The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation, Chapter 5: A Memory-Book And A Souvenir Spoon

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1905

Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry





THE string of white beads grew steadily, but work went hand in hand with play at Warwick Hall, as Kitty's memory-book testified. She brought it out to liven the recreation hour one rainy afternoon, late in the term, when they were house-bound by the weather. Its covers, labelled "Gala Days and Bonfire Nights," were bulging with souvenirs of many memorable occasions. She sat on the floor with it spread open on her lap. Betty was on one side and Lloyd on the other, while Gay leaned against her back and looked over her shoulder.

Kitty opened her treasure-house of mementos with a giggle, for on the first page was a watercolour sketch of Gay as she had appeared on the welcoming night. She had painted her with two enormous feet protruding from her flowing skirts, one cased in a party slipper with an exaggerated French heel, the other in a down-trodden bedroom slipper painted a brilliant crimson.

"You mean thing!" cried Gay, laughing over the ridiculous caricature of herself.

"That isn't a circumstance to some of them," remarked Allison, who was virtuously spending her recreation hour in sewing buttons on her gloves and mending a rip in the lining of her coat-sleeve. "Wait till you come to the programme of the recital given by the students of voice, violin, and piano. The pictures she made all around the margin of it are some of the best she has done. The sketch of Susie Tyndall, tearing her hair and shrieking out the 'Polish Boy,' is simply killing."

"Kitty Walton," exclaimed Gay, as she bent over the grotesquely decorated programme, "where do you keep this book o' nights? I'll surely have to steal it. Think what it will be worth to us when we are old ladies. There's one thing certain, you could never pose as a saintly old grandmother with such a record for mischief as this to bear witness against you."

Kitty looked up with a startled expression. "You know, it never occurred to me before that I'd ever look at this book through spectacles. I wonder if I'll find it as amusing then, when I'm dignified and rheumatic, as I do now."

"I'm sure that will be pleasant to recall," said Betty, pointing to a withered rose pinned to the next page. "That will properly impress your grandchildren."

Underneath the rose was written the date of a private reception granted the Warwick Hall girls at the White House.

"I had such a lovely time that afternoon," sighed Betty. "It was so much nicer to go as we did, for a friendly little visit under Madam's wing, than to have pushed by in a big public mob. Wasn't Cora Basket funny? She was so overawed by the honour that she fairly turned purple. Her roommate vows that, when she wrote home, she began, 'Preserve this letter! The hand that is now writing it has been shaken by the President of the United States of America!'"

"Cordie Brown was funnier than Cora," said Allison. "She wanted to impress people with the idea that the affair was nothing to her. That it rather bored her, in fact. She went around with her nose in the air, trying to appear so superior and indifferent, as if crowned heads and their ilk made her tired."

"What's this?" demanded Lloyd, as they turned the next leaf, through which a single long black hair had been drawn. Underneath was the gruesome legend, "Dead men tell no tales."

"Oh, that's only a hair from the tail of the dog of the child of the wife of the wild man of Borneo," laughed Kitty, attempting to turn the page; but Lloyd, laying both palms across it, held it fast.

"You know it's not, you naughty thing. You've been up to some prank."

"It a p. j.  A private joke," explained Kitty, bending over the book and laughing till her forehead touched her knees. "I'm dying to tell you, for it's the funniest thing in the collection. It happened at the Hallowe'en party, and I promised not to tell."

"Promised whom?" demanded Betty.

"Can't tell that, either," was all that Kitty would say. She flipped over the next leaf. A gilded wishbone was fastened to the page by the bit of red ribbon run through it.

"That's 'In Memoriam' of the grand spread at the Thanksgiving Day feast. And this button pasted on just below it, popped off the glove of Mademoiselle La Tosto the afternoon she came to the Studio Tea and Art reception. You know how the girls buzzed around her like a swarm of bees, begging for her autograph. I'd rather have this button than a dozen autographs, for it dropped off her glove as she clapped her hands in that vivacious Frenchy way of hers, when she saw my caricature of Paderewski that the girls stuck up on the wall. Understand, young ladies, she was applauding it. I walked on air all afternoon."

"Why undah the sun have you saved this tea leaf?" asked Lloyd, pointing to one pasted carefully in the corner of the next page.

"Don't you remember the day that we went down to Mammy Easter's cabin, and her old black grandmother was there, and told our fortunes? She was a regular old hag, Gay. I wish you could have seen her, --- teeth all gone; skin puckered as a dried apple; she looked more monkey than human. But she's a fine fortune-teller. I made a few hieroglyphics to recall what she said. This mark is supposed to be a coach and four. She said that Allison was to wed wid de quality and ride in a car'age, but sorrow would be her po'shun if she walked proud. She said that I'm bawn to trouble as de spah'ks fly upwa'd, case I won't hah'k to counsel, and that I mustn't marry the first man that axes me, and I mustn't marry the second man that axes me, but the third man that axes me, him I can safely marry. This tea leaf stands for the third man. I'm to have three sons and one daughter, and my luck will come to me through running water when the weathervane points west."

Kitty pointed to several pencil scratches beside the tea leaf, intended to signify a brook and a weather-vane on a steeple.

"What did she say about Betty? "asked Gay.

Kitty studied the next line of hieroglyphics a moment. "Oh, I see now. I intended this for a ship. She said there was a veil done hanging ovah her future, so she couldn't rightly tell, but she could see ships coming and going and crowds of people, and she could see that her fortune was mixed up with a great many other persons. She said that the teacup held gold for her, and the signs all 'pinted friendly.'"

"And Lloyd?"queried Gay, trying to decipher the next line of pencil marks. "Surely that's not a cat I see."

"A cat, a teapot, and a ball of knitting," laughed Kitty. "I supposed that Lloyd's fortune would be something thrilling, but according to the old darky, it's to be the tamest of all. She said, 'I see a rising sun, and a row of lovahs, but I don't see you a-taking any of 'em, honey. Yo' ways am ways of pleasantness and all yo' paths am peace, but I'se powahful skeered dat you'se gwine to be an ole maid. I sholy is.'"

"Is that so, Lloyd?" asked Gay, leaning over Kitty's shoulder to laugh at the Little Colonel's teased expression. Kitty answered for her.

"Not if we can help it. We want her for a cousin, and we think that she ought to marry Malcolm just for the sake of being able to claim us as her dear relations. Look how she's blushing, girls."

"I'm not! "was the indignant answer. "You're just trying to make me get red, because you know I do it so easily."

She turned the page hastily and began to talk about its contents to change the subject. There were scraps of ribbon, as they went farther on, a burnt match, a peacock feather, a tiny block of wood with a hole shot through it, a strand of embroidery silk, a faded pansy,--- a hundred bits of worthless rubbish which an unknowing hand would have swept into the waste-basket; but to Kitty each one was a key to unlock some happy memory of her swiftly passing school-days. As the four heads, brown and golden, black and auburn, bent over the book, the rain beat against the windows in torrents.

With needle in air, Allison sat a moment watching the water stream down the pane. "This makes me think of that afternoon in old Lloydsboro Seminary," she said, musingly, "when Ida Shane read the 'Fortunes of Daisy Dale' aloud to us. I wonder what has become of Ida. She was living in a little country town up in the mountains the last time I heard of her, taking in sewing and doing her own work."

"She's the girl who caused so much excitement at the Seminary," Betty explained to Gay. "The one who got our Shadow Club into disgrace. She tried to elope one night, but the teachers found it out and sent her home. It didn't do any good, for she ran away with Ned Bannon the next summer, and they were married by a justice of the peace. I don't see how Ida could do it when she'd always been so romantic, and planned to have her wedding just like Daisy Dale's, in cherry blossom time, and in the little stone church at Lloydsboro, with the vines over the belfry. It's so quaint and English looking, just like the one that Daisy was married in. Instead of being all in white, she was married in the dress she happened to have on when she ran away, --- just an old black walking skirt and plaid shirt-waist. No veil, no trail, and no orange-blossoms, and she had counted on having all three. It was so prosy and commonplace after the grand things she had planned."

"She's had it prosy enough ever since, too," remarked Allison. "Ned drinks so hard that he can't keep a position. She didn't reform him one single bit, and I reckon she understands now why her aunt objected so strongly to her marrying him. Poor Ida, to think of her having to take in sewing to keep her from actual starvation! It's awful!"

"Poah Ida!" echoed Lloyd. "I don't see how she does it. When she was in the Seminary, she couldn't do anything with her needle but emhroidah. I used to have Mom Beck do her mending and darning when she did mine."

"Thank fortune my mending is done!" exclaimed Allison, dropping her thimble into her work-bag, and throwing her coat across a chair. "It's almost time for the bell. I must take Juliet Lynn the papers I promised her."

Lloyd and Betty, looking at the clock, scrambled to their feet, and a moment after only Gay and Kitty were left on the rug with the memory-book open between them.

"Do you think that Lloyd really cares for your cousin?" asked Gay.

"No," was the emphatic answer. "You can make her blush that way about anybody, and I love to tease her. When she first came back from Arizona, I used to think she liked Phil Tremont, a boy she met out there, and then I thought maybe it was Joyce's brother Jack. She talked so much about the duck hunts they had together, and what a splendid fellow he was, and how much her father admired him. But the Princess is so particular that I believe the old darky told her fortune truly. If she's so particular at fifteen, 'I'se powahful skeered she's gwine to be an old maid. I sholy is.' For what will she be at twice fifteen?"

Gay laughed at the imitation of the old coloured woman, then asked: "But doesn't your cousin come up to her standard? According to Maud Minor he is as handsome as a Greek god, as accomplished as all the Muses put together, and as entertaining as a four-ring circus."

"Oh, Malcolm's all right," answered Kitty. "We're awfully fond of him, but we're not so crazy about him as to think all that. I have a picture of him somewhere in my box of photographs, if you'd like to see it."

Climbing on a chair to reach the box on the top of the wardrobe, she took it down and began rummaging through it. In a moment she tossed a photograph to Gay, who still sat on the floor, Turk fashion.

"Here is one he had taken years ago when he and Keith used to play they were two little Knights of Kentucky, and went around trying to set the wrongs of the world to rights."

While Gay was still exclaiming over it, she threw down another. "Here's the one I was looking for. It was taken this summer at Narragansett Pier on his polo pony."

Gay seized it, studying the face of the handsome young fellow with interest. "Why, he's almost grown! "she cried.

"Yes, he's nearly eighteen, and he is even better looking than that picture. And here's Keith, the one I'm so fond of. We always have so much fun when they come out to grandmother's for the holidays."

The box slipped and the entire contents showered over the floor. Gay helped her to put them back into the box, glancing at each one as she did so. One in a cadet uniform attracted her attention.

"Who's this? Now he's the one I'd like to know. I suppose it's because I've lived at an army post always that I adore anything military. He looks interesting."

Kitty leaned over to look. "Oh, that's my brother Ranald. He's away at military school. Won't he be teased when I tell him what you said? He's dreadfully bashful with girls, though you'd think he oughtn't to be. He was under fire ever so many times with papa in the Philippines when he was a little chap. You know he was the youngest captain in the army, at one time, and was on General Grant's staff when he was still in short trousers."

"Why, of course, I know," cried Gay, enthusiastically. "I heard some officers talking about it one night at dinner just after it happened. Papa toasted 'The Little Captain' in such a pretty speech that the officers who had fought with your father cheered. But I never dreamed then that I'd ever know his sister, or be sitting here holding his picture, talking about him. I'm going to take possession of this," she added, when all the other photographs were back in the box.

"You don't care, do you? I'd like it to add to my collection of heroes. I'll put it in a frame made of brass buttons and crossed guns and all sorts of ornaments that the officers have given me off of their uniforms."

"No, I don't care," answered Kitty. "Allison has one like it, and I can get another any time by writing home for it. I wish you would take it, for that would give me such a fine thing to tease him, about. I could worry him nearly distracted."

"I don't care how much you tease him so long as I may keep the picture," laughed Gay. "I'm a thousand times obliged to you."

As she sat looking at it, she exclaimed, suddenly: "Kitty Walton, you're an awfully lucky girl to have such nice boys in your family. I wish I knew them. I haven't a brother or even a forty-second cousin."

"Well, you can know them if you'll come home with me to spend the Christmas vacation. Ranald always brings a boy home with him for the holidays, and mother said Allison and I might bring a friend. I'm sure she'd rather have you than anybody else, she knows your father and mother so well."

The amber lights in Gay's brown eyes deepened. "Oh, I'd love to! "she cried. "I'd dearly love to! It's too far to go away back to San Antonio for such a short time, and I hated to think of the holidays, knowing I'd have to stay here at the Hall, with all you girls gone. Are you sure your mother won't object?"

"You wait and see," advised Kitty. "You don't know mammy! You'll not have any doubt of your welcome when her letter comes."

"Oh, it would be too lovely for anything!" exclaimed Gay, listening with a far-away look in her eyes, as Kitty began outlining plans for the coming holidays. Presently, in sheer joy at the prospect, they pulled each other up from the floor, and, springing on to the bed, danced a Highland fling in the middle of it, till a slat fell out with a terrifying crash.

With the coming of December the holiday gaieties began. A spirit of festivity lurked in the very air. A mock Christmas tree was one of the yearly features of the school, when each pupil's pet fad or peculiarity was suggested by appropriate gifts. Preparations for the tree began early in the month, and whispered consultations were carried on in every corner, with much giggling and profound assurances of secrecy.

The practising of Christmas carols went on in the music-rooms, and snatches of them floated down the halls and through the building, till the blithe young hearts were filled to overflowing with the cheer and good-will of the sweet old melodies. Now the usual Monday sightseeing gave way to shopping, and every moment that could be snatched from school work was given to crochet-needles and embroidery-hoops, to the finishing of an endless variety of gifts, and the wrapping of same in mysterious packages.

One Monday Betty did not join the others in their weekly shopping expedition. Her few purchases had been made, and she wanted the day to work on unfinished gifts. She was making most of them with her needle. She was glad afterward that she had decided to stay when a slow winter rain began to fall. It melted the light snow-fall which whitened the ground into a disagreeable compound of slush and mud.

It was almost dark when Kitty and Allison burst into the room, their arms full of bundles, and began displaying their purchases. Lloyd followed more slowly, and, dropping her packages on the floor by the radiator, stood trying to warm her fingers through her wet gloves. Presently, in the midst of the exhibition, with her hat still on, she flung herself across her bed, piled up as it was with strings and crumpled wrapping-paper. "Excuse me if I mash your bargains, Kitty," she said, weakly, closing her eyes. "But I'm as limp as a rag! So ti'ahed --- I feel as if I were falling to pieces. We tramped around in the wet so long, and then inside the stores there were such crowds that we were pushed and jammed and stepped on everywhere we turned. It seemed to me we waited hours for our change. Then the car we came out on was so ovahheated that we almost stifled. I'm suah I caught cold when the icy wind struck us aftah we left the station."

She shivered as she spoke. Betty sprang up and began tugging at her wet wraps.

"Don't lie there that way,"she begged. "Let me help you get into some dry clothes, and ask the housekeeper for a glass of hot milk."

At first Lloyd protested that she was too tired to move. Betty could be as persistent as a mosquito at times. She insisted until Lloyd finally allowed her to have her way, and got up wearily to put on the dry skirts and stockings which she brought to her. A hot dinner made her feel somewhat better, but her face was flushed when they went upstairs for the study hour. Betty saw her wipe her eyes as she took out her Latin grammar, and instantly forgave the petulant way in which Lloyd had answered her several times during the evening.

"Don't try to study, Lloyd," she urged. "I know you don't feel well."

"No," acknowledged the Little Colonel, "every bone in my body aches, and my head is simply splitting."

"Let me run down to the sanitarium and ask Miss Gilmer to come up and see if she can't do something for you," began Betty, but Lloyd interrupted her, stamping her foot with a touch of her old childish imperiousness.

"You sha'n't go! I'm not sick! I've just caught a plain cold."

"But people don't catch just plain colds nowadays," persisted Betty. "They always catch microbes at the same time, that are apt to turn into la grippe and pneumonia and all sorts of dreadful things. 'A stitch in time saves nine,' you know," she added, wisely, quoting from the motto embroidered on her darning-bag, which happened to be hanging on a chair-post in the corner. "'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' every time."

"Oh, for mercy's sake, Betty," cried Lloyd, impatiently, "let me alone and don't be so preachy. I'm not going to repoa't a little thing like a headache and a soah throat to the nurse. She'd put me to bed and keep me there for a week. I'd get behind with my lessons, and lose all the holiday fun. Like as not mothah and Papa Jack would come straight aftah me, and take me home befoah we'd had the mock Christmas tree or any of the things I've been looking forward to so long."

Betty picked up her algebra again without an audible reply, but inwardly she was saying: "I know she is sick, or she wouldn't be so cross."

The next day found Lloyd with such high fever that she was installed at once in the sanitarium. "It is la grippe that she has," the nurse told Betty. "It is the real thing, and not what people always claim to have with an ordinary cold. The worst will probably be over in a few days, but it will leave her so exhausted and so susceptible to other things that I shall keep her with me for a week at least."

Lloyd rebelled at first, but she had to submit as her fever mounted higher, and the world grew, to her blurred fancy, one great, throbbing ache. She was glad to give herself up to Miss Gilmer's soothing touches. Mrs. Sherman did not come, for a letter from the school physician assured her that Lloyd was receiving every care and attention that she could have had at home, and the case was quite a simple one.

Miss Gilmer, the nurse, was a big motherly woman, who seemed to radiate comfort and cheer, as a stove does heat. After the first few days, Lloyd would have enjoyed the time spent with her in the cheerful room assigned her had she not been haunted by the thought that she was falling behind her classes.

"It's a pretty good sawt of a world, aftah all," she said one day, as she sat propped up among the pillows, enjoying a dainty mid-afternoon lunch Madam Chartley had personally prepared and sent in hot from the chafing-dish. Bouillon in the thinnest of fragile china, and a toasted scone which recalled delightfully the little English inn she had visited near Kenilworth ruins. By some oversight, no spoon had been sent in on the tray, and Miss Gilmer supplied the deficiency by bringing one of her own from a little cabinet in the next room.

"It has a history," Miss Gilmer said, and Lloyd looked at it with interest before dipping it into the cup.

"Why, the handle is a May-pole!" she exclaimed, with pleasure. "And the date down among the garlands is the queen's birthday, isn't it?  I remembah we were up in the Burns country that day, when we saw the school-children celebrating it.

"To think of an American girl remembering that date!" cried Miss Gilmer, in a pleased tone. "It is a great day on my calendar, for it was then that I met Madam Chartley, for the first time, on the queen's birthday. She has been my good angel ever since. It was she who sent me that May-pole spoon, as a souvenir of that meeting."

"Oh, would you tell me about it?" asked Lloyd. "It sounds so interesting."

Taking up some needlework from a basket on the table, Miss Gilmer leaned back as if to begin a long story.

"There isn't so much to tell, after all," she said, pausing to thread her needle. "It was long ago, when Madam Chartley was Alicia Raeburn, and I was a bashful little English schoolgirl at St. Agnes Hall. Alicia had come from America to visit her uncle, who was proctor of the cathedral. His grounds joined the school premises on the south, and I often used to peep through the hedge and watch her strolling around the garden. She was older than I, and the difference in our ages seemed greater then than now, for I was still wearing short frocks, and she had just put on long ones. I had heard that she was to be presented at court next season. That, and the fact that she was an American, and very beautiful, and that she looked lonely strolling around the old proctor's garden by herself, threw a glamour of romance about her.

"I would have given a fortune to have made her acquaintance, and I spent hours down by the brook dreaming innocent little day-dreams in which I pictured such meetings. Suddenly heliotrope became my favourite flower instead of roses, because she so often wore a bunch of it tucked in the belt of her gray dress. Indeed, because she so often wore it, I grew to regard it as sacred to her alone, and felt that no one else had a right to wear it. Fortunately, at that season of the year it grew only in the proctor's conservatory, so that the schoolgirls could not obtain it. I would have inwardly resented it, if any one of them had taken such a liberty as to wear her flower. She seemed to me the most beautiful and perfect creature I had ever seen, and I worshipped her from afar, and imitated her in every way possible. I don't suppose you can understand such an infatuation."

"Indeed I do undahstand," interrupted Lloyd, eagerly. She was thinking of Ida Shane, and the way she had fallen under the spell of her charming personality. Even yet the odour of violets brought back the same little thrill it had awakened when violets seemed made for Ida's exclusive wearing. Miss Gilmer's feeling for the beautiful Alicia Raeburn was no deeper than hers had been for Ida. She could readily understand about the heliotrope.

"Well, then," Miss Gilmer went on, "you can imagine my state of mind when at last I actually met her. It was on the queen's birthday. At our school, instead of having the May-pole dance on May-day, we waited until the queen's birthday, and on that occasion Alicia was one of the invited guests. It was quite by accident she spoke to me. She dropped her handkerchief, and I sprang to pick it up. But she must have seen the adoration in my poor little embarrassed face, for I went quite red I am sure. I could fairly feel the hot blood surge over me. She said something pleasant to cover my confusion, and then swept her skirts aside for me to share her seat. She wanted to ask some questions about the customs of the school, she said.

"That was the beginning of our acquaintance. Next day she waved her handkerchief over the hedge to me, and the next called me over for a little chat. She was lonely in the great garden. After awhile I plucked up courage to tell her how I had watched her through the hedge, and dreamed about meeting her. I could not put it into words, but she could readily see that the good Victoria and the queen of the May were not the sovereigns who claimed my dearest allegiance. It was the 'Queen Rose of the rosebud garden of girls,' the beautiful Alicia Raeburn.

"She went away that summer, but we had grown to be such friends that she promised to write to me once a year, in order that I might not lose her entirely out of my life. She knew what a lonely little orphan I was, and she never denied me the joy of that yearly letter. They were full of her travels and the interesting experiences of her life, for she married a young English officer and went to India.

"They came back to England once. I saw her then. It was at a great ball given for the Prince of Wales when he honoured the little cathedral town with a visit. She could hardly believe that I was the little schoolgirl who had eyed her so adoringly through the hedge. I had grown so large. But she found from others what a lonely life I had, and, knowing how much her friendship meant, she still gave me the pleasure of that yearly letter, written on the queen's birthday. That she should remember through all her busy years shows one of the finest traits of her character.

"Once she was too ill to write, but the message came just the same. She sent this spoon with the May-pole handle, and on her card was scrawled the one line, 'I keep the tryst.' She had told me the story of their family crest. You don't know how many times in the next few years the sight of that card and the souvenir spoon helped me. Her fidelity to a promise made me rely on her and her friendship when all others failed me. My guardian died and left my property in such shape that I found I would have to support myself, and I began to take training for a professional nurse. When she heard of it, she wrote and told me that she, too, had been obliged by her husband's death to earn her own living, and that she had established this school in her great-grandmother's old mansion. She offered me the position of professional nurse here. I came on the next steamer, and have been here ever since.

"You don't know how many times I've thought how different my life would have been if she had failed in that one little matter of sending a yearly letter. No doubt it was a bore to her oftentimes, but it was the line that kept us in touch and finally drew me to this happy anchorage. Alicia Chartley is a great woman, my dear. She has left her imprint on every girl who has passed through this school, and there'll be a long line of them to rise up and call her blessed. Not so much for the fine ladies she has made of them with her high-bred ways and ideals, but for the example she has set them always in that one thing. No matter in how small a duty, she has never once failed to keep the tryst."

Lloyd would have liked to ask some questions about Madam's girlhood, but some one called Miss Gilmer into the office just then, so, taking the tray with its empty cup and plate, she passed out. Lloyd thumped her pillows and lay looking out of the window at the sparrows on the balcony railing. All the ache was gone, and, with a delightful sense of drowsiness and of well-being, she began slipping into a little doze. Even illness had its bright side, she thought, languidly. She liked Miss Gilmer's reminiscences. They opened into a world so delightfully English. When she came back she would ask for more stories. Down from the distant music room stole the faint echo of one of the carols. She opened her eyes to listen.

"God rest you, merry Christians,
Let nothing you dismay, 
For Christ our Lord and Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day."

Lloyd liked that carol. "'Let nothing you dismay,'" she repeated, softly. "No, it doesn't really make any difference what happens," she thought, closing her eyes again and curling tip like a sleepy kitten. "It will all come right in the end, as it did with Miss Gilmer. I'll not worry about missing so many lessons and so many pearls on my rosary. I'll just be thankful for Christmas and all it brings."

Again through her drowsy senses echoed the refrain, and she dropped to sleep, repeating, slowly, "'Let --- nothing --- you --- dismay!'"

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