The Little Colonel Maid of Honor, Chapter 11: The Four-Leaved Clover

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

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

CHAPTER XI.
THE FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER

As Betty carefully blotted the last page and placed the stopper in the ink-bottle, the clock in the hall began to strike, and she realized that she must have been writing fully an hour. The whole household was astir now. She would be late to breakfast unless she hurried with her dressing.

Steps on the gravelled path below the balcony made her peep out between the vines. Stuart and Doctor Bradford were coming back from an early stroll about the place. The wistaria clung too closely to the trellis for them to see her, but, as they crossed the grassy court between the two wings, they looked up at Eugenia's balcony opposite. Betty looked too. That bower of golden-hearted roses had drawn her glances more than once that morning. Now in the midst of it, in a morning dress of pink, fresh and fair as a blossom herself, stood Eugenia, reaching up for a half-blown bud above her head. Her sleeves fell back from hergraceful white arms, and as she broke the bud from its stem a shower of rose-petals fell on her dusky hair and upturned face.

Then Betty saw that Doctor Bradford had passed on into the house, leaving Stuart standing there with his hat in his hand, smiling up at the beautiful picture above him.

"Good morrow, Juliet," he called, softly. "Happy is the bride the sun shines on. Was there ever such a glorious morning?"

"It's perfect," answered Eugenia, leaning out of her rose bower to smile down at him.

"I wonder if the bride's happiness measures up to the morning," he asked." Mine does."

For answer she glanced around, her finger on her lips as if to warn him that walls have ears, and then with a light little laugh tossed the rosebud down to him. " Wait! I'll come and tell you," she said.

Betty, gathering up her writing material, saw him catch the rose, touch it to his lips and fasten it in his coat. Then, conscience-smitten that she had seen the little by-play not intended for-other eyes, she bolted back into her room through the window, so hurriedly that she struck her bead against the sash with a force which made her see stars for several minutes.

The first excitement after breakfast was the arrival of the bride's cake. Aunt Cindy had baked it, the bride herself had stirred the charms into it, but it had been sent to Louisville to be iced. Lloyd called the entire family into the butler's pantry to admire it, as it sat imposingly on a huge silver salver.

"It looks as if it might have come out of the Snow Queen's palace," she said, "instead of the confectionah's. Wouldn't you like to see the place where those snow-rose garlands grow?"

"Somebody take Phil away from it! Quick!" said Stuart. "Once I had a birthday cake iced in pink with garlands of white sugar roses all around it, and he sneaked into the pantry before the party and picked off so many of the roses that it looked as if a mouse had nibbled the edges. Aunt Patricia put him to bed and be missed the party, but we couldn't punish him that way if he should spoil the wedding cake, because we need his services as best man. So we'd better remove him from temptation."

"Look here, son," answered Phil, taking Stuart by the shoulders and pushing him ahead of him.

"When it comes to raking up youthful sins you'd better lie low. 'I could a tale unfold' that would make Eugenia think that this is 'a fatal wedding morn.' If she knew all she wouldn't have you."

"Then you sha'n't tell anything," declared Lloyd. "I'm not going to be cheated out of my share of the wedding, no mattah what a dahk past eithah of you had. Forget it, and come and help us hunt the foahleaf clovahs that Eugenia wants for the dream-cake boxes."

"What are they?" asked Miles Bradford, as he edged out of the pantry after the others. Mary happened to be the one in front of him, and she turned to answer, pointing to one of the shelves, where lay a pile of tiny heart-shaped boxes, tied with white satin ribbons.

"Each guest is to have one of those," she explained. "There'll be a piece of wedding cake in it, and a four-leaf clover if we can find enough to go around. Most people don't have the clovers, but Eugenia heard about them, and she wants to try all the customs that everybody ever had. You put it under your pillow for three nights, and whatever you dream will come true. If you dream about the same person all three nights, that is the one you will marry."

"Horrible! "exclaimed he, laughing. "Suppose one has nightmares. Will they come true?"

Mary nodded gravely."1 Tom Beck says so, and Eliot. So did old Mrs. Bisbee. She's the one that told Eugenia about the clovers. There was one with her piece of cake from her sister's wedding, that she dreamed on nearly fifty years ago. She dreamed of Mr. Bisbee three nights straight ahead, and she said there never was a more fortunate wedding. They'll celebrate their golden anniversary soon."

"Miss Mary," asked her listener, solemnly, "do you girls really believe all these signs and wonders? I have heard more queer superstitions the few hours I have been in this Valley, than in all my life before."

"Oh, no, we don't really believe in them. Only the darkies do that. But you can't help feeling more comfortable when they 'point right' for you than when they don't; like seeing the new moon over your right shoulder, you know. And it's fun to try all the charms. Eugenia says so many brides have done it that it seems a part of the performance, like the veil and the trail and the orange-blossoms."

They passed from the dining-room into the hall, then out on to the front porch, where they stood waiting for Joyce and Eugenia to get their hats. While they waited, Rob Moore joined them, and they explained the quest they were about to start upon.

"Where are you going to take us, Miss Lloyd?" asked Miles Bradford. "According to the old legend the four-leaved clover is to be found only in Paradise."

"Oh, do you know a legend about it?" asked Betty, eagerly. "I've always thought there ought to be one."

"Then you must read the little book, Miss Betty, called  'Abdallah, or the Four-leaved Shamrock.' Abdallah was a son of the desert who spent his life in a search for the lucky shamrock. He had been taught that it was the most beautiful flower of Paradise. One leaf was red like copper, another white like silver, the third yellow like gold, and the fourth was a glittering diamond. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, poor Eve reached out and clutched at a blossom to carry away with her. In her despair she did not notice what she plucked, but, as she passed through the portal, curiosity made her open her hand to look at the flower she had snatched. To her joy it was the shamrock. But while she looked, a gust of wind caught up the diamond leaf and blew it back within the gates, just as they closed. behind her. The name of that leaf was Perfect Happiness. That is why men never find it in this world for all their searching. It is to be found only in Paradise."

"Oh, but I don't believe that!" cried Lloyd. "Lots and lots of times I have been perfectly happy, and I am suah that everybody must be at some time or anothah in this world."

"Yes, but you didn't stay happy, did you?"  asked Joyce, who had come back in time to hear part of the legend. "We get glimpses of it now and then, as poor Eve did when she opened her hand, but part of it always flies away while we are looking at it. People can be contented all the time, and happy in a mild way, but nobody can be perfectly, radiantly happy all the time, day in and day out. The legend is right. It is only in Paradise that one can find the diamond leaf."

"Joyce talks as if she were a hundred yeahs old," laughed Lloyd, looking up at Doctor Bradford. "Maybe there is some truth in yoah old Oriental legend, but I believe times have changed since Abdallah went a-hunting. Phil and I came across a song the othah day that I want you all to heah, Maybe it will make you change yoah minds."

Phil protested with many grimaces and much nonsense that he "could not sing the old songs now." That he would not "be butchered to make Roman holiday." But all the time he protested, he was stepping toward the piano in a fantastic exaggerated cake-walk that set his audience to laughing. At the first low notes of the accompaniment, he dropped his foolishness and began to sing in a full, sweet voice that brought the old Colonel to the door of his den to listen. Eliot, packing trunks in the upper hall, leaned over the banister

"I know a place where the sun is like gold, 
And the cherry blooms burst with snow. 
And down underneath is the loveliest nook 
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

"One leaf is for hope and one is for faith, 
And one is for love you know, 
And God put another one in for luck. 
If you search you will find where they grow.

And you must have hope and you must have faith. 
You must love and be strong, and so 
If you work, if you wait, you will find the place 
Where the four-leaf clovers grow."

It was a sweet, haunting melody that accompanied the words, and the gay party of nine, strolling toward the orchard, hummed it all the way.

There in the shade of the big apple-trees, where the clover grew in thick patches, they began their search; all together at first, then in little groups of twos and threes, until they had hunted over the entire orchard. Stuart, who had been doing more talking than hunting, went to groping industriously around on his hands and knees, when they all came together again after an hour's search.

"Bradford," he said, emphatically, "I am beginning to think that you and Miss Joyce are right, and that Paradise has a monopoly on the four-leaf kind. I haven't caught a glimpse of one. Not even its shadow."

Lloyd held up a handful." I found them in several places, thick as hops."

"Which goes to show," he insisted, "that the song, 'If you work, if you wait, you will find the place,' is all a delusion and a snare. You all have worked, and Eugenia and I have waited, and only you, who are 'bawn lucky,' have found any. It's pure luck."

"No," interrupted Miles Bradford, "you can't call strolling around a shady orchard with a pretty girl work, and the song does correspond with the legend. Abdallah worked hard for his first leaf, dug a well with which to bless the thirsty desert for all time. The bit of copper was at the bottom of it. The effort he made for the second almost cost him his life. He rescued a poor slave girl in order to be faithful to a trust imposed in him, and taught her the truths of Allah. The silver leaf was his reward. He found it in the heathen fetish which she gave him in her gratitude. It had been her god.

"I am not sure about the golden leaf, but I think it was the reward of living a wise and honorable life. The day of his birth it was said that he alone wept, while all around him rejoiced; and he resolved to live so well that at the day of his death he should have no cause for tears, and all around him should mourn. No, I'll not have you belittling my hero, Tremont. There was no luck about it whatsoever. He won the first three leaves by unselfish service, faithfulness to every trust, and wise, honorable living, so that he well deserved that Paradise should bring him perfect happiness."

"Girls!" cried Betty, her face lighting up, "we must be warm on the trail, with our Tusitala rings, our Warwick Hall motto, and our Order of Hildegarde. A Road of the Loving Heart is as hard to dig in every one's memory as a well in the desert. If we keep the tryst in all things, we're bound to find the silver leaf, and think of the wisdom it takes to weave with the honor of a Hildegarde!"

Eugenia interrupted her: " Oh, Betty, please write a legend of the shamrock for girls that will fit modern times. In the old style there are always three brothers or three maidens who start out to find a thing, and only the last one or the youngest one is successful. The others all come to grief. In yours give everybody a chance to be happy.

"There is no reason why every maiden shouldn't find the leaves according to the Tusitala rings and Ederyn's motto and Hildegarde's yardstick. And then, don't you see, they needn't wait till the end of their lives for the diamond, for the prince will bring it! Don't you see? It is his coming that makes the perfect happiness!"

Phil laughed." Stuart's face shows how he appreciates that compliment," he said, "and as for me and all the other sons of Adam. oh, fair layde, I make my bow!" Springing to his feet, he swept her an elaborate curtsey, holding out his coat as if it were the ball-gown of some stately dame in a minuet.

Lloyd, sitting on the grass with her hands clasped on her knees, looked around the circle of smiling faces, and then gave her shoulders a whimsical shrug.

"That's all right if the prince comes," she exclaimed. "But how is one to get the diamond leaf if he doesn't? Mammy Eastah told my fortune in a teacup, and she said: 'I see a risin' sun, and a row of lovahs, but I don't see you a-takin' any of 'em, honey. Yo' ways am ways of pleasantness, and all yo' paths is peace, but I'se powahful skeered you'se goin' to be an ole maid. I sholy is, if the teacup signs p'int right.'"

"It will be your own fault, then," answered Phil. "The row of lovers is there in the teacup for you. You've only to take your pick."

"But," began Rob, "maybe it is just as well that she shouldn't choose any of them. The prince's coming doesn't always bring happiness. Look at old Mr. Deckly. For thirty years he and his fair bride have led a regular cat and dog life. And there are the Twicketts and the Graysons and the Blackstones right in this one little valley, to say nothing of all the troubles one reads of in the papers."

"No!" contradicted Eugenia, emphatically. "You have no right to hold them up as examples. It is plainly to be seen that Mrs. Deckly andMrs. Twickett and Mrs. Grayson and Mrs. Blackstone were not Hildegardes. They failed to earn their third leaf by doing their weaving wisely. They didn't use their yardsticks. They looked only at the 'village churls,' and wove their webs to fit their unworthy shoulders, so that the men they married were not princes, and they couldn't bring the diamond leaf."

"The name of the prince need not always be Man, need it?" ventured Joyce." Couldn't it be Success? It seems to me that if I had struggled along for years, trying to make the most of my little ability, had worked just as faithfully and wisely at my art as I could, it would be perfect happiness to have the world award me the place of a great artist. It would be as much to me as the diamond leaf that marriage could bring. I should think you'd feel that way, too, Betty, about your writing. There are marriages that are failures just as there are artistic and literary careers that are failures, and there are diamond leaves to reward the work and waiting of old maids, just as there are diamond leaves to reward the Hildegardes who use their yardsticks. Sometimes there are girls who don't marry because they sacrifice their lives to taking care of their families, or living for those who are dependent on them. Surely there must be a blessedness and a happiness for them greater than any diamond leaf a prince could bring."

"There is probably," answered Eugenia, "but it seems as if most people of that kind have to wait till they get to Paradise to find it."

"I don't think so," said Betty. "I believe all the dear old-maid aunts and daughters, who earn the first three leaves, find the fourth waiting some where in this world. It is only the selfish ones, who slight their share of the duties life imposes on every one, who are cross and unlovely and unloved. They probably would not have been happy wives if they had married."

"Well, but what about me!" persisted Lloyd. "I nevah expect to have a career, so Success in big lettahs will nevah bring me a medal or a chromo. I am not sacrificing my life for anybody's comfort, and I can nevah have any little nieces and nephews to whom I can be one of those deah old aunts Betty talks about, and there is that dreadful teacup!"

She did not hear Doctor Bradford's laughing answer, for Phil, turning his back on the others, looked down into her upturned face and began to hum, as if to himself, "From the desert I come to thee!" Only Mary understood the significance of it as Lloyd did, and she knew why Lloyd suddenly turned away and began passing her hands over the grass around her, as if resuming her search. She wanted to hide her face, into which the color was creeping.

A train whistled somewhere far across the orchard, and Rob took out his watch. The sight of it suggested something in line with the conversation, for when he had noted the time, he touched the spring that opened the back of the case.

"Never you mind, Little Colonel," he said, in a patronizing, big-brotherly tone." If nobody else will stand between you and that teacup, I'll come to the rescue. Bobby won't go back on his old chum. I'll bring you a four-leaf clover. Here's one, all ready and waiting."

Lloyd looked across at the watch he held out to her. " Law, Bobby," she exclaimed, giving him the old name she had called him when they first played together, "I supposed you had lost that clovah long ago."

"Not much," he answered. "It's the finest Voodoo ever was. It helped me through high school. I swear I never could have passed in Latin but for your good-luck charm. It's certainly to my interest to hang on to it.

"Think of it, Mary," he added, seeing that her eyes were round with interest," that was given to me by a princess."

Mary darted a quick look at Lloyd and another one at him to see if he were teasing.

"Oh, I see!" she remarked, in a tone of enlightenment.

"What do you see?" he demanded, laughing.

She would not answer, but, ignoring his further attempts to make her talk, she, too, turned again to search for clovers, inwardly excited over the discovery she thought she had made. She would make a note of it in her journal, she decided, something like this: "The plot thickens. The B. M. and Sir F. have a rival they little suspect. R. carries the charm the M. of H. gave him in years gone by, and I can see many reasons why he should be the one to bring her the diamond leaf."

Only two dozen clovers rewarded their united search, but Eugenia was satisfied." We'll put them in the boxes haphazard," she said, "and the uncertainty of getting one will make it more exciting than if there were one for every box."

The path back to the house led past the kitchen, where several colored women were helping Aunt Cindy. Just as they passed, one of them put her head out of the door to call to a group of children crowded around one of the windows of the great house. They were watching the decorators at work inside the drawing-room, hanging the gate of roses in the arch. The youngest one was perched on a barrel that had been dragged up for that purpose, so that his older brothers and sisters might be spared the weariness of holding him up to see. A narrow board laid across the top made an uneasy and precarious perch for him. He was seated astride, with his bare black legs dangling down inside the barrel.

"You M'haley Gibbs, "called the woman, "don't you let Ca'line Allison lean agin that bo'd. It'll upset Sweety into the bar'l."

Her warning came too late, for even as she called the slight board was pushed off its foundations by the weight of the roly-poly Ca'line Allison, and the pickaninny went down into the barrel as suddenly as a candle is snuffed out by the wind.

"You M'haley, I'll natcherly lay you out," shrieked the woman, hurrying up the path to the rescue. But M'haley, made agile by fifteen years of constant practice, dodged the cuffing as it was about to descend, and scuttled around the house to wait till Sweety stopped howling.

"They are Sylvia Gibbs's children," said Lloyd, in answer to Doctor Bradford's astonished comment at seeing so many little negroes in a row. "They can scent a pahty five miles away, and they hang around like little black buzzahds waiting for scraps of the feast. I suppose they feel they have a right to be heah to-day, as Sylvia is helping in the kitchen. They're the same children, Eugenia," she added, "who were heah so much when I had my first house-pahty. M'haley is the one who brought you that awful, skinny, mottled chicken in a bandbox for you to 'take home on the kyers fo' a pet,' she said."

"So she is!" exclaimed Eugenia, as they passed around the corner of the house and caught sight of M'haley, who was peeping out to see if the storm was over, and if it would be safe to return to the sightseeing at the window. Her teeth and eyeballs were ashine with pleasure when Eugenia passed on, after a pleasant greeting and some reference to the chicken. She felt it a great honor to be remembered by the bride, and thanked again, after all these years, for her parting gift. She gave a little giggle when Lloyd came up, and said, with a coy self-conscious air that was extremely amusing to the Northern man, who had never met this type of the race before, "I'se a maid of honah, too, Miss Lloyd."

"You are!" was the surprised answer. "How does that happen?"

"Mammy's gwine to git married agin, to Mistah Robinson, and she says nobody has a bettah right than me to be maid of honah to her own ma's weddin'. So that's how come she toted us all along to you-all's weddin', so that Sweety and Ca'line and the boys could learn how to act at her and Mistah Robinson's."

"When is it to be?" inquired Lloyd.

"To-morrow night. Mammy's done give her fish-fry and ice-cream festible, and she cleahed enough to pay the weddin' expenses. You-all's suah gwine to git an invite, Miss Lloyd."

"It is sort of a benefit," Betty explained to Miles Bradford, as they walked on. "Instead of giving a concert or a recital, the colored people here give a fish-fry and festival whenever they are in need of money. They used to have them just to raise funds for the church, but now it is quite popular for individuals to give theirs when there is a funeral or a wedding to be paid for. I am so gladyou are going to stay over a few days. We can show you sights you've never dreamed of in the North."

Eugenia, first to step into the hall, gave a cry of pleasure. The florist and his assistants had been there in their absence, and were just leaving. They had turned the entire house into a rose-garden. Hall, drawing-room, and library, and the dining-room beyond were filled with such lavishness that it seemed as if June herself had taken possession, with all her court. Stuart and Eugenia paused before the tall gate of smilax and American beauties.

"It is the Gate into Paradise, sweetheart," he whispered, looking through its blossom-covered bars to the altar beyond, that had been built in the bay-window of the drawing-room, and covered with white roses.

"Yes," answered Eugenia, smiling up at him. "The legend is right. We must enter Paradise to find the diamond leaf. But I was right. too. It is my prince who will bring mine to me."

Chapter 10   Chapter 12 >