The Little Colonel Maid of Honor, Chapter 7: The Coming Of The Bride

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

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

CHAPTER VII.
THE COMING OF THE BRIDE

EARLY in the June morning Mary awoke, feeling as if it were Christmas or Fourth of July or some great gala occasion. She lay there a moment, trying to think what pleasant thing was about to happen. Then she remembered that it was the day on which the bride was to arrive. Not only that, --- before the sun went down, the best man would be at The Locusts also.

She raised herself on her elbow to look at Joyce, in the white bed across from hers. She was sound asleep, so Mary snuggled down on her pillow again, and lay quite still. If Joyce had been awake, Mary ,would have begun a long conversation about Phil Tremont. Instead, she began recalling to herself the last time she had seen him. It was three years ago, down by the beehives, and she had had no idea he was going away until he came to the Wigwam to bid them all good-by. And Joyce and Lloyd were away, so he had left a message for them with her. She thought it queer then, and she had wondered many times since why his farewell to the girls should have been a message about the old gambling god, Alaka. She remembered every word of it, even the tones of his voice as he said: "Try to remember just these words, please, Mary. Tell them that 'Alaka has lost his precious turquoises, but he will win them back again some day.' Can you remember to say just that?"

He must have thought she wasn't much more than a baby to repeat it so carefully to her several times, as if he were teaching her a lesson. Well, to be sure, she was only eleven then, and she had almost cried when she begged him not to go away, and insisted on knowing when he was coming back. He had looked away toward old Camelback Mountain with a strange, sorry look on his face as he answered:

"Not till I've learned your lesson --- to be 'inflexible.' When I'm strong enough to keep stiff in the face of any temptation, then I'll come back, little Vicar." Then he had stooped and kissed her hastily on both cheeks, and started off down the road, with her watching him through a blur of tears, because it seemed that all the good times in the world had suddenly come to an end. Awaydown the road he had turned to look back and wave his hat, and she had caught up her white sunbonnet and swung it high by its one limp string.

Afterward, when she went back to the swing by the beehives, she recalled all the old stories she had ever heard of knights who went out into the world to seek their fortunes, and waved farewell to some ladye fair in her watch-tower. She felt, in a vague way, that she had been bidden farewell by a brave knight errant. Although she was burning with curiosity when she delivered the message about the turquoises and Alaka, and wondered why Lloyd and Joyce exchanged such meaning glances, something kept her from asking questions, and she had gone on wondering all these years what it meant, and why there was such a sorry look in his eyes when he gazed out toward the old Camelback Mountain. Now, in the wisdom of her fourteen years, she began to suspect what the trouble had been, and resolved to ask Joyce for the solution of the mystery.

Now that Phil was twenty years old and doing a man's work in the world, she supposed she ought to call him Mr. Tremont, or, at least, Mr. Phil. Probably in his travels, with all the important things that a civil engineer has to think of, he had forgotten her and the way he had romped with her at the Wigwam, and how he had saved her life the time the Indian chased her. Being the bridegroom's brother and best man at the wedding, he would scarcely notice her. Or, if he did cast a glance in her direction, she had grown so much probably he never would recognize her. Still, if he should remember her, she wanted to appear at her best advantage, and she began considering what was the best her wardrobe afforded.

She lay there some time trying to decide whether she should be all in white when she met him, or in the dress with the little sprigs of forget-me-nots sprinkled over it. White was appropriate for all occasions, still the forget-me-nots would be suggestive. Then she remembered her mother's remark about that shade of blue being a trying one for her to wear. That recalled Mom Beck's prescription for beautifying the complexion. Nothing, so the old colored woman declared, was so good for one's face as washing it in dew before the sun had touched the grass, at the same time repeating a hoodoo rhyme. Mary had been intending to try it, but never could waken early enough.

Now it was only a little after five. Slipping out of bed, she drew aside the curtain. Smoke was rising from the chimney down in the servants' quarters, and the sun was streaming red across the lawn. But over by the side of the house, in the shadow of Hero's monument, the dew lay sparkling like diamonds on the daisies and clover that bloomed there --- the only place on the lawn where the sun had not yet touched.

Thrusting her bare feet into the little red Turkish slippers beside her bed, Mary caught up her kimono lying over a chair. It was a long, Oriental affair, Cousin Kate's Christmas gift; a mixture of gay colors and a pattern of Japanese fans, and so beautiful in Mary's eyes that she had often bemoaned the fact that she was not a Japanese lady so that she could wear the gorgeous garment in public. It seemed too beautiful to be wasted on the privacy of her room.

Fastening it together with three of Joyce's little gold pins, she stole down the stairway. Mom Beck was busy in the dining-room, and the doors and windows stood open. Stepping out of one of the long French windows that opened on the side porch, Mary ran across to the monument. It was a glorious June morning. The myriads of roses were doubly sweet with the dew in their hearts.

A Kentucky cardinal flashed across the lawn ahead of her, darting from one locust-tree to another like a bit of live flame.

The little red Turkish slippers chased lightly over the grass till they reached the shadow of the monument. Then stooping, Mary passed her hands ever the daisies and clover, catching up the dewdrops in her pink palms, and rubbing them over her face as she repeated Mom Beck's charm:

"Beauty come, freckles go
Dewdops, make me white as snow!"

The dew on her face felt so cool and fresh that she tried it again, then several times more. Then she stooped over farther and buried her face in the wet grass, repeating the rhyme again with her eyes shut and in the singsong chant in which she often intoned things, without giving heed to what she was uttering. Suddenly, in the midst of this joyful abandon, an amused exclamation made her lift her head a little and open her eyes.

"By all the powers! What are you up to now, Miss Stork?"

Mary's head came up out of the wet grass with a jerk. Then her face burned an embarrassed crimson, for striding along the path toward her was Bob Moore, cutting across lots from Oaklea. He was bareheaded, and swinging along as if it were a pleasure merely to be alive on such a morning.

She sprang to her feet, so mortified at being caught in this secret quest for beauty that her embarrassment left her speechless. Then, remembering the way she was dressed, she sank down on the grass again, and pulled her kimono as far as possible over the little bare feet in the red slippers.

There was no need for her to answer his question. The rhyme she had been chanting was sufficient explanation.

"I thought you said," he began, teasingly, "that you were to have your innings when you were a grandmother; that you didn't care for beauty now if you could have a face like a benediction then."

"Oh, I didn't say that I didn't care!" cried Mary, crouching closer against the monument, and putting her arm across her face to hide it. "It's because I care so much that I'm always doing silly things and getting caught. I just wish the earth could open and swallow me!" she wailed.

Her head was bowed now till it was resting on her knees. Rob looked down on the little bunch of misery in the gay kimono, thinking he had never seen such a picture of woe. He could not help smiling, but he felt mean at having been the cause of her distress, and tried to think of something comforting to say.

"Sakes alive, child! That's nothing to feel bad about. Bathing your face in May-day dew is an old English custom that the prettiest girls in the Kingdom used to follow. I ought to apologize for intruding, but I didn't suppose any one was up. I just came over to say that some business for grandfather will take me to town on the earliest train, so that I can't be on hand when the best man arrives. I didn't want to wake up the entire household by telephoning, so I thought I'd step over and leave a message with Alec or some of them. If you'll tell Lloyd, I'll be much obliged."

"All right, I'll tell her," answered Mary, in muffled tones, without raising her head from her knees. She was battling back the tears, and felt that she could never face the world again. She waited till she was sure Rob was out of sight, and then, springing up, ran for the shelter of her room. As she stole up the stairs, her eyes were so blinded with tears that she could hardly see the steps; tears of humiliation, that Rob, of all people, whose good opinion she valued, should have discovered her in a situation that made her appear silly and vain.

Luckily for the child's peace of mind, Betty had also wakened early that morning, and was taking advantage of the quiet hours before breakfast to attend to her letter-writing. Through her open door she caught sight of the woebegone little figure slipping past, and the next instant Mary found herself in the white and gold room with Betty's arm around her, and her tearful face pressed against a sympathetic shoulder. Little by little Betty coaxed from her the cause of her tears, then sat silent, patting her hand, as she wondered what she could say to console her.

To the older girl it seemed a matter to smile over, and the corners of her mouth did dimple a little, until she realized that to Mary's supersensitive nature this was no trifle, and that she was suffering keenly from it.

"Oh, I'm so ashamed," sobbed Mary. " I never want to look Mister Rob in the face again. I'd rather go home and miss the wedding than meet him any more."

"Nonsense," said Betty, lightly. "Now you're making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Probably Rob will never give the matter a second thought, and he would be amazed if he thought you did. I've heard you say you wished you could be just like Lloyd. Do you know, her greatest charm to me is that she never seems to think of the impression she is making on other people. Now, if she should decide that her complexion would be better for a wash in the dew, she would go ahead and wash it, no matter who caught her at it, and, first thing you know, all the Valley would be following her example.

"I'm going to preach you a little sermon now, because I've found out your one fault. It isn't very big yet, but, if you don't nip it in the bud, it will be like Meddlesome Matty's,---

"'Which, like a cloud before the skies, 
Hid all her better qualities.'

"You are self-conscious, Mary. Always thinking about the impression you are making on people, and so eager to please that it makes you miserable if you think you fall short of any of their standards. I knew a girl at school who let her sensitiveness to other people's opinions run away with her. She was so anxious for her friends to be pleased with her that she couldn't be natural. If anybody glanced in the direction of her head, she immediately began to fix her side-combs, or if they seemed to be noticing her dress, she felt her belt and looked down at herself to see if anything was wrong. Half the time they were not looking at her at all, and not even giving her a thought. And I've known her to agonize for days over some trifle, some remark she had made or some one had made to her, that every one but her had forgotten. She developed into a dreadful bore, because she never could forget herself, and was always looking at her affairs through a magnifying-glass.

"Now if you should keep out of Rob's way after this, and act as if you had done something to be ashamed of, which you have not, don't you see that your very actions would remind him of what you want him to forget? But if when you meet him you are your own bright, cheerful, friendly little self, this morning's scene will fade into a dim background."

Only half-convinced, Mary nodded that she understood, but still proceeded to wipe her eyes at intervals.

"Then, there's another thing," continued Betty. " If you sit and brood over your mortification, it will spread all over your sky like a black cloud, till it will seem bigger than any of the good times you have had. In the dear old garden at Warwick Hall there is a sun-dial that has this inscription on it, 'I only mark the hours that shine.' So I am going to give you that as a text. Now, dear, that is the end of my sermon, but here is the application."

She pointed to a row of little white books on the shelf above her desk, all bound in kid, with her initials stamped on the back in gold. "Those are my good-times books. 'I only mark the hours that shine' in them, and when things go wrong and I get discouraged over my mistakes, I glance through them and find that there's lots more to laugh over than cry about, and I'm going to recommend the same course to you. Godmother gave me the first volume when I came to the first house-party, and the little record gave me so much pleasure that I've gone on adding volume after volume. Suppose you try it, dear. Will you, if I give you a book?"'

"Yes," answered Mary, who had heard of these books before, and longed for a peep into them. She had her wish now, for, taking them down from the shelf, Betty read an extract here and there, to illustrate what she meant. Presently, to their astonishment, they heard Mom Beck knocking at Lloyd's door to awaken her, and Betty realized with a start that she had been reading over an hour. Her letters were unanswered, but she had accomplished something better. Mary's tears had dried, as she listened to these accounts of their frolics at boarding-school and their adventures abroad, and in her interest in them her own affairs had taken their proper proportion. She was no longer heart-broken over having been discovered by Rob, and she was determined to overcome the sensitiveness and self-consciousness which Betty had pointed out as her great fault.

As she rose to go, Betty opened a drawer in her desk and took out a square, fat diary, bound in red morocco. "One of the girls gave me this last Christmas." she said. "I never have used it, because I want to keep my journals uniform in size and binding, and I'll be so glad to have you take it and start a record of your own, if you will."

"Oh, I'll begin this very morning!" cried Mary, in delight, throwing her arms around Betty's neck with an impulsive kiss, and trying to express her thanks.

"Then wait till I write my text in it," said Betty, "so that it will always recall my sermon. I've talked to you as if I were your grandmother, haven't I?"

"You've made me feel a lot more comfortable," answered Mary, humbly, with another kiss as Betty handed her the book. On the fly-leaf she had -written her own name and Mary's and the inscription borne by the old sun-dial in Warwick Hall garden

"I only mark the hours that shine."

It was after lunch before Mary found a moment in which to begin her record, and then it was in unconscious imitation of Betty's style that she wrote the events of the morning. Probably she would not have gone into details and copied whole conversations if she had not heard the extracts from Betty's diaries. Betty was writing for practice as well as with the purpose of storing away pleasant memories, so it was often with the spirit of the novelist that she made her entries.

"It seems hopeless to go back to the beginning," wrote Mary, "and tell all that has happened so far, so I shall begin with this morning. Soon after breakfast we went to Rollington in the carriage, Joyce and Betty and I on the back seat, and Lloyd in front with the coachman. And Mrs. Crisp cut down nearly a whole bushful of bridal wreath to decorate Eugenia's room with. When we got back May Lily had just finished putting up fresh curtains in the room, almost as fine and thin as frostwork. The furniture is all white, and the walls a soft, cool green, and the rugs like that dark velvety moss that grows in the deepest woods. When we had finished filling the vases and jardinieres, the room itself all snowy white and green made you think of a bush of bridal wreath.

"We were barely through with that when it was time for Lloyd and Aunt Elizabeth to go to the station to meet Eugenia. There wasn't room for the rest of us in the carriage, so Betty and Joyce and I hung out of the windows and watched for them, and Betty and Joyce talked about the other time Eugenia came, when they walked up and down under the locusts waiting for her and wondering what she would be like. When she did come, they were half-afraid of her, she was so stylish and young-ladified, and ordered her maid about in such a superior way.

"Betty said it was curious how snippy girls of that age can be sometimes, and then turn out to be such fine women afterward, when they outgrow their snippiness and snobbishness. Then she told us a lot we had never heard about the school Eugenia went to in Germany to take a training in housekeeping, and so many interesting things about her that I was all in a quiver of curiosity to see her.

"When we heard the carriage coming, Betty and Joyce tore down-stairs to meet her, but I just hung farther out of the window. And, oh, but she was pretty and stylish and tall --- and just as Betty had said, patrician-looking, with her dusky hair and big dark eyes. She is the Spanish type of beauty. She swept into the house so grandly, with her maid following with her satchels (the same old Eliot who was here before), that I thought for a moment maybe she was as stuck-up as ever. But when she saw her old room, she acted just like a happy little girl, ready to cry and laugh in the same breath because everything had been made so beautiful for her coming. While she was still in the midst of admiring everything, she sat right down on the bed and tore off her gloves, so that she could open the queer-looking parcel she carried. I had thought maybe it was something too valuable to put in the satchels, but it was only a new kind of egg-beater she had seen in a show-window on her way from one depot to another. You would have thought from the way she carried on that she had found a wonderful treasure. And in the midst of showing us that she exclaimed:

"Oh, girls, what do you think? I met the dearest old lady on the sleeper, and she gave me a receipt for a new kind of salad. That makes ten kinds of salad that I know how to make. Oh, I just can't wait to tell you about our little love of a house! It's all furnished and waiting for us. Papa and I were out to look all over it the day I started, and everything was in place but the refrigerator, and Stuart had already ordered one sent out.'

" Then Lloyd opened the closet door and called her attention to the great pile of packages waiting to be opened. She flew at them and called us all to help, and for a little while Mom Beck and Eliot were kept busy picking tip strings and wrapping-paper and cotton and excelsior. When we were through, the bed and the chairs and mantel and two extra tables that had been brought in were piled with the most beautiful things I ever saw. I never dreamed there were such lovely things in the world as some of the beaten silver and hand-painted china and Tiffany glass. There was a jewelled fan, and all sorts of things in gold and mother-of-pearl, and there was some point lace that she said was more suitable for a queen than a young American girl. Her father has so many wealthy friends, and they all sent presents.

"Opening the bundles was so much fun, --- like a continual surprise-party, Betty said, or a hundred Christmases rolled into one. Between times when Eugenia wasn't exclaiming over how lovely everything was, she was telling us how the house was furnished, and what a splendid fellow Stuart is, and how wild she is for us to know him. I had never heard a bride talk before, and she was so happy that somehow it made you feel that getting married was the most beautiful thing in the world.

"One of the first things she did when she opened her suit-case was to take out a picture of Stuart. It was a miniature on ivory in a locket of Venetian gold, because it was in Venice he had proposed to her. After she had shown it to us, she put it in the centre of her dressing-table, with the white flowers all around it, as if it had been some sort of shrine. There was a look in her eyes that made me think of the picture in Betty's room of a nun laying lilies on an altar.

"It is after luncheon now, and she has gone to her room to rest awhile. So have the other girls. But I couldn't sleep. The days are slipping by too fast for me to waste any time that way."

The house was quiet when Mary closed her journal. Joyce was still asleep on the bed, and through the open door she could see Betty, tilted back in a big chair, nodding over a magazine. She concluded it would be a good time to dash off a letter to Holland, but with a foresight which prompted her to be ready for any occasion; she decided to dress first for the evening. Tiptoeing around the room, she brushed her hair in the new way Mom Beck had taught her, and, taking out her prettiest white dress, proceeded to array herself in honor of the best man's coming. Then she rummaged in the tray of her trunk till she found her pink coral necklace and fan-chain, and, with a sigh of satisfaction that she was ready for any emergency, seated herself at her letter-writing.

She had written only a page, however, when the clock on the stairs chimed four. The deep tones echoing through the hall sent Lloyd bouncing up from her couch, her hair falling over her shoulders and her long kimono tripping her at every step, as she ran into Joyce's room.

"What are we going to do?" she cried in dismay. " I ovahslept myself, and now it's foah o'clock, and Phil's train due in nine minutes. The carriage is at the doah and none of us dressed to go to meet him. I wrote that the entiah bridal party would be there."

Joyce sprang up in a dazed sort of way, and began putting on her slippers. The bridesmaids had talked so much about the grand welcome the best man was to receive on his entrance to the Valley that, half-a-wake as she was, she could not realize that it was too late to carry out their plans.

"Oh, it's no use trying to get ready now," said Lloyd, in a disappointed tone. "We couldn't dress and get to the station in time to save ou' lives." Then her glance fell on Mary, sitting at her desk, in all her brave array of pink ribbons acid corals.

"Why, Mary can go!" she cried, in a relieved tone. "I had forgotten that she knows Phil as well as we do. Run on, that's a deah! Don't stop for a hat! You won't need it in the carriage. Tell him that you're the maid of honah on this occasion!"

It was all over so quickly, the rapid drive down the avenue, the quick dash up to the station as the train came puffing past, that Mary had little time to rehearse the part she had been bidden to play. She was so afraid that Phil would not recognize her that she wondered if she ought not to begin by introducing herself. She pictured the scene in her mind as they rolled along, unconscious that she was smiling and bowing into empty air, as she rehearsed the speech with which she intended to impress him. She would be as dignified and gracious as the Princess herself; not at all like the hoydenish child of eleven who had waved her sunbonnet at him in parting three years before.

The sight of the train as it slowed up sent a queer inward quiver of expectancy through her, and her cheeks were flushed with eagerness as she leaned forward watching for him. With a nervous gesture, she put her hand up to her hair-ribbons to make sure that her bows were in place, and then clutched the coral necklace. Then Betty's sermon flashed across her mind, and the thought that she had done just like the self-conscious girl at school brought a distressed pucker between her eyebrows. But the next instant she forgot all about it. She forgot the princess-like way in which she was to step from the carriage, the dignity with which she was to offer Phil her hand, and the words wherewith she was to welcome him. She had caught sight of a wide-brimmed gray hat over the heads of the crowd, and a face, bronzed and handsome, almost as dear in its familiar outlines as Jack's or Holland's. Her carefully rehearsed actions flew to the winds, as, regardless of the strangers all about, she sprang from the carriage and ran along bareheaded in the sun. And Phil, glancing around him for the bridal party that was to meet him, was surprised beyond measure when this little apparition from the Arizona Wigwam caught him by the hand.

"Bless my soul, it's the little Vicar!" he exclaimed. "Why, it's like getting back home to see you! And how you've grown, and how really civilized you are!"

So he had remembered her. He was glad to see her. With her face glowing and her feet fairly dancing, she led him to the carriage, pouring out a flood of information as they went, about The Locusts and the wedding and the people they passed, and how lovely everything was in the Valley, till he said, with a twinkle in his eyes: "You're the same enthusiastic little soul that you used to be, aren't you? I hope you'll speak as good a word for me at The Locusts as you did at Lee's ranch. I am taking it as a good omen that you were sent to conduct me into this happy land. You made a success of it that other time; somehow I'm sure you will this time."

All the way to the house Mary sat and beamed on him as she talked, thinking how much older he looked, and yet how friendly and brotherly he still was. She introduced him to Mrs. Sherman with a proud, grandmotherly air of proprietorship, and took a personal pride in every complimentary thing said about him afterward, as if she were responsible for his good behavior, and was pleased with the way he was "showing off."

Rob came over as usual in the evening. Phil was not there at first. He and Eugenia were strolling about the grounds. Mary, sitting in a hammock on the porch, was impatient for them to come in, for she wanted to see what impression he would make on Rob, whom she had been thinking lately was the nicest man she ever met. She wanted to see them together to contrast the two, for they seemed wonderfully alike in size and general appearance. In actions, too, Mary thought, remembering how they both had teased her.

She had not seen Rob since their unhappy encounter early that morning, when she had been so overcome with mortification; and if Betty had not been on the porch also, she would have found it hard to stay and face him. But she wanted to show Betty that she had taken her little sermon to heart. Then, besides, the affair did not look so big, after all that had happened during this exciting day.

As they waited, Joyce joined them, and presently they heard Lloyd coming through the hall. She was singing a verse from Ingelow's "Songs of Seven:"

"'There is no dew left on the daisies and clover.
   There is no rain left in the heaven.
   I've said my seven times over and over
   Seven times one are seven.'"

Then she began again, "'There is no dew left on the daisies and clover---'" Rob turned to Mary. "I wonder why," he said, meaningly.

The red flashed up into Mary's face and she made no audible answer, but Joyce, turning suddenly, saw to her horror that Mary had made a saucy face at him and thrust out her tongue like a naughty child.

"Why, Mary Ware!" she began, in a shocked tone, but Betty interrupted with a laugh. "Let her alone, Joyce; he richly deserved it. He was teasing her."

"Betty was right," thought Mary afterward. "It was better to make fun of his teasing than to run off and cry because he happened to mention the subject. If I had done that, he never would have said to Betty afterward that I was the jolliest little thing that ever came over the pike. How much better this day has ended than it began."

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