The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 3: One Flew East

 

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOUSE PARTY
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

CHAPTER III.
ONE FLEW EAST

THE New York letter reached the hotel while Eugenia was out in the park with her maid, and the bell-boy brought it to her on a salver with several others, as she was stepping into the elevator to go up to her room.

Here, take my gloves, Eliot!" she exclaimed, tossing them to the maid, and beginning to tear open the envelopes as soon as her hands were free. Eliot, a plain, middle-aged woman, with a patient face and slow gait, picked up the gloves, and followed her young mistress down the corridor.

Eugenia dashed into her sitting-room, throwing herself into a big armchair, regardless of the fact that she was crushing the roses in her pretty new hat as she leaned her head against the high back. Three of the letters which she opened so eagerly were from the girls who had been her best friends at boarding-school. She had been away from Riverdale Seminary only a week, but already she was homesick to go back. The school was a very select one, and the rules were rigid, but Eugenia had known no other home for three years.

In the great hotel where she was now, she saw her father only in the evenings, and during breakfast, and she always rebelled when she had to go back to it in vacation. There was so little she could do that she really enjoyed. There was a stupid round of drives and walks, shopping and piano practice, and after that nothing but to mope and fret and worry poor Eliot. At school there was always the excitement of evading some rule or breaking it without being caught; and if there was no joke in prospect to giggle over, there was the memory of one just passed to make them laugh. And then there were always Mollie and Fay and Kit Keller --- dear old "Kell" --- ready to laugh or cry or lark with her any hour of the day or night, as it suited her mood.

Only seven days of vacation had passed, but to Eugenia it seemed an age since the four had walked back and forth across the school campus, with their arms around each other, waiting for the 'bus that was to drive them to the station.

The others were not so sorry to go, for they would be in the midst of their families. Mollie was to go to the mountains with all the members of her household, Fay to an island in the St. Lawrence, where her family had their summer home, and Kell was going on a long yachting trip, maybe to the Bermudas. It would be September before they all met again.

For Eugenia there was nothing in prospect but lonely days at the Waldorf, until her father could find time to take her down to the seashore for a few weeks. The tears were in her eyes when she laid down the three letters, after twice reading the one signed, "For ever your devoted old chum, Kell."  It had been full of the good times she was having at home.

Eugenia looked around the elegantly furnished room with a discontented sigh. No girl in the school had as much spending money as herself, or as wealthy and as indulgent a father, and yet --- just at that moment --- she felt herself the poorest child in New York. There was one thing she lacked that even the poorest beggar had, she thought bitterly, --- companionship. In a listless sort of way she picked up the remaining letter, postmarked Lloydsboro Valley, and began to read it.

Eliot, who was busy in the adjoining room, heard an excited exclamation, and then the call, "Oh, Eliot, Eliot! Come here, quick!" She was stooping over the bed inspecting some clean clothes that had been sent in from the laundry. Before she could straighten herself up to answer the call, her elbows were seized from behind, and Eugenia began waltzing her around backwards at a rate that made her head spin.

"Dance! You giddy old thing!" cried Eugenia. "Whoop and make a noise and act as if you are glad ! We are going to get out of our cage next week. I'm invited to a house party. We are to spend a whole month in a house, not a hotel. We're going to be part of a real live family in a real sure enough home, --- in an old Southern mansion."

Goodness gracious, Miss Eugenia," panted Eliot, as she staggered into a chair and settled her cap on her head. "You a'most scared me out of me five wits, you were that sudden in your movements. I thought for a bit as you had gone stark mad. You gave me quite a turn, you did."

Eugenia laughed. "I had to let off steam in some way," she said; "and really, Eliot, you can't imagine how glad I am. They're cousins of papa's, you know, the Shermans are. I used to know Lloyd when they lived in New York. We played together every day, and fussed --- my eyes, how we fussed!  But that was before she could talk plain, and she must be eleven now, for she's about two years younger than I am."

Perching herself on the bed among piles of snowy linen, Eugenia clasped her hands around her knees and began to tell all she could remember of the Little Colonel. Because there was no one else to confide in, she confided in the maid. Patient old Eliot listened to much family history that did not interest her and which she immediately forgot, and to many girlish rhapsodies over "Cousin Elizabeth," whom Eugenia declared was the dearest thing that ever drew the breath of life.

As Eugenia talked on, idly rocking herself back and forth on the bed, Eliot sorted the linen with deft fingers, laying some of it away in drawers, sweet with dainty sachets, and putting some aside that needed a stitch or two. Presently, as she listened, she found herself taking more interest in the country place that Eugenia described than in anything she had heard of since she said good-bye to her dear little cottage home in England. She began to hope that Mr. Forbes would consent to Eugenia's accepting the invitation, and expressed that wish to Eugenia.

"Why, of course I am going! " exclaimed Eugenia, in surprise. "Whether papa wants me to or not! I shall answer Cousin Elizabeth's letter this very minute and accept the invitation before he comes home. Then if he makes a fuss it will be too late, and I can tease him into a good humour."

Bouncing off the bed, she went back to the sitting-room and sat down at her desk. When that letter was written, carefully, and in her best style, she dashed off three notes in an almost unreadable scrawl, to Mollie and Fay and Kell, telling them of her invitation and the delight it gave her. Then she wandered back to the bedroom where Eliot sat mending, and wandered restlessly around the room.

"How slow the time goes," she exclaimed, pausing in front of the mantel. "Two hours until papa will be here. I want to tell him about it, and ask for some more money. I need an extra allowance for this visit."

There was a little Dresden clock on the mantel; two cupids holding up a flower basket, from which swung a spray of roses that formed the pendulum.

"Two long hours," she fumed, scowling at the clock. "Hurry up, you old slow-poke," she cried, catching up the fragile little timepiece and shaking it until the pendulum rattled against the cupids' plump legs. "I can't bear to wait for things."

But life is mostly waiting, miss," said Eliot, with a solemn shake of her head. "You'll find that out when you are as old as I am. We wait for this and we wait for that, and first thing we know the years are gone, and we are standing with one foot in the gave, waiting for Death to lift us in."

Eugenia put her hands over her ears with a little scream. " Stop talking like that, Eliot," she cried. "I won't listen, and I won't spend my life waiting in that way. You may if you want to."

Running back to her sitting-room, she banged the door behind her to shut out the sound of Eliot's voice. The next hour she spent by the window, looking down on the shifting scenes of the streets below, --- the noisy New York streets, spread out like a giant picture-book before her. Then it began to grow dark, and lights twinkled here and there, and great letters of flame appeared as by magic across the fronts of buildings, and on the electric arches spanning the streets.

Eliot came and drew the curtains, and a glance at the little cupids told her it was time to dress for dinner.

"I'll wear my buttercup dress to-night, Eliot," said Eugenia, when her black hair had been carefully brushed and plaited in two long braids. "It always makes my eyes look so big and dark, somehow, and brings out the colour in my lips and cheeks."

"You are a young one to be noticing such things as that," said Eliot, under her breath. She wanted to say it aloud, but she only pursed her lips together as she got out the dress Eugenia had asked for. It was of some soft, clinging material, of the same sunny yellow that buttercups wear, and Eugenia knew very well how becoming it was to her brunette style of beauty. After she was dressed, she spun around before the pier-glass until she heard her father's step in the hall.

Although she had been so impatient for his coming, she said nothing about the invitation from Locust until they had gone down to dinner and were seated in the great dining-room together. She knew that that was not the way Mollie or Fay or Kell would have done. Any one of them would have rushed at her father the moment he came in sight, and would have put her arms around his neck and poured out the whole story. But Eugenia had never felt on such intimate terms with her father. She admired him extremely, and thought he was the handsomest man she had ever seen, but her love for him was of a selfish kind. So long as he indulged her and never opposed her will, she was a most dutiful little daughter, but as soon as his wishes crossed hers she pouted and sulked.

To her surprise, he made no objection to her accepting the invitation to the house party, except to say, half-laughingly, "Don't you think you are a little selfish to want to run off and leave me alone when I've scarcely seen you all winter?" Then he laughed outright as she made a saucy little grimace in answer. He would miss her very much when she was gone, for she was a bright little thing and amused him, but he had a feeling of relief as well to think that a month of her vacation would be pleasantly occupied. She had been so discontented away from her little friends.

After dinner they strolled into an alcove, screened from the hall by great pots of palms, and sat down to listen to the music, and watch the people passing back and forth. It was a gay scene. Ladies in elaborate evening gowns passed out with their escorts to the opera, or waited for the carriages that were to take them later to balls or receptions. Everywhere there was the gleam of white shoulders, the nodding of jewelled aigrettes, the flashing of diamond tiaras. Above it all rose the odour of flowers, the hum of voices and the music of violins.

Mr. Forbes, smiling through half-closed eyelids at this passing of Vanity Fair, looked down at Eugenia. She was leaning forward in a picturesque pose against the arm of her high-backed chair. The light fell softly on her pale yellow gown and her dusky hair. The red lips were parted in a smile as she watched the pretty pageant, and there was a bright colour in her cheeks.

Mr. Forbes was proud of his handsome little slaughter. He admired her ease of manner, and boasted that she was as self-possessed under all circumstances as any grown woman he knew. It pleased him to have his friends predict that she would be a brilliant social success. He was doing everything in his power to make her that, and yet --- sometimes --- a vague fear crossed his mind that she was growing cold and selfish. Sometimes she seemed far too old and worldly-wise for a child of her age. He sighed as he looked at her. They were sitting so near each other that his hand rested on the arm of her chair. Yet he felt that they had grown widely apart in their long absences.

"What are you thinking about, Eugenia?" he asked, suddenly. She turned with a little start.

"Oh, I had forgotten that you were there!" she exclaimed. "I was thinking of Locust, and how glad I would be to get away from this tiresome place. It's such a bore to do the same thing night after night, and always watch the same kind of people."

A shadow crossed his face, but she did not see it. She had turned back to her day-dreams in which he had no part. Happy little day-dreams, of what was to come with the coming June.

Chapter 2        Chapter 4 >

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