The Little Colonel Maid Of Honor, Chapter 5: At "The Locusts"

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

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

CHAPTER V.
AT "THE LOCUSTS"

LLOYD and Betty had been home from Warwick Hall only two days, and the joyful excitement of arrival had not yet worn off. The Locusts had never looked so beautiful to them as it did this vacation, and their enthusiasm over all that was about to happen kept them in a flutter from morning till night.

When Rob's telephone message came that the train was late and that he could not bring the girls out until after lunch, Lloyd chafed at the delay at first. Then she consoled herself with the thought that she could arrange a more effective welcome for the middle of the afternoon than for an earlier hour.

"Grandfathah will have had his nap by that time," she said, with a saucy glance in his direction, "and he will be as sweet and lovely as a May mawning. And he'll have on a fresh white suit for the evening, and a cah'nation in his buttonhole." Then she gave her orders more directly.

"You must be suah to be out on the front steps to welcome them, grandfathah, with yoah co'tliest bow. And mothah, you must be beside him in that embroidered white linen dress of yoahs that I like so much. Mom Beck will stand in the doahway behind you all just like a pictuah of an old-time South'n welcome. Of co'se Joyce has seen it all befoah, but little Mary has been looking foh'wa'd to this visit to The Locusts as she would to heaven. You know what Joyce wrote about her calling this her promised, land."

"I know how it is going to make her feel," said Betty. "Just as it made me feel when I got here from the Cuckoo's Nest, and found this 'House Beautiful' of my dreams. And if she is the little dreamer that I was the best time will not be the arrival, but early candle-lighting time, when you are playing on your harp. I used to sit on a footstool at godmother's feet, so unutterably happy, that I would have to put out my hand to feel her dress. I was so afraid that she might vanish --- that everything was too lovely to be real.

"And now, to think," she added, turning to Mrs. Sherman and affectionately laying a hand on each shoulder, "it's lasted all this time, till I have grown so tall that I could pick you up and carry you off, little godmother. I am going to do it some day soon, lift you up bodily and put you into a story that I have begun to write. It will be my best work, because it is what I have lived."

"You'd better live awhile longer," laughed Mrs. Sherman, "before you begin to settle what your best work will be. Think how the shy little Elizabeth of twelve has blossomed into the stately Elizabeth of eighteen, and think what possibilities are still ahead of you in the next six years."

"When mothah and Betty begin to compliment each othah," remarked Lloyd, seating herself on the arm of the old Colonel's chair, "they are lost to all else in the world. So while we have this moment to ou'selves, my deah grandfathah, I want to impress something on yoah mind, very forcibly."

The playful way in which she held him by the ears was a familiarity no one but Lloyd had ever dared take with the dignified old Colonel. She emphasized each sentence with a gentle pull and pinch.

"Maybe you wouldn't believe it, but this little Mary Ware who is coming, has a most exalted opinion of me. From what Joyce says she thinks I am perfect, and I don't want her disillusioned. It's so nice to have somebody look up to you that way, so I want to impress it on you that you're not to indulge in any reminiscence of my past while she is heah. You mustn't tell any of my youthful misdemeanahs that you are fond of telling --- how I threw mud on yoah coat, in one of my awful tempahs, and smashed yoah shaving-mug with a walking-stick, and locked Walkah down in the coal cellah when he wouldn't do what I wanted him to. You must 'let the dead past bury its dead, and act --- act in the living present,' so that she'll think that you think that I'm the piece of perfection she imagines me to be."

"I'll be a party to no such deception," answered the old Colonel, sternly, although his eyes, smiling fondly on her, plainly spoke consent. "You know you're the worst spoiled child in Oldham County."

"Whose fault is it? " retorted Lloyd, with a final pinch as she liberated his ears and darted away. "Ask Colonel George Lloyd. If there was any spoiling done, he did it."

Two hours later, still in the gayest of spirits, Lloyd and Betty raced down the avenue to meet their guests, and tired and travel-stained as the newcomers were, the impetuous greeting gave them a sense of having been caught up into a gay whirl of some kind. It gave them an excited thrill which presaged all sorts of delightful things about to happen. The courtly bows of the old Colonel, standing between the great white pillars, Mrs. Sherman's warm welcome, and Mom Beck's old-tine curtseys, seemed to usher them into a fascinating story-book sort of life, far more interesting than any Mary had yet read.

Several hours later, sitting in the long drawing-room, she wondered if she could be the same girl who one short week before was chasing across the desert like a Comanche Indian, beating the bushes for rattlesnakes, or washing dishes in the hot little kitchen of the Wigwam. Here in the soft light shed from many waxen tapers in the silver candelabra, surrounded by fine old ancestral portraits, and furniture that shone with the polish of hospitable generations, Mary felt civilized down to her very finger-tips: so thoroughly a lady, through and through, that the sensation sent a warm thrill over her.

That feeling had begun soon after her arrival, when Mom Beck ushered her into a luxurious bathroom. Mary enjoyed luxury like a cat. As she splashed away in the big porcelain tub, she wished that Hazel Lee could see the tiled walls, the fine ample towels with their embroidered monograms, the dainty soaps, and the cut-glass bottles of toilet-water, with their faint odor as of distant violets. Then she wondered if Mom Beck would think that she had refused her offers of assistance because she was not used to the services of a lady's maid. She was half-afraid of this old family servant in her imposing head-handkerchief and white apron.

Recalling Joyce's experiences in France and what had been the duties of her maid, Marie, she decided to call her in presently to brush her hair and tie her slippers. Afterward she was glad that she had done so, for Mom Beck was a practised hair-dresser, and made the most of Mary's thin locks. She so brushed and fluffed and be-ribboned them in a new way, with a big black bow on top, that Mary beamed with satisfaction when she looked in the glass. The new way was immensely becoming.

Then when she went down to dinner, it seemed so elegant to find Mr. Sherman in a dress suit. The shaded candles and cut glass and silver and roses on the table made it seem quite like the dinner-parties she had read about in novels, and the talk that circled around of the latest books and the new opera, and the happenings in the world at large, and the familiar mention of famous names, made her feel as if she were in the real social whirl at last.

The name of copy-cat which Holland had given her proved well-earned now, for so easily did she fall in with the ways about her, that one would have thought her always accustomed to formal dinners, with a deft colored waiter like Alec at her elbow.

Rob dined with them, and later in the evening Mrs. Walton came strolling over in neighborly fashion, bringing her house-party to call on the other party, she said, though to be sure only half of her guests had arrived, the two young army officers, George Logan and Robert Stanley. Allison and Kitty were with them, and --- Mary noted with a quick indrawn breath --- Ranald. The title of Little Captain no longer fitted him. He was far too tall. She was disappointed to find him grown.

Somehow all the heroes and heroines whom she had looked upon as her own age, who were her own age when the interesting things she knew about them had happened, were all grown up. Her first disappointment had been in Rob, then in Betty. For this Betty was not the one Joyce had pictured in her stories of the first house-party. This one had long dresses, and her curly hair was tucked up on her head in such a bewitchingly young-ladified way that Mary was in awe of her at first. She was not disappointed in her now, however, and no longer in awe, since Betty had piloted her over the place, swinging hands with her in as friendly a fashion as if she were no older than Hazel Lee, and telling the way she looked when she saw The Locusts for the first time --- a timid little country girl in a sunbonnet, with a wicker basket on her arm.

The military uniforms lent an air of distinction to the scene, and Allison and Kitty each began a conversation in such a vivacious way, that Mary found it difficult to decide which group to attach herself to. She did not want to lose a word that any one was saying, and the effort to listen to several separate conversations was as much of a strain as trying to watch three rings at the circus.

Through the laughter and the repartee of the young people she heard Mrs. Walton say to Mr. Sherman: "Yes, only second lieutenants, but I've been an army woman long enough to appreciate them as they deserve. They have no rank to speak of, few privileges, are always expected to do the agreeable to visitors (and they do it), obliged to give up their quarters at a moment's notice, take the duties nobody else wants, be cheerful under all conditions, and ready for anything. It is an exception when a second lieutenant is not dear and fascinating. As for these two, I am doubly fond of them, for their fathers were army men before them, and old-time friends of ours. George I knew as a little lad in Washington. I must tell you of an adventure of his, that shows what a sterling fellow he is."

Mary heard only part of the anecdote, for at the same time Kitty was telling an uproariously funny joke on Ranald, and all the rest were laughing. But she heard enough to make her take a second look at Lieutenant Logan. He was leaning forward in his chair, talking to Joyce with an air of flattering interest. And Joyce, in one of her new dresses, her face flushed a little from the unusual excitement, was talking her best and looking her prettiest.

"She's having a good time just like other girls," thought Mary, thankfully. "This will make up for lots of lonely times in the desert, when she was homesick for the high-school girls and boys at Plainsville. It would be fine if things would turn out so that Joyce liked an army man. If she married one and lived at a post she'd invite me to visit her. Lieutenant Logan might be a general some day, and it would be nice to have a great man in the family. I wish mamma and Jack and Holland could see what a good time we are having."

It did not occur to Mary that, curled up in a big chair in the corner, she was taking no more active share in the good times than the portraits on the wall. Her eager smile and the alert happy look in her eyes showed that she was all atingle with the unusual pleasure the evening was affording her. She laughed and looked and listened, sure that the scene she was enjoying was as good as a play. She had never seen a play, it is true; but she lead read of them, and of player folk, until she knew she was fitted to judge of such things.

It was a pleasure just to watch the gleam of the soft candle-light on Kitty's red ribbons, or on the string of gold beads around Allison's white throat. Maybe it was the candle-light which threw such a soft glamour over everything and made it seem that the pretty girls and the young lieutenants were only portraits out of a beautiful old past who had stepped down from their frames for a little while. "Yet when Mary glanced up, the soldier boy was still in his picture on the wall, and the beautiful girl with the June rose in her hair was still in her frame, standing beside her harp, her white hand resting on its shining strings.

"It is my grandmothah Amanthis," explained Lloyd in answer to the lieutenant's question, as his gaze also rested admiringly on it. "Yes, this is the same harp you see in the painting. Yes, I play a little. I learned to please grandfathah."

Then, a moment later, Mary reached the crown of her evening's enjoyment, for Lloyd, in response to many voices, took her place beside the harp below the picture, and struck a few deep, rich chords. Then, with an airy running accompaniment, she began the Dove Song from the play of "The Princess Winsome:"

"Flutter and fly, flutter and fly,
Bear him my heart of gold."

It was all as Mary had imagined it would be, a hundred times in her day-dreams, only far sweeter and more beautiful. She had not thought how the white sleeves would fall back from the round white arms, or how her voice would go fluttering up like a bird, sweet and crystal clear on the last high note.

Afterward, when the guests were gone and everybody had said good night, Mary lay awake in the pink blossom of a room which she shared with Joyce, the same room Joyce had had at the first house-party. She was having another good time, thinking it all over. She thought scornfully of the woman on the sleeping-car who had told her that distance lends enchantment, and that she must not expect too much of her promised land. She hoped she might meet that woman again some day, so that she could tell her that it was not only as nice as she had expected to find it, but a hundred times nicer.

She reminded herself that she must tell Betty about her in the morning. As she recalled one pleasant incident after another, she thought, "Now this is life! No wonder Lloyd is so bright and interesting when she has been brought up in such an atmosphere."

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