The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 2: A New Friend

THE LITTLE COLONEL AT BOARDING-SCHOOL
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER II.
A NEW FRIEND

LLOYDSBORO SEMINARY was not an especially attractive place viewed from the outside of the high picket fence, which surrounded its entire domain. The fence itself was forbidding. Its tall pickets, sharp-pointed and close together, seemed to suggest that strict rules were to be found inside; rules like the pickets, too firm and pointed to be easily broken through or climbed over.

The building was old and weather-beaten, but in its prime the school had been one of the best in the State, and many a woman remembered it loyally in after years when she had daughters of her own to educate. So it happened that some of the pupils came long distances, and from many parts of the country, to sit at the same old desks their mothers sat at, to study the same old lessons, and to learn to love every rock and tree on the seminary grounds, because of their associations with all the warm young friendships formed there.

A group of maples and cedars stood between the seminary and the high green picket gate in front, with a score of rustic seats and wooden swings scattered about in their shade. On the east an old neglected apple orchard sloped away from the house, where during the first few weeks of school, hard juicy winesaps, russets, and bellflowers lay in hiding from the hungry schoolgirls, who searched for them in the tall grass, waving knee-deep among the trees. On the other side, the high fence separated the grounds from the closely clipped lawn of Clovercroft, one of the hospitable old homesteads of the Valley, whose wide porches and vine-covered tower made a charming picture from the western windows of the seminary.

The opening day of school was always a sort of gala occasion. No regular work could be done, for pupils were continually coming in on the various trains to be registered and assigned to classes. After chapel exercises the day pupils were at liberty to go home, but it was a time-honoured custom for them to adjourn to the apple orchard, to hold a reunion with all the last year's boarders who had returned.

The swings and seats in front of the seminary were left for the newcomers. Many a longing glance was cast toward the orchard by the strangers, who, left thus inhospitably alone, made shy advances toward acquaintance among themselves. On the morrow they, too, might be included in the friendly little groups exchanging confidences with their heads close together, and walking with their arms around each other under the gnarly old trees; but that they should be ignored the first day was as binding as the unwritten "laws of the jungle."

From her seat in the swing nearest the house, a new girl watched the others swarming out from chapel, laughing and talking and calling to those ahead to wait. The primary grades went racing through the warm morning sunshine, down to their playhouses by the spring. The seniors and juniors strolled off in opposite directions in dignified exclusiveness, to different parts of the orchard. Each group as it passed attracted the new girl's attention, but her interest centred in a dozen or more girls lingering on the front steps. Their ages seemed to range from twelve to fifteen years. They were evidently waiting for some one.

"Why don't they hurry?" asked an impatient voice. "What's the matter? "
"The matron stopped them," some one answered, "I heard her asking about some bedding that was to be sent from Locust."

It was nearly five minutes before some one interrupted a discussion that had begun, to call  "Here they come!" Then a chorus of calls began most confusing to the girl in the swing, who did not know the names of the newcomers who seemed to be so popular.

"I bid to walk with the Little Colonel!"

"Come on, Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis, I'm waiting for you."

"Hurry up, Betty! I've got something to tell you!"

"Lloyd! Lloyd Sherman! Can't you hear? Is it really true that you are going to board here?"

With the two girls in their midst, trying to explain to a dozen different questioners in the same breath, when and why they had become resident pupils, the noisy procession moved on. Only one was left behind, a pale-faced child in spectacles, who, in spite of all their protests, stood looking after them, insisting she must wait for Sue Bell.

As the others moved away, the new girl beckoned to her with a friendly smile. "You're Janie Clung, aren't you?" she asked, as the little girl advanced a few steps, and then stood awkwardly rubbing one foot against the other.

"You see I couldn't help hearing your name. They spoke it so often. I am Ida Shane, from Clay County. Won't you sit here in the swing with me until the girl you are waiting for comes out, and tell me something about the school? It's so hard," she added plaintively, "to be a stranger in a place where everybody else has so many friends. You seem to know every one here. From the way they all begged you to go with them, I imagine you must be very popular."

Much flattered by this last remark from one so much older than herself, Janie climbed into the seat in the swing, opposite the girl from Clay County, and scrutinized her shyly.

Ida Shane was very pretty, she decided. She must be nearly sixteen, or maybe more, for she wore her dresses long and her hair in a soft, fluffy pompadour. Then Janie's gaze wandered from her hair to a bewitching little dimple that came at the corner of Ida's mouth when she smiled, and she thought to herself that the slow, soft drawl in which Ida spoke was exceedingly musical and ladylike. She found herself talking in a lower tone than usual, and quite slowly, when she answered.

"You know, I think it is always best to be very particular in choosing friends when one goes to a new place"' Ida remarked, in a confidential tone, which seemed to insinuate that Janie could be safely chosen. "I don't want to take up with everybody. That's why I want you to tell me which are the first families here in the Valley, and which are the girls whose friendship is worth while having."

Simple little Janie, who considered friendship with everybody worth having, looked puzzled.

"Well, for instance, who were those two girls in white duck dresses whom you were all waiting for so long? The one with the lovely long light lair that they called Lloyd and the Little Colonel? Now she's aristocratic-looking, and all the girls seem to regard her as a sort of leader. Tell me about her."

"Oh, that's Lloyd Sherman", answered Janie. " I reckon you might say she belongs to one of the first families. She lives in a perfectly beautiful place called Locust. The Valley is named after some of her ancestors, and old Colonel Lloyd is her grandfather. 'Little Colonel' is just one of her nicknames. She's had everything that heart could wish, and has been to Europe. When she came back she brought a magnificent St. Bernard dog with her that had been trained as a Red Cross war-dog for the ambulance service in the German army. They called him Hero, and he acted in a play they gave here last fall called the 'Rescue of the Princess Winsome.' I was one of the flower messengers in the play. Lloyd was the Princess. She looked exactly like one that night. The dog saved her life while they were in Switzerland, and when he died the family made as much fuss over him as if he had been a person. He was buried with military honours, and there is a handsome monument over his grave. I'll show a to you sometime, when we walk past Locust."

Janie paused with a long breath. It was more of a speech than she was accustomed to making, but Ida had listened with such flattering attention that it was easier to talk to her than to any one whom she had ever known.

"I thought she was like that", remarked Ida, in an I-told-you-so tone. "I rarely make mistake in people. Now that other one they call Betty. She has a sweet face."

"I should say she has! " cried Janie, warmly. "She's the dearest girl in school. Everybody loves Betty Lewis. She is Mrs. Sherman's goddaughter, and lives at Locust too. She writes the loveliest poetry. Why, she wrote that whole play of the Princess Winsome, and every one thought it was wonderful. Mr. Sherman had several copies of it printed and bound in carved leather. He gave one copy to the seminary library, so you can read it if you want to."

" That'll be the first thing I shall draw from the library", said Ida, nodding approvingly at the account of Betty. "Then there's some one else I want to ask about", she continued " I was told that General Walton's family lives here, and that his daughters go to this school. I don't mind telling you, in confidence, you know, that that is what made my aunt finally decide to send me to this school instead of the one in Frankfort. Were they here this morning?"

"Yes, and they are Lloyd's best friends. Maybe you noticed two girls in pink, with great dark eyes, lovely eyes, who walked off with her, one on each side."

"Yes, I wondered who they were."

"The larger one was Allison and the other one Kitty. They live at The Beeches. We walk past there nearly every day. Once, last year, Miss Edith took some of us in there, and Mrs. Walton showed us all her curios and relics. It is a fascinating place to visit. There are things from all over the world in every room, and a story about each one."

"How interesting!" smiled Ida, showing a glimpse of her dimple and passing a slim hand, glittering with many rings, over her pompadour. " You can't imagine how entertaining you are, Janie; tell me some more."

With a slight movement of the foot she started the swing to swaying, and, leaning back in the seat with an air of attention, waited for Janie to go on. With such a listener, Janie was in a fair way to tell all she knew, when Sue Bell appeared in the doorway, beckoning to her. She even felt a decided sense of annoyance at the interruption, Although Sue Bell was her dearest friend, so much was she enjoying Ida as an audience.

"That new girl is perfectly lovely!" she declared to Sue Bell, as they moved off together. She repeated the opinion so often after she reached the orchard, and had so much to say about Ida Shane's hair and Ida Shane's dimple, and the stacks of rings she had, and the stylish clothes she wore, that some of the girls exchanged amused glances. Kitty Walton remarked in a teasing tone that she believed the new girl must have hoodooed Janie Clung, so that she couldn't do anything but sing her praises.

"You ought to be ashamed to talk that way, Kitty Walton," cried Janie, in angry defence of her new friend, "especially when she said such nice things about your family being celebrities, and that was one reason her aunt sent her to this school, because the daughters of such a famous general were pupils here. And she thinks Lloyd is so aristocratic-looking, and Betty awfully sweet, and so smart to write that play. And she said, even if you all are lots younger than herself, she'd rather have you for her friends than any of the seniors, because she could tell just by looking at you that you belong to the best old families in the place."

"What did she say about the rest of us?" cried Mittie Dupong, mockingly, winking at her nearest neighbour.

Janie, turning in time to see the wink, answered shortly, "Nothing. She doesn't intend to make friends with everybody."

It was an indiscreet speech, and the moment it was made she realized that it would be counted against Ida, instead of in her favour, as she had intended it to be. Significant glances passed among those who had not been included in Ida's classification of celebrities or first families, and Mittie Dupong retorted, with a shrug of her shoulders, "Hm!"

Miss Shane may find that there are people in the world as particular as herself. Who is she, anyway, that she should give herself such airs?"

No one answered the question, but there was sown at that moment in more than one girl's mind a little seed of dislike which took deep root as the days went by. But if Ida's thoughtlessly repeated speech worked her ill in one way, it had an opposite effect with those whose favour she wished most to gain. Allison and Kitty met her with especial friendliness when Janie stopped them at the swing, as they started home at noon. It was pleasant for them to feel that she had been drawn to the school partly on their account. It gave them a sense of importance they had never experienced before.

Lloyd, too, unconsciously influenced by the flattering recollection that she had been singled out from all the others as aristocratic-looking, took especial care to be gracious when she found herself seated across from Ida at the dinner-table. The old pupils had been given their usual places, but Betty and Lloyd were among the newcomers.

"Now I feel for the first time that I'm really away at bo'ding-school," Lloyd said, with a smile, which included Ida in the conversation, as she glanced down the long table, stretched the entire length of the dining-room. "It seems as if we might be hundreds of miles away from home instead of one. I can hardly believe that we are still in Lloydsboro Valley. Betty, isn't it time for us to begin to feel homesick?"
"Not till dark comes," answered Betty. "Twilight is the regulation time in boarding-school stories."

Lloyd smiled across at Ida. "Do you think you are going to be homesick?"

"Oh, no, indeed! " answered Ida, in her slow, sweet voice. The dimple which had charmed Janie flashed into sight. "This is the fourth boarding-school I have been sent to. I am used to going to new places."

"The fo'th!" exclaimed Lloyd, with surprised emphasis. A curious "Why?" almost slipped off her tongue, but she stopped it politely in the middle, and managed to stammer instead, as she salted her soup, "Wh-what fun you must have had!"

" I have," answered Ida, with a glance toward the end of the table where Miss Bina McCannister sat grim and watchful. "Sometime I'll tell you about some of my adventures."

As the dinner progressed, both Lloyd and Betty felt themselves yielding to the soft charm of manner which had won little Janie Clung,s admiration, and by the time they had finished their dessert they were ready to join in Janie's most enthusiastic praises of the new girl.

"Do you know that my room is in the same wing with yours, just next door?" Ida asked, as they rose from the table. "At least, I think so, for as I came down to dinner I saw some trunks being carried in there, marked E. L. L. and L. S."

"I am so glad!" exclaimed Lloyd. "I wondered who we should have for neighbahs. Betty and I ran up there a few minutes this mawning, but the beds and things mothah wanted us to use hadn't been sent ovah from Locust, and it was so topsy-turvy we didn't stay."

"I came yesterday", said Ida, as the three went up the stairs together, "so I've had time to investigate. I imagine we shall be able to do about as we please. You see, this wing of the house was added several years after the main part was built, so there are four rooms on this floor, nicely cut off by themselves."

She opened the door from the main corridor, and led the way into the narrow side-hall which separated the four rooms from the rest of the house.

"Several nights in the week the three of us will be here alone," she said. "This tiny room at the end belongs to that queer little Magnolia Budine whom everybody laughed at this morning. She lives near enough the seminary to go home every Friday night and stay till Monday morning. The three Clark sisters have this big room next to hers, and they go home to spend Sundays, too. By the way, wasn't it ridiculous the way Miss McCannister got their names all balled up this morning in the history division, trying to say Carrie Clark, Clara Clark, Cora Clark?"

"It was funny," laughed Lloyd. "Kitty Walton whispered to me that they ought to be called the triplets, because every one trips and stuttahs ovah their names. It's as bad as trying to say 'Six slim, slick, silvah saplings.'"

They had reached the third room by this time, the door of which stood open. "This is ours," said Lloyd. " The very same one mothah had one term when she was a girl."

She paused on the threshold, looking around the large, airy apartment, well pleased.

"I wonder if the outside stairway was built when she was here," said Ida. "I discovered it yesterday."

"I nevah heard her say anything about it," said Lloyd. "Where is it?"

"This way," answered Ida, leading them past her own room, which came next, and pushing aside a heavy portière which covered a door at the opposite end of the hall from Magnolia Budine's room.

"The matron told me that a slight fire in the school, one time, led to the building of this extra means of escape, but the girls are forbidden to use the stairs for any other purpose."

"Let's open it," proposed Lloyd, daringly, fumbling with the bolt, which had lain so long unused that it had rusted in its socket. It moved stiffly with a grating sound as she pushed it back. The door swung open on to a small, uncovered landing, from which an open staircase descended to the rear of the kitchen.

"I've often seen these steps from the outside," said Lloyd, "but I didn't know where they led to. No, I nevah heard mothah speak of them. Isn't it fun to have a secret stairway of our own! Why do you suppose they have a curtain ovah the doah?"

"To hide it," said Betty, wisely, "so that the daily sight of it will not put it into our naughty heads to make use of it, and prowl around at nights. They evidently think 'How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done.' So they cover it up."

"That's from Shakespeare, isn't it?" asked Ida. "I'd give anything if I could make appropriate quotations like that, but I never think of the right thing till it's too late. But then, I suppose it comes easy to any one smart enough to write as you do. I am so anxious to read that play of yours, 'The Rescue of the Princess Winsome.' I was told that there is a copy in the library. Your room ought to be called 'Sweet Peas,' since it belongs to a princess and a poetess."

Betty blushed with pleasure. They had bolted the door again and were standing in front of their room, as Ida proposed the name of Sweet Peas.

"It is kind of you to give us such a sweet name for our room," said Lloyd. "Will you come in while we unpack?"

"No, thank you," was the answer. "I have some letters to write before four o'clock. That is the time, I believe, when we all have to turn out together for a walk." She turned away, but came back to ask, hesitatingly, "There's one thing I'd like to ask, Lloyd; do you mind if I call you Princess instead of Lloyd? The Princess Winsome? That name seems to suit you so well. The first thing I noticed about you was the proud little way you lift your head. You carry yourself like one."

A bright colour swept across Lloyd's face. "Of co'se I don't mind," she said, "and it is deah of you to care to call me that."

When Ida went back to her own room, it was with the comfortable feeling that she had left a very agreeable impression behind her.

"Isn't she a darling!" exclaimed Lloyd, enthusiastically, when she and Betty were alone, with their door closed. "She is pretty and stylish, and certainly has lovely mannahs. Besides, she is as sma'ht as can be, and mighty entahtaining. I've taken a great fancy to her."

"So have I," admitted Betty. "I love to sit and watch her. The least thing she says in that soft, slow way sounds sweet. I am so glad that her room is next to ours."

Mrs. Sherman had advised taking few furnishings to the seminary, but Lloyd insisted that they could not feel that they were really away at boarding-school unless they had all that goes to equip a modern college girl's room. So pictures and posters, sofa-pillows and book-racks were crowded into the overflowing trunks. A chafing-dish, a well-furnished tea-basket, a dainty chocolate-pot, and a mandolin were brought over in the carriage that took Mrs. Sherman to the depot. Both girls were kept busy until four o'clock, finding places to put their numerous possessions. Neither one realized how far she had passed under the spell of the new pupil, but unconsciously every picture they hung and every article they unpacked was located with a thought of her approval.

Once as Lloyd passed the mirror, when Betty's back was turned, she paused to look at her reflection with the pleased consciousness that Ida had spoken the truth; that she did hold her head proudly and carry herself well. And Betty several times passed her hand up over the brown curls on her forehead, recalling the graceful gesture of the white, heavily ringed hand. While she tacked up posters and put away clothes, she chattered busily with Lloyd, but through her thoughts, like an undercurrent to their conversation, ran a few musical lines suggested by the white hands and low voice. An "Ode to Ida" had already begun to weave itself into shape in her busy little brain.

A few minutes before the gong sounded, summoning the girls to the first of their daily walks, Ida tapped on the door. She had only stopped to ask a question about the rules, she said, and must run back and put on her hat; but catching sight of a picture of the long avenue at Locust, which hung over Lloyd's bed, she crossed the room to examine it.

"You've made a perfect love of a room with all these handsome things," she said, looking around admiringly. "But" --- she scanned the few photographs on the mantel, and the two on the dressing-table in their frames of beaten silver --- "it seems so queer, you know. You haven't the picture of a single boy. Didn't you bring any?"

"No!" answered Lloyd, in surprise. "Why should I?"

"But you have some at home, haven't you?" Persisted Ida.

"Yes, I have lovely ones of Allison Walton's cousins, Malcolm and Keith MacIntyre, taken in the costumes they wore as 'two little knights of Kentucky.'  And I have one of Ranald Walton taken in his captain's uniform, and nearly a dozen of Rob Moore. He's given me one whenevah he's had them taken, from the time he wore kilts and curls."

"My dear!" exclaimed Ida. "Why didn't you bring them?  They would have been such an addition."

"Because I don't want any boy's pictuah stuck up on my dressing-table. I like to have them, because they've been my playmates always, and when we're grown up I'd like to remembah just how they looked, but that's no reason I want my walls plastahed with them now."

"What an original little thing you are, Princess," exclaimed Ida, with a laugh, which would have nettled Lloyd had not the compliment and the title taken away its sting." Come into my room and see how my walls are plastered, as you call it."

Lloyd stared around in astonishment when Ida threw open her door. Boyish faces looked back at her from every side. Handsome ones, homely ones, in groups, in pairs, framed and unframed, strung together with ribbons, or stuck in behind Japanese fans. Added to all the other pictures of girls she had known in the three boarding-schools which she had attended, it gave the room the appearance of a photograph gallery.

"Well!" exclaimed Lloyd, at length, after a long, slow survey, "I don't see what you want them for." Unconsciously her head took the haughty uplift which Ida had admired.

"For the same reason that an Indian hangs up all the scalp-locks he takes, I suppose", drawled Ida, sweetly. "Of course, you're young yet. You don't understand. But you'll look at things differently when you are as near 'sweet sixteen' as I am, Princess."

Again that flattering title took the sting out of the patronizing manner which Lloyd otherwise would have resented. Was it only the afternoon before, she wondered, that she had cried out to the friendly old locusts her longing to be a child always? As Ida crossed the room with a graceful sweep of long skirts, and settled her hat with its clusters of violets jauntily over her fluffy pompadour, there stole into the Little Colonel's heart, for the first time, a vague desire; a half-defined wish that she, too, were as near the borders of grown-up land as "sweet sixteen."

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