The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 5: At The Beeches

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry





"How good it feels to be free!" exclaimed the Little Colonel, as she pushed open the high green picket gate in front of the seminary, and held it ajar for Ida to pass through.

"This is the first time that I have been out on the road without a teachah and a flock of girls, for a whole month. I despise the way we have to line up two by two and go mah'ching through the Valley as if we were pah't of a circus parade, or inmates of an asylum, out for an airing."

Ida laughed as they started down the path, along the road leading to The Beeches. It was one of those perfect days in mid-October when it is easy to laugh; when all outdoors seems filled to the brim with a great content, and even the woods and fields, all autumn-clad, are keeping holiday. Besides it was Saturday afternoon, and they were on their way to their first club meeting.

This was their first appearance together since the night of their stolen visit to the apple orchard, a week ago. It had cost Lloyd many a pang to give up her intimacy with Ida, but she had never shown such unselfishness as she did in this devotion to her friend. Since Ida's interests demanded that she should go off with the other girls no matter how much she longed to stay, she went obediently. Although Ida no longer wore her violets, she kept her room sweet with fresh bunches of them. Although her name was constantly in her thoughts, she rarely mentioned it, even to Betty. A few whispered words in the hall, an adoring glance toward her now and then at the table, was all she could snatch in the daytime. She even allowed the school to surmise what it pleased; that Ida had quarrelled with her or had grown tired of her; for her love was of the kind that "endureth all things." But every night she lay awake, living over that scene in the moonlit orchard, happy in the consciousness that she was making Ida happy, and dreaming of the romance that she was helping on its way.

Betty had hurried on up the road to call by for Katie Mallard, with the agreement that the couple which reached the post-office first should wait there for the other.

"Let's cut through Clovercroft," suggested Lloyd. "Mrs. Marks won't care, and it is much shortah that way. The path below her ice-house will bring us out at her woodland gate, just across the road from the depot"
"Anything to get to the post-office first," agreed Ida. "I'm sure that there'll be a letter in your box for me to-day. I can just feel that there's one there."

From the depot it was but a few steps to the post-office. One had only to cross the road, pass the country store, and stroll a short distance along the shady avenue. There it sat by the wayside, a little box of a room, that always made Lloyd think of a dove-cote; for the first time she had been taken there her grandfather had explained that all the little square places where Miss Mattie was putting the letters were pigeonholes. Presently when Miss Mattie opened the window and handed him a letter from one of those places, she cried out with a little squeal of delight which made every one smile, "Oh, white pigeon wing flied out fo' you, grand- fathah!"
Afterward it grew to be a byword that they always used between themselves, when one carried home a letter for the other. "Pigeon wing for grandpa's baby," he would call fondly, even when she had grown to be a tall girl; and "White pigeon wing flied out fo' you, grandfathah deah was the cry if she were the bearer of the missive.

From the post-office door, looking across the road to a grassy ridge beyond, one could see the big inn that the year before had been turned into a home for old Confederate soldiers. Farther on was the wide green slope of the churchyard, and the little stone church with its ivy-covered belfry. The manse stood just behind it. Next to that was the cottage with the high green gables and diamond-shaped window-panes, where the Waltons had lived one summer while their new house was being built. And next to the cottage was the new house itself, set away back in the great grove of trees which gave to the place the name of "The Beeches." 

Ida stood outside the door while Lloyd went in for the mail. She was afraid that Miss Mattie might Suspect that she had an interest in the letters if she went in too, so she busied herself in looking for four-leaf clovers along the path. She could not have seen one, however, had they been growing on every grass-blade, she was in such a nervous flutter of expectancy. When Lloyd came out with two letters in her hand, her face flushed crimson at sight of the familiar handwriting on one envelope.

"This is mine," she exclaimed, in a low tone, snatching it eagerly. "Let's sit down here on the step while I read it."

"I'm mighty glad it wasn't the only one," said Lloyd, glancing back over her shoulder to see if Miss Mattie still stood at the delivery-window. Peeping through the glass which covered the partition wall of pigeonholes, Lloyd saw that she had gone back to her desk by the rear window. So she continued, in a low tone:

"Suppose that had been the only letter, and Betty had asked me if I got one?"

"You would have said no, of course," said Ida, looking up from the page, impatient at the interruption. "This is not for you."

"But it is addressed to me," persisted Lloyd. "Suppose Miss Mattie heard me say no to such a question, or that Betty saw me take it out of the box?"

Again Ida looked up impatiently, but seeing the distressed expression of Lloyd's face, said, soothingly, "I know what you are thinking, Princess. It has just occurred to you that your helping me to carry on this correspondence under cover of your name seems a little bit underhanded. But if you could just read this letter you'd never be troubled by such a thought again. It makes me feel that I am carrying out the motto of our club in the very highest way possible.

"'Our shadow-selves --- our influence --- may fall
Where we can never be.'"

she quoted, softly, looking dreamily away toward the ivy-grown belfry.

"I cannot be with Edwardo, but at least half of this letter is taken up with telling me how much my letters have helped and influenced him. That the thought of me off here, true to him in spite of all that has been done to separate us, is keeping him straight as nothing else could do. Somehow it seems a good omen for the club that I should get such a letter on my way to the first meeting."

Ida's manner was convincing, and Lloyd's face brightened as she listened, but she breathed more freely when she saw the envelope bearing her name torn into little bits too small to tell tales, and dropped down the crack behind the doorstep.

Betty and Katie joined them presently, and two by two they rustled along through the fallen leaves which filled the path, to The Beeches. Long before three o'clock the six members of the Shadow Club were assembled around the big table in the dining-room,with their materials spread out for Mrs. Walton's inspection. Piles of brightly coloured tissue-paper, embroidery silks, zephyr, and ribbon, made a gay showing. Mrs. Walton entered into their plans for the fair enthusiastically, as she helped wind a skein of Iceland wool for Katie's crocheting.

"The beauty of this club," remarked Kitty, as she opened her paint-box and carefully selected a brush, "is that there's no fuss and feathers about it. No election of officers, no dues, no rules, no tiresome minutes to read. All we have to do when we begin is to begin."

"And to remember our motto." suggested Betty, to whom the purpose of the club appealed strongly.

"Ida has made something to help us do that," said Lloyd. "Give them to us now, Ida. while Mrs. Walton is here to see them, please," she urged.

Ida, who had delayed showing them for that very reason, glanced shyly toward her hostess, and then hesitatingly opened the case which held her pyrography outfit.

"It's only some little blotting-pads for your writing-desks," she said, with a blush. "It seems to me that the verse is especially appropriate at letter-writing time, when we consciously cast our shadow-selves where we cannot be."

There was a chorus of delighted exclamations as she passed the packages around. Only two narrow slips of white blotting-paper held together by a white silken cord, but the cover was of soft gray kid, on which she had burned with her pyrography needle the club's motto in old English letters. Mrs. Walton leaned over the table to read the one on Allison's:

"This learned I from the shadow of a tree
  That to and fro did sway upon a wall, 
  our shadow=selves --- our influence --- may fall
  Where we can never be."

"It is beautifully done, my dear," she exclaimed, smiling down into the shy violet eyes raised gratefully to hers in acknowledgment of her lavish praise. "The club is certainly to be congratulated on having a member who can not only make such pretty things, but who can think of such sweet, suggestive ways in which to keep its purpose always in view:'

Lloyd's hand, groping along under the table, found Ida's and gave it a squeeze of sympathetic delight.

"There's something to write to your aunt," she whispered. While the girls were still admiring their blotters, the maid came in to announce a visitor for Mrs. Walton in the library.

Several minutes after she had left them to themselves, Kitty exclaimed, "Oh, mamma forgot to give me those little brass clamps to fasten the candle-shades, and now she has company, and I haven't the faintest idea where to look for them."

"They may be in the hat-rack drawer in the hall," suggested Allison. "I think I saw them in there this morning, but I am not sure."

Kitty skipped out of the room to look for them, and a few minutes later came back, her black eyes shining teasingly.
"I have a trade-last for you, Ida," she said. "Mrs. Mallard is in the library, discussing our club, and I heard mother say something awfully nice about you." 

"Tell it!" demanded Lloyd.

"No, I said a trade-last"

"Oh, fishing for a compliment!" sang Katie.  "Don't tell her, Ida, even if you have heard one.  It will make her vain."

" Besides," put in Allison, "Miss Bina McCannister said it was common and silly to play trade-last."

"Oh. bother old Miss Bina! " said the disrespectful Kitty. " Well, I'll tell you, anyhow. I heard mother tell Mrs. Mallard that she thought you were a charming girl, one of the sweetest that she had met in a long time. She said she was glad we had chosen you in the club instead of a younger girl, for she thought you would have a quieting, refining influence on us, especially me! Think of that now! Me! And she said on that account she would like to have you here often."

Again Lloyd's hand met Ida's under the table in a quick squeeze. "Something else to write to your aunt," she whispered.

Several pretty candle-shades, two doll tam-o'-shanter caps, and three calendars in water-colours were laid aside finished, as the result of that afternoon's work. Besides, Lloyd and Betty had each made considerable progress on the centrepieces they had undertaken to embroider, and the magazine-cover Ida was burning in an elaborate design of dragons was half-done. Allison packed the finished articles away in a hat-box after supper, and put them up on a shelf in her closet.

"Our first meeting has surely been a success," she exclaimed. "At this rate we'll have enough things made by Easter to hold a splendid big fair. We ought to be able to cast our shadows quite a distance with the money we'll make, if we do this well every time."

"Come cast your shadows on this sheet, girls," called Mrs. Walton from the next room, where she had pinned some strips of white paper to a sheet hung on the wall, and placed a lamp at the proper distance for making silhouettes. "The name of your club suggested an old amusement of ours. Come, see how clever you are at drawing each other's shadows."

It proved to be an amusing undertaking, for whenever they laughed during the process, it changed their profiles into all sorts of ridiculous outlines. But finally some very creditable silhouettes were made, and each member of the club carried home her own shadow as a souvenir of the first meeting.

Katie's father called for her at half-past eight, and escorted the seminary girls as far as the high green gate.

"What a perfectly lovely time we've had!" exclaimed Betty, as she and Lloyd and Ida strolled slowly on toward the house, when they had bidden Katie and Mr. Mallard good night.

"And what a delicious suppah we had!" sighed Lloyd. "Oh. if we could only have shaded candles, and pretty silvah, and flowahs at boding-school! I'm so tiahed of that long bare table. Everything tasted so good to-night. Those deah little beaten biscuit made me homesick. I haven't had any since I left Locust."

"The club is certainly an inspiration to do something and be something worth while," said Betty. " What Mrs. Walton said at supper, and afterward when she was showing us the general's sword, made me feel that way. Somehow, to-night, the world seems so much lovelier to be in than ever it did before; so full of opportunities, when one little person can cast such a tremendously long shadow." She looked back at hers, stretching down the path behind her, in the light from the hall lamp, till it seemed the length of a giant.

They passed on into the house, and up the stairs together. As Betty went ahead to light the lamp in their room, Ida caught Lloyd impetuously around the waist and gave her a grateful hug.

"Oh, Princess," she exclaimed, " I've had such a happy day, and I owe it all to you! If it hadn't been for you I'd have had neither the visit to The Beeches nor Edwardo's letter. You're such a comfort!"

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