The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 10: Found Out

 

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

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

CHAPTER X
FOUND OUT

"WHAT makes everybody so snarly this morning?" asked Joyce, looking around on the circle of moody faces. The four girls had been lounging in hammocks and chairs under the trees for several hours, and in all that time scarcely a civil word had been spoken.

"There isn't any reason why we should be cross," Joyce went on. "It's a glorious day, we've had a delicious breakfast and a good ride, and there is the tissue-paper party at Sally Fairfax's to-night to look forward to. But in spite of it all I feel so mean and cross that I want to scratch somebody."

Betty looked up from her book and laughed. " I don't feel snarly, but I've been wondering ever since breakfast what had happened to make you all out of sorts. Lloyd looks as if she had been eating sour pickles, and Eugenia has snapped at everybody who has spoken to her this morning."

"That's a story! " exclaimed Eugenia, tartly, with such a frown that Lloyd began singing in a tantalising tone, "Crosspatch, draw the latch, sit by the fire and spin."

" Oh, hush up! " exclaimed Eugenia, crossly.

"Why, Lloyd," said Mrs. Sherman, coming up just then in time to hear Lloyd's song and Eugenia's answer, "you are surely not teasing one of your guests! I am surprised! "

To every one's astonishment, Lloyd flopped over in the hammock, and, covering her face with her arm, began to cry.

"What is the matter, little daughter?" asked Mrs. Sherman, in alarm, sitting down in the hammock beside her and stroking the short soft hair soothingly. She had never known Lloyd to be so sensitive to a slight reproof.

"Mother didn't mean to scold her little girl. I was only surprised to hear you saying anything unpleasant to a guest of yours."

"You-you'd have said it, too! " sobbed the Little Colonel, "if Eu-Eugenia had been so mean to you all mawnin'! She's been t-talkin so hateful and cross --- "

"I have not!" cried Eugenia. "You began it, and you have tried to pick a quarrel ever since we came out here, and Joyce has kept nagging at me, too. You've both made me feel so miserable and unhappy that I wish I'd never set eyes on you and your horrid old Kentucky!"
Here, to Mrs. Sherman's still greater surprise, Eugenia fumbled for her handkerchief and began mopping up the tears that were streaming down her face.

"Really, girls, I am distressed!" exclaimed Mrs. Sherman. "Is there anything serious the matter that you have been quarrelling about, or are you only ill and nervous?"

"I nevah was so mizzible in all my life," said Lloyd. "My throat is soah and my eyes ache, and I can't help cryin' if anybody looks at me."

"That's just the way I feel," said Eugenia, still dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief, " and my head aches, besides."

"I think we are all three taking bad colds," said Joyce, from her bammock. "I haven't reached the crying stage yet, but I'm fast on the way toward it. Betty will be the only one able to go to the party to-night, and our tissue-paper dresses are so pretty."

Mrs. Sherman looked from one flushed face to another with a puzzled expression. "I don't know what to think," she said, "but if I were not sure that you have been no place where you possibly could have been exposed, I should be afraid that you are all taking the measles. Doctor Fuller told me the other day that there are several children in the gypsy camp down with it, and one poor little baby had died. It didn't have proper attention. Why, what is the matter, girls?" Mrs. Sherman paused, having seen a startled glance pass from Lloyd to Eugenia.

"Surely you haven't been near any of those people, have you? Passed them on the road, or met them at the station at any time?"

There was a long pause in which nobody answered, and in which Betty could hear her heart beat fast.

"Lloyd, answer me," insisted Mrs. Sherman.

"Eu-Eugenia won't l-let me! " sobbed the Little Colonel. "She made us all p-promise not to tell."

Eugenia's face turned pale, but she lifted her head defiantly as Mrs. Sherman turned to her, calling her name.

"What is the trouble, child? You surely didn't go to the camp that morning when I warned you not to?"

"Yes, we did," answered Eugenia, a little frightened now by the expression of Mrs. Sherman's face, but still defiant.

" When was it?"

"About a week ago, I think. I don't remember exactly."

"It's been nine days," said Betty, counting her fingers. " I remember it because it was the day before the picnic at the old mill."

"And there was a sick baby in the tent when we went in to have our fortunes told," added Joyce. "It lay in the old woman's lap all the time she held my hand, and it kept turning its head from side to side, and fretting in a weak little voice as if it didn't have strength to cry hard. That must have been the poor little thing that died."

And you all went into that tent and all let that old woman hold your hands?" asked Mrs. Sherman, looking around from one to another with a distressed face.

"No, mothah," cried the Little Colonel, "Betty didn't go, and she tried to keep us from goin'. She said you wouldn't like it."

A loving smile of unspoken approval, that made Betty heart glow with pleasure, lighted Mrs. Sherman's face for an instant. Then she turned to the others.

Well, I'll send for Doctor Fuller immediately. If it proves to be the measles, we will turn the house into a hospital at once. If the old saying is true hat misery loves company, then you ought to he a contented quartette."

"Oh, I've already had the measles," said Betty, quickly, "two years ago."

"Then I'm glad that you will not have to suffer for the disobedience of the others," answered her godmother. "It has brought its own punishment this time, so I'll not add a scolding. I'll leave the, measles, if that's what it turns out to be, to preach you a sermon on the text, 'Be sure your sin will find you out.' "

Sally Fairfax welcomed no guests from Locust that night at her party, for the doctor made his visit and pronounced his verdict. No parties for many a long day. Lloyd and Eugenia and Joyce had the measles, and nobody would want Betty to come for fear of the contagion.

Mrs. Sherman and Eliot and Mom Beck went from one darkened room to another with hot lemonade, and Betty was left to roam about the place by herself. Once she slipped into the sewing-room where the tissue-paper costumes were laid out in readiness beside the dainty little flower-shaped bats. Joyce's was patterned after a pale blue morning-glory, and Eugenia's a scarlet poppy. Lloyd's looked like a pink hyacinth, and Betty's a daffodil.

"It's too bad," mourned Betty, tilting the graceful daffodil blossom of a hat on her brown curls, and admiring it in the mirror. "I haven't got the measles, and this is so sweet, it's a pity not to wear it somewhere."

Late that evening she heard the Little Colonel grumbling : "Well, this is a house pahty suah enough, I must say! Heah we are in the house, and heah we'll stay and miss all the fun. I don't like this kind of a house pahty!"

"Nevah mine, honey," said Mom Beck. " It'll not be as bad as you think. The measles is done broke out on you beautiful --- as thick as hops."

"But I hate this dahk room," wailed the Little Colonel, "and it's so poky and tiahsome, and I am so hot and I ache all ovah --- "

Then Betty heard Mrs. Sherman go into the room, and the fretting ceased as her cool hand stroked the hot little forehead, and her voice began a slumber song. It was the "White Seal's Lullaby."

"'Oh, hush thee my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green."'

How often she had read it in her "Jungle Book," but she had no idea how beautiful it was until she heard it as her godmother was singing it. There was the slow, restful, swinging motion of the waves in that music; the coolness of the deep green seas. How quickly it took away the fever and the aching, and left the healing of sleep in its wake!

"'Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas."'

Betty, in her room across the hall, leaned her head against the window-sill and looked out into the darkness. There were tears in her eyes. "Oh," she whispered, with a quivering lip, "if I only had a mother to sing to me like that, I wouldn't mind having the measles or anything else!"

The worst was over in a few days, and then two cots were carried into Eugenia's room for Lloyd and Joyce to occupy during the day. The windows still had to be kept darkened, but the girls managed to find a great deal to amuse themselves with. They would not have fared so well had it not been for many an hour she spent in the dim room, when the summer was calling to her on every breeze to come out in its sunshine and be glad in its cheer. Many a game of checkers she played with the exacting invalids, when she longed to be riding over the country on Lad. And she read aloud by the single ray of light admitted through the shutters, and told stories until her voice was husky.

"It's fun, isn't it?" said Eugenia, one day when they were waiting for their lunch to be brought up. "I am always wondering what is coming next, for Cousin Elizabeth has never missed a day, sending up some surprise with our meals. It is a continual surprise-party."

"We'll be dreadfully spoiled," said Joyce, "like a little boy at home that I know. He insists on keeping Christmas the year around. As he is the only child, and they'd give him the moon if they could reach it, they let him hang up his stocking every night, and every morning there is a present in it for him."

"Cousin Elizabeth is spoiling us just the same way," said Eugenia. "Those little souvenir spoons she sent up with the chocolate yesterday are perfect darlings. I think the world of mine."

"I wonder what the surprise will be to-day," said Lloyd, as the jingling of silver and tinkling of ice in glasses sounded on the stairs.

"I know," said Betty, running to open the door the procession of tray bearers. "It is conundrum salad. I helped godmother make it."

Eliot, Mom Beck and the housemaid entered in solemn file, each bearing a tray containing a simple lunch, in the centre of which was a fancy plate containing a pile of crisp green lettuce.
"Isn't that a dainty dish to set before the king!" exclaimed Joyce, examining her conundrum salad. "Oh, girls, how that did fool me. I could have sworn that those were real lettuce leaves, and they are only paper. But what a clever imitation, and what a lot of conundrums written inside!"

"See if you can guess this one?" cried Eugenia. "Isn't it funny?" and she read a clever one that set them all to thinking. There was much laughter when they finally had to give it up, and she told them the answer.

"Now listen to this," said Lloyd next, and then it was Joyce's turn, and the lunch was eaten in the midst of much laughing and many bright remarks that the salad called forth.

"You wouldn't think that having measles was so funny," said Betty, when the trays had been carried out, "if you had had it the way I did. It was in the middle of harvest, so nobody had time to take care of me. Cousin Hetty had so much to do that she couldn't come up-stairs many times a day to wait on me. She'd just look in the door and ask if I wanted anything, and hurry away again. My little, room in the west gable was so hot. The sun beat against it all afternoon, and the water in the pitcher wouldn't stay cool. Sometimes I'd cry till my throat ached, wishing that I had a mother to sit beside me, and put her cool hands against my face, and rub my back when it ached, and sing me to sleep. And after I got better, and my appetite began to come back, I'd lie and watch the door for hours, it seemed to me, waiting for Cousin Hetty to come up with my meals. I'd think of all sorts of dainty things that I had read about, until my mouth watered. Then when she came, maybe there would be nothing but a cup of tea slopped all over the saucer, and a piece of burnt toast. Or maybe it would be a bowl of soup half cold, or too salty. Poor Cousin Hetty was so busy she couldn't bother to fix things for me. I couldn't help crying when she'd gone down-stairs. I'd be so disappointed.

"But the worst thing of all was what Davy did one day. He wanted to be kind and nice, and do something for me, so he went off to the pond, and sat there on the hot sunny bank all morning, trying to catch me a fish. To everybody's surprise he did catch one about eleven o'clock' -- a slimy-looking little catfish, --- and came running straight up to my room with it in his dirty little hands He smelled so fishy I could scarcely stand it, for it was the day I felt the very worst. But he didn't know that. He climbed up on the bed with it, and held it almost under my nose for me to see. He was so happy that his dirty little face was all one big smile. He kept saying, as he dangled it around, 'Ain't he pretty' Betty? I ketched him. I ketched him for you, 'cause you're sick.'

"Ugh! I can smell that fish yet! I smelled it all afternoon, for he took it down-stairs to have it cleaned and cooked. About one o'clock he came back up-stairs after I had had my lunch, and there he had it on a plate, fried up into a crisp. I couldn't have swallowed any of it, to save me, but I couldn't disappoint the little fellow when he had tried so hard to please me, so I had to ask him to leave it, and told him maybe I would feel more like eating after I had slept awhile. So he went out perfectly satisfied, and I lay there, growing sicker every minute from the smell of that fried fish. At last I gathered up strength enough to throw it out of the window to the cat, but the plate still smelled of it, and nobody came in to take it away until after dark.

Cousin Hetty was dreadfully worried when she found that Davy had been in my room, but he didn't take the measles, and that was the only time I saw him while I was sick. I was alone all the time. You can't imagine how doleful it was to stay in that hot dark room all day by myself."

"You poor little Bettykins!" sighed Joyce, sympathetically. "It's too bad you can't have the measles all over again with us, here at the house party. It really isn't a bit bad now. I am enjoying it immensely."

As she spoke there was the sound of a horse's hoofs in the avenue, and a moment later a shrill whistle sounded under the window.

" Hello, Measles," shouted a merry voice.

"It's Rob!" exclaimed Lloyd. "Hello yourself!" she called back, laughingly. "Come in and have some, won't you?"

"No, thank you," he answered. "You are too generous. But I say, Lloyd, let down a basket or something, won't you? I've got a surprise here for you all."

"Take .the scrap-basket, Betty," said Lloyd, excitedly pointing to a fancy little basket made of braided sweet grass and tied with many bows. " My skipping-rope is in the closet. You can let it down by that if you tie it to the handles."

A moment later Betty's smiling face appeared at the window, and the basket was lowered to the boy on the horse below.

"I can't reach it without standing up on the saddle," called Rob. "Whoa, there, Ben! Easy, old boy! " With feet wide apart to balance himself, Rob carefully dropped something from the basket he carried on his arm to the one that Betty dangled on a level with his eyes.

"One for you, too, Betty," the girls heard him say, but he had cantered off down the avenue before they discovered what it was he had left for them.

Betty carefully drew the basket in, fearful lest lie rope might slip, for "the surprise" was heavy. As she landed it safely and turned the basket over on the floor, out rolled four fat little fox-terrier puppies.

"What darlings!" cried Lloyd, springing off her cot to catch up one of the plump little things as it sprawled toward her on its awkward paws. "They are so much alike we'll never be able to tell them apart unless we tie different coloured ribbons on them. I'm going to name mine Bob after Robby, 'cause he gave them to us."

"Let's name them all that," said Betty. "We'll be taking them away to different places soon, so it will not make any difference." The suggestion was received with applause, and Eugenia sent Eliot to her trunk for a piece of pale green ribbon. " I'm going to have my Bob's necktie match my room," she said. "We'll all do that, too," said Joyce, and in a few minutes the four Bobs were frisking clumsily over the floor, in their respective bows of pink, yellow, blue and green. They afforded the girls entertainment all that afternoon, and in the evening there was another surprise.

In the starlight, when it was dark enough for the blinds and shutters to be all thrown open in their rooms, they heard a carriage coming down the avenue. It, too, stopped under the window, and in a moment they recognised the twang of Malcolm's banjo and Miss Allison's guitar. "It's a serenade"' called Eugenia. "What a good alto voice Keith has!"

It was an old college tune that rose on the air. Miss Allison had parodied the words of the peanut song:

Any fellow that has any mea-sles
And giveth his neighbour none,
He sha'n't have any of my measles
When his mea-sles are gone.
Oh, that will be joyful, joyful,
Oh, that will be joyful, when his mea-sles are gone

Then they sang, "My love is like the red, red rose" and "Pop goes the weasel, the queen's got the measles." They were all silly little ditties, but the personal allusions made them interesting to the girls, and there was a storm of applause from the upper windows after each one. Mrs. Sherman brought out cake and lemonade to the serenaders, and the girls hung out of the windows as far as they dared, to see what was going on below.

"If we only hadn't gone to that horrid old gypsy camp," lamented the Little Colonel, "we might be down there now, having a share of the good time. What are you all laughing at? " she called. "It is simply maddening to be up here and listen to you and not know."

Malcolm leaned out of the carriage to sing, teasingly, "Thou art so near and yet so far," adding, "Never mind, Lloyd, we'll come again to-morrow, and bring a travelling show with us. Look out for us early in the morning, before it begins to get hot."

"What do you suppose those boys are going to do?" asked Eugenia, as Lloyd drew in her head, and the carriage rolled off, the serenaders still singing

"I haven't the faintest idea. There's nothing to do but wait and see."

Although the question was asked several times that evening before bedtime, and the girls amused themselves for a quarter of an hour guessing what kind of a travelling show was to be brought by for their entertainment, not one of them thought of it again next morning. The doctor had decided that their eyes were well enough to bear the light, and, at his visit, threw open several of the blinds. Mrs. Sherman drove down to the station, and Mom Beck went to the servants' cottage. Only Eliot was left to keep an eye on the invalids, and she had been invited to bring her sewing and listen to a story that Betty was reading aloud. They had grown very fond of patient old Eliot, for she had been the kindest and best of nurses in their illness. The girls were all lounging around the room in wrappers, each with her own particular Bob in her lap.

The reading had gone on for about half an hour, when Eliot's sewing suddenly slid from her lap to the floor, and a queer rattle in her throat made every one look up in alarm. At first they thought that she must be having some kind of a fit. Her hands were thrown up, her mouth dropped open, there was a look of wild terror in her staring eyes, and her face was deathly It was terrifying to see a grown woman seem so frightened. She was pointing to the door, and, as their eyes followed her shaking finger, they forgot her fear in their own fright.

There, standing on its hind legs in the door, was an enormous bear, taller than any man they had ever seen. Its mouth was open, and a long red tongue hung out between its gleaming teeth. Trailing behind him was a heavy rope, that showed that he had broken away from some place of confinement.

There was one wild scream after another, as the girls sprang up, spilling the four Bobs out of their laps to the floor. Eugenia rolled under the bed in such mad haste that she bumped her head against the footboard, crying in an imploring tone as she disappeared, "Oh, don't eat me! Don't eat me!" Joyce scrambled up on a high chest of drawers, and from there to the top of the wardrobe, where she sat panting and looking down at the bear, who seemed surprised at his reception. After one frightened scream, Betty buried her head in a sofa pillow like a little ostrich, and made no attempt to escape. She seemed glued to her chair.

The Little Colonel, who had stumbled over all of the four Bobbies in her confusion, and fallen on top of them as she tried to scramble up from her knees, gave one more startled look at the intruder, and then sprang up with an angry cry. "It's that old tramp beah that belongs to Malcolm and Keith," she exclaimed, in a great passion. The girls had never seen her in such a fury.

"Get out of heah, mistah!" she shrieked, stamping her foot and scowling darkly. "This is the second time you have neahly frightened me to death! Get out of heah, I say, or I'll break every bone in yo' body" She had been so startled by Eliot's appearance and then the general outcry, that her nervousness passed into a rage. Picking up the book that Betty had been reading, she hurled it at the astonished bear with all her force. Eliot's workbasket followed next, and the pillows from the bed and sofa. Next she tore off her slippers, and sent them flying against the brown furry back now turned toward her. Not knowing what to make of such a shower of spools and needles, scissors, buttons, and wearing apparel, old Bruin dropped on all fours and ambled out of the doorway just as Lloyd caught up the water pitcher.

A panting little coloured boy met him on the stairs and caught up the rope trailing behind him. "He won't hurt you, Miss Lloyd"' he called, assuringly. "He b'long to Mistah Keith an' Mistah Malcolm. They done tole me to lead him up heah, and I stopped to shet the gate an' he broke away from me. They comin' 'long theyselves, toreckly. I b'lieve that's them a-comin' now. The beah ain't gwine to hurt you."

"Oh, I am not afraid of the beah," answered Lloyd, "but I hate to be surprised. It came walkin' in on us so easy that I didn't have time to see that it was only an old tame beah. It stood up on its hind legs lookin' twice as big as usual, and when everybody screamed and carried on so, I didn't know what I was doin'. As soon as I realised that it was the boys' pet I wasn't afraid, but it made me mad to be startled that way. And that's the second time it has happened."

"Is he gone?" asked Eugenia, poking her head slowly out from under the bed like a cautious turtle.

"Yes, Wash has him," answered the Little Colonel, laughing hysterically now that her temper had spent itself. "You girls look too funny for any use. Come down off your perch on that wardrobe, Joyce.

It was only an old pet that the boys bought from a tramp one time. They keep it up at 'Fairchance' the home that Mr. MacIntyre founded for little waifs and strays. I s'pose that is what Malcolm meant by a travellin' show. I might have thought of that, for they are always makin' it show off its tricks."

Eliot had found her voice by this time, and was sitting limply back in her chair with her hand over her heart. "If that is their travelling show," she said, weakly, "I wish they'd choose another road. I was that scared I couldn't have spoken a word if my life had depended on it; and all the time I was trying my hardest to scream. I thought it was a wild beast that had walked in from the woods to devour us all."

"But, Eliot," said the Little Colonel, still laughing, "you know we don't have wild beasts in these woods nowadays. There hasn't been any for yeahs and yeahs."

But Eliot shook her head doubtfully, and when the boys came up with a banjo and French harp to put the bear through his performances, she watched the dancing at a respectful distance. She was not at all sure about her safety after that, as long as she was in sight of the Kentucky woods. She could not be convinced that all sorts of ravenous beasts were not lurking in their shadows, and would not have been surprised at any time to have met a live Indian in war-paint and feathers.

Eugenia's frenzied wail became a byword, and for many days one had only to say, "Oh, don't eat me!" to start a peal of laughter.

 

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