The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 7: Bits From Betty's Diary

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

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

CHAPTER VII
BITS FROM BETTY'S DIARY

"THE LOCUSTS," June 4, 1900.

THIS morning when I sat down at my writing-desk to finish a letter to Davy, I found this little blank book, bound in white kid, with my initials on the back in gold letters. When I first came, godmother heard me wishing that I could put a slice of my good times away in a box every day, and save it to take home and enjoy afterward, as people do fruit-cake sometimes, after Christmases and weddings. So she has given me this pretty white book, and every day while I am in this House Beautiful I shall write something in it with this darling little pearl-handled pen.

Even if I should live to be a grandmother, I am sure I shall never be too old to enjoy reading the account of what we did at this house party. So far I am the only guest. The others will be here in a few days. They have so much farther to travel than I had.

Cousin Hetty would say that I "am eating my white bread now,"  for it is nothing but play from morning until night.

At first it seemed so strange, --- no beds to make, no dishes to wash, no churning to do. I like the evenings best of all. Then we sit on the porch in the twilight, and godmother talks about mamma. I never knew anything about her before, for I was so little when she died; but now she seems so real to me and so sweet.

Then we go into the long drawing-room, and the wax tapers are lighted. Godmother says she always intends to use candlelight in that room, because it would spoil some of its quaint old-time charm to use modern lights. And she plays on the piano, and Lloyd on the harp. Lloyd is only learning, and godmother doesn't seem to think much of her playing, but to me the music they make seems almost heavenly. They forget that the only music that I am used to hearing, except what the birds make, is humped out of the wheezy little organ at church.

I could sit up all night to listen to them. It makes me feel so strange that I hardly know how to describe it, --- as if I were away off from everything, and high up, where it is wide and open, and where the stars are. It makes me want to write. All sorts of beautiful thoughts come to me, that I can almost put into words. But they are like will-o'-the-wisps. When I get to the place with my rhyme, where I saw them shining, they are still beyond my reach.

JUNE 5th.

Rob Moore came over to-day, and he and Lloyd and I went fishing.

We carried our lunch with us, and ate it on a big rock that sticks up like a sort of island in the middle of the creek. We had to take off our shoes and stockings to wade out to it, and after we got there the rock was hardly big enough to hold the basket and all of us comfortably. We had to hold fast with one hand and grab for our sandwiches with the other.

It was lots of fun, for Rob and Lloyd kept saying such funny things that we laughed all the time. I don't know how it happened, but we got to laughing so hard that Lloyd choked on a piece of chicken. We began pounding her on the back to help her get her breath, and all of a sudden off we went from the rock into the creek --- kersplash!

It wasn't deep enough to hurt us, but we did look so funny when we stood up as wet as three frogs, and wiped the water out of our eyes. We laughed so hard we could scarcely fish the basket out of the creek and wade to shore. The basket was the only thing we caught except a turtle; Rob got that, and Lloyd made him let it go again.

Of course our tumble into the water ended the fishing for to-day, for we all had to hurry home for dry clothes. But Rob came back again in the afternoon, and he and Lloyd have been giving me my first lesson in lawn-tennis.

JUNE 6th.

Joyce came to-day on the noon train. She has the blue room across the hall from mine. It suits her for she is a blonde like Lloyd, but her hair doesn't curl any. It is just soft and wavy, and hangs in two long braids below her waist. Her eyes are gray with long dark lashes, and while she isn't exactly pretty, she has a face that you like to keep looking at. It is so bright and jolly, as if she was always thinking funny things, and having a good time all to herself.

She came all the way alone, and didn't mind it a bit although she had to change cars twice, and was all night on the sleeping-car. She brought a sketch book in her satchel that is almost full of pictures she drew on the train. There is one that is so funny. It is the head of an old man, gone to sleep with his mouth open. She wrote under that one, "As others see us."  Then she drew two cunning babies playing peek-a-boo in the aisle. She called that "Innocence abroad." There are ever so many more that godmother says are really clever, and remarkably well done for a girl of thirteen. I thought they were perfect.

It didn't take long to get acquainted with Joyce. She has been here only a part of a day, and already I feel as if I had known her always.

JUNE 7th.

It was nearly six o'clock yesterday when Eugenia came. Godmother and Lloyd drove down to the station to meet her, but Joyce and I walked up and down under the locusts, wondering what she would be like.

We could hardly wait for the carriage to come, we were so eager to know. I couldn't tell what it was about her, but somehow, when she stepped out of the carriage and shook hands with us, she made me feel awkward and shy and out of place. Maybe it was because she had such a grown-up manner and seemed so young-ladified, although she is only Joyce's age. Then she spoke in such a superior sort of way to her maid, when she ordered her to follow up-stairs with the satchels.

They went straight to the green room to dress for dinner, and Joyce and I locked arms again, and strolled down to the gate. Joyce asked me what I thought of her. I told her that I would be thankful to the end of time that I got here first. Seeing her arrive in such a stylish travelling suit, gloves, and Knox hat, and carrying such a handsome leather bag, opened my eyes to the way I must have looked when I came. It tickled Joyce, the way I described myself, travelling in a sunbonnet and carrying my belongings in an old-fashioned willow basket.

She gave my chin a soft nip and kissed me on each cheek, and said, "You funny little Bettykins! As if it made any difference to your friends what you wore."

I told her I believed it would make a difference to Eugenia, and she thought, too, that maybe it might. Then I told her I believed that was why godmother gave me the enchanted necklace before she came, so that I wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Joyce had not heard about the necklace, so I showed her my gold beads and told her their story. She thought it was lovely of godmother to make the fairy tale come true, but she advised me not to tell Eugenia. Girls who always travel in private cars and have everything they wish for, she said, can't understand what it means to be poor. Then she told me about a box that her Cousin Kate had sent her, and how good it made everybody in the little brown house feel, when it came.

JUNE 8th.

We had the grandest surprise this morning. Lloyd came up to the house soon after breakfast, on Tarbaby, leading her mother's riding horse, a graceful little bay mare. Behind her came one of the coloured men leading two ponies, so that we could all have a ride. The bay mare was for Eugenia, who is a fine horsewoman. She learned in a New York riding-school. The ponies were for Joyce and me. Mr. Sherman had them sent out from Louisville after he went away, for us to use all the time we are here.

One of the ponies is named Calico, because he is marked so queerly. His hair grows in such funny little streaks and stripes and patches that he looks as if he had been painted that way on purpose. He was a clown pony in a circus one time, and is supposed to know a lot of tricks. Joyce wanted him because he is so gentle, and she had never ridded any before. She didn't mind his ridiculous looks. So Lad fell to my share, --- a pretty brown one that is as easy as a rocking-horse after the stiff-jointed old farm-horses that I am used to bouncing around on at home.

They were all ready to start, so we went galloping down to Judge Moore's after Rob, and the five of us raced all over the valley till nearly lunch-time. It was grand. The dust flew, and people ran to the windows when we went by, as if we had been a circus.

We did have a sort of circus when we passed by Taylor's grove. A Butchers' Union had come out from town for a big picnic, and they had a brass band with them. It struck up a waltz just as we reached the grove, and Joyce's pony, Calico, began turning around and around as if he had lost his senses. Joyce screamed and threw her arms around his neck, frightened almost to death until Rob called out that Calico was dancing, and for her to hang on and see what he would do. What he did was to stand on his hind legs and dump Joyce off into the middle of the road.

She sat there in the dust, too astonished to move, until Rob helped her up, and then they both leaned against the fence to laugh at Calico's antics. He was so funny. He kept up his performances until the music stopped. Then he walked over to Rob and held up his fore foot to shake hands, as if he wanted to be congratulated. The music of the band seemed to have brought back all his old tricks to his memory. I didn't suppose that Joyce would mount him again, but she did. Rob called to the men and asked them please not to play again until we were out of hearing, and we rode off.

JUNE 9th

I don't believe that I could ever love Eugenia very dearly, because she makes me feel uncomfortable so often. She has a way of looking down on you that would rile anybody. But she is a fascinating sort of girl, when she wants to be friendly and entertaining. We have been in her room all morning, listening to her talk.

It must be grand to live in one of the biggest hotels in the world, and see all the sights she sees. I imagine it is a sort of a palace. She showed us the picture of her three best friends at school. It is in a big silver locket set with sapphires, and hangs over a corner of her mirror. We heard a great deal of them this morning. She seems to think more of that Mollie and Fay and Kell than she does of her father.

It is funny that when you are with Eugenia you can't help feeling the same way she does about what she's telling; that it is right to break the rules and skip recitations and torment the teachers and play jokes on the girls not in their set. She seems to have a great influence over Lloyd. I don't believe godmother would like it if she knew how much. Already Lloyd has promised to tease her father and mother into letting her go to New York next fall, to enter Eugenia's school. She told us that it is very select, and said, "You know sometimes schools that advertise themselves as being awfully select are no better than those horrid public schools, for they take anybody who applies, no matter how common they are."

Joyce asked her why she called public schools horrid and she answered in such a disgusted, patronsing way, "Oh, nobody who is anybody would go to public school."

That made Joyce mad, and she told her that she went to one and that she was proud of it; that where she lived public schools were considered better than the private ones. They had better teachers and more progressive methods; and she said she wouldn't give up the Plainsville High School for all the select seminaries in New York.

Then Eugenia drawled in such a bored tone, "Oh, wouldn't you! Well, maybe you wouldn't, being from the West, you know. I've always heard it spoken of out there as wild and woolly, and I suppose it is all a matter of taste."

Then she gave a provoking little laugh, and began to hum a tune, as if public schools and people who went to them were too common for her to think about. Joyce looked out of the window with a sort of don't-care expression, and said something in French. Of course I couldn't understand it, but she told me afterward that it was a well-known proverb about the opinion of a wise fool.

Eugenia was so astonished! She did not know that Joyce can speak French. She has a way of using it herself all the time when she talks. She is always throwing in a French word or sentence that Lloyd and I can't understand. Joyce laughed about it to me the first day she came, and said Eugenia is just as apt to use the wrong word as the right one. This was the first time that Joyce had spoken French, and Eugenia was so surprised she couldn't help showing it, and asked her why she had never said anything before in that language. Joyce told her that her teacher never allowed her to mix the languages. She said it was in bad taste to do so in speaking to people who only understood one; that it seemed affected, or as if the person wanted to show off how much she knew.

Then that made Eugenia mad, and she asked her in a spiteful way if it was a public school teacher that told her that and said she didn't know that they taught French out West. Joyce said yes, that they did, but that of course a year abroad was quite a help and that before she left France they told her that her accent was quite Parisian.

That took the wind out of Eugenia's sails. She did not know that Joyce had been abroad. She is crazy to go herself, but that is the one thing that her father will not humour her in. He says that she must wait until she is older, and he has time to go with her himself. All her friends have been, and it seemed to mortify her that Joyce was ahead of her there She hasn't put on any airs with Joyce since, although she still does with me.

This is a great deal of nonsense to write in my ''Good times" book, but I have put it in to explain why we have paired off as we have. Joyce and I go together now, and Eugenia and Lloyd. Eugenia flatters her all the time, and never says hateful things to her as she does to us, and Lloyd thinks that Eugenia is perfection.

Some letters came this afternoon, --- a whole handful for Eugenia, written on handsome linen paper and sealed with pretty monogram seals. I had a letter, too. The first one since I have been here. It was from Davy and printed in big tipsy letters that straggled all over the page. There were only a few lines, but I knew how long the little fellow must have worked over them, gripping the pencil tight in his hard little fist. I was so proud of it, Davy's first letter, that I passed it around for the girls to see. Lloyd and Joyce were interested and amused, and laughed as I had done over the dear crooked letters; but Eugenia was in one of her high and mighty moods, and she only lifted those black eyebrows in that indifferent way of hers, and tossed it back.

"What awfully queer letter-paper," she said. "Ruled! I didn't know that anybody ever wrote on ruled paper nowadays, but servants. Eliot always does, but it's so common to use it, you know."

I could hardly keep the tears back to have her make fun of poor little Davy's letter. For a few minutes I was so homesick that I wished I was back with Davy in the plain old farmhouse, where it doesn't make any difference whether there are lines on your paper or not, or any such silly things as that. Everybody uses ruled paper there, for that matter' because Squire Jaynes doesn't sell any other kind. What difference does it make, anyhow, I should like to know?

I went off to my own room with the letter, and Joyce followed me and found me crying. She made a face out of the window at Eugenia, and told me never to mind what anybody said. There was a big wide world outside of Eugenia's set with its silly airs and graces, and sensible people made fun of them. Then she offered to illustrate my answer to Davy's letter, and drew a picture of Calico and Lad at the top of the page, and Lloyd's parrot at the bottom. That reminded me to tell him some funny things the parrot had said, and in writing them I got over my homesickness.

Eugenia has a crest on her paper, because some one of her great-great-great-grandfathers' almost back to Noah, was a lord. But it doesn't make her remember to act like a lady. She ought to be made to learn the lines that were in my copy-book once

"Kind hearts are more than coronets'
And simple faith than Norman blood."

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