Chapter 1

1050 Words
Chapter 1 Hartford Women’s College February 1896 Perhaps one could grow accustomed to the sound of female shrieks at dawn, but Professor Concordia Wells thought otherwise. Today, an out-an-out caterwauling yanked her from sleep. Mercy! What now? Groping for her eye glasses and wrapping herself in a shawl against the morning chill, she listened. Please not another mouse. It was remarkable how one small creature could produce such an uproar. Last week’s intruder had led them a merry chase before Ruby trapped it in the dustbin. She tucked her feet under her, just in case. Overhead came laughter and the babble of voices mixed in with the wails. Concordia rolled her eyes in exasperation and sprang out of bed. No matter what had them in a pucker this time, she had to get them quiet in a hurry. With Willow Cottage being closest to DeLacey House, the residence of no-nonsense Lady Principal Hamilton, the disturbance was bound to reach her ears. Concordia was the cottage’s teacher-in-charge, and responsible for these students. The last thing they needed was Miss Hamilton descending upon them. She didn’t even bother to find her slippers, but stomped out of the room, her hair trailing in a fraying braid down her back. She groped her way up the steps in the dim early dawn light. Drat! She smothered a yelp as she stubbed her toe on a step. Reaching the first freshman room, the pain gave her additional fury as she flung open the door to a group of squalling girls. “Stop that noise at once!” she hissed. “Do you want to bring the lady principal down upon our heads? Do you remember the last time this cottage was put on restriction for unseemly behavior?” Startled, the girls stared, mouths open at the sight of the wild-haired, angry Miss Wells, hopping and rubbing her toe as she glared at them. Concordia didn’t realize that her appearance was more frightening at the moment than the abstract threat of restriction. “That’s better.” At least, there weren’t as many freshmen wailing now. Maybe they still had a chance to avoid the lady principal’s wrath. Concordia whipped out of the room and knocked on the door of the Head Senior, Miss Crandall. A bleary-eyed Charlotte Crandall stuck out her head. It was amazing what seniors could sleep through, Concordia thought. “Miss Crandall, can you help me get these freshmen settled down? Heaven only knows what has them in a twist this time.” Concordia knew she could count upon Miss Crandall, whose unruffled demeanor and quiet decisiveness carried weight with her peers. She would make a good teacher someday, if she chose that path. Miss Crandall suppressed a sigh as she pulled on her mantle and followed Concordia to the freshmen bedrooms. It took only a glance in the rooms of the sniffling girls—the pulled-out drawers, the cluttered vanity tables in more disarray than usual—for the Head Senior to appreciate the situation. “Ah,” the girl said, face clearing in understanding, “it’s Glove Night. That’s the problem.” “And what, pray tell, is Glove Night?” Concordia demanded. This last question sent up a fresh wail from one of the students, who was quickly hushed by the others. Concordia was new this year to Hartford Women’s College. But every school has its own set of customs and quirks, and she had seen her fair share of student high jinks in her previous teaching post. She knew she wasn’t going to like the answer. “It’s a prank the sophs play on the freshies. It usually happens in January, when we’ve returned from the winter recess,” Miss Crandall explained, smothering a yawn. “The sophomores slip into the freshmen bedrooms during the night and abscond with all of the dress gloves they can find. Then the freshies have to hunt them down.” Concordia groaned and closed her eyes. Splendid. A scavenger hunt for stolen gloves. This would not end well. “Where would they be hidden?” she asked. The freshman girls, some tear-streaked but all of them quiet now, huddled around Concordia, barefoot and still in their night dresses. Miss Crandall smiled. “Oh, all over campus.” She ticked off the list on her fingers. “Broom closets, the dining hall pantry, the ornamental fountain in the quadrangle—at least that’s drained in the winter—between stacks of books on the library’s shelves—” The senior girl broke off as Ruby Hitchcock, Willow Cottage’s house matron, huffed down the hall toward them. She was a short, stocky woman of middle age, at the moment clad in a dressing sacque and threadbare slippers. One quick look told her the whole story. “Ah, Glove Night,” Ruby said, nodding. “Why am I the last person to know about this?” Concordia demanded. Ruby gave a chuckle and waved the girls back into their rooms. “You’d best get dressed for chapel. It’s getting late. Go on, now!” The girls pouted but shuffled down the hall. Miss Crandall looked out the hall window at the brightening sky. “Ruby’s right, there’s not time to retrieve the gloves before morning chapel—the sophs usually plan it that way, frankly—so the girls will have to go bare-handed for now, and look for them later.” That was going to be distressing for the gloveless girls, Concordia knew: appearing in chapel bare-handed was akin to walking among the congregation barefoot. It simply could not be done without drawing attention to oneself. She could only hope that the usually strict Lady Principal would be understanding in this case. But this was the same woman who required the girls to be suitably gloved when they stood in front of the class to read their themes aloud. With a nod of thanks to Miss Crandall, Concordia followed Ruby back down the stairs. Does this happen every year?” Concordia asked the matron. Ruby nodded. “And those hiding places—the crazier the better, it seems,” she said. “They’re always trying to out-do each other. A couple of years ago, when Miss Crandall was a sophomore herself—she was a wild one back then—we found the gloves dangling from the beams of the chapel when we walked into the service.” She shook her head at the memory. “Land sakes, I could’n believe my eyes. Three dozen pairs of gloves, hanging from the ceiling. No one ever figured out how they managed that, but the custodian had quite a time of it, even with the tallest ladder, taking them all down.” “Don’t the freshman try to guard their gloves? Hide them away?” Concordia asked. “Oh, yes, the shrewd ones do,” Ruby answered, grimacing. “Sometimes the sophomores are right wicked, though, and wait a while, until the girls relax their guard.” Concordia sighed. Right wicked, indeed. Time to get dressed and face the day ahead. They still had chapel to get through.
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