THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOUSE PARTY
ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON
Author of "The Little Colonel," "Two Little Knights of Kentucky," "The Story of Dago," etc.
Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Boston L. C. Page and Company Publishers Colonial Press Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston. Mass., U.S.A.
* * * * *
Annie Fellows Johnston
The Little Colonel Series
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 above 8 vols., boxed 12.00
Illustrated Holiday Editions
Each one vol., small quarto, cloth, illustrated, and printed in color
The Little Colonel $1.25 The Giant Scissors 1.25 Two Little Knights of Kentucky 1.25 The above 3 vols., boxed 3.75
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 Asa Holmes 1.00 Songs Ysame (Poems, with Albion Fellows Bacon) 1.00
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I. THE INVITATIONS ARE SENT
II. "ONE FLEW INTO THE CUCKOO'S NEST"
III. "ONE FLEW EAST"
IV. "ONE FLEW WEST"
V. BETTY REACHES THE "HOUSE BEAUTIFUL"
VI. THE ENCHANTED NECKLACE
VII. BITS FROM BETTY'S DIARY
VIII. THE GYPSY FORTUNE-TELLER
IX. HER SACRED PROMISE
X. FOUND OUT
XI. SOME STORIES AND A POEM
XII. A PILLOW-CASE PARTY
XIII. MORE MEASLES
XIV. A LONG NIGHT
XV. "THE ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART"
XVI. A FEAST OF LANTERNS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"MALCOLM WENT ON CUTTING" (Frontispiece)
"'OH, RUN AND GET IT, QUICK, DAVY,' SHE CRIED"
"SHE SORTED THE RIBBONS AND EXAMINED THE GLOVES"
"BETTY BEGAN THE STORY"
"'I'M GLAD THAT I DON'T HAVE TO LIVE IN THE COUNTRY THE YEAR ROUND!'"
"THERE WAS ONE WILD SCREAM AFTER ANOTHER"
"'BUT WE CAUGHT THE CHICKENS AND BROUGHT THEM BACK!'"
"'LET'S ALL SIT DOWN ON THE STEPS'"
THE INVITATIONS ARE SENT.
Down the long avenue that led from the house to the great entrance gate came the Little Colonel on her pony. It was a sweet, white way that morning, filled with the breath of the locusts; white overhead where the giant trees locked branches to make an arch of bloom nearly a quarter of a mile in length, and white underneath where the fallen blossoms lay like scattered snowflakes along the path.
Everybody, in Lloydsboro Valley knew Locust. "It is one of the prettiest places in all Kentucky," they were fond of saying, and every visitor to the Valley was taken past the great entrance gate to admire the long rows of stately old trees, and the great stone house at the end, whose pillars gleamed white through the Virginia creeper that nearly covered it.
Everybody knew old Colonel Lloyd, too, the owner of the place. He also was often pointed out to the summer visitors. Some people called attention to him because he was an old Confederate soldier who had given his good right arm to the cause he loved, some because they thought he resembled Napoleon, and others because they had some amusing tale to tell of the eccentric things he had said or done.
Nearly every one who pointed out the imposing figure, which was clad always in white duck or linen in the summer, and wrapped in a picturesque military cape in winter, added the remark: "And he is the Little Colonel's grandfather." To be the grandfather of such an attractive little bunch of mischief as Lloyd Sherman was when she first came to the Valley was a distinction of which any man might well be proud, and Colonel Lloyd was proud of it. He was proud of the fact that she had inherited his lordly manner, his hot temper, and imperious ways. It pleased him that people had given her his title of Colonel on account of the resemblance to himself. She had outgrown it somewhat since she had first been nicknamed the Little Colonel. Then she was only a spoiled baby of five; but now his pride in her was even greater, since she had grown into a womanly little maid of eleven. He was proud of her delicate, flower-like beauty, of her dainty ways, and all her little schoolgirl accomplishments.
"She is like those who have gone before," he used to say to himself sometimes, pacing slowly back and forth under the locusts; and the bloom-tipped branches above would nod to each other as if they understood. "Yes-s, yes-s," they whispered in the soft lisping language of the leaves, "we know! She's like Amanthis,—sweet-souled and starry-eyed; we were here when you brought her home, a bride. She's like Amanthis! Like Amanthis!"
Under the blossoms rode the Little Colonel, all in white herself this May morning, except the little Napoleon hat of black velvet, set jauntily over her short light hair. Into the cockade she had stuck a spray of locust blossoms, and as she rode slowly along she fastened a bunch of them behind each ear of her pony, whose coat was as soft and black as the velvet of her hat. "Tarbaby" she called him, partly because he was so black, and partly because that was the name of her favourite Uncle Remus story.
"There!" she exclaimed, when the flowers were fastened to her satisfaction. "Yo' lookin' mighty fine this mawnin', Tarbaby! Maybe I'll take you visitin' aftah I've been to the post-office and mailed these lettahs. You didn't know that Judge Moore's place is open for the summah, did you, and that all the family came out yesta'day? Well, they did, and if Bobby Moore isn't ovah to my house by the time we get back home, we'll go ovah to Bobby's."
As she spoke, she passed through the gate at the end of the avenue and turned into the public road, a wide pike with a railroad track on one side of it and a bridle-path on the other. Two minutes' brisk canter brought her to another gate, one that had been closed all winter, and one that she was greatly interested in, because it led to Judge Moore's house. Judge Moore was Rob's grandfather, and she and Rob had played together every summer since she could remember.
The wide white gate was standing open now, and she drew rein, peering anxiously in. She hoped for the sight of a familiar freckled face or the sound of a welcoming whoop. But it was so still everywhere that all she saw was the squirrels playing hide and seek in the beech-grove around the house, and all she heard was the fearless cry, "Pewee! pewee!" of a little bird perched in a tree overarching the gate. It balanced itself on the limb, leaning over and cocking its bright bead-like eyes at her, as if admiring the sight.
What it saw was a slender girl of eleven, taller than most children of that age, and more graceful. There was a colour in her cheek like the delicate pink of a wild rose, and the big hazel eyes had a roguish twinkle in them, as they looked out fearlessly on the world from under the little Napoleon hat with its nodding cockade of locust blossoms.
"There's nobody in sight, Tarbaby," said the Little Colonel, "and there isn't time to go in befo' we've been to the post-office, so we might as well be travellin' on."
She was turning slowly away when down the pike behind her came the quick beat of a horse's hoofs and a shrill whistle. A twelve-year-old boy was riding toward her as fast as his big gray horse could carry him. He was riding bareback, straight and lithe as a young Indian, his cap pushed to the back of his head. He snatched it off with a flourish as he came within speaking distance of the Little Colonel, his freckled face all ashine with pleasure.
"Hello! Lloyd," he called, "I was just going to your house."
"And I was looking for you, Bobby," she answered, as informally as if it were only yesterday they had parted, instead of eight months before.
"Come and go down to the post-office with me. I must take these lettahs."
"All right," said Rob, wheeling the gray horse around beside the black pony, and smiling broadly as he looked down into the Little Colonel's welcoming eyes. "You don't know how good it feels to get back to the country again, Lloyd. I could hardly wait for school to close, when I'd think about the fish waiting for me out here in the creek, and the wild strawberries getting ripe, and the horses just spoiling to be exercised. It was more than I could stand. What have you been doing all winter?"
"Oh, the same old things: school and music lessons, and good times in the evenin' with mothah and papa Jack and grandfathah."
As they jogged along, side by side, the Little Colonel chatting gaily of all that had happened since their last meeting, Rob kept casting curious glances at her. "What have you been doing to yourself, Lloyd Sherman?" he demanded, finally. "You look so—so different!" There was such a puzzled expression in his sharp gray eyes that the Little Colonel laughed. Then her hand flew up to her head.
"Don't you see? I've had my hair cut. I had to beg and beg befo' mothah and papa Jack would let me have it done; but it was so long,—away below my waist,—and such a bothah. It had to be brushed and plaited a dozen times a day."
"I don't like it that way. It isn't a bit becoming," said Rob, with the frankness of old comradeship. "You look like a boy. Why, it is as short as mine."
"I don't care," answered Lloyd, her eyes flashing dangerously. "It's comfortable this way, and grandfathah likes it. He says he's got his Little Colonel back again now, and he sent to town for this Napoleon hat like the ones I used to weah when I was a little thing."
"When you were a little thing!" laughed Rob, teasingly. "What do you think you are now, missy? You're head and shoulders shorter than I am."
"I'm eleven yeahs old, anyway, I'd have you to undahstand, Bobby Moore," answered the Little Colonel, with such dignity that Rob wished he hadn't spoken. "I was eleven last week. That was one of my birthday presents, havin' my own way about cuttin' my hair, and anothah was the house pahty. Oh, you don't know anything about the house pahty I'm to have in June, do you!" she cried, every trace of displeasure vanishing at the thought. "Grandfathah and papa Jack are goin' away fo' a month to some mineral springs in Va'ginia, and I'm to have my house pahty in June to keep mothah and me from bein' lonesome. It will not be a very big one, only three girls to spend June with me, but mothah says we can have picnics every day if we want to, and invite all the boys and girls in the Valley, and we can have the house full from mawnin' till night. I'll invite you right now for every day that you want to come. We'll expect you at all the pahties and picnics and candy-pullin's that we have. I want you to help me give the girls a good time, Bobby."
Rob whirled his cap around his head with a "Whe-ew! Jolly for you!" before he answered more politely, "Thank you, Lloyd, you can count on me for my part. I'll be on hand every time you turn around, if you want me. Who all's coming?"
For answer Lloyd held up the three letters she was carrying, and let him see the first address, written in Mrs. Sherman's flowing hand.
Miss Eugenia Forbes, The Waldorf-Astoria, New York City.
"Well, who is she?" he asked, reading it aloud.
"Eugenia is a sort of cousin of mine," explained Lloyd. "At least her fathah and my fathah are related in some way. I used to know her when we lived in New York, but I haven't seen her since we left. I was five then and she was seven, so she must be neahly thirteen yeahs old now. When we played togethah she would scream and scream if I didn't give up to her in everything, and as I had a bad tempah, too, we were always fussin'. She was dreadfully spoiled. I'll nevah fo'get how my hand bled one day when she bit it, or how she clawed my face till it looked as if a tigah had scratched it."
"Then what did you do?" asked Rob, with a grin. He had experimented with Lloyd's temper himself in the past.
"I believe that that was the time I pounded her on the back with my little red chair," answered Lloyd, laughing at the recollection. "Or maybe it was the time I banged her ovah the head with a toy teakettle. I remembah I did both those bad things, and that we were always in trouble whenevah we were togethah. I didn't want mothah to invite her, but she said she felt that we ought to. Eugenia's mothah is dead. She died three yeahs ago, and since then she's been kept in a boa'din' school most of the time. When she's not away at school she stays in some big hotel with her fathah, eithah in New York or at some summah resort. He is always so busy there's no one to pay any attention to her but her maid. They are very wealthy, and Eugenia has had the best of everything so long that I'm afraid she'll find the Valley dreadfully poah and poky. I imagine she's stuck up, too. She used to be, and she's always had her own way about everything."
"Number one doesn't sound very inviting," said Rob, with a sour grimace. "Who is your number two?" Lloyd held out the second envelope.
Miss Joyce Ware, Plainsville, Kansas.
"I nevah saw her," said Lloyd, "but I feel as if we had always been old friends. Her mothah and mine used to go to school togethah heah in Lloydsboro Valley at the Girls' College, and they've written to each othah once a month for fifteen yeahs. Mrs. Ware is a widow now, and they have ha'd times, for they are poah, and she has foah children youngah than Joyce. But Joyce has had lots of things that neithah Eugenia nor I have had. Last yeah her cousin Kate took her abroad with her, and she studied French, and she had lots of beautiful times where they spent the wintah in France. Mrs. Ware sent some of the lettahs to mothah that Joyce wrote. One was about a Christmas tree that they gave to thirty little peasant children,—and so many queer things happened behind a gate that they called the 'Gate of the Giant Scissahs,' because there was a pair of enormous scissahs hanging ovah it, you know. Oh, it was just like a fairy tale, all the things that Joyce did when she was in Touraine."
"How old is she?" interrupted Rob.
"Just Eugenia's age, I believe, and she must be an interestin' sort of girl, for she draws beautifully. Mothah says that her sketches are fine, and that Joyce will be a real artist when she is grown."
"Number two is all right," said Rob, with an approving nod. "Next!" The Little Colonel held out the third envelope.
"One flew east and one flew west, so I s'pose this will fly into the cuckoo's nest," said Rob, as he read the address:
Miss Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis, Jaynes's Post-office, Kentucky.
"Why, that's just what mothah calls the place," cried the Little Colonel, "the cuckoo's nest! She says that the cuckoo is the most careless bird in the world about the way it builds its nest. They weave a few twigs and sticks togethah just in any kind of way, and nevah mind a bit if their poah little young ones fall out of the nest. They seem to think that any kind of home is good enough, and that is the kind of a home that Elizabeth Lewis has. She is a poah little orphan, and is livin' on a farm up Green Rivah. Mother is her godmothah. That's why she is named Elizabeth Lloyd. Mrs. Lewis was an old school friend of mothah's, too, and she wants Joyce and Elizabeth and me to be as deah friends as she and Emily Ware and Joyce Lewis were, she says. That's why she invited them."
"And you don't know anything about this one?" questioned Rob.
"Not a thing. I shouldn't be su'prised if she's mighty countrified, for the farm is several miles from a railroad, and the people she lives with don't think of anything but work, yeah in and yeah out."
They had reached the post-office by this time, and Rob held out his hand for the letters. "I'll put them in for you," he said. Then, dropping them into the box, one by one, he repeated the rhyme:
"One flew east and one flew west. And one flew into the cuckoo's nest."
Lloyd added, quickly:
"Eugenia, Joyce, or Elizabeth, Which of the three shall we like best?"
"Joyce," said Rob, promptly.
"I think so, too," agreed the Little Colonel, stooping to fasten the locust blossoms more securely behind the pony's ears.
"Well, the invitations are off now. Come on, Tarbaby, and see if you can't beat Bobby Moore's old gray hawse so bad it will be ashamed to evah race again."
With that the little black pony was off like an arrow toward Locust, with the big gray horse thundering hard at its heels.
The dust flew, dogs barked, and chickens ran squawking across the road out of the way. Heads were thrust out of the windows as the two vanished up the dusty pike, and an old graybeard loafing in front of the corner grocery gave an amused chuckle. "Beats all how them two do get over the ground," he said. "They ride like Tarn O'Shanter, and I'll bet a quarter there's nothing on earth that either of 'em are afraid of."
A little while later the three white envelopes were jogging sociably along, side by side in a mail-bag, on their way to Louisville. But their course did not lie together long. In the city post-office they were separated, and sent on their different ways, like three white carrier-pigeons, to bid the guests make ready for the Little Colonel's house party.
"ONE FLEW INTO THE CUCKOO'S NEST."
The letter for Jaynes's Post-office reached the end of its journey first. It wasn't much of a post-office; only an old case of pigeon-holes set up in one corner of a cross-roads store. A man riding over from the nearest town twice a week brought the mail-bag on horseback. So few letters found their way into this, particular bag that Squire Jaynes, who kept the store and post-office, felt a personal interest in every envelope that passed through his hands.
"Miss Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis," he spelled aloud, examining the address through his square-bowed spectacles with a critical squint. "Now, who under the canopy might she be?"
There was no one in the store to answer the question but an overgrown boy who had stopped to get his father's weekly paper. He sat on the counter dangling his big bare feet against a nail-keg, and catching flies in his sunburned hands, while he waited for the mail to be opened.
The squire peered inquiringly at him over the square-bowed spectacles. "Jake," he asked, "ever hear tell of a Miss Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis up this way?"
"Wy, sure!" drawled the boy. "That's Betty. The Appletons' Betty. Don't you know? She's that little orphan they're a-bringin' up. I worked there a while this spring, a-plowin'."
"Hump!" grunted the squire, slipping the letter into the pigeon-hole marked "A." "If that's who it is, I know all about her. Precious little bringing up she'll get at the Appletons', I can tell you that. They keep her because they're her nearest of living kin, which isn't very near, after all; fourth or fifth cousins to her father, or something like that. Any-how, they're all she's got, and her father made some arrangement with them before he died. Left a little money to pay her board, they say, but I've heard she works just the same as if she was living on charity."
"That's the truth," said Jake; "she does. Talk about bringin' up. She doesn't get any of it. Mrs. Appleton has her hands so full of cookin' for farm hands and all, that she can't half tend to her own children, let alone anybody else's. It's Betty that 'pears to be bringin' up the little Appletons."
"I'm glad there's somebody takes enough interest in the child to write to her," continued the gossipy old squire, who often talked to himself when he could find no other audience. "I wonder who it is. Lloydsboro Valley it's postmarked. Wish she'd happen down here. I'd ask her who it's from."
Jake got up, dragged his bare feet across the floor, and leaned lazily on the counter as he reached for his paper.
"Little Betty will be mighty proud to get a real shore 'nuff letter all for herself. I never got one in my life. I'll take it up to her, squire, if you say so. I'm goin' by the Appletons' on my way home."
"Reckon you might as well," answered the old man, giving a final close scrutiny before handing it to the boy. "It might lie here all week in case none of them happened to come to the store, and it looks as if it might be important."
Jake slipped the letter into the band of his broad-brimmed straw hat and slouched lazily out of the store. An old blaze-faced sorrel horse whinnied as he stepped up to untie it. Jake mounted and rode off slowly, his bare feet dangling far below the stirrups. It was two miles to the Appleton farm, down a hot, dusty road, and he took his time in going. Well for little Betty that she did not know what wonderful surprise was on its way to her, or she would have been in a fever of impatience for the letter to arrive.
It had been a tiresome day for the child. Up before five, in her bare little room in the west gable, busy with morning chores until breakfast was ready, she had earned a rest long before the Little Colonel's day had begun. Afterward she had helped with the breakfast dishes and had taken her turn at the butter-making in the spring-house, thumping the heavy dasher up and down in the cedar churn until her arms ached. But it was cool and pleasant down in the spring-house with the water trickling out in a ceaseless drip-drip on the cold stones. She dabbled her fingers in the spring for a long time when the churning was done, wishing she had nothing to do but sit there and listen to the secrets it was trying to tell. Surely it must have learned a great many on its underground way among the roots of things, and all else that lies hidden in the earth.
But she could not loiter long. There was the dinner-table to set for the hungry farm-hands, and after the dinner was over more dishes to wash. Then there were some towels to iron. It was two o'clock before her work was all done, and she had time to go up to her little room in the west gable.
The sun poured in through the shutterless windows so fiercely that she did not stay long,—only long enough to put on a clean apron and brush her curly hair, as she stood in front of the little looking-glass. It was such a tiny mirror that she could see only a part of her face at a time. When her big brown eyes, wistful and questioning as a fawn's, were reflected in it, there was no room for the sensitive little mouth. Or if she stood on tiptoe so that she could see her plump round chin, dimpled cheeks, and white teeth, the eyes were left out, and she could see no more of her inquisitive little nose than lay below the big freckle in the middle of it.
Hastily tying back her curls with a bow of brown ribbon, she slipped on her apron, and ran down-stairs, buttoning it as she went. She was free now to do as she pleased until supper-time. Once out of the house, she walked slowly along through the shady orchard, swinging her sunbonnet by the strings. After the orchard came the long leafy lane, with its double rows of cherry-trees, and then the gate at the end, leading into the public highway.
As she slipped her hand around the post to unfasten the chain that held the gate, little bare feet came pattering behind her, and a shrill voice called: "Wait, Betty, wait a minute!" It was Davy Appleton. Betty's little lamb, they called him, and Betty's shadow, and Betty's sticking-plaster, because everywhere she went there was Davy just at her heels.
All the Appleton children were boys,—three younger and two older than Davy, whose last birthday cake should have had eight candles if there had been any celebration of the event. But there never had been a birthday cake with candles on it on the Appleton table. It would have been considered a foolish waste of time and money, and birthdays came and went sometimes, without the children knowing that they had passed.
Davy was a queer little fellow. He tagged along after Betty, switching at the grass with a whip he carried, never saying a word after that first eager call for her to wait. The two never tired of each other. He was content to follow and ask no questions, for he had learned long ago to look twice before he spoke once. As he caught up with her at the gate, he did not even ask where she was going, knowing that he would find out in due time if he only followed far enough.
He did not have to follow far to-day. Betty led the way across the road to a plain little wooden church, set back in a grove of cedar-trees. Behind the church was a graveyard, where they often strolled on summer afternoons, through the tangle of grass and weeds and myrtle vines, to read the names on the tombstones and smell the pinks and lilies that struggled up year after year above the neglected mounds. But that was not their errand to-day. A little red bookcase inside the church was the attraction. Betty had only lately discovered it, although it had stood for years on a back bench in a cobwebby corner.
It held all that was left of a scattered Sunday-school library, that had been in use two generations before. Queer little books they were, time-yellowed and musty smelling, but to story-loving little Betty, hungry for something new, they seemed a veritable gold-mine. She had found that no key barred her way into this little red treasure-house of a bookcase, and a board propped against the wall under the window outside gave her an easy entrance into the church. Here she came day after day, when her work was done, to pore over the musty old volumes of tales forgotten long ago.
In Betty's little room under the roof at home was a pile of handsomely bound books, lying on a chest beside her mother's Bible. They were twelve in all, and had come in several different Christmas boxes, and each one had Betty's name on the fly-leaf, with the date of the Christmas on which it happened to be sent. Underneath was always written: "From your loving godmother, Elizabeth Lloyd Sherman."
Excepting a few school-books and some out-of-date census reports, they were the only books in the Appleton house. Betty guarded them like a little dragon. They were the only things she owned that the children were not allowed to touch. Even Davy, when he was permitted to look at the wonderful pictures in her "Arabian Nights," or "Pilgrim's Progress," or "Mother Goose," had to sit with his hands behind his back while she carefully turned the leaves. Besides these three, there was "Alice in Wonderland," and "AEsop's Fables," there was "Robinson Crusoe," and "Little Women," and two volumes of fairy tales in green and gold with a gorgeous peacock on the cover. Eugene Field's poems had come in the last box, with Riley's "Songs of Childhood" and Kipling's jungle tales. Twelve beautiful books, all of Mrs. Sherman's giving, and they were like twelve great windows to Betty, opening into a new strange world, far away from the experiences of her every-day life.
She had read them over and over so many times that she always knew what was coming next, even before she turned the page; and she had read them to the other children so many times that they, too, knew them almost by heart.
The little dog-eared books in the meeting-house proved poor reading sometimes after such entertainment. So many of them were about unnaturally good children who never did wrong, and unnaturally bad children who never did right. At the end there was always the word MORAL, in big capital letters, as if the readers were supposed to be too blind to find it for themselves, and it had to be put directly across the path for them to stumble over.
Betty laughed at them sometimes, but she touched the little books with reverent fingers, when she remembered how old they were, and how long ago their first childish readers laid them aside. The hands that had held them first had years before grown tired and wrinkled and old, and had been lying for a generation under the myrtle and lilies of the churchyard outside.
Many an afternoon she had spent, perched in the high window, with her feet drawn up under her on the sill, reading aloud to Davy, who lay outside on the grass, staring up at the sky. Davy's short fat legs could not climb from the board to the window-sill, and since this little Mahomet could not come to the mountain, Betty had to carry the mountain to him.
The reading was slow work sometimes. Davy's mind, like his legs, could not climb as far as Betty's, and she usually had to stop at the bottom of every page to explain something. Often he fell asleep in the middle of the most interesting part, and then Betty read on to herself, with nothing to break the stillness around her but the buzzing of the wasps, as they darted angrily in and out of the open window above her head.
To-day Betty had read nearly an hour, and Davy's eyelids were beginning to flutter drowsily, when they heard the slow thud of a horse's hoofs in the thick dust of the road. Betty stopped reading to listen, and Davy sat up to look.
"It's Jake," he announced, recognising the boy who had helped his father with the ploughing.
"Hope he won't see us," said Betty, in a low tone, drawing in her head. "We are not hurting anything, but maybe some of the church people wouldn't like it, if they knew I climbed in at the window. They might think it wasn't respectful."
"He's looking this way," said Davy, who had stood up for a better view, but squatted down again at Betty's command.
It was too late. Jake had recognised Davy's shock of yellow hair, and called out, good-naturedly, "Hello, stickin'-plaster, where's Betty? Somewhere around here, I'll bet anything, or you wouldn't be here. I've got a letter for her."
At that, Betty leaned so far out of the window that she nearly lost her balance and toppled over. "Oh, run and get it, quick, Davy," she cried. The little bare feet twinkled through the grass to meet the old sorrel horse, and two brown hands were held up to receive the letter; but Jake preferred to deliver the important document himself.
"Here you are," he said, riding alongside the window and dropping the letter into her eager hands.
"Oh, thank you, Jake," she cried. "It makes me feel as if Christmas was coming. I never got a letter in my life except in my Christmas boxes. My godmother always writes to me then, and this must be from her, too. Yes, it is, I know her handwriting."
If Jake expected her to tear it open instantly and share the news with him before she had examined every inch of the big square envelope, he was disappointed. The old blaze-faced sorrel had carried him out of sight before she had finished cutting it open with a pin. Then she spread the letter out on her knees, drawing a long breath of pleasure as the faintest odour of violets floated up from the paper with its dainty monogram at the top.
Davy waited in silence, watching a flush spread over Betty's face as she read. Her breath came short and her heart beat fast.
"Oh, Davy," she exclaimed, in a low, wondering tone. "What do you think? It is an invitation to a house party at Locust; Lloyd Sherman's house party. Oh, it's like a lovely, lovely fairy tale with me for the princess. I've never travelled on the cars since I was old enough to remember it, and they've sent passes for me to go. I've never had any girls to play with in all my life, and now there will be two besides Lloyd; and, oh, Davy, best of all, I'll see my beautiful, beautiful godmother! I shall be there a whole month, and she knew my mamma and was her dearest friend. I haven't seen her since I was a baby, when she came to my christening, and of course I can't remember anything about that."
Davy listened to her raptures without saying anything for awhile. Then he set aside his usual custom and asked a question. "Why are you crying?" he demanded. "There's a tear running down the side of your nose."
"Is there?" asked Betty, brushing it away with the back of her hand. "I didn't know it. Maybe it's because I am so glad. It seems as if I was going back to my own family; to somebody who really belongs to you more than just fourth cousins, you know. A godmother must be the next best thing to a real mother, you see, Davy, because it's a mother that God gives you to take the place of your own, when she is gone. Oh, let's hurry home and tell Cousin Hetty."
Slipping from the window-sill to the floor, she carried the book she had been reading back to its corner in the little red bookcase, and shut it up with the musty volumes inside. Then she walked slowly down the narrow aisle of the little meeting-house, between its double rows of narrow straight-backed pews. As she reached the bench-like altar, extending in front of the pulpit, she slipped to her knees a moment. Her sunbonnet had fallen back from her tousled curls, and the late afternoon sun streamed across her shining little face.
"Thank you, God," came in a happy whisper from the depths of a glad little heart. "It's the nicest surprise you ever sent me, and I'm so much obliged."
Then Betty stood up and put on her sunbonnet. The next moment she had scrambled over the sill, pulled the window down after her, and walked down the slanting board to the ground. Catching Davy by the hand, and swinging it back and forth as they ran, she went skipping across the road regardless of the dust. Down the lane they went, between the rows of cherry-trees; across the orchard and up the path. Somehow the world had never before seemed half so beautiful to Betty as it did now. The May skies had never been quite so blue, or the afternoon sunshine so heavenly golden. She sang as she went, swinging Davy's warm little hand in hers. It was only one of Mother Goose's old melodies, but she sang it as a bird sings, for sheer gladness:
"Gay go up and gay go down, To ring the bells of London town."
"ONE FLEW EAST."
The New York letter reached the hotel while Eugenia was out in the park with her maid, and the bell-boy brought it to her on a salver with several others, as she was stepping into the elevator to go up to her room.
"Here, take my gloves, Eliot!" she exclaimed, tossing them to the maid, and beginning to tear open the envelopes as soon as her hands were free. Eliot, a plain, middle-aged woman, with a patient face and slow gait, picked up the gloves, and followed her young mistress down the corridor.
Eugenia dashed into her sitting-room, throwing herself into a big armchair, regardless of the fact that she was crushing the roses in her pretty new hat as she leaned her head against the high back. Three of the letters which she opened so eagerly were from the girls who had been her best friends at boarding-school. She had been away from Riverdale Seminary only a week, but already she was homesick to go back. The school was a very select one, and the rules were rigid, but Eugenia had known no other home for three years.
In the great hotel where she was now, she saw her father only in the evenings, and during breakfast, and she always rebelled when she had to go back to it in vacation. There was so little she could do that she really enjoyed. There was a stupid round of drives and walks, shopping and piano practice, and after that nothing but to mope and fret and worry poor Eliot. At school there was always the excitement of evading some rule or breaking it without being caught; and if there was no joke in prospect to giggle over, there was the memory of one just passed to make them laugh. And then there were always Mollie and Fay and Kit Keller—dear old "Kell"—ready to laugh or cry or lark with her any hour of the day or night, as it suited her mood.
Only seven days of vacation had passed, but to Eugenia it seemed an age since the four had walked back and forth across the school campus, with their arms around each other, waiting for the 'bus that was to drive them to the station.
The others were not so sorry to go, for they would be in the midst of their families. Mollie was to go to the mountains with all the members of her household, Fay to an island in the St. Lawrence, where her family had their summer home, and Kell was going on a long yachting trip, maybe to the Bermudas. It would be September before they all met again.
For Eugenia there was nothing in prospect but lonely days at the Waldorf, until her father could find time to take her down to the seashore for a few weeks. The tears were in her eyes when she laid down the three letters, after twice reading the one signed, "For ever your devoted old chum, Kell." It had been full of the good times she was having at home.
Eugenia looked around the elegantly furnished room with a discontented sigh. No girl in the school had as much spending money as herself, or as wealthy and as indulgent a father, and yet—just at that moment—she felt herself the poorest child in New York. There was one thing she lacked that even the poorest beggar had, she thought bitterly,—companionship. In a listless sort of way she picked up the remaining letter, postmarked Lloydsboro Valley, and began to read it.
Eliot, who was busy in the adjoining room, heard an excited exclamation, and then the call, "Oh, Eliot, Eliot! Come here, quick!" She was stooping over the bed inspecting some clean clothes that had been sent in from the laundry. Before she could straighten herself up to answer the call, her elbows were seized from behind, and Eugenia began waltzing her around backwards at a rate that made her head spin.
"Dance! You giddy old thing!" cried Eugenia. "Whoop and make a noise and act as if you are glad! We are going to get out of our cage next week. I'm invited to a house party. We are to spend a whole month in a house, not a hotel. We're going to be part of a real live family in a real sure enough home,—in an old Southern mansion."
"Goodness gracious, Miss Eugenia," panted Eliot, as she staggered into a chair and settled her cap on her head. "You a'most scared me out of me five wits, you were that sudden in your movements. I thought for a bit as you had gone stark mad. You gave me quite a turn, you did."
Eugenia laughed. "I had to let off steam in some way," she said; "and really, Eliot, you can't imagine how glad I am. They're cousins of papa's, you know, the Shermans are. I used to know Lloyd when they lived in New York. We played together every day, and fussed—my eyes, how we fussed! But that was before she could talk plain, and she must be eleven now, for she's about two years younger than I am."
Perching herself on the bed among piles of snowy linen, Eugenia clasped her hands around her knees and began to tell all she could remember of the Little Colonel. Because there was no one else to confide in, she confided in the maid. Patient old Eliot listened to much family history that did not interest her and which she immediately forgot, and to many girlish rhapsodies over "Cousin Elizabeth," whom Eugenia declared was the dearest thing that ever drew the breath of life.
As Eugenia talked on, idly rocking herself back and forth on the bed, Eliot sorted the linen with deft fingers, laying some of it away in drawers, sweet with dainty sachets, and putting some aside that needed a stitch or two. Presently, as she listened, she found herself taking more interest in the country place that Eugenia described than in anything she had heard of since she said good-bye to her dear little cottage home in England. She began to hope that Mr. Forbes would consent to Eugenia's accepting the invitation, and expressed that wish to Eugenia.
"Why, of course I am going!" exclaimed Eugenia, in surprise. "Whether papa wants me to or not! I shall answer Cousin Elizabeth's letter this very minute and accept the invitation before he comes home. Then if he makes a fuss it will be too late, and I can tease him into a good humour."
Bouncing off the bed, she went back to the sitting-room and sat down at her desk. When that letter was written, carefully, and in her best style, she dashed off three notes in an almost unreadable scrawl, to Mollie and Fay and Kell, telling them of her invitation and the delight it gave her. Then she wandered back to the bedroom where Eliot sat mending, and wandered restlessly around the room.
"How slow the time goes," she exclaimed, pausing in front of the mantel. "Two hours until papa will be here. I want to tell him about it, and ask for some more money. I need an extra allowance for this visit."
There was a little Dresden clock on the mantel; two cupids holding up a flower basket, from which swung a spray of roses that formed the pendulum.
"Two long hours," she fumed, scowling at the clock. "Hurry up, you old slow-poke," she cried, catching up the fragile little timepiece and shaking it until the pendulum rattled against the cupids' plump legs. "I can't bear to wait for things."
"But life is mostly waiting, miss," said Eliot, with a solemn shake of her head. "You'll find that out when you are as old as I am. We wait for this and we wait for that, and first thing we know the years are gone, and we are standing with one foot in the grave, waiting for Death to lift us in."
Eugenia put her hands over her ears with a little scream. "Stop talking like that, Eliot," she cried. "I won't listen, and I won't spend my life waiting in that way. You may if you want to."
Running back to her sitting-room, she banged the door behind her to shut out the sound of Eliot's voice. The next hour she spent by the window, looking down on the shifting scenes of the streets below,—the noisy New York streets, spread out like a giant picture-book before her. Then it began to grow dark, and lights twinkled here and there, and great letters of flame appeared as by magic across the fronts of buildings, and on the electric arches spanning the streets.
Eliot came and drew the curtains, and a glance at the little cupids told her it was time to dress for dinner.
"I'll wear my buttercup dress to-night, Eliot," said Eugenia, when her black hair had been carefully brushed and plaited in two long braids. "It always makes my eyes look so big and dark, somehow, and brings out the colour in my lips and cheeks."
"You are a young one to be noticing such things as that," said Eliot, under her breath. She wanted to say it aloud, but she only pursed her lips together as she got out the dress Eugenia had asked for. It was of some soft, clinging material, of the same sunny yellow that buttercups wear, and Eugenia knew very well how becoming it was to her brunette style of beauty. After she was dressed, she spun around before the pier-glass until she heard her father's step in the hall.
Although she had been so impatient for his coming, she said nothing about the invitation from Locust until they had gone down to dinner and were seated in the great dining-room together. She knew that that was not the way Mollie or Fay or Kell would have done. Any one of them would have rushed at her father the moment he came in sight, and would have put her arms around his neck and poured out the whole story. But Eugenia had never felt on such intimate terms with her father. She admired him extremely, and thought he was the handsomest man she had ever seen, but her love for him was of a selfish kind. So long as he indulged her and never opposed her will, she was a most dutiful little daughter, but as soon as his wishes crossed hers she pouted and sulked.
To her surprise, he made no objection to her accepting the invitation to the house party, except to say, half-laughingly, "Don't you think you are a little selfish to want to run off and leave me alone when I've scarcely seen you all winter?" Then he laughed outright as she made a saucy little grimace in answer. He would miss her very much when she was gone, for she was a bright little thing and amused him, but he had a feeling of relief as well to think that a month of her vacation would be pleasantly occupied. She had been so discontented away from her little friends.
After dinner they strolled into an alcove, screened from the hall by great pots of palms, and sat down to listen to the music, and watch the people passing back and forth. It was a gay scene. Ladies in elaborate evening gowns passed out with their escorts to the opera, or waited for the carriages that were to take them later to balls or receptions. Everywhere there was the gleam of white shoulders, the nodding of jewelled aigrettes, the flashing of diamond tiaras. Above it all rose the odour of flowers, the hum of voices, and the music of violins.
Mr. Forbes, smiling through half-closed eyelids at this passing of Vanity Fair, looked down at Eugenia. She was leaning forward in a picturesque pose against the arm of her high-backed chair. The light fell softly on her pale yellow gown and her dusky hair. The red lips were parted in a smile as she watched the pretty pageant, and there was a bright colour in her cheeks.
Mr. Forbes was proud of his handsome little daughter. He admired her ease of manner, and boasted that she was as self-possessed under all circumstances as any grown woman he knew. It pleased him to have his friends predict that she would be a brilliant social success. He was doing everything in his power to make her that, and yet—sometimes—a vague fear crossed his mind that she was growing cold and selfish. Sometimes she seemed far too old and worldly-wise for a child of her age. He sighed as he looked at her. They were sitting so near each other that his hand rested on the arm of her chair. Yet he felt that they had grown widely apart in their long absences.
"What are you thinking about, Eugenia?" he asked, suddenly. She turned with a little start.
"Oh, I had forgotten that you were there!" she exclaimed. "I was thinking of Locust, and how glad I would be to get away from this tiresome place. It's such a bore to do the same thing night after night, and always watch the same kind of people."
A shadow crossed his face, but she did not see it. She had turned back to her day-dreams in which he had no part. Happy little day-dreams, of what was to come with the coming June.
"ONE FLEW WEST."
Out in the village of Plainsville, Kansas, the rain was running in torrents down the gables of the little brown house where the Ware family lived. It had rained all day, a cold, steady pour, until the world outside had taken on the appearance of early March, instead of late May.
Holland and Mary and the baby (they called him baby still, although he was nearly four) were playing menagerie in the corners of the dining-room. They had a tent made of the clothes-horse and some sheets, and the growling and roaring that went on inside was something terrific. It made no difference to the little mother, placidly sewing by the last rays of daylight at one of the western windows; but the noise grated on Joyce's mood.
Joyce had finished setting the supper-table, and while she waited for the potatoes to boil she stood with her face pressed against the kitchen window, looking gloomily out into the back yard.
It was not a cheerful outlook. Nothing was to be seen but the high board alley fence with a broken chicken-coop leaning against it, the weather-beaten old stable, and a scraggy, dripping peach-tree. The yard was full of puddles, and still the rain splashed on. The sight made Joyce want to cry.
"If I wasn't at home," she said to herself, "I should think that I am homesick, for I feel the way I did that day up in Monsieur Greville's pear-tree in the old French garden. Then I was tired of France and everything foreign, and would have given all I owned to be back in America. Now I am here with mother and the children, but still I am as unhappy and dissatisfied as I was then. I wonder why!"
It had been less than a year since Joyce had had that wonderful winter in Touraine with her cousin Kate, but it seemed such a long, long time ago, in looking back upon it. She had settled down into the common humdrum round of duties so completely that sometimes it seemed to her that she had never been away at all; that she must have dreamed that year into her life, or read about it as happening to some other girl.
As she stood with her face pressed against the window-pane, the noise in the dining-room suddenly ceased, and Mary came into the kitchen, followed by the rest of the menagerie. "I'm tired of being a lion," she said, wiping her flushed little face with the sleeve of her apron, and shaking back her funny little tails of hair tied with red ribbon, that were always bobbing forward over her shoulders.
"I've roared till my throat is sore, and I'm hungry. Isn't supper most ready, sister?"
Joyce glanced at the clock. "It'll be ready in ten minutes," she answered, and returned to her survey of the back yard.
"I wish that we were going to have dumplings for supper to-night," said Holland, "and turkey and sausages. Don't you, Mary?" He snuffed hungrily at the saucepan on the stove.
"No," said Mary, pausing thoughtfully, as if considering a weighty matter. "I'd rather have ice cream and chocolate cake. If I had a witch with a wand that's what I'd wish for supper to-night. Wouldn't you, sister?"
Joyce turned away from the window and lifted the lid from the kettle in which the stew was bubbling. "I don't know," she said, gazing dreamily into the depths of the savoury stew. "If I had that old witch with a wand that you are always talking about, I'd not stop simply with something to eat. I would wish myself back in Tours, with Madame sweeping down to dinner in her red velvet gown, and the candle-light shining on the cut glass and silver. I'd wish for dinner to be served elegantly in courses as Henri did it there every night, and I'd hear old Monsieur making his little jokes over the walnuts and wine. And afterward there wouldn't be any dishes for me to wash, as there are here, and at bedtime Marie would come with my candle and untie my slippers and brush my hair. Oh, it's so nice to be waited on! You don't know how I miss it sometimes. It is horrid to be poor."
Mary and Holland listened in flattering silence. They had great respect for their thirteen-year old sister, who had been across seas and visited old chateaux where kings and queens once lived. She was the only child in Plainsville who could boast the distinction of having been abroad, and there was a glamour about it that enchanted them. They were never tired of hearing of her adventures.
"It's horrid to be poor," she said again, clapping the lid on the kettle. "I hate to live in a little crowded-up house, and spoil my hands with dust and dish-water, and do the same things year in and year out."
Joyce stopped suddenly, wishing that she could unsay that last speech, for the little mother had come into the kitchen in time to hear it. There was a pained expression on her face.
"I am afraid my bird of passage will never be satisfied with the little home nest again," she said, sadly.
"Oh, mother, I didn't mean it as bad as it sounds; truly, I didn't," cried Joyce. "You know that usually I am as contented as a cricket; but I don't know what is the matter with me to-day. It must be the weather."
Just then there was a stamping on the porch outside, and the violent flapping of an umbrella to rid it of the raindrops clinging to it.
"Jack!" shouted Mary, rushing to the door, with Holland and the baby tagging at her heels. "A letter for Joyce!" they called in chorus the next instant, all straggling back after the oldest brother as he bore it triumphantly into the kitchen.
"From Lloydsboro Valley," announced Joyce, and Mrs. Ware's face lighted up with one of her rare smiles.
"Ah, I knew it was coming," she said, "and I am sure it will prove an antidote for your blues. I had a letter from the same place last week, and I've been in the secret ever since."
"What secret?" demanded Mary, her eyes round with curiosity, and Jack echoed the question.
"That Joyce was to be invited to a house party in June, back in 'My old Kentucky home.' The invitation is from one of my old school friends. There were three of us," she went on, in answer to the look of eager interest in Mary's eyes. "Three girls who grew up together: Joyce Allen (your sister is named for her), Elizabeth Lloyd, and myself. And now our little daughters are to meet in the same dear old valley where we played together and grew up together and learned to love each other like sisters. I hope they will become as dear friends as we were."
Joyce looked up from her letter, her face aglow with joyful surprise. "Oh, mother!" she cried, "do you really mean it? Is it possible that I am to go? How can you afford it?"
Mrs. Ware motioned toward the envelope lying at Joyce's feet.
"Look again," she said, "and you will find that Mr. Sherman has sent a pass. As for the clothes, well, your 'witch with a wand' has come to the rescue again."
"Cousin Kate?" gasped Joyce.
Mrs. Ware nodded. "What would you think if I were to tell you that there has been a box hidden away in my closet for nearly a week, waiting for this letter, which I knew was on its way, and inside are the very things you need to complete your summer outfit? There is a new hat, for one thing, and material for several very pretty dresses."
Mary danced up and down, her hair ribbons bobbing over her shoulders, and her face ashine, as she cried, "Oh, sister, isn't it lovely? I'm so glad, I'm so glad, I'm so glad!"
But Joyce stood with her face suddenly grown serious and her lips trembling. Her little sister's unselfish delight made her conscience hurt. Putting her arms around her mother's neck, she hid her face against her shoulder. "Oh, mother," she sobbed, "I don't deserve it all! Here I've been so fretful and discontented all day, thinking there'd never be any good times any more, and that there was nothing but work ahead of me, and all the time this beautiful surprise was on its way. I don't deserve for it to be mine. It ought to be Mary's. She never frets over things."
Mrs. Ware looked down into Mary's face, still a-smile with the thought of her sister's pleasure, and said: "Mary is to have a little slice of this, too. I wonder what she will say when she sees a certain pink parasol that I saw in that box, and a white sash with pink rosebuds on it, and slippers that I'm sure wouldn't fit anything else in the house but her own wigglesome little feet."
Mary's hands came together ecstatically, with a long-drawn "Oh!" Then she clasped her mother around the knees, demanding, breathlessly:
"Anything for Holland in that box?"
"Anything for Jack?"
"Anything for the baby?"
Mrs. Ware nodded.
"Then there isn't a single word in the dictionary good enough to fit!" screamed Mary, excitedly, spinning around and around in the kitchen floor until the red ribbons stood out at right angles from her head. "There isn't a single word, Holland; we'll just have to squeal!"
At that she gave a long, ear-piercing shriek that seemed to go through the roof like a fine-pointed needle. Holland and the baby joined in, each trying to make a louder noise than the other. Their eyes were tightly shut, their mouths wide open, and their faces red to bursting.
"There, there, children!" exclaimed Mrs. Ware, laughingly, as they stopped to take breath. "The neighbours will think that the house is on fire. We'll have a policeman after us if you make such a noise."
"The kettle is boiling over!" cried Holland, and Joyce flew to the rescue. Jack went to change his wet clothes, and the three smaller children trotted back and forth, pushing chairs to the table, and helping to carry in the supper.
Many a bedraggled passer-by that evening looked out from under his dripping umbrella as he neared the little brown house, cheered by a babel of happy voices. The lamplight streaming across the wet pavement drew his gaze to a window whose blinds had not been closed, and the picture lingered pleasantly in his memory for many a day. It was the Ware family at supper. And afterward, when the dishes had been cleared away, there was another picture to shine out into the wet night: the children unpacking the box that Jack had dragged out of its hiding-place.
Mary paraded jubilantly around the room in her new slippers, the rosebud sash tied around her gingham apron, the pink parasol held high above her head, and her face such a picture of delight that one could not look at her without smiling, too.
Even the baby sat up an hour after his bedtime, to take part in the unusual excitement. The prospect of Joyce's seeing the old valley seemed to have unlocked a door into the little mother's memory. Story after story she brought out to entertain them, of the things that had happened when she was a care-free little schoolgirl, before sorrow and worry and work had come to make her tired and sad.
While she entertained them Joyce brought a bureau drawer from her bedroom, and, propping it on two chairs, began looking over its contents. She sorted the ribbons and examined the gloves, counted the handkerchiefs and inspected the stockings, dividing everything into three piles. One pile was pronounced suitable to take on the visit, one good enough to wear at home after another renovating, and one altogether past wearing.
"It's a sort of day of judgment," said Jack, who was watching the performance with interest. "You're separating the sheep from the goats; only there's three divisions here, white sheep, black sheep, and goats."
"I love for such days to come," said Mary, falling upon the third pile and bearing it away as her lawful spoils, "for I always get all the goats. Now my dolls can set up a milliner's shop and dry-goods store with all this stuff that Joyce has thrown away."
"You may take my new umbrella with you, if you want it, Joyce," said Jack. "I haven't used it half a dozen times since I got it Christmas, and you will want to put on style in Kentucky. Your old one is good enough for me to use out here in Plainsville."
"Do you want my blue spotted necktie, sister?" asked Holland, leaning against her and looking up into her face with an anxious little pucker on his forehead. "It's the best one I've got, but you may take it if you want to."
"And maybe—" began Mary, hesitatingly. She stopped an instant, a little struggle evidently going on in her mind. Then she began again, bravely: "Yes, I'll lend it to you if you want it. You may take my new rosebud sash. There!"
A queer little lump came into Joyce's throat as she thanked the children for their generous offers. She accepted the umbrella, but refused the spotted tie and rosebud sash, to the evident relief of their owners, who wanted to be generous, but were glad to be able to Keep the part of their wardrobes they most admired.
"It more than doubles the pleasure, doesn't it, mamma," said Joyce, "to have everybody take so much interest in your having a good time? I wonder if the other girls are having as much fun out of planning for their visit as I am."
"I doubt it," answered Mrs. Ware. "Elizabeth is an orphan, you know, and Eugenia Forbes, with all her wealth, is practically homeless, for there is little home-life in either a boarding-school or a big hotel."
Joyce looked around on the cheerful little group gathered near the lamp, and a sudden mist blurred her sight at thought of leaving them. She would not have exchanged the little brown house and what it held, just then, for a king's palace. Outside in the pitch-darkness of the night the rain beat against the window-panes like some poor beggar imploring to come in; and inside it was so cosy and bright with the warmth and cheer of home-loves and home-lights that Joyce was not sure, after all, that she could leave such a shelter even to be a guest at the Little Colonel's house party.
BETTY REACHES THE "HOUSE BEAUTIFUL."
It was very early in the morning, while the dew was still on the meadows, that Betty fared forth on her pilgrimage. The old farm wagon that was to take her to the railroad station, two miles away, was drawn up to the door before five o'clock. Davy proudly held the reins while his father carried Betty's trunk down-stairs.
Poor, shabby, little, old leather trunk! It was not half full, for there had been small preparation for this visit. Betty had carefully folded the few gingham dresses she possessed, and the new blue and white lawn bought for her to wear to church. There were several stitches to be taken in her plain cotton under-wear, and a button to be sewed on her only white ruffled apron.
That was all that she could do to make herself ready, except to put her hair-ribbons and handkerchiefs smoothly into a little diamond-shaped box that had once held toilet soap. Betty felt rich in ribbons "to tie up her bonnie brown hair," for there were three bows the colour of her curls, and two of red, and one of delicate robin's-egg blue. The last was to wear with the new lawn, and, in order to keep it fresh and fine, it lay wrapped in tissue-paper all week, between the times of its Sunday wearings.
And the handkerchiefs—well, six of them were plain and white, and two had pictures stamped in the corners. One told the story of Red Ridinghood and the other had scenes from Cinderella outlined in blue. They had been Davy's present to her the Christmas before, and he had bought them at Squire Jaynes's store with his own precious pennies.
That was all that Betty had intended to put into her trunk, but when they were in, there was still so much room that she decided to take her books and several of her chief treasures. "They will be safer," she said to herself, and she filled a box with cotton in which to pack some of her breakable keepsakes. She had hesitated some time about taking her scrap-book, an old ledger on whose blank pages she had written many verses. She hardly dared call them poetry, and yet they were dear to her, because they were the outpourings of her lonely little heart.
All the children knew that she "made up rhymes," but only Davy had any knowledge of the old ledger. He could not understand all the verses she read to him about the wild flowers, and life and death and time, but they jingled pleasantly in his ears, and he made an attentive listener.
"I'll take it," she decided at last, slipping some loose pages in between the covers. "I may want to write something at Locust."
She paused long at the foot of her bed, trying to make up her mind about her godmother's picture, that hung there in a little frame of pine cones.
"I don't know whether to take it or not," she said to Davy, looking up lovingly at the Madonna of her dreams, whose sweet face had been her last greeting at night, and first welcome on waking, for several years. "I hate to leave it behind, but I'll have my real godmother to look at while I'm gone, and it'll seem so nice to have this picture here to smile at me when I get back, as if she was glad I'd come home. I believe I'll leave it."
It was a solemn moment when Betty climbed into the wagon after her trunk had been lifted in at the back, and perched herself on the high spring seat, beside Davy and his father. The other children were drawn up in a line along the porch, to watch her go. She wore one of her every-day dresses of dark blue gingham, and her white sunbonnet, but the familiar little figure had taken on a new interest to them. They regarded her as some sort of a venturesome Columbus, about to launch on a wild voyage of discovery. None of them had ever been beyond Jaynes's Post-office in their journeyings, and the youngest had not seen even that much of the outside world.
Betty herself could not remember having been on a longer trip than to Livermore, a village ten miles away. There was an excited flutter in her throat as the wagon started forward with a jolt, and she realised that now she was looking her last on safe familiar scenes, and breaking loose from all safe familiar landmarks.
"Good-bye!" she cried again, looking back at the little group on the porch with tears in her eyes.
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" they called, in a noisy chorus, repeating the call like a brood of clacking guineas, until the wagon passed out of sight down the lane. The road turned at the church. Betty leaned forward for one more look at the window, on whose sill she had passed so many happy afternoons reading to Davy. The board was still leaning against the house, where she had propped it.
"Good-bye, dear old church," she said softly to herself.
They drove around the corner of the little neglected graveyard, where the headstones gleamed white in the morning sunshine, above the dark, glossy green of the myrtle vines. How peaceful and quiet it seemed. The dew still shone in tiny beads on the cobwebs, spun across the grass, a spicy smell of cedar boughs floated across the road to them, and a dove called somewhere in the distant woodlands. As they passed, a wild rose hung over the gray pickets of the straggling old fence, and waved a spray of pale pink blossoms to them.
"Good-bye," she whispered, turning for one more look at the familiar headstones. They were like old friends; she had wandered among them so often. One held her gaze an instant, with its well-known marble hand, pointing the place in a marble book in which was carved one text. How often she had spelled the words, pointing out the deeply carven letters to Davy: "Be ye also ready."
She had a vague feeling that the headstones knew she was going away and would miss her. "Good-bye," she said to them, too, nodding the white sunbonnet gravely. It seemed a solemn thing to start on such a journey. After leaving the church there was only one more place to bid good-bye, and that was the schoolhouse sitting through its lonely vacation time in a deserted playground, gone to weeds.
There was no time to spare at the station. Mr. Appleton tied the horses and hurried to have Betty's trunk checked. The shriek of the locomotive coming down the track made Betty turn cold. It was like a great demon thundering toward her. Davy edged closer to her, moved by the strange surroundings to ask a question.
"Say, Betty, ain't you afraid?"
"Yes," she confessed, squeezing the warm little hand in her own, which had suddenly seemed to turn to ice. "My heart is going bump-bump-bump like a scared wild rabbit's; but I keep saying over and over to myself what the python said. Don't you remember in Kaa's hunting? 'A brave heart and a courteous tongue, said he, they shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.' It can't be such a very big jungle that I'm going into, and godmother will meet me in a few hours. Don't forget me, Davy, while I'm gone."
She stooped to give the little fellow a hug and a kiss on each dimpled cheek, for the train had stopped, and Mr. Appleton was waiting to shake hands and lift her up the steps. Betty stumbled into the first vacant seat she saw, and sat up primly, afraid to glance behind her. In her lap, tightly clasped by both hands, she held a little old-fashioned basket of brown willow. It had two handles and a lid with double flaps. She carried it because she had no travelling-bag. Her lunch was in that, her pass, five nickels, and the Red Ridinghood handkerchief.
"You can let that be a sort of warning to you," said Mrs. Appleton, at parting, "not to get into conversation with strangers. Red Ridinghood never would have got into trouble if she hadn't stopped to tell the Wolf all she knew."
Remembering this warning, Betty sat up very straight at first, and held the basket handles in such a tight grasp that her fingers ached. But after the conductor had looked at her pass and smiled kindly into the appealing little face under the white sunbonnet, she felt more at ease and began to look shyly about her.
Somebody's grandmother was in the seat in front of her, such a fat, comfortable-looking old lady, that Betty felt sure she could not be a Wolf in disguise, and watched her with neighbourly interest. She fell to wondering about her, where she lived and where she was going, and what she had in her many bags, boxes, shawl-straps, and satchels.
Things were not half so strange as she had expected them to be. The corn-fields and tobacco-fields and apple-orchards whizzing past the windows were exactly like the ones she had left at home. More than once a meadow full of daisies, gleaming on her sight like drifts of summer snow, made her think of the lower pasture at home, where she had waded through them the day before, waist-deep.
Even the people who came on the cars at the stations along the way looked like the people she saw at church every week, and Betty soon began to feel very much at home. After awhile the train stopped at a junction where she had to wait several hours to make connection with the Louisville train. But even that did not turn out to be a bad experience, as she had feared, for the old lady waited too, and she was as anxious to find a friend as Betty was. So it was not long until the two were talking together as sociably as two old neighbours, and they ate their lunch together with so many exchanges of confidences that they were both surprised when Betty's train came puffing along. They had not imagined the time could fly so fast.
At parting they kissed each other as if they had always been friends, and Betty climbed into the car with a warm glow in her heart at having found such unexpected pleasantness along the way.
"It was silly of me to have been so frightened," she thought. "The world isn't a jungle, after all, and we are just as apt to meet the grandmothers as the wolves when we go travelling."
She was mixing Kaa's experience with Red Riding-hood's in her thought, but it made no difference. The conclusion she reached was a comfortable one. So she leaned back in her seat to enjoy the rest of the journey without any foolish fears.
Little by little the motion of the train had its effect. The white sunbonnet nodded nearer and nearer toward the cushioned back of the seat; the brown eyes drooped drowsily, and in a few minutes Betty was sound asleep. That was the last she knew of the trip that she had settled herself to enjoy, for when she awoke the brakeman was calling "Louisville!" at the top of his voice, and people were beginning to reach up to the racks overhead for their bundles.
There was a general uprising of the passengers. The crowd pushed toward the door, carrying the startled child with them as they surged down the aisle, and all at once—as she stepped off the train—she found herself in the depths of her dreaded jungle. It was so confusing she did not know which way to turn. The roar and clang of a great city smote on her ears as she stood in the big Union depot, helpless, bewildered, and as lost as a stray kitten in the midst of that noisy, pushing crowd. Sharp elbows jostled her this way and that; strange faces streamed past her by thousands, it seemed. How could anybody find anybody else in such a whirlpool of people? Hunting for a needle in a haystack seemed nothing in comparison to finding her godmother in such a crowd.
Betty stood looking around her helplessly in the middle of the overpowering din of whistles and bells and the thunder of wheels on the cobblestones outside. That moment she would have given anything she owned to be safely back on the quiet farm. The big brown eyes in the depths of the sunbonnet filled with tears, but she resolutely winked them back, whispering the python's words: "A brave heart and a courteous tongue, manling."
But she could not stop the frightened thumping in her breast, and of what use was a courteous tongue, when nobody would stop to listen? She wondered what had happened to make a whole city full of people in such a desperate hurry.
Two tears splashed down on the brown willow basket-lid, and then—No telling what would have happened next, had not the jungle opened, without waiting for a brave heart and a courteous tongue on Betty's part. Coming toward her all in dainty gray and white was a lady she would have recognised anywhere. That face, that had been the Madonna of her dreams, both waking and sleeping, since the first night it had kept its smiling vigil above her little bed, could belong to no one but her beautiful godmother.
With a glad little cry of recognition she sprang forward, catching one slim gray-gloved hand in hers. The white sunbonnet fell back, the brown eyes looked out from a tangle of dusky curls with a world of loving admiration in their depths, and the next instant Betty was folded in Mrs. Sherman's arms.
"Joyce Allen," she exclaimed, "all over again! Joyce's own little daughter! I would have known you anywhere, dear, I think, even—" She did not finish the sentence. Even in such an outlandish costume, was what she had started to say. She had seen Betty as the child stepped off the train, but had not given her a second glance, as it never occurred to her that the little guest she had come to meet would travel in a sunbonnet.
But Betty was blissfully unconscious of her appearance. As they crossed the city to a suburban depot, she was so interested in the mysteries of the trolley-car on which they rode, so absorbed by the great show-windows they passed, and so amazed by the city sights and sounds on every hand, that she was not conscious of the fact that she even had a head. It might have been bald for all she was concerned about the covering of it.
The Little Colonel was waiting in the carriage at the depot when Mrs. Sherman and Betty stepped off the train at Lloydsboro Valley. Rob Moore had come down, too, curious for a glimpse at the first arrival. He grinned at the expression of surprise and dismay on the Little Colonel's face as her glance fell on Betty. Was it that her little guest had no hat, she wondered, or was it because no one in the cuckoo's nest had ever taught her any better than to go travelling in such style? And carrying a little old-fashioned willow basket, too! How odd and countrified she looked!
But Lloyd was too ladylike to show her disappointment. She climbed out of the carriage and greeted Betty as graciously as her mother had done. Then straightway she forgot her annoyance, for the sweet friendliness of the little face smiling up into hers was irresistible.
"Does the Valley look as you thought it would, Elizabeth?" asked Mrs. Sherman, as the carriage rolled homeward, past handsome suburban homes with closely cut lawns and trimly kept paths.
"No," said Betty, hesitatingly. "You see I thought you lived in the country, and I suppose it is a sort of country, but not the kind that I live in. Here everything is pruned and raked until it looks as if it had just had its hair parted smoothly in the middle, and its shoe-strings tied. At home there is so much underbrush, and such a tangle of weeds and high grass and briers, that the yards look as if they'd forgotten to comb their hair when they got up, and had gone around all day with it hanging down their backs in snarls."
The Little Colonel laughed. The newcomer had amusing fancies, at any rate.
"And there's the same difference in everything else," continued Betty. "The same difference that there was between Cinderella's pumpkin and her gilded coach. It was a pumpkin all the time, only it looked different after it was bewitched. And do you know," she said, with a charming little burst of confidence that made Lloyd's heart warm toward her, "I began to feel bewitched myself, from the first moment that godmother spoke to me? She called me Elizabeth, and at home I am just plain Betty. Oh, I think it is perfectly beautiful to have a godmother."
She looked shyly up at the face above her with such a winning smile that Mrs. Sherman drew her toward her with a quick hug and kiss. Lloyd gave a little wriggle of satisfaction. "I'm so glad you've come!" she cried, so completely won by Betty's artlessness that she forgot her first impression.
"Heah we are at Locust," she said, as they drove into the long avenue. "I wish you could have seen the trees when they were all in bloom. It was like a picture."
"It is like a picture now, I think," said Betty, gazing up at the giant branches overheard that seemed to be waving a welcome. There was a listening expression on her face, as if she understood their leafy whisperings. Lloyd and her mother exchanged glances, and after that she was disturbed by no word until the carriage stopped. They understood her silent pleasure in the great trees that they themselves had learned to look upon as old friends.
At the house Betty leaned forward for an admiring glance at the tall white pillars, all wreathed and festooned in their green lacework of vines. "Oh, I know this place," she cried. "It is in my Pilgrim's Progress, where Christian stopped awhile on his way to the City of the Shining Ones. It is the House Beautiful!"
"What odd fancies you have!" exclaimed Lloyd, stepping out of the carriage as she spoke. "But it is dear of you to give the place such a sweet name. Come on up and see your room. After you have rested awhile I'll take you all over the house."
As they went down the wide, airy hall, Betty had a glimpse of the drawing-room through the open doors. In a confused way she noticed mirrors and statuary and portraits, handsome old furniture and rare pieces of bric-a-brac; but one thing caught her attention so that she stood a moment in round-eyed admiration. It was a large harp, whose gracefully curving frame gleamed through the shadowy room like burnished gold. Fair and tall it stood, as if its strings had just been swept by some of the Shining Ones beyond, who were a part of the Pilgrim's dream.
"What did you say?" asked Lloyd, hearing her cry of admiration, and looking back to see Betty standing in the open door with clasped hands. "Oh, that is grandmothah's harp. I am learning to play on it to please grandfathah. I'll teach you some chords while you are heah, if you want me to. Come on."
At the landing where the stairs turned, Betty stopped again, for there was a great casement window looking out into a beech-grove, and under it a cosy cushioned window-seat, where some one had evidently been reading. There were books and magazines scattered all among the pillows.
"Heah is yo' room!" cried Lloyd, throwing open a door at the head of the stairs, and leading the way in. Betty followed, her sunbonnet in her hand, and looked around her like one in a dream. She had never imagined a room could be so beautiful. If Lloyd could have known what a contrast it was to the bare little west gable at the cuckoo's nest, she could have better understood the wonder in Betty's face.
"My room is pink, and Eugenia's green, and Joyce's blue," explained Lloyd. "Mothah thought you would like this white and gold one best, 'cause it's like a daisy field."
Before Betty could express her admiration, Mrs. Sherman came in with an old coloured woman whom she called Mom Beck, and who, she told Betty, had been her own nurse as well as Lloyd's. "And she is anxious to see you," added Mrs. Sherman, "for she remembers your mamma so well. Many a time she helped dress her when she was a little girl no larger than you, and came home with me for a visit. She'll bring you some milk or iced tea, and fix your bath when you are ready for it. We are going to leave you now for a little while and see if you can't have a nice little nap. It has been a long, tiresome journey, and you need the rest more than you realise."
Left to herself, Betty undressed and lay down as she had been bidden. Her eyes were tired and she closed them sleepily, but they would not stay shut. She was obliged to open them for another peep at the dear little white dressing-table with its crystal candlesticks, that looked like twisted icicles. And she must see that darling little heart-shaped pin-cushion again, and all the dainty toilet articles of gold and ivory. Then she could not resist another glance at the white Angora rugs lying on the dark, polished floor, and the white screen before her wash-stand with sprays of goldenrod painted across it, looking as natural as if they had grown there.
Once she got up and pattered across the room in her nightgown to sit a moment before the little writing-desk in the corner, and handle all its dainty furnishings of gold and mother-of-pearl. There were thin white curtains at the windows, held back by broad bands of yellow ribbon. They stirred softly with every passing breeze, and fluttered and fluttered, until by and by, watching them, Betty's eyelids fluttered, too, and she closed them drowsily.
While she slept she dreamed that she was back in the cuckoo's nest again, in her bare little room in the gable, and that a great white and yellow daisy stood over her, shaking her by the shoulder and telling her that it was time to go down and wash the breakfast dishes. Then the broad white petals began to fall off one by one, and it was Davy's face in the centre. No, whose was it? She rubbed her eyes and looked again, to find her godmother standing in the door.
"It is time to dress for dinner, little girl," she called, gaily. "Do you need any help?"
"No, thank you," answered Betty, sitting up and catching a glimpse of Lloyd going past the door in a fresh white muslin and pink ribbons.
"Shall I wear my best dress, godmother?" asked Betty, "or would it be better to save it for Sunday?"
"Let me see it," said Mrs. Sherman, helping her to take it out of the little half-filled trunk. "Oh, you'd better wear it, I think. We may have company." What she saw in that trunk set her to thinking her most godmotherly thoughts.
The wax tapers were all lighted in each silver candelabra when Betty went down the stairs, looking fresh and sweet as a wildflower in her dress and ribbons of robin's-egg blue. When she slipped into the long drawing-room, Lloyd was playing on the harp. Over her hung the portrait of a beautiful young girl, also standing beside a harp. She was dressed in white, and she wore a June rose in her hair and another at her throat. Betty walked over and looked up at the picture long and earnestly.
"That's my grandmothah, Amanthis," said Lloyd, pausing in her song, "and that's the way she looked the first time grandfathah evah saw her. And heah's Uncle Tom in his soldier clothes, and this is mothah's great-great-aunt that was such a belle in the days of Clay and Webstah."
She led the way around the room, introducing Betty to all the old family portraits, with interesting tales about each one. Then she went back to her harp, and Betty sat down in front of the first picture again. "You belong to me, too, in a way," thought Betty, looking up at it. "If you are my godmother's mother, then you are my great-godmother, Amanthis, and I love you because you are so beautiful."
The harp thrilled on, the fair face of the portrait seemed to smile back at her, and in some vague, sweet way Betty felt that she had come back to her own and had been welcomed home to the House Beautiful.