The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding, Chapter 6: "Garden Fancies"

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

CHAPTER VI.
"GARDEN FANCIES"

"OH, where are you going, my pretty maid?" It was Alex Shelby who called out the question, leaning forward from the doctor's buggy, to look down the locust avenue. Lloyd was coming toward the gate, swinging a hunter's horn back and forth by its green cord. She waved it gaily as she sang in response

"I'm going a posing, sir, she said."

He turned the wheel and sprang out, asking eagerly, "Is it anywhere that I can take you? "

"No, you're going in exactly the opposite direction, for I'm bound for the spring in the Lindsey woods. Miss Marks asked me to meet her there at eleven o'clock, but her note didn't come until aftah mothah had gone out with the carriage."

Alex glanced at his watch. "If you could wait till I take this case of instruments up to Uncle, I could drive you over as well as not. It would detain you ten minutes, but even then you'd get to the Spring much sooner than if you were to walk."

"I'll certainly accept yoah offah," exclaimed Lloyd gratefully, looking down the long hot way that lay between her and the Lindsey woods.

"No, I'll not drive ovah to the doctah's with you, thanks. That is such a hot, dusty stretch of road. I'll just sit heah in the shade and wait." Laying the hunter's horn on the stone bench near the gate, she sat down beside it and began to fan herself with her hat.

"What's going on at the spring?" he asked as he climbed back into the buggy.

"I can't tell you. All I know is that old Frazer came up with a note asking me to pose as Olga, the Flax-spinnah's maiden. Miss Marks is always illustrating some old fairy-tale. She wanted me to bring grandfathah's hunting hawn for the prince. I've been wondering evah since who she's found to take that paht."

"Harcourt, I'll bet you anything!" was Alex's emphatic answer as he gathered up the reins. "I saw him over at Clovercroft yesterday morning, setting up a tripod in front of the bay window. Well, here goes. I'll be back in ten minutes."

As Lloyd watched the cloud of dust whirling along behind the rapidly disappearing buggy, the impulse seized her to call out after him that he needn't come back to take her to the spring, for she was not going. Several times that morning the suspicion had crossed her mind that Miss Marks's new model might prove to be Leland Harcourt, and Alex's emphatic answer seemed to confirm her misgivings. If that were the case she felt that she could not possibly go. He had made such a point of avoiding her that night at the Cabin, that even Betty had noticed it, and she was very sure she didn't want to have her picture taken with a man who had showed his aversion to her so plainly as all that. It would be horribly awkward, she thought, if Miss Marks had asked him to pose with her. He would have to stoop and drink out of her hands as the prince had done out of Olga's. Of course he couldn't refuse, and it would be disagreeable to him and embarrassing to her, knowing as she did how he felt towards her.

It was unlike Lloyd to be sensitive over little things, and to magnify trifles, and she had been unhappy for several days because she had done so in this instance. If she had met Leland Harcourt like any other stranger, she would not have given his manner toward her a second thought; but Gay's plea beforehand in his behalf made her self-conscious. Of course he couldn't possibly know that she had lain awake, looking at the stars, picturing herself as a sort of guardian angel, who should lead him to great heights of achievement (as Gay had assured her she could do). But she felt that he must have divined her intentions toward him, and was secretly amused at her presumption. Her face burned every time she thought of the regal manner in which she had swept into the room, trying to make her entrance impressive, and then the polite way in which he had handed her over to some one else as if she were a mere child to whom he must be civil, but whose school-girl prattle bored him.

"I can't beah him!" she said in a disgusted tone to a black ant, which was crawling along towards the stone bench where she sat. But the little ant, intent on its own affairs, hurried past her as unheedingly as if she had been part of the bench.

"And I suppose my opinion is of no moah impawtance to him than it is to you," she added, with a shrug of the shoulders. Then she laughed, for the comparison suddenly seemed to put the affair in a different light.

"I'm certainly glad you happened along this way, Mistah Ant," she said, bending over to stop him with a stick while she made her whimsical speech. "Because I'm going to profit by yoah example from now on. Heah me? I'm going to quit worrying over what people may think of me and go along about my business just as you are doing. You nevah think about yoahself, do you! You don't even know that you have a self, so of co'se you can't feel slighted and sensitive."

Lifting the stick so that the little creature might go on its eager way again, she watched it disappear, and then began idly tracing figures in the dust at her feet.

"I wish I had an enchanted necklace like Olga's," she mused, recalling the old fairy-tale for which she was soon to pose. "Not one that could give me gorgeous dresses whenevah I repeated the charm, but one that would sawt of clothe my mind --- put me into such a beautifully serene mental state that I wouldn't mind slights, and would be as unconscious of self as that little old ant."

Then a surprised, pleased expression lighted her face, as a sudden recollection seemed to illuminate the old fairy-tale, and give it a new meaning.

"Why, it's like that lovely verse in the Psalms that Miss Allison read to the King's Daughters, the first time I went to a meeting of the Circle.

'The King's Daughter is all, glorious within. Her clothing is o f wrought gold.'"   Sentences from Miss Allison's earnest little talk of long ago began coming back to Lloyd like fragments of forgotten music. Something about being anointed with the "oil of gladness" and wearing garments that smelled of myrrh and aloes and cassia" out of the ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad."

Now in the story when Olga would change her gown of tow to one befitting her royal station, she had only to clasp a bead of her magic rosary and whisper

"For love's sweet sake, in my hour of need,
Blossom and deck me, little seed,"

and straightway she would be clad in a garment, fine and fair as the shimmer of moonbeams. And Lloyd, casting about in her mind for a like charm that would make her "all glorious within" as Olga's made her glorious without, suddenly bethought herself of her little necklace of Roman pearls. She had not taken it back to school with her in her Senior year, for she felt that she had outgrown its childish symbolism. She could "keep tryst" with life's obligations now without the visible reminder of a little white bead, slipped daily over a silken cord. Still, it had helped her to remember, so many times in the past, that she was strongly tempted to try the efficacy of her little talisman just once more. Glancing at her watch, she saw that Alex had been gone only five minutes. Then dropping the stick with which she had been writing in the dust, she ran lightly up the avenue, into the house and up to her room.

"Maybe it is sawt of childish," she thought as she opened the sandal-wood box and clasped the rosary around her neck. "But I don't care, if it will only help me to remembah not to be snippy and sensitive and to go about my business like that little black ant. It's funny how such a little thing started me on the right path."

When Alex came back she met him with such a shining face that he glanced at her curiously. "You look as if you had heard good news," he said as he helped her into the buggy. "What's happened?"

"Oh, nothing," she laughed. "I've just been practising my paht while I waited for you. I'm the Princess Olga, and I've gotten rid of my gown of tow, and I'm so relieved to find the real King's daughtah attire, that I'm as happy as a June-bug."

He did not understand her allusion, but it would have made no difference if she had talked to him in Greek, with that charming dimple coming and going as she laughed. It was a pleasure just to sit and watch her, while she rattled on in her inimitable way about June-bugs, wondering how happy they were anyhow, and why people chose there as the unit of measurement when they were measuring joy.

Over at the spring while they waited for Lloyd to come, Miss Marks and Leland Harcourt experimented at picture-making with Gay for a victim. Stretched out on the rocks of the creek bank, with her hands lying in the shallow water and her hair streaming over her shoulders, she was obligingly trying to obey instructions to "look as wet and dead as possible."

Lloyd and Alex, coming on her unexpectedly as they picked their way up the ravine, having tied the horse where the woodland road ended, were horrified to find her lying there so limp and still. But the next instant Leland's voice sounded somewhere up among the bushes: "That's great, Pug. Try to keep the pose a little longer till we get one more plate. With a sea-gull and some rolling waves painted in in the background, it will be a perfect copy of that painting I saw in Brittany."

"Well, hurry, please!" called Gay plaintively.

"I can't stand it much longer. The sun on my wet face is burning it to a blister, and the rocks are cutting my elbow, and I know it's a spider that's crawling over the back of my neck."

Lloyd gave a toot of the hunter's horn to warn them of their approach and the extra plate was never made. For with a little shriek the "Drowned Fishermaiden " scrambled up from the rocks in embarrassed haste, and when she caught sight of Alex, fled away into the bushes to gather up her dishevelled hair and otherwise put herself to rights. She was too agitated to notice Lloyd's meeting with Leland, but while she made herself presentable the sound of laughter floated in among the bushes to her most reassuringly.

"They're laughing at me," she thought, "but I don't care how ridiculous I looked. Anything to break the ice between them and put them on a friendly footing."

At the sight of Leland's dark face with its cynical, slightly amused expression, Lloyd's resentment returned, but the touch of the little necklace recalled her resolve. "I'll not be snippy and sensitive," she repeated to herself, clasping one of the beads in her fingers as if it really held some potent charm to help her change her mental attitude.

So when Gay joined them she found that Lloyd had dropped her distant, disdainful manner of the day before and was her own sweet, winsome self.  It was with a sigh of relief that Gay left them to the discussion of poses and costumes, and turned to Alex, who was about to take his departure. The one word, picnic, was enough to stop him. It was what he had been hoping for ever since the Harcourts had taken the Cabin. Gay's appeal for help set him to work with the zest of a truant school-boy.

While he made a fire and carried water from the spring, Gay emptied the baskets they had brought, and spread the contents out on a great flat rock. Then while the water boiled for the coffee, and the potatoes were roasting in the ashes, she sent him to look for a wild grape-vine.

"I want a lot of grape-leaves to make into little baskets to serve the berries in," she told him.

And bring them up here where I can keep an eye on what is going on at the spring. There seems to be a hitch in the performance somewhere."

The difficulty was with the prince's costume. Nothing they had brought gave quite the effect they wanted, so finally Leland proposed bringing the story down to date.

"The modern Princess is the Summer Girl," he said. "So take Miss Sherman just as she is, and I'll go back to the Cabin and put on a bicycle suit."

"They are getting on famously," thought Gay as she listened to Lloyd's merry response to something he called back, as he went crashing away through the bushes. The last little basket was made and filled with berries before Leland came back, dragging his wheel up the ravine. Gay and Alex, having finished their preparations, climbed up the bank to watch the pretty tableau, Lloyd making a cup of her white hands and catching the water in them, that the prince might stoop and drink.

"Let's try it again, Miss Marks," cried Leland enthusiastically. "How is this pose? "He dropped gracefully to one knee, baring his head as he bowed it over Lloyd's hands.

"Is the change in him or is it in me?" thought Lloyd as the dark eager face smiled up at her, with its quick flashing smile that she found so peculiarly attractive. "He certainly is the most entahtaining man I evah talked to."

"The show is over," called Gay as Miss Marks began to put up her camera. "If your royal highnesses will deign to descend, dinner will be served immediately." It was an attractive table she led them to, the red berries shining in luscious heaps in their little green baskets, mounds of fresh watercress beside every plate, and a big bouquet of wildflowers in the centre of the rock table.

"What is the peculiar charm of a picnic?" queried Alex as he fished an ant out of the sugar and opened a half-cooked potato.

"At home one would send such a dish back to the kitchen in red-hot wrath. Here one eats it in a sort of solemn joy."

"It's the spell of the June woods," suggested Miss Marks.

"No, it's youth in the blood," said Leland. "All the Junes in the world and all outdoors wouldn't make a half-baked potato fit for the gods unless one has 'the sun and the wind in his pulses.'"

"No," insisted Gay. "It can't be that, for Jameson isn't much older than you, and he despises prowling around in the woods, as he calls it. He made so much fun of it that Lucy went driving with him instead of coming with us, and she adores such outings, just as much now as she did before she was married."

"Maybe no one feels the charm unless the gods have given him a sort of Midas touch that will turn everything disagreeable, like ants and underdone potatoes, into golden experiences," said Alex. "The Midas imagination let us call it. And the way to keep it in good working order is to give it constant practice. Let's have a picnic every day."

"To-morrow," announced Leland, "I'll take you all over to that old English garden that I discovered, to take that Garden fancy of Browning's we were discussing."

Gay looked up quickly. It had been understood only yesterday that they were to wait for Kitty's return for that picture. His taking it for granted that Lloyd would assume the part augured well for her hopes.

"You know that poem of Browning's, don't you, Miss Sherman?" he asked, smiling across at her.

Now Lloyd had never cared for Browning. In fact she frankly admitted that she had never got far enough into many of his poems to know what he was talking about. At Warwick Hall Miss Chilton had been such an enthusiastic interpreter of his that ten of the girls in Lloyd's class had formed a Browning club. Although she declined their invitation to join them, she was more complimented by that invitation than any other of that school term, and envied them their apparent enjoyment of what to her was a tangle of vague meanings. Now when she saw Leland take a well worn copy from his pocket and flip over the leaves to find the place, with an ease that showed long familiarity with it, she wished that she had joined the club. It made her feel childish and immature to think that she could not discuss this subject with him as any one of those ten girls could have done. But it was one of the simple poems to which the book opened. From her seat opposite, Lloyd could see the marked margins and underscored lines, as he read aloud

"'Here is the garden she walked across 
Arm in my arm such a short while since.
.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
Down this side of the gravel walk 
She went, while her robe's edge brushed the box. 
And here she paused in her gracious talk 
To point me a moth on the milk-white phlox.'"

"Oh, I can just see that picture," cried Miss Marks enthusiastically. "I wish we had time to take it to-day."

"But wait, here's a better one," he added, turning the page.

"' This flower she stopped at, finger on lip, 
Stooped over in doubt, as settling its claim, 
Till she gave me with pride to make no slip, 
Its soft, meandering Spanish name. 
What a name ! Was it love or praise? 
Speech half-asleep or song half-awake?
I must learn Spanish one of these days 
Only for that slow, sweet name's sake."'

Lloyd picked up the book open at the place where he laid it, face downward, on the rock.

"I wondah what flowah Browning meant," she said, "that had such a 'soft, meandering Spanish name. Speech half asleep or song half awake---' It must have been something exquisitely beautiful or he wouldn't have been willing to learn a language just for the sake of knowing that one name."

Farther down the page were other underscored lines. She read them softly, almost under her breath.

""Where I find her not, beauties vanish. 
Whither I follow her beauties flee. 
Is there no method to tell her in Spanish 
June is twice June since she's breathed it with me?"'

"Isn't that sweet?" cried Gay. "Say it for us, Leland. Say it in Spanish so we can hear how it sounds."

With an indulgent smile, as if amused at her childishness, he lazily did Gay's bidding, then as she began exclaiming over the musical syllables to Alex, he turned to Lloyd and repeated the line with an emphasis which made it altogether personal. Ofcourse she could not understand it, but the words were like bird-notes, and there was no mistaking the language of those dark expressive eyes that held hers a moment in their admiring gaze. They said as plainly as if they had spoken aloud, "June is twice June, since you've breathed it with me."

Lloyd felt the colour surge up into her face, and to hide it, turned quickly and began examining a grass stain on the hem of her skirt, with apparent concern. But an exultant little thrill flashed over her. He liked her. She was sure of it, and it made her glad, so glad that it amazed her to think that only two hours before she had confided emphatically to a little black ant crawling over her path, that she couldn't bear him.

When she had finished a critical examination of the grass stain she glanced back again, hoping that Gay had not seen her embarrassment. To her relief Gay's entire attention was absorbed in an argument with Alex as to the exact meaning of the quotation, whether twice June meant a lengthening of the calendar or an intensifying of its pleasures. Miss Marks, like a good chaperone, could not have noticed, for she was busy gathering up the dishes, and Lloyd sprang up to help her.

Presently, as they started away from the spring, Leland came around to Lloyd's side. "You must let me teach you Spanish, Miss Sherman," he said in his masterful way which seemed to leave her no choice in the matter. "An hour a day wouldn't take much of your time, and would be enough to give you some idea of the charm of the language. Gay tells me you play the harp. Some of the songs are exquisite."

"Oh, I nevah in the world could learn it, I am suah!" she answered lightly, with a shrug that seemed to indicate the uselessness of undertaking such a task.

"You don't know," he answered authoritatively. "You've never had me for a teacher."

Again that flashing look that made his eyes deepen so wonderfully and curved the cynical lips into an altogether gentle and winning smile. It seemed to photograph itself on Lloyd's memory, recurring to her again and again in the most unexpected moments. She saw it on the way home with Alex, all the time she was laughingly recounting some of her Warwick Hall escapades. It came between her and her book when she tried to read herself to sleep that afternoon, and the last thing that night when her eyes were closed and the lights were out she saw again that glance that said as plainly as the slow music of his Spanish words, "June is twice June since you've breathed it with me."

Chapter 5   Chapter 7 >