The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 6: The Enchanted Necklace

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

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

 

CHAPTER VI
TILE ENCHANTED NECKLACE

SEVERAL days after Betty's arrival, the Little Colonel went into her mother's room with a troubled face.

"Mothah," she said, anxiously, "what are we goin' to do about the lawn fete at Anna Moore's this afternoon? Elizabeth hasn't a thing to weah but that lawn dress that she has put on every evenin' since she came, and it isn't fresh enough. I can't lend her anything because I'm not quite as tall as she is, and my clothes would be too short. What is she goin' to do?"

"Ah, that is my secret, little daughter," answered Mrs. Sherman, with a smile. "What do you suppose I spent that hot morning in town for, the day after she came, and why, do you think have I driven over so many times to see Miss Dean? I have made at least six trips there."

"Was it to get some clothes made for Elizabeth ? " asked Lloyd. A little expression of doubt showed in the anxious pucker of her forehead. " But, mothah' she is awfully proud if she is poah. Aren't you afraid of hurtin' her feelin's?"

"There are a great many ways of giving gifts, little daughter. If I provided her with clothes in a way to make her feel that I thought hers were too mean to be worn in my house, and that I was ashamed to have a guest of mine present such an appearance, that would naturally hurt her pride; but I have thought of a way that I am sure will please her. If you will call her up-stairs in a few minutes, I will show you. Where is she now?"

"Readin' on the stair landin'. At least she was when I came up. She was in the window-seat."

"Then wait until I take something into her room. I'll tell you when I am ready, and you may call her up."

Lloyd hung over the banister in the upper hall until she heard a whispered "Ready;" then she called:  "Come up heah, Elizabeth, mothah wants us a minute in yo' room."

Mrs. Sherman was sitting by an open window with some sewing in her lap, when Lloyd and Betty skipped into the white and gold room. Betty had a book in her hand with her finger between the closed pages, to keep the place.

"Elizabeth," said Mrs. Sherman, "do you remember the story of the enchanted necklace that was in a book of fairy tales I sent you once?"

" Oh, yes!" cried Betty. "That is one of my I favourite stories. I have read it twenty times, I am sure, and told it to Davy until he almost knows it by 1 heart."

"I wish you would tell it to Lloyd, please. She has never heard it, and I want to illustrate it for her after awhile."

Betty Began the StoryThe little girl willingly dropped down into a big chair full of cushions, and with her finger still marking the place in the book, Betty began the story:

"Once upon a time, near a castle in a lonely wood, there lived an orphan maiden named Olga. She would have been all alone in the world had it not been for an old woman who befriended her. This woman was an old flax-spinner, and lived in a humble thatched cottage near the castle She had taken pity on Olga when the little orphan was a helpless baby' and so kind had she always been that Olga had grown to maidenhood without feeling the lack of father, mother, brother, or sister. In all ways the old flax-spinner had taken their places.

Every morning Olga carried water from the spring, gathered the wild fruits of the woods, and spread the linen on the grass to bleach. This she did to help the old woman, for she had a good and grateful heart as well as a beautiful face.

"One day as Olga was wandering by the spring' searching for watercresses, the young prince of the castle rode by on his prancing charger. A snow-white plume waved in his hat, and a shining silver bugle hung from his shoulder, for he had been following the chase.

"He was thirsty and tired, and asked for a drink, but there was no cup from which to dip the water from the spring. But Olga caught the drops as they bubbled out from the spring, holding it in the hollow of her beautiful white hands, and, reaching up to where he sat, offered him the sparkling water. So gracefully was it done that the prince was charmed by her lovely face and modest manner, and, baring his head, when he had slaked his thirst he touched the white hands with his lips.

"Before he rode away he asked her name and where she lived. The next day a courier in scarlet and gold stopped at the door of the cottage and invited Olga to the castle. Princesses and royal ladies from all over the realm were to be entertained there, seven days and seven nights. Every night a grand ball was to be given, and Olga was summoned to each of the balls. It was on account of her pleasing manner and her great beauty that she had been bidden.

"The old flax-spinner curtsied low to the courier and promised that Olga should be at the castle without fail.

"'But, good dame,' cried Olga when the courier had gone, 'prithee tell me why thou didst make such a promise, when thou knowest full well this gown of tow is all I own? Wouldst have me stand before the prince in beggar's garb? Better to bide at home for aye than be put to shame before such guests.'

"'Have done, my child,' the old dame said. 'Thou shalt wear a court robe of the finest. Years have I toiled to give it thee, but that is naught. I loved thee as my own.'

"Then the old dame went into an inner room and pricked herself with her spindle until a great red drop of her heart's blood fell into her trembling hand. With witchery of words she blew upon it, and rolled it in her palm, and muttering, turned and turned and turned it. And as the spell was laid upon it, it shrivelled it into a tiny round ball like a seed, and she strung it on to a thread where were many others like it. Seventy times seven was the number of beads on this strange rosary. Then she laid it away until the time when it should be needed.

"When the night of the first ball rolled around, Olga combed her long golden hair and twined it with a wreath of snowy water-lilies, and then she stood before the old dame in her dress of tow. To her wonderment and grief she saw the old flax-spinner had no silken robe in waiting, only a string of beads which she clasped around Olga's white throat. Each bead in the necklace looked like a little shrivelled seed, and Olga's eyes were filled with tears of disappointment.

"'Obey me and all will be well,' said the old dame.

When thou reachest the castle gate clasp one bead in thy fingers and say

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

"'Straightway, right royally shalt thou be clad. Thou hast been a good daughter to me, and thus I reward thee. But remember carefully the charm. Only to the magic words, "For love's sweet sake," will the necklace give up its treasures. If thou shouldst forget, then must thou be doomed alway to bear thy gown of tow.'

"So Olga sped on her moon-lighted way through the forest until she came to the castle gate. There she paused, and grasping a bead of the strange necklace between her fingers, repeated the old dame's charm

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

"Immediately the bead burst with a little puff, as if a seed pod had snapped asunder. A faint perfume surrounded her, rare and subtle as if it had been blown across from some flower of Eden. Olga looked clown and found herself enveloped in a robe of such delicate texture that it seemed soft as a rose leaf, and as airy as the pink clouds that sometimes float across the sunset. The water-lilies in her hair had become a coronal of opals.

"When she entered the great ballroom, the prince of the castle started up from his throne in amazement. Never before had he seen such a vision of loveliness. 'Surely,' said he, 'some rose of Paradise hath found a soul and drifted earthward to blossom here.' And all that night he had eyes for none but her.

"The next night Olga started again to the castle in her dress of tow, and at the gate she grasped the second bead in her fingers, repeating the charm. This time the pale yellow of the daffodils seemed to have woven itself into a cloth of gold for her adorning. It was like a shimmer of moonbeams' and her hair held the diamond flashings of a hundred tiny stars.

"That night the prince paid her so many compliments and singled her out so often to bestow his favours, that Olga's head was turned. She tossed it proudly, and quite scorned the thought of the humble cottage which had given her shelter so long. The next day, when she had returned to her gown of tow, and was no longer a haughty court lady, but only Olga, the flax-spinner's maiden, she repined at her lot. Frowning she carried the water from the spring. Frowning she gathered the cresses and plucked the woodland fruit. And then she sat all day by the spring, refusing to spread the linen on the grass to bleach.

"She was discontented with the old life of toil, and pouted crossly because duties called her when she wanted to do nothing but sit idly dreaming of the gay court scenes in which she had taken a bright, brief part. The old flax-spinner's fingers trembled as she spun, when she saw the frowns, for she had given of her heart's blood to buy happiness for the maiden she loved, and well she knew there can be no happiness where frowns abide. She felt that her years of sacrifice had been in vain.

"That night outside the castle gate Olga paused. She had forgotten the charm. The day's discontent had darkened her memory as storm clouds darken the sky. But she grasped her necklace imperiously.

"'Deck me at once!' she cried, in a haughty tone. 'Clothe me more beautifully than mortal maid was ever clad before, so that I may find favour in the prince's sight and become the bride of the castle. I would that I were done for ever with the spindle and the distaff.'

"But the moon went under a cloud and the wind began to moan around the turrets. The black night hawks in the forests flapped their wings warningly, and the black bats flitted low around her head.

"'Obey me at once!' she cried, angrily, stamping her foot and jerking at the necklace. But the string broke and the beads went rolling away in the darkness in every direction, and were lost. All but one, which she held clasped in her hand.

"Then Olga wept at the castle gate; wept outside in the night and the darkness, in her beggar's garb of tow. But after awhile, through her sobbing, stole the answering sob of the night wind. 'Hush-sh!' it seemed to say. 'Sh-sh! Never a heart can come to harm, if the lips but speak the old dame's charm.'

"The voice of the night wind sounded so much like the voice of the old flax-spinner that Olga was startled and looked around wonderingly. Then suddenly she seemed to see the little thatched cottage and the bent form of the lonely old woman at the wheel. All the years in which the good dame had befriended her seemed to rise up in a row, and out of each one called a thousand kindnesses as with one voice: 'How canst thou forget us, Olga? We were done for thee, for love's sweet sake and that alone.'

"Then was Olga sorry and ashamed that she had been so proud and forgetful, and she wept again. The tears seemed to clear her vision, for now she saw plainly that through no power of her own could she wrest strange favours from fortune. Only the power of the old charm could make them hers. She remembered it then, and holding fast to the one bead in her hand, she repeated, humbly

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

"Lo, as the words left her lips, the moon shone out from behind the clouds above the dark forest. There was a fragrance of lilies all about her, and a gossamer gown floated around her, whiter than the whiteness of the fairest lily. It was fine, like the finest lace that the frost-elves weave, and softer than the softest ermine of the snow. On her long golden hair gleamed a coronet of pearls.

"So beautiful, so dazzling was she as she entered the castle door, that the prince came down to meet her, and kneeling' kissed her hand, and claimed her as his bride. Then came the bishop in his mitre, and led her to the throne, and before them all the flax-spinner's maiden was married to the prince, and made the Princess Olga.

"Then, until the seven days and seven nights were done, the revels lasted in the castle. And in the merriment the old flax-spinner was again forgotten. Her kindness of the past, her loneliness in the present, had no part in the thoughts of the Princess Olga.

"But the beads that had rolled away into the darkness buried themselves in the earth, and took root and sprang up. There at the castle gate they bloomed, a strange, strange flower, for on every stem hung a row of little bleeding hearts.

"One day the Princess Olga, seeing them from her window, went down to them in wonderment.  'What do you here?' she cried, for in her lonely forest life she had learned all speech of bird and beast and plant.

"'We bloom for love's sweet sake,' they answered.

We have sprung from the old flax-spinner's gift, --- the necklace thou didst break and scatter. From her heart's best blood she gave it, and her heart still bleeds to think she is forgotten.'

"Then they began to tell the story of the old dame's sacrifices, all the seventy times seven that she had made for the sake of the maiden, and Olga grieved as she listened, that she could have been so ungrateful. Then she brought the prince to listen to the story of the strange, strange flowers, and when he had heard, together they went to the lowly cottage and fetched the old flax-spinner to the castle, there to live out all her days.

"And still the flowers that we call bleeding hearts bloom on by cottage walls and castle gardens, reminding us how often 'tis through hearts that bleed for love's sweet sake we reach our happiness."

Betty came to the end of the story and paused, smiling, while the Little Colonel, who had listened with one arm around her mother's neck, waited for what was to follow.

Mrs. Sherman took up a little box that had been lying in her lap under the sewing, and lifted something out of the jeweller's cotton it contained.

"Elizabeth," she asked, motioning the child toward her, "do you suppose the Princess Olga's necklace was anything like this?" What she held up was a string of little gold beads.

"Oh, they are almost like mine," cried Lloyd, fingering them admiringly. Before Betty realised what was coming, she found them clasped on her neck, and Mrs. Sherman was saying: "It isn't made out of my heart's blood by any means, and it will not lead you to any Prince Charming, but it is my privilige as godmother to lay a spell on them. Let's see how it will work. Go over to that little trunk of yours in the comer, dear, and lay your hand on it. Now shut your eyes while you repeat Olga's charm, and see what will happen."

Delighted by this dramatising of the old tale, Betty scrambled to her feet, ran across the room, and laid her hand on top of the shabby little leather trunk.

Shutting her eyes so tight that her nose wrinkled up like a kitten's, while her mouth smiled broadly, she repeated the rhyme:

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

As she opened her eyes, Lloyd, obeying a whisper from her mother, threw back the lid of the trunk. All that Betty could utter, as she looked, within, was a long-drawn cry of surprise: "Oh-oo-oo!"

There, inside, lay a pile of light summer dresses' some white, and the rest in as many tints of pale pinks and blues and buffs and lilacs as could be found in a bunch of fresh sweet peas. Below were glimpses of linen and lace and embroidery, and in the top tray two pretty hats. One trimmed simply with rosettes of ribbon, the other a broad-brimmed leghorn with a wreath of forget-me-nots.

One look into Betty's face was enough reward for Mrs. Sherman. It was ample return for all the trouble she had taken. What was the money expended and the discomforts of that tiresome morning that she shopped in town, or the many trips to the dressmaker's, compared to the rapture in Betty's shining eyes? Mrs. Sherman had never seen such happiness, or heard such a gladness in a voice as when Betty cried out, "Oh, godmother! Are you a witch? It is too good to be true. I thought I was coming to an ordinary house party, and I've walked straight into a real, live fairy tale! Oh, I can never thank you enough! Never, never, never." She threw her arms around her godmother's neck and kissed her again and again.

Presently leaving Betty to gloat over her treasures by herself, Lloyd followed Mrs. Sherman out of the room. "Now I see what you meant, mothah," she said, "about the different ways of givin' things. It can't hurt anybody's pride if you make them feel that you give it for love's sweet sake. That was a beautiful way you did it, mothah, and I'll never fo'get it."

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