ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON
The Little Colonel Series
(Trade Mark, Reg. U. S. Pat. Of.)
Each one vol., large 12mo, cloth, illustrated
The Little Colonel Stories $1.50 (Containing in one volume the three stories, "The Little Colonel," "The Giant Scissors," and "Two Little Knights of Kentucky.") The Little Colonel's House Party 1.50 The Little Colonel's Holidays 1.50 The Little Colonel's Hero 1.50 The Little Colonel at Boarding-School 1.50 The Little Colonel in Arizona 1.50 The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation 1.50 The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor 1.50 The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding 1.50 The above 9 vols., boxed 13.50 In Preparation—A New Little Colonel Book 1.50
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The Little Colonel Good Times Book 1.50
Illustrated Holiday Editions
Each one vol., small quarto, cloth, illustrated, and printed in colour
The Little Colonel $1.25 The Giant Scissors 1.25 Two Little Knights of Kentucky 1.25 Big Brother 1.25
Cosy Corner Series
Each one vol., thin 12mo, cloth, illustrated
The Little Colonel $.50 The Giant Scissors .50 Two Little Knights of Kentucky .50 Big Brother .50 Ole Mammy's Torment .50 The Story of Dago .50 Cicely .50 Aunt 'Liza's Hero .50 The Quilt that Jack Built .50 Flip's "Islands of Providence" .50 Mildred's Inheritance .50
Joel: A Boy of Galilee $1.50 In the Desert of Waiting .50 The Three Weavers .50 Keeping Tryst .50 The Legend of the Bleeding Heart .50 Asa Holmes 1.00 Songs Ysame (Poems, with Albion Fellows Bacon) 1.00
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L. C. PAGE & COMPANY 200 Summer Street Boston, Mass.
The Little Colonel:
Maid of Honor
By ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON
Author of "The Little Colonel Series," "Big Brother," "Ole Mammy's Torment," "Joel: A Boy of Galilee," "Asa Holmes," etc.
Illustrated by ETHELDRED B. BARRY
BOSTON * L. C. PAGE & COMPANY * PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1906 BY L. C. PAGE & COMPANY (INCORPORATED)
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Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
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All rights reserved
First Impression, October, 1906 Third Impression, August, 1907 Fourth Impression, April, 1908 Fifth Impression, March, 1909 Sixth Impression, February, 1910
I. AT WARWICK HALL 1 II. AT WARE'S WIGWAM 19 III. IN BEAUTY'S QUEST 31 IV. MARY'S "PROMISED LAND" 43 V. AT "THE LOCUSTS" 58 VI. THE FOX AND THE STORK 70 VII. THE COMING OF THE BRIDE 88 VIII. AT THE BEECHES 113 IX. "SOMETHING BLUE" 136 X. "A COON HUNT" 158 XI. THE FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER 178 XII. THE WEDDING 198 XIII. DREAMS AND WARNINGS 216 XIV. A SECOND MAID OF HONOR 241 XV. THE END OF THE HOUSE-PARTY 258 XVI. THE GOLDEN LEAF OF HONOR 275
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"LLOYD ... TOOK HER PLACE BESIDE THE HARP" (See page 68) Frontispiece
"IT NEEDED NO SECOND GLANCE TO TELL HIM WHO SHE WAS" 20
"HE WAS LEANING FORWARD IN HIS CHAIR, TALKING TO JOYCE" 66
"A TALL, ATHLETIC FIGURE IN OUTING FLANNELS" 84
"A LONG-DRAWN 'O-O-OH' GREETED THE BEAUTIFUL TABLEAU" 132
"'ALL YOU GIRLS STANDING WITH YOUR HANDS STUCK THROUGH THE BARS'" 163
"'THEY STEPPED IN AND ROWED OFF DOWN THE SHINING WATERWAY'" 171
"'ONE, TWO, THREE—THROW!'" 253
THE LITTLE COLONEL,
MAID OF HONOR
AT WARWICK HALL
It was mid-afternoon by the old sun-dial that marked the hours in Warwick Hall garden; a sunny afternoon in May. The usual busy routine of school work was going on inside the great Hall, but no whisper of it disturbed the quiet of the sleepy old garden. At intervals the faint clang of the call-bell, signalling a change of classes, floated through the open windows, but no buzz of recitations reached the hedge-hidden path where Betty Lewis sat writing.
The whole picturesque place seemed as still as the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. Even the peacocks on the terraced river-front stood motionless, their resplendent tails spread out in the sun; and although the air was filled with the odor of wild plum blossoms, the breeze that bore it through the arbor where Betty sat, absorbed in her work, was so gentle that it scarcely stirred the vines around her.
With her elbows resting on the rustic table in front of her, and one finger unconsciously twisting the lock of curly brown hair that strayed over her ear, she sat pushing her pencil rapidly across the pages of her note-book. At times she stopped to tap impatiently on the table, when the word she wanted failed to come. Then she would sit looking through half-closed eyes at the sun-dial, or let her dreamy gaze follow the lazy windings of the river, which, far below, took its slow way along between the willows.
As editor-in-chief of The Spinster, there was good reason why she should be excused from recitations now and then, to spend an afternoon in this retreat. This year's souvenir volume bade fair to be the brightest and most creditable one ever issued by the school. The English professor not only openly said so, but was plainly so proud of Betty's ability that the lower classes regarded her with awe, and adored her from a distance, as a real live genius.
Whether she was a genius or not, one thing is certain, she spent hours of patient, painstaking work to make her writing measure up to the standard she had set for it. It was work that she loved better than play, however, and to-day she sighed regretfully when the hunter's horn, blowing on the upper terrace, summoned the school to its outdoor sports.
Instantly, in answer to the winding call, the whole place began to awaken. There was a tread of many feet on the great staircase, the outer doors burst open, and a stream of rollicking girls poured out into the May sunshine.
Betty knew that in a few minutes the garden would be swarming with them as if a flock of chattering magpies had taken possession of it. With a preoccupied frown drawing her eyebrows together, she began gathering up her papers, preparatory to making her escape. She glanced down the long flight of marble steps leading to the river. There on the lowest terrace, a fringe of willow-trees trailed their sweeping branches in the water. Around the largest of these trees ran a circular bench. Seated on the far side of this, the huge trunk would shield her from view of the Hall, and she decided to go down there to finish.
It would never do to stop now, when the verses were spinning themselves out so easily. None of the girls, except her four most intimate friends, would dare think of following her down there, and if she could slip away from that audacious quartette, she would be safe for the rest of the afternoon.
Peering through a hole in the hedge, she stood waiting for them to pass. A section of the botany class came first, swinging their baskets, and bound for a wooded hillside where wild flowers grew in profusion. A group on their way to the golf links came next, then half a dozen tennis players, and the newly organized basket-ball team. A moment more, and the four she was waiting for tramped out abreast, arm in arm: Lloyd Sherman, Gay Melville, Allison and Kitty Walton. Gay carried a kodak, and, from the remarks which floated over the hedge, it was evident they were on their way to the orchard, to take a picture which would illustrate the nonsense rhyme Kitty was chanting at the top of her voice. They all repeated it after her in a singsong chorus, the four pairs of feet keeping time in a soldierly tread as they marched past the garden:
"Diddledy diddledy dumpty! Three old maids in a plum-tree! Half a crown to get them down, Diddledy diddledy dumpty!"
Only in this instance Betty knew they were to be young maids instead of old ones, all in a row on the limb of a plum-tree in the orchard, their laughing faces thrust through the mass of snowy blossoms, as they waited to be photographed.
"Diddledy diddledy dumpty"—the ridiculous refrain grew fainter and died away as the girls passed on to the orchard, and Betty, smiling in sympathy with their high spirits, ran down the stately marble steps to the seat under the willow. It was so cool and shadowy down there that at first it was a temptation just to sit and listen to the lap of the water against the shore, but the very length of the shadows warned her that the afternoon was passing, and after a few moments she fell to work again with conscientious energy.
So deeply did she become absorbed in her task, she did not look up when some one came down the steps behind her. It was an adoring little freshman, who had caught the glimmer of her pink dress behind the tree. The special-delivery letter she carried was her excuse for following. She had been in a flutter of delight when Madame Chartley put it in her hand, asking her to find Elizabeth Lewis and give it to her. But now that she stood in the charmed presence, actually watching a poem in the process of construction, she paused, overwhelmed by the feeling that she was rushing in "where angels feared to tread."
Still, special-delivery letters are important things. Like time and tide they wait for no man. Somebody might be dead or dying. So summoning all her courage, she cleared her throat. Then she gave a bashful little cough. Betty looked up with an absent-minded stare. She had been so busy polishing a figure of speech to her satisfaction that she had forgotten where she was. For an instant the preoccupied little pucker between her eyebrows smote the timid freshman with dismay. She felt that she had gained her idol's everlasting displeasure by intruding at such a time. But the next instant Betty's face cleared, and the brown eyes smiled in the way that always made her friends wherever she went.
"What is it, Dora?" she asked, kindly. Dora, who could only stammer an embarrassed reply, held out the letter. Then she stood with toes turned in, and both hands fumbling nervously with her belt ribbon, while Betty broke the seal.
"I—I hope it isn't bad news," she managed to say at last. "I—I'd hate to bring you bad news."
Betty looked up with a smile which brought Dora's heart into her throat. "Thank you, dear," she answered, cordially. Then, as her eye travelled farther down the page, she gave a cry of pleasure.
"Oh, it is perfectly lovely news, Dora. It's the most beautiful surprise for Lloyd's birthday that ever was. She's not to know till to-morrow. It's too good a secret to keep to myself, so I'll share it with you in a minute if you'll swear not to tell till to-morrow."
Scarcely believing that she heard aright, Dora dropped down on the grass, regardless of the fact that her roommate and two other girls were waiting on the upper terrace for her to join them. They were going to Mammy Easter's cabin to have their fortunes told. Feeling that this was the best fortune that had befallen her since her arrival at Warwick Hall, and sure that Mammy Easter could foretell no greater honor than she was already enjoying, she signalled wildly for them to go on without her.
At first they did not understand her frantic gestures for them to go on, and stood beckoning, till she turned her back on them. Then they moved away reluctantly and in great disgust at her abandoning them. When a glance over her shoulder assured her that she was rid of them, she settled down with a blissful sigh. What greater honor could she have than to be chosen as the confidante of the most brilliant pupil ever enrolled at Warwick Hall? At least it was reported that that was the faculty's opinion of her. Dora's roommate, Cornie Dean, had chosen Lloyd Sherman as the shrine of her young affections, and it was from Cornie that Dora had learned the personal history of her literary idol. She knew that Lloyd Sherman's mother was Betty's godmother, and that the two girls lived together as sisters in a beautiful old home in Kentucky called "The Locusts." She had seen the photograph of the place hanging in Betty's room, and had heard scraps of information about the various house-parties that had frolicked under the hospitable rooftree of the fine old mansion. She knew that they had travelled abroad, and had had all sorts of delightful and unusual experiences. Now something else fine and unusual was about to happen, and Betty had offered to share a secret with her. A little shiver of pleasure passed over her at the thought. This was so delightfully intimate and confidential, almost like taking one of those "little journeys to the homes of famous people."
As Betty turned the page, Dora felt with another thrill that that was the hand which had written the poem on "Friendship," which all the girls had raved over. She herself knew it by heart, and she knew of at least six copies which, cut from the school magazine in which it had been published, were stuck in the frames of as many mirrors.
And that was the hand that had written the junior class song and the play that the juniors gave on Valentine night. If reports were true that was also the hand which would write the valedictory next year, and which was now secretly at work upon a book which would some day place its owner in the ranks with George Eliot and Thackeray.
While she still gazed in a sort of fascination at the daintily manicured pink-tipped fingers, Betty looked up with a radiant face. "Now I'll read it aloud," she said. "It will take several readings to make me realize that such a lovely time is actually in store for us. It's from godmother," she explained.
"DEAR ELIZABETH:—As I cannot be sure just when this will reach Warwick Hall, I am sending the enclosed letter to Lloyd in your care. A little package for her birthday has already gone on to her by express, but as this bit of news will give her more pleasure than any gift, I want her to receive it also on her birthday. I have just completed arrangements for a second house-party, a duplicate of the one she had six years ago, when she was eleven. I have bidden to it the same guests which came to the first one, you and Eugenia Forbes and Joyce Ware, but Eugenia will come as a bride this time. I have persuaded her to have her wedding here at Locust, among her only kindred, instead of in New York, where she and her father have no home ties. It will be a rose wedding, the last of June. The bridegroom's brother, Phil Tremont, is to be best man, and Lloyd maid of honor. Stuart's best friend, a young doctor from Boston, is to be one of the attendants, and Rob another. You and Joyce are to be bridesmaids, just as you would have been had the wedding been in New York.
"Eugenia writes that she bought the material in Paris for your gowns. I enclose a sample, pale pink chiffon. Like a rose-leaf, is it not? Dressed in this dainty color, you will certainly carry out my idea of a rose wedding. Now do not let the thoughts of all this gaiety interfere with your studies. That is all I can tell you now, but you may spend your spare time until school is out planning things to make this the happiest of house-parties, and we will try to carry out all the plans that are practicable. Your devoted godmother,
Betty spread the sample of chiffon out over her knee, and stroked it admiringly, before she slipped it back into the envelope with the letter. "The Princess is going to be so happy over this," she exclaimed. "I'm sure she'll enjoy this second house-party at seventeen a hundred times more than she did the first one at eleven, and yet nobody could have had more fun than we did at that time."
Dora's eager little face was eloquent with interest. Betty could not have chosen a more attentive listener, and, inspired by her flattering attention, she went on to recall some of the good times they had had at Locust, and in answer to Dora's timid questions explained why Lloyd was called The Little Colonel and the Princess Winsome and the Queen of Hearts and Hildegarde, and all the other titles her different friends had showered upon her.
"She must have been born with a gold spoon in her mouth, to be so lucky," sighed Dora, presently. "Life has been all roses for her, and no thorns whatever."
"No, indeed!" answered Betty, quickly. "She had a dreadful disappointment last year. She was taken sick during the Christmas vacation, and had to stay out of school all last term. It nearly broke her heart to drop behind her class, and she still grieves over it every day. The doctors forbade her taking extra work to catch up with it. Then so much is expected of an only child like her, who has had so many advantages, and it is no easy matter living up to all the expectations of a family like the old Colonel's."
Betty's back was turned to the terraces, but Dora, who faced them, happened to look up just then. "There she comes now," she cried in alarm. "Hide the letter! Quick, or she'll see you!"
Glancing over her shoulder, Betty saw, not only the four girls she had run away from, but four others, running down the terraces, taking the flight of marble steps two at a time. Gay's shoe-strings were tripping her at every leap, and Lloyd's hair had shaken down around her shoulders in a shining mass in the wild race from the orchard.
Lloyd reached the willow first. Dropping down on the bench, almost breathless, she began fanning herself with her hat.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Tell me quick, Betty! What is the mattah? Cornie Dean said a messenger boy had just come out to the Hall on a bicycle with a special-delivery lettah from home. I was so suah something awful had happened I could hardly run, it frightened me so."
"And we thought maybe something had happened at 'The Beeches,'" interrupted Allison, "and that mamma had written to you to break the news to us."
"Why, nothing at all is the matter," answered Betty, calmly, darting a quick look at Dora to see if her face was betraying anything. "It was just a little note from godmother. She wanted me to attend to something for her."
"But why should she send it by special delivery if it isn't impawtant?" asked Lloyd, in an aggrieved tone.
"It is important," laughed Betty. "Very."
"For goodness' sake, what is it, then?" demanded Lloyd. "Don't tease me by keeping me in suspense, Betty. You know that anything about mothah or The Locusts must concern me, too, and that I am just as much interested in the special lettah as you are. I should think it would be just as much my business as yoah's."
"This does concern you," admitted Betty, "and I'm dying to tell you, but godmother doesn't want you to know until to-morrow."
"To-morrow," echoed Lloyd, much puzzled. Then her face lighted up. "Oh, it's about my birthday present. Tell me what it is now, Betty," she wheedled. "I'd lots rathah know now than to wait. I could be enjoying the prospect of having whatevah it is all the rest of the day."
Betty clapped her hands over her mouth, and rocked back and forth on the bench, her eyes shining mischievously.
"Do go away," she begged. "Don't ask me! It's so lovely that I can hardly keep from telling you, and I'm afraid if you stay here I'll not have strength of character to resist."
"Tell us, Betty," suggested Kitty. "Lloyd will hide her ears while you confide in us."
"No, indeed!" laughed Betty. "The cat is half out of the bag when a secret is once shared, and I know you couldn't keep from telling Lloyd more than an hour or two."
Just then Lloyd, leaning forward, pounced upon something at Betty's feet. It was the sample of pink chiffon that had dropped from the envelope.
"Sherlock Holmes the second!" she cried. "I've discovahed the secret. It has something to do with Eugenia's rose wedding, and mothah is going to give me my bridesmaid's dress as a birthday present. Own up now, Betty. Isn't that it?"
Betty darted a startled look at Dora. "Well," she admitted, cautiously, "if it were a game of hunt the slipper, I'd say you were getting rather warm. That is not the present your mother mentioned, although it is a sample of the bridesmaids' dresses. Eugenia got the material in Paris for all of them. I'm at liberty to tell you that much."
"Is that the wedding where you are to be maid of honor, Princess?" asked Grace Campman, one of the girls who had been posing in the plum-tree, and who had followed her down to hear the news.
"Yes," answered Lloyd. "Is it any wondah that I'm neahly wild with curiosity?"
"Make her tell," urged an excited chorus. "Just half a day beforehand won't make any difference."
"Let's all begin and beg her," suggested Grace.
Lloyd, long used to gaining her own way with Betty by a system of affectionate coaxing hard to resist, turned impulsively to begin the siege to wrest the secret from her, but another reference to the maid of honor by Grace made her pause. Then she said suddenly, with the well-known princess-like lifting of the head that they all admired:
"No, don't tell me, Betty. A maid of honah should be too honahable to insist on finding out things that were not intended for her to know. I hadn't thought. If mothah took all the trouble of sending a special-delivery lettah to you to keep me from knowing till my birthday, I'm not going to pry around trying to find out."
"Well, if you aren't the queerest," began Grace. "One would think to hear you talk that 'maid of honor' was some great title to be lived up to like the 'Maid of Orleans,' and that only some high and mighty creature like Joan of Arc could do it. But it's nothing more than to go first in the wedding march, and hold the bride's bouquet. I shouldn't think you'd let a little thing like that stand in the way of your finding out what you're so crazy to know."
"Wouldn't you?" asked Lloyd, with a slight shrug, and in a tone which Dora described afterward to Cornie as simply withering.
"'Well, that's the difference, as you see, Betwixt my lord the king and me!'"
To Grace's wonder, she dropped the sample of pink chiffon in Betty's lap, as if it had lost all interest for her, and stood up.
"Come on, girls," she exclaimed. "Let's take the rest of those pictuahs. There are two moah films left in the roll."
"I might as well go with you," said Betty, gathering up the loose leaves that had fallen from her note-book. "It's no use trying to write with my head so full of the grand secret. I couldn't possibly think of anything else."
Arm in arm with Allison, she sauntered up the steps behind the others to the old garden, which was the pride of every pupil in Warwick Hall. The hollyhocks from Ann Hathaway's cottage had not yet begun to flaunt their rosettes of color, but the rhododendrons from Killarney were in gorgeous bloom. As Lloyd focussed the camera in such a way as to make them a background for a picture of the sun-dial, Betty heard Kitty ask: "You'll let us know early in the morning what your present is, won't you, Princess?"
"Yes, I'll run into yoah room with it early in the mawning, just as soon as I lay eyes on it myself," promised Lloyd, solemnly.
"She can't!" whispered Betty to Allison, with a giggle. "In the first place, it's something that can't be carried, and in the second place it will take a month for her to see all of it herself."
Allison stopped short in the path, her face a picture of baffled curiosity. "Betty Lewis," she said, solemnly, "I could find it in my heart to choke you. Don't tempt me too far, or I'll do it with a good grace."
Betty laughed and pushed aside the vines at the entrance to the arbor. "Come in here," she said, in a low tone. "I've intended all along to tell you as soon as we got away from Grace Campman and those freshmen, for it concerns you and Kitty, too. You missed the first house-party we had at The Locusts, but you'll have a big share in the second one. For a June house-party with a wedding in it is the 'surprise' godmother has written about in Lloyd's birthday letter."
AT WARE'S WIGWAM
In order that Lloyd's invitation to her own house-party might reach her on her birthday, it had not been mailed until several days after the others. So it happened that the same morning on which she slipped across the hall in her kimono, to share her first rapturous delight with Kitty, Joyce Ware's letter reached the end of its journey.
The postman on the first rural delivery route out of Phoenix jogged along in his cart toward Ware's Wigwam. He had left the highway and was following the wheel-tracks which led across the desert to Camelback Mountain. The horse dropped into a plodding walk as the wheels began pulling heavily through the sand, and the postman yawned. This stretch of road through the cactus and sage-brush was the worst part of his daily trip. He rarely passed anything more interesting than a jack-rabbit, but this morning he spied something ahead that aroused his curiosity.
At first it seemed only a flash of something pink beating the air; but, as he jogged nearer, he saw that the flash of pink was a short-skirted gingham dress. A high-peaked Mexican hat hid the face of the wearer, but it needed no second glance to tell him who she was. Every line of the sturdy little figure, from the uplifted arms brandishing a club to the dusty shoes planted widely apart to hold her balance, proclaimed that it was Mary Ware. As the blows fell with relentless energy, the postman chuckled.
"Must be killing a snake," he thought. "Whatever it is, it will be flatter than a pancake when she gets through with it."
Somehow he always felt like chuckling when he met Mary Ware. Whatever she happened to be doing was done with a zeal and a vim that made this fourteen-year-old girl a never-failing source of amusement to the easy-going postman. Now as he came within speaking distance, he saw a surrey drawn up to the side of the road, and recognized the horse as old Bogus from Lee's ranch.
A thin, tall woman, swathed in a blue veil, sat stiffly on the back seat, reaching forward to hold the reins in a grasp that showed both fear and unfamiliarity in the handling of horses. She was a new boarder at Lee's ranch. Evidently they had been out on some errand for Mrs. Lee, and were returning from one of the neighboring orange-groves, for the back of the surrey was filled with oranges and grapefruit.
The postman's glance turned from the surrey to the object in the road with an exclamation of surprise. One of the largest rattlesnakes he had ever seen lay stretched out there, and Mary, having dropped her club, was proceeding to drag it toward the surrey by a short lasso made of a piece of the hitching-rope. The postman stood up in his cart to look at it.
"Better be sure it's plumb dead before you give it a seat in your carriage," he advised.
Mary gave a glance of disgust toward the blue-veiled figure in the surrey.
"Oh, it's dead," she said, witheringly. "Mr. Craydock shot its head off to begin with, over at the orange-grove this morning, and I've killed it four different times on our way home. He gave it to me to take to Norman for his collection. But Miss Scudder is so scared of it that she makes me get out every half-mile to pound a few more inches off its neck. It was a perfect beauty when we started,—five feet long and twelve rattles. I'm so afraid I'll break off some of the rattles that I'll be mighty glad when I get it safely home."
"So will I!" ejaculated Miss Scudder, so fervently that the postman laughed as he drove on.
"Any mail for us?" Mary called after him.
"Only some papers and a letter for your sister," he answered over his shoulder.
"Now why didn't I ask him to take me and the snake on home in the cart with him?" exclaimed Mary, as she lifted the rattler into the surrey by means of the lasso, and took the reins from the new boarder's uneasy hands. "Even if you can't drive, Bogus could take you to the ranch all right by himself. Lots of times when Hazel Lee and I are out driving, we wrap the reins around the whipholder and let him pick his own way. Now I'll have to drag this snake all the way from the ranch to the Wigwam, and it will be a dreadful holdback when I'm in such a hurry to get there and see who Joyce's letter is from.
"You see," she continued, clucking cheerfully to Bogus, "the postman's mail-pouch is almost as interesting as a grab-bag, since my two brothers went away. Holland is in the navy," she added, proudly, "and my oldest brother, Jack, has a position in the mines up where mamma and Norman and I are going to spend the summer."
Three years in the desert had not made Mary Ware any the less talkative. At fourteen she was as much of a chatterbox as ever, but so diverting, with her fund of unexpected information and family history and her cheerful outlook on life, that Mrs. Lee often sent for her to amuse some invalid boarder, to the mutual pleasure of the small philosopher and her audience.
The experiment this morning had proved anything but a pleasure drive for either of them, however. Timid Miss Scudder, afraid of horses, afraid of the lonely desert, and with a deathly horror of snakes, gave a sigh of relief when they came in sight of the white tents clustered around the brown adobe ranch house on the edge of the irrigating canal. But with the end of her journey in sight, she relaxed her strained muscles and nerves somewhat, and listened with interest to what Mary was saying.
"This year has brought three of us our heart's desires, anyhow. Holland has been wild to get into the navy ever since he was big enough to know that there is one. Jack has been looking forward to this position in the mines ever since we came out West. It will be the making of him, everybody says. And Joyce's one dream in life has been to save enough money to go East to take lessons in designing. Her bees have done splendidly, but I don't believe she could have quite managed it if Eugenia Forbes hadn't invited her to be one of the bridesmaids at her wedding, and promised to send her a pass to New York."
She broke off abruptly as Bogus came to a stop in front of the tents, and, standing up, she proceeded to dangle the snake carefully over the wheel, till it was lowered in safety to the ground. Ordinarily she would have lingered at the ranch until the occupant of every tent had strolled out to admire her trophy, and afterward might have accepted Hazel Lee's invitation to stay to dinner. It was a common occurrence for them to spend their Saturdays together. But to-day not even the promise of strawberry shortcake and a ride home afterward, when it was cooler, could tempt her to stay.
The yellow road stretched hot and glaring across the treeless desert. The snake was too heavy to carry on a pole over her shoulder. She would have to drag it through the sun and sand if she went now. But her curiosity was too strong to allow her to wait. She must find out what was in that letter to Joyce. If it were from Jack, there would be something in it about their plans for the summer; maybe a kodak picture of the shack in the pine woods near the mines, where they were to board. If it were from Holland, there would be another interesting chapter of his experiences on board the training-ship.
Once as she trudged along the road, it occurred to her that the letter might be from her cousin Kate, the "witch with a wand," who had so often played fairy godmother to the family. She might be writing to say that she had sent another box. Straightway Mary's active imagination fell to picturing its contents so blissfully that she forgot the heat of the sun-baked road over which she was going. Her face was beaded with perspiration and her eyes squinted nearly shut under the broad brim of the Mexican sombrero, but, revelling in the picture her mind called up of cool white dresses and dainty thin-soled slippers, she walked faster and faster, oblivious to the heat and the glaring light. Her sunburned cheeks were flaming red when she finally reached the Wigwam, and the locks of hair straggling down her forehead hung in limp wet strings.
Lifting the snake carefully across the bridge which spanned the irrigating canal, she trailed it into the yard and toward the umbrella-tree which shaded the rustic front porch. Under this sheltering umbrella-tree, which spread its dense arch like a roof, sat Joyce and her mother. The heap of muslin goods piled up around them showed that they had spent a busy morning sewing. But they were idle now. One glance showed Mary that the letter, whosever it was, had brought unusual news. Joyce sat on the door-step with it in her lap and her hands clasped over her knees. Mrs. Ware, leaning back in her sewing-chair, was opening and shutting a pair of scissors in an absent-minded manner, as if her thoughts were a thousand miles away.
"Well, it's good news, anyway," was Mary's first thought, as she glanced at her sister's radiant face. "She wouldn't look so pretty if it wasn't. It's a pity she can't be hearing good news all the time. When her eyes shine like that, she's almost beautiful. Now me, all the good news in the world wouldn't make me look beautiful, freckled and fat and sunburned as I am, and my hair so fine and thin and straight—"
She paused in her musings to look up each sleeve for her handkerchief, and not finding it in either, caught up the hem of her short pink skirt to wipe her perspiring face.
"Oh, what did the postman bring?" she demanded, seating herself on the edge of the hammock swung under the umbrella-tree. "I've almost walked myself into a sunstroke, hurrying to get here and find out. Is it from Jack or Holland or Cousin Kate?"
"It is from The Locusts," answered Joyce, leaning forward to see what was tied to the other end of the rope which Mary still held. Seeing that it was only a snake, something which Mary and Holland were always dragging home, to add to their collection of skins and shells, she went on:
"The Little Colonel is to have a second house-party. The same girls that were at the first one are invited for the month of June, and Eugenia is to be married there instead of in New York. Think what a wedding it will be, in that beautiful old Southern home! A thousand times nicer than it would have been in New York."
She stopped to enjoy the effect her news had produced. Mary's face was glowing with unselfish pleasure in her sister's good fortune.
"And we're to wear pale pink chiffon dresses, just the color of wild roses. Eugenia got the material in Paris when she ordered her wedding-gown, and they're to be made in Louisville after we get there."
The light in Mary's face was deepening.
"And Phil Tremont is to be there the entire month of June. He is to be best man, you know, since Eugenia is to marry his brother."
"Oh, Joyce!" gasped Mary. "What a heavenly time you are going to have! Just The Locusts by itself would be good enough, but to be there at a house-party, and have Phil there and to see a wedding! I've always wanted to go to a wedding. I never saw one in my life."
"Tell her the rest, daughter," prompted Mrs. Ware, gently. "Don't keep her in the dark any longer."
"Well, then," said Joyce, smiling broadly. "Let me break it to you by degrees, so the shock won't give you apoplexy or heart-failure. The rest of it is, that you—Mary Ware, are invited also. You are invited to go with me to the house-party at The Locusts! And you'll see the wedding, for Mr. Sherman is going to send tickets for both of us, and mamma and I have made all the plans. Now that she is so well, she won't need either of us while she's up at the camp with Jack, and the money it would have taken to pay your board will buy the new clothes you need."
All the color faded out of the hot little face as Mary listened, growing pale with excitement.
"Oh, mamma, is it true?" she asked, imploringly. "I don't see how it can be. But Joyce wouldn't fool me about anything as big as this, would she?"
She asked the question in such a quiver of eagerness that the tears sprang to her eyes. Joyce had expected her to spin around on her toes and squeal one delighted little squeal after another, as she usually did when particularly happy. She did not know what to expect next, when all of a sudden Mary threw herself across her mother's lap and began to sob and laugh at the same time.
"Oh, mamma, the old Vicar was right. It's been awfully hard sometimes to k-keep inflexible. Sometimes I thought it would nearly k-kill me! But we did it! We did it! And now fortune has changed in our favor, and everything is all right!"
A rattle of wheels made her look up and hastily wipe the hem of her pink skirt across her face again. A wagon was stopping at the gate, and the man who was to stay in one of the tents and take care of the bees in their absence was getting out to discuss the details of the arrangement. Joyce tossed the letter into Mary's lap and rose to follow her mother out to the hives. There were several matters of business to arrange with him, and Mary knew it would be some time before they could resume the exciting conversation he had interrupted. She read the letter through, hardly believing the magnitude of her good fortune. But, as the truth of it began to dawn upon her, she felt that she could not possibly keep such news to herself another instant. It might be an hour before Joyce and her mother had finished discussing business with the man and Norman was away fishing somewhere up the canal.
So, settling her hat on her head, she started back over the hot road, so absorbed in the thought of all she had to tell Hazel that she was wholly unconscious of the fact that she was still holding tightly to the rope tied around the rattler's neck. Five feet of snake twitched along behind her as she started on a run toward the ranch.
IN BEAUTY'S QUEST
"Fortune has at last—fortune has at last— Fortune has at last changed in our fa-vor!"
A hundred times, in the weeks that followed, Mary turned the old Vicar's saying into sort of a chant, and triumphantly intoned it as she went about the house, making preparations for her journey. Most of the time she was not aware that her lips were repeating what her heart was constantly singing, and one day, to her dire mortification, she chanted the entire strain in one of the largest dry-goods stores in Phoenix, before she realized what she was doing.
She had gone with Joyce to select some dress material for herself. It had been so long since Mary had had any clothes except garments made over and handed down, that the wealth of choice offered her was almost overpowering. To be sure it was a bargain counter they were hanging over, but the remnants of lawn and organdy and gingham were so entrancingly new in design and dainty in coloring, that without a thought to appearances she caught up the armful of pretty things which Joyce had decided they could afford. Clasping them ecstatically in an impulsive hug, she sang at the top of her voice, just as she would have done had she been out alone on the desert: "Fortune has at last changed in our fa-vor!"
When Joyce's horrified exclamation and the clerk's amused smile recalled her to her surroundings, she could have gone under the counter with embarrassment. Although she flushed hotly for several days whenever she thought of the way everybody in the store turned to stare at her, she still hummed the same words whenever a sense of her great good fortune overwhelmed her. Such times came frequently, especially whenever a new garment was completed and she could try it on with much preening and many satisfied turns before the mirror.
It was on one of these occasions, when she was proudly revolving in the daintiest of them all, a pale blue mull which she declared was the color of a wild morning-glory, that a remark of her mother's, in the next room, filled her with dismay. It had not been intended for her ears, but it floated in distinctly, above the whirr of the sewing-machine.
"Joyce, I am sorry we made up that blue for Mary. She's so tanned and sunburned that it seems to bring out all the red tints in her skin, and makes her look like a little squaw. I never realized how this climate has injured her complexion until I saw her in that shade of blue, and remembered how becoming it used to be. She was like an apple-blossom, all white and pink, when we came out here."
Mary had been so busy looking at her new clothes that she had paid little attention to the face above them, reflected in the mirror. It had tanned so gradually that she had become accustomed to having that sunbrowned little visage always smile back at her. Besides, every one she met was tanned by the wind and weather, some of them spotted with big dark freckles. Joyce wasn't. Joyce had always been careful about wearing a sunbonnet or a wide brimmed hat when she went out in the sun. Mary remembered now, with many compunctions, how often she had been warned to do the same. She wished with all her ardent little soul that she had not been so careless, and presently, after a serious, half-tearful study of herself in the glass, she went away to find a remedy.
In the back of the cook-book, she remembered, there was a receipt for cold cream, and in a magazine Mrs. Lee had loaned them was a whole column devoted to face bleaches and complexion restorers. Having read each formula, she decided to try them all in turn, if the first did not prove effective.
Buttermilk and lemon juice were to be had for the taking and could be applied at night after Joyce had gone to sleep. Half-ashamed of this desire to make herself beautiful, Mary shrank from confiding her troubles to any one. But several nights' use of all the home remedies she could get, failed to produce the desired results. When she anxiously examined herself in the glass, the unflattering mirror plainly showed her a little face, not one whit fairer for all its treatment.
The house-party was drawing near too rapidly to waste time on things of such slow action, and at last, in desperation, she took down the savings-bank in which, after long hoarding, she had managed to save nearly two dollars. By dint of a button-hook and a hat-pin and an hour's patient poking, she succeeded in extracting five dimes. These she wrapped in tissue paper, and folded in a letter. In a Phoenix newspaper she had seen an advertisement of a magical cosmetic, to be found on sale at one of the local drug-stores, and this was an order for a box.
She was accustomed to running out to watch for the postman. Often in her eagerness to get the mail she had met him half a mile down the road. So she had ample opportunity to send her order and receive a reply without the knowledge of any of the family.
It was a delicious-smelling ointment. The directions on the wrapper said that on retiring, it was to be applied to the face like a thick paste, and a linen mask worn to prevent its rubbing off.
Now that the boys were away, Mary shared the circular tent with Joyce. The figures "mystical and awful" which she and Holland had put on its walls with green paint the day they moved to the Wigwam, had faded somewhat in the fierce sun of tropical summers, but they still grinned hideously from all sides. Outlandish as they were, however, no face on all the encircling canvas was as grotesque as the one which emerged from under the bed late in the afternoon, the day the box of cosmetic was received.
Mary had crept under the bed in order to escape Norman's prying eyes in case he should glance into the tent in search of her. There, stretched out on the floor with a pair of scissors and a piece of one of her old linen aprons, she had fashioned herself a mask, in accordance with the directions on the box. The holes cut for the eyes and nose were a trifle irregular, one eye being nearly half an inch higher than the other, and the mouth was decidedly askew. But tapes sewed on at the four corners made it ready for instant use, and when she had put it on and crawled out from under the bed, she regarded herself in the glass with great satisfaction.
"I hope Joyce won't wake up in the night and see me," she thought. "She'd be scared stiff. This is a lot of trouble and expense, but I just can't go to the house-party looking like a fright. I'd do lots more than this to keep the Princess from being ashamed of me."
Then she put it away and went out to the hammock, under the umbrella-tree, and while she sat swinging back and forth for a long happy hour, she pictured to herself the delights of the coming house-party. The Princess would be changed, she knew. Her last photograph showed that. One is almost grown up at seventeen, and she had been only fourteen, Mary's age, when she made that never to be forgotten visit to the Wigwam. And she would see Betty and Betty's godmother and Papa Jack and the old Colonel and Mom Beck. The very names, as she repeated them in a whisper, sounded interesting to her. And the two little knights of Kentucky, and Miss Allison and the Waltons—they were all mythical people in one sense, like Alice in Wonderland and Bo-peep, yet in another they were as real as Holland or Hazel Lee, for they were household names, and she had heard so much about them that she felt a sort of kinship with each one.
With the mask and the box tucked away in readiness under her pillow, it was an easy matter after Joyce had gone to sleep for Mary to lift herself to a sitting posture, inch by inch. Cautiously as a cat she raised herself, then sat there in the darkness scooping out the smooth ointment with thumb and finger, and spreading it thickly over her inquisitive little nose and plump round cheeks. All up under her hair and down over her chin she rubbed it with energy and thoroughness. Then tying on the mask, she eased herself down on her elbow, little by little, and snuggled into her pillow with a sigh of relief.
It was a long time before she fell asleep. The odor of the ointment was sickeningly sweet, and the mask gave her a hot smothery feeling. When she finally dozed off it was to fall into a succession of uneasy dreams. She thought that the cat was sitting on her face; that an old ogre had her head tied up in a bag and was carrying it home to change into an apple dumpling, then that she was a fly and had fallen into a bottle of mucilage. From the last dream she roused with a start, hot and uncomfortable, but hardly wide awake enough to know what was the matter.
The salty dried beef they had had for supper made her intensely thirsty, and remembering the pitcher of fresh water which Joyce always brought into the tent every night, she slipped out of bed and stumbled across the floor toward the table. The moon was several nights past the full now, so that at this late hour the walls of the tent glimmered white in its light, and where the flap was turned back at the end, it shone in, in a broad white path.
Not more than half awake, Mary had forgotten the elaborate way in which she had tied up her face, and catching sight in the mirror of an awful spook gliding toward her, she stepped back, almost frozen with terror. Never had she imagined such a hideous ghost, white as flour, with one round eye higher than the other, and a dreadful slit of a mouth, all askew.
She was too frightened to utter a sound, but the pitcher fell to the floor with a crash, and as the cold water splashed over her feet she bounded back into bed and pulled the cover over her head. Instantly, as her hand came in contact with the mask on her face, she realized that it was only her own reflection in the glass which had frightened her, but the shock was so great she could not stop trembling.
Wakened by the sound of the breaking pitcher and Mary's wild plunge back into bed, Joyce sat up in alarm, but in response to her whisper Mary explained in muffled tones from under the bedclothes that she had simply gotten up for a drink of water and dropped the pitcher. All the rest of the night her sleep was fitful and uneasy, for toward morning her face began to burn as if it were on fire. She tore off the mask and used it to wipe away what remained of the ointment. Most of it had been absorbed, however, and the skin was broken out in little red blisters.
Maybe in her zeal she had used too much of the magical cosmetic, or maybe her face, already made tender by various applications, resented the vigorous rubbings she gave it. At any rate she had cause to be frightened when she saw herself in the mirror. As she lifted the pitcher from the wash-stand, she happened to glance at the proverb calendar hanging over the towel-rack, and saw the verse for the day. It was "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." The big red letters stood out accusingly.
"Oh dear," she thought, as she plunged her burning face into the bowl of cold water, "if I hadn't had so much miserable pride, I wouldn't have destroyed what little complexion I had left. Like as not the skin will all peel off now, and I'll look like a half-scaled fish for weeks."
She was so irritable later, when Joyce exclaimed over her blotched and mottled appearance, that Mrs. Ware decided she must be coming down with some kind of rash. It was only to prevent her mother sending for a doctor, that Mary finally confessed with tears what she had done.
"Why didn't you ask somebody?" said Joyce trying not to let her voice betray the laughter which was choking her, for Mary showed a grief too deep to ridicule.
"I—I was ashamed to," she confessed, "and I wanted to surprise you all. The advertisement said g-grow b-beautiful while you sleep, and now—oh, it's spoiled me!" she wailed. "And I can't go to the house-party—"
"Yes, you can, goosey," said Joyce, consolingly. "Mamma has Grandma Ware's old receipt for rose balm, that will soon heal those blisters. You would have saved yourself a good deal of trouble and suffering if you had gone to her in the first place."
"Well, don't I know that?" blazed Mary, angrily. Then hiding her face in her arms she began to sob. "You don't know what it is to be uh-ugly like me! I heard mamma say that I was as brown as a squaw, and I couldn't bear to think of Lloyd and Betty and everybody at The Locusts seeing me that way. That's why I did it!"
"You are not ugly, Mary Ware," insisted Joyce, in a most reproving big-sisterly voice. "Everybody can't be a raving, tearing beauty, and anybody with as bright and attractive a little face as yours ought to be satisfied to let well enough alone."
"That's all right for you" replied Mary, bitterly. "But you aren't fat, with a turned-up nose and just a little thin straight pigtail of hair. You're pretty, and an artist, and you're going to be somebody some day. But I'm just plain 'little Mary,' with no talents or anything!"
Choking with tears, she rushed out of the room, and took refuge in the swing down by the beehives. For once the "School of the Bees" failed to whisper a comforting lesson. This was a trouble which she could not seal up in its cell, and for many days it poisoned all life's honey. Presently she slipped back into the house for a pencil and box of paper, and sitting on the swing with her geography on her knees for a writing-table, she poured out her troubles in a letter to Jack. It was only a few hundred miles to the mines, and she could be sure of a sympathetic answer before the blisters were healed on her face, or the hurt had faded out of her sensitive little heart.
MARY'S "PROMISED LAND"
It was a hot, tiresome journey back to Kentucky. Joyce, worn out with all the hurried preparations of packing her mother and Norman off to the mines, closing the Wigwam for the summer, and putting her own things in order for a long absence, was glad to lean back in her seat with closed eyes, and take no notice of her surroundings. But Mary travelled in the same energetic way in which she killed snakes. Nothing escaped her. Every passenger in the car, every sight along the way was an object of interest. She sat up straight and eager, scarcely batting an eyelash, for fear of missing something.
To her great relief the peeling process had been a short one, and thanks to the rose balm, not a trace of a blister was left on her smooth skin to remind her of her foolish little attempt to beautify herself in secret. The first day she made no acquaintances, for she admired the reserved way in which her pretty nineteen-year-old sister travelled, and tried to imitate her, but after one day of elegant composure she longed for a chance to drop into easy sociability with some of her neighbors. They no longer seemed like strangers after she had travelled in their company for twenty-four hours.
So she seized the first social opportunity which came to her next morning. A middle-aged woman, who was taking up all the available space in the dressing-room, grudgingly moved over a few inches when Mary tried to squeeze in to wash her face. Any one but Mary would have regarded her as a most unpromising companion, when she answered her question with a grumbling "Yes, been on two days, and got two more to go." The tone was as ungracious as if she had said, "Mind your own business."
The train was passing over a section of rough road just then, and they swayed against each other several times, with polite apologies on Mary's part. Then as the woman finished skewering her hair into a tight knot she relaxed into friendliness far enough to ask, "Going far yourself?"
"Yes, indeed!" answered Mary, cheerfully, reaching for a towel. "Going to the Promised Land."
The car gave a sudden lurch, and the woman dropped her comb, as she was sent toppling against Mary so forcibly that she pinned her to the wall a moment.
"My!" she exclaimed as she regained her balance. "You don't mean clear to Palestine!"
"No'm; our promised land is Kentucky," Mary hastened to explain. "Mamma used to live there, and she's told us so much about the beautiful times that she used to have in Lloydsboro Valley that it's been the dream of our life to go there. Since we've been wandering around in the desert, sort of camping out the way the old Israelites did, we've got into the way of calling that our promised land."
"Well, I wouldn't count too much on it," advised the woman, sourly. "They say distance lends enchantment, and things hardly ever turn out as nice as you think they're going to."
"They do at our house," persisted Mary, with unfailing cheerfulness. "They generally turn out nicer."
Evidently her companion felt the worse for a night in a sleeper and had not yet been set to rights with the world by her morning cup of coffee, for she answered as if Mary's rose-colored view of life so early in the day irritated her.
"Well, maybe your folks are an exception to the rule," she said, sharply, "but I know how it is with the world in general. Even old Moses himself didn't have his journey turn out the way he expected to. He looked forward to his promised land for forty years, and then didn't get to put foot on it."
"But he got to go to heaven instead," persisted Mary, triumphantly, "and that's the best thing that could happen to anybody, especially if you're one hundred and twenty years old."
There was no answer to this statement, and another passenger appearing at the dressing-room door just then, the woman remarked something about two being company and three a crowd, and squeezed past Mary to let the newcomer take her place.
"She was more crowd than company," remarked Mary confidentially to the last arrival. "She took up most as much room as two people, and it's awful the way she looks on the dark side of things."
There was an amused twinkle in the newcomer's eyes. She was a much younger woman than the one whose place she had taken, and evidently it was no trial for her to be sociable before breakfast. In a few minutes she knew all about the promised land to which the little pilgrim was journeying, and showed such friendly interest in the wedding and the other delights in store for her that Mary lingered over her toilet as long as possible, in order to prolong the pleasure of having such an attentive audience.
But she found others just as attentive before the day was over. The grateful mother whose baby she played with, welcomed her advances as she would have welcomed sunshine on a rainy day. The tired tourists who yawned over their time-tables, found her enthusiastic interest in everybody the most refreshing thing they had met in their travels. By night she was on speaking terms with nearly everybody in the car, and at last, when the long journey was done, a host of good wishes and good-byes followed her all down the aisle, as her new-made friends watched her departure, when the train slowed into the Union Depot in Louisville. She little dreamed what an apostle of good cheer she had been on her journey, or how long her eager little face and odd remarks would be remembered by her fellow passengers.
All she thought of as the train stopped was that at last she had reached her promised land.
Those of the passengers who had thrust their heads out of the windows, saw a tall, broad-shouldered young man come hurrying along toward the girls, and heard Joyce exclaim in surprise, "Why, Rob Moore! Who ever dreamed of seeing you here? I thought you were in college?"
"So I was till day before yesterday," he answered, as they shook hands like the best of old friends. "But grandfather was so ill they telegraphed for me, and I got leave of absence for the rest of the term. We were desperately alarmed about him, but 'all's well that ends well,' He is out of danger now, and it gave me this chance of coming to meet you."
Mary, standing at one side, watched in admiring silence the easy grace of his greeting and the masterful way in which he took possession of Joyce's suit-case and trunk checks. When he turned to her to acknowledge his introduction as respectfully as if she had been forty instead of fourteen, her admiration shot up like mercury in a thermometer. She had felt all along that she knew Rob Moore intimately, having heard so much of his past escapades from Joyce and Lloyd. It was Rob who had given Joyce the little fox terrier, Bob, which had been such a joy to the whole family. It was Rob who had shared all the interesting life at The Locusts which she had heard pictured so vividly that she had long felt that she even knew exactly how he looked. It was somewhat of a shock to find him grown up into this dignified young fellow, broad of shoulders and over six feet tall.
As he led the way out to the street and hailed a passing car, he explained why Lloyd had not come in to meet them, adding, "Your train was two hours late, so I telephoned out to Mrs. Sherman that we would have lunch in town. I'll take you around to Benedict's."
Mary had never eaten in a restaurant before, so it was with an inward dread that she might betray the fact that she followed Joyce and Rob to a side-table spread for three. In her anxiety to do the right thing she watched her sister like a hawk, copying every motion, till they were safely launched on the first course of their lunch. Then she relaxed her watchfulness long enough to take a full breath and look at some of the people to whom Rob had bowed as they entered.
She wanted to ask the name of the lady in black at the opposite table. The little girl with her attracted her interest so that she could hardly eat. She was about her own age and she had such lovely long curls and such big dark eyes. To Mary, whose besetting sin was a love of pretty clothes, the picture hat the other girl wore was irresistible. She could not keep her admiring glances away from it, and she wished with all her heart she had one like it. Presently Joyce noticed it too, and asked the very question Mary had been longing to ask.
"That is Mrs. Walton, the General's wife, you know," answered Rob, "and her youngest daughter, Elise. You'll probably see all three of the girls while you're at The Locusts, for they're living in the Valley now and are great friends of Lloyd and Betty."
"Oh, I know all about them," answered Joyce, "for Allison and Kitty go to Warwick Hall, and Lloyd and Betty fill their letters with their sayings and doings." Mary stole another glance at the lady in black. So this was an aunt of the two little knights of Kentucky, and the mother of the "Little Captain," whose name had been in all the papers as the youngest commissioned officer in the entire army. She would have something to tell Holland in her next letter. He had always been so interested in everything pertaining to Ranald Walton, and had envied him his military career until he himself had an opportunity to go into the navy.
Presently Mrs. Walton finished her lunch, and on her way out stopped at their table to shake hands with Rob.
"I was sure that this is Joyce Ware and her sister," she exclaimed, cordially, as Rob introduced them. "My girls are so excited over your coming they can hardly wait to meet you. They are having a little house-party themselves, at present, some girls from Lexington and two young army officers, whom I want you to know. Come here, Elise, and meet the Little Colonel's Wild West friends. Oh, we've lived in Arizona too, you know," she added, laughing, "and I've a thousand questions to ask you about our old home. I'm looking forward to a long, cozy toe-to-toe on the subject, every time you come to The Beeches."
After a moment's pleasant conversation she passed on, leaving such an impression of friendly cordiality that Joyce said, impulsively, "She's just dear! She makes you feel as if you'd known her always. Now toe-to-toe, for instance. That's lots more intimate and sociable than tete-a-tete."
"That's what I thought, too," exclaimed Mary. "And isn't it nice, when you come visiting this way, to know everybody's history beforehand! Then just as soon as they appear on the scene you can fit in a background behind them."
It was the first remark Mary had made in Rob's hearing, except an occasional monosyllable in regard to her choice of dishes on the bill of fare, and he turned to look at her with an amused smile, as if he had just waked up to the fact that she was present.
"She's a homely little thing," he thought, "but she looks as if she might grow up to be diverting company. She couldn't be a sister of Joyce's and not be bright." Then, in order to hear what she might say, he began to ask her questions. She was eating ice-cream. Joyce, who had refused dessert on account of a headache, opened her chatelaine bag to take out an envelope already stamped and addressed.
"If you'll excuse me while you finish your coffee," she said to Rob, "I'll scribble a line to mamma to let her know we've arrived safely. I've dropped notes all along the way, but this is the one she'll be waiting for most anxiously. It will take only a minute."
"Certainly," answered Rob, looking at his watch. "We have over twenty minutes to catch the next trolley out to the Valley. They run every half-hour now, you know. So take your time. It will give me a chance to talk to Mary. She hasn't told me yet what her impressions are of this grand old Commonwealth."
If he had thought his teasing tone would bring the color to her face, it was because he was not as familiar with her background as she was with his. A long apprenticeship under Jack and Holland had made her proof against ordinary banter.
"Well," she began, calmly, mashing the edges of her ice-cream with her spoon to make it melt faster, "so far it is just as I imagined it would be. I've always thought of Kentucky as a place full of colored people and pretty girls and polite men. Of course I've not been anywhere yet but just in this room, and it certainly seems to be swarming with colored waiters. I can't see all over the room without turning around, but the ladies at the tables in front of me and the ones reflected in the mirrors are good-looking and stylish. Those girls you bowed to over there are pretty enough to be Gibson girls, just stepped out of a magazine; and so far—you are the only man I have met."
"Well," he said after a moment's waiting, "you haven't given me your opinion of me."
There was a quizzical twinkle in his eye, which Mary, intent upon her beloved ice-cream, did not see. Her honest little face was perfectly serious as she replied, "Oh, you,—you're like Marse Phil and Marse Chan and those men in Thomas Nelson Page's stones of 'Ole Virginia,' I love those stories, don't you? Especially the one about 'Meh Lady.' Of course I know that everybody in the South can't be as nice as they are, but whenever I think of Kentucky and Virginia I think of people like that."
Such a broad compliment was more than Rob was prepared for. An embarrassed flush actually crept over his handsome face. Joyce, glancing up, saw it and laughed.
"Mary is as honest as the father of his country himself," she said. "I'll warn you now. She'll always tell exactly what she thinks."
"Now, Joyce," began Mary, indignantly, "you know I don't tell everything I think. I'll admit that I did use to be a chatterbox, when I was little, but even Holland says I'm not, now."
"I didn't mean to call you a chatterbox," explained Joyce. "I was just warning Rob that he must expect perfectly straightforward replies to his questions."
Joyce bent over her letter, and in order to start Mary to talking again, Rob cast about for another topic of conversation.
"You wouldn't call those three girls at that last table, Gibson girls, would you?" he asked. "Look at that dark slim one with the red cherries in her hat."
Mary glanced at her critically. "No," she said, slowly. "She is not exactly pretty now, but she's the ugly-duckling kind. She may turn out to be the most beautiful swan of them all. I like that the best of any of Andersen's fairy tales. Don't you? I used to look at myself in the glass and tell myself that it would be that way with me. That my straight hair and pug nose needn't make any difference; that some day I'd surprise people as the ugly duckling did. But Jack said, no, I am not the swan kind. That no amount of waiting will make straight hair curly and a curly nose straight. Jack says I'll have my innings when I am an old lady—that I'll not be pretty till I'm old. Then he says I'll make a beautiful grandmother, like Grandma Ware. He says her face was like a benediction. That's what he wrote to me just before I left home. Of course I'd rather be a beauty than a benediction, any day. But Jack says he laughs best who laughs last, and it's something to look forward to, to know you're going to be nice-looking in your old age when all your friends are wrinkled and faded."
Rob's laugh was so appreciative that Mary felt with a thrill that he was finding her really entertaining. She was sorry that Joyce's letter came to an end just then. Her mother's last warning had been for her to remember on all occasions that she was much younger than Joyce's friends, and they would not expect her to take a grown-up share of their conversation. She had promised earnestly to try to curb her active little tongue, no matter how much she wanted to be chief spokesman, and now, remembering her promise, she relapsed into sudden silence.
All the way out to the Valley she sat with her hands folded in her lap, on the seat opposite Joyce and Rob. The car made so much noise she could catch only an occasional word of their conversation, so she sat looking out of the window, busy with her thoughts.
"Sixty minutes till we get there. Now it's only fifty-nine. Now it's fifty-eight—just like the song 'Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians.' Pretty soon there'll just be one minute left."
At this exciting thought the queer quivery feeling inside was so strong it almost choked her. Her heart gave a great thump when Joyce finally called, "Here we are," and Rob signalled the conductor to stop outside the great entrance gate.
"The Locusts" at last. Pewees in the cedars and robins on the lawn; everywhere the cool deep shadows of great trees, and wide stretches of waving blue-grass. Stately white pillars of an old Southern mansion gleamed through the vines at the end of the long avenue. Then a flutter of white dresses and gay ribbons, and Lloyd and Betty came running to meet them.
AT "THE LOCUSTS"
Lloyd and Betty had been home from Warwick Hall only two days, and the joyful excitement of arrival had not yet worn off. The Locusts had never looked so beautiful to them as it did this vacation, and their enthusiasm over all that was about to happen kept them in a flutter from morning till night.
When Rob's telephone message came that the train was late and that he could not bring the girls out until after lunch, Lloyd chafed at the delay at first. Then she consoled herself with the thought that she could arrange a more effective welcome for the middle of the afternoon than for an earlier hour.
"Grandfathah will have had his nap by that time," she said, with a saucy glance in his direction, "and he will be as sweet and lovely as a May mawning. And he'll have on a fresh white suit for the evening, and a cah'nation in his buttonhole." Then she gave her orders more directly.
"You must be suah to be out on the front steps to welcome them, grandfathah, with yoah co'tliest bow. And mothah, you must be beside him in that embroidered white linen dress of yoahs that I like so much. Mom Beck will stand in the doahway behind you all just like a pictuah of an old-time South'n welcome. Of co'se Joyce has seen it all befoah, but little Mary has been looking foh'wa'd to this visit to The Locusts as she would to heaven. You know what Joyce wrote about her calling this her promised land."
"I know how it is going to make her feel," said Betty. "Just as it made me feel when I got here from the Cuckoo's Nest, and found this 'House Beautiful' of my dreams. And if she is the little dreamer that I was the best time will not be the arrival, but early candle-lighting time, when you are playing on your harp. I used to sit on a foot-stool at godmother's feet, so unutterably happy, that I would have to put out my hand to feel her dress. I was so afraid that she might vanish—that everything was too lovely to be real.
"And now, to think," she added, turning to Mrs. Sherman and affectionately laying a hand on each shoulder, "it's lasted all this time, till I have grown so tall that I could pick you up and carry you off, little godmother. I am going to do it some day soon, lift you up bodily and put you into a story that I have begun to write. It will be my best work, because it is what I have lived."
"You'd better live awhile longer," laughed Mrs. Sherman, "before you begin to settle what your best work will be. Think how the shy little Elizabeth of twelve has blossomed into the stately Elizabeth of eighteen, and think what possibilities are still ahead of you in the next six years."
"When mothah and Betty begin to compliment each othah," remarked Lloyd, seating herself on the arm of the old Colonel's chair, "they are lost to all else in the world. So while we have this moment to ou'selves, my deah grandfathah, I want to impress something on yoah mind, very forcibly."
The playful way in which she held him by the ears was a familiarity no one but Lloyd had ever dared take with the dignified old Colonel. She emphasized each sentence with a gentle pull and pinch.
"Maybe you wouldn't believe it, but this little Mary Ware who is coming, has a most exalted opinion of me. From what Joyce says she thinks I am perfect, and I don't want her disillusioned. It's so nice to have somebody look up to you that way, so I want to impress it on you that you're not to indulge in any reminiscence of my past while she is heah. You mustn't tell any of my youthful misdemeanahs that you are fond of telling—how I threw mud on yoah coat, in one of my awful tempahs, and smashed yoah shaving-mug with a walking-stick, and locked Walkah down in the coal cellah when he wouldn't do what I wanted him to. You must 'let the dead past bury its dead, and act—act in the living present,' so that she'll think that you think that I'm the piece of perfection she imagines me to be."
"I'll be a party to no such deception," answered the old Colonel, sternly, although his eyes, smiling fondly on her, plainly spoke consent. "You know you're the worst spoiled child in Oldham County."
"Whose fault is it?" retorted Lloyd, with a final pinch as she liberated his ears and darted away. "Ask Colonel George Lloyd. If there was any spoiling done, he did it."
Two hours later, still in the gayest of spirits, Lloyd and Betty raced down the avenue to meet their guests, and tired and travel-stained as the newcomers were, the impetuous greeting gave them a sense of having been caught up into a gay whirl of some kind. It gave them an excited thrill which presaged all sorts of delightful things about to happen. The courtly bows of the old Colonel, standing between the great white pillars, Mrs. Sherman's warm welcome, and Mom Beck's old-time curtseys, seemed to usher them into a fascinating story-book sort of life, far more interesting than any Mary had yet read.
Several hours later, sitting in the long drawing-room, she wondered if she could be the same girl who one short week before was chasing across the desert like a Comanche Indian, beating the bushes for rattlesnakes, or washing dishes in the hot little kitchen of the Wigwam. Here in the soft light shed from many waxen tapers in the silver candelabra, surrounded by fine old ancestral portraits, and furniture that shone with the polish of hospitable generations, Mary felt civilized down to her very finger-tips: so thoroughly a lady, through and through, that the sensation sent a warm thrill over her.
That feeling had begun soon after her arrival, when Mom Beck ushered her into a luxurious bathroom. Mary enjoyed luxury like a cat. As she splashed away in the big porcelain tub, she wished that Hazel Lee could see the tiled walls, the fine ample towels with their embroidered monograms, the dainty soaps, and the cut-glass bottles of toilet-water, with their faint odor as of distant violets. Then she wondered if Mom Beck would think that she had refused her offers of assistance because she was not used to the services of a lady's maid. She was half-afraid of this old family servant in her imposing head-handkerchief and white apron.
Recalling Joyce's experiences in France and what had been the duties of her maid, Marie, she decided to call her in presently to brush her hair and tie her slippers. Afterward she was glad that she had done so, for Mom Beck was a practised hair-dresser, and made the most of Mary's thin locks. She so brushed and fluffed and be-ribboned them in a new way, with a big black bow on top, that Mary beamed with satisfaction when she looked in the glass. The new way was immensely becoming.
Then when she went down to dinner, it seemed so elegant to find Mr. Sherman in a dress suit. The shaded candles and cut glass and silver and roses on the table made it seem quite like the dinner-parties she had read about in novels, and the talk that circled around of the latest books and the new opera, and the happenings in the world at large, and the familiar mention of famous names, made her feel as if she were in the real social whirl at last.
The name of copy-cat which Holland had given her proved well-earned now, for so easily did she fall in with the ways about her, that one would have thought her always accustomed to formal dinners, with a deft colored waiter like Alec at her elbow.
Rob dined with them, and later in the evening Mrs. Walton came strolling over in neighborly fashion, bringing her house-party to call on the other party, she said, though to be sure only half of her guests had arrived, the two young army officers, George Logan and Robert Stanley. Allison and Kitty were with them, and—Mary noted with a quick indrawn breath—Ranald. The title of Little Captain no longer fitted him. He was far too tall. She was disappointed to find him grown.
Somehow all the heroes and heroines whom she had looked upon as her own age, who were her own age when the interesting things she knew about them had happened, were all grown up. Her first disappointment had been in Rob, then in Betty. For this Betty was not the one Joyce had pictured in her stories of the first house-party. This one had long dresses, and her curly hair was tucked up on her head in such a bewitchingly young-ladified way that Mary was in awe of her at first. She was not disappointed in her now, however, and no longer in awe, since Betty had piloted her over the place, swinging hands with her in as friendly a fashion as if she were no older than Hazel Lee, and telling the way she looked when she saw The Locusts for the first time—a timid little country girl in a sunbonnet, with a wicker basket on her arm.
The military uniforms lent an air of distinction to the scene, and Allison and Kitty each began a conversation in such a vivacious way, that Mary found it difficult to decide which group to attach herself to. She did not want to lose a word that any one was saying, and the effort to listen to several separate conversations was as much of a strain as trying to watch three rings at the circus.
Through the laughter and the repartee of the young people she heard Mrs. Walton say to Mr. Sherman: "Yes, only second lieutenants, but I've been an army woman long enough to appreciate them as they deserve. They have no rank to speak of, few privileges, are always expected to do the agreeable to visitors (and they do it), obliged to give up their quarters at a moment's notice, take the duties nobody else wants, be cheerful under all conditions, and ready for anything. It is an exception when a second lieutenant is not dear and fascinating. As for these two, I am doubly fond of them, for their fathers were army men before them, and old-time friends of ours. George I knew as a little lad in Washington. I must tell you of an adventure of his, that shows what a sterling fellow he is."
Mary heard only part of the anecdote, for at the same time Kitty was telling an uproariously funny joke on Ranald, and all the rest were laughing. But she heard enough to make her take a second look at Lieutenant Logan. He was leaning forward in his chair, talking to Joyce with an air of flattering interest. And Joyce, in one of her new dresses, her face flushed a little from the unusual excitement, was talking her best and looking her prettiest.
"She's having a good time just like other girls," thought Mary, thankfully. "This will make up for lots of lonely times in the desert, when she was homesick for the high-school girls and boys at Plainsville. It would be fine if things would turn out so that Joyce liked an army man. If she married one and lived at a post she'd invite me to visit her. Lieutenant Logan might be a general some day, and it would be nice to have a great man in the family. I wish mamma and Jack and Holland could see what a good time we are having."
It did not occur to Mary that, curled up in a big chair in the corner, she was taking no more active share in the good times than the portraits on the wall. Her eager smile and the alert happy look in her eyes showed that she was all a-tingle with the unusual pleasure the evening was affording her. She laughed and looked and listened, sure that the scene she was enjoying was as good as a play. She had never seen a play, it is true; but she had read of them, and of player folk, until she knew she was fitted to judge of such things.
It was a pleasure just to watch the gleam of the soft candle-light on Kitty's red ribbons, or on the string of gold beads around Allison's white throat. Maybe it was the candle-light which threw such a soft glamour over everything and made it seem that the pretty girls and the young lieutenants were only portraits out of a beautiful old past who had stepped down from their frames for a little while. Yet when Mary glanced up, the soldier boy was still in his picture on the wall, and the beautiful girl with the June rose in her hair was still in her frame, standing beside her harp, her white hand resting on its shining strings.
"It is my grandmothah Amanthis," explained Lloyd in answer to the lieutenant's question, as his gaze also rested admiringly on it. "Yes, this is the same harp you see in the painting. Yes, I play a little. I learned to please grandfathah."
Then, a moment later, Mary reached the crown of her evening's enjoyment, for Lloyd, in response to many voices, took her place beside the harp below the picture, and struck a few deep, rich chords. Then, with an airy running accompaniment, she began the Dove Song from the play of "The Princess Winsome:"
"Flutter and fly, flutter and fly, Bear him my heart of gold."
It was all as Mary had imagined it would be, a hundred times in her day-dreams, only far sweeter and more beautiful. She had not thought how the white sleeves would fall back from the round white arms, or how her voice would go fluttering up like a bird, sweet and crystal clear on the last high note.
Afterward, when the guests were gone and everybody had said good night, Mary lay awake in the pink blossom of a room which she shared with Joyce, the same room Joyce had had at the first house-party. She was having another good time, thinking it all over. She thought scornfully of the woman on the sleeping-car who had told her that distance lends enchantment, and that she must not expect too much of her promised land. She hoped she might meet that woman again some day, so that she could tell her that it was not only as nice as she had expected to find it, but a hundred times nicer.
She reminded herself that she must tell Betty about her in the morning. As she recalled one pleasant incident after another, she thought, "Now this is life! No wonder Lloyd is so bright and interesting when she has been brought up in such an atmosphere."
THE FOX AND THE STORK
Lloyd Sherman at seventeen was a combination of all the characters her many nicknames implied. The same imperious little ways and hasty outbursts of temper that had won her the title of Little Colonel showed themselves at times. But she was growing so much like the gentle maiden of the portrait that the name "Amanthis" trembled on the old Colonel's lips very often when he looked at her. The Tusitala ring on her finger showed that she still kept in mind the Road of the Loving Heart, which she was trying to leave behind her in every one's memory, and the string of tiny Roman pearls she sometimes clasped around her throat bore silent witness to her effort to live up to the story of Ederyn, and keep tryst with all that was expected of her.
When a long line of blue-blooded ancestors has handed down a heritage of proud traditions and family standards, it is no easy matter to be all that is expected of an only child. But Lloyd was meeting all expectations, responding to the influence of beauty and culture with which she had always been surrounded, as unconsciously as a bud unfolds to the sunshine. Her ambition "to make undying music in the world," to follow in the footsteps of her beautiful grandmother Amanthis, was in itself a reaching-up to one of the family ideals.
When the girls began calling her the Princess Winsome, unconsciously she began to reach up to be worthy of that title also, but when she found that Mary Ware was taking her as a model Maid of Honor, in all that that title implies, she began to feel that a burden was laid upon her shoulders. She had had such admirers before: little Magnolia Budine at Lloydsboro Seminary, and Cornie Dean at Warwick Hall. It was pleasant to know that they considered her perfection, but it was a strain to feel that she was their model, and that they copied her in everything, her faults as well as her graces. They had followed her like shadows, and such devotion grows tiresome.
Happily for Mary Ware, whatever else she did, she never bored any one. She was too independent and original for that. When she found an occasion to talk, she made the most of her opportunity, and talked with all her might, but her sensitiveness to surroundings always told her when it was time to retire into the background, and she could be so dumb as to utterly efface herself when the time came for her to keep silent.
A long list of delights filled her first letter home, but the one most heavily underscored, and chief among them all, was the fact that the big girls did not seem to consider her a "little pitcher" or a "tag." No matter where they went or what they talked about, she was free to follow and to listen. It was interesting to the verge of distraction when they talked merely of Warwick Hall and the schoolgirls, or recalled various things that had happened at the first house-party. But when they discussed the approaching wedding, the guests, the gifts, the decorations, and the feast, she almost held her breath in her eager enjoyment of it.
Several times a day, after the passing of the trains, Alec came up from the station with express packages. Most of them were wedding presents, which the bridesmaids pounced upon and carried away to the green room to await Eugenia's arrival. Every package was the occasion of much guessing and pinching and wondering, and the mystery was almost as exciting as the opening would have been.
The conversation often led into by-paths that were unexplored regions to the small listener in the background among the window-seat cushions: husbands and lovers and engagements, all the thrilling topics that a wedding in the family naturally suggests. Sometimes a whole morning would go by without her uttering a word, and Mrs. Sherman, who had heard what a talkative child she was, noticed her silence. Thinking it was probably dull for her, she reproached herself for not having provided some especial company for the entertainment of her youngest guest, and straightway set to work to do so.
Next morning a box of pink slippers was sent out from Louisville on approval, and the bridesmaids and maid of honor, seated on the floor in Betty's room, tried to make up their minds which to choose,—the kid or the satin ones. With each slim right foot shod in a fairy-like covering of shimmering satin, and each left one in daintiest pink kid, the three girls found it impossible to determine which was the prettier, and called upon Mary for her opinion.
All in a flutter of importance, she was surveying the pretty exhibit of outstretched feet, when Mom Beck appeared at the door with a message from Mrs. Sherman. There was a guest for Miss Mary in the library. Would she please go down at once. Her curiosity was almost as great as her reluctance to leave such an interesting scene. She stood in the middle of the floor, wringing her hands.
"Oh, if I could only be in two places at once!" she exclaimed. "But maybe whoever it is won't stay long, and I can get back before you decide."
Hurrying down the stairs, she went into the library, where Mrs. Sherman was waiting for her.
"This is one of our little neighbors, Mary," she said, "Girlie Dinsmore."
A small-featured child of twelve, with pale blue eyes and long, pale flaxen curls, came forward to meet her. To Mary's horror, she held a doll in her arms almost as large as herself, and on the table beside her stood a huge toy trunk.