The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 9: One Rainy Afternoon

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX.
ONE RAINY AFTERNOON

THAT same Saturday afternoon following the Hallowe'en frolic, while Maggie rehearsed the whole affair once more in the cabin, the Shadow Club discussed it at the seminary. They had met early, for Lloyd and Betty had asked permission to make candy in their room, and in order to finish the amount of work they had planned to do at each meeting, it was necessary for them to begin immediately after dinner.

It was a dull November day, cloudy and damp, and while they were settling themselves to work, the rain began to patter against the window-panes.

"How cosy and shut-in it makes you feel!" exclaimed Katie, looking around on the bright, comfortable room.

"We are shut in," answered Lloyd. "The Clark girls and Magnolia have gone home to stay ovah Sunday, and we have this whole wing to ourselves. Nobody can heah us, no mattah how loud we talk." 

"Let's put up the sign, ' No admittance. Busy,' on the corridor door leading into our hall," suggested Ida. "On a rainy afternoon like this, when the girls can't get outdoors, they're more apt to go visiting, and we don't want to be interrupted."

"That's so," agreed Lloyd. Hastily scribbling the notice on an envelope, she ran out and fastened it on the door with a pin.

"Now we're safe," she announced on her return, and settled herself comfortably among the cushions of the window-seat. For half an hour their needles and brushes were plied rapidly, as they chattered and laughed over the various remarks they had heard about the mysterious Hallowe'en guests. Who they were still remained an unsolved riddle in the school.

Presently Ida dropped her embroidery-hoops and leaned back in her chair yawning. "Oh, I'm in no mood for work of this kind! My silks snarl, my needle keeps coming unthreaded, and I stick myself nearly every time I take a stitch. I'm making such a mess of it I'd stop only I don't want to shirk my part when you are all working so faithfully.  When my embroidery acts this way it makes me so nervous I could scream."

"Why don't you do some more burnt-work instead?" suggested Katie.

"I'm out of leather. The last lot I sent foe hasn't come."

"You might read to us while we work," suggested Betty. "There's a new St. Nicholas on the table"

"Yes, do," insisted Allison. "Mother said this morning that she thought it would be a fine plan for us to take up some good book and read it in turn while we work."

As all the girls agreed, Ida picked up the magazine and began turning the leaves.

"What will you have?" she asked. "This scientific article doesn't look very entertaining, and this football story wouldn't interest anybody but boys. We can't plunge into the middle of this serial without having read the first chapters, and, judging from the illustrations and the name of this girl's story, it is anything but wildly exciting."

She glanced hastily over the remaining pages, and then laid the magazine aside. "I wonder," she said, hesitatingly, "if any of you have ever read a book I have in my room, called 'The Fortunes of Daisy Dale.'  It's the sweetest thing; I nearly cried my eyes out over part of it. Of course it's a novel, and some people object to them unless they're by some great writer like Thackeray or Scott. I know my aunt does. But I don't see how this could hurt anybody. It's about a dear little English girl whose guardian kept her almost like a prisoner, so that he could use her money. She had such a hard time that she ran away and got a place as a governess when she was only sixteen. She had all sorts of trouble and misunderstandings, but it ends happily. All the way through she has such a beautiful influence on young Lord Rokeby and Guy Wolvering, the squire's son, who is so wild that his father threatens to disinherit him. It is his love for her that finally reforms him. Her influence over him is a living illustration of the motto of our club."

"Then let's read it," proposed Allison, eagerly.

"Oh, yes, go get it, Ida," called Lloyd and Kitty in the same breath.

"That is, if you don't mind reading it twice Yourself," added Betty.

"No, indeed!" answered Ida, rising. "I could read it a dozen times and never tire of it"

In a moment she was back from her room, carrying the book in one hand and dragging a rocking-chair behind her with the other. She drew it up to one of the windows, and pushing the curtains farther aside, sat down and began to read, to the pattering accompaniment of the rain-drops on the pane. She was a good reader, the best in the seminary, and her well modulated voice would have lent a charm to any story; but the expression she threw into this made it seem as if she were recounting her own personal troubles.

She had not read half a chapter before Lloyd understood why it seemed so. Ida was putting herself in Daisy Dale's place. Instead of the unjust guardian there was the unreasonable aunt. Instead of the squire's son, Edwardo; and the stolen meetings and the smuggled letters and the pearl Daisy wore in secret recalled the confidences of the night in the orchard, and many that had been whispered to her since.

The Shadow Club forgot where they were presently. They ceased to notice that the cold rain drove faster and faster against the windows. They were treading a winding path across a sunny English meadow with Daisy and her lover. It was June-time where they wandered. The hawthorn hedges were budding white, and even the crevices of the old stone wall flaunted its bloom wherever a cluster of "London pride" could find a foothold.

In a little while Katie's crochet-work slipped into her lap unheeded. With chin in hands and elbows on her knees, she leaned forward, listening with rapt attention. Betty laid down her embroidery-hoops, and Kitty and Allison stopped painting. It was a wild, stormy night now, and they were suffering with Daisy, as with clasped hands and streaming eyes she turned her back on her old home, driven out to seek her own living by her guardian's unbearable tyranny.

Lloyd's cheeks burned redder and redder as the story went on, and Daisy Dale, established as governess at Cameron Hall, again met Guy Wolvering and listened to his vows of deathless devotion. She wondered how Ida could read on so calmly when some of those scenes had been her own experience. She wondered what the girls would say if they knew all that she knew. Then she wondered how it would feel to be the heroine in such scenes, and be the idol of some one's whole existence, as Daisy Dale was of Guy Wolvering's, as Ida was of Edwardo's.

"Oh, don't stop!" begged five eager voices, when Ida finally laid down the book.

"I must. It's nearly dark, and my throat is tired. Do you realize I have been reading all afternoon?

"Oh, it didn't seem more than five minutes!" exclaimed Katie. "I never was so interested in anything in my life. I am wild to hear the end."

"Girls!" cried Allison, tragically, starting up from her chair. "I wish you'd look at that clock! We haven't made the candy, and we've scarcely worked at all this whole afternoon, and now it's time to go home."

"But how can we?" queried Kitty. "It's simply pouring. Look at those windows. The rain is coming in torrents."

"We'll have to stay all night," laughed Katie. "Wouldn't it be fun if we could?"

"You can," cried Lloyd, seizing the suggestion eagerly. "I'm sure that the matron would be willing. There's plenty of extra rooms on Satahday night; there's two right heah in this wing. All you have to do is to telephone home and ask yoah mothahs. I'm suah they'll let you, because it's such dreadful weathah. Come on, let's go and ask now. Then we can make the candy befoah suppah, and finish the book befoah bedtime."

With the pouring rain as an excuse, it was easy to obtain the matron's permission for them to stay, and she herself telephoned to Mrs. Walton and Mrs. Mallard, explaining the situation and assuring them that the girls would be well taken care of.

Both mothers gave consent so thankfully that the matron turned away from the telephone feeling that her hospitable insistence had made these ladies her friends for life; and she bustled away well pleased with herself, to put fresh sheets on the beds in the empty rooms in the west wing.

The Clark sisters' room, next to Lloyd and Betty's, had a closet built opposite theirs into the same partition-wall, in the deep space beside the chimney. When both doors were closed no sound penetrated from one room to the other, but if either were left ajar, any one happening to step into either closet could hear quite distinctly what was said on the other side.

The matron, opening the closet door on her side of the wall to fold away some blankets that she had just taken from the beds, heard Lloyd on the other side hunting for the bottle of alcohol for the chafing-dish. Then Katie's voice came piping through high and shrill:

"Wasn't it sweet of Mrs. Bond to telephone herself and insist on our being allowed to stay? If I had been at the telephone mamma would have said that she would send the carriage and I needn't get wet, and could come home just as well as not. But she was willing to accept an invitation from headquarters. I'm going to save Mrs. Bond some of my fudge. She's just the dearest thing that ever was."

"I shall save her some, too," said Kitty. "I'd like to give her a good big squeeze for being so kind to us."

Mrs. Bond stepped out into the room again with a pleased smile on her motherly face. As she went downstairs she began revolving a plan in her mind for the evening entertainment of these appreciative little guests which she thought would give them still greater pleasure. Scarcely had she gone when another listener took her place. This time the eavesdropping was intentional.

Mittie Dupong, crossing over to the west wing to borrow a magazine from Betty, saw the sign on the corridor door. Knowing what such signs usually mean at five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, she softly turned the knob and stepped into the narrow hall. A delicious smell of boiling candy came floating down toward her from Lloyd's room, and a peal of laughter, in which she distinguished first Allison's voice, then Kitty's and Katie's. She felt a trifle piqued at being left out of the merrymaking.

"I wonder who else is in there," she thought, slipping on toward the keyhole. Just as she was about to stoop and peep in, a sudden noise inside as of some one coming toward her made her draw back. The door into the Clark girls' room stood open. She darted in and waited breathlessly. Lloyd was coming out into the hall, saying, "Never mind about the lamp-chimney; I'll get Lassie's."

[Left:  "She could hear every word of the conversation"]

Mittie had barely time to spring into the closet when Lloyd entered, took the lamp from the table, and carried it back to her own room. Crouched down in her dark hiding-place Mittie discovered that the closet was a far better situation for eavesdropping than the keyhole. She could hear every word of the conversation without the risk of being detected.

Evidently the girls were discussing some story that they had been reading, and a very sentimental one at that. A wicked little gleam of triumph came into Mittie's eyes as she listened. For here were Lloyd and Allison and Kitty and Katie Mallard and Betty, actually teasing each other about the boys they liked best. And it hadn't been a week since Lloyd had said, with a scornful little toss of her head, "Oh, Mittie, you make me ti'ahed! Always talking about the boys!" and the four of them had walked off with their arms around each other as if quite disgusted.

"Oh, won't I get even with them now for turning up their noses at me!" exclaimed Mittie to herself, and she pressed her ear closer to the thin partition wall that divided the two closets.

Katie's voice came first: "If I'd been Daisy Dale I'd have fallen in love with Lord Rokeby instead of the Squire's son, because he was tall and fair and blue-eyed."

"Like Charlie Downs," put in Kitty, mischievously. "Oh, girls! Look at her blush!"

" I'm not blushing." protested Katie, wildly.

"But you can't deny that he's the one," insisted Kitty. " Even when we were little and used to play 'lady come to see' you always played that you were Mrs. Downs, you know you did."

"I don't care," pouted Katie. "I don't do it now, and anyhow I don't keep an old dead rose and a valentine and a brass button all tied up in a fancy box with blue ribbon, the way you do, because Guy Ferris gave them to you. Now, who's blushing?"

"Katie Mallard, that's something you promised you'd never tell as long as you live!" cried Kitty. "I didn't think you'd be so mean as to go back on your promise." She turned away with such an offended air that Katie saw that her teasing had gone farther than she intended. She hastened to make amends, for she couldn't be happy while there was the slightest misunderstanding between her and her best friend.

"I didn't think you'd care, Kitty. Truly I didn't. I wouldn't have teased you before the other girls, but just here, in our own little club, it oughtn't to make any difference. Why, I don't mind one bit telling you girls that I like Charlie Downs better than any boy I know, and that I felt glad when my apple parings made his initials every time I threw them over my shoulder on Hallowe'en. I don't think it's anything to confess that much, or to care for things a boy gives you as you do for the valentine and the rose. That's a very different matter from talking about the boys as Mittie Dupong does about Carter Brown."

"Well I should think so!" exclaimed Lloyd, in a tone that made Mittie, on the other side of the wall, set her teeth together angrily. "But Mittie isn't like the girls we've always gone with. She's so common! She plays kissing-games. I've nevah had any use for her since Cartah Browns birthday pahty. When they played Pillow and Post-office, every boy m the room kissed her, and Lollie Briggs and all that set of girls that she goes with. I couldn't undahstand it. Some of them seemed so nice; Flynn Willis, you know, and Caddie Bailey. I wouldn't have thought it of them."

"I think they are all nice girls," said Betty, "even Mittie. It's just because they have been brought up that way. They've all come from little towns where such games are the custom, and they really don't know any better. Don't be so fierce about it, Lloyd. One of the girls at our table ate with her knife when she first came, and took her soup out of the end of her spoon, and picked her pie up in her fingers. But she's as ladylike in her manners as anybody now. She simply hadn't been taught how to eat. Those girls will change, too, probably in time."

"But this is different," persisted Lloyd. "I know whom you mean. It was that little Prosser girl. But for all her bad table mannahs she was a lady at heart. She didn't take part in those games, and she wouldn't allow a boy to take such a liberty with her as to kiss her, any moah than one of us girls would, that had been brought up heah in the Valley. I'll always be glad we didn't ask Mittie or any of that set to join our club. They may be all right, but if they don't want to be considahed common they oughtn't to do things that make them seem so, and that are considahed so by the best society."

The blue blood of an old patrician family, proud of its traditions and proud of its generations of gentle breeding was coursing hotly through the Little Colonel's veins as she spoke. Mittie could imagine how she looked as she stood there passing judgment, her head haughtily lifted, a flush on the high-bred little face. The mortified eavesdropper could not feel that she had really done anything wrong at the party, for as Betty had said, such games were always played in the country place where she came from, even in the presence of grown people. And the sport was often rough and boisterous, as it is among the peasant class of the older countries. But measuring herself by Lloyd's exacting standard, she somehow felt that she had been found sadly wanting, and she angrily resented the verdict of this little patrician, who, dainty and refined to the very fingertips, made her seem less of a lady, less worthy of respect than herself.

The next instant Lloyd's scornful tone changed to one of cheerful sweetness, as she called, "Bring the buttered plates, Betty, please. The fudge is ready to pour out."

Hiding there in the dark closet, Mittie heard many things during the next half-hour, which she stored away in her memory for future repetition. The secret of the Shadow Club was one, for they discussed it freely, regretting that they had accomplished so little that afternoon, and discussing the place of the next meeting.

With the curtains drawn, and the red lamp-shade casting a soft rosy glow over the room, it seemed a time for confidences. The rain came harder and harder in stormy gusts against the windows, but the curtains that shut out the night seemed to shut them in with the warmth and cheer of the cosy room. As they drew their chairs around the table, rocking comfortably back and forth, with the candy passing from hand to hand, they felt more closely drawn together themselves than they ever had before. And they talked of things they had never mentioned to each other before. "The Fortunes of Daisy Dale" had turned their thoughts toward the far-off future, and standing before its closed gate as if it were the portal to some unexplored Paradise, they questioned each other with eager wondering as to what might lie in store for them on the other side.

"Well." exclaimed Katie, at length, "when I grow up, I hope the man who proposes to me will do it just as Guy did. I think it's so pretty, that scene in the cherry lane." She quoted, softly: "'The cherry lane is all in bridal white, my Marguerite, and when it blooms again I'll come to claim my bride --- my pearl.'"

"I wonder if they all talk that way," mused Kitty.

"Of course not," said Betty, with a laugh. "It wouldn't fit in most cases. Imagine old Mr. Andrews calling his little black skinny wife his Jane Maria, his pearl!  I suppose most people do it in as commonplace a way as Laurie proposed to Amy, in 'Little Women.'"

"I'm going to ask papa what he said," declared Katie.

Then the supper-bell rang, and Mittie heard no more. As soon as it was safe to venture from her hiding place, she followed them down to the dining-room.

Anxious to get back to the reading of the book, the members of the Shadow Club could hardly conceal their disappointment when Mrs. Bond invited them into her parlour after supper, to try some new games which she thought would interest them. Under the circumstances they felt it would be impolite to refuse. They whispered to each other that they would slip away early, but one thing after another kept them, and it was bedtime before they started up-stairs.

"Oh, I'm so dreadfully disappointed! " wailed Katie; "I won't be able to sleep a wink to-night for wondering how that story is going to end."

"We'll never have such a good chance to finish it again," said Allison, "and even if Ida should loan us the book, we'll not enjoy it as much as if she could read it to us. Her reading adds so much to it."

Kitty expressed the same opinion, and openly envied Lloyd and Betty, who, being in the same building, might have future opportunities which would be denied them. At last Ida proposed that they finish the book after the curfew signal, and preparations were hastily made.

As soon as Kitty and Katie were ready for bed, they took possession, as before, of Lloyd's bed. Lloyd and Betty climbed into the one on the other side of the room. Allison carried blankets and pillows from the next room to the divan, where she made herself comfortable, and Ida, putting a heavy woollen bathrobe over her nightdress, and stretching out in a steamer-chair with a shawl over her, began to read. There was a golf cape draped over the transom. Paper was stuffed in the keyholes, the outside shutters were tightly closed, the blinds drawn, and the curtains pinned together over them, so that not a single telltale ray of light could betray them to the outside world. Three lamps stood in a row on the table, so that they might be burned in turn, and no one of them be found with the oil entirely consumed in the morning.

Everywhere in the big building was silence and sleep, save in that one room in the west wing. There Ida's voice went musically on, and, with eyes wide open and every sense alert, the girls lay and listened. The rain still poured on, and the wind rattled the casements. Downstairs the clock struck ten, eleven, twelve; but not till the bride-bells rang out in the last chapter from the steeple of the little stone church in the English village did they lose interest for a moment in the "Fortunes of Daisy Dale." The beautiful ending was something for them to dream over for weeks. It was Sunday morning before Ida and the three guests stole to their rooms, and crept shivering between the cold sheets.

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