The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding, Chapter 10: By The Silver Yard-Stick

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

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

CHAPTER X.
BY THE SILVER YARD -STICK

WITH her days shadowed by anxiety over Ida's illness, the care and responsibility of Wardo and her sympathy for Betty's disappointment, Lloyd still found one bright spot, untouched by other people's troubles. If, like the old sun-dial at Warwick Hall, she had taken for her motto: "I only mark the hours that shine," those hours when Leland Harcourt came to teach her Spanish were the ones that would have been numbered.

If she had felt that he regarded it as a bore, or that it cost him the slightest effort, she would have dropped the study immediately; but when he made it plain that it was the chief interest of his days, and the one thing that made his summer in the Valley endurable, she could not help being flattered by his assertions, and exerted herself all the more to make the hour a pleasant one.

It was an agreeable sensation to know that she could interest a man who had known so many interests; that it was she who held him in Lloydsboro; that every turn of her head, every inflection of her voice, every phase of her varying moods had a charm for him. It made her tingle with satisfaction when she realized that she had justified Gay's confidence in her power, but sometimes after he had gone she felt that she was not exerting it to the extent she had promised. She wasn't "keying him up to any higher pitch." She wasn't inspiring him with the ambition which his family seemed to think was all that was necessary to make him capable of any achievement. The idea of her influencing him did not seem as preposterous and ridiculous as it had the first few weeks of their acquaintance, but somehow it did not seem so necessary. Sometimes she wandered if the "sweet doing nothing" that Gay said was in his blood had not affected her also. Maybe that was why she liked his very indolence, and forgave in him what she would have condemned in any other chronic idler. Maybe he was influencing her.

"But he sha'n't!" she declared to herself when the thought first startled her, and to prove that he hadn't she seized the first opportunity which came in her way to take him to task. His signet ring bore the same crest that was on the silver ladle, and he used it one morning to seal a note for her. With a significant glance in its direction she asked saucily, "Señor Tarrypin, when are you going to put your family motto into actual use? When are you going to begin striving till you ovahcome --- till you do something really worth while in the world?"

With the question came the quick remembrance of a winter day by the churchyard stile, and Malcolm's boyish voice protesting earnestly --- "I'll be anything you want me to be, Lloyd." And then like a flash came that other scene and Phil's pleading voice, "I say it in all humility, Lloyd, this little bit of turquoise kept me 'true blue.'"

If she had expected any such earnestness in Leland's reply she was soon disillusioned, for with an amused side-glance at her, as if he found this serious mood the most diverting of all, he said indifferently:

"Oh - mañana."

"To-morrow!" she translated quickly. "But to-morrow never comes."

"Then neither need the effort."

"But without the effort --- the striving," she persisted, looking down at the imprint of the tiny dagger on the seal, "there never will be any crown."

He shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "What's the odds, when one doesn't care for a crown?"

"You're just plain lazy!" she cried, provoked that her effort to inspire him had met with such a reception.

He smiled as if she had paid him the greatest of compliments, then sat up with an air of interest.

"This is a topic we've never struck before," he said lightly. "It's like coming across an inviting bypath we've never travelled aver. Now suppose you tell me just what is your ideal way for a man to spend his life in order to get the most out of it."

Lloyd stale a quick glance at him to see if he were in earnest. The light tone seemed almost mocking, but the half-closed eyes gazing out across the lawn were serious enough, and she studied her reply a moment, feeling that maybe her opportunity had come at last.

"I think," she began timidly, "that the man who gets the most out of life is the one who makes most of himself --- who starts out as they did in the old days to win his spurs and his accolade. Maybe you know the story of Edryn, the one that gave Warwick Hall its motto."

He nodded, with that slightly amused smile which always disconcerted her. "Yes, I know. That's Gay's pet war-cry - 'Keep tryst.' But go on, I'd like to hear your version of it."

In the face of such an invitation she found it very hard to proceed, but after a moment's hesitation she said almost defiantly:

"Oh, I know you'll considah it a bit of schoolgirl sentiment to look at life in such a figurative way, but I think it's beautiful:

"'To duty and to sorrow,"' she quoted softly, "'to disappointment and defeat thou mayst be called. No matter what the tryst there is but one reply if thou wouldst win thy knighthood!"'

"But suppose one never hears any call," he asked teasingly. "Never feels the spirit move him to make any particular exertion."

"Then it's yoah own fault!" cried Lloyd. "It's just as it says in the legend. 'Only those will hear who wake at dawn to listen in high places, and only those will heed who keep the compass needle of their soul true to the North star of a great ambition!'"

"Pretty strenuous work, isn't that, for an August day?" he answered. "And that's all very well for poets and priests and young idealists to dream of, but when all's said and done, what's the good? What's the use?"

Clasping his hands behind his head he leaned back in his chair and began reciting in a dreamy way, as if he were chanting the rhythmical lines, a poem called "Drifting." It was like an incantation, and Lloyd sat listening as if he were weaving some spell around her:

"'My soul to-day Is far away
Sailing the Vesuvian Bay. 
My winged boat, 
A bird afloat,
Swims round the purple peaks remote.
.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
u ' I heed not if 
My rippling skiff
Float swift or slow from cliff to cliff ; 
With dreamful eyes My spirit lies,
Under the walls of Paradise."'

As he went musically on, verse after verse, Lloyd sat listening, wholly under the spell of his voice, yet with a baffled impotent sense of being carried along by a current in exactly the apposite direction from the one in which she had started to go.

"'No more, no more
The worldly shore 
Upbraids me with its wild uproar---"'

It was a Lotus land of irresponsibility and ease and personal gratification that he was revealing to her as his ideal of life. He hadn't openly made fun of her enthusiasm and zeal, but he had chilled her ardour and silenced her, and left her with the feeling that her knights with their struggles after accolades and ambitions and all those things were silly folk who made much ado about nothing. It made her cross.

In the silence that followed there was a shriek from Wardo, somewhere back near the servants' quarters, and then such a lusty crying that Lloyd sprang up frightened, and ran to the rescue. She was conscience-smitten for having left him so long to the care of Enoch, Cindy's little grandson, whom she had bribed to amuse him for an hour. It was only because his constant presence and interruptions seemed to bore Leland that she had done it. Wardo did make tyrannical demands on her attention, she had to admit, dearly as she loved the child. But when she found him crying from a bee-sting, and his poor little lip swollen out of all resemblance to a Cupid's bow she felt a twinge of resentment towards Leland. If she hadn't sent Wardo away from her, she thought reproachfully, he wouldn't have been stung, and she wouldn't have sent him if Leland had acted nicer about having him around. He had actually muttered in Mom Beck's hearing that it was "a beastly bore always having that kid poking in."

She had resented it at the time Mom Beck repeated it, but excused it on the ground that he was not used to children, and that Wardo's persistent questions and demands did tax one's patience dreadfully sometimes. But now as he clung to her, sobbing and screaming, she thought reproachfully, "He might at least have come around to find out what was the mattah, when he knows how devoted I am to the pooh little thing, even if he didn't take any interest in him himself. I'll keep Wardo with me all the time aftah this, even if it does bo'ah him."

Leading him back to the porch she took him in her lap and quieted him with the promise of a wonderful box of paints which he should have next day, with which to colour all the pretty pictures in all the magazines. And she quite ignored Leland for awhile to punish him, not knowing that he understood her pique and was amused at it, and that he was enjoying the picture she made rocking back and forth in the law chair, with Wardo's golden curls pressed against her shoulder, and the dimpled arms clinging around her neck.

Next day she forgot the paints until it was too late for her to get them, and Betty who was going over to The Beeches and past the store, offered to take Wardo and let him have the pleasure of buying them himself. After they had gone she went down to the parch to wait for Leland. It was almost lesson time. Yesterday's feeling of resentment had entirely passed, and she looked down the avenue expectantly from her seat behind the vines. Any moment he might turn in at the gate. The thought gave her a pleasant thrill of anticipation. As the moments slipped by she opened her book and began repeating the verses marked for her to memorize.

Presently she looked up to see a small coloured boy wandering up the avenue as if he had no particular destination in view and no great desire to arrive anywhere. She supposed he was the bearer of a message to the cook, but instead of going around the house he came towards her with a note in his hand. It was from Leland she saw at the first glance, and written in Spanish at the second.

She could read enough of it to understand that he was not coming that morning, but for the rest of it she had to turn to her lexicon for help in translating. After some time and with much difficulty she managed to make out the reason. He had gone to Louisville for the day quite unexpectedly with his brother --- a matter of business. He was sorry not to be able to keep his engagement with her. Only dire necessity kept him away, and he would be with her in the evening. Until then adieu. She had to turn to her lexicon again for that next word, and having found it wondered how he had dared to put it in --- that caressing little name, that word of endearment which he would not have presumed to use in English. It made the colour flame up in her face.

But he was not coming. She let the note fall to her lap with an exclamation of disappointment. Then wide eyed and surprised she sat up straight, suddenly aware how deep that disappointment was; suddenly realizing what she had never known till this moment, how large a place Leland Harcourt had grown to hold in her thoughts. Everywhere she turned she could see his face with that quick flashing smile she loved to bring to it. She could see that impetuous toss of the head, the eager gesture of his long slender hand, the easy grace of his manner that gave him his distinguished, patrician air.

"Why, I'm like Hildegarde!" she whispered wonderingly. "'His eyes are so blue they fill all my dreams!' Only Mistah Harcourt's are dark."

Now if Lloyd had never heard the story of the Three Weavers, never been a member of the Order of Hildegarde, never made the promise to her father about the silver yard-stick, her reverie in the hammock that morning might have led to a very different result. But because she had promised, and because she must keep tryst no matter how hard it was to do, she faced the matter squarely.

"He wouldn't have put that word in the note if he wasn't beginning to care for me," she admitted, " and it wouldn't make me have that queah little sawt of half-way glad feeling if I wasn't beginning to care for him."

The hammock swung faster. She was thinking of a day an the seashore years before, when she had been playing out on the rocks. And while she built her little castles the tide came creeping in, creeping so quietly that she did not know it was there until all the sand between her and safety was covered and a fisherman had to wade in and carry her out. Although she did not put the comparisoninto words, that was what she felt was happening now, and much as she liked him and loved to be with him and missed him when he did not come, she felt that his influence over her was creeping up like a tide that would surely drown her ability to keep her promise to her father.

"He does influence me," she admitted to herself. "I might as well be honest about it. Sometimes he can almost make me believe that black is white. How do I know but what I might grow to be like pooh mistaken Hertha? He was only a page, but she called him prince in her thought until she really believed him one."

Then as yesterday's conversation came back to her she sprang from the hammock saying to herself, "And he isn't even a knight, or he wouldn't have made fun of my pooh little attempt to make him listen to the King's call. I'll not think about him a minute longah. It would only be squandahing the golden thread that Clotho left me."

Running up the stairs she got her hat and started to follow Betty. But all the way up and all the way down and all the way that she went towards The Beeches that little word at the end of the letter --- that sweet caressing bird-note of a name, sang itself over and over to her. He had called her that, and to-night he was coming.

She did not go all the way to The Beeches, for she met Betty on the way back, Wardo proudly bearing his box of paints, and Betty re-reading a letter which she had found in the office. It was from Madam Chartley. There was a vacancy in Warwick Hall itself and she was to fill it; was to be her beloved Miss Chilton's assistant in the English classes. Her happiness was as great over this news as her disappointment had been over the return of her manuscript. As Madam Chartley wanted her at the school by the first of September there were only two weeks in which to make her preparations to leave.

Although Lloyd had heard the matter discussed she never fully believed that Betty was going away from Locust until she had the letter in her own hands and read Madam Chartley's expression of, pleasure at the prospect of having Betty with her permanently. It swept away all thought of her own affairs, for Betty had grown as dear to her as a sister in the years they had been together. She followed her mournfully into the white and gold room, offering to help her with her preparations, and pouring out her regret and her disapproval of Betty's plans. It wasn't necessary at all she insisted for Betty to leave them, and Locust wouldn't be the same place with her gone.

Wardo required less attention than usual that afternoon, for charmed with his new paints, he sat at a low table in Betty's room while the girls sewed and talked, and coloured the pictures in every magazine he could lay his hands on. It was sunset when Lloyd noticed how long he had been bending over the table, and persuaded him to lay aside his brush till next day.

"Look at the pretty red sunset," she urged, trying to interest him in something else. "It's as red as a cherry."

He looked at it solemnly, considering her comparison. "No, it's wed as the blood of a thousand dwagons," he answered.

Lloyd looked at him in astonishment. "What do you know about dragons, child?"

"Betty telled me, when I painted one wif my paints, here in this book." He began turning the leaves of one of the magazines. "Dwagons is the stwongest fings there is," he added with a knowing wag of his head, feeling that she needed enlightenment. "But my fahvah could fight one He's so stwong. My fahvah could fight anyfing."

"Always the same old story," said Lloyd in a low tone to Betty. "Isn't it dreadful? Always harping on the perfection of his hero. Seems to me it would have been bettah if she had not tried to keep the truth from him. The disillusionment is going to be feahful some of these days. It will shake his belief in everything."

As she rocked back and forth with his warm little body nestled against her, she thought how differently Ida would have chosen could she have known that this precious little soul was to be given into her keeping. If somebody had only gone to her with old Hildgardmar's warning --- "Remember that in the right weaving of this web depends not only thy own happiness but the happiness of all those who come after thee," it might have made a world of difference. But nobody had opened her eyes to the enormity of the responsibility she was assuming, and now, maybe despite all her careful training and frantic efforts to make her little son what she would have him be, she might not be able to turn his life out of the channel of his inherited tastes and appetites.

It must be awful she thought, hugging him closer, to love a child with the passionate devotion that Ida loved this one, and have it grow up into a worthless vagabond like Ned Bannan. Then a stray wonder crossed her mind if Leland Harcourt's mother would have been disappointed in him if she could have lived to see him wasting his splendid talents and opportunities; just drifting along in an aimless, thistledown sort of existence when he might be such a power for good if he would only exert himself.

"He doesn't measuah up to the third notch at all," she admitted with a feeling of regret.

Just then there was a long distance call for her at the telephone, and hastily putting Wardo down she went to answer it.

"It's from Mistah Harcourt," she called carelessly, in answer to her mother's inquiry from the next room. "He was coming ovah to-night but something detained him in Louisville, and he called me up to tell me not to expect him."

She hoped that she had kept the flutter out of her voice that the sound of his voice brought into her pulses. For at the close of this commonplace message was the request that she make no engagement with any one else for the next night. He had something to tell her, and then --- there was that same word with which he had closed his note --- that soft musical name, seeming twice as personal and significant because of the tone in which he said it. She felt that he must be conscious of the quick blush it brought to her face as she hastily hung up the receiver.

That night for the first time that summer Lloyd was alone with her father and mother. Betty had Madam Chartley's letter to answer, and the old Colonel had gone out to dinner. The three sat on the broad white-pillared porch in the moonlight, Lloyd on the step at her father's feet, her arm on his knee. Ever since the telephone message her thoughts had been in a tumult. It was useless for her to pretend that she didn't know why Leland wanted to see her alone, and what it was he was coming to tell her. She was glad and sorry and half frightened and altogether confused. "He isn't the prince at all," she kept saying to herself as if it were a charm that would help her ward off his approach and keep her true to her Hildegarde promise.

And yet --- his wooing was the kind one reads of in books. She would be sorry to have that come to an end. It was so delightful to have some one write poems to her and sing songs in such a way that every tone and glance dedicated them to her alone. If one could only go on that way through all the summers, being adored in that fashion, knowing she was crowned queen in somebody's heart, how delightful it would be. But she didn't want things to come to a crisis when she would have to make grave decisions and solemn promises. She didn't want to go one step farther than this borderland of romance where they lingered now. What she wanted was just to go on building her little castles as she had done that day on the sea-shore, and yet be assured that the tide wouldn't come creeping up any farther. It was just far enough now to be interesting. She wished they would begin to talk about things like that, but she shrank from bringing up such a subject herself. After awhile she broached one almost akin.

"Mothah," she asked, breaking a long comfortable silence that had fallen on them, "do you think that Lucy is happy?"

"No, not entirely --- that is just at present," Mrs. Sherman answered slowly, as if considering. "She's hardly adjusted herself yet to the new order of things, but she will in time because she's such a yielding little soul, and is really devoted to her husband. For instance, when he insisted she gave up her church to please him and wined his. It meant a great struggle and a sacrifice on her part, and he is not at all devout, doesn't attend services more than twice a year; so it couldn't have made such a vital difference to him where she went. Then at home her father always placed a certain amount in the bank every month to his wife's credit, so there never was any unpleasantness about money matters. While Jameson is very wealthy and lavishes luxuries and beautiful clothes on her, he reserves the pleasure of buying and spending entirely to himself. Treats her like a child in their financial arrangements, and doles out little allowances as if she couldn't be trusted to spend it intelligently. She's so sensitive that she'd rather go without than ask him for a cent, and it often puts her in an embarrassing position to be without."

"In other words," put in Papa Jack, "he's thoroughly inconsiderate and selfish, although I imagine he'd be mightily amazed if any one applied that term to him since he is so lavish in giving things in his own way."

"Yes, he is," was the answer. "I've noticed it in a dozen little ways. It's always his wishes and his tastes that have to be consulted, never Lucy's. Yet aside from that trait he is a thoroughly fine man, and because she respects him and looks up to him and is such a sweet yielding little creature, he'll come in time to be the centre of her universe, and she'll revolve around him like a loyal little planet.

But a girl of a different temperament wouldn't. If she were impetuous and highstrung like you for instance," she added with a smile at Lloyd, "she would see the injustice of it and resent it so bitterly that there would be continual friction and jar. With your temperament you couldn't live peaceably with anybody like that."

"I know I couldn't," admitted Lloyd frankly, "especially if he showed any jealousy. Mistah Jameson is jealous of every friend Lucy evah had at the Past. He doesn't like it a bit when she refers to the good times she used to have with the boys there, even when they were just ordinary friends. Half a dozen times I've seen the tears come to her eyes at some inconsiderate thing he'd say, and I'd think if I were Lucy I couldn't sit there and take it like a martyr. I'd have to jump up and shake him till his teeth rattled."

"What a cat and dog time you would have," laughed Mrs. Sherman. "Worse than little Mary Ware's nightmare that she had after Eugenia's wedding."

"By the way," exclaimed Mr. Sherman, slapping his pockets to find a letter he had placed in one of them, "I knew there was something I intended to tell you. Jack Ware is on his way here now."

Then in answer to the surprise and the questions that greeted his announcement he explained, "I suggested making him assistant manager of the mines and the Company wants to have a look at him, and put him through a sort of examination. He's so young they rather doubt my judgment in the matter. But they'll find out when they see him. We telegraphed him to come, and he left Arizona several days ago. He'll be here only a day and night probably."

Lloyd left her seat on the step and took a chair beside her father, sitting straight and alert in her interest. It was hard to realize that Jack Ware was grown. He was only, fourteen when she had known him on the desert. "Oh, will you evah forget," she laughed, "the way he looked when we surprised him at the washtub, all tied up in an apron, helping Joyce with the family washing?"

"His readiness to pitch in to whatever is to be done is his chief characteristic," was the answer. "That is what makes him so valuable at the mines. Patient and reliable and strong, he is one of the finest young fellows of my acquaintance. He'll be one of the big men of the West some day, for young as he is, he is into everything that makes for the welfare and development of the territory he lives in."

All the rest of the evening was spent in recalling that visit to Ware's Wigwam, and when Lloyd went up to bed, although Leland Harcourt's name had not been mentioned, she felt that her doubts and unspoken questions about him had been answered. She must not listen any more to that little name, that caressing little name that left such a thrill in its wake.

"Wise old Hildgardmar," said Mrs. Sherman in a playful tone after Lloyd had left them. "I don't suppose when you sent for Jack that it entered your head you were giving her the very safeguard of contrast that I hoped she might have, but you will be doing it all the same."

"No, I didn't," he confessed, "but I think you are magnifying the interest she has in Harcourt. She never mentioned his name all evening."

"But she talked all around him," answered Mrs. Sherman, "and I think she came to the conclusion before she went up-stairs that he does not measure up to your standards, and is almost sure that he does not even meet hers."

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