The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation, Chapter 2: The Old Girls' Welcome To The New

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S CHRISTMAS VACATION
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1905

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

CHAPTER II.

"THE OLD GIRLS' WELCOME TO THE NEW"

As Betty opened the door, she ran into Kitty Walton, who at sight of her struck an attitude on the threshold, crossing her hands on her breast, and rolling her eyes upward until only the whites were visible.

"What new pose is this, you goose?" laughed Betty, shaking her gently by one shoulder.

"Don't laugh," was the solemn answer. "This is pious resignation to fate." Then her hands dropped and she turned to Betty tragically.

"I've just come from an interview with Madam Chartley," she explained. "And what do you think? That blessed old soul expects me to live up to the motto on her teacups! But how can I give Hawkins his just due if I do? I had the loveliest things planned for his tormenting, but I'd be ashamed to look her in the face if she ever found me out after this interview.

"Oh, Betty, I don't want to renounce the world and the flesh and all the other bad things this early in the term, but I'm afraid that I've already done it. She's laid a spell on all of us."

"Has she sent for Lloyd and Allison, too?"

"Yes, Allison was the first victim. She came back in a regular dare-to-be-a-Daniel mood, and announced that she intended to start in, heart and soul, for the studio honours this year. Then Lloyd had her turn, and she came back looking like Joan of Arc when she'd been listening to the voices. I vowed she shouldn't have that effect on me, but here I am, perfectly docile as you see, fangs drawn and claws cut. I tremble for the effect on you, sweet innocent. Your wings will sprout before you get back."

Betty laughed and hurried past her down the stairs. Evidently it was Madam's custom to make the acquaintance of her new girls in this way, one at a time. Only fifteen freshmen were admitted each year, so it was possible for her to take a personal interest in every pupil.

Betty's heart fluttered expectantly as she paused an instant in the door of the pink room. Madam Chartley had looked very imposing and dignified as she presided at the lunch-table that noon, with the stately Hawkins behind her chair and the stately portraits looking down from the walls.

She looked now as if she might be the original of one of these old portraits herself, as she sat there in the high-backed chair, with the griffins carved on its teakwood frame. Her gray gown trailed around her in graceful folds. There was a soft fall of lace at wrists and throat, and her white hair had a sheen like silver against the pink brocade with which the chair was upholstered.

With a smile which seemed to take Betty straight into her confidence, she held out her hand and drew her to a seat beside her. An old-fashioned silver tea-service stood on a table at her elbow, and when the maid had brought hot water, she busied herself in filling a cup for Betty.

"There!"' she said, as she passed it to her. "There's nothing like a cozy chat over a cup of tea, for warming acquaintances into friends."

Betty wondered, as she took a proffered slice of lemon, if Madam began all her interviews in this way, and if she was to hear the same little sermon about the crest on the ancestral teacups that Kitty had heard. It certainly was an interesting crest. She lifted the fragile bit of china for a closer survey. A mailed arm, rising out of a heart, clasped a spear in its hand, and under it ran the motto, "I keep tryst."

But Madam's conversation led far away from the crest and its lesson. At first it was about a quaint old English inn, where is served delicious toasted scones with five o'clock tea. When she mentioned that, it was as if they had discovered a mutual friend, for Betty cried out joyfully that she had been there, and had spent a long rainy afternoon in one of its rooms, where Scott had written many chapters of "Kenilworth." Betty remembered afterward that not a word was said about school and its obligations. It was of the Old Curiosity Shop they spoke, and the House of Seven Gables. Madam promised to show her the autographs of Dickens and Hawthorne, which she had in her collection, and a pen which had once belonged to George Eliot.

Then Betty found that Madam had known Miss Alcott, and, before she realized what she was doing, she had thrown herself down impulsively on the stool at her feet, and, with both hands clasping the griffin's head on the arm of the high-backed chair, was asking a dozen eager questions about "Little Women" and the author who had been her first inspiration to write.

Nearly an hour later, when she went back to her room, it was with something singing in her heart that made her very solemn and very happy. It was the immortal music of the Choir Invisible. She had been in the unseen company of earth's best and noblest, and felt in her soul that some day she, too, would have a right to be counted in that chorus, having done something really great and worth while.

That evening after dinner Kitty bounced into the room where Allison sat talking with Lloyd and Betty during recreation hour.

"To-morrow night there's to be the Old Girls' Welcome to the New!" she cried. "Come on in, Juliet, and tell them about it."

Juliet thrust her head through the half-open door.

"Haven't time to stop," she answered, "but I'll tell this much. It's the first of the great social functions. Everybody wears her party clothes and a sweet smile. It's the first lesson of the year in How to attain Ease under New and Exacting Conditions. No matter how the seniors snub you later on, in order to teach you your proper place, you'll all be birds of a feather that one time, and flock together as peaceably as pet hens.

"Each new girl has an escort appointed by the entertaining committee, who sends her flowers and calls for her and sees that her programme is filled. So there are never any wallflowers the first night. No, Allison, it isn't a dance. The programmes are for progressive conversation. Somewhere in the background there's a piano playing waltzes and two-steps, and so forth, but you talk out the numbers instead of dancing them. Changing partners so often keeps you from getting bored, and strangers can tell who is talking to them, for there are the names on their programmes. You can refer to that when anybody comes up to claim you. I'm to take Lloyd, and Sybil Green is to take Kitty. I haven't found out the other assignments yet. I'll let you know as soon as I do. Continued in our next."

With an airy wave of the hand she withdrew, leaving them to an animated discussion of what to wear.

"You must remember that this isn't the only time you're to appear in public, Katherine Walton," said Allison, severely, when Kitty proposed her best array. "There's to be a reception at the White House next week, and Friday night we're to go in to Washington to see Jefferson in 'Rip Van Winkle,' and there's to be a studio tea soon, and a recital, and all sorts of things. I saw the bulletin of the term's entertainments in the hall this evening."

"We'll never be seen at those things," insisted Kitty.

"We'll scarcely be a drop in the bucket. But to-morrow night, isn't the whole affair for us? We'll be the whole show. We'll be it, Allison, and 'it's my night to howl.' I intend to wear my rose-pink mull and a rosebud in my raving tresses, and carry the gorgeous spangled fan that the dear old admiral gave me in Manila. So there!"

"Then don't come near me," said Allison, with a warning shake of her head, "for I am going to wear my cerise crêpe de chine. It's lovely by itself, but by the side of anything the shade of your pink mull it's the most hideous, sickly colour you ever saw. I wish you'd wear that pale green dress, Kitty. You look sweet in that, and it goes so well with mine."

"But, my dear sister," laughed Kitty, " I don't expect to spend any time getting acquainted with you. I'll probably not be near you the whole evening. It's not expected that, just because we are from Kentucky, we have to pose as those two devoted creatures on the State seal, --- stand around with our hands clasped, exclaiming 'United we stand, divided we fall!' to every one that comes up."

"Nevah mind, Allison," said Lloyd, laughing at Kitty's dramatic gestures and her sister's worried expression." I'll play 'State seal' with you. I have a pale green almost the shade of Kitty's, and I'll wear the coral clasps and chains that were Papa Jack's mothah's. He gave them to me just before I left home. I'll show them to you."

She began to rummage through her trunk. Betty sat looking at the ceiling, trying to decide the momentous question of dress for herself. Finally she announced: "I'll just wear white, then I'll harmonize with everybody, and can run up to the first one of you I happen to see when I need a spark of courage. I know I'll be terribly embarrassed. It makes me cold right now to think of meeting so many strangers."

But Betty's courage needed no reinforcing next evening, when Maria Overlin, one of the seniors, took her in charge. The reception took place in what had been the ballroom, in the days when Warwick Hall was noted for its brilliant entertainments. Even its first hostess could not have received her distinguished guests with courtlier grace than Madam Chartley received her pupils, when, to the music of a stately minuet, they filed past her down the long line of teachers.

For once, each of the new girls, no matter how timid or inexperienced in social ways, tasted the sweets of popularity, and the four whom Juliet Lynn had dubbed the Kentucky quartette were overwhelmed with attentions.

Juliet, who had hoped to escort Betty, was glad that Lloyd had fallen to her lot when she saw what an admiring little court flocked around her wherever she turned. In the pale green dress, with its clasps of pink coral carved in the shape of tiny butterflies, she looked more princess-like than ever. She wore a bracelet of the coral butterflies also, and a slender circlet of them about her throat. They gave a soft pink flush to her cheeks.

No sooner had she passed the receiving line than she was surrounded by a group of white-gowned girls clamouring for an introduction and a place on her programme.

"Whose initials are these?" she whispered to Juliet presently when the card was all filled and there were still several girls asking to be allowed to write their names on it.

"Couldn't I give Miss Bartlett this line where there's nothing but G. M. scrawled on it?"

"Mercy, no! " exclaimed Juliet. "That's for Gabrielle Melville. It would never do for you two to miss each other to-night. I put them down for her, as she's to play later in the evening on the violin, you know, and I knew she'd never get here in time to do it herself. She always has such frantic times dressing. Just struggles into her things, never can find half her clothes, and what she does manage to fall into catches and rips in the struggle. Her hat is always over one ear, and her belts never make connection in the back, but she's so adorable that nobody minds her wild toilets. They laugh and say, 'Oh, it's just Gay.' That's her nickname, you know. Here's Emily Chapman coming to claim, you. Emily, you can tell Lloyd some things about Gay, can't you?"

"I rather think so," laughed Emily. "We roomed together last year, and I got her again this term. It took a fight, though, for she's the most popular girl in school."

"Is she pretty?" asked Lloyd.

"We think so, don't we, Juliet? If she had any enemies, they might say that she has red hair and a pug nose. But that would be exaggerating. Her hair is that beautiful bronzy auburn that crinkles around her face and blows in her eyes till she always seems to be bringing a breeze with her."

"And her nose isn't pug exactly," chimed in Juliet. "There's just a darling, saucy little tip to it, that seems to suit her. She wouldn't be half as pretty with the approved Gibson girl kind, no matter how perfect it was."

"And her complexion is so lovely," Emily resumed, enthusiastically. "And her eyes are a jolly, laughing kind of brown, with an amber sparkle in them, except when she gets into one of her intense, serious moods. Then they are almost black, they're so deep and velvety. She's never twice in the same mood. Oh! There she comes now."

A side door opened, and a slim little thing all in white, with a violin under her arm and a distracted pucker on her face, hurried up to the piano. Nervously feeling her belt to make sure that she was presentable before turning her back on the audience, she whispered to the girl who was to play her accompaniments, and began tuning the violin. Then, tucking it under her chin as if she loved it, she listened an instant to the piano prelude, and drew her bow softly across the strings.

"Good!" whispered Emily. "It's that Mexican swallow song. She always has such a rapt expression on her face when she plays that. She makes me think of St. Cecilia. She's so earnest in all she does. If it's no more than making fudge, she throws her whole soul into it, just that way. She's as intense as if the fate of a nation depended on whatever she happens to be doing."

As Lloyd joined loudly in the applause which followed the performance, another girl came up to claim her attention. It was Myra Carr, the senior who had taken Allison under her wing.

"Doesn't Gay play splendidly?" she exclaimed, not knowing that she had been the previous topic of conversation. "We think she's a genius. She improvises little things sometimes in the twilight that are so sweet and sad they make you cry. Then she's unconventional enough to be a genius. She's always shocking people without meaning to, and so careless, she'd lose her head if nature hadn't attended to the fastenings.

"We all love her dearly, but we vowed the last time we went sightseeing that she should never go with us again unless she let us tie her up in a bag, so that nothing could drop out by the way. First she lost her hat. It blew off the trolley-car, one of those 'seeing Washington' affairs, you know.  She had to go bareheaded all the rest of the way. Then she lost her pocketbook, and such a time as we had hunting that. The time before, she lost a locket that had been a family heirloom, and we missed our train and got caught in a shower looking for it."

"Where does she live?" asked Lloyd, watching the bright face that was making its way toward them across the crowded room.

"At Fort Sam Houston, down in San Antonio. Her father is an army officer at that post."

There was no time for further discussion, for Gabrielle was coming toward her with outstretched hand.

"This is Juliet's Princess, isn't it?" she asked, with a smile that captivated Lloyd at once, flashing over the whitest of little teeth. "You're getting all sorts of titles to-night. I heard a girl speak of you as a mermaid in that pale sea-green gown and corals, but I've come over here on purpose to call you the 'Little Colonel.' You don't know how much good it does me to hear a military title once more. Out at the fort it's all majors and captains and such things."

Then, dropping her grown-up society manner, she suddenly giggled, turning to include Emily in the conversation.

"Oh, girls, I had the worst time getting dressed this evening that I ever had in my life. When I unpacked my trunk yesterday, everything was so wrinkled that there was only one dress I could wear without having it pressed; this white one. So I laid it out, but, when I went to put it on to-night, I found that mamma had made a mistake in packing, and put in Lucy's skirt instead. Lucy is my older sister," she explained to Lloyd. "We each had a dotted Swiss this summer, made exactly alike, but Lucy is so much taller than I that her skirts trail on me. Just look how imposing!"

She swept across the floor and back to show the effect of her trail.

"Of course there was nothing to do at that late hour but pin it up in front and go ahead. I'm afraid every minute that I'll trip and fall all over myself, but I do feel so dignified when I feel my train sweeping along behind me. The pins keep falling out all around the belt, and I can't help stepping on the hem in front. I love trains," she added, switching hers forward with a grand air that was so childlike in its enjoyment that Lloyd felt impelled to hug her. "It gives you such a dressed-up, peacocky feeling."

Then she looked up in her most soulful, intense way, as if she were asking for important information. "Do you know whether it's true or not? Does a peacock stop strutting if it happens to see its feet? My old nurse told me that, and said that it shows that pride always goes before a fall. I never was where they kept peacocks before I came to Warwick Hall, and I've spent hours watching Madam's to see if it is true. But they are always so busy strutting, I've never been able to catch them looking at their feet."

She glanced at her own feet as she spoke, then gasped and, covering her face with her hands, sank limply into a chair in the corner behind her.

"What's the matter?" cried Juliet, alarmed by the sudden change.

"Look! Oh, just look!" was the hysterical answer, as she thrust out both feet, and sat pointing at them tragically, with fingers and thumbs of both hands outspread.

"No wonder they felt queer. I was so intent on getting my dress pinned up, and in rushing out in time to play, that I couldn't take time to analyze my feelings and discover the cause of the queerness.  Madeline blew in at a critical point to borrow a pin, and that threw me off, I suppose."

From under the white skirt protruded two feet as unlike as could well be imagined. One was cased in dainty white kid, the other in an old red felt bedroom slipper, edged with black fur.

"And it would have been all the same," sighed Gay, "if I had been going to an inaugural ball to hobnob with crowned heads. And I had hoped to make such a fine impression on the Little Colonel," she added, in a plaintive tone, with a childlike lifting of the face that Lloyd thought most charming.

If the mistake had been made by any other girl in the school, it would not have seemed half so ridiculous, but whatever Gay did was irresistibly funny. A laughing crowd gathered around her, as she sat with the red slipper and the white one stretched stiffly out in front of her, bewailing her fate.

"Anyhow," she remarked, " I'll always have the satisfaction of knowing that I put my best foot foremost, and if they had been alike I couldn't have done that. Now could I?" And the girls laughed again, because it was Gay who said it in her own inimitable way, and because the old felt slipper looked so ridiculous thrust out from under the dainty white gown. As others came crowding up to see what was causing so much merriment in that particular corner, Gay attempted to slip out and go to her room to correct her mistake. But Sybil Green, pushing through the outer ring, came up with Allison and Kitty.

"Gay," she began, "here are the girls that you especially wanted to meet: General Walton's daughters."

Gay's face flushed with pleasure, and, forgetting her errand, she impulsively stretched out a hand to each, and held them while she talked.

"Oh, I'm so glad to meet you!" she cried. "I wish that I had known that you girls were here yesterday before papa left. He is Major Melville, and he was such a friend of your father's. He was on that long Indian campaign with him in Arizona, and I've heard him talk of him by the hour. And last week" --- here she lowered her voice so that only Allison and Kitty heard, and were thrilled by the sweet seriousness of it. "Last week he took me out to Arlington to carry a great wreath of laurel. When he'd laid it on the grave, he stood there with bared head, looking all around, and I heard him say, in a whisper, ` No one in all Arlington has won his laurels more bravely than you, my captain.'  You see it was as a captain that papa knew him best. He would have been so pleased to have seen you girls."

Kitty squeezed the hand that still held hers and answered, warmly: "Oh, you dear, I hope we'll be as good friends as our fathers were!" And Allison answered, winking back the tears that had sprung to her eyes: "Thank you for telling us about the laurel. Mother will appreciate it so much."

While this conversation was going on at Lloyd's elbow, Betty came up to her on the other side. "Please see if my dress is all right in the back," she whispered. "It feels as if it were unfastened." Then, as Lloyd assured her it was properly buttoned, she added, in an undertone: "Have you met Maud Minor? She's one of the new girls."

Lloyd shook her head.

"Then I'm going to introduce you as soon as I can. She knows Malcolm MacIntyre."

"Knows Malcolm!" exclaimed Lloyd, in amazement. " Where on earth did she ever meet him?"

"At the seashore last summer. She can't talk about anything else. She thinks be is so handsome and has such beautiful manners and is so adorably romantic. Those are her very words. She has his picture. Evidently he has talked to her about you, for she's so curious to know you. She asked a string of questions that I thought were almost impertinent."

"Where is she?" asked Lloyd.

"There, that girl in white crossing the room with the fat one in lavender."

Lloyd gave a long, critical look, and then said, slowly: "She's the prettiest girl in the room, and she makes me think of something I've read, but I can't recall it."

" I know," said Betty, "but you'll laugh at me if I say Tennyson again. It's from 'Maud ' 

"'I kissed her slender hand. 
She took the kiss sedately. 
Maud is not seventeen, 
But she is tall and stately.'

"But she is not as sedate as she looks," added Betty, truthfully. "I'd like her better if she didn't gush. That's the only word that will express it. And it seemed queer for her to take me into her confidence the minute she was introduced. Right away she gave me to understand that she'd had a sort of an affair with Malcolm. She didn't say so in so many words, but she gave me the impressionthat he had been deeply interested in her, in a romantic way, you know."

Lloyd looked at Maud again, more critically this time, and with keener interest. Then her thoughts flew back to the churchyard stile where they had paused in their gathering of Christmas greens one winter day. For an instant she seemed to see the handsome boy looking down at her, begging a token of the Princess Winsome, and saying, in a low tone, "I'll be whatever you want me to be, Lloyd."

Juliet's voice broke in on her reverie. "Miss Sherman, allow me to present Miss Minor."

Maud was slightly taller than Lloyd, but it was not her extra inches alone which seemed to give her the air of looking down on every one. It was her patronizing manner. Lloyd resented it. Instinctively she drew herself up and responded somewhat haughtily.

"My dear, I've been simply dying to meet you," began Maud, effusively. "Ever since I found out that you were the girl Malcolm MacIntyre used to be so fond of."

Lloyd responded coldly, certain that Malcolm had not discussed their friendship in a way to warrant this outburst from a stranger.

"Do you know his brothah Keith, too?" she asked. "We're devoted to both the boys. You might say we grew up togethah, for they visited in the Valley so much. We've been playmates since we were babies. You must meet the Walton girls. They are Malcolm's cousins, you know."

Before Maud realized how it came about, Lloyd had graciously turned her over to Allison and Kitty, and made her escape with burning cheeks and a resentful feeling. Maud's words kept repeating themselves: "So adorably romantic. The girl Malcolm used to be so fond of!" They made her vaguely uncomfortable. She wondered why.

For another hour she went on making acquaintances and adding to her store of information about Warwick Hall. They couldn't have chafing-dishes in their rooms, one frivolous sophomore told her. The insurance companies objected after one girl spilled a bottle of alcohol and set fire to the curtains. But once a week those who pined for candy could make it over the gas-stove in the Domestic Science kitchen. Those who were too lazy to make it could buy it Monday afternoons from Mammy Easter, an old coloured woman who lived in a cabin on the place. She was famous for her pralines, the sophomore declared. "We have jolly charades and impromptu tableaux up in the gymnasium sometimes. Oh, school at the Hall is one grand lark!"

"Don't you believe it," said the spectacled junior who monopolized Lloyd next. "It's a hard dig to keep up to the mark they set here. But I must say it is an agreeable kind of a dig," she added.

"It's good just to wake up in the morning and know there's going to be another whole day of it. The classes are so interesting, and the teachers so interested in us, that they bring out the very best in everybody Even a grasshopper would have its ambition aroused if it stayed in this atmosphere long."

She peered at Lloyd through her glasses as if to satisfy herself that she would be understood, and then added, confidentially: "I can fairly feel myself grow here. I feel the way I imagine the morning-glories do when they find themselves climbing up the trellis. They just stretch out their hands and everything helps them up, --- the sun and the soil, the wind and the dew. And here at Warwick Hall there's so much to help. Even the little glimpses we get over the garden wall into the outside world of Washington, with its politics and great men. But those two people over there help me most of all." She nodded toward Madam Chartley and Miss Chilton, the teacher of English, who were now seated together on a sofa near the door.

"When I look at them I feel that the morning-glory vine must climb just as high as it possibly can, and shake out a wealth of bells in return for all that has been given toward its growth. Don't you?"

"Yes," answered Lloyd, slightly embarrassed by the soulful gaze turned on her through the spectacles. "Betty would enjoy knowing you," she exclaimed. "She is always saying and writing such things."

"Oh, I thought that you were the one that writes," answered the junior. "Aren't you the one the freshmen are going to elect class editor for their page of the college paper?"

"No, indeed!" protested Lloyd, laughing at the idea. "Come across the room with me and I'll find Betty for you."

"There won't be time to-night," responded the junior, "for there goes the music that means good night. They always play 'America' as a signal that it's time to go."

"What makes you so quiet?" asked Betty, a little later, as they slowly undressed. She had chattered along, commenting on the events of the evening, ever since they came to their room, but Lloyd had seemed remarkably unresponsive.

"Oh, nothing," yawned Lloyd. "I was just thinking of that fairy-tale of the three weavers. I'll turn out the light."

As she reached up to press the electric button, she thought again, for the twentieth time, "I wonder what it was that Malcolm told Maud Minor." Then she nestled down among the pillows, saying, sleepily, to herself: "Anyway, I'm mighty glad that I nevah gave him that curl he begged for."

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