The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding, Chapter 2: Bed-Time Confidences

THE LITTLE COLONEL's KNIGHT COMES RIDING
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)
Published 1907

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

CHAPTER II.
BED-TIME CONFIDENCES

THAT night a series of interesting shadows trooped across the little Dutch mirror, in the moonlight. but nobody watched beside it to see how faithfully it reflected the procession of guests, straggling up the path below. After the first pleased glance Gay had flown down-stairs to throw open the front door and bid them welcome. It was almost more than she had dared to hope that the old Colonel would come, and "Papa Jack" and Kitty's Grandmother MacIntyre, But they had needed no urging. Gay was reaping the aftermath now. of her first visit to the Valley. They had not forgotten the obliging little guest who had entertained them with her violin playing. amused them with her quaint unexpected speeches, and charmed old and young alike with her enthusiastic interest in everything and everybody.

Ranald had more than that to remember, for he had carried on a vigorous correspondence with Gay for the last six months, started by a "dare " from Allison. Alex Shelby's memory of her dated back only to that morning, but the picture of a sunny little head up among the roses, and that line "Sandalphon the angel of glory" had been in his thoughts all day.

Their effort to show the newcomers how cordial a Lloydsboro welcome could be, was met by a hospitality which held them in its spell till after midnight. Lucy was in her element. As the popular daughter of a popular army officer, she had played gracious hostess ever since she had learned to talk. As for Gay, so anxious was she that her friends should be pleased with her family and her family with her friends, that she threw herself with all her might into the task of making each show off to the other.

An outside fire-place on the broad front porch was one of the features of the Cabin. The June night was cool enough to make the blaze on its hearth acceptable, and Lucy turned the picturesque old kettle, bubbling on the crane, to practical use, making coffee to serve with the marsh-mallows, which Jameson handed around on long sticks, that each one might toast his own over the glowing coals.

The informality of it all, and the good cheer, made every one relax into his jolliest mood, and Gay, hearing the old Colonel's laugh, as stretched out on the settle by the fire, he told stories and toasted marsh-mallows with a zest, felt that they had struck the right key-note in this first evening's entertainment. It was the harbinger of many others that would follow during the summer.

It was her violin that held them longest. Standing just inside the door where Kitty could accompany her on the piano, she played one after another of the favourite tunes that were called for in turn, till the fire burned low on the porch hearth, and even the voices of the night were stilled in the dense beech woods around the Cabin.

It was later than any one had supposed when Mrs. Sherman made the discovery that the hall clock had stopped.

"She didn't know that I stopped it on purpose," confessed Gay, when the last carriage had driven away, and Lloyd was following her sleepily upstairs. She paused to bolt the bed-room door behind them.

"This has been a lovely evening for me. It gives one such a comfortable I-told-you-so sort of feeling to have everything turn out as you prophesied it would. Of course I knew that Lucy would feel the charm of the Valley, and like it a thousand times better than the mountains or seashore or anywhere else, but I wasn't so sure of Jameson. Now my mind is completely at rest for the summer. I stopped worrying when I saw him hobnobbing with the Colonel and your father about those Lexington horses he wants to buy. He was so tickled over those letters of introduction they gave him. And he was so charmed to air his knowledge of the Philippines to Mrs. Walton. He spent a month there you know. I fairly patted myself on the back all the time he was talking. Somehow I feel so responsible for this household. There! I forgot to remind them to bring that bothersome old silver pitcher upstairs!"

Hastily unbolting the door she called out in sepulchral tones that echoed through the dark house, "Remember the Maine!"

There was a laugh in the room across the hall, then her brother-in-law who had just come upstairs, shuffled down again in his slippers.

"I suppose I'll have to remind them every night this summer," continued Gay. "I don't like to call out 'remember the silver pitcher that was our great-great-grandmother Melville's, and the soup ladle that some old Spanish grandee gave to one of Jameson's Castilian ancestors,' for if a burglar were prowling around he would be all the more anxious to break in. So the month I visited them, before we came here, I adopted that slogan for my war-cry:  '"Remember the main" thing in life to be saved from burglars!' It always sends one or the other of them skipping, for they feel the responsibility of preserving such heirlooms for posterity. I used to wish that I were the oldest daughter, so that that pitcher would be handed down to me on my wedding day. I didn't realize what a bore it would be to be tied for life to such a responsibility. I asked Jameson why he didn't put it and the ladle in a safety vault and be done with it, and he read me such a lecture on the sacredness of old associations and family ties that I somehow felt that his old soup-ladle expected me to send it a written apology."

Gay had bolted the door again, and as she talked, drew the curtains across the casement windows. Now she sat on the edge of the bed, shaking out her wealth of sunny hair, to brush and braid it for the night. It was a cosy room, with low ceiling and old-fashioned wall paper. With the curtains drawn and the candles in the quaint pewter sticks lighting up the claw-footed mahogany furniture, it was an ideal place for the exchanging of bedtime confidences. Gay was the first to break the silence.

"What was the matter with Betty tonight? She was as quiet as a mouse. Hardly had a word to say, and all the time I was playing, she sat looking out into the night as if she were ready to cry:"

"No wondah! They were so beautiful, some of those nocturnes and things, that we all had lumps in our throats. Nothing's the mattah with Betty. It's just the last chaptah she can't get to suit her. She's gone around in a sawt of dream all day."

"Who's playing the devoted to her now?"

"Nobody as far as I know. All the boys love Betty. They've been perfectly devoted to her ever since she came to Locust to live; but not --- not in the sentimental way you mean; for instance the way that Alex Shelby cares for Kitty."

"Oh don't tell me there is anything in that," wailed Gay, "at least on Kitty's part, for I've set my heart on her marrying a friend of mine in San Antonio, so she'll always be near me. You know when Mammy Easter told her fortune, it was that her fate would come through running water when the weather vane points West. I'm wild to have her visit me at Fort Sam Houston next year, and this Frank Percival is the very one of all others for her. He's a banker and as good as gold and oh well, there's no use wasting time singing his praises to you when I want him for Kitty! But about this Alex Shelby, Kitty told me this very afternoon that it is you he admires so much. She told me all about that Bernice Howe affair, and said that ever since Katie Mallard up and told him how honourably you acted in the matter, he has put you on a pedestal and given you a halo. She said you could have him crazy about you if you'd so much as lift an eyelash in encouragement."

"Don't you believe it!" cried Lloyd. "That's just Kitty's way of throwing you off the track. We've been unusually good friends evah since he found out why I broke my engagement to go riding with him, but he is at The Beeches every bit as much as he is at The Locusts, and it's you he'll be in love with befoah the summah is ovah. He was the first one reflected in yoah looking glass, for he confessed this evening how he sat and watched you on the laddah, and how he'd thought of you all day; and he even quoted poetry about it, and that's a very serious symptom for Alex to show. He nevah was known to do such things befoah! Then tonight he was simply carried away by yoah playing. He adores a violin and you played all his favourites. Oh I see yoah finish!"

There was a pause in which Gay kicked off her slippers and sat absently gazing at them, while Lloyd tied the ribbons which fastened the lace in the collar of her dainty gown. Again it was Gay who spoke first.

"Doesn't it seem queer to think of Allison's being engaged? It is such a little while since we were all school girls together. Nobody knows whose turn will come next. It makes me feel like a soldier on a battle field --- comrades being shot down all around you, right and left, and you never knowing how soon it'll be your turn to fall. It's awful! Lloyd, what's become of that boy out in Arizona, the one who sent you those orange-blossoms in Joyce's letter when I was here before? He was best man at Eugenia Forbes' wedding."

"Oh, you mean Phil Tremont!" answered Lloyd placidly, without the conscious blush that Gay had expected to see. "He is out West again, doing splendidly, Eugenia writes."

"I thought you wrote to him yourself."

Lloyd, stooping to pick up her dress and hang it over a chair, did not see with what keen interest Gay watched her as she questioned.

"Oh, we still keep up a sawt of hit and miss correspondence. He writes every few weeks and I manage to reply once in two months or so. It's dreadfully uphill work for me to write to people whom I nevah see. It's been two yeahs since he was heah, and I nevah know what he'll be interested in."

"I suppose it's easier writing to some one you've known all your life, like Malcolm MacIntyre for instance. I'm so sorry he and Keith are abroad this summer."

Lloyd's face dimpled mischievously as she began to see the drift of Gay's questioning. "I can't tell you how easy it is to write to Malcolm, because I've nevah done it. Now it's my turn to ask questions. Where did you get this new photograph of Ranald Walton on yoah dressing table? Beg it from Kitty as you did that one at Warwick Hall, when he was a little cadet, or get it from headquartahs?"

"Direct from headquarters," confessed Gay with a laugh. "He isn't so afraid of girls as he used to be. Wasn't he charming tonight?"

So the questioning and answering went on for quarter of an hour longer, each anxious to find how far the other had drifted into the unexplored country of their dreams. Then Gay blew out the candles and climbed into the high four-posted bed beside Lloyd, where they lay looking out through the open window into the starlight. The moon had been down for some time. It was so still here in the heart of the beech woods that the silence could almost be felt. The girls spoke in whispers.

"It settles down on one like a pall," said Gay. "Are you sleepy?"

"Not very," answered Lloyd, stifling a yawn.

"Then there's one more person in the valley I want to ask about. I believe I've heard an account of every one else. Where's Rob Moore and what is he doing? I thought he would come over with you all tonight"

"Posh old Rob," answered Lloyd, swallowing another yawn. "His fathah died a little ovah a yeah ago, and he's nevah been like himself since. He seemed to grow into a man in just a few hours. It was awfully sudden --- Mistah Moore's death. The shock neahly killed Rob's mothah, and the deah old judge, his grandfathah, you know, was simply heartbroken. Rob just gave up his entire time to them aftah that. He was such a comfort. Nevah left the place, and took charge of all the business mattahs, to spare them every worry.  When things were settled up they found there wasn't as much left as they had thought there would be, and Rob wouldn't touch a cent to finish his law course. He was afraid his mothah would have to deny herself some luxury she had always been used to, and he didn't want her to miss a single one she had had in his fathah's lifetime. So he took a position in Louisville, and has been working like a dawg evah since. He reads law at night with the old judge, so I scarcely evah see him. We've just drifted apart, till it seems as if the little old Bobby I grew up with is dead and gone. I missed him dreadfully at first, all last summah, for he'd almost lived at our house, and was just hike a brothah. I haven't seen him at all this vacation, though to be suah I've only been home this one day."

In the dim starlight Lloyd could not see the complacent smile on Gays face, but her voice showed that she was well pleased with the answers to her string of questions.

"Now I'll tell you why I put you through such a catechism." she began. "I wanted to make sure that the coast is clear, so that you can undertake a mission that is to be laid at your door this summer. Jameson's brother Leland will be here tomorrow afternoon. If he takes a fancy to the place he will probably stay as long as we do,. and we are all very anxious for him to stay. He's only three years younger than Jameson, but the two were left alone in the world when they were just little tots, and Jameson has been like a father to him. He feels so responsible for him and so does Lucy. I do too, now, although he's only my brother-in-law's brother, because I persuaded them to come here for the summer, and Jameson wanted to go somewhere where Leland would be satisfied to stay."

"What's the mattah with him, that he needs so much looking aftah? If he's twenty-three yeahs old it seems to me that he might take the responsibility of himself on his own shouldahs. Is he wild? "

"No. Jameson says he's always been too high-minded to do the things men mean when they talk about sowing their wild oats; but he is as utterly irresponsible as a will-o-the-wisp. He won't stay tied down to anything --- just drifts around here and there, having a good time. It's a pity that he isn't as poor as a church mouse. Then he'd have to do something. He's so bright he easily could make something splendid of himself. Now Jameson has good sensible ideas about not squandering his money, and although he doesn't have to work any more than Leland does, he looks after the details of his own business as a man should.

"He knows all about the mines he has stock in down in Mexico, and he studies mineralogy and labour problems and investments, and has an office that he goes to regularly every morning. He takes after his father's side of the house, practical English people. But Leland is like his mother's family (they were proud old Spaniards just a generation or so back). He is adventurous and roving and romantic, and has the dolce far niente in the blood. Jameson says that all that Leland needs is to be kept keyed up to the right pitch, for he is so impetuous and headstrong that he always gets what he starts after, no matter what stands in the way; and that if he could just fall heels over head in love with some girl with great force of character, who wouldn't look at him till he'd measured up to her standards, it would be the making of him."

Lloyd yawned. "Excuse me for saying it," she began teasingly, "but I don't see how you can get up so much interest in anybody like that, even if he is yoah brothah-in-law's brothah. It sounds to me as if he is just plain lazy and I nevah did have any use for a man that had to be nagged all the time to keep his ambition up to high-watch mark."

Gay sat up in bed in her earnestness. "Oh Lloyd, don't say that!" she protested. "Don't judge him till you've seen him. He's perfectly dear in lots of ways, in spite of his faults. You'll find him fascinating. Everybody does. And I'm going to be entirely honest with you --- I've fairly prayed that you'd like him. You are so strong yourself, the strongest character of any girl I know, and you influence people so forcibly in spite of themselves, that I've felt from the start it would be the making of Leland if you'd take him in hand this summer."

Lloyd smothered a laugh in the pillow. "'Why don't you speak for yourself, John,'" she said mischievously. "Why don't you take him in hand? You are already interested so much that you'd only be combining pleasuah with duty."

Gay was too much in earnest to tolerate any levity, and went on in her intense eager way. "Oh, I've already worn myself out trying to influence him, but it's of no use. He knows me too well. He's called me 'Pug' and 'Red-bird' ever since we went to kindergarten together. I'm just one of the family. But I've showed him your picture and told him what an unapproachable, unattainable creature you are, and whetted his curiosity till it's as keen as a razor. Oh I've played my little game like an expert, and he doesn't suspect in the faintest degree what I want. He thinks I'm trying to interest him in Kitty Walton. I told him she's the darlingest, jolliest, prettiest thing in ten states, and that I'd guarantee he wouldn't feel bored once this entire summer if he'd make her acquaintance.

"But you --- I've painted as so indifferent and entirely above his reach, that just to prove to me I'm mistaken, he'll nearly break his neck to put himself on good terms with you. It's just as Jameson says, he'll ride rough-shod over everything that stands in his way, to get what he wants."

Lloyd raised herself on her elbow and turned a protesting face towards her eloquent bed-fellow.

"Well of all cool things," she began, half inclined to be indignant, yet so amused at Gay's masterly management that the exclamation ended in a giggle. "Where do I come in, pray? You say he always gets what he goes aftah. Did it evah occur to you that I might not want to be taken possession of in that high-handed way? That I might have something to say in the mattah? Haven't you as much interest in my welfare as in yoah sistah's husband's brothah?"

"Of course! you blessed little goose!"  exclaimed Gay, giving the arm next hers an impetuous squeeze. "Don't I know the haughty Princess well enough to be sure that all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't budge her against her will? I'm not looking ahead any farther than this summer. But if you could just shake him up and put him on his mettle that long, that's all I ask of you. And seriously, dear, you might go the world over and not find one who measures up to your ideals in more ways. He's well born and talented and rich and fairly good-looking. He's so entertaining one never tires of his company, good-hearted and generous to a fault, and --- Oh Lloyd, please say you'll take enough interest to keep him keyed up to the right pitch for awhile. It's all he lacks to make a splendid man."

"Do you know, I think that's a mighty big lack," said Lloyd, honestly. "I've had strings on my harp that wouldn't stay strung. It's the most exasperating thing in the world. You know how it is, with a violin. Right in the midst of the loveliest passages one will begin to slip back --- just a trifle, maybe, not more than a hair's breadth, but enough to make it flat and spoil the harmony. Then you stop and tune it up again, and go on for awhile, but back it will slip just when you've gotten to depending on it. You know I couldn't have any respect for a man who had to be kept up to the notch that way. It would spoil the whole thing to have him flat on a single note when I'd depended on him to ring clear and true."

Gay had no reply ready for this unexpected argument, and her experience with stringed instruments made it very forcible. It was several minutes before she answered, then she spoke triumphantly.

"But you know what a master can do where a novice would fail. He can fit the keys to hold any position he gives them. Leland has never felt the touch of a master-hand. No one has ever controlled him. He has always been petted and spoiled. He has never known a girl like you. I'm sure that if you were only willing to make the attempt to arouse his pride and ambition, you could do wonders for him."

It was the most potent appeal Gay could have made. To feel that her influence may sway a man to higher, better things, will make even the most frivolous girl draw quicker breath with a sense of power, and to a conscientious girl like Lloyd this seemed an opportunity and a responsibility that could not be lightly thrust aside.

"Well," she said finally, after a moment of hesitation, "I'll try."

Gay reached over with an impulsive kiss. "Oh you dear!  I knew you would. Now I can let you go to sleep in peace. 'Something accomplished, something done, has earned a night's repose.' It must be awfully late. Goodnight dear."

Long after Gay had fallen asleep, Lloyd lay thinking of the mission thus thrust upon her. If this Leland Harcourt had needed reforming, she told herself, she wouldn't have had anything to do with him. Her poor Violet's experience with Ned Bannon had taught her one lesson --- how mistaken any girl is who thinks she can accomplish that. But to be the master-hand that could put in tune some really splendid instrument (ah, Gay's appeal was subtle and strong) any girl would be glad and proud to be that:  the inspiration, the power for good, the beckoning hand that would lead a man to the noblest heights of attainment.

There was something exhilarating, uplifting in the thought, that banished sleep. Night often brings exalted moods that seem absurd next day. Lying there, looking out at the stars, the pleasing fancy came to her that each one was a sacred altar-flame, given into the keeping of some unseen vestal virgin. Now she too had joined this star-world Sisterhood, and had lighted a vestal fire on the altar of a promise. In its constant watch, she would keep tryst with all that Life demanded of her.

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