The Little Colonel Maid of Honor, Chapter 9: "Something Blue"

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

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

CHAPTER IX.
"SOMETHING BLUE"

A RAINY day followed the lawn fête, such a steady pour that little rivers ran down the window-panes, and the porches had to be abandoned. But nobody lamented the fact that they were driven indoors. Rob and Joyce began a game of chess in the library. Lloyd and Phil turned over the music in the cabinet until they found a pile of duets which they both knew, and began to try them, first to the accompaniment of the piano, then the harp.

Mary, sitting in the hall where she could see both the chess-players and the singers, waited in a state of bliss to be summoned to the sewing-room. Only that morning it had been discovered that there was enough pink chiffon left, after the bridesmaids' gowns were completed, to make her a dress, and the seamstress was at work upon it now. So it was a gay, rose-colored world to Marythis morning, despite the leaden skies and pouring rain outside. Not only was she to have a dress, the material for which had actually been brought from Paris, but she was to have little pink satin slippers like the bridesmaids, and she was to have a proud place in the wedding itself. When the bridal party came down the stairs, it was to be her privilege to swing wide the gate of roses for them to pass through.

Joyce had designed the gate. It was to be a double one, swung in the arch between the hall and the drawing-room, and it would take hundreds of roses to make it, the florist said.

In Mary's opinion the office of gate-opener was more to be desired than that of bridesmaid. As she sat listening to the music, curled up in a big hall chair like a contented kitten, she decided that there was nobody in all the world with whom she would change places. There had been times when she would have exchanged gladly with Joyce, thinking of the artist career ahead of her, or with Betty, who was sure to be a famous author some day, or with Lloyd, who seemed to have everything that heart could wish, or with Eugenia with all her lovely presents and trousseau and the new home on the Hudson waiting for her. But just now she was so happy that she wouldn't even have stepped into a fairy-tale.

Presently, through the dripping window-panes, she saw Alec plodding up the avenue under an umbrella, his pockets bulging with mail packages, papers, and letters. Betty, at her window up-stairs, saw him also, and came running down the steps, followed by Eugenia. The old Colonel, hearing the call, "The mail's here," opened the door of his den, and joined the group in the hall where Betty proceeded to sort out the letters. A registered package from Stuart was the first thing that Eugenia tore open, and the others looked up from their letters at her pleased exclamation:

"Oh, it's the charms for the bride's cake!"

"Ornaments for the top?" asked Rob, as she lifted the layer of jeweller's cotton and disclosed a small gold thimble, and a narrow wedding-ring.

"No! Who ever heard of such a thing!" she laughed. "Haven't you heard of the traditional charms that must be baked in a bride's cake? It is a token of the fate one may expect who finds it in his slice of cake. Eliot taught me the old rhyme

"'Four tokens must the bridescake hold: 
A silver shilling and a ring of gold, 
A crystal charm good luck to symbol, 
And for the spinster's hand a thimble.'

"Eliot firmly believes that the tokens are a prophecy, for years ago, at her cousin's wedding in England, she got the spinster's thimble. The girl who found the ring was married within the year, and the one who found the shilling shortly came into an inheritance. True, it didn't amount to much, --- about five pounds, --- but the coincidence firmly convinced Eliot of the truth of the superstition. In this country people usually take a dime instead of a shilling, but I told Stuart that I wanted to follow the custom strictly to the letter. And look what a dear he is! Here is a bona fide English shilling, that he took the trouble to get for me."

Phil took up the bit of silver she had placed beside the thimble and the ring, and looked it over critically. "Well, I'll declare!" he exclaimed. "That was Aunt Patricia's old shilling! I'd swear to it. See the way the hole is punched, Just between those two ugly old heads? And I remember the dent just below the date. Looks as if some one had tried to bite it, Aunt Patricia used to keep it in her treasure-box with her gold beads and other keepsakes."

The old Colonel, who had once had a fad for collecting coins, and owned a large assortment, held out his hand for it. Adjusting his glasses, he examined it carefully. "Ah! Most interesting," he observed. "Coined in the reign of  'Bloody Mary,' and bearing the heads of Queen Mary and King Philip. You remember this shilling is mentioned in Butler's 'Hudibras :'

"'Still amorous and fond and billing,
Like Philip and Mary on a shilling.'

"You couldn't have a more appropriate token for your cake, my dear," he said to Eugenia with a smile. Then he laid it on the table, and taking up his papers, passed back into his den.

"That's the first time I ever heard my name in a poem," said Phil. "By rights I ought to draw that shilling in my share of cake. If I do I shall take it as a sign that history is going to repeat itself, and shall look around for a ladye-love named Mary. Now I know a dozen songs with that name, and such things always come in handy when 'a frog he would a-wooing go.' There's 'My Highland Mary' and 'Mary of Argyle,' and 'Mistress Mary, quite contrary,' and 'Mary, call the cattle home, across the sands of Dee!'"

As he rattled thoughtlessly on, nothing was farther from his thoughts than the self-conscious little Mary just behind him. Nobody saw her face grow red, however, for Lloyd's exclamation over the last token made every one crowd around her to see.

It was a small heart-shaped charm of crystal, probably intended for a watch-fob. There was a four-leaf clover, somehow mysteriously imbedded in the centre.

"That ought to be doubly lucky," said Eugenia. "Oh, what a dear Stuart was to take so much trouble to get the very nicest things. They couldn't be more suitable."

"Eugenia," asked Betty, "have you thought of that other rhyme that brides always consider? You know you should wear

"'Something old, something new, 
Something borrowed, something blue"'

"Yes, Eliot insisted on that, too. The whole outfit will, itself, be something new, the lace that was on my mother's wedding-gown will be the something old. I thought I'd borrow a hairpin apiece from you girls, and I haven't decided yet about the something blue."

"No," objected Lloyd. "The borrowed articles ought to be something really valuable. Let me lend you my little pearl clasps to fasten your veil, and then for the something blue, there is your turquoise butterfly. You can slip it on somewhere, undah the folds of lace."

"What a lot of fol-de-rol there is about a wedding," said Rob. "As if it made a particle of difference whether you wear pink or green! Why must it be blue"'

There was an indignant protest from all the girls, and Rob made his escape to the library, calling to Joyce to come and finish the game of chess.

That evening, Mary, sitting on the floor of the library in front of the Poets' Corner, took down volume after volume to scan its index. She was looking for the songs Phil had mentioned, which contained her name. At the same time she also kept watch for the name of Philip. She remembered she had read some lines one time about " Philip my King."

As she pored over the poems in the dim light, --- for only the shaded lamp on the central table was burning, she heard steps on the porch outside. The rain had stopped early in the afternoon, and the porches had dried so that the hammocks and chairs could be put out again. Now voices sounded just outside the window where she sat, and the creaking of a screw in the post told that some one was sitting in the hammock. Evidently it was Lloyd, for Phil's voice sounded nearer the window. He had seated himself in the armchair that always stood in that niche, and was tuning a guitar. As soon as it was keyed up to his satisfaction, he began thrumming on it, a sort of running accompaniment to their conversation.

It did not occur to Mary that she was eavesdropping, for they were talking of impersonal things, just the trifles of the hour; and she caught only a word now and then as she scanned the story of Enoch Arden. The name Philip, in it, had arrested her attention.

"I think the maid of honor ought to wear something blue as well as the bride," remarked Phil.

"Why?" asked Lloyd.

There was such a long pause that Mary looked up, wondering why he did not answer.

"Why?" asked Lloyd again.

Phil thrummed on a moment longer, and then began playing in a soft minor key, and his answer, when it finally came, seemed at first to have no connection with what he had been talking about.

"Do you remember when we were in Arizona, the picnic we had at Hole-in-the-rock, and the story that that old Norwegian told about Alaka, the gambling god, who lost his string of precious turquoises and even his eyes?"

"Yes."

Mary looked up from her book, listening alertly. The mystery of years was about to be explained.

"Well, do you remember a conversation you had with Joyce about it afterward, in which you called the turquoise the 'friendship stone,' because it was true blue? And you said it was a pity that some people you knew, not a thousand miles away, couldn't go to the School of  the Bees, and learn that line from Watts about Satan finding mischief for idle hands to do. And Joyce said yes, it was too bad for a fine fellow to get into trouble just because he was a drone, and had no ambition to make anything of himself; that if Alaka had gone to the School of the Bees he wouldn't have lost his eyes. And then you said that if somebody kept on he would at least lose his turquoises. Do you remember all that?"

The screw in the post stopped creaking as Lloyd sat straight up in the hammock to exclaim in astonishment : "Yes, I remembah, but how undah the sun, Phil Tremont, do you happen to know anything about that convahsation? You were not there."

"No, but little Mary Ware was. She didn't have the faintest idea that you meant me, and that Sunday morning when I called at the Wigwam for the last time to make my apologies and farewells, and you were not there, she told me all about it like the blessed little chatterbox that she was. Then, when I saw plainly that I had forfeited my right to your friendship, I did not wait to say good-by, just left a message for you with Mary. I knew she would attempt to deliver it, but I have wondered many times since if she gave it in the words I told her. Of course I couldn't expect you to remember the exact words after all this time."

"But it happens that I do," answered Lloyd.

"She said, 'Alaka has lost his precious turquoises, but he will win them back again some day.'"

"Did you understand what I meant, Lloyd?"

"Well, I --- I guessed at yoah meaning."

"Mary unwittingly did me a good turn that morning. She was an angel unawares, for she showed me myself as you saw me, a drone in the hive, with no ambition, and the gambling fever in my veins making a fool of me. I went away vowing I would win back your respect and make myself worthy of your friendship, and I can say honestly that I have kept that vow. Soon after, while I was out on that first surveying trip I came across some unset stones for a mere song. This little turquoise was among them." He took the tiny stone from his pocket and held it out on his palm, so that the light streaming out from the library fell across it.

"I have carried it ever since. Many a time it has reminded me of you and your good opinion I was trying to win back. I've had lots of temptations to buck against, and there have been times when they almost downed me, but I say it in all humility, Lloyd, this little bit of turquoise kept me 'true blue,' and I've lived straight enough to ask you to take it now, in token that you do think me worthy of your friendship. When I heard Eugenia talking about wearing something blue at the wedding, I had a fancy that it would be an appropriate thing for the maid of honor to do, too."

Lloyd took the little stone he offered, and held it up to the light.

"It certainly is true blue," she said, with a smile, "and I'm suah you are too, now. I didn't need this to tell me how well you've been doing since you left Arizona. We've heard a great deal about yoah successes from Cousin Carl."

"Then let me have it set in a ring for you," he added. "There will be plenty of time before the wedding."

"No," she answered, hastily. "I couldn't do that. Papa Jack wouldn't like it. He wouldn't allow me to accept anything from a man in the way of jewelry, you know. I couldn't take it as a ring. Now just this little unset stone " --- she hesitated. "Just this bit of a turquoise that you say cost only a trifle, I'm suah he wouldn't mind that. I'll tell him it's just my friendship stone."

"What a particular little maid of honor you are!" he exclaimed. "How many girls of seventeen do you know who would take the trouble to go to their fathers with a trifle like that, and make a careful explanation about it? Besides, you can't tell him that it is only a friendship stone. I want it to mean more than that to you, Lloyd. I want it to stand for a great deal more between us. Don't you see how I care --- how I must have cared all this time, to let the thought of you make such a difference in my life?"

There was no mistaking the deep tenderness of his voice or the earnestness of his question. Lloyd felt the blood surge up in her face and her heart throbbed so fast she could hear it beat. But she hastily thrust back the proffered turquoise, saying, in confusion:

"Then I can't wear it! Take it back, please; I promised Papa Jack---"

"Promised him what?" asked Phil, as she hesitated.

"Well, it's rathah hard to explain," she began in much confusion, "unless you knew the story of 'The Three Weavahs.' Then you'd undahstand."

"But I don't know it, and I'd rather like an explanation of some kind. I think you'll have to make it clear to me why you can't accept it, and what it was you promised your father."

"Oh, I can't tell it to make it sound like anything," she began, desperately. "It was like this. No, I can't tell it. Come in the house, and I'll get the book and let you read it for yoahself."

"No, I'd rather hear the reason from your own lips. Besides, some one would interrupt us in there, and I want to understand where I'm 'at' before that happens."

"Well," she began again, "it is a story Mrs. Walton told us once when our Shadow Club was in disgrace, because one of the girls eloped, and the were all in such trouble about it that we vowed we'd be old maids. Afterward it was the cause of our forming another club that we called the 'Ordah of Hildegarde.' I'll give you a sawt of an outline now, if you'll promise to read the entiah thing aftahward."

"I'll promise," agreed Phil.

"Then, this is it. Once there were three maidens, of whom it was written in the stahs that each was to wed a prince, provided she could weave a mantle that should fit his royal shouldahs as the falcon's feathahs fit the falcon. Each had a mirror beside her loom like the Lady of Shalott's in which the shadows of the world appeahed.

"One maiden wove in secret, and falling in love with a page who daily passed her mirror, imagined him to be a prince, and wove her web to fit his unworthy shouldahs. Of co'se when the real prince came it was too small, and so she missed the happiness that was written for her in the stabs.

"The second squandahed her warp of gold first on one, then anothah, weaving mantles for any one who happened to take her fancy --- a shepherd boy and a troubador, a student and a knight. When her prince rode by she had nothing left to offah him, so she missed her life's happiness.

"But the third had a deah old fathah like Papa Jack, and he gave her a silvah yahdstick on which was marked the inches and ells that a true prince ought to be. And he warned her like this:

"'Many youths will come to thee, each begging, "Give me the the royal mantle, Hildegarde. I am the prince the stahs have destined for thee." And with honeyed words he'll show thee how the mantle in the loom is just the length to fit his shouldahs. But let him not persuade thee to cut it loose and give it to him as thy young fingahs will be fain to do. Weave on anothah yeah and yet anothah, till thou, a woman grown, can measuah out a perfect web, moah ample than these stripling youths could carry, but which will fit thy prince in faultlessness, as the falcon's feathahs fit the falcon.'

"Then Hildegarde took the silvah yahdstick and said, 'You may trust me, fathah. I will not cut the golden warp from out the loom, until I, a woman grown, have woven such a web as thou thyself shalt say is worthy of a prince's wearing.' (That's what I promised Papa Jack.)

"Of co'se it turned out, that one day with her fathah's blessing light upon her, she rode away beside the prince, and evah aftah all her life was crowned with happiness, as it had been written for her in the stahs."

There was a long pause when she finished, so long that the silence began to grow painful. Then Phil said, slowly

"I understand now. Would you mind telling me what the measure was your father gave you that your prince must be?"

"There were three notches. He must be clean and honahable and strong."

There was another long pause before Phil said, "Well, I wouldn't be measuring up to that second notch if I asked you to break your promise to your father, and you wouldn't do it even if I did. So there's nothing more for me to say at present. But I'll ask this much. You'll keep the turquoise if we count it merely a friendship stone, won't you?"

"Yes, I'll be glad to do that. And I'll weah it at the wedding if you want me to, as my bit of something blue. I'll slip it down into my glove."

"Thank you," he answered, then added, after a pause: "And I suppose there's another thing.

That yardstick keeps all the other fellows at a distance, too. That's something to be cheerful over. But you mark my words --- I'm doing a bit of prophesying now --- when your real prince comes you'll know him by this: he'll come singing this song. Listen."

Picking up his guitar again, he struck one full deep chord and began singing softly the "Bedouin Love-song," "From the desert I come to thee." The refrain floated tremulously through the library window.

"Till the stars are old, 
And the sun grows cold, 
And the leaves of the judgment 
          Book unfold."

It brought back the whole moonlighted desert to Lloyd, with the odor of orange-blossoms wafted across it, as it had been on two eventful occasions they rode over it together. She sat quite still in the hammock, with the bit of turquoise clasped tight in her hand. It was hard to listen to such a beautiful voice unmoved. It thrilled her as no song had ever done before.

As it floated into the library, it thrilled Mary also, but in a different way; for with a guilty start she realized that she had been listening to something not meant for her to hear.

"Oh, what have I done! What have I done!" she whispered to herself, dropping the book and noiselessly wringing her hands. She could hear voices on the stairs now. Eugenia and Betty were coming down, and Rob's whistle down the avenue told that he was on his way to join them. Too ashamed to face any one just then, and afraid that her guilty face would betray the fact to Phil and Lloyd that she shared their secret, she hurried out of the library and up to her room, where Joyce was rearranging her hair. In response to Joyce's question about her coming up so early in the evening, she said she had thought of something she wanted to write in her journal. But when Joyce had gone down she did not begin writing immediately. Turning down the lamp until the room was almost in darkness, she sat with her elbows on the window-sill staring out into the night.

"I never meant to do it! " she kept explaining to her conscience. "It just did itself. It seemed all right to listen at first, when they were talking about things I had a right to know, and then I got so interested, it was like reading a story, and: I couldn't go away because I forgot there was such a person living as me. But Lloyd mightn't understand how it was. She'd scorn to be an eavesdropper herself, and she'd scorn and despise me if she knew that I just sat there like a graven image and listened to Phil the same as propose to her."

Hitherto Mary had looked upon Malcolm as Lloyd's especial knight, and had planned to be his valiant champion should need for her services ever arise. But this put matters in a different light. All her sympathies were enlisted in Phil's behalf now. She liked Phil the best, and she wanted him to have whatever he wanted. He had called her his "angel unawares," and she wished she could do something to further deserve that title. Then she began supposing things.

Suppose she should come tripping down the stairs some day (this would be sometime in the future, of course, when Lloyd's promise to her father was no longer binding) and should find Phil pacing the room with impatient strides because the maid of honor had gone off with Sir Feal to the opera or somewhere, in preference to him, on account of some misunderstanding. "The little rift within the lute" would be making the best man's music mute, and now would be her time to play angel unawares again.

She would trip in lightly, humming a song perhaps, and finding him moody and downcast, would begin the conversation with some appropriate quotation. In looking through the dictionary the day before, her eye had caught one from Shakespeare, which she had stored away in her memory to use on some future occasion. Yes, that one would be very appropriate to begin the conversation. She would go up to him and say, archly

"My lord leans wondrously to discontent.
His comfortable temper has forsook him."

With that a smile would flit across his stern features. and presently he would be moved to confide in her, and she would encourage him. Then, she didn't know yet exactly in what way it could come about, she would do something to bring the two together again, and wipe out the bitter misunderstanding.

It was a very pleasing dream. That and others like it kept her sitting by the window till nearly bedtime. Then, just before the girls came upstairs, she turned up the lamp and made an entry in her journal. With the fear that some prying eye might some day see that page, she omitted all names, using only initials. It would have puzzled the Sphinx herself to have deciphered that entry, unless she had guessed that the initials stood for titles instead of names. The last paragraph concluded: "It now lies between Sir F. and the B. M., but I think it will be the B. M. who will get the mantle, for Sir F. and his brother have gone away on a yachting trip. The M. of H. does not know that I know, and the secret weighs heavy on my mind."

She was in bed when the girls came up, but the door into the next room stood open and she heard Betty say, "Oh, we forgot to give you Alex Shelby's message, Lloyd. Joyce and I met him on our way to the post-office. He was walking with Bernice. He sent his greetings to the fair Elaine. He fairly raved over the way you looked in that moonlight tableau."

"It was evident that Bernice didn't enjoy his raptures very much," added Joyce. "Her face showed that she was not only bored, but displeased."

"I can imagine it," said Lloyd. "Really, girls, I think this is a serious case with Bernice. She seems to think moah of Mistah Shelby than any one who has evah gone to see her, and she is old enough now to have it mean something. She's neahly twenty, you know. I do hope he thinks as much of her as she does of him."

"There! " whispered Mary to herself, nodding wisely in the darkness of her room, as if to an unseen listener. "I knew it! I told you so! All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't make me believe she'd stoop to such a thing as that nasty Bernice Howe insinuated. She's a maid of honor in every way!"

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