The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 4: The Shadow Club

THE LITTLE COLONEL AT BOARDING-SCHOOL
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV.
THE SHADOW CLUB

LLOYD'S return to the old ways came about so naturally next morning, that no one seemed to notice her sudden desertion of Ida. Just after the morning recess began, little Elise Walton came running up to Allison, crying excitedly, "Oh, sister! Give me your handkerchief! Quick! Somebody has upset a bottle of ink on Magnolia Budine's hair, and it's running all over everything!"

Before Allison could fish her handkerchief from her sleeve, where she had thrust it during recitation, Lloyd seized a basin of water and hurried out to the back hall door. There stood Magnolia, her head craned forward like a turtle as far as possible over the steps, to keep the ink from dripping on her dress. Half a dozen little girls were making excited passes at it with handkerchiefs, slate-rags, and sponges.

"Heah!" cried Lloyd, putting the basin down on the step. "Bend ovah, Magnolia, and dip yoah head in! Anna Louise, you run and get anothah basin in the hall, and Marguerite, ask some of the big girls to bring a bucket of watah. It'll take a tubful to soak this out."

Whatever the Little Colonel undertook was thoroughly done, and when Magnolia emerged from the last vigorous rinsing, only a faint green tinge remained on the flaxen hair. But that would not wash off, Lloyd declared. She had had a similar experience herself when she was in the primary grade. It would simply have to wear off, and that process might take days.

Kitty and Allison with all the girls of their set had crowded around to see the amusing sight, offering advice and laughing all the time the performance lasted. As she worked Lloyd related her own experience. Rob Moore had tipped the battle of ink on her head one day, when they were writing letters to Santa Claus, and Mom Beck had washed her hair every day for a week to get it out.

Finally, turning her charge over to the primary girls with a couple of towels and directions to rub her dry and leave her in the sun to bleach, Lloyd led the way to the swing, where they sat laughing and joking over Magnolia's accident until the bell rang again.

The school had laughed at Magnolia from the first day, when an old carryall stopped in front of the seminary and she climbed out with a huge carpet-bag in her band. It was the most old-fashioned of carpet-bags, an elaborate pattern of red roses on each side. And she was the most old-fashioned of little girls, buttoned up in a plain-waisted bright blue merino dress, with many gathers in the full skirt. It was such a dress as her grandmother might have worn when she was a child. Her light hair was drawn back tightly behind her ears, and braided in two little tails. She was fat and awkward and shy, and so awed by the strange surroundings that a sort of terror took possession of her when she found herself alone among so many unfamiliar faces.

It was Lloyd Sherman who came to the rescue when she saw tears of fright in the round, blue eyes. Lloyd had begun the school term with a resolution to keep true to the talisman she wore. the little ring that was to remind her constantly of the "Road of the Loving Heart" which she wanted to build in every one's memory. This was her first opportunity. She led the little stranger to the principal's room, and stayed beside her until she was delivered safely into the matrons hands. Later it was Lloyd who saw her in chapel looking around in bewilderment, uncertain where to go, and beckoned her to a seat near her own. And again at roll-call, when somebody tittered at the unusual name, and the child's face was all afire with embarrassment, Lloyd's friendly smile flashed across to her was like a rope thrown to a drowning man, and she could never forget to be grateful for it.

As she was in the primary department, she could only worship Lloyd from afar during the day, but as rooms were assigned irrespective of classes, and hers was in the same wing and on the same floor with Lloyd's, she often left her door ajar in the evening, in the hope of seeing her pass, or hearing her voice in the hall. Once she heard Ida call her princess. The name struck her fancy, and as "The Princess" Lloyd was henceforth enshrined in her adoring little heart. Lloyd often caught her admiring glances in chapel, and several times found little offerings in her desk on Monday mornings, when the old carryall came back from the Budine farm with the little girl and the huge carpetbag.

There was an enormous red apple one time, polished to the highest degree of shininess; several ears of pop-corn at another, and once a stiff little bunch of magenta zinnias and yellow chrysanthemums. There was never any name left with them. Lloyd guessed the giver, but she did not realize what a large place she occupied in Magnolia's affections, or how the child choked with embarrassment till she almost swallowed her chewing-gum, whenever Lloyd chanced to meet her in the hall with a friendly good morning.

"Let's go down to the playhouses and see if the green is bleaching out of Magnolia's hair," proposed Lloyd at the afternoon recess, with all her old-time heartiness; and again the girls forgot to wonder why she stayed with them instead of wandering off with Ida to the orchard.

Just as they reached the spring a shout went up from the circle of little girls gathered around Magnolia. She was facing them defiantly, her fat little face red with mortification.

"What's the matter, Elise?" asked Allison, in a big-sister tone. "Why are you all teasing Magnolia?"

"I'm not teasing her," cried Elise, indignantly. "I told her just now not to mind anything they said, and I'd lend her my paper-doll bride to play with till next Friday afternoon."

"She said that she learned to read in a graveyard, off of the tombstones." giggled Anna Louise, "and it seemed so funny that we couldn't help laughing,"

Magnolia hung her head, twisting a corner of her apron in her fat little fingers, and wishing that the earth would open and swallow her. She had seen the amusement in the Little Colonel's face, and it hurt worse than the ridicule of all the others combined. She felt that she must die of shame.

"That's nothing to laugh at," said Betty, seeing the distress in her face, and divining what the child was suffering. "I used to have lovely times in the old graveyard at the Cuckoo's Nest. Don't you remember how peaceful and sweet it was, Lloyd?" she asked, turning to the Little Colonel, who nodded assent. "Davy and I used to walkup there every afternoon in summer to smell the pinks and the lilies, and read what was carved on the old stones. And we'd sit there in the grass and listen to the redbirds in the cedars, and make up stories about all the people lying there asleep. And Davy learned most of his letters there."

"That's the way it was at Loretta, wasn't it, Maggie!" exclaimed Elise, encouragingly. "Tell them about it."

But Maggie hung her head and twisted the toes of her stubby shoes around in the dust, unable to say a word.
"I'll tell them, then," said Elise, turning to the larger girls. "They used to live near the convent at Loretta, and one of their neighbours, a girl lots older than Maggie, used to take her up to the graveyard nearly every day. There wasn't any place else to go, you know, and it was lonesome out there in the country. This girl was named Corono, after one of the Sisters who was dead. She had been awfully good to both their families, when they were sick, and Corono and Maggie used to make daisy-chains and crowns out of the honeysuckles and roses, 'cause Corono means crown, and put them on her grave. And every time they would go, Maggie would learn a new letter off one of the tombstones, and after awhile she got so she could read."

"How interesting!" exclaimed Lloyd, all unconscious of the way her words set Maggie's heart to beating with pleasure. Elise turned toward her with a motherly air that seemed very funny considering that she was smaller than the child whom she was championing so valiantly. "I'm going to ask them about that album right now, Maggie. You run back to school and get it."

Glad of any excuse to make her escape, Maggie started off to the house as fast as her fat little legs would carry her. Deprived of their sport, the smaller girls returned to their playhouses and the older ones strolled leisurely back toward the seminary. Elise tagged along beside Lloyd and Allison.
"Maggie has gone to get her autograph-album," she explained. "It used to be her mother's when she went to school at the convent, but now it's Maggie's. Not more than half the leaves are written on, and her mother said she could use it if she'd be very careful. She wants you girls to write in it. She has had it in her desk for two weeks, trying to get up her courage to ask you, Lloyd, but she was afraid you would laugh. I told her I wasn't afraid. I'd ask you. She wants all the big girls to write in it, but she said 'specially "The Princess."

"The Princess!" echoed Lloyd, in surprise. 

"Yes, that's what she calls you all the time. 'Cause you were that in the play, I suppose. She thinks you are the loveliest person she ever saw, and says if she could just look like you and be like you for one day, she'd die happy. And once" --- Elise lowered her voice confidentially --- "she told me that when she says her prayers every night, she always prays that some day she'll grow nice enough for you to like her."

"The poor little thing!" cried Lloyd, much touched. "To think of her caring like that! You tell her, Elise, that of co'se we'll all write in it. I shall be glad to."

Elise ran on after Maggie, happy in the accomplishment of her kindly assumed mission, and presently came back with the book which she left in Lloyd's hands.

"Look, girls, what a funny old-fashioned thing it is!" cried Lloyd, turning to Katie Mallard, who with Betty and Kitty were just behind them. All the others came crowding around also.

"Heah is 'Album of the Heart' in gilt lettahs on the back, with such funny plump little cupids sitting in the rose-wreath around it."

"And, oh, see!" cried Betty, glancing over her shoulder at the delicately traced names of the gentle nuns, and the girls who had been playmates of Maggie's mother in a far-away past. "They are all dated over forty years ago."

"Of course," answered Katie. "Nobody is old fashioned enough nowadays to have an autograph album. They are so old-timey and out of date."
"Wait a minute, please," said Betty, as Lloyd slowly turned the leaves. "What is that verse signed Sister Corono? Oh, it is an acrostic. See? The initial letters of each line, read downward, spell Martha. That must be Mrs. Budine's name."

Several voices read the verse in unison:
"May thy life be ever led 
Along the path of duty. 
Rich in deeds of helpfulness, 
That fill sad hearts with beauty. 
Happiness shall then attend thee, 
And all the blessed saints befriend thee."

Isn't that sweet?" cried Betty. "I'm going to write one for Magnolia. There's something pathetic about that child to me. She looks so wistful sometimes. She's dreadfully odd, but it's mean of the girls to laugh at her."

"I'll do something extra nice, too," said Lloyd. "I can't write poetry, but I'll copy a bar of music from one of the Princess Winsome songs. I think notes look so pretty copied in pen and ink."

"'I'll paint a magnolia blossom in water-colours," said Allison, not to be outdone by the others.

"And I --- Oh, I'll draw a kitten for her to remember my name by," said Kitty. laughing.
As both Allison and Kitty had real talent for drawing, the girls who saw the pages they decorated were moved to envy; and when Betty added an acrostic on the name Magnolia, nobody had a word of ridicule for the little Album of the Heart, that was serving two generations as a storehouse of sentiment. Betty's verse was passed around the school:

"May our friendship be as sweet
  As the flower whose name you bear.
  Girlhood days are fleet.
  No others are half so fair.
  O like a violet pressed,
  Let my name on this page long dwell.
  In after years to recall
  A schoolmate who wished you well."

When the girls read that, an autograph-album fever broke out in the school. Every one came to Betty for an acrostic. She spent all her playtime writing them. She ate all her meals struggling inwardly with the hard initials in such names as Pinkie Ursula, and Vashti. She even dreamed rhymes in her sleep.

Lloyd copied music until her fingers ached, for everybody requested a verse of a Princess Winsome song. Kitty drew whole colonies of kittens, and Allison, finding it impossible to paint a flower typical of each name presented, took to painting a single forget-me-not above her name.

The teachers, too, suffered from the epidemic, and even people outside the school, until the principal found twenty-three letters in the mail-bag one morning, all addressed to a well-known writer of juvenile stories, whose books were the most popular in the school. An investigation proved that because one girl had received his autograph, twenty- three had followed her example in requesting it, and not one of them had enclosed a stamp; nor had it occurred to them that an author's time is too valuable to spend in answering questions, merely to satisfy the idle curiosity of his readers.
"One stamp is of little value," said the principal, "but multiply it by the hundreds he would have to use in a year in answering the letters of thoughtless strangers, who have no claim on him in any way." Twenty-three girls filed out into the hall after the principal's little talk that followed, and slipped their letters from the mail-bag. Ten of them threw theirs into the waste-basket. The others, who had asked no questions and were more desirous of obtaining their favourite author's autograph, opened theirs to enclose an envelope, stamped and addressed; but few more letters of the kind went out from Lloydsboro Seminary after that.

Kitty, Katie, Allison, Betty, and Lloyd all pounced upon Miss Edith one morning before school, each with an album in her hand. Miss Edith clutched her hair in mock despair. "These make the seventh dozen I have been asked to write in this week," she declared. "Life is too short to hunt up a different sentiment for each one. I must use the same verse for everybody."

The girls perched on the desks around the rostrum, as she spread out the books before her and began to write. They always loved the few moments they could snatch in Miss Edith's room before school, and felt that her autograph would be one of the most valuable in the collection.

"This is one of my favourite verses," said Miss Edith, as she passed the blotter over the last page, and read it aloud:

"This learned I from the shadow of a tree 
That to and fro did sway upon the wall: 
Our shadow-selves --- our influence ---  may fall 
Where we can never be."

"I want to tell you a little incident that fastened it in my memory. I have a friend teaching in one of the mountain schools of Kentucky, who told me of two girls who came to the door one day, asking to be admitted as students. Each carried a bundle of clothes wrapped in a newspaper. That was all they had --- no money to pay their tuition, no way of paying their board unless they were allowed to work for it. They had walked forty miles to get to that school. Their home was twice the distance away, but their uncle, who was a tin pedlar, took them half-way in his wagon. They were a week on the road after they left him, where his route branched off from theirs. They stopped at night in some village or farmhouse to which he directed them.

"Nobody had the heart to tell them that there was no room for students who could not pay their way, neither could any one turn away such ambition. But the school was poor. It is kept up by donations from benevolent people, and it was only by great self sacrifice that the teachers could take them at all.

"The following vacation, while I was at the seashore, I had a letter from this friend, and happened to speak of it and the two girls to a wealthy lady whom I met there. She seemed so interested that I read her my friend's letters. They were so full of the struggles and hardships of those mountain people that she was greatly interested and touched. and began corresponding with the principal of the school herself. The outcome of it was that she sent a check for ten thousand dollars to endow scholarships. Of course these two girls were the first to be benefited by the gift, and next June they will be graduated from the school with honour. fitted to become teachers themselves, far in advance of the time it would have taken had they been obliged to work their way through. Instead of plodding along, using the greater part of their time and strength in laundry work or sewing, they could go on with the college course uninterrupted. They are going to start a school themselves in the mountains, nearer their own home.

"Now that lady never saw those girls, and they were as unconscious that their influence was touching a life a thousand miles away as that tree out yonder, throwing its shadow across on the Clovercroft lawn. They simply stood in their places and reached out as far as they possibly could after what was good and high and worthy in life; but for years and years to come, students who profit by that endowment will be grateful for the shadow cast by those two ambitious girls."

Miss Edith never preached. She did not go on to tell them, as Miss McCannister would have done, that they were responsible not only for the influence of their daily living upon others, but for the effect their shadow-selves might cast on others far beyond their reach. She only pointed to the flaming red leaves of a gum-tree outside the window, and the shadow swaying partly on the high picket fence, and partly across the Clovercroft lawn, then passed the albums back with a smile. Then the girls filed slowly out to chapel.

It was a warm October day, and as Allison took her seat by an open window in the history class an hour later, she found it hard to fix her thoughts on the old French and Indian wars. It was so much pleasanter to look with dreamy eyes through the haze of the Indian summer, which Mom Beck said was the ghost-smoke from the peace-pipes of old dead and gone chieftains.

She watched the slow fluttering to earth of the pale yellow maple leaves, and listened to the soft rustling of the gorgeous red leaves on the gum-tree to which Miss Edith had pointed. Once or twice she started, recalling her thoughts to the history lesson with an effort as she remembered the girls who were hungry enough for an education to walk forty miles for it and work for their board. She thought vaguely how eagerly they would have improved their opportunities had they been in her place. They would have taken a lively interest in the old wars, instead of sitting in idle day-dreams. 

All at once, as Allison watched the swaying of the gum-trees shadow on the fence and lawn, a thought came to her that made her seize a pencil and a piece of paper. Writing notes was forbidden in Miss McCannister's classes, but Allison could not wait until recess to share her brilliant thought with Lloyd. With her big eyes fixed innocently on Miss Bina's fishy ones, she scribbled slowly on the paper without once looking down: "Let's form a Shadow Club, with Miss Edith's verse for a motto. A. W." It took much manoeuvring to succeed in passing the slip of paper to Lloyd, who sat several seats in front. When it finally reached her she did not dare turn round to nod a pleased assent, but Allison knew that her suggestion was received favourably, for Lloyd's hand at once went up to readjust the bow at the back of her hair, and two fingers wagged violently for an instant out of Miss Bina's sight. Had it been her thumb, Allison would have interpreted the signal to mean no; but from the rapid wagging of the two fingers she knew that Lloyd was much pleased with the idea.

Allison's plan, as she outlined it to Betty, Lloyd, and Kitty at recess, in one of the swings, was to form a club that should be not only fun for themselves, but of some real benefit to the girls of the mountain districts. The Christmas before, the little circle of Busy Bees, to which Elise belonged, had sent two barrels of clothes and toys to them, under Mrs. Clelling's supervision. She had organized the circle, and was deeply interested in the work. Now Allison proposed that the club should earn money for the same purpose. She grew quite enthusiastic planning the fair they could hold in the spring. "Kitty and I could paint calendars and sachets and paper dolls, you know, Lloyd, and you and Betty could embroider things."

"Katie Mallard crochets the cunningest little doll-caps you ever saw," suggested Kitty. "Of course we'll have her in it."

A warm glow came into the Little Colonel's heart. Here was her chance to do something for Ida, "Let's have just a little bit of a club," she urged; "not more than half a dozen. If we begin to invite generally, it's impossible to draw the line where we can stop. We can't ask all the school, for if we have refreshments, for so many, each meeting will be like giving a big pa'hty But half a dozen of us could get together whenever we felt like it, and have the cosiest kind of a time with our chafing-dishes, without the rest finding it out. Then nobody would feel hurt."

"Here's four of us to begin with," said Kitty, "and if we have Katie there's five. Shall you ask Corinne?"
"I wish we could," said Betty, "but that would leave Margery out, and it would never do to ask them and not have Anna Louise and Marguerite. It must be all or none in that crowd."

"I wish you all would be willing to ask Ida," said Lloyd, imploringly. "She does such beautiful leather-work, and that brings better prices than anything we can make."

I am sure I'm willing," said Betty, cordially.
" I have no objection," said Allison, remembering the pleasant things Ida had said about her, and Kitty, who cared little who was in the club or out of it, so long as she had Katie Mallard, echoed her sister's consent.

"As it is a Shadow Club, we'll keep dark about it," said Kitty. "The girls need never know we've formed one. We ought to meet in the dark to carry out the idea of its name. How would it do to have the haunted house of Hartwell Hollow for our meeting-place?"

"Mercy, no!" exclaimed Lloyd, with a shiver. "That's too spooky, but if you and Allison and Katie can make some excuse to spend the night at the seminary some time, we'll have a midnight suppah."

"I think we might tell mother and Mrs. Mallard about the club," said Allison. "They can keep a secret, and we'll have lots nicer times and better refreshments if we let them into it."

"Well," agreed Lloyd, "but we mustn't let a single girl find it out. They'd be mad as fiah to be slighted this way. Cross yoah heart and body now, every one of you, that you'll not breathe it to a soul."

Three hands instantly imitated her solemn gesture.

"We'll have the first meeting at The Beeches," said Allison, "because I got up the club. I'll get mother to telephone to the principal to let you and Betty and Ida come over to supper Saturday."

Lloyd danced away to recitation so happy that her face fairly beamed. She managed to spell across to Ida on her fingers that the invitation she had coveted was hers at last.

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