They all began talking at once about it, the men protesting that the girls had come out from the hiding place before nine.
“If you girls hadn’t nigged on the time, we’d have found you,” the men were arguing. There was a perfect bedlam of voices. Youth, which up to this time had eluded them, had slipped, slyly, unbidden, into their midst. Mother was thrilling to her finger tips.
“It was a night almost as warm as this,” the judge said, “and the moon was as gorgeous as it is to-night.”
Mother, in the stunning black and white silk, jumped to her feet.
“Let’s do it again!” she cried with an impulsive sweep of her hands. “To-night! It’s the nearest to Youth we’ll ever come in our whole lives.” She turned to the men on the steps. “The rules are the same, boys. Give us fifteen minutes’ start, and if you can’t find us by nine, we’ll come back here and you’ll buy the supper. If you find us, we’ll buy it. Come on, girls.”
As Joan of Arc may have led her armies, so Mother’s power over the others seemed to hold. In a wave of excitement, they rose to her bidding. Light of foot, laughing, the five women hurried across one corner of the campus. In the shadow of the oaks Mother stopped them.
“Is the same house still standing?” she asked breathlessly of Em.
“Yes, but others are built up around it now.”
“Come on, then!” With unerring feet, down to the same house where they had hidden twenty-nine years before, Mother led them.
“What if someone sees us?” giggled Nettie.
“We should worry!” said the head of the English Department, which was really the most remarkable thing that happened that night.
There it was–a house no longer new–but still standing, and as dark as the others near it. Evidently the occupants had gone to the concert. By the light of the moon they could see its high cellar window, still yawning foolishly open, waiting for them, just as it had waited before.
Against the window they placed a sloping board and climbed slowly up, one by one. Em went first, then Myra, and Nettie, and Julie, and, last, Mother. At least, Mother’s intentions were good. The window was about eighteen by twenty; and Mother, quite eighteen by twenty herself, stuck half way in and half way out. Up the street they could hear the old whistle–the boys calling to each other. Laughing hysterically, tugging desperately at her, the other four, after strenuous labor, pulled Mother down into the cellar, where, groping around in the dark, she found the cellar stairs and sat down. They were all shaking with laughter-spasms, that kind of digestion-aiding laughter which comes less often according to the ratio of the number of years you are away from Youth.
For some time, whispering and giggling nervously and saying “Sh!” constantly to each other, they sat in the black cellar.
SUDDENLY, an electric light snapped on over Mother’s head and the door above her opened. “What are you doing in my cellar?” snarled a voice as gruff as the biggest bear’s in “Goldlilocks.”
The giggling died as suddenly as though it had been chloroformed.
Cold as ice, Mother rose and faced the darkness above her. Then she said with all her Woman’s Club dignity–which is a special de luxe brand of dignity–“If you will allow us to come up there I think we can make a very satisfactory explanation.”
“You can explain to the town marshal,” answered the sour voice, and the owner of it slammed the door.
They sat down dismally and waited. They heard the telephone ring and then the wooden shutter of the cellar window was banged down and fastened.
“He needn’t have done that,” Mother said stiffly. It is claimed that house-breakers are often sensitive about their honor.
During the long wait every fiber of Mother’s brain concentrated on one word–disgrace. If the papers got hold of it! Even if they wrote it up as a joke! Imagine–to be written up as a joke at fifty-two!
There were footsteps overhead, and then the gruff voice, “Come up out of there now!”