of Marian’s face, that seemed to her to betoken a plan of punishment for the approaching offenders more in accordance with the fiery Selwyn spirit than any spirit of peace.

Just what Mary feared she could not have told; but she knew something of this Selwyn spirit, and had often heard it said that the Selwyn tongue could cut like a lash when once started. That the Ryders deserved the sharpest cut of this lash she fully believed; but, “Oh, I do hope Marian won’t say anything sharp now,” she thought to herself. And it was then, just then, at that very moment, that she saw Marian’s face change again, as the softest, sweetest, kindest of smiles beamed from lips and eyes, and the softest, sweetest, kindest of voices said,

“How do you do, Mary? I’m very glad to see you, you know my cousins, Bertie and Laura;” and in the next breath, “How do you do, Miss Jocelyn? It’s very nice to see you here. Bertie, Laura, this is my friend Angela Jocelyn, who is going to make one of our charade party next month if I can persuade her.”

One of that May-day charade party! Mary opened her eyes very wide at this, and Angela wondered if she were awake. But the charming voice was now speaking to some one else, was saying very politely without a touch of sharpness, but with a world of meaning to those who had the clew, and those only,

“How do you do, Lizzy? How do you do, Nelly? And, Nelly, I want to thank you for a real service in connection with my birthday invitations. But for you I should have missed a very welcome guest. I shall never forget this, you may be sure.”

“I I ” But for once Nelly Ryder’s ready speech failed her. Her cousin tried to take up her words, tried to say something about April fun, tried to smile, to laugh; but the laugh died upon her lips, and she was only too glad to move on with Nelly into the room beyond, and there, out of the range of observation for a moment, the two expressed their astonishment and dismay at Marian’s knowledge, and wondered how she came by it.

“But to think of her taking an April joke so seriously as to make much of Angela Jocelyn just to come up with me!” burst out Nelly.

“And to think,” burst out Lizzy, with a sly laugh, “that it is you who have introduced Angela to Marian’s good graces, and that it is you, after all, who have been made the April fool, and not Angela!”