Janet D. Wheeler
Billie Bradley and the School Mystery; Or, The Girl From Oklahoma
AT LAKE MOLATA
“My, but it’s good to get back!”
The statement came from Billie Bradley. She gazed upon the ivy-covered towers of the boarding school with genuine affection.
Three Towers Hall was an impressive building, set amidst gracious, well-tended lawns on the borders of one of the prettiest and most picturesque lakes in that part of the country. From its gates students flocked in gay anticipation of vacation and good times at the end of the spring term, to return, more soberly, but with a refreshed and brightened outlook, to take up their studies at the beginning of the fall semester.
Such a time had come again to Billie Bradley and her two close chums, Violet Farrington and Laura Jordon. After a particularly interesting and adventure-filled summer, they had returned to their beloved seat of learning, eager for work and with renewed and heightened ideals.
Now they stood on the borders of the lake, looking toward Three Towers Hall through a lane of trees that made flickering shadows on the lawn. Idly, they speculated on the future.
“I’d feel better,” observed Vi, “if I hadn’t that condition in math to make up. It worries me.”
“It would,” agreed Laura. “I mean, it would have worried me so much that if it had been my condition, I’d have made it up during the summer instead of waiting until fall, when goodness knows the work is hard enough, anyway.”
“It’s easy enough for you to criticize,” said Vi, a shade resentfully. “You take all your studies at a run, while all I can do is to hobble.”
“Of course, not everyone can have a brain like mine,” murmured Laura, with a mischievous grin.
“Besides, what time have I had this summer for study?” Vi persisted. “Between treasure hunts and mysteries and such things, I’ve had my hands full.”
“You should have found time,” returned Laura, pursing her mouth primly in mischievous imitation of Miss Phelps, their new mathematics teacher. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Vi shrugged her shoulders petulantly.
“Well, if you are going to be so disagreeable – ” She left the sentence unfinished and turned toward the Hall.
Billie awoke from the reverie that had been occupying her secret thoughts; awoke in time to seize a fold of Vi’s abbreviated skirt and hold it firmly between thumb and forefinger.
“Laura’s insulting me,” said Vi, with a wavering smile. “I’ll not stay.”
“Don’t be foolish,” laughed Billie. “Laura insults everybody. It’s just her way. But she never means anything by it.”
“I’m going up to the house to study math,” persisted Vi.
“No you’re not,” said Billie. “You are going for a walk with Laura and me back of the lake and pick goldenrod. Miss Walters likes it in her office and it would be nice in the dorm. Come along.”
“But I must study math!” wailed Vi, beginning to weaken. “Honestly, Billie, you don’t know how it worries me. It has me scared stiff.”
“Well, we’ll go and pick goldenrod first and then I’ll help you with your math. How will that do?”
“Excellently, thanks,” said Vi, with a sigh of relief. When Billie helped with “math,” or anything else, she really helped, explaining each step and making everything as clear as day. Vi had wished, many a time, that she had Billie’s head for “math.”
The three girls took the footpath to the right of the lake, the path that climbed steadily until it came out on a high ridge of ground overlooking both Three Towers Hall and Boxton Military Academy, the boys’ school directly across the lake from the Hall.
Billie Bradley and her chums knew that on this ridge grew goldenrod, flaming, golden patches of it. The sight of it always fascinated them. As Billie once had said, it seemed as though the sun had touched the earth and become entangled in the weeds.
“It was some time before it could untangle itself and get back in the heavens where it belonged,” Billie had concluded her whimsical fancy. “The result was – goldenrod!”
Now, as they made their way toward this higher ground, the girls continued to discuss the events of the past few days, the renewal of acquaintanceship with old school friends, the excitement and interest of meeting and “looking over” the newcomers to Three Towers Hall.
“The new girls seem a rather commonplace lot,” observed Laura. She paused by the wayside to pick a lace flower and stuck it jauntily over one ear revealed by a very short bob. “Just the usual smattering; some shy, some bold, all somewhat excited by finding themselves at boarding school.”
“Can you blame them? ’Member how we felt when we first came?” chuckled Vi.
“Sort of exalted and plumb scared to death,” interpreted Billie. “Those were the days of big fun, though.”
“And the big fights,” giggled Laura. “Remember how Amanda Peabody and that shadow of hers, Eliza Dilks, used to ride us to death?”
“Where do you get that stuff – used to?” demanded Vi slangily. “Why, I’ll tell you something. Just this morning Amanda tried to pick a quarrel with me.”
“Over what?” Billie was interested. Amanda Peabody was one of the most unpleasant girls at Three Towers Hall. She had money and had developed a sort of dashing good looks. Because of this some of the students – that smattering of toadies found among the girls of every boarding school – had rallied round her, forming a small, exclusive clique. Among the most conspicuous and faithful of Amanda’s following was a girl named Eliza Dilks, otherwise known as “The Shadow.”
“What did you and Amanda quarrel about?” Billie asked again.
“I didn’t quarrel about anything,” returned Vi virtuously. “It was Amanda who did the quarreling, and it was all about some silly little thing like a pencil that she accused me of taking from her desk in the study hall. Of course it was all nonsense. Why should I want her pencil when I have that beautiful silver one Uncle Dan gave me for Christmas?”
“What did you tell her?” Laura wanted to know.
“What would I tell her? I merely went by with my nose in the air and refused to answer her. She looked mad enough to bite nails,” with a reminiscent giggle.
“I suppose that girl will be a thorn in our side – ”
“Flesh,” corrected Billie with a giggle.
“I said ‘side’ and I meant it,” retorted Laura firmly. “Anyway, I suppose neither you nor Vi will deny that Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks are a thorny pair.”
“Two thorns, without the roses,” remarked Billie.
Vi began to chant in a soft, singsong:
“Oh, Amanda and her Shadow,
Amanda and her crony,
Went out to take the air one day,
Aridin’ on a pony.
They thought they were the bees’ headlight,
They thought they looked so tony.
But everyone they met called out,
‘Go home! Your style is phony!’”
Billie and Laura applauded dutifully and Billie demanded to know how long Vi had been keeping this unsuspected talent a secret from her chums.
“You look romantic enough, Vi, goodness knows, but we never suspected you of being a poetess.”
“Then don’t now,” urged Vi. “I wouldn’t be guilty of such ‘poetry.’ It’s Connie’s.”
“She should be shot at daybreak,” remarked Laura. “I’ll see to it myself.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a pretty good ‘pome,’” chuckled Billie. “I’ve a notion to put it to music and adopt it as the new school song. Where is Connie, anyway? I thought she was coming with us for a hike?”
“She had to rewrite that composition on hitchhikers. Miss Johnson,” – a teacher of English at Three Towers Hall – “said it was too flippant.” Laura finished with a chuckle, for Connie had read that composition to Billie and her chums the evening before, sitting cross-legged, like a young Chinese idol, on Billie’s bed. It had been flippant – like Connie – and full of fun. The girls had laughed uproariously.
“Miss Johnson is dried up and old, a hopeless spinster,” was Vi’s merciless indictment of the English teacher. “She can’t be expected to recognize honest fun when she sees it.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised but what Connie’s second theme would be more flippant than her first,” giggled Laura. “Then what will poor Miss Johnson do?”
“In that case, I certainly feel sorry for Connie,” laughed Billie.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Miss Johnson would fall over in a fit and never come fully out of it. Then we’d all be freed from her. Me, I wish she would,” declared Vi a bit vindictively.
The girls came out on the high promontory overlooking the lake, and halted in mute appreciation of the lovely view spread out before them. They had seen it many times before, but the fresh sight of it never failed to thrill them.
Boxton Military Academy stood high and proud on the crest of a hill, its parades and drill grounds marked out in patches of green velvet. From where they stood the girls could hear the beating of a drum and the fanfare of spirited music.
“No wonder the boys love it there,” murmured Laura. “We should have a band at Three Towers. Might liven things up a bit.”
“That would be lovely,” laughed Vi. “I speak to play the big drum and you can take the bass horn, Laura. Billie, what’s your choice? I suggest the trombone.”
“I’ll speak to Miss Walters about it as soon as we get back,” she promised. “Meanwhile, get busy, lazybones, and garner some of this goldenrod.”
The yellow flame of the gorgeous weed covered the top of the promontory so that the girls were confronted by an embarrassment of riches. In a few moments their arms were filled with the golden blossoms.
“Aren’t they the loveliest things you ever saw, girls?” cried Billie.
“Yes, they are. I adore this bright yellow, whether it’s in flowers or dresses or hangings. It always makes me feel more cheerful.”
“I wonder how anyone can have a favorite flower. It always seems to me that the flower I’m looking at at the moment is my favorite. Just now, of course, it’s goldenrod. To-morrow it may be roses, for instance.”
“Come on, let’s start back,” said Vi.
Laura and Vi had turned to go back when a sharp cry from Billie startled them. When they looked in the direction whence the cry had come, Billie Bradley was nowhere to be seen!