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CHAPTER I—BELL WINSHIP’s EXPERIMENT
MARCH had come in like a lion, and showed no sign of going out like a lamb. The pussy willows knew that it was, or ought to be, spring, but although it takes a deal to discourage a New England pussy willow, they shivered in their brown skins and despaired of making their annual appearance even by April Fool’s Hay. The swallows still lingered in the South, having received private advices from the snow-birds that State o’ Maine weather, in the present season, was only fitted for Arctic explorers. The air was keen and nipping and the wind blew steadily from the north and howled about the chimneys until one hardly knew whether to hug the warmth of the open fire or to go out and battle with the elements.

Little did the rosy girls of the Wareham Female Seminary (girls were still “young females” when all this happened)—little did they care about snow and sleet and ice. Studies went on all the better with the afternoon skating and sliding to look forward to. What joy to perch in the window-seat with your volume of Virgil, and translate “Hoc opus hic labor est” with half an eye on the gleaming ice of the pond, or the glittering crust of the hillsides! What fun to slip on your rubber boots, muffle yourself in your warm coat (made out of mother’s old mink cape), and run across the way to the Academy for recitations in mathematics or philosophy!

These joys, however, with their attendant responsibilities, duties, and cares, were to be suspended for a while at the Wareham Seminary, and the “young females” who graced that institution of learning were not inconsolable.

Bell Winship, an uncommonly nice girl herself and a born leader of other nice girls, had sent out five mysteriously worded notes that morning, five little notes to as many little maids, requesting the honor of their presence at ten a. m. precisely, in Number 27, Second floor.

Where Bell Winship wished girls to be, there they always were, and on the minute, too, lest they should miss something; so there is nothing remarkable in this statement of the fact, that at ten o’clock in the morning, Number 27, Second floor, of the Wareham Female Seminary seemed to be overflowing with girls, although in reality there were but six, all told.

The wildest curiosity prevailed, and it was very imperfectly controlled, but, at length, the hostess, mounting a shoebox, spoke with great dignity in these words:

“Fellow-countrywomen: Whereas, our recitation-hall has been burned to the ground, thereby giving us a well-earned vacation of two weeks, I wish to impart to you a plan by which we can better resign ourselves to the afflicting and mysterious dispensation. You are aware,” she continued, still impressively, “that my highly respected parents are both away for the winter, thus leaving our humble cottage closed, and it occurred to me as a brilliant, if somewhat daring, idea, that we six girls should go over and keep house in it for a fortnight, alone and untrammeled.” Here the tidal wave of her eloquence was impeded by the overmastering enthusiasm of the audience. Cheers and applause greeted her. Everybody pounded with whatever she chanced to have in her hand, on any article of furniture that chanced to be near.

“Oh, Bell, Bell! what a lovely plan!” cried Lilia Porter; “a more than usually lovely plan; but will your mother ever allow it, do you suppose?”

“That’s the point,” answered Bell, gleefully. “Here is the letter I have just received from my father; he is a good parent, wholly worthy of his daughter:”

     Baltimore, March 6th, 18—.

     My dear Child:—We do not like to refuse you anything while
     we are away enjoying ourselves, so, as the house is well
     insured, you may go over and try your scheme. Your mother
     says that you must not entirely demolish her jelly and
     preserves. My only wish is that you will be careful of the
     fires and lights.

     I hope you won’t feel injured if I suggest your asking
     advice and suggestion of Miss Miranda and Miss Jane, who are
     your nearest neighbors. They will take you in charge anyway,
     and you might as well put yourself nominally under their
     care. Your uncle will, of course, have an eye to you,
     perhaps two eyes, and I dare say he could use more than the
     allotted number, but Grandmamma will lend him hers, no
     doubt.

     Write me a line every day, saying that the household timbers
     are still standing.

     Your weakly indulgent but affectionate

     Father.

“Isn’t he a perfect darling!” cried the enraptured quintette.

“I think,” said demure Patty Weld, “that before we permit ourselves to feel too happy, we had better consult our ‘powers that be,’ and see if we can accept Bell’s invitation.”

“I refuse to hear ‘No’ from one of you,” Bell answered, firmly. “I have thought it all over; spent the night upon it, in fact. You, Alice, and Josie Fenton, are too far from home to go there anyway, so I shall lead you off as helpless captives. Your mother is in town, Lilia, so that you can ask her immediately, and hear the worst; you and Edith, Patty, are only a half-day’s journey away, and can find out easily. I know you can get permission, for it’s going to be perfectly proper and safe. Grandmamma lives nearby, the Sawyer spinsters are the village duennas, and Uncle Harry can protect us from any rampaging burglars and midnight marauders that may happen in to pay their respects.”

So the “Jolly Six,” as they were called by their schoolmates, separated, to build many castles in the air. Bell, it was decided, was to go on to her country home in advance, and, with the help of a neighboring farmer’s daughter, prepare and provision the house for an unusual siege.

The girls had determined to have no servant, and their many ingenious plans for managing and dividing the work were the source of great amusement to the teachers, some of whom had been admitted to their confidence. Josie Fenton and Bell were to do the cooking, Jo claiming the sternly practical department best suited to her—meat, vegetables, and bread—while Bell was to concoct puddings, cakes, and the various little indigestible dainties toward which schoolgirl hearts are so tender. Alice Forsaith, the oldest of the party and the beauty of the school, with Edith Lambert............
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