The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 1: The Invitations Are Sent


by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900



DOWN the long avenue that led from the house to the great entrance gate came the Little Colonel on her pony. It was a sweet, white way that morning, filled with the breath of the locusts; white overhead where the giant trees locked branches to make an arch of bloom nearly a quarter of a mile in length, and white underneath where the fallen blossoms lay like scattered snowflakes along the path.

Everybody in Lloydsboro Valley knew Locust. "It is one of the prettiest places in all Kentucky," they were fond of saying, and every visitor to the Valley was taken past the great entrance gate to admire the long rows of stately old trees, and the great stone house at the end, whose pillars gleamed white through the Virginia creeper that nearly covered it.

Everybody knew old Colonel Lloyd, too, the owner of the place. He also was often pointed out to the summer visitors. Some people called attention to him because he was an old Confederate soldier who had given his good right arm to the cause he loved, some because they thought he resembled Napoleon, and others because they had some amusing tale to tell of the eccentric things he had said or done.

Nearly every one who pointed out the imposing figure, which was clad always in white duck or linen in the summer, and wrapped in a picturesque military cape in winter, added the remark: "And he is the Little Colonel's grandfather."  To be the grandfather of such an attractive little bunch of mischief as Lloyd Sherman was when she first came to the Valley was a distinction of which any man might well be proud; and Colonel Lloyd was proud of it. He was proud of the fact that she had inherited his lordly manner, his hot temper, and imperious ways. It pleased him that people had given her his title of Colonel on account of the resemblance to himself. She had outgrown it somewhat since she had first been nicknamed the Little Colonel. Then she was only a spoiled baby of five; but now his pride in her was even greater, since she had grown into a woManley little maid of eleven. He was proud of her delicate, flower-like beauty, of her dainty ways, and all her little schoolgirl accomplishments.

"She is like those who have gone before,"  he used to say to himself sometimes, pacing slowly back and forth under the locusts; and the bloom-tipped branches above would nod to each other as if they understood. "Yes-s, yes-s," they whispered in the soft lisping language of the leaves, "we know! She's like Amanthis, --- sweet-souled and starry-eyed; we were here when you brought her home, a bride. She's like Amanthis! Like Amanthis!"

Under the blossoms rode the Little Colonel, all in white herself this May morning, except the little Napoleon hat of black velvet, set jauntily over her short light hair. Into the cockade she had stuck a spray of locust blossoms, and as she rode slowly along she fastened a bunch of them behind each ear of her pony, whose coat was as soft and black as the velvet of her hat. "Tarbaby" she called him, partly because he was so black, and partly because that was the name of her favourite Uncle Remus Story.

"There!" she exclaimed, when the flowers were fastened to her satisfaction. " Yo' lookin' mighty fine this mawnin', Tarbaby! Maybe I'll take you visitin' aftah I've been to the post-office and mailed these lettahs. You didn't know that judge Moore's place is open for the summah, did you, and that all the family came out yesta'day ? Well, they did, and if Bobby Moore isn't ovah to my house by the time we get back home, we'll go ovah to Bobby's."

As she spoke, she passed through the gate at the end of the avenue and turned into the public road, a wide pike with a railroad track on one side of it and a bridle-path on the other. Two minutes' brisk canter brought her to another gate, one that had been closed all winter, and one that she was greatly interested in, because it led to judge Moore's house. Judge Moore was Rob's grandfather, and she and Rob had played together every summer since she could remember.

The wide white gate was standing open now, and she drew rein, peering anxiously in. She hoped for the sight of a familiar freckled face or the sound of a welcoming whoop. But it was so still everywhere that all she saw was the squirrels playing hide and seek in the beech-grove around the house, and all she heard was the fearless cry, "Pewee! pewee!" of a little bird perched in a tree overarching the gate.  It balanced itself on the limb, leaning over and cocking its bright bead-like eyes at her, as if admiring the sight.

What it saw was a slender girl of eleven, taller than most children of that age, and more graceful. There was a colour in her cheek like the delicate pink of a wild rose, and the big hazel eyes had a roguish twinkle in them, as they looked out fearlessly on the world from under the little Napoleon hat with its nodding cockade of locust blossoms.

"There's nobody in sight, Tarbaby," said the Little Colonel, "and there isn't time to go in befo' we've been to the post-office, so we might as well be travellin' on."

She was turning slowly away when down the pike behind her came the quick beat of a horse's hoofs and a shrill whistle. A twelve-year-old boy was riding toward her as fast as his big gray horse could carry him. He was riding bareback, straight and lithe as a young Indian, his cap pushed to the back of his head. He snatched it off with a flourish as he came within speaking distance of the Little Colonel, his freckled face all ashine with pleasure.

"Hello ! Lloyd," he called, "I was just going to your house."

"And I was looking for you, Bobby," she answered, as informally as if it were only yesterday they had parted, instead of eight months before.

"Come and go down to the post-office with me. I must take these lettahs."

"All right," said Rob, wheeling the gray horse around beside the black pony, and smiling broadly as he looked down into the Little Colonel's welcoming eyes. "You don't know how good it feels to get back to the country again, Lloyd. I could hardly wait for school to close, when I'd think about the fish waiting for me out here in the creek, and the wild strawberries getting ripe, and the horses just spoiling to be exercised. It was more than I could stand. What have you been doing all winter?"

"Oh, the same old things: school and music lessons, and good times in the evenin' with mothah and papa Jack and grandfathah."

As they jogged along, side by side, the Little Colonel chatting gaily of all that had happened since their last meeting, Rob kept casting curious glances at her. "What have you been doing to yourself, Lloyd Sherman?" he demanded, finally. "You look so --- so different!" There was such a puzzled expression in his sharp gray eyes that the Little Colonel laughed. Then her hand flew up to her head.

"Don't you see? I've had my hair cut. I had to beg and beg befo' mothah and papa Jack would let me have it done; but it was so long, --- away below my waist, --- and such a bothah. It had to be brushed and plaited a dozen times a day."

"I don't like it that way. It isn't a bit becoming," said Rob, with the frankness of old comradeship. "You look like a boy. Why, it is as short as mine."

"I don't care," answered Lloyd, her eyes flashing dangerously. "It's comfortable this way, and grandfathah likes it. He says he's got his Little Colonel back again now, and he sent to town for this Napoleon hat like the ones I used to weah when I was a little thing."

"When you were a little thing!" laughed Rob, teasingly. "What do you think you are now, missy? You're head and shoulders shorter than I am."

"I'm eleven yeahs old, anyway, I'd have you to undahstand, Bobby Moore," answered the Little Colonel, with such dignity that Rob wished he hadn't spoken. "I was eleven last week. That was one of my birthday presents, havin' my own way about cuttin' my hair, and anothah was the house pahty. Oh, you don't know anything about the house pahty I'm to have in June, do you!" she cried, every trace of displeasure vanishing at the thought. "Grandfathah and papa Jack are goin' away fo' amonth to some mineral springs in Va'ginia, and I'm to have my house pahty in June to keep mothah and me from bein' lonesome. It will not be a very big one, only three girls to spend June with me, but mothah says we can have picnics every day if we want to, and invite all the boys and girls in the Valley, and we can have the house full from mawnin' till night. I'll invite you right now for every day that you want to come. We'll expect you at all the pahties and picnics and candy-pullin's that we have. I want you to help me give the girls a good time, Bobby."

Rob whirled his cap around his head with a "Whe-ew ! Jolly for you!" before he answered more politely, "Thank you, Lloyd, you can count on me for my part. I'll be on hand every time you turn around, if you want me. Who all's coming?"

For answer Lloyd held up the three letters she was carrying, and let him see the first address, written in Mrs. Sherman's flowing hand.

Miss Eugenia Forbes,                   
The Waldorf-Astoria,
                    New York City.

"Well, who is she? " he asked, reading it aloud.

"Eugenia is a sort of cousin of mine," explained Lloyd. "At least her fathah and my fathah are related in some way. I used to know her when we lived in New York, but I haven't seen her since we left. I was five then and she was seven, so she must he neahly thirteen yeahs old now. When we played togethah she would scream and scream if I didn't give up to her in everything, and as I had a bad tempah, too, we were always fussin'. She was dreadfully spoiled. I'll nevah fo'get how my hand bled one day when she bit it, or how she clawed my face till it looked as if a tigah had scratched it."

"Then what did you do?" asked Rob, with a grin. He had experimented with Lloyd's temper himself in the past.

"I believe that that was the time I pounded her on the back with my little red chair," answered Lloyd, laughing at the recollection. "Or maybe it was the time I banged her ovah the head with a toy teakettle. I remembah I did both those bad things, and that we were always in trouble whenevah we were togethah. I didn't want mothah to invite her, but she said she felt that we ought to. Eugenia's mothah is dead. She died three yeahs ago, and since then she's been kept in a boa'din' school most of the time. When she's not away at school she stays in some big hotel with her fathah, eithah in New York or at some summah resort. He is always so busy there's no one to pay any attention to her but her maid. They are very wealthy, and Eugenia has had the best of everything so long that I'm afraid she'll find the Valley dreadfully poah and poky. I imagine she's stuck up, too. She used to be, and she's always had her own way about everything."

"Number one doesn't sound very inviting," said Rob, with a sour grimace. "Who is your number two?"  Lloyd held out the second envelope.

Miss Joyce Ware,         

"I nevah saw her," said Lloyd, "but I feel as if we had always been old friends. Her mothah and mine used to go to school togethah heah in Lloydsboro Valley at the Girls' College, and they've written to each othah once a month for fifteen yeahs. Mrs. Ware is a widow now, and they have ha'd times, for they are poah, and she has foah children youngah than Joyce. But Joyce has had lots of things that neithah Eugenia nor I have had. Last yeah her cousin Kate took her abroad with her, and she studied French, and she had lots of beautiful times where they spent the wintah in France. Mrs. Ware sent some of the lettahs to mothah that Joyce wrote. One was about a Christmas tree that they gave to thirty little peasant children, --- and so many queer things happened behind a gate that they called the 'Gate of the Giant Scissahs,' because there was a pair of enormous scissahs hanging ovah it, you know. Oh, it was just like a fairy tale, all the things that Joyce did when she was in Touraine."

"How old is she?" interrupted Rob.

"Just Eugenia's age, I believe, and she must be an interestin' sort of girl, for she draws beautifully. Mothah says that her sketches are fine, and that Joyce will be a real artist when she is grown."

"Number two is all right," said Rob, with an approving nod. "Next!"  The Little Colonel held out the third envelope.

"One flew east and one flew west, so I s'pose this will fly into the cuckoo's nest," said Rob, as he read the address

Miss Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis,         
Jaynes's Post-office,

"Why, that's just what mothah calls the place," cried the Little Colonel, "the cuckoo's nest! She says that the cuckoo is the most careless bird in the world about the way it builds its nest. They weave a few twigs and sticks togethah just in any kind of way, and nevah mind a bit if their poah little young ones fall out of the nest. They seem to think that any kind of home is good enough, and that is the kind of a home that Elizabeth Lewis has. She is a poah little orphan, and is livin' on a farm up Green Rivah. Mother is her godmothah. That's why she is named Elizabeth Lloyd. Mrs. Lewis was an old school friend of mothah's, too, and she wants Joyce and Elizabeth and me to be as deah friends as she and Emily Ware and Joyce Lewis were, she says. That's why she invited them."

"And you don't know anything about this one?" questioned Rob.

"Not a thing. I shouldn't be su'prised if she's mighty countrified, for the farm is several miles from a railroad, and the people she lives with don't think of anything but work, yeah in and yeah out."

They had reached the post-office by this time, and Rob held out his hand for the letters. "I'll put them in for you," he said. Then, dropping them into the box, one by one, he repeated the rhyme

"One flew east and one flew west,
And one flew into the cuckoo's nest."

Lloyd added, quickly

"Eugenia, Joyce, or Elizabeth,
Which of the three shall we like best?"

"Joyce," said Rob, promptly.

"I think so, too," agreed the Little Colonel, stooping to fasten the locust blossoms more securely behind the pony's ears.

"Well, the invitations are off now. Come on, Tarbaby, and see if you can't beat Bobby Moore's old gray hawse so bad it will be ashamed to evah race again."

With that the little black pony was off like an arrow toward Locust, with the big gray horse thundering hard at its heels.

The dust flew, dogs barked, and chickens ran squawking across the road out of the way. Heads were thrust out of the windows as the two vanished lip the dusty pike, and an old graybeard loafing in front of the corner grocery gave an amused chuckle. "Beats all how them two do get over the ground," he said. "They ride like Tam O'Shanter, and I'll bet a quarter there's nothing on earth that either of em are afraid of."

A little while later the three white envelopes were jogging sociably along, side by side in a mail-bag, on their way to Louisville. But their course did not lie together long. In the city post-office they were separated, and sent on their different ways, like three white carrier-pigeons, to bid the guests make ready for the Little Colonel's house party.

Chapter 2 >

The Little Colonel's House Party - Table of Contents