THE ATTIC PARTY

“Nan,” said Jean, on Saturday morning, when she and Nan were the first
arrivals in the attic with a load of articles for setting the tables.
“Nan, don’t you remember how Jimmy used to be very mysterious about
some meeting of the boys? What if they had this society then,–the boys
about his age? You and I weren’t much interested in those days. How
long ago was it?”

Nan laughed. “You must be a mind reader, Jean. Do you know I came
across an old text of Jimmy’s last night. I was hunting a book I
wanted out of a lot put away in a closet, and off the shelf fell this
book, half open on the floor. I picked it up and straightened out a
few pages to put it back, and there was a funny picture on one of the
blank pages, or supposed to be blank, and a list of boys’ names. ‘Grand
Wizard, Jimmy Standish,’ led the list and I shut up the book in a
minute. It did not seem exactly honorable to look further, though why
Jimmy left it all in his old book I don’t know, if he cared anything
about keeping it a secret. I was going to tell you about it but forgot
it till you spoke just now. That was when he first went into high
school, four years ago, and at the beginning of the year.”

“Boys can keep a secret, then, if we can’t,” said Jean, with a wide
grin. “But I think it’s largely because we have different ideas about
such things!”

“Oh, of course, Jean,” assented Nan, matching Jean’s grin. “Never
acknowledge any superiority on their part; besides, we can keep still
about something real important, like somebody else’s secret, or keeping
quiet as we have this time till we get ready to be public.”

“Do you think that we’ll get through with everything by six o’clock,
Nan?” asked Jean, changing the subject suddenly. The urge of imminent
events was upon Jean’s shoulders as hostess and president.

“Of course we shall. Don’t worry. Your mother said that she would
direct the woman and see that everything to eat was all right and ready
on time. That’s off our hands. Our job of scrubbing was a good one.
It looks as neat as a pin everywhere, though I think we’d better dust
thoroughly before we set the tables.”

“Yes, and not a bit of soot will come through since Dad had everything
fixed, the chimney pointed up and the roof all mended.”

In a few minutes, Leigh and Phoebe came with baskets of extra silver
and china and napkins, for they were to use them rather than the usual
paper napkins with which they were content at the ordinary party.
Posters were now put up. Laughter and jokes went around. “You see,
girls, we’ll have plenty of room for the fun afterward. Just as soon
as the supper is over, we’ll clear everything away. Jimmy and Bob and
Billy will help us get the dishes downstairs. I’ll have the baskets
right under the eaves, all covered up and we’ll stack the soiled plates
and everything in them. Jimmy said there wouldn’t be much food left.
But we’re going to whisk everything in the candy line over on the
little table and let them nibble through the evening.”

“What will you do with the long table?”

“Have it taken apart and carried down to the shed right away.”

The S. P.’s worked busily all morning and part of the afternoon, but
by orders from mothers, they stopped before three o’clock to go home,
rest, and dress later. By half-past five o’clock they were all back
ready to receive their guests and wondering what those same guests
would wear. Word had gone out that it would be a costume party,
and they did hope that the Wizards would wear their own costumes,
presumably of their “orders,” if they had any.

The “witching witches” looked charming, Judge Gordon told them, in
their sibyl costumes, all yellow and brown and white, with different
badges of their mysterious orders. They had made pointed hats of
pasteboard covered with crepe paper and ribbon, and the narrow white
and yellow ribbons that they tied in a bow under their young chins were
very fetching, according to the judge. “If I wanted to have my fate
revealed,” said he, “I certainly would have no one consult the oracle
but one of these charming nymphs.”

“We are not nymphs at all, Daddy,” Jean objected. “We are sibyls, but
not necessarily ugly or old, and if we want to adapt history, why not?”

“Why not, indeed? It is the fashion now to write up history or
biography at the author’s pleasure and I doubt if some of the actors in
the tales that are told would recognize themselves. I’m sure that you
are a great improvement on the historic sibyl.”

The day had not been a very pleasant one, but the girls were thereby
consoled for the fact that they were too busy to take the usual
Saturday morning hike. A strong, cool wind blew making Miss Haynes
say that she would not find many of the little birds flying. This was
some consolation, for the girls had been interested in the migration
of the warblers, birds tiny and beautiful, of which they had scarcely
heard before and never seen to recognize. But clouds cleared away in
the afternoon and the wind ceased blowing. The furnace fire that the
judge had made in the morning was allowed to go down as the day warmed,
and the attic was made pleasant with very little heat, all its windows
open, for it was past the middle of May.

There were two main reasons for serving the dinner first of all. First,
it would have been difficult to manage carrying the food to the attic
with the presence of guests there. Second, nothing ever started up very
easily before refreshments, Jean declared, and it would be much easier
to have the stunts and games after the meal.

The Wizards arrived masked, and were met by the whole seven sibyls,
unmasked. Yellow draperies fluttered against the long black wizard
draperies or robes, as the girls flew around, congratulating them on
arriving in costume and together, and directing where the girls that
were coming should put their light wraps and find mirrors. Jean’s
cheeks burned rosily with excitement. It was beginning all right, at
least.

When the last guest had arrived, Jean, Molly and Nan slipped away, to
help take up the baskets of last things, and direct their placing.
Jimmy Standish slipped off his black robe long enough to carry up a
large kettle of hot peas, the big, flat basket with three large pans
of chicken pie, and pitchers of lemonade. Under Mrs. Gordon’s capable
management, nothing was omitted. A table in the corner was ready for
the hot food.

Then Leigh gave the word that each Wizard was to take his lady and
proceed to the attic. “You will meet your hostess at the top of the
stairs,” she said, “and you will find your place cards at the table.”

Exclamations of pleasure were heard by the happy sibyls as the
procession reached the attic and Jean waved them in the direction of
the long table.

“Gee, Jean, this is some attic!” said a Wizard.

“Why, who ever heard of an attic like this?” cried a senior girl. “You
have electric lights and rugs on the floor and–everything!”

It was a pretty scene. Judge Gordon had consented to having candles on
the table. These were yellow and white, a little brown supplied here
and there by a narrow crepe paper ribbon, among the table decorations.
Yellow and white flowers were not hard to find, for syringa and white
peonies happened to be in blossom and Leigh’s mother had some creamy
roses in her greenhouse.

The rugs were a temporary loan, except those in the inner sanctum,
and had been gathered up from the various S. P. homes. Interesting
decorations in different corners and the large posters caught the
young eyes at once, but they did not need much urging to find their
place cards at once, as Jean said that the “picture gallery would
be on display after supper.” The electric bulbs were covered with
yellow shades, but only two of them were turned on, as it was more
“intriguing,” Leigh said, to have the chief light come from the candles.

The long tables were covered with white linen. The fruit mixture known
as fruit cocktail was already at the places, also the salad, and plates
of rolls, jellies, honey, pickles and olives, were properly arranged,
to avoid much serving. As soon as the fruit was eaten, the girls
removed the glasses and plates and brought the savory plates of chicken
pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, and peas in little crinkled patties.
Mrs. Gordon served the chicken pie and Molly filled the patties with
peas, either of them putting on the potato and gravy, while Jean and
Nan hurried the plates to the table in record time. Then Mrs. Gordon
escaped to the regions below, where a genial judge would be more
genial when he had his supper. The waitresses, too, sat down to enjoy
themselves, for Jean would need only to replenish the fresh rolls from
the covered pans on the side table, or hop up to serve a second platter
of chicken pie, ready to be filled and passed. This was a supper where
everything was to be eaten up, and the Black Wizards did justice to it.
By the time they were ready for the ice-cream, they would have done
anything the S. P.’s wanted, so far as willing spirit was concerned,
but Jimmy told Jean that he hoped they wouldn’t be called on to perform
right after a “supper like that.”

“We shall dawdle over our ice-cream,” Jean assured him, “and no guest
of the S. P.’s is going to do anything he doesn’t feel like doing.”

“Hurrah,” said one sophomore Wizard, but he was silenced by a look from
the Grand Wizard which warned him that he must mind his p’s and q’s.

Mrs. Gordon, through with her own and the judge’s dinner, came up to
help with the change of courses, to put into the baskets the plates
brought from the tables by the girls and to serve the ice-cream.

“Did you S. P.’s bake this cake?” asked Danny Pierce, with a fork
neatly separating a bit from a piece of the cake known as devil’s food.

“No, we didn’t,” Jean replied, “but we’re going to learn. That is in
one of the S. P. departments, as you might say.”

“Cooking?” asked Danny.

“Yes. But we haven’t gotten to cakes yet.”

“Want any orders?”

“Why, yes. I hadn’t thought of it, but we’re going to make some money,
or try to. How about an order of fudge for your next meeting?”

“Fine–unless it’s too expensive.”

“The S. P.’s will be _very_ fair in their charges, especially if our
parents give us the materials. It won’t cost any more than buying stuff
down town.”

“You will depress trade, Jean,” said Bob Metcalf.

“Not enough to hurt, Bob.” Jean assured him with a dimple in her hot
cheek. Thank fortune, so far the party was a success.

After the meal, the guests were invited to inspect the picture gallery
while the tables were cleared and removed. Jimmy, Billy, and even the
judge coming up from below, carried baskets of dishes down to the
kitchen. “If this is going to be a permanent cafeteria,” said the
judge, “I’ll put in a lift for the girls. Who knows? Perhaps Jean will
support me in my old age with her sky parlor.”

“Great scheme, Judge,” said Jimmy. “You certainly would have customers
with meals like this.”

The picture gallery was examined with interest by the Wizards and by
the girls who had been invited. There was the Wizard picture, well
labeled. Several funny incidents at school had been recorded in art by
Phoebe. The seven sibyls had the faces of the real girls cut from old
snapshots and pasted on the figures. They were in their yellow robes,
which were carried out in long draperies that joined yellow streamers
and whirled around their heads. “The S. P.’s in a tornado,” suggested
John Taylor, a jolly sophomore and a friend of Billy’s.

But perhaps most of all they laughed at a series of drawings in crayon
by Phoebe that illustrated the different names the S. P.’s had been
called. She had been making them along for the fun of it without
telling the girls; and when she brought them that last afternoon of
their preparations for the Attic Party all proceedings were stopped for
a little while the girls laughed over them until they were breathless.
These were in outline and of cartoon style.

Here were the Strolling Pilgrims with field glasses and bulging
pockets, bending forward to look at a long-legged bird that was
wildly speeding away. Here were the Silly Peacocks before a mirror.
The Stormy Petrels hovered above a huge wave and had human faces. The
Swooping Pelicans were witches in that they wore peaked hats and had
brooms tucked under their wings. The Snooping Puffins, a particularly
opprobrious name, was illustrated by the outlines of a row of puffins
sitting on a rock and looking fiercely at an angular Black Wizard whom
a wave was about to engulf. Danny Pierce, whose brilliant mind had
evolved that name for the S. P.’s had the grace to blush when his eye
fell upon that picture. “Oh say, Phoebe, I didn’t mean anything by
that! You know S. P. can mean almost anything.”

“So it can, Danny. We’ve discovered that by this time,” replied Phoebe
with a mischievous look. “But we don’t mind. It’s been such fun. I did
a dozen of these to surprise the girls, and when we decided to give a
party I kept them till now.”

“You ought to study art, Phoebe, and do a lot with it, though how you
can in this little town, I don’t know.”

Phoebe looked sober for a minute. “I’m aching to study, Danny, but I’ll
just do what I can now. My father says it’s not where you live but what
you do with it,–any little talent that you think you have, he meant.
And lots of big people come from little towns, he says, because we get
some things here,–well, things they study about in big books, we can
just go out and see, easy as pie.”

“I wish I dared tell you what the Wizards are going to do this summer,
Phoebe.”

“I wish I dared tell you what we girls _want_ to do. Whether we’re
going to be allowed to do it or not is another question.”

But Danny went on around the sides of the attic walls, seeing the Sour
Persimmons hanging from a tree, mere faces with a round persimmon
body and a collar of the persimmon type; the Sobbing Poetesses that
wept into large bandannas; the Starchy Pedagogues that wore wide,
stiff robes and carried diplomas under their arms, and the Sad Prunes,
seven wrinkled faces, darkened and lying in a scoop such as is used in
groceries.

Flattering names like Sugar Plums, Seraphic Peaches or Peris, and Sweet
Partners, suggested by their elders, Phoebe had omitted, keeping only
to the more ridiculous combinations possible.

“Yes,” said Jean, “we are going to open up the _sanctum sanctorum_,
where we have our initiations and everything. To be sure, our secrets
are locked away, but you may see the caldron where with incantations
the sibyl,–but you will see that I can’t explain any more, of course.
And as soon as you’ve seen the room you may have your fortunes told by
the High Sibyl.”

Chatting, laughing boys and girls in costumes of all sorts, for the
girls came as fairies, Martha Washington, other historic ladies or even
gay rovers of a feminine type, all crowded into the room when Jean
threw open the door. If some of the girls were a little envious and
wished that they, too, belonged to the S. P.’s, they did not express
those feelings and admired the gay appointments as generously as
they could. The Wizards laughed at the peacocks in the curtains, and
tried the locked door of the closet as if they would break it open
to discover the secrets of the S. P.’s. One of the boys gave the knob
such a pull that it came off. The girls nearest squealed, and the Grand
Wizard said, “Look out there, no rough house!”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said Jean, as the boy looked rather dismayed
and stood with the white knob in his hand. “It was loose anyhow. It can
be fixed.”

“I’ll f-fix it myself,” stammered the boy, one of the sophomores, “if
you think I can do it without seeing what is in the closet.”

“We’ll see about that,” laughed Jean. “Honestly, Carter, I don’t care
one bit! Now who wants her fortune told first?”

Jean had been standing before some draperies in one corner, for she
really would have felt rather put out if any one had tried to see
behind them. Yet they concealed only a corner fronted by a sort of
mortar board partition which the girls had fixed themselves, and a
little swinging door, cut out and held in place by strips of muslin.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the sibyl’s cave. Even now she is
consulting Apollo–I guess it’s Apollo–about your future. You will
find on that table some little slips. Write on them your favorite
flower, your favorite study, your greatest ambition and the girl or
boy you like best. Your name is not necessary. Then, when you are
ready, I will hand them to the guardian of the cave and presently you
will hear the oracle speak. Oh, yes, number your slips, please, and
remember your number, for your own convenience, because they will be
handed in order to the Guardian, who will impart their information to
the sibyl. It wouldn’t do you any good to hear the first fortune, you
know, if you had forgotten that you were number one. The sibyl is very
peculiar. She’s something like that mad prophetess Jimmy was telling us
about that wrote her prophecies on leaves and let the wind blow them
every-which-way.”

It took a little while for the girls and boys to think up their
favorite flower, study, ambition and friend of the other sex, and some
of the more easily embarrassed omitted the last requirement, though
Jean told them that it was “very dangerous” to do so. There was much
chuckling and joking while all this was being done, but Number One was
ready before long. Then Jean drew aside the two curtains that were
directly in front and disclosed a low chair, behind which stood the
“Guardian” of the cave, her face concealed by a long veil of yellow
cheese-cloth, the same material as that in the girls’ costumes.

The swinging door, cut irregularly, and the mortar board around it had
been painted in gray and black to represent rocks over quite a surface
not hidden by gray draperies. These were fastened to the board, and
also covered what was really an old stove pipe, whose end protruded,
but was carefully pasted over outside, and inside for a short distance,
with more “gray rocks,” in heavy paper.

“After the Guardian has retired into the cave to carry your message to
the sibyl, you will take your turn in sitting in this chair, to listen
to your fates. Through this long tube of natural rock the oracle will
be declared!”

Jean did not try to keep her face straight as she made this dignified
speech, and the boys and girls had all sorts of funny comments to make
while she handed the slips to the priestess of the yellow veil, or
motioned to them to do so. Then she drew the curtains together again,
while the Guardian entered the cave, as she explained.

“These slips will be all mixed up, of course, and the great sibyl will
not know _who is Number One or Number Two_ when she receives these
slips. I do not myself know in what order you will be summoned.”

Again Jean drew aside the long curtains. A hoarse whisper issued from
the stove-pipe. “The oracle is ready. Let Number Thirty enter.”

This happened to be Jimmy, who sat in the little chair none too
comfortably, and had trouble to draw up his knees sufficiently for them
to be concealed behind the curtains when Jean drew them in front of
him. “Say, Jean, can’t a fellow have any air to breathe?” he asked.

“Plenty coming from the cave,” she replied. “The S. P. string quartette
will now render a number while the oracle speaks these secret fates.”

Attention was diverted from the oracle while the “string” quartette was
found to consist of Bess with her ukelele, Fran with her guitar, Phoebe
with an old banjo, on which she only pretended to play, and Nan with a
comb! But ukelele, guitar and Nan’s comb, together with the laughter
of the guests, made so much noise that Jimmy stuck his head out from
behind the curtains. “Say, the oracle says she can’t make me hear with
all that noise.” Jimmy was evidently enjoying himself, if he had been a
little hesitant about being the first victim.

The music grew softer immediately, but it was impossible to curb the
chatter, and, indeed, if there were any privacy to the fortunes, some
distraction outside was necessary.

After the first the fortunes were rapidly told, but in spite of the
whispered messages, the boys guessed pretty well who was the chief
sibyl, Leigh. It had to be either Leigh or Molly, for there were Jean
and the “string” quartette right before them.




“She’s right in that cabinet,” said Danny, coming out with a grin.

“No, she isn’t,” said Jean. “Don’t you know that sibyls only speak from
a great distance in some shrine or other?”

“But you wouldn’t say that this is one, would you, to be honest?”

“Well, I’m not saying; only she isn’t in this room.”

Leigh was enjoying herself. She had learned to tell clever fortunes
and with the concealment her shyness disappeared. It was not necessary
for her to have the slips, prepared with such care, for her “fortunes”
had been prepared beforehand with a good knowledge of each girl’s and
boy’s history, likes and dislikes. She was stationed just outside the
double windows, upon the tiny balcony there. The movable front of the
“cabinet” or “cave” extended sufficiently to allow the other end of the
stove-pipe to connect with Leigh and the balcony. Had any of the boys
gone out through the windows, they would have seen how it was managed.
But the couch on which the players sat had been placed in front of
the windows for the occasion, and until the time to admit the guests
the door of the _sanctum sanctorum_ had been locked. Molly, who could
see each occupant of the little chair, through a cleverly arranged
peep-hole, scribbled the name on a bit of paper and passed it to Leigh,
who read it by a flashlight. But it was a long time before any of the
boys knew how it had been managed.

After all the fortunes had been told, except those of the seven sibyls,
the company was invited out into the real attic stretches for games.
While Jean was starting these, Molly came from the cave, locked the
door on the inside and then admitted Leigh, who had been afraid someone
would see her if she climbed through the lighted windows. In darkness
Molly received her, and when they left the room they locked the door
behind them lest any investigator should discover their secret.

There was plenty of room for the usual games played at their parties
and after two or three, Jean, who had not forgotten the request of the
S. P.’s to the Wizards, clapped her hands together for quiet and said
with a deep bow to Jimmy, “We have with us to-night the secret society
known as the Black Wizards and we have hoped that they would give us
something far better than anything the S. P.’s can think up. The Black
Wizards, ladies and gentlemen!”

Great clapping of hands came from the ladies of the company, but Jimmy,
Grand Wizard of Wizards, had always thought that what the younger boys
had prepared to do was “too dumb.” He wasn’t going to have them show
themselves less smart than those cute S. P.’s.

“Madame president, or leader of the _Sibyl Priestesses_,” and
Jimmy emphasized that, “we greatly regret that after all this fine
entertainment the Black Wizards cannot now respond. In other words,
kids, we haven’t our stuff with us and can’t handle it in a strange
attic! But we hope to have a celebration some day, in our own quarters,
where we may show you what Black Magic can do!”

“Wow!” said Billy, who knew that Jimmy had made up the expression Black
Magic on the spot. But the boys were much relieved at being let off
from the stunt which they had prepared without any inspiration except
that of dire warnings from the seniors.

And all this time that boys and girls in the little town were
manufacturing mystery, less than fifty miles away, a young girl was
living it.