The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding, Chapter 3: A Knight Comes Riding

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

CHAPTER III.
A KNIGHT COMES RIDING

NEXT morning Lloyd found that her exalted mood had faded away with the stars. Any fire must pale before the broad light of day, and her vestal-maiden fervour had given place to a very lively but mundane interest in the brother-in-law's brother.

She was glad to hear at breakfast that he liked tennis, was a good horseman, that private theatricals were always a success when he had a hand in them. She stored away in her memory for future use, the information that he had lived several years in Spain and Mexico, and spoke Spanish like a native, that unlike Jameson he was prouder of his Castilian ancestors than his English ones, and that two of his fads were collecting pipes and rare old ivory carvings.

The more she heard about him the less sure she felt of being able to keep her promise to Gay. It began to seem presumptuous to her that a mere school-girl should imagine that she could exert any influence over such an accomplished man of the world as he evidently was. All that day she pictured to herself at intervals how she should meet him and what she should say. It was a new experience for the haughty Princess who had always been so indifferent to the opinions of her boy friends. Gay's request had made her self-conscious. Fortunately she had a glimpse of him before he saw her, which helped her to adjust herself to the role she wanted to assume.

The morning after his arrival in the Valley, he and Ranald rode past the Locusts, and drew rein a moment at the gate, to look down the stately avenue which was always pointed out to strangers. Lloyd watched their approach from behind a leafy screen of lilac bushes. The gleam of a wild strawberry had lured her over there from the path, a few minutes before. Then the discovery of a patch of four-leaf clovers near by had tempted her to a seat on the grass. She was arranging the long stems of the clovers in a cluster when the sound of hoof-beats made her look up.

So thickset were the lilacs between her and the road that not a glimpse of her white dress or the flutter of a ribbon betrayed her presence, and they paused to admire the avenue, unknowing that a far prettier picture was hidden away a few yards from them, in full sound of their voices --- a girl half lying in the grass, with June's own fresh charm in her glowing face, and the sunshine throwing dappled leaf shadows over her soft fair hair. The mischievous light in her hazel eyes deepened as she watched them.

"'The knights come riding two by two,'" she quoted in a whisper, closely scrutinizing the stranger.

"He rides well, anyhow," was her first thought. The next was that he looked much older than Gay's description had led her to imagine. Probably it was because he wore a moustache, while Rob and Malcolm and Alex and Ranald were all smooth-shaven. Maybe it was that same black moustache, with the gleam of white teeth and the flashing glance of his black eyes that gave him that dashing cavalier sort of look. How wonderfully his dark face lighted up when he smiled, and how distinctly one recalled it when he had passed on. And yet it wasn't a handsome face. She wondered wherein lay its charm.

Gay's words recurred to her: "So fiery and impetuous he would ride rough-shod over anything that stood in his way to get what he wants."

"He looks it " she thought, raising her head a trifle to watch them out of sight. "I'm afraid I can't do as much for him as Gay expects for I'll simply not stand his putting on any of his lordly ways with me." Gathering up her clovers, she started back to the house, her head held high unconsciously, in her most Princess-like pose.

Some one else had watched the passing of the two young men on horseback. From his arm chair on the white pillared porch, old Colonel Lloyd reached out to the wicker table beside him for his field-glass, to focus it on the distant entrance gate.

"I don't seem to place them" he said aloud. "It looks like young Walton on the roan, but the other one is a stranger in these parts."

Then as he saw they were not coming in, he shifted the glass to other objects. Slowly his gaze swept the landscape from side to side, till it rested on Lloyd, sitting on the grass by the lilac thicket, sorting her lapful of clovers.

Something in her childish occupation and the sunny gleam of the proud little head bowed intently over her task, recalled another scene to the old Colonel; that morning when through this same glass he had watched her first entrance into Locust. Was it fourteen or fifteen years ago? It seemed only yesterday that he had found her near that same spot coolly feeding his choicest strawberries to an elfish looking dog. Time had gone so fast since his imperious little grand-daughter had come into his life to fill it with new interests and deeper meaning. Yes, it certainly seemed no longer ago than yesterday that she was tyrannizing over him in her adorable baby fashion, making an abject slave of him, whom every one else feared. And now here she was coming towards him across the lawn, a tall, fair girl in the last summer of her teens. Why Amanthis was no older than she when he had brought her home to Locust, a bride. And no doubt some one would be coming soon, wanting to carry away Lloyd, the light of his eyes and the life of the place.

It made him angry to think of it, and when she stopped beside his chair to give him a soft pat on the cheek her first remark sent a jealous twinge through him.

"So that's who the stranger was with young Walton" he responded. "Humph! I don't think much of him."

"But grandfathah, how could you tell at such a distance?" laughed Lloyd. "It isn't fair to form an opinion at such long range. You'd bettah come with us tonight again ovah to the Cabin, and make his acquaintance. There's to be anothah house-wahming, especially for him. Kitty and Ranald are engineering it. They've Invited all the young people in the neighbourhood --- sawt of a surprise you know. At least they call it that, although Gay and Lucy are expecting us. Even Rob is going, for Kitty waylaid him as he got off the train yestahday evening, and talked him into consenting."

"I'm glad of that " answered the old Colonel heartily. "'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' This last year has been hard on the lad. The judge tells me he's never left the place a single night since his Daddy died. He just grinds along in that hardware store all day, and is into his law books as soon as he gets home. He's getting to be an old man before his time. I'm glad your little friend Gay is here this summer, on his account, if for no other reason. She'll draw him out of his shell if anybody can. I remember how much he seemed to be taken with her that Christmas Vacation she spent in the Valley."

Lloyd gaped at him in astonishment. "Why grandfathah! I nevah dreamed that you noticed things like that!"

"I certainly do, my dear" he answered playfully.

"I was young myself once upon a time. It's easy to recognize familiar landmarks on a road you've travelled. But why," he said suddenly in a changed tone," if I may be so bold as to ask, why is this young Texan to be ushered into the valley with this blare of trumpets and torchlight effect? It he anything out of the ordinary?"

"No, but it will make him feel that he hasn't dropped down into a poky inland village with nothing doing, but into a lovely social whirl instead. They want him to be so pleased with the place that he'll be satisfied to stay all summah."

It was almost on the tip of her tongue to tell why his family were so desirous of keeping him with them, but another scornful "humph!" checked her. For some unaccountable reason the old Colonel seemed to have taken a dislike to this stranger, and she knew that this information would deepen it to such an extent, that he would not want her to have anything to do with him.

"He'd be furious if he knew what I promised Gay," she thought, "for he takes such violent prejudices that the least thing 'adds fuel to the flame.' He might not want me to let him call heah or anything."

"What do you keep saying 'humph!' to me foh?" she asked saucily," when I'm trying to tell you the news and am so kind and polite as to ask you to go to the pahty with us. It's dreadful to have such an old ogah of a grandfathah, who makes you shake in yoah shoes every time he opens his mouth."

Her arm was round his neck as she spoke, and her cheek pressed against his. The caress drove away every other thought save that it was good to have his little Colonel home again, and he gave a pleased chuckle as she went on scolding him in a playful manner that no one else in the world ever dared assume with him. But all the while that she was twisting his white moustache, and braiding his Napoleon-like goatee into a funny little tail, she was thinking about the evening, and the indifferent air with which she intended to meet Leland Harcourt. She would have to be indifferent, and oblivious of his existence as far as she could politely, because Gay had told him that she was unapproachable and unattainable. She would talk to Rob most of the evening, she decided. She was glad that she would have the opportunity, for she had not seen him since coming home. He had called at The Locusts the night after her return from school, but that was the night she had stayed at the Cabin with Gay, and she had missed him.

"Did you know that your trunks came while you were at the post-office?" asked the Colonel presently. Owing to some mistake in checking their baggage in Washington, Lloyd's trunks had been delayed, and she had been wearing some of Betty's clothes the two days she had been at home.

"Why didn't you tell me soonah?" she asked, springing up from her seat on the arm of his chair. "I've been puzzling my brains all mawning ovah what I could weah tonight." Hastily gathering up the handful of clovers that she had dropped on the wicker table, she ran upstairs. Everything in her pink bower of a room was in confusion. Her Commencement gown lay on the bed like an armful of thistledown, with her gloves and lace fan beside it. On the mantel stood the little white slippers in which she had tripped across the rostrum at Warwick Hall to receive her diploma from Madam Chartley's hands. Now the diploma with its imposing red seals and big blue satin bow, was reposing on top of the clock on the same mantel with the slippers, and from the open trunks which Mom Beck was unpacking, a motley collection of books, clothing, sorority banners and school-girl souvenirs flowed out all over the floor.

The old coloured woman was garrulous this morning. Her trip to Washington "with all her white folks, to her baby's Finishment" (she couldn't understand why it should be called Commencement), had been the event of her life; and when she could get no one else to listen, she talked to herself, recounting each incident of her journey with unctuous enjoyment.

She was on her knees now before one of the trunks, talking so earnestly into its depths, that Lloyd, entering the room, looked around to see who her audience could be. At the sound of Lloyd's step the monologue came to a sudden stop, and the wrinkled old face turned with a smile.

"What you want me to do with all these yeah school books, honey, now you done with 'em fo' evah?"

"Mercy, Mom Beck! don't talk as if I had come to the end of every thing, and am too old to study any moah! I expect to keep up my French and German all next wintah, even if I am a debutante. Don't you remembah what Madam Chartley said in her lovely farewell speech to the graduating class? What's the good of taking you to Commencement, if that's all the impression it made?"

A pleased cackle of a laugh answered her. "Law, honey, I couldn't listen to speeches! I was too busy thinkin' of Becky Potah in her black silk dress that ole Cun'1 give me for the grand occasion, an' the purple pansies in my bonnet. The queen o' Sheby couldn't held a can'le to me that day."

She was off on another chapter of reminiscences now, but Lloyd paid no attention. As she picked up the books and found places for them on the low shelves that filled one side of the room, she felt as if she were assisting at the last sad rites of something very dear; for each page was eloquent with happy memories of her last year at school. Every scribbled margin recalled some pleasant recitation hour, and most of the fly-leaves were decorated by Kitty's ridiculous caricatures. She and Kitty had been room-mates this last year.

In order to find place for these books, which she had just brought home, she had to carry a row of old ones down to the library. They were juvenile tales, most of them, which she laid aside;  girls' stories that had once been a never failing source of delight. She could remember the time (and not so very long ago, either) when it had seemed impossible that she could out-grow them. And now as she trailed down stairs with an armful of her old favourites, she felt as if the shadowy figure of her childhood, the little Lloyd that used to be, followed her with reproachful glances for her disloyalty to these discarded friends.

On her way back to her room for a second armful, she stopped outside Betty's door for a moment, hoping to hear some noise within, which would indicate that Betty was not at her desk. There was so much that she wanted to talk to her about. One of the things she had looked forward to most eagerly in her home-coming was the long, sisterly talks they would have together. Now it was a disappointment to find her so absorbed in her writing that she was as inaccessible as if she had withdrawn into a cloister.

"I'll be glad when the old book is finished" thought Lloyd impatiently as she tip-toed away from the door. To her, Betty's ability to write was a mysterious and wonderful gift. Not for anything would she have interrupted her when "genius burned," but she resented the fact that it should rise between them as it had done lately. Even when Betty was not shut up in her room actually at work, her thoughts seemed to be on it. She was living in a world of her own creating, more interested in the characters of her fancy than those who sat at table with her. Since beginning the last chapter she had been so preoccupied and absentminded, that Lloyd hardly knew her. She was so unlike the old Betty, the sympathetic confidante and counsellor, who had been interested in even the smallest of her griefs and joys.

If Lloyd could have looked on the other side of the closed door just then, the expression on Betty's face would have banished every feeling of impatience or resentment, and sent her quietly away to wait and wonder, while Betty passed through one of the great hours of her life.

With a tense, earnest face bent over the manuscript, she reached the climax of her story --- the last page, the last paragraph. Then with a throbbing heart, she halted a moment, pen in hand, before adding the words, The End. She wrote them slowly, reverently almost, and then realizing that the ambition of her life had been accomplished, looked up with an expression of child-like awe in her brown eyes. It was done at last, the work that she had pledged herself to do so long ago, back there in the little old wooden church at the Cuckoo's Nest.

For a time she forgot the luxurious room where she sat, and was back at the beginning of her ambition and high resolves, in that plain old meeting house in the grove of cedars. Again she tiptoed down the empty aisle, that was as still as a tomb, save for the buzzing of a wasp at the open window through which she had climbed. Again she opened the little red book-case above the back pew, that held the remnants of a scattered Sunday-school library. The queer musty smell of the time-yellowed volumes floated out to her as strong as ever, mingling with the warm spicy scent of pinks and cedar, from the graveyard just outside the open window.

Those tattered books, read in secret to Davy on sunny summer afternoons, had been the first voices to whisper to her that she too was destined to leave a record behind her. And now that she had done it, they seemed to call her back to that starting place. Sitting there in happy reverie, she wished that she could make a pilgrimage back to the little church. She would like to slip down its narrow aisle just when the afternoon sun was shining yellowest on its worn benches and old altar, and dropping on her knees as she had done years ago in a transport of gratitude, whisper a happy "Thank you, God" from the depths of a glad little heart.

Presently the whisper did go up from her desk where she sat with her face in her hands. Then reaching out for the last volume of the white and gold series that chronicled her good times, she opened it to where a blotter kept the place at a half written page, and added this entry.

"June 20th. Truly a red-letter day, for hereon endeth my story of 'Aberdeen Hall.' The book is written at last. Two chapters are still to be copied on the typewriter, but the 'web' itself is woven, and ready to be cut from the loom. I am glad now that I waited; that I did not attempt to publish anything in my teens. The world looks very different to me now at twenty. I have outgrown my early opinions and ideals with my short dresses, just as Mrs. Walton said we would. Now the critics can say 'Thou waitedst till thy woman's fingers wrought the best that lay within thy woman's heart.' I can say honestly I have put the very best of me into it, and the feeling of satisfaction that I have accomplished the one great thing I started out to do so many years ago, gives me more happiness I am sure, than any 'diamond leaf ' that any prince could bring."

Such elation as was Betty's that hour, seldom comes to one more than once in a life-time. Years afterward her busy pen produced far worthier books, which were beloved and bethumbed in thousands of libraries, but none of them ever brought again that keen inward thrill, that wave of intense happiness which surged through her warm and sweet, as she sat looking down on that first completed manuscript. She was loath to lay it aside, for the joy of the creator possessed her, and in the first flush of pleased surveyal of her handiwork, she humbly called it good.

She went down to lunch in such an uplifted frame of mind that she seemed to be walking on air. But Betty was always quiet, even in her most intense moments. Save for the brilliant colour in her cheeks and the unusual light in her eyes there was no sign of her inward excitement. She slipped into her seat at table with the careless announcement "Well, it's finished."

It was Lloyd who made all the demonstration amid the family congratulations. Waving her napkin with one hand and clicking two spoons together like castanets, she sprang from her chair and rushed around the table to give vent to her pleasure by throwing her arms around Betty in a delighted embrace.

"Oh you little mouse!" she cried. "How can you sit there taking it so calmly? If I had done such an amazing thing as to write a book, I'd have slidden down the ban'istahs with a whoop, to announce it, and come walking in on my hands instead of my feet.

"Of co'se I'm just as proud of it as the rest of the family are" she added when she had expended her enthusiasm and gone back to her seat, "but now that it's done I'll confess that I've been jealous of that old book evah since I came home, and I'm mighty glad it's out of the way. Now you'll have time to take some interest in what the rest of us are doing, and you'll feel free to go in, full-swing, for the celebration at the Cabin tonight."

All the rest of that day seemed a fête day to Betty. Her inward glow lent a zest to the doing of even the most trivial things, and she prepared for the gaieties at the Cabin, as if it were her own entertainment, pleased that this red-letter occasion of her life should be marked by some kind of a celebration. It was to do honour to the day and not to the Harcourt's guest, that she arrayed herself in her most becoming gown.

Rob dropped in early, quite in the old way as if there had never been a cessation of his daily visits, announcing that he had come to escort the girls to the Cabin. Lloyd who was not quite ready, leaned over the banister in the upper hall for a glimpse of her old playmate, intending to call down some word of greeting; but he looked so grave and dignified as he came forward under the hall chandelier to shake hands with Betty, that she drew back in silence.

The next instant she resented this new feeling of reserve that seemed to rise up and wipe out all their years of early comradery. Why shouldn't she call down to him over the banister as she had always done? she asked herself defiantly. He was still the same old Rob, even if he had grown stern and grave looking. She leaned over again, but this time it was the sight of Betty that stopped her. She had never seen her so beaming, so positively radiant. In that filmy yellow dress, she might have posed as the Daffodil Maid. Her cheeks were still flushed, her velvety brown eyes luminous with the joy of the day's achievement.

Lloyd watched her a moment in fascinated admiration, as she stood laughing and talking under the hall light. Then she saw that Rob was just as much impressed with Betty's attractiveness as she was, and was looking at her as if he had made a discovery.

His pleased glance and the frank compliment that followed sent a thought into Lloyd's mind that made her wonder why it had never occurred to her before. How well Betty would fit into the establishment over at Oaklea. What a dear daughter she would make to Mrs. Moore, and what a joy she would be to the old judge! Rob seemed to be finding her immensely entertaining. Well, there was no need for her to hurry down now. She could take her time about changing her dress.

Lloyd could not have told what had made her decide so suddenly that her dress needed changing. She had put on a pale green dimity that she liked because it was simple and cool-looking, but now after a glance into the mirror she began to slip it off.

"It looks like a wilted lettuce leaf," she said petulantly to her reflection, realizing that nothing but white could hold its own when brought in contact with Betty's gown. That pale exquisite shade of glowing yellow would be the dominating colour in any place it might be worn.

"I must live up to Gay's expectations," she thought, "so white it shall be, Señor Harcourt!"

His dark face with its flashing smile rose before her, and stayed in the foreground of her thoughts, all the time she was arraying herself in her daintiest, fluffiest white organdy. Clasping the little necklace of Roman pearls around her throat, and catching up her lace fan, she swept up to the mirror for a last anxious survey. It was a thoroughly satisfactory one, and with a final smoothing of ribbons she smiled over her shoulder at the charming reflection.

"Now I'll go down and practise my airs and graces on Rob and Betty for awhile. But I'll leave them in peace after we get to the Cabin, for if there should be any possibility of their beginning to care for each othah, I wouldn't get in the way for worlds. Now this is the way I'll sail in to meet Mistah Harcourt! "

Thus it happened that the hauteur with which she intended to impress him was in her manner when she swept in to greet Rob. It was not meant for Rob but it had the same effect as if it were, making him feel as if she wished to drop the friendly familiarity of their school days, and meet him on the footing of a recent acquaintance. He had been looking forward all year to her homecoming, and now it gave him a vague sense of disappointment and injury, that she should be as conventionally gracious to him as if he were the veriest stranger. His eyes followed her wistfully, as if looking for something very precious which he had lost.

Wholly unconscious of the way she was spoiling the evening for him Lloyd went on playing the part of Serene Highness, laid out for her. Never to Gay's admiring eyes had she seemed more beautiful, more the fair unattainable Princess, than she was in her meeting with Leland Harcourt. Gay wanted to pat her on the back, for she saw that she had made the very impression expected of her. Long practice had made Gay quick in interpreting Leland's slightest change of expression, and she was well pleased now with what she read in his face.

But to Lloyd, the dark, smiling eyes, regarding everything with a slightly amused expression, showed nothing more than the superficial interest which ordinary politeness demanded of him. He made some pretty speech about the Valley and his pleasure in meeting its charming people, and then stood talking only long enough to make her feel that Gay was right in her estimate of him. He was entertaining, even fascinating in his manner, more entertaining than any man she had ever met. But just as she reached this conclusion she found herself handed over in some unaccountable way to some one else, and that was the last of his attention to her that night.

He seemed immensely entertained by Kitty, and much interested in Betty and the fact that she had finished writing a book that very day. Gay heralded her advent with that news. Lloyd could overhear little scraps of conversation that made her long to have a share in it. His repartee was positively brilliant she found herself thinking; the kind that one reads of in books, but never hears elsewhere.

For the first time in her life Lloyd felt herself calmly and deliberately ignored, just as she had planned to ignore him.

"Maybe it's because Gay told him that I would be so indifferent," she thought, "and he doesn't think it worth the effort to put himself out to make me be nice to him. I don't care."

Nevertheless a little feeling of disappointment and pique crept in to spoil her evening also, for in the limited wisdom of her school-girl experiences she did not recognize that this worldly-wise young man was ignoring her because he was interested; that he had only adopted her own tactics as the surest way of gaining his end.

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