The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 8: Euginia Joins The Search

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOLIDAYS
By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER VIII.
EUGENIA JOINS THE SEARCH.

CITY towers rise now in the steam of the bubbling caldron, smoky chimney tops and high roof gardens. The clang and roar and traffic of crowded streets jangle through the silver chiming of the magic bells.

Eugenia Forbes, sitting near an open window in one of the handsomest apartments of the Waldorf-Astoria, heard none of the city's noise, saw nothing of the panorama in the restless streets below. The bell-boy had just brought her a letter, and she was reading it aloud to her maid. Patient old Eliot had taken such a deep interest in all that belonged to Lloydsboro Valley since their journey to Locust, that it was a pleasure to confide in her. Even if Eugenia had had any one else to confide in, she could have found no one who had her interest at heart more than this sensible, elderly woman, who had taken care of her for so many years.

Eugenia had not gone back to boarding-school as a regular pupil. It had scarcely seemed worth while, since she was to leave so soon for her trip abroad. But Riverdale Seminary, being in the suburbs, was not such a great distance from the hotel but that she could go out every morning for her French lesson. Knowing that she would soon have practical use for the language, she was doing extra work in French, and taking a greater interest in it than she had ever shown before in any study.

If the three girls who had been her devoted  friends the year before had come back to Riverdale at the beginning of the term, she would have insisted on taking her place in the boarding-hall as a regular pupil, in order to be with them as long possible. But the summer vacation had brought many changes. The day that Eugenia reached New York on her return from the house party, a letter had come saying that Molly Blythe would never be back at the school. There had been an accident on the mountain where she had gone to spend the simmer with her family. A runaway team, a wild lash down the mountainside, and the merry picnic had ended in a sad accident. She was lying now in a long, serious illness that would either leave her a cripple for life, or take her away in a little while from the devoted family that was nearly distracted by the thought of losing her.

Kell, still in the Bermudas, was not coming back to school until after Christmas, and Fay, while she still called Eugenia her dearest, divided her affections with a blonde girl from Ohio. They had passed the summer on the same island in the St. Lawrence, and Eugenia felt that her place was taken by this stranger.

With Molly and Kell away, and Fay so changed, Eugenia would have lost all interest in the school, had it not been that she wanted to acquire as much French as possible before going abroad. In most things she was not so overbearing and thoughtless in her treatment of poor old Eliot, since her visit to Locust. The ring she wore was a daily reminder of the Road of the Loving Heart that she was trying to leave behind her in everybody's memory. But Eliot still found her patience sorely tried at times. Missing the girls at school, Eugenia was lonely, and wished a hundred times a day that she were back at the house party. Sometimes she grumbled and moped until the atmosphere around her was as gloomy and depressing as a London fog.

"Nothing to do is a dreadful complaint,"  Eliot had said a few moments before the boy brought up the letter. "You break one of the commandments every day you live, Miss Eugenia."

"How can you say such a thing?" .demanded Eugenia, indignantly. "I don't lie or steal or murder, or do any of those things it says not to.

"It isn't any of the 'thou shalt nots,' " said Eliot, determined to speak her mind, now that she had started. "It is a shalt. 'Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work.' It is plain talk, Miss Eugenia, but there's nobody else to say it, and I feel that it ought' to be said. More than three-fourths of your life you are miserable because you are doing nothing but grumbling and trying to kill time. You needn't be unhappy at all if you'd look around you and see some of the world's work lying around waiting for just such hands as yours to take hold of it."

"Oh, don't be so preachy!" pouted Eugenia, impatiently.

It was just at this point that the Little Colonel's letter was brought in, and the sight of the familiar handwriting made Eugenia's face brighten as if by magic.

"One from Betty, too," she cried, as a second closely written sheet dropped into her lap. Then forgetting her impatience with Eliot's preaching, she began reading aloud the news from the Cuckoo's Nest. It was the same pathetic little tale that had touched the hearts of the birthday banqueters, circled around the glowing bonfire, and it moved Eugenia to pity, just as it had moved all who listened at the little brown house.

Eugenia folded up the letters, and slipped them back into the envelope. "If I were down there at the Cuckoo's Nest with Lloyd and Betty, there would be something for me to do. I'd find Molly's sister even if I had to spend all my year's allowance to employ a detective. Poor, lonesome little thing.  I've taken a fancy to that girl. Maybe it is on account of her name being the same as Molly Blythe's. Even for no other reason than that I would be glad to help her."

"You don't have to go travelling to find lonely people, Miss Eugenia," said Eliot, who seemed to have much on her mind that afternoon, and a determination to share it with Eugenia. "All the aching hearts don't belong to little orphans, and some of the loneliest people in the world touch elbows with you every day."

"Who, for instance?" demanded Eugenia, unbelievingly. "I never saw them." Then, without waiting for an answer, she sprang up and glanced into the mirror, and gave a few hasty touches to her hair and belt. "Bring the my hat, Eliot, and get into your bonnet. I'm going out to Riverdale. I'm sure I can find the picture they wrote about somewhere in the seminary library. They always save the old files of illustrated papers. I'm wild to see what that picture looks like that Molly made such a fuss about, and it will give me some amusement for the afternoon."

Little Miss Gray, the librarian at the Riverdale Seminary, looked up in surprise when Eugenia came rustling into the reading-room an hour later. It was the first time she had been in that term. It was a half-holiday, and up to that time no one had come in all the afternoon. Sitting by the window, cataloguing new books, Miss Gray had looked out from time to time, wishing that she, too, could have a half. holiday, and that she could change places with some of the care-free schoolgirls outside on the campus. She could see them strolling along the shady avenues by twos and threes and fours, never one alone. The sight made her feel even more lonely than usual. She looked up eagerly at the sound of the approaching footsteps, glad of any companionship, but shrank back timidly when she saw who was rustling toward her. Eugenia had always had such a supercilious air in asking for a book, that she disloked to wait on her.

But to-day Eugenia came forward so intent on her errand that she forgot to be haughty, and asked for the old volume of Harper's Weeklies as eagerly as a little girl asking for a picture-book.

"That's the date," she said, handing Miss Gray a slip of paper." Oh, I do hope you have it. You see tile girls wrote such an interesting account of the little waif that I'm anxious to have the picture. It will be so nice to know that I'm looking at the same thing they saw in Molly's room.

"What a little morsel of misery!" she exclaimed, as Miss Gray opened the volume. "Isn't it pitiful? I never would have imagined that a real child could be so forlorn and miserable as this if the girls hadn't written about it. I thought such tales were made up by newspapers and magazines, just for something to write about."

Before she realised that she was taking the little librarian into her confidence, she was pouring out the story of Molly and Dot as if she were talking to one of the girls. When she finished Miss Gray turned her head away, but Eugenia saw two tears splash down on the table.

"Excuse my taking it so much to heart," said Miss Gray, with a smile, as she wiped away the tell-tale drops, "but it seems so real to me that I couldn't help it. I'm like the little lost sister, you know. Not ragged and torn and poverty-stricken like the waif in the picture, for this position gives me all the comforts of life, but I'm just as much alone in the world as she. When I am busy I never think of it; but sometimes the thought sweeps over me like a great overwhelming wave, --- I'm all alone in this big, strange city, only a drop in the bucket, with nobody to care whether I fare ill or well."

Eugenia did not know how to answer. She thought this must be one of the people whom Eliot meant, who touched elbows with her every day. Stirred by a great pity and a desire to comfort this gentlefaced little woman whose big blue eyes were as appealing as a baby's, and whose voice was as mournful as a dove's, Eugenia stood a moment in awkward silence. She wished that Betty could be there to say the right thing at the right time, as she always did, or that, better still, she had Betty's way of comforting people. Then a thought came to her like an inspiration.

"Oh, Miss Gray! Maybe if you have so much sympathy for the little lost child, you'd take an interest in helping me find her. Nobody knows where her father took her. He sent word that he had left Louisville, and there is no telling where he has drifted. They are as likely to be here in New York as anywhere. Maybe if we went around to all the orphanages and hospitals and free kindergartens we could find some trace of her. Papa won't let me go out in the city alone, and Eliot is such a stick about going to strange places. She always loses her head and gets flustered and makes a mess of everything. Oh, would you mind going?"

Any day after four o'clock," exclaimed Miss Gray eagerly, "and on Wednesdays the library closes at one."

"We'll begin next Wednesday," said Eugenia. "Come and take lunch with me at the Waldorf, and we can get an early start. Oh, I'll be so much obliged to you."

Before Miss Gray could say anything more, she had rustled out into the hall where Eliot sat waiting. The little librarian was left to clasp her hands in silent delight over the thought of such a lark as a lunch at the Waldorf and an afternoon's outing with the wealthiest and most exclusive girl in the Seminary.

We are on the track, too," wrote Eugenia to Betty, some time after. "Miss Gray and I are playing private detective on the trail of  little Dot. We haven't found any trace of her yet, but we're haunting all sorts of places where we think there is any prospect of coming across her. We have found plenty of other children who need help, and papa gave me a big check last night to use for a little cripple that we became interested in. Miss Gray is lovely. We've been to several things together, a matinee and a concert and an art exhibition. I showed her my ring the day she was here to lunch, and told her all about the time when you were blind and what you said to me about the Road of the Loving Heart. And she said, 'Tell that blessed  little Betty that she has given me an inspiration for life. Instead of thinking of my own loneliness I shall begin to think more of other people's and to leave a memory behind me, too, as enduring as Tusitala's.' "

 

One other person took the trouble to hunt up an old file of papers, and find the picture like the one pinned on Molly's wall. That was Mrs. Sherman. The morning that Lloyd's letter came, she happened to be passing the city library, and went in to ask for it. The sight of the poor little creature haunted her all morning, and remembering Molly's sullen face, she longed to do something to give it a happier expression. That afternoon she went down to an art store to choose a picture for Lloyd to hang in Molly's room beside the pitiful little newspaper clipping. It was a picture of the Good Shepherd, carrying in his arms a little stray lamb that had wandered away from the shelter of the sheepfold.

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