The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 11: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

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

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI.
A WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING

EVERY day since the first of November there had been a letter for Ida in the Sherman's post-office box, under cover of Lloyd's address. Lloyd had grown to dread the afternoon walks with the school, for she was in a flutter of nervousness from the moment they came in sight of the post-office until the letter was safe in Ida's possession. There was always the fear that Betty might get to the window first, or that she might catch sight of the envelope, addressed with many flourishes in a big, bold hand; or that that letter might be the only one, as it often was, and Betty might wonder why Lloyd's face should grow so red when she answered, "No, nothing for us this time."

It was easier to manage after the weather turned cold enough to furnish an excuse for carrying a muff. but even then she fancied that Miss Mattie looked at her curiously sometimes, when she thrust the daily letter hastily out of sight without a second glance. She never went through the performance without wishing that it might be the last time that she should be placed in such an uncomfortable position; but afterward she always reproached herself for making such a wish. It seemed a very poor friendship that could not stand a little test like that. It was such a small thing to do when the happiness of her friend's whole life was at stake.

Then she had her reward in the evenings, when Ida, with her arms around her, whispered her undying gratitude, or read her extracts from her letters, which gave her glimpses into a romance far more beautiful than the "Fortunes of Daisy Dale." or the "Heiress of Dorn," or any of the others they had read since.

A sort of circulating library had started since the rainy night the Shadow Club read its first volume. Ida had a pile of paper-covered books in her closet which she pronounced fully as interesting as the one she had read aloud; so "Elsie's Wooing," "Fair but False," and the "Heiress of Dorn" began passing in turn from the covers of Katie's geography to Kitty's, and from Lloyd's history to Betty's and Allison's. They read at recess, they read before school, and more than once some exciting chapter proved too interesting to be laid aside in study time for the work of the hour.

After a few volumes of such tales, Betty became fired with an ambition to write one herself, and soon became so absorbed in her pastime that she could think of little else. Eugene was the name of her hero, and Gladys was the maiden who combined all the beauty and virtues possible for one mundane creature to possess. The whole club was consulted as to the colour of her eyes and hair, and many points about which the little author was undecided. They came in time to regard Eugene and Gladys as real personages, in whom they had a family interest. Lloyd had bits of the story read to her sometimes when they were getting ready for bed. Betty lost interest in everything to such an extent that she ceased to be sociable, and spent most of her time alone, dreaming out different scenes in the story, which filled her mind to the exclusion of even her lessons.

One afternoon, near the middle of November, Lloyd, hurrying through the lower hall with an open letter in her hand, met the president.

"Oh, Doctah Wells!" she exclaimed. "I was just going to yoah room. Heah is a note mothah sent you in the lettah that came to-day. She has written for some things she needs, and wants Betty and me to walk up to Locust aftah school with a message to the servants about packing them, if you'll excuse us from the regulah promenade."

"Certainly," he answered, glancing over Mrs. Sherman's gracefully written request.

"But Betty has such a bad cold," continued Lloyd, " that the matron thinks she oughtn't to go out to walk today, and it's lonely going back home by myself, when it's all shut up. May I take Ida Shane with me instead? She's nevah seen Locust from the inside, and I'd love to show it to her. You know," a little smile dimpling her face as she spoke, "I cant help being proud of the old place"

"You have good reason," said the professor, smiling back at her kindly." It is certainly a beautiful old homestead. Yes, I have no objection to Ida's going with you."

"Oh, thank you!" cried Lloyd. She hurried up the stairs to Ida's room, calling excitedly as she reached the door, "Yes, he says you may go. Hurry and put on your things so that we can have as long time as possible up there."

Betty had gone into the matron's room in her absence. It took Lloyd only a moment to slip into her hat and coat. Then catching up her muff and thrusting it under her arm, she started back to Ida's room, buttoning her gloves as she went. Ida had taken down her hair and was deliberately rearranging it before the mirror.

"Oh, what did you do that for?" cried Lloyd, half-impatiently. "It looked all right as it was. We're not going to see any one but the servants. There's no use wearing your best hat." She glanced at the mass of velvet and plumes lying on the bed. "Just pin your hair up any fashion and stick on your mortarboard. That'll do."

"Shut the door, please," said Ida, in a low tone. "I have something to tell you." She bent nearer the mirror, drawing the comb through the fluffy pompadour. "We are going to see some one this afternoon. Edwardo is in the Valley."

Lloyd dropped her muff at this surprising announcement, but Ida went on, calmly. "I've been expecting him for several days. He comes to Lloydsboro sometimes to visit his cousin. I've lain awake nights trying to arrange some way to see him. This is a thousand times better than any way I could think of. I'm the luckiest girl that ever lived to have such a friend as you to plan for me, Princess"

"I don't know what you mean," exclaimed Lloyd. "I haven't planned anything."

"No, not intentionally, bill look how easy you have made it for me to have an interview. He'll be on the watch for the seminary girls to pass by the store, for I was to manage to leave a note there for him, telling him where I can see him. All I have to do now is to signal him to follow, and we can have a good long talk at Locust while you are giving the servants their orders. You don't mind, do you?" she asked, as Lloyd continued to stare at her without saying anything.

"No. Oh, no! Of co'se not," answered Lloyd, with a confused laugh. "Only it makes me feel so que'ah to think that I'm really going to see him. It's just as if Lord Rokeby or the squire's son had stepped out of the book. I feel as if I were in a book myself since you told me that. This is the way it would be on the page, if we could stand off and read about ourselves: 'And Violet's little friend led the way down the long avenue, and there on the threshold of her home, after months of cruel separation, the reunited lovers kept their tryst.'"

Ida laughed happily. "You'll have a book written before Betty is half-started if you go on at that rate. Now tell me. Do I look all right?"

She was settling the big picture-hat in place over her soft hair as she anxiously asked the question. Lloyd regarded her critically, tipping her head a trifle to one side as she looked.

"Put your hat a hairbreadth farther over your face," she exclaimed. "There! That's lovely. Oh, Violet, that shade of velvet is so becoming to you. It's just the colah of yoah eyes. I nevah saw you look so beautiful."

A becoming pink flushed Ida's cheeks. She bent her head over the bunch of violets pinned on the lapel of her coat. "It's dear of you to think so," she said, "and it's dear of you to send me these violets every week. These are unusually sweet. I'm so glad I have afresh bunch for today --- this happy day."

Lloyd took the keenest delight in watching the graceful girl sweep down the hall ahead of her. From the plumes of the picture-hat to the hem of her stylish gown she thoroughly satisfied Lloyd's artistic instinct for the beautiful. She gave her arm an adoring little squeeze as they passed down the stairs together.

Out on the road she glanced up at Ida again. Happiness had not made her radiant, as it did Daisy Dale, but there was a soft light in the violet eyes which made Lloyd think of a picture she had seen of a vestal maiden on her way to guard the holy altar fires.

Lloyd's heart began to beat faster as she realized that every step was taking them nearer to Edwardo. She pictured him again in her imagination, as she had done so many times before. She would know that pale, serious face with its flashing eyes anywhere she might meet him, she was sure.

Neither of them spoke as they hurried along the path through the lower part of Clovercroft and pushed open the woodland gate. But as they stepped up on the platform in front of the depot, Lloyd said, "Let's cross the track heah, and go up on the othah side of the road. Then we'll not have to pass the waiting-rooms. There's always so many people loafing around the window of the telegraph-office."

Instinctively she felt that while a little girl like herself would attract no attention, Ida in her long sweeping dress that she held up so gracefully, and the big hat drooping over her pretty face, and the stylish fur collar, and the violets on her coat, made a picture that any one would turn to look at twice. She could not bear to think of the bold glances that might be cast after her by the loafers around the depot. It seemed to her little short of sacrilege, although she could not have put the feeling into words, for any eyes but Edwardo's to rest upon her as she went on her way to this meeting with that vestal-maiden look upon her face.

"Very well," assented Ida. "You know we want to stop at the store. I want to get some chocolate creams if they have any fresh ones."

Lloyd's heart gave a frightened thump as she remembered that it was in the store that Edwardo would be watching presently for the seminary girls to go by. It was half an hour earlier than they usually passed, but there was a possibility that he might be there. In less than a minute she might be face to face with the live hero of a real romance. It was with an odd feeling of mingled relief and disappointment that she glanced around the store and saw only familiar faces. A young man whom she knew by sight was perched on the bookkeeper's high stool at the back of the store, so absorbed in the Louisville evening paper which the last mail-train had brought out that he did not look up. A small coloured boy stood patiently by the stove waiting for his coal-oil can to be filled. One of the clerks was tying up a package of groceries for Frazer to carry over to Clovercroft, and the other was showing ginghams to Mrs. Walton's Barbry.

"Be with you in a moment, please," called the first clerk as the girls entered. Lloyd stopped in front of the showcase near the door, and began idly examining the various styles of jewelry and letter-paper displayed within. She had almost decided to invest in a certain little enamelled pin which she knew would delight Mom Beck, and take it up to her as a surprise, when Barbry stepped beside her with a polite greeting and an inquiry about her grandfather's health.

While she was still talking with Barbry, Ida came up flushed and excited. She thrust her bag of chocolates into her muff, and, catching up her skirts. said, hurriedly, "Come on, I'm ready."

[Left: "He held it aside for them both to pass through"]

Lloyd started at once to follow her to the door, but looked back to nod assent to Barbry's last remark, and in turning again almost ran into the young fellow who had been reading at the bookkeeper's desk. He was hurrying after Ida to open the door for her. He held it aside for them both to pass through, and a flush of displeasure dyed Lloyd's face as she saw the admiring glance he cast boldly at Ida.

"He needn't have gone so far out of his way to have done that," exclaimed Lloyd, as they started up the road toward Locust. "It was the clerk's place to open the doah, and he nearly knocked him down, trying to get there first."

"Who?" inquired Ida, innocently. She was several steps in advance, and could not see Lloyd's face.

"That horrid Mistah Ned Bannon. I can't beah him. Papa Jack told mothah she must nevah invite him to the house, undah any circumstances, because he wasn't fit for Betty and me to know, and---"

She stopped abruptly, for Ida turned with a white, pained face. 

"Oh, Lloyd!" she cried. "How can you hurt me so? Don't believe any of those dreadful things you hear about him!" Then, seeing from Lloyd's amazed expression that she failed to understand the situation, she added, in a distressed tone, "He is Edwardo."

If Ida had struck her on the face she could not have been more amazed. She stood staring at her helplessly, unable to say a word.

"I must be dreaming all this," she thought. "After awhile I'll surely wake up and find I've had horrible nightmare."

But the distress in Ida's voice was too real to be a dream. She was biting her lips to keep back the tears. After one look into Lloyd's dismayed face she turned away and began moving slowly on toward Locust. Lloyd walked beside her, mechanically. She could not shake off the feeling that she must be in a dream. From time to time she cast a half-frightened glance toward Ida. She felt that she had wounded her so deeply that nothing she might say could ever make amends. When she saw a tear course slowly down her cheek and splash down on the bunch of flowers on her coat, she clasped her arm impulsively, saying, "Oh, Violet, dear, don't cry! I wouldn't have hurt you for worlds. I didn't have the faintest idea that he was the one."

"It isn't so much what you said," answered Ida, controlling her voice with an effort, "but I'd counted so much on your friendship for him. And now to know that people have prejudiced you against him before you've had a chance to meet him and find out for yourself that they're mistaken ---" She stopped with a sob. "Under all his wild ways he's good and noble and true at heart, and it isn't fair for everybody to condemn him for what he has done, and stand in his way when he's trying so hard to do better."

One little hand in the muff was bear , and Lloyd saw the gleam of the pearl on it as Ida took out her handkerchief and dabbed it hastily across her eyes. It brought back all that scene in the moon-lighted orchard, and Ida's blushing confession: "He says that is what my life means to him --- a pearl. That if it wasn't for my love and prayers he wouldn't care what became of him or what he did. Do you blame me for disregarding aunt's wishes?" And again as on that night the Little Colonel's heart swelled with an indignant "No!" Again she arrayed herself beside her friend, ready to do battle for her against the whole world if necessary.

Wonderfully comforted by Lloyd's protests of sympathy and understanding, Ida dried her eyes and looked back over her shoulder, saying, " He's not in sight yet. I told him not to start for fifteen minutes, and then to come the long way, around through Tanglewood, so nobody could think he was following us. That will give you time to show me over the house."

As Lloyd swung open the entrance gate and started down the long avenue, a queer feeling crept over her that she could not have expressed had she tried. It seemed to her that the old trees were almost human, and stretched out their bare branches toward her with an offering of protection and welcome that was like the greeting of old friends. Yet at the same time she felt the silent challenge of these old family sentinels, and involuntarily answered it by a slight lifting of the head and a trifle more erectness of carriage as she passed. They seemed to expect it of her, that she should walk past them, as all the Lloyds had walked, with the proud consciousness that none could gainsay their countersign of gentle birth and breeding which spoke even in their tread.

It was the first time she had been back to Locust since the beginning of school, and Ida felt some subtile change in her as soon as they passed inside the great gate. The Little Colonel's personality asserted itself as it had not at the seminary. There she was Ida's adoring little shadow, completely under the spell of her influence. Here, swayed by the stronger influence of old associations, she was herself again; the same well-poised. imperious little creature that she was when she first coolly "bearded the lion in his den, the Douglas in his hall," and brought the old Colonel to unconditional surrender. Mom Beck came up from the servants' cottage and unlocked the house for them. and after reading her the list of articles to be packed, Lloyd left her in the linen-room and began a tour of the house. In the pleasure of acting as hostess and showing Ida the attractions of Locust, she would have forgotten that an unwelcome guest was on his way, had not Ida's restless glances from every front window they passed, reminded her.

The quarter of an hour was almost over when she led the way into the long drawing-room. which she had reserved until last. "Of co'se it doesn't look as it does when we are living heah. It makes such a difference having the curtains down and the furniture covahed; but I want you to see my harp." She began slipping the cover from the tall burnished frame.

"It belonged to my grandmothah Amanthis, and I am proudah of it than anything I own. That's her portrait ovah the mantel. Isn't she beautiful? Somehow I nevah can call her just grandmothah, as if she were an old lady. She nevah lived to be one, you know. I always have to add her name, Amanthis, and I think of her as she looks there in the pictuah, the young girl she was when grandfathah first saw her, a June rose in her hair and anothah at her throat. 'The fairest flowah in all Kentucky,' he told me once. That's always seemed such a sweet romance to me. She wasn't much oldah than you when he brought her here a bride. He always talks about her when the locusts bloom, for they were in blossom then, and the avenue was white with them."

Lloyd had expected more outspoken admiration from Ida when she showed her the portrait, and was disappointed to have her barely glance up at it, murmuring, "Yes, she is lovely," in an absentminded way, and then hurry to the window, exclaiming, "Oh, there he is. I can see him just coming in at the gate."

Lloyd's glance followed Ida's, and, stepping back from the window, she began hastily drawing the cover over the harp.

" Oh, don't put it on yet," said Ida. "I want to show it to him." Lloyd hesitated an instant, then stammered confusedly, "But --- but --- oh, Ida, I'm so sorry, but don't you see, I can't ask him into the house."

"Why not?" cried Ida. "You promised on the way up here you'd do anything you could for me." Tears of distress gathered in the Little Colonel's eyes. It was impossible to answer Ida's question without wounding her deeply, for it was in this very room she had heard her grandfather say: " It's a pity Cy Bannon's youngest boy is such a profligate. Why, sir, he isn't worth the powder and shot that would put an end to his worthless existence. I wouldn't let him darken my doors, sir!" And it was in this room also that she had heard her father say: "No, Elizabeth, for the judge's sake I'd like to show Ned some attention, and some families do receive him. But his unprincipled conduct bars him out here. He's a fellow whom I never could permit Lloyd to know."

Ida repeated her question. "Oh, Violet." cried Lloyd, " it's just breaking my heart to refuse you, but I can't let him come in. It isn't my house, and I've no right to when grandfathah and Papa Jack have both forbidden it. But it's warmah on the poach than it is in the house with no fiah, and I'll put some chairs out for you, and wait for you in heah."

"Won't you even come out and be introduced?"

"Oh, Violet, don't ask me!" begged the Little Colonel. "I'd like to for your sake, but I can't. I simply can't!"

"Why not? Are you going to let your father's prejudices stand in the way? He doesn't know him as I do. He's just taken a dislike to him as aunt has done on account of things he's heard. It's unfair! It's unjust to condemn him on account of other people's mistaken opinions and prejudices."

The Little Colonel wavered. Ida's absolute trust made it seem possible that she might be right, and everybody else mistaken. She peered out of the window again. He was half-way up the avenue now, sauntering along at a leisurely gait with a cigarette in his mouth.

"Besides;" continued Ida, "nobody need ever know you have met him. It's easy enough to keep it secret, so what's the difference---"

She stopped in the middle of her sentence, surprised by the change in the Little Colonel's manner. She had drawn herself up haughtily, and in her fearless scorn bore a strong resemblance to the portrait of the soldier-boy in gray in the frame above her.

" I hope," she said, slowly, "that I have too much respect for the family honah to do such an undahhanded thing as that. Do you think that I'd be willing to be the only one of all the Lloyds who couldn't be trusted? "

"Why, Princess, I don't see what's changed you so suddenly," said Ida. "I haven't asked you to do anything more than you've been doing all along, by letting me use your post-office box."

" But I nevah would have done that" cried Lloyd if I'd have known who yoah Edwardo was, and now I've found out that it is some one that Papa Jack disapproves of, of co'se I can't carry yoah lettahs any moah."

"Oh, Princess, I thought you'd stand by me against the whole world!" sobbed Ida. "I had counted so much --- just these few days he'll be here in the Valley --- on seeing him up here. I didn't think you'd be unreasonable and unjust. It seems as if it would break my heart to have my only friend fail me now."

The tears were streaming down Lloyd's face, too, but she clenched her hands and shook her head stubbornly. " No, tell him he can't come heah again, and that he mustn't send any moah lettahs to my address."

Without another word Ida turned and walked out to the porch, where she stood waiting behind the bare vines that twined the pillars for Edwardo to come to her. All the pretty colour had died out of her face, and Lloyd felt in a sudden spasm of remorse that she was responsible for the tears in the beautiful eyes and the look of trouble on the face that only a little while before had been aglow with happiness. The odour of a cigarette floated in through the hall. Then Ida closed the door, and the two sat down on the step outside.

Lloyd paced up and down the long room with her hands behind her back. There was an ache in her throat. She was so miserably disappointed in Edwardo, so miserably sorry for Ida. More than all, she was miserably sorry for herself; for the friendship which she had counted one of the most beautiful things of her life lay in ruins. For a moment she doubted if she had done right to shirk the obligations it had laid upon her, and wondered if it were not a greater sacrifice than her father ought to expect her to make for him. The temptation pressed sorely upon her to go to Ida and tell her she would stand by her as she had promised, and for a few days longer, at least, be the bearer of their letters. She even started toward the door; but half-way across the room some compelling force drew her eyes toward the portrait of Amanthis, and she stood still, looking into the depths of the clear, true eyes which had given counsel to more than one troubled heart.

Years before, the old Colonel, standing with his head bowed on the mantel, had murmured. brokenly, "Oh. Amanthis, tell me what to do!" and, obedient to the silent message of that straightforward gaze, had started off through the falling snow to be reconciled to his only daughter. And now Lloyd, looking up in the same way, no longer had any doubts about her duty.

"It wouldn't be right, would it!" she murmured. "You nevah did anything you had to hide. You wouldn't stoop to anything clandestine." She straightened herself up proudly, and wiped her eyes. "Neithah will I, no mattah what it costs me not to!" Then she went on, brokenly, as if talking to a living presence: "Oh, it's so pitiful for her to be so deceived in him; for of co'se grandfathah and Papa Jack and her aunt and everybody put togethah couldn't be mistaken. And I love her so much; I wish mothah were here, or Papa Jack --- but I'll promise you, Grandmothah Amanthis, I'll nevah make you ashamed of me again. I wouldn't have carried the lettahs if I had known, and you can trust me always aftah this, for evah and evah."

It seemed to Lloyd that an approving smile rested on the girlish face, and a red streak of light from the wintry sunset, stealing in through the uncurtained window, shone across the June rose at her throat till it burned for the moment with the live red of a living rose.

She slipped the cover on the harp again, and taking one more look around the room at every familiar object grown dear from years of happy associations, she closed the door softly and stole upstairs to rejoin Mom Beck. She felt as if she had been to a funeral and had suddenly grown very old and worldly wise --- years older and wiser than when she started blithely up to Locust an hour or two before.

It was late when she and Mom Beck came downstairs again. The sunset glow had almost faded from the sky. They bolted the front door and went out the back, Mom Beck taking the key again.

"Ida is waiting for me on the front poa'ch," Lloyd explained. "Good-bye, Mom Beck. I'm mighty homesick to come back to you all."

"Good-bye, honey," responded the faithful old soul. "I'm going to bring you some prawlines in the mawnin'. Ole Becky knows what'll cheer up her baby."

Lloyd paused at the corner of the porch. "I think we ought to go now." she called.

"In a minute," answered Ida. "I'll catch up with you."

Lloyd walked on slowly by herself. down the avenue, through the gate, beside the railroad track She was in sight of the depot before Ned Bannon struck off across a field and Ida joined her. She did not speak as they hurried on toward the seminary, and Lloyd felt, with a desolate sinking of the heart, that the old intimacy could never be resumed.

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