The Little Colonel Maid of Honor, Chapter 14: A Second Maid Of Honor

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

Published 1906

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

CHAPTER XIV.
A SECOND MAID OF HONOR

IT was a new experience to Miles Bradford, this trudging through the dense beech woods on a summer night behind a row of flickering lanterns. The path they followed was a wide one, and well worn by the feet of churchgoing negroes, for it was the shortest cut between the Valley and Stumptown, a little group of cabins clustered around the colored church.

Ranald led the way with a brakeman's lantern, and Rob occasionally illuminated the scene by electric flashes from the head of the walking-stick he was flourishing. A varied string of fiery dragons, winged fish, and heathen hobgoblins danced along beside them for Kitty was putting candles in a row of Japanese lanterns when they arrived at The Beeches, and nearly everybody in the party accepted her invitation to take one. Mary chose a sea-serpent  with a grinning face, and Elise a pretty oval one with birds and cherry blossoms on each side.  Lloyd did not take any. Her hands were already filled with a huge bouquet of red roses.

"Sylvia asked me to carry these, "she explained to Miles Bradford," and to weah a white dress and this hat with the red roses on it. Because I was maid of honah at Eugenia's wedding she seems to think I can reflect some sawt of glory on hers. She said she wanted all her young ladies to weah white."

"Who are her young ladies, and why? "he asked.

"Allison, Kitty, Betty, and I. You see, Sylvia's grandfathah was the MacIntyre's coachman befoah the wah, and her mothah is our old Aunt Cindy. She considahs that she belongs to us and we belong to her."

Farther down the line they could hear Katie Mallard's cheerful giggle as she tripped over a beech root, then Bernice Howe's laugh as they all went slipping and sliding down a steep place in the path which led to the hollow crossed by the dry creek bed.

"Sing!" called Miss Allison, who was chaperoning the party, and picking her way behind the others with Mary and Elise each clinging to an arm. "There's such a pretty echo down in this hollow. Listen!" The tune that she started was one of the popular songs of the summer. It was caught up by every one in the procession except Miles Bradford, and he kept silent in order to enjoy this novel pilgrimage to the fullest. The dark woods rang with the sweet chorus, and the long line of fantastic lanterns sent weird shadows bobbing up in their wake.

The bare, unpainted little church had just been lighted when they arrived, and a strong smell of coal-oil and smoking wicks greeted them.

"It's too bad we are so early," said Miss Allison. "Sylvia would have preferred us to come in with grand effect at the last moment, but I'm too tired to wait for the bridal party. Let's put our lanterns in the vestibule and go in and find seats."

A pompous mulatto man in white cotton gloves and with a cluster of tuberoses in his buttonhole ushered the party down the aisle to the seats of honor reserved for the white folks. There were seventeen in the party, too many to sit comfortably on the two benches, so a chair was brought for Miss Allison. After the grown people were seated, each of the little girls managed to squeeze in at the end of the seats nearest the aisle. Lloyd found herself seated between Mary Ware and Alex Shelby. Leaning forward to look along the bench, she found that Bernice came next in order to Alex, then Lieutenant Stanley and Allison, Doctor Bradford and Betty.

She had merely said good evening to Alex Shelby when they met at The Beeches, and, although positions in the procession through the woods had shifted constantly, it had happened she had not been near enough to talk with him. Now, with only Mary Ware to claim her attention, they naturally fell into conversation. It was only in whispers, for the audience was assembling rapidly, and the usher had opened the organ in token that the service was about to begin.

There had been an attempt to decorate for the occasion. Friends of the bride had resurrected both the Christmas and Easter mottoes, so that the wall behind the pulpit bore in tall, white cotton letters, on a background of cedar, the words, "Peace on Earth. Good Will to Men." Fresh cedar had been substituted for the yellowed branches left over from the previous Christmas, and fresh diamond dust sprinkled over the grimy cotton to give it its pristine sparkle of Yule-tide frost.

"An appropriate motto for a wedding, "whispered Alex Shelby to Lloyd. Only his eyes laughed. His face was as solemn as the usher's own as he turned to gaze at the word "Welcome" over the door, and the fringe of paper Easter lilies draping the top of each uncurtained window.

Bernice claimed his attention several moments, then he turned to Lloyd again. "Do tell me, Miss Lloyd," he begged, "what is that wonderfully and fearfully made thing in the front of the pulpit? Is it a doorway or a giant picture-frame? And what part is it to play in the ceremony?"

Lloyd's face dimpled, and an amused smile flashed up at him from the corner of her eye. Then she lowered her long lashes demurely, and seemed to be engrossed with her bunch of roses as she answered him.

"The coquettish thing!" thought Bernice, seeing the glance but not hearing the whisper which followed it.

"Sh! Don't make me laugh! Everybody is watching to see if the white folks are making fun of things, and I'm actually afraid to look up again for feah I'll giggle. Maybe it's a copy of Eugenia's gate of roses. It looks like the frame of a doahway. Just the casing, you know. Maybe it's a, doah of mawning-glories they're going to pass through. I recognize those flowahs twined all around it. We made them a long time ago for the lamp-shades when the King's Daughtahs had an oystah suppah at the manse. I made all those purple mawning-glories and Betty made the yellow ones."

Glancing over his shoulder, he happened to spy a familiar face behind him, the kindly old black face of his uncle's cook.

"Howdy, Aunt Jane!" he exclaimed, with a friendly smile. Then, in a stage whisper, he asked, "Aunt Jane, can you tell me? Are those morning-glories artificial?"

The old woman wrinkled her face into a knot as she peered in the direction of the pulpit, toward which he nodded. One of the words in his question puzzled her. It was a stranger to her. But, after an instant, the wrinkles cleared and her face broadened into a smile.

"No'm, Mistah Alex.. Them ain't artificial flowahs, honey. They's made of papah."

Again an amused smile stole out of the corner of Lloyd's eye to answer the gleam of mischief in Alex's. Not for anything would she have Aunt Jane think that she was laughing, so her eyes were bent demurely on her roses again. Again Bernice, leaning forward, intercepted the glance and misinterpreted it. When Alex turned to her to repeat Aunt Jane's explanation, she barely smiled, then relapsed into sulky silence. Finding several other attempts at conversation received with only monosyllables, he concluded that she was not in a mood to talk, and naturally turned again to Lloyd.

He had not been out in the Valley for years, he told her. The last visit he had made to his uncle, old Doctor Shelby, had been the summer that the Shermans had come back to Lloydsboro from New York. He remembered passing her one day on the road. She had squeezed through a hole in the fence between two broken palings, and was trying to pull a little dog through after her; a shaggy Scotch and Skye terrier.

"That was my deah old Fritz," she answered," and I was probably running away. I did it every chance I had."

"The next time I saw you," he continued, "I was driving along with uncle. I was standing between his knees, I remember, proud as a peacock because he was letting me hold the reins. I was just out of kilts, so it was a great honor to be trusted with the lines. When we passed your grandfather on his horse, he had you up in front of his saddle, and uncle called out, 'Good morning, little Colonel.'"

These reminiscences pleased Lloyd. It flattered her to think he remembered these early meetings so many years ago. His relationship to the old doctor whom she loved as her own uncle put him on a very friendly footing.

The church filled rapidly, and by the time the seats were crowded and people were jostling each other to find standing-room around the door, a young colored girl in a ruffled yellow dress seated herself at the organ. First she pulled out all the stops, then adjusting a pair of eyeglasses, opened a book of organ exercises. Then she felt her sash in the back, settled her side-combs, and raising herself from the organ bench, smoothed her skirts into proper folds under her. After these preliminaries she leaned back, raised both hands with a grand flourish, and swooped down on the keys.

"Bang on the low notes and twiddle on the high!" laughed Lloyd, under her breath. " Listen, Mistah Shelby. She's playing the same chord in the bass straight through."

"Is that what makes the fearsome discord?" he asked. "It makes me think of an epitaph I once saw carved on a pretentious headstone in a little village cemetery

         "'Here lies one
Who never let her left hand know
What her right hand done."'

"Neithah of Laura's hands will evah find out what the othah one is trying to do," whispered Lloyd. "She is supposed to be playing the wedding-march. Hark! There is a familiah note: 'Heah, comes the bride.' They must be at the doah.  Well, I wish you'd look!"

Every head was turned, for the bridal party was advancing. Slowly down the aisle came M'haley, in the pink chiffon gown from Paris. Mom Beck's quick needle had altered it considerably, for in some unaccountable way the slim bodice fashioned to fit Lloyd's slender figure, now fastened around M'haley's waist without undue strain. The skirt, though turned "Fine side befo'," fell as skirts should fall, for the fulness had been shifted to the proper places, and the broad sky-blue sash covered the mended holes in the breadth Lloyd had torn on the stairs.

With her head high, and her armful of flowers held in precisely the same position in which Lloyd had carried hers, she swept down the aisle in such exact imitation of the other maid of honor, that every one who had seen the first wedding was convulsed, and Kitty's whisper about "Lloyd's understudy" was passed with stifled giggles from one to another down both benches.

Ca'line Allison came next, in a white dress and the white slippers that had been thrown after Eugenia's carriage with the rice.

She was flower girl, and carried an elaborate fancy basket filled with field daisies. A wreath of the same snowy blossoms crowned her woolly pate, and an expression of anxiety drew her little black face into a distressed pucker. She had been told that at every third step she must throw a handful of daisies in the path of the on-coming bride, and her effort to keep count and at the same time keep her balance on the high French heels was almost too much for her.

During her many rehearsals M'haley had counted her steps for her "One, two, three --- throw!  One, two, three -- throw!" She had gone through her part every time without mistake, for her feet were untrammelled then, and her flat yellow soles struck the ground in safety and with rhythmic precision. She could give her entire mind to the graceful scattering of her posies. But now she walked as if she were mounted on stilts, and her way led over thin ice. The knowledge that she must keep her own count was disconcerting, for she could not" count in her haid," as M'haley had ordered her to do. She was obliged to whisper the numbers loud enough for herself to hear. So with her forehead drawn into an anxious pucker, and her lips moving, she started down the aisle whispering, " One, two, three --- throw! One, two, three --- throw!" Each time, as she reached the word "throw" and grasped a handful of daisies to suit the action to the word, she tilted forward on the high French heels and almost came to a full stop in her effort to regain her balance.

But Ca'line Allison was a plucky little body, accustomed to walking the tops of fences and cooning out on the limbs of high trees, so she reached the altar without mishap. Then with a loud sigh of relief she settled her crown of daisies and rolled her big eyes around to watch the majestic approach of her mother.

No matron of the four hundred could have swept down the aisle with a grander air than Sylvia. The handsome lavender satin skirt she wore had once trailed its way through one of the most elegant receptions ever given in New York, and afterward had graced several Louisville functions. Its owner had given Sylvia the bodice also, but no amount of stretching could make it meet around Sylvia's ample figure, so the proceeds of the fish-fry and ice-cream festival had been invested in a ready-made silk waist. It was not the same shade of lavender as the skirt, but a gorgeous silver tissue belt blinded one to such differences. The long kid gloves, almost dazzling in their whiteness, were new, the fan borrowed, and the touch of something blue was furnished by a broad back-comb of blue enamel surmounted by rhinestones. One white glove rested airily on "Mistah Robinson's" coat-sleeve, the other carried a half-furled fan edged with white feathers.

M'haley and Ca'line Allison waited at the altar, but the bridal couple, turning to the right, circled around it and mounted the steps leading up into the pulpit. The mystery of the wooden frame was explained now. It was not a symbolical doorway through which they were to pass, but a huge flower-draped picture-frame in which they took their places, facing the congregation like two life-sized portraits in charcoal.

The minister, standing meekly below them between M'haley an Ca'line Allison, with his back to the congregation, prefaced the ceremony by a long and flowery discourse on matrimony, so that there was ample time for the spectators to feast their eyes on every detail of the picture before them. Except for a slight stir now and then as some neck was craned in a different position for a better view, the silence was profound, until the benediction was pronounced.

At the signal of a blast from the wheezy organ the couple, slowly turning, descended the steps. Ca'line Allison, in her haste to reach the aisle ahead of them to begin her posy-throwing again, nearly tilted forward on her nose. But with a little crow-hop she righted herself and began her spasmodic whispering, " One, two, three --- throw!"

After the couple came M'haley and the pompous young minister. Then Lloyd, who had caught the bride's smile of gratification as her eyes rested on the white dress and red roses of this guest of honor, and who read the appealing glance that seemed to beckon her, rose and stepped into line. The rest of Sylvia's young ladies immediately followed, and the congregation waited until all the rest of the white folks passed out, before crowding to the carriage to congratulate "Brothah and Sistah Robinson."

Lloyd went on to the carriage to speak to Sylvia and give her the armful of roses to decorate the wedding-feast, before joining the others, who were lighting the lanterns for their homeward walk.

"You'd better come in the light of ours, Miss Lloyd," said Alex Shelby, coming up to her with Bernice beside him. "We might as well take the lead. Ranald seems to be having trouble with his wick."

Lloyd hesitated, remembering Rob's warning, but glancing behind her, she saw Phil hurrying toward her, and abruptly decided to accept his invitation. She knew that Phil was trying to arrange to walk home with her. This would be his last opportunity to walk with her, and while she knew that he would respect her promise to her father enough not to infringe on it by talking openly of his regard for her, his constant hints and allusions would keep her uncomfortable. He seemed to take it for granted that she was bound to come around to this point of view some day, and regard him as the one the stars had destined for her.

So it was merely to escape a tête-à-tête with Phil which made her walk along beside Alex, and put out a hand to draw Mary Ware to the other side. She linked arms with her as they pushed through the crowd, and started down the road four abreast.  But the fences were lined with buggies and wagons, and the scraping wheels and backing horses kept them constantly separating and dodging back and forth across the road, more often singly than in pairs.

By the time they reached the gap in the fence where the path through the woods began, the others had caught up with them, and they all scrambled through in a bunch. Lloyd looked around, and, with a sensation of relief, saw that Kitty had Phil safely in tow. She would be free as far as The Beeches, at any rate. At a call from Elise, Mary ran back to join her. Positions were being constantly shifted on the homeward way, just as they had been before, and, looking around, Lloyd decided that she would slip back presently with some of the others, who would not think that two is company and three a crowd, as Bernice might be doing. The backward glance nearly caused her a fall, for a big root in the path made her ankle turn, and Alex Shelby's quick grasp of her elbow was all that saved her.

"It was my fault, Miss Lloyd, "he insisted. "I should have held the lantern differently. There, I'll go slightly ahead and light the path better. Can you see all right, Bernice?"

"Yes," she answered, shortly, out of humor that he should be as careful of Lloyd's comfort as her own. She trudged along, taking no part in the conversation. It was a general one, extending all along the line, for Rob at the tail and Ranald at the head shouted jokes and questions back and forth like end-men at a minstrel show. Laughing allusions to the maid of honor and Ca'line Allison were bandied back and forth, and when the line grew unusually straggling, Kitty would bring them into step with her, " One, two, three --- throw!"

Neither Lloyd nor Alex noticed the determined silence in which Bernice stalked along, and when she presently slipped back with the excuse that she wanted to speak to Katie, they scarcely missed her. There was nothing unusual in the action, as all the others were changing company at intervals. At the entrance-gate to The Beeches she joined them again, for her nearest road home led through the Walton place, and they were to part company here with Lloyd and her guests.

For a few minutes there was a babel of goodnights and parting sallies, in the midst of which Alex Shelby managed to say to Lloyd in a low tone, "Miss Lloyd, I am coming out to the Valley again. a week from to-day. If you haven't any engagement for the afternoon will you go horseback-riding with me?"

The consciousness that Bernice had heard the invitation and was displeased, confused her so that for a moment she lost her usual ease of manner. She wanted to go, and there was no reason why she should not accept, but all she could manage to stammer was an embarrassed, " Why, yes --- I suppose so. "But the next instant recovering herself, she added, graciously, " Yes, Mistah Shelby, I'll be glad to go."

"Come on, Lloyd," urged Betty, swinging her hand to pull her into the group now drawn up on the side of the road ready to start. They had made their adieux.

"All right," she answered, locking arms with Betty. "Good night, Mistah Shelby. Good night, Bernice."

He acknowledged her nod with a courteous lifting of his hat, and repeated her salutation. But Bernice, standing stiff and angry in the starlight, turned on her heel without a response.

"What on earth do you suppose is the mattah with Bernice?" exclaimed Lloyd, in amazement, as they turned into the white road leading toward home.

Chapter 13   Chapter 15 >