The Little Colonel Maid Of Honor, Chapter 3: In Beauty's Quest

THE LITTLE COLONEL MAID OF HONOR
by Annie Fellows Johnston
(1863-1931)

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

CHAPTER III.
IN BEAUTY'S QUEST

Fortune has at last --- fortune has at last ---
Fortune has at last changed in our fa-vor!"

A HUNDRED times, in the weeks that followed, Mary turned the old Vicar's saying into sort of a chant, and triumphantly intoned it as she went about the house, making preparations for her journey. Most of the time she was not aware that her lips were repeating what her heart was constantly singing, and one day, to her dire mortification, she chanted the entire strain in one of the largest dry-goods stores in Phoenix, before she realized what she was doing.

She had gone with Joyce to select some dress material for herself. It had been so long since Mary had had any clothes except garments made over and handed down, that the wealth of choice offered her was almost overpowering. To be sure it was a bargain counter they were hanging over, but the remnants of lawn and organdy and gingham were so entrancingly new in design and dainty in coloring, that without a thought to appearances she caught up the armful of pretty things which Joyce had decided they could afford. Clasping them ecstatically in an impulsive hug, she sang at the top of her voice, just as she would have done had she been out alone on the desert: "Fortune has at last changed in our fa-vor!"

When Joyce's horrified exclamation and the clerk's amused smile recalled her to her surroundings, she could have gone under the counter with embarrassment. Although she flushed hotly for several days whenever she thought of the way everybody in the store turned to stare at her, she still hummed the same words whenever a sense of her great good fortune overwhelmed her. Such times came frequently, especially whenever a new garment was completed and she could try it on with much preening and many satisfied turns before the mirror.

It was on one of these occasions, when she was proudly revolving in the daintiest of them all, a pale blue mull which she declared was the color of a wild morning-glory, that a remark of her mother's, in the next room, filled her with dismay. It had not been intended for her ears, but it floated in distinctly, above the whirr of the sewing-machine.

"Joyce, I am sorry we made up that blue for Mary. She's so tanned and sunburned that it seems to bring out all the red tints in her skin, and makes her look like a little squaw. I never realized how this climate has injured her complexion until I saw her in that shade of blue, and remembered how becoming it used to be. She was like an apple-blossom, all white and pink, when we came out here."

Mary had been so busy looking at her new clothes that she had paid little attention to the face above them, reflected in the mirror. It had tanned so gradually that she had become accustomed to having that sunbrowned little visage always smile back at her. Besides, every one she met was tanned by the wind and weather, some of them spotted with big dark freckles. Joyce wasn't. Joyce had always been careful about wearing a sunbonnet or a wide brimmed hat when she went out in the sun. Mary remembered now, with many compunctions, how often she had been warned to do the same. She wished with all her ardent little soul that she had not been so careless, and presently, after a serious, half-tearful study of herself in the glass, she went away to find a remedy.

In the back of the cook-book, she remembered, there was a receipt for cold cream, and in a magazine Mrs. Lee had loaned them was a whole column devoted to face bleaches and complexion restorers. Having read each formula, she decided to try them all in turn, if the first did not prove effective.

Buttermilk and lemon juice were to be had for the taking and could be applied at night after Joyce had gone to sleep. Half-ashamed of this desire to make herself beautiful, Mary shrank from confiding her troubles to any one. But several nights' use of all the home remedies she could get, failed to produce the desired results. When she anxiously examined herself in the glass, the unflattering mirror plainly showed her a little face, not one bit fairer for all its treatment.

The house-party was drawing near too rapidly to waste time on things of such slow action, and at last, in desperation, she took down the savings-bank in which, after long hoarding, she had managed to save nearly two dollars. By dint of a button-hook and a hat-pin and an hour's patient poking, she succeeded in extracting five dimes. These she wrapped in tissue paper, and folded in a letter. In a Phoenix newspaper she had seen an advertisement of a magical cosmetic, to be found on sale at one of the local drug-stores, and this was an order for a box.

She was accustomed to running out to watch for the postman. Often in her eagerness to get the mail she had met him half a mile down the road. So she had ample opportunity to send her order and receive a reply without the knowledge of any of the family.

It was a delicious-smelling ointment. The directions on the wrapper said that on retiring, it was to be applied to the face like a thick paste, and a linen mask worn to prevent its rubbing off.

Now that the boys were away, Mary shared the circular tent with Joyce. The figures "mystical and awful " which she and Holland had put on its walls with green paint the day they moved to the Wigwam, had faded somewhat in the fierce sun of tropical summers, but they still grinned hideously from all sides. Outlandish as they were, however, no face on all the encircling canvas was as grotesque as the one which emerged from under the bed late in the afternoon, the day the box of cosmetic was received.

Mary had crept under the bed in order to escape Norman's prying eyes in case he should glance into the tent in search of her. There, stretched out on the floor with a pair of scissors and a piece of one of her old linen aprons, she had fashioned herself a mask, in accordance with the directions on the box. The holes cut for the eyes and nose were a trifle irregular, one eye being nearly half an inch higher than the other, and the mouth was decidedly askew. But tapes sewed on at the four corners made it ready for instant use, and when she had put it on and crawled out from under the bed, she regarded herself in the glass with great satisfaction.

"I hope Joyce won't wake up in the night and see me," she thought. "She'd be scared stiff. This is a lot of trouble and expense, but I just can't go to the house-party looking like a fright. I'd do lots more than this to keep the Princess from being ashamed of me."

Then she put it away and went out to the hammock, under the umbrella-tree, and while she sat swinging back and forth for along happy hour, she pictured to herself the delights of the coming house-party. The Princess would be changed, she knew. Her last photograph showed that. One is almost grown up at seventeen, and she had been only fourteen, Mary's age, when she made that never to be forgotten visit to the Wigwam. And she would see Betty and Betty's godmother and Papa Jack and the old Colonel and Mom Beck. The very names, as she repeated them in a whisper, sounded interesting to her. And the two little knights of Kentucky, and Miss Allison and the Waltons --- they were all mythical people in one sense, like Alice in Wonderland and Bo-peep, yet in another they were as real as Holland or Hazel Lee, for they were household names, and she had heard so much about them that she felt a sort of kinship with each one.

With the mask and the box tucked away in readiness under her pillow, it was an easy matter after Joyce had gone to sleep for Mary to lift herself to a sitting posture, inch by inch. Cautiously as a cat she raised herself, then sat there in the darkness scooping out the smooth ointment with thumb and finger, and spreading it thickly over her inquisitive little nose and plump round cheeks. All up under her hair and down over her chin she rubbed it with energy and thoroughness. Then tying on the mask, she eased herself down on her elbow, little by little, and snuggled into her pillow with a sigh of relief.

It was a long time before she fell asleep. The odor of the ointment was sickeningly sweet, and the mask gave her a hot smothery feeling. When she finally dozed off it was to fall into a succession of uneasy dreams. She thought that the cat was sitting on her face; that an old ogre had her head tied up in a bag and was carrying it home to change into an apple dumpling, then that she was a fly and had fallen into a bottle of mucilage. From the last dream she roused with a start, hot and uncomfortable, but hardly wide awake enough to know what was the matter.

The salty dried beef they had had for supper made her intensely thirsty, and remembering the pitcher of fresh water which Joyce always brought into the tent every night, she slipped out of bed and stumbled across the floor toward the table. The moon was several nights past the full now, so that at this late hour the walls of the tent glimmered white in its light, and where the flap was turned back at the end, it shone in, in a broad white path.

Not more than half awake, Mary had forgotten the elaborate way in which she had tied up her face, and catching sight in the mirror of an awful spook gliding toward her, she stepped back, almost frozen with terror. Never had she imagined such a hideous ghost, white as flour, with one round eye higher than the other, and a dreadful slit of a mouth, all askew.

She was too frightened to utter a sound, but the pitcher fell to the floor with a crash, and as the cold water splashed over her feet she bounded back into bed and pulled the cover over her head. Instantly, as her hand came in contact with the mask on her face, she realized that it was only her own reflection in the glass which had frightened her, but the shock was so great she could not stop trembling.

Wakened by the sound of the breaking pitcher and Mary's wild plunge back into bed, Joyce sat up in alarm, but in response to her whisper Mary explained in muffled tones from under the bedclothes that she had simply gotten up for a drink of water and dropped the pitcher. All the rest of the night her sleep was fitful and uneasy, for toward morning her face began to burn as if it were on fire. She tore off the mask and used it to wipe away what remained of the ointment. Most of it had been absorbed, however, and the skin was broken out in little red blisters.

Maybe in her zeal she had used too much of the magical cosmetic, or maybe her face, already made tender by various applications, resented the vigorous rubbings she gave it. At any rate she had cause to be frightened when she saw herself in the mirror. As she lifted the pitcher from the washstand, she happened to glance at the proverb calendar hanging over the towel-rack, and saw the verse for the day. It was "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." The big red letters stood out accusingly.

"Oh dear," she thought, as she plunged her burning face into the bowl of cold water, "if I hadn't had so much miserable pride, I wouldn't have destroyed what little complexion I had left. Like as not the skin will all peel off now, and I'll look like a half-scaled fish for weeks."

She was so irritable later, when Joyce exclaimed over her blotched and mottled appearance, that Mrs. Ware decided she must be coming down with some kind of rash. It was only to prevent her mother sending for a doctor, that Mary finally confessed with tears what she had done.

"Why didn't you ask somebody?" said Joyce, trying not to let her voice betray the laughter which was choking her, for Mary showed a grief too deep to ridicule.

"I --- I was ashamed to," she confessed, "and I wanted to surprise you all. The advertisement said g-grow b-beautiful while you sleep, and now --- oh, it's spoiled me!" she wailed. "And I can't go to the house-party--- "

"Yes, you can, goosey," said Joyce, consolingly. "Mamma has Grandma Ware's old receipt for rose balm, that will soon heal those blisters. You would have saved yourself a good deal of trouble and suffering if you had gone to her in the first place."

"Well, don't I know that?" blazed Mary, angrily. Then hiding her face in her arms she began to sob. "You don't know what it is to be uh-ugly like me! I heard mamma say that I was as brown as a squaw, and I couldn't bear to think of Lloyd and Betty and everybody at The Locusts seeing me that way. That's why I did it!"

"You are not ugly, Mary Ware," insisted Joyce, in a most reproving big-sisterly voice. "Everybody can't be a raving, tearing beauty, and anybody with as bright and attractive a little face as yours ought to be satisfied to let well enough alone."

"That's all right for you," replied Mary, bitterly. "But you aren't fat, with a turned-up nose and just a little thin straight pigtail of hair. "You're pretty, and an artist, and you're going to be somebody some day. But I'm just plain 'little Mary,' with no talents or anything!"

Choking with tears, she rushed out of the room, and took refuge in the swing down by the beehives. For once the "School of the Bees" failed to whisper a comforting lesson. This was a trouble which she could not seal up in its cell, and for many days it poisoned all life's honey. Presently she slipped hack into the house for a pencil and box of paper, and sitting on the swing with her geography on her knees for a writing-table, she poured out her troubles in a letter to Jack. It was only a few hundred miles to the mines, and she could be sure of a sympathetic answer before the blisters were healed on her face, or the hurt had faded out of her sensitive little heart.

Chapter 2   Chapter 4 >