Chapter IV. A Taunt.
 

With a great crash, a deluge of rain, a wind that swept the spray across the school room, and the rumbling of thunder, punctuated by vivid, hissing flashes of lightning, the storm broke. At once the tension--that of nature as well as that of the nerves of the girls--was relieved. A sound, like a great sigh, was heard in the room. There were one or two faint cries, some laughter, and the members of the class were themselves again. The balance had been restored.

"She will be all right presently," said Miss Greene, quietly, as she helped place Amy on a couch in her own private room. "Close some of the windows, girls, the rain is coming in."

Her firm and cheering words, and her calm manner, aided in the work of restoration that had begun when the nerve-tension was lessened. The girls were themselves again, most of them going quietly to their seats, while Betty and Grace helped Miss Greene restore Amy to consciousness. They had loosed her collar, and some ammonia had been procured from the physics laboratory by Frank, who also brought water.

"I can't imagine what made her faint," whispered Grace. "She never did such a thing before."

"Probably it was the storm," said the teacher. "I have often noticed that just before a severe electrical disturbance I felt 'like flying to pieces,' to put it crudely. Then when the rain came I would get calm again. I remarked that Amy did not seem quite herself while reciting, and perhaps I should have excused her, but I hoped, by letting her fix her attention on the lesson, that the little spell might pass over."

"It was that horrid Alice Jallow giggling at her!" declared Mollie, who had come softly into the room. "I could--" she clenched her hands, and her dark eyes gleamed.

"Mollie," said Betty softly, and the threatened fit of anger passed over.

"She will come to in a moment," remarked Miss Greene, as she saw Amy's eyelids fluttering. "It was just a nervous strain. I have seen it happen before."

"Not with Amy," declared Grace, positively.

"No; but in other girls."

"I do hope Amy isn't going to be ill," said Betty. "We want her to come on the walk with us."

"I have heard of your little club," said the teacher, with a smile. "The idea is a very good one; I hope you have a pleasant time. I think it will do all of you good. I wish more of my girls would take up systematic walking. We would have better recitations, I think."

"Poor Amy!" murmured Grace. "I wonder what could have caused it?" and she looked down at her pale, little chum.

"It was because Alice laughed at her!" declared Mollie, half fiercely.

"I think not," spoke Betty, softly. "Amy has not been quite herself of late. She--"

But she was not destined to finish that sentence, for the girl under discussion opened her eyes, and struggled to sit up.

"You're all right," said Miss Greene, softly. "Lie still, my dear."

"Where am I--what happened? Oh, I remember. Did I faint?" and she asked the question in some alarm.

"You did, my dear; but there was no harm in that," spoke Miss Greene softly, and she laughed in a low voice.

"I--I never did such a thing before. What made me?"

"The storm, Amy. It was the electrical disturbance, I think. My! how it rains!"

A perfect deluge was descending, but it had brought a calm to the waiting earth, and calm to tired girlish nerves as well. Amy sighed, and then sat up. The color came back into her pale face.

"I am all right now," she said, more firmly, and was soon able to walk.

"Stay here a little longer," urged Miss Greene, "Betty, Mollie and Grace may remain with you. I will go out to the other pupils. Some of them may be alarmed."

A crash of thunder almost smothered her words, and the girls started nervously. The three glanced apprehensively at Amy, but she smiled bravely and said:

"Don't worry about me. I'm all right. It was silly of me to go off that way."

The storm raged and tore about the school, and gradually spent its fury. Miss Greene gave up the attempt to have a Latin recitation, and the class was permitted to engage in general conversation.

It was the final period of the day, and soon school was over. Most of the girls remained, however, for few had brought rain coats or umbrellas, there being no hint that morning of the deluge that was to come. Then the rain gradually slackened, and the pupils departed.

"Don't come to school to-morrow, if you don't feel well," urged Miss Greene, as Amy and her chums left.

"Oh, I'll be all right," she brightly answered.

"I wish we were going to start on our tramp to-morrow!" exclaimed Betty as they walked along the damp country road toward their homes, the sweet smell of the newly-watered earth mingling with the scent of grass and flowers. "The country is just lovely now."

"It will still be as lovely next month," said Mollie. "Only two weeks more of school, and then we will be on our way."

"Do you feel all right, Amy?" asked Grace. "Have a--"

"No, she won't have a chocolate, if that's what you're going to say!" spoke Mollie, quickly. "Do you want to make her get worse?"

"I wasn't going to say chocolate--so there!" snapped the usually gentle-mannered Grace. "Don't be so quick, Billy."

"Oh, I beg your pardon," and the French girl showed her contrition. "I forgot you can think of something beside candy."

"I was going to ask her if she wanted my smelling salts," Grace went on, and Amy accepted the little bottle.

There was much talk that afternoon of the coming trip. Some further letters had been received from relatives who would welcome the girls at the various stopping places.

"This about completes our schedule," remarked Betty, as she noted down, on a map she had drawn, the names of some persons and places. "Everything is coming on fine, girls."

"Isn't it nice!" exclaimed Mollie.

"You're sure to come; aren't you, Amy?" asked Grace.

"Yes, of course--that is--" A shadow seemed to pass over her face, and then her pale cheeks became pink. "Oh, I guess you can count on me," she finally declared. "I was just thinking--oh, it doesn't matter. Let's see now, Betty, how many stopping places do you count on?"

"About eight. Of course there may be more, and we may have to stay in one place longer than I figure on, and we might skip some places altogether."

"What about the camp?" asked Mollie.

"I am arranging for that," spoke Grace. "Papa's half-brother lives in Cameron. He and his wife maintain a sort of camp there for those who love the woods and outdoors. Mamma has written, and arrangements will be made for us to have a cabin or bungalow there for a few days."

"Won't it be glorious!" cried Mollie, taking Amy in a waltzing hold and whirling about the room with her, while she hummed a dreamy song.

They were at Betty's house discussing their coming trip, and it was nearly supper time when they dispersed. Grace insisted on accompanying Amy part of the way home.

"I don't want you to faint again and be all by yourself," she said.

"Silly! I shall do nothing of the sort," declared Amy, but Grace had her way.

It was the next afternoon, when Betty and Grace were having a game of tennis on the court that had been laid out back of the High School, that Alice Jallow and Kittie Rossmore came past, arm in arm. They paused for a moment to watch the game, and during a lull Alice remarked:

"When does the tramping club start?"

"As soon as school closes," replied Betty, for the term ended unusually early that year.

"Have you the party all made up?" inquired Kittie, and it was evident that she had a reason for asking.

"Pretty much," answered Betty, wondering what was to follow. "It's your serve," she added to Grace.

"Alice and I are very fond of walking," proceeded Kittie. "We thought if the Camping and Tramping Club was to be a general one--that is, if you wanted more members--we'd like to join."

Betty caught her breath. It was a hard answer to give.

"I'm awfully sorry," she said softly, coming over to where Alice and Kittie stood. "If we had known before we might have arranged it. But our membership is limited to four now."

"You four, I presume," and there was almost a sneer in the voice of Alice as she looked at the four chums.

"Yes, it so happens. You see we are going to stop each night at the houses of friends or relatives, and of course--"

"I see--the accommodations are limited; are they?" and again that sneer was manifest.

"Yes, they are, I'm sorry to say," spoke Betty. "But why don't you girls form another club? You could easily do that, and we could be together all day, if not at night. Why don't you?" she asked, brightly.

"We might," said Alice, cooly. "Come on, Kittie," she added. "I guess we're not wanted here."

"The idea!" cried Mollie. "Betty, I've a good notion to--"

"Hush!" cautioned Betty, placing a hand on the arm of her impetuous chum. "Don't say anything. It will only make matters worse. They are trying to provoke us."

Kittie and Alice walked off, their arms about each other's waist, laughing heartily at something in which they seemed to find a good joke.

"Let us finish the game," suggested Betty quietly to Grace, and they did.

"I don't see how they could be so bold as to ask us," murmured Mollie.

It was one afternoon, a few days before the close of school for the term, which also would mark the start of the outdoor girls on their tramping tour that, as she was packing her books to leave her desk for the day, Betty saw a note fall out of her Latin grammar.

"That's strange," she murmured, half aloud, "I wonder who could have put that there? Who is it from, I wonder?"

"As if you didn't know!" laughed Amy, coming up behind her friend. They were alone in the classroom for the moment.

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Betty blushing slightly.

"I think I saw Will give Grace a note this noon," went on Amy. "Ah, secrets! And doesn't it happen that Will and Allen Washburn are quite chummy? If the initials A.W. aren't on that note, Betty--"

"Of course they're not! The idea! Allen Washburn needn't think--"

"Oh, I know he needn't send notes to you this way, but perhaps Will forgot to deliver it, and Grace just slipped it into your book, intending to tell you of it. Ah, Betty!"

"Silly. It isn't that at all. See, I'll let you read the note."

Hastily Betty unfolded it. There was but a single unsigned sheet of paper, and scrawled on it were these words:

"Before you go camping and tramping ask Amy Stonington who her father and mother are."