Chapter III. Jealousies.
 

"What do they find to talk about so often?"

"And so secretly. As soon as any of us other girls come near they begin to speak of the weather--or something like that."

Thus remarked Alice Jallow to Kittie Rossmore a few days after the formation of the Camping and Tramping Club. The question and comments took place in the court of the High School, just before the bell was to ring for the morning session.

"It's all Betty Nelson's doings," declared Alice, who had often tried to make herself more intimate with the quartette of friends, but unsuccessfully. The other girls did not care for these two.

"Yes. Grace, Mollie and Amy will do anything Betty tells them," asserted Kittie.

"I don't see why she is so popular. She hasn't a bit of style about her."

"I should say not! Her skirt is entirely too wide, and her blouse never seems cut right."

"They say her mother doesn't believe in style. But I do," said Alice. "I'd rather have a cheap dress, if it was in style, than something old-fashioned, even if it cost a lot more."

"So would I. Look at them now, with their heads together! I wonder if they're going to have a dance?"

"I don't know. How can we find out?"

"Leave it to me. Jennie Plum is quite friendly with Mollie. I'll get her to ask some questions."

"Do; and then tell me. I'm sure they're getting up some affair."

"I shouldn't wonder. If they'd only ask us--"

"We have a right to be asked!" and Alice flared up.

The warning bell interrupted further conversation, and the girls and boys filed into their classrooms.

As Alice had remarked, there was a good deal of talk going on among the four members of the newly-formed Camping and Tramping Club. Every spare moment the four seemed to have something to say to each other, as one or the other thought of some new point to consider.

Following the hasty formation of the organization, the girls had sent letters to their friends and relatives asking if it would be convenient to entertain them. Some favorable answers had been received, others were delayed. There were no refusals.

"As soon as we know on whom we can depend, we can make up a schedule--'an itinerary'"--Betty had said. "We will know just where we will stop each night, so the folks can send us word, if they have to," she added.

"Why should they have to, unless something happens?" asked Amy.

"Oh, that five hundred dollar bill might be claimed," said Betty. "We'd want to know about that."

"And you haven't heard a word yet?" asked Grace.

"Not a word! I telephoned to the paper, and they said no replies had come in there. If that young man is depending on this money to make his fortune, I'm afraid he'll be broken instead of made, to use his own expression," and Betty sighed.

The warning bell had broken in on their talk, as it had on that of the rival girls. And then began the school day.

It was warm--very warm for that time of year, being early May, and as the members of the new Camping and Tramping Club looked from the open windows, out to where Spring was already forcing into bloom the flowers, and urging the trees to greater activity, as regards the tender green leaves, there came an almost overpowering desire to toss aside books and papers, and get out where the smell of the brown earth mingled with the perfume of growing vegetation.

The teachers, doubtless, found it difficult also, for the call of nature manifested itself to them, and the girls and boys, rather selfishly, did not make it as easy as they might.

The noon recess again brought the four friends together, and Betty showed a tentative program she had surreptitiously scribbled during a study period.

It contained the names of towns, with the available relatives of the girls set down opposite each one, and a rough calculation of the time required to walk from one place to the other.

"It seems as if we ought to start at once," exclaimed Mollie. "Aren't you just dying to go, Amy?"

"I am--yes." There was hesitation in the tones.

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Grace, quickly. "Are you ill, Amy?" for the girl looked pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes.

"No, I'm all right. But papa and mamma don't seem to want me to go--at least they say they rather I would not just at present."

"The idea!"

"After we have it almost all arranged!"

"Why not?"

These comments and the question were fairly shot at Amy.

"I--I don't know," she faltered. "At first they did not seem to mind--but last night--oh, I dare say it will, be all right, girls. Don't mind me," and Amy tried to smile, though it could easily be seen that it cost her an effort.

She did not want to tell that she had overheard her parents discussing something the night before that troubled her--a topic that had been hushed when she unexpectedly came into the room. And that it had to do with the proposed little trip Amy was sure. Yet Mr. and Mrs. Stonington had at first shown much interest in it, and had written to various relatives asking them to entertain the girls.

"Stuck up things!" murmured Alice Jallow, toward the close of the noon recess, when the four chums had kept to one corner of the school court, eating their lunches, and never joining in the activities, or talk, of the other pupils.

"I wonder what they can be planning?" murmured Alice. "If they're getting up a new society, we'll do the same, and we won't ask them to join."

"Indeed we won't," agreed her chum. "That Betty Nelson thinks she can run the school. I'll show her that she can't!"

"And if they knew what I know about Amy Stonington I don't believe they'd be so thick with her."

"What do you mean?"

"It's a secret."

"Oh, tell me, Alice," pleaded Kittie. "You know I won't ever tell--honest!"

"Promise?"

"Promise!"

"Well then--oh, come over here. There's that horrid Sadie Jones trying to hear what we're saying," and the two girls, arm in arm, strolled off to a distant part of the court.

The afternoon session wore on. The day grew warmer, the sky became overcast, and there was the dull muttering of distant thunder. There seemed a tension in the air--as if something was going to snap. Doubtless you have often felt it--a sensation as though pins and needles were pricking you all over. As though you wanted to scream--to cry out--against an uncertain sensation that gripped you.

In the various classrooms the droning voices were heard--of the pupils in recitations, or of the teachers as they patiently explained some point.

The thunder rumbled nearer and nearer. Now and then a vivid flash of lightning split the sombre clouds. At such times the nervous girls would jump in their seats, and there would follow hysterical, though quickly subdued, bursts of laughter from their more stolid mates, or the boys.

The four who were to go on the walking tour together were in the Latin class. Amy was standing up, translating--or trying to translate--a passage from Caesar. She halted and stammered, though usually she got perfect marks in this study.

"Take it a bit slower, Miss Stonington," suggested Miss Greene, the teacher. "That is very good. You should know that word--nequaquam--take your time."

"Nequaquam" said Amy faintly, "not ever--"

There was a titter from Alice Jallow, in which Kittie Rossmore joined. Poor Amy looked distressed. Tears came into her eyes.

There shot across the black heavens a vivid flash of lightning, and a bursting crash so promptly came echoing that nearly every one of the girls started from her desk, and a number screamed, while even the boys were startled.

Then, with a low moan, Amy swayed, and fell backward into the arms of Betty.

"She's fainted!" exclaimed Miss Greene. "Girls, keep quiet! Some one get me a glass of water!"

There was a stir among the boys who occupied one side of the big room, and Frank Haley hastened out.