The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 5: Betty Reaches the "House Beautiful"


by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900



IT was very early in the morning, while the dew was still on the meadows, that Betty fared forth on her pilgrimage. The old farm wagon that was to take her to the railroad station, two miles away, was drawn up to the door before five o'clock. Davy proudly held the reins while his father carried Betty's trunk down-stairs.

Poor, shabby, little, old leather trunk! It was not half full, for there had been small preparation for this visit. Betty had carefully folded the few gingham dresses she possessed, and the new blue and white lawn bought for her to wear to church. There were several stitches to be taken in her plain cotton underwear, and a button to be sewed on her only white ruffled apron.

That was all that she could do to make herself ready, except to put her hair-ribbons and handkerchiefs smoothly into a little diamond-shaped box that had once held toilet soap. Betty felt rich in ribbons "to tie up her bonnie brown hair," for there were three bows the colour of her curls, and two of red, and one of delicate robin's-egg blue. The last was to wear with the new lawn, and, in order to keep it fresh and fine, it lay wrapped in tissue-paper all week, between the times of its Sunday wearings.

And the handkerchiefs --- well, six of them were plain and white, and two had pictures stamped in the corners. One told the story of Red Ridinghood and the other had scenes from Cinderella outlined in blue. They had been Davy's present to her the Christmas before, and he had bought them at Squire Jaynes's store with his own precious pennies.

That was all that Betty had intended to put into her trunk, but when they were in, there was still so much room that she decided to take her books and several of her chief treasures. "They will be safer," she said to herself, and she filled a box with cotton in which to pack some of her breakable keepsakes. She had hesitated some time about taking her scrapbook, an old ledger on whose blank pages she had written many verses. She hardly dared call them poetry, and yet they were dear to her, because they were the outpourings of her lonely little heart.

All the children knew that she "made up rhymes," but only Davy had any knowledge of the old ledger.  He could not understand all the verses she read to him about the wild flowers and life and death and time, but they jingled pleasantly in his ears, and he made an attentive listener.

"I'll take it," she decided at last, slipping some loose pages in between the covers. "I may want to write something at Locust."

She paused long at the foot of her bed, trying to make up her mind about her godmother's picture, that hung there in a little frame of pine cones.

" I don't know whether to take it or not," she said to Davy, looking up lovingly at the Madonna of her dreams, whose sweet face had been her last greeting at night, and first welcome on waking, for several years. "I hate to leave it behind, but I'll have my real godmother to look at while I'm gone, and it'll seem so nice to have this picture here to smile at me when I get back, as if she was glad I'd come home. I believe I'll leave it."

It was a solemn moment when Betty climbed into the wagon after her trunk had been lifted in at the back, and perched herself on the high spring seat, beside Davy and his father. The other children were drawn up in a line along the porch, to watch her go. She wore one of her every-day dresses of dark blue gingham, and her white sunbonnet, but the familiar little figure had taken on a new interest to them. They regarded her as some sort of a venturesome Columbus, about to launch on a wild voyage of discovery. None of them had ever been beyond Jaynes's Post-office in their journeyings, and the youngest had not seen even that much of the outside world.

Betty herself could not remember having been on a longer trip than to Livermore, a village ten miles away. There was an excited flutter in her throat as the wagon started forward with a jolt, and she realised that now she was looking her last on safe familiar scenes, and breaking loose from all safe familiar landmarks.

"Good-bye ! " she cried again, looking back at the little group on the porch with tears in her eyes.

"Good-bye! Good-bye!" they called, in a noisy chorus, repeating the call like a brood of clacking guineas, until the wagon passed out of sight down the lane. The road turned at the church. Betty leaned forward for one more look at the window, on whose sill she had passed so many happy afternoons reading to Davy. The board was still leaning against the house, where she had propped it.

"Good-bye, dear old church," she said softly to herself.

They drove around the corner of the little neglected graveyard, where the headstones gleamed white in the morning sunshine, above the dark, glossy green of the myrtle vines. How peaceful and quiet it seemed. The dew still shone in tiny beads on the cobwebs, spun across the grass, a spicy smell of cedar boughs floated across the road to them, and a dove called somewhere in the distant woodlands. As they passed, a wild rose hung over the gray pickets of the straggling old fence, and waved a spray-of pale pink blossoms to them.

"Good-bye," she whispered, turning for one more look at the familiar headstones. They were like old friends; she had wandered among them so often. One held her gaze an instant, with its well-known marble hand, pointing the place in a marble book in which was carved one text. How often she had spelled the words, pointing out the deeply carven letters to Davy: "Be ye also ready."

She had a vague .feeling that the headstones knew she was going away and would miss her. "Goodbye," she said to them, too, nodding the white sunbonnet gravely. It seemed a solemn thing to start on such a journey. After leaving the church there was only one more place to bid good-bye, and that was the schoolhouse sitting through its lonely vacation time in a deserted playground, gone to weeds.

There was no time to spare at the station. Mr. Appleton tied the horses and hurried to have Betty's trunk checked. The shriek of the locomotive coming down the track made Betty turn cold. It was like a great demon thundering toward her. Davy edged closer to her, moved by the strange surroundings to ask a question.

"Say, Betty, ain't you afraid?"

"Yes," she confessed, squeezing the warm little hand in her own, which had suddenly seemed to turn to ice. "My heart is going bump-bump-bump like a scared wild rabbit's; but I keep saying over and over to myself what the python said. Don't you remember in Kaa's hunting? 'A brave heart and a courteous tongue, said he, they shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.'  It can't be such a very big jungle that I'm going into, and godmother will meet me in a few hours. Don't forget me, Davy, while I'm gone."

She stooped to give the little fellow a hug and a kiss on each dimpled cheek, for the train had stopped, and Mr. Appleton was waiting to shake hands and lift her up the steps. Betty stumbled into the first vacant seat she saw, and sat up primly, afraid to glance behind her. In her lap, tightly clasped by both hands, she held a little old-fashioned basket of brown willow. It had two handles and a lid with double flaps. She carried it because she had no travelling-bag. Her lunch was in that, her pass, five nickels, and the Red Ridinghood handkerchief.

"You can let that be a sort of warning to you," said Mrs. Appleton, at parting, "not to get into conversation with strangers. Red Ridinghood never would have got into trouble if she hadn't stopped to tell the Wolf all she knew."

Remembering this warning, Betty sat up very straight at first, and held the basket handles in such a tight grasp that her fingers ached. But after the conductor had looked at her pass and smiled kindly into the appealing little face under the white sunbonnet, she felt more at ease and began to look shyly about her.

Somebody's grandmother was in the seat in front of her, such a fat, comfortable-looking old lady, that Betty felt sure she could not be a Wolf in disguise' and watched her with neighbourly interest. She fell to wondering about her, where she lived and where she was going, and what she had in her many bags, boxes' shawl-straps, and satchels.

Things were not half so strange as she had expected them to be. The corn-fields and tobacco-fields and apple-orchards whizzing past the windows were exactly like the ones she had left at home. More than once a meadow full of daisies, gleaming on her sight like drifts of summer snow, made her think of the lower pasture at home, where she had waded through them the day before, waist-deep.

Even the people who came on the cars at the stations along the way looked like the people she saw at church every week, and Betty soon began to feel very much at home. After awhile the train stopped at a junction where she had to wait several hours to make connection with the Louisville train. But even that did not turn out to be a bad experience, as she had feared, for the old lady waited too, and she was as anxious to find a friend as Betty was. So it was not long until the two were talking together as sociably as two old neighbours, and they ate their lunch together with so many exchanges of confidences that they were both surprised when Betty's train came puffing along. They had not imagined the time could fly so fast.

At parting they kissed each other as if they had always been friends, and Betty climbed into the car with a warm glow in her heart at having found such unexpected pleasantness along the way.

" It was silly of me to have been so frightened"' she thought. "The world isn't a jungle, after all' and we are just as apt to meet the grandmothers as the wolves when we go travelling."

She was mixing Kaa's experience with Red Ridinghood's in her thought, but it made no difference. The conclusion she reached was a comfortable one. So she leaned back in her seat to enjoy the rest of the journey without any foolish fears.

Little by little the motion of the train had its effect. The white sunbonnet nodded nearer and nearer toward the cushioned back of the seat; the brown eyes drooped drowsily, and in a few minutes Betty was sound asleep. That was the last she knew of the trip that she had settled herself to enjoy, for when she awoke the brakeman was calling 'Louisville! " at the top of his voice, and people were beginning to reach up to the racks overhead for their bundles.

There was a general uprising of the passengers. The crowd pushed toward the door, carrying the startled child with them as they surged down the aisle, and all at once --- as she stepped off the train --- she found herself in the depths of her dreaded jungle. It was so confusing she did not know which way to turn. The roar and clang of a great city smote on her ears as she stood in the big Union depot, helpless, bewildered, and as lost as a stray kitten in the midst of that noisy, pushing crowd. Sharp elbows jostled her this way and that; strange `aces streamed past her by thousands, it seemed. How could anybody find anybody else in such a whirlpool of people? Hunting for a needle in a haystack seemed nothing in comparison to finding her godmother in such a crowd.

Betty stood looking around her helplessly in the middle of the overpowering din of whistles and bells and the thunder of wheels on the cobblestones outside. That moment she would have given anything she owned to be safely back on the quiet farm. The big brown eyes in the depths of the sunbonnet filled with tears, but she resolutely winked them back, whispering the python's words: "A brave heart and a courteous tongue, manling."

But she could not stop the frightened thumping in her breast, and of what use was a courteous tongue, when nobody would stop to listen? She wondered what had happened to make a whole city full of people in such a desperate hurry.

Two tears splashed down on the brown willow basket-lid, and then --- No telling what would have happened next, had not the jungle opened, without waiting for a brave heart and a courteous tongue on Betty's part. Coming toward her all in dainty gray and white was a lady she would have recognised anywhere. That face, that had been the Madonna of her both waking and sleeping, since the first night it had kept its smiling vigil above her little bed, could belong to no one but her beautiful godmother.

With a glad little cry of recognition she sprang forward, catching one slim gray-gloved hand in hers. The white sunbonnet fell back, the brown eyes looked out from a tangle of dusky curls with a world of loving admiration in their depths, and the next instant Betty was folded in Mrs. Sherman's arms.

"Joyce Allen," she exclaimed, "all over again! Joyce's own little daughter! I would have known you anywhere, dear, I think, even ---" She did not finish the sentence. Even in such an outlandish costume, was what she had started to say. She had seen Betty as the child stepped off the train' but had not given her a second glance, as it never occurred to her that the little guest she had come to meet would travel in a sunbonnet.

But Betty was blissfully unconscious of her appearance. As they crossed the city to a suburban depot, she was so interested in the mysteries of the trolley-car on which they rode, so absorbed by the great show-windows they passed, and so amazed by the city sights and sounds on every hand, that she was not conscious of the fact that she even had a head. It might have been bald for all she was concerned about the covering of it.

The Little Colonel was waiting in the carriage at the depot when Mrs. Sherman and Betty stepped off the train at Lloydsboro Valley. Rob Moore had come down, too, curious for a glimpse at the first arrival. He grinned at the expression of surprise and dismay on the Little Colonel's face as her glance fell on Betty. Was it that her little guest had no hat, she wondered, or was it because no one in the cuckoo's nest had ever taught her any better than to go travelling in such style? And carrying a little old-fashioned willow basket, too! How odd and countrified she looked!

But Lloyd was too ladylike to show her disappointment. She climbed out of the carriage and greeted Betty as graciously as her mother had done. Then straightway she forgot her annoyance, for the sweet friendliness of the little face smiling up into hers was irresistible.

"Does the Valley look as you thought it would" Elizabeth?" asked Mrs. Sherman, as the carriage rolled homeward, past handsome suburban homes with closely cut lawns and trimly kept paths.

"No," said Betty, hesitatingly." You see I thought you lived in the country, and I suppose it is a sort of country, but not the kind that I live in. Here everything is pruned and raked until it looks as if it had just had its hair parted smoothly in the middle, and its shoe-strings tied. At home there is so much underbrush, and such a tangle of weeds and high grass and briers, that the yards look as if they'd forgotten to comb their hair when they got up, and had gone around all day with it hanging down their backs in snarls."

The Little Colonel laughed. The newcomer had amusing fancies, at any rate.

"And there's the same difference in everything else," continued Betty." The same difference that there was between Cinderella's pumpkin and her gilded coach. It was a pumpkin all the time, only it looked different after it was bewitched. And do you know," she said, with a charming little burst of confidence that made Lloyd's heart warm toward her, "I began to feel bewitched myself, from the first moment that godmother spoke to me? She called me Elizabeth, and at home I am just plain Betty. Oh, I think it is perfectly beautiful to have a godmother."

She looked shyly up at the face above her with such a winning smile that Mrs. Sherman drew her toward her with a quick hug and kiss. Lloyd gave a little wriggle of satisfaction. "I'm so glad you've come!" she cried, so completely won by Betty's artlessness that she forgot her first impression.

"Heah we are at Locust," she said, as they drove into the long avenue. "I wish you could have seen the trees when they were all in bloom. It was like a picture."

"It is like a picture now, I think," said Betty' gazing up at the giant branches overheard that seemed to be waving a welcome. There was a listening expression on her face, as if she understood their leafy whisperings. Lloyd and her mother exchanged glances, and after that she was disturbed by no word until the carriage stopped. They understood her silent pleasure in the great trees that they themselves had learned to look upon as old friends.

At the house Betty leaned forward for an admiring glance at the tall white pillars, all wreathed and festooned in their green lacework of vines. "Oh, I know this place" she cried. "It is in my 'Pilgrim's Progress,' where Christian stopped awhile on his way to the City of the Shining Ones. It is the House Beautiful!"

"What odd fancies you have!" exclaimed Lloyd' stepping out of the carriage as she spoke. "But it is dear of you to give the place such a sweet name. Come on up and see your room. After you have rested awhile I'll take you all over the house."

As they went down the wide, airy hall, Betty had a glimpse of the drawing-room through the open doors. In a confused way she noticed mirrors and statuary and portraits, handsome old furniture and rare pieces of bric-a-brac; but one thing caught her attention so that she stood a moment in round-eyed admiration. It was a large harp whose gracefully curving frame gleamed through the shadowy room like burnished gold. Fair and tall it stood, as if its strings had just been swept by some of the Shining Ones beyond, who were a part of the Pilgrim's dream.

"What did you say?" asked Lloyd, hearing her cry of admiration, and looking back to see Betty standing in the open door with clasped hands. "Oh, that is grandmothah's harp. I am learning to play on it to please grandfathah. I'll teach you some chords while you are heah, if you want me to. Come on."

At the landing where the stairs turned, Betty stopped again, for there was a great casement window looking out into a beech-grove, and under it a cosy cushioned window-seat, where some one had evidently been reading. There were books and magazines scattered all among the pillows.

"Heah is yo' room!" cried Lloyd, throwing open a door at the head of the stairs, and leading the way in. Betty followed, her sunbonnet in her hand, and looked around her like one in a dream. She had never imagined a room could be so beautiful. If Lloyd could have known what a contrast it was to the bare little west gable at the cuckoo's nest, she could have better understood the wonder in Betty's face.

"My room is pink, and Eugenia's green, and Joyce's blue," explained Lloyd. "Mothah thought you would like this white and gold one best, 'cause it's like a daisy field."

Before Betty could express her admiration, Mrs. Sherman came in with an old coloured woman whom she called Mom Beck, and who, she told Betty, had been her own nurse as well as Lloyd's." And she is anxious to see you," added Mrs. Sherman, "for she remembers your mamma so well. Many a time she helped dress her when she was a little girl no larger than you, and came home with me for a visit. She'll bring you some milk or iced tea, and fix your bath when you are ready for ft. We are going to leave you now for a little while and see if you can't have a nice little nap. It has been a long, tiresome journey, and you need the rest more than you realise."

Left to herself, Betty undressed and lay down as she had been bidden. Her eyes were tired and she closed them sleepily, but they would not stay shut. She was obliged to open them for another peep at the dear little white dressing-table with its crystal candlesticks, that looked like twisted icicles. And she must see that darling little heart-shaped pincushion again, and all the dainty toilet articles of gold and ivory. Then she could not resist another glance at the white Angora rugs lying on the dark, polished floor, and the white screen before her washstand with sprays of goldenrod painted across it, looking as natural as if they had grown there.

Once she got up and pattered across the room in her nightgown to sit a moment before the little writing-desk in the corner, and handle all its dainty furnishings of gold and mother-of-pearl. There were thin white curtains at the windows, held back by broad bands of yellow ribbon. They stirred softly with every passing breeze, and fluttered and fluttered, until by and by, watching them, Betty's eyelids fluttered, too, and she closed them drowsily.

While she slept she dreamed that she was back in the cuckoo's nest again, in her bare little room in the gable, and that a great white and yellow daisy stood over her, shaking her by the shoulder and telling her that it was time to go down and wash the breakfast dishes. Then the broad white petals began to fall off one by one, and it was Davy's face in the centre. No, whose was it? She rubbed her eyes and looked again, to find her godmother standing in the door.

"It is time to dress for dinner, little girl," she called, gaily. "Do you need any help?"

"No, thank you," answered Betty, sitting up and catching a glimpse of Lloyd going past the door in a fresh white muslin and pink ribbons.

"Shall I wear my best dress, godmother?" asked Betty, "or would it be better to save it for Sunday?"

"Let me see it," said Mrs. Sherman, helping her to take it out of the little half-fiIled trunk. "Oh, you'd better wear it, I think. We may have company." What she saw in that trunk set her to thinking her most godmotherly thoughts.

The wax tapers were all lighted in each silver candelabra when Betty went down the stairs, looking fresh and sweet as a wildflower in her dress and ribbons of robin's-egg blue. When she slipped into the long drawing-room, Lloyd was playing on the harp. Over her hung the portrait of a beautiful young girl, also standing beside a harp. She was dressed in white, and she wore a June rose in her hair and another at her throat. Betty walked over and looked up at the picture long and earnestly.

"That's my grandmothah, Amanthis," said Lloyd' pausing in her song, "and that's the way she looked the first time grandfathah evah saw her. And heah's Uncle Tom in his soldier clothes, and this is mothah's great-great-aunt that was such a belle in the days of Clay and Webstah."

She led the way around the room, introducing Betty to all the old family portraits, with interesting tales about each one. Then she went back to her harp, and Betty sat down in front of the first picture again. "You belong to me, too, in a way," thought Betty, looking up at it. "If you are my godmother's mother, then you are my great-godmother, Amanthis, and I love you because you are so beautiful."

The harp thrilled on, the fair face of the portrait seemed to smile back at her, and in some vague, sweet way Betty felt that she had come back to her own and had been welcomed home to the House Beautiful.

< Chapter 4        Chapter 6 >

The Little Colonel's House Party - Table of Contents