The Little Colonel At Boarding-School, Chapter 14: The Three Weavers

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published July, 1903
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry





NO better cure could have been found for Lloyd's dejection than her visit to The Beeches. It was impossible for her to brood over her troubles while Allison and Kitty were continually saying funny things, and rushing her from one interesting game to another. After a good night's sleep the events of the previous day seemed so far away that what she had considered such a disgrace had somehow lost its sting, and she wondered how she could have suffered so keenly over it.

Katie Mallard came over soon after breakfast, and they spent nearly the entire day outdoors. The air was frosty and bracing, and when Mrs. Walton saw them come running into the house just before sundown with bright eyes and red cheeks, she felt well pleased with the success of her plan.

She was sitting in her room by a front window writing letters when the girls came rushing up the stairs into the adjoining room. Kitty carried a basket of apples, and Allison some pop-corn and the popper, and presently an appetizing odour began to steal in as the white grains danced over the open fire.

As the girls hovered hungrily around, waiting for the popping to cease, they began a lively discussion which caught Mrs. Walton's attention. She paused, pen in hand, at the mention of two names. Daisy Dale and the Heiress of Dorn. They were familiar names, for only the day before Miss Edith had showed her the pile of books found in Ida's closet, and she was waiting for a suitable time to speak of them to the girls. As she folded her letter and addressed it, she decided she would call them in a little later, when they were through with their apples and their corn, for a quiet little twilight talk. A golden afterglow gleamed above the western tree-tops, and, leaning hack in her rocking-chair, she sat watching it fade out, so absorbed in a story she was thinking to tell them that she ceased to hear the girlish chatter in the next room till Lloyd's voice rang out clearly:

"I've made up my mind. I'm nevah going to get married!"

"Then you'll be an old maid," was Kitty's teasing rejoinder, "and people will poke fun at you and your cats and teacups."

"I'll not have any," was the prompt reply. "I nevah expect to have any moah pets of any kind. Whenevah I get to loving anything, something always happens to it. Think of all the pets we have had at Locust. Fritz, and the two Bobs, and Boots, and the gobblah, and the goat, and the parrot, and deah old Hero! Something happened to every one of them. The ponies are the only things left, and the only kind of a pet I'd evah have again. If Tarbaby should die, I'd buy me a hawse, for I don't expect to be the kind of an old maid that sits in a chimney-cawnah with a tabby and a teapot. I expect to dash around the country on hawseback and have fun even when I'm old and wrinkled and gray. I'll go to college, of co'se, and I'll have interesting people to visit me, so that I'll keep up my interest in the world and not get cranky."

"I'll come and live with you," said Allison. "I'll have a studio and devote my life to making a great artist of myself. We could buy Tanglewood, and make a moat all around the house so that we could pull up the drawbridge when we wanted to be alone or were afraid of burglars."

"Maybe it would be better for me to be an old maid, too," said Betty, musingly. "I'd have more time to write books than if I had a husband and a family to look after. And, besides, while I like to read about lovers and such things in stories, it would make me feel dreadfully foolish to have any man fall on his knees to me and say the things that Lord Rokeby and Guy said to Daisy Dale. I don't even like to write those speeches when I'm in a room by myself. I've tried lots of times, and I've about decided to skip that part in my story. I'll put some stars instead, and begin, 'A year has passed, and Gladys and Eugene,' etc."

"I was going to ask mothah how Papa Jack did it," said Lloyd, "but aftah all that's happened, somehow I'd rathah not say anything about such things to oldah people. Miss McCannister was so horrified when she found we had talked such 'sentimental foolishness,' as she called it. I'll nevah forget the way she screwed up her lips and said, 'It wasn't considahed propah, when I was a child, for little girls to discuss such subjects.' I felt as if I had been caught doing something wicked. It mawtified me dreadfully, and I made up my mind that I'd nevah get to be fond of anybody the way Ida was, for fear I might be mistaken in them as she was."

"Everything seems to be a warning lately," said Betty. "Even the literature lessons this week. If the Lady of Shalott hadn't left her weaving to look out of the window when Sir Lancelot rode by, the curse wouldn't have come upon her."

"There!" cried Allison, scrambling to her feet. "That reminds me that I haven't learned the verses that Miss Edith asked us to memorize for Monday."

She took a worn copy of Tennyson from the table, and began rapidly turning the leaves.

"I learned the whole thing yesterday," said Betty. "I can say every word of part first."

"It's easy," remarked Kitty. "I know part of it, although I'm not in the class. I learned it from hearing Allison read it:

"'Four gray walls and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers.
And the silent isle embowers
The Lady of Shalott'

Isn't that right?"

"Yes, but that isn't Monday's lesson. It's part second we have to learn."

"Let's all learn it," proposed Katie. "It's so pretty and jingles along so easily I'd like to know it, too. You line it out, Allison, as Frazer does the hymns at the coloured baptizings, and we'll run a race and see who can repeat it first."

"There she weaves by night and day," read Allison, and then the five voices gabbled it all together, "There she weaves by night and day."

The concert recitation went on for some time, and presently the lines of the familiar old poem began weaving themselves into the story Mrs. Walton was thinking about. The red gold of the afterglow had not entirely faded from the sky when she left her seat by the window and went into the next room. The five girls on the hearth-rug were still chanting the lesson over and over.

"Come hear us say it, mother," called Kitty, drawing up a chair for her. "Betty learned it first."

Allison deposited the bowl of pop-corn in her lap and passed her the basket of apples, and then flourished the popper like a drum-major's baton. "Now all together!" she cried, and the five voices rang out like one:

"There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she
The Lady of Shalott.

"And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near,
Wending down to Camelot.
There the river eddy whirls,
And the surly village churls
And the red cloaks of market-girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

"Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad
Or longhaired page in crimson clad
Goes by to Camelot.
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two by two.
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott."

"Why, she was an old maid! Wasn't she!" said Katie. so plaintively as they finished that they all laughed.

"That's what Allison and Betty and Lloyd are going to be, mother," said Kitty, teasingly. Lloyd, with a very red face, hastened to change the subject. She snuggled up against Mrs. Walton's knee, saying, as she looked into the glowing fire, "This is the best time of the day, when the wind goes 'Whooo' in the chimney, and it's cold and dark outdoahs and cheerful and bright inside. It's just the time for story-telling. Don't you know one, Mrs. Walton?"

" Of course she does," Kitty answered for her.

"And if you don't know one, you can make one up to order. Can't you, mamsie?"

"Your poem suggested a story," answered Mrs. Walton, and with one hand smoothing Lloyd's fair head as it rested against her knee, and the other stroking Kitty's dark one in her lap, she began:

"Once upon a time (the same time that the Lady of Shalott wove her magic web, and near the four gray towers from which she watched the road running down to Camelot), there lived three weavers. Their houses stood side by side, and such had been their equal fortunes that whatever happened under the roof of one had always happened under the roofs of the others. They wove the same patterns in their looms, and they received the same number of shillings for their webs. They sang the same songs, told the same tales, ate the same kind of broth from the same kind of bowls, and dressed in the same coarse goods of hodden gray.

"But they were unlike as three weavers could possibly be. The first insisted on weaving all his webs a certain length, regardless of the size of the man who must wear the mantle. (Each web was supposed to be just long enough to make one mantle.) The second carelessly wove his any length that happened to be convenient, and stretched or cut it afterward to fit whomsoever would take it. But the third, with great painstaking and care, measured first the man and then the web by the inches and ells of his carefully notched yardstick.

"Now to each weaver was born a daughter, all on the same day, and they named them Hertha, Huberta, and Hildegarde. On the night after the christening, as the three men sat smoking their pipes on the same stoop, the father of Hertha said, 'Do not think me puffed up with unseemly pride, good neighbours, but wonderful fortune hath befallen me and mine this day. Clotho, the good fairy of all the weavers, was present at my Hertha's christening, and left beside her cradle a gift: a tiny loom that from beam to shuttle is of purest gold. And she whispered to me in passing. "Good fortune, Herthold. It is written in the stars that a royal prince shall seek to wed thy child."'

"But Herthold's news caused no astonishment to his neighbours. What had happened under the roof of one had happened under the roofs of all, and the same good fortune was written in the stars for each, and the same gift had been left by each child's cradle. So the three friends rejoiced together, and boasted jestingly among themselves of the three kings' sons who should some day sit down at their tables.

"But presently Hildgardmar, the father of Hildegarde, said, 'But there may be a slip twixt cup and lip. Mayhap our daughters cannot fulfil the required condition.'

"At that they looked grave for a moment, for Clotho had added in passing, 'One thing is necessary. She must weave upon this loom I leave a royal mantle for the prince's wearing. It must be ample and fair to look upon, rich cloth of gold, of princely size and texture. Many will come to claim it, but if it is woven rightly the destined prince alone can wear it, and him it will fit in all faultlessness, as the falcon's feathers fit the falcon. But if it should not be ample and fine, meet for royal wearing, the prince will not deign to don it, and the maiden's heart shall break, as broke the shattered mirror of the Lady of Shalott!

"'Oh, well,' said Herthold, when the three had smoked in silence a little space. 'I'll guard against that. I shall hide all knowledge of the magic loom from my daughter until she be grown. Then, under mine own eye, by mine own measurements that I always use, shall she weave the goodly garment. In the meantime she shall learn all the arts which become a princess to know --- broidery and fair needlework, and songs upon a lute. But of the weaving she shall know naught until she be grown. That I am determined upon. 'Tis sorry work her childish hands would make of it, if left to throw the shuttle at a maiden's fickle fancy.'

"But Hubert shook his head. 'Why stew about a trifle!' he exclaimed. 'Forsooth, on such a tiny loom no web of any kind can well be woven. 'Tis but a toy that Clotho left the child to play with, and she shall weave her dreams and fancies on it at her own sweet will. I shall not interfere. What's written in the stars is written, and naught that I can do will change it. Away, friend Hildgardmar, with thy forebodings!'

"Hildgardmar said nothing in reply, but he thought much. He followed the example of the others, and early and late might have been heard the pounding of the three looms, for there was need to work harder than ever now, that the little maidens might have teachers for all the arts becoming a princess --- broidery and fair needlework and songs upon the lute.

"While the looms pounded in the dwellings the little maidens grew apace. They played together in the same garden and learned from the same skilled teachers their daily lessons, and in their fondness for each other were as three sisters.

"One day Huberta said to the others, 'Come with me and I will show you a beautiful toy that Clotho left me at my christening. My father says she gave one to each of us, and that it is written in the stars that we are each to wed a prince if we can  weave for him an ample cloak of cloth of gold. Already I have begun to weave mine."

"All silently, for fear of watchful eyes and forbidding voices, they stole into an inner roam, and she showed them the loom of gold. But now no longer was it the tiny toy that had been left beside her cradle. It had grown with her growth. For every inch that had been added to her stature an inch had been added to the loom's. The warp was Clotho's gift, all thread of gold, and it, too, grew with the maiden's growth; but the thread the shuttle carried was of her own spinning --- rainbow hued and rose-coloured, from the airy dream-fleece of her own sweet fancies.

"' See,' she whispered, 'I have begun the mantle for my prince's wearing.' Seizing the shuttle as she had seen her father do so many times, she crossed the golden warp with the woof-thread of a rosy day-dream. Hertha and Hildegarde looked on in silent envy, not so much for the loom as for the mirror which hung beside it, wherein, as in the Lady of Shalott's, moved the shadows of the world. The same pictures that flitted across hers, flitted across Huberta's.

"' See!' she cried again, pointing to the mirror, 'That curly shepherd lad! Does he not look like a prince as he strides by with his head high, and his blue eyes smiling upon all the world? He carries his crook like a royal sceptre, forsooth. Well you may believe I am always at my mirror both at sunrise and sunset to see him pass gaily by.'

"'Yon long-haired page in crimson clad is more to my liking,' said Hertha, timidly. 'Methinks he has a noble mien, as of one brought up in palaces. I wonder why my father has never said aught to me of Clotho's gift. I, too, should be at my weaving, for I am as old as thou, Huberta.'

"'And I also,' added Hildegarde.

"'Ask him,' quoth Huberta. 'Mayhap he hath forgot.'

"So when Hertha reached home, she went to her father Herthold, and said, timidly. with downcast eyes and blushes, 'Father --- where is my loom, like Huberta's?  I, too, would be weaving as it is written in the stars.'

"But Herthold glowered upon her grimly. 'Who told thee of aught that is written in the stars?' he demanded, so sternly that her heart quaked within her. 'Hear me! Never again must thou listen to such idle tales. When thou art a woman grown, thou mayst come to me, and I may talk to thee then of webs and weaving, but what hast thou to do with such things now? Thou! a silly child! Bah! I am ashamed that ever a daughter of mine should think such foolishness!'

"Hertha, shamed and abashed, stole away to weep, that she had incurred her father's scorn. But next day, when they played in the garden, Huberta said, 'Thy father is an old tyrant to forbid thee the use of Clotho's gift. He cannot love thee as mine does me, or be would not deny thee such a pleasure. Come! I will help thee to find it.'

"So hand in hand they stole into an inner room by a door that Herthold thought securely bolted, and there stood a loom like Huberta's, and over it a mirror in which the same shadows of the world were repeated in passing. And as Hertha picked up the shuttle to send the thread of a rosy day-dream through the warp of gold, the long-haired page in crimson clad passed down the street outside, and she saw his image in the mirror.

"'How like a prince he bears himself I' she murmured. 'My father is indeed a tyrant to deny me the pleasure of looking out upon the world and weaving sweet fancies about it. Henceforth I shall not obey him, but shall daily steal away in here, to weave in secret what he will not allow me to do openly.'

"At the same time, Hildegarde stood before her father, saying, timidly, 'Is it true, my father, what Huberta says is written in the stars? To-day when I saw Huberta's loom I pushed back the bolt which has always barred the door leading into an inner room from mine, and there I found the loom of gold and a wonderful mirror. I fain would use them as Huberta does, but I have come to ask thee first, if all be well.'

"A very tender smile lighted the face of old Hildgardmar. Taking the hand of the little Hildegarde in his, he led the way into the inner room. 'I have often looked forward to this day, my little one,' he exclaimed, 'although I did not think thou wouldst come quite so soon with thy questions. It is indeed true, what Huberta hast told thee is written in the stars. On the right weaving of this web depends the happiness of all thy future, and not only thine but of those who may come after thee.

"''Tis a dangerous gift the good Clotho left thee, for looking in that mirror thou wilt be tempted to weave thy web to fit the shifting figures that flit therein. But listen to thy father who hath never yet deceived thee, and who has only thy good at heart. Keep always by thy side this sterling yardstick which I give thee, for it marks the inches and the ells to which the stature of a prince must measure. Not until the web cloth fully equal it can it be safely taken from the loom.

"'Thou art so young, 'tis but a little mantle thou couldst weave this year, at best. Fit but to clothe the shoulders of yon curly shepherd lad.' He pointed to the bright reflection passing in the mirror. 'But 'tis a magic loom that lengthens with thy growth, and each year shall the web grow longer, until at last, a woman grown, thou canst hold it up against the yardstick, and find that it doth measure to the last inch and ell the size demanded by a prince's noble stature.

"'But thou wilt oft be dazzled by the mirror's sights, and youths will come to thee, one by one, each begging, "Give me the royal mantle. Hildegarde. I am the prince the stars have destined for thee." And with honeyed words he'll show thee how the mantle in the loom is just the length to fit his shoulders. But let him not persuade thee to cut it loose and give it him, as thy young fingers will be fain to do. Weave on another year, and yet another, till thou, a woman grown, canst measure out a perfect web, more ample than these stripling youths could carry, but which will fit thy prince in faultlessness, as falcon's feathers fit the falcon.'

"Hildegarde, awed by his solemn words of warning, took the silver yardstick and hung it by the mirror, and standing before old Hildgardmar with bowed head, said, 'You may trust me, father; I will not cut the golden warp from out the loom until I, a woman grown, have woven such a web as thou thyself shalt say is worthy of a prince's wearing.'

"So Hildgardmar left her with his blessing, and went back to his work. After that the winter followed the autumn and the summer the spring many times, and the children played in the garden and learned their lessons of broidery and fair needle work and songs upon the lute. And every day each stole away to the inner room, and threw the shuttle in and out among the threads of gold.

"Hertha worked always in secret, peering ever in the mirror, lest perchance the long-haired page in crimson clad should slip by and she not see him. For the sheen of his fair hair dazzled her to all other sights, and his face was all she thought of by day and dreamed of by night, so that she often forgot to ply her needle or finger her lute. He was only a page, but she called him prince in her thoughts until she really believed him one. When she worked at the web she sang to herself,  it is for him --- for him!'

"Huberta laughed openly about her web, and her father often teased her about the one for whom it was intended, saying, when the village lads went by, 'Is that thy prince?' or, 'Is it for this one thou weavest?'  But he never went with her into that inner room, so he never knew whether the weaving was done well or ill. And he never knew that she cut the web of one year's weaving and gave it to the curly shepherd lad. He wore it with jaunty grace at first, and Huberta spent long hours at the mirror, watching to see him pass by all wrapped within its folds. But it grew tarnished after awhile from his long tramps over the dirty moors after his flocks, and Huberta saw other figures in the mirror which pleased her fancy, and she began another web. And that she gave to a student in cap and gown, and the next to a troubadour strolling past her window, and the next to a knight in armour who rode by one idle summer day.

"The years went by, she scattering her favours to whomsoever called her sweetheart with vows of devotion, and Hertha faithful to the page alone. Hildegarde worked on, true to her promise. But there came a time when a face shone across her mirror so noble and fair that she started back in a flutter.

"'Oh, surely 'tis he,' she whispered to her father. 'His eyes are so blue they fill all my dreams.'But old Hildgardmar answered her, 'Does he measure up to the standard set by the sterling yardstick for a full-grown prince to be?'

"'No,' she answered, sadly. 'Only to the measure of an ordinary man. But see how perfectly the mantle I have woven would fit him!'

"'Nay, weave on, then,' he said, kindly. 'Thou hast not yet reached the best thou canst do. This is not the one written for thee in the stars.'

"A long time after a knight flashed across the mirror blue. A knight like Sir Lancelot:

"Hie broad clear brow in sunlight glowed.
On burnished hooves his war-horse trade.
From underneath his helmet flowed,
His coal-black curls, as on he rode
As he rode down to Camelot."

"So noble he was that she felt sure that he was the one destined to wear her mantle, and she went to her father, saying, 'He has asked for the robe, and measured by thy own sterling yardstick, it would fit him in faultlessness, as the falcons feathers fit the falcon.'

"Hildgardmar laid the yardstick against the web. 'Nay,' he said. 'This is only the size of a knight. It lacks a handbreadth yet of the measure of a prince.'

"Hildegarde hesitated, half-pouting, till he said, beseechingly. 'I am an old man, knowing far more of the world and its ways than thou, my daughter. Have I ever deceived thee? Have I ever had aught but thy good at heart? Have patience a little longer. Another year and thou wilt be able to fashion a still larger web.'

"At last it came to pass, as it was written in the stars, a prince came riding by to ask for Hertha as his bride. Old Herthold, taking her by the hand, said, 'Now I will lead thee into the inner room and teach thee how to use the fairy's sacred gift. With me for a teacher, thou Canst surely make no mistake.'

"When they came into the inner room there stood only the empty loom from which the golden warp had been clipped.

"'How now!' he demanded, angrily. Hertha, braving his ill humour, said, defiantly, 'Thou art too late. Because I feared thy scorn of what thou wast pleased to call my childish foolishness, I wove in secret, and when my prince came by, long ago I gave it him. He stands outside at the casement.'

"The astonished Herthold, turning in a rage, saw the longhaired page clad in the mantle which she had woven in secret. He tore it angrily from the youth, and demanded she should give it to the prince, who waited to claim it, but the prince would have none of it. It was of too small a fashion to fit his royal shoulders, and had been defiled by the wearing of a common page. So with one look of disdain he rode away.

"Stripped of the robe her own fancy had woven around him, the page stood shorn before her. It was as if a veil had been torn from her eyes, and she no longer saw him as her fond dreams had painted him. She saw him in all his unworthiness; and the cloth of gold which was her maiden-love, and the rosy daydreams she had woven into it to make the mantle of a high ideal, lay in tattered shreds at her feet. When she looked from the one to the other and saw the mistake she had made and the opportunity she had lost, she covered her face with her hands and cried out to Herthold, 'It is thy fault. Thou shouldst not have laughed my childish questions to scorn, and driven me to weave in ignorance and in secret.' But all her upbraiding was too late. As it was written in the stars, her heart broke, as broke the shattered mirror of the Lady of Shalott.

"That same day came a prince to Hubert, asking for his daughter. He called her from the garden, saying, gaily, 'Bring forth the mantle now, Huberta. Surely it must he a goodly one after all these years of weaving at thy own sweet will.'

"She brought it forth, but when he saw it he started back aghast at its pigmy size. When he demanded the reason, she confessed with tears that she had no more of the golden warp that was Clotho's sacred gift. She had squandered that maiden-love in the bygone years to make the mantles she had so thoughtlessly bestowed upon the shepherd lad and the troubadour, the student and the knight. This was all she had left to give.

"'Well,' said her father, at length, 'tis only what many another has done in the wanton foolishness of youth. But perchance when the prince sees how fair thou art, and how sweetly thou dost sing to thy lute, he may overlook the paltriness of thy offering. Take it to him.'

"When she had laid it before him, he cast only one glance at it, so small it was, so meagre of gold thread, so unmeet for a true prince's wearing. Then he looked sorrowfully into the depths of her beautiful eyes and turned away.

"The gaze burned into her very soul and revealed to her all that she had lost for evermore. She cried out to her father with pitiful sobs that set his heartstrings in a quiver, 'It is thy fault! Why didst thou not warn me what a precious gift was the gold warp Clotho gave me! Why didst thou say to me, "Is this the lad? Is that the lad?" till I looked only at the village churls and wove my web to fit their unworthy shoulders, and forgot how high is the stature of a perfect prince!' Then, hiding her face, she fled away, and as it was written in the stars, her heart broke, as broke the shattered mirror of the Lady of Shallot.

"Then came the prince to Hildegarde. All blushing and aflutter, she clipped the threads that held the golden web of her maiden-love, through which ran all her happy girlish day-dreams, and let him take it from her. Glancing shyly up, she saw that it fitted him in all faultlessness, as the falcon's feathers fit the falcon.

"Then old Hildgardmar, stretching out his hands, said, 'Because even in childhood days thou ever kept in view the sterling yardstick as I bade thee, because no single strand of all the golden warp that Clotho gave thee was squandered on another. because thou waitedst till thy woman's fingerswrought the best that lay within thy woman's heart, all happiness shall now be thine! Receive it as thy perfect crown!'

"So with her father's blessing light upon her, she rode away beside the prince; and ever after, all her life was crowned with happiness as it had been written for her in the stars."

There was a moment's silence when Mrs. Walton ceased speaking. The fire had died down until only a fitful glimmer lighted the thoughtful faces of the girls grouped around her on the hearth-rug Then Kitty said, impulsively:

"Of course Hertha means Ida, and you want us all to be Hildegardes, but who is Huberta?"

"Mittie Dupong, of course!" answered Allison. "And Flynn Willis and Cad Bailey and all that set we were so disgusted with at Carter Brown's party. Didn't you mean them, mother?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Walton, well pleased that the tale had been interpreted so quickly. "I must confess that I told the story solely for the moral I wanted to tack on to the end of it. You do not know how my heart has ached for Ida. Poor misguided child! From what I have heard of her aunt I think she must be like Hertha's father, and made Ida feel that she had no sympathy with her childish love-affairs. Then Ida made the mistake that Hertha did, wove her ideals in secret, and fitted them on the first boy who pleased her fancy. Once wrapped in them she was blind to all his faults, and could not judge him as other people did. She made a hero of him. I blame her aunt as much as I do her, because she did not teach her long ago, as Hildgardmar did his daughter.

"Little girls begin very early sometimes to dream about that far-away land of Romance. The teasing questions older people ask them often set them to thinking seriously of it. They call their little playmates their sweethearts, and imagine the admiration and fondness they have for them is the love that is written in the stars. Nobody explains to them that they will outgrow their early ideals as they do their dresses.

"I can remember how my ideals used to change. When I was a little girl, about as old as Elise, I thought that my Prince Charming would be like the one in the story of the Sleeping Beauty. I dreamed of sitting all day beside him on a crystal throne, with a crown on my bead and a sceptre in my hand. But as I grew older I realized how stupid that would be, and I fashioned him after the figures that flitted across my mirror in the world of books. He was as handsome as a Greek god, and the feats he performed could have been possible only in the days of the Round Table.

"Then I outgrew that ideal. Others took its place, but when a woman grown, I held up the one that was the best my woman's heart could fashion, I found that my prince measured just to the stature of an honest man. simple and earnest and true. That was all --- no Greek god, no dashing knight, but a strong, Manley man, whose love was my life's crown of happiness."

She glanced up at the portrait over the mantel, and there was an impressive pause. Lloyd broke the silence presently, speaking very fast in an embarrassed sort of way.

"But. Mrs. Walton, don't you think there was some excuse for Ida besides her being blinded to Mistah Bannon's faults? He made her believe she had such a good influence ovah him that she thought it was her duty to disobey her aunt, because it was moah important that he should be reformed than that she should be obeyed in a mattah that seemed unreasonable to Ida."

"Yes," was the hesitating answer. "But Ida was largely influenced to take that stand by the books she had been reading. That's another matter I want to speak about, since my little girls have confessed to the reading of 'Daisy Dale' and the 'Heiress of Dorn.' While there is nothing particularly objectionable in such books in one way, in another their influence is of the very worst. The characters are either unreal or overdrawn, or they are so interestingly coloured that they are like the figures of the shepherd lad and the long-haired page in the mirrors of Hertha and Huberta. In watching them a girl is apt to weave her web 'to fit their unworthy shoulders, and forget how high is the stature of a perfect prince.' Such books are poor yardsticks, and give one false ideas of value and measurement.

"Ned's plea is what nearly every wild young fellow makes, and nine times out of ten it appeals to a girl more than any other argument he could use. 'Give me the mantle, Hildegarde. It will help me to live right.' So she takes him in hand to reform him. Nothing could be purer and higher than the motives which prompt her to sacrifice everything to what she considers her duty. I had a schoolmate once who married a bright young fellow because he came to her with Ned's plea. Her father said, 'Let him reform first. What he will not do for a sweetheart, he will never do for a wife.' But she would not listen, and to-day she is living in abject poverty and cruel unhappiness. He is rarely sober.

"In olden times a man didn't come whining to a maiden and say, 'I long to be a knight, but I am too weak to do battle unaided. Be my Ladye fair and help me win my spurs.'  No, she would have laughed him to scorn. He won his spurs first, and only after he had proved himself worthy and received his accolade, did she give him her hand.

"Oh, my dear girls, if you would only do as Hildegarde did, ask first if all be well before you clip the golden web from the loom and give it to the one who begs for it ! He is not the one written for you in the stars --- he does not measure to the stature of a true prince if he comes with such a selfish demand as Ned did."

"That is a story I'll nevah forget," said Lloyd, soberly. " I think it ought to be printed and put in the seminary library for all the othah girls to read."

"And some of the fathers and mothers, too," added Betty. "Ida's aunt ought to have a copy."

"No, it is too late," remarked Katie. "It's a case of what grandpa would call 'locking the stable after the horse is stolen."'

There was a knock at the door. "Supper is served," announced Barbry's voice in the hall.

< Chapter 13   Chapter 15 >

The Little Colonel At Boarding-School - Table of Contents