The Little Knights of Kentucky by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter V. Jonesy's Benefit.
The Jonesy Benefit grew like Jack's bean-stalk after Miss Allison took charge of it. There was less than a week in which to get ready, as the boys insisted on having it on the twenty-second of February, in honour of Washington's birthday; but in that short time the childish show which Ginger had proposed grew into an entertainment so beautiful and elaborate that the neighbourhood talked of it for weeks after.
Miss Allison spent one sleepless night, planning her campaign like a general, and next morning had an army of helpers at work. Before the day was over she sent a letter to an old school friend of hers in the city, Miss Eleanor Bond, who had been her most intimate companion all through her school-days, and who still spent a part of every summer with her.
"Dearest Nell," the letter said, "come out to-morrow on the first afternoon train, if you love me. The children are getting up an entertainment for charity, which shall be duly explained on your arrival. No time now. I am superintending a force of carpenters in the college hall, where the entertainment is to take place, have two seamstresses in the house hurrying up costumes, and am helping mother scour the country for pretty children to put in the tableaux.
"The house is like an ant-hill in commotion, there is so much scurrying around; but I know that is what you thoroughly enjoy. You shall have a finger in every pie if you will come out and help me to make this a never-to-be-forgotten occasion.
"I want to make the old days of chivalry live again for Virginia and Malcolm and Keith. I am going back to King Arthur's Court for the flower of knighthood at his round table. Come and read for us between tableaux as only you can do. Be the interpreter of 'Sir Launfal's Vision' and the 'Idylls of the King,' Give us the benefit of your talent for sweet charity's sake, if not for the sake of 'auld lang syne' and your devoted ALLISON."
"She'll be here," said Miss Allison, as she sealed the letter, nodding confidently to Mrs. Sherman, who had come over to help with Lloyd's costume. "You remember Nell Bond, do you not? She took the prize every year in elocution, and was always in demand at every entertainment. She is the most charming reader I ever heard, and as for story-telling--well, she's better than the 'Arabian Nights.' You must let the Little Colonel come over every evening while she is here."
Miss Bond arrived the next day, and her visit was a time of continual delight to the children. They followed her wherever she went, until Mrs. Maclntyre laughingly called her the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin,' and asked what she had done to bewitch them.
The first night they gathered around the library-table, all as busy as bees. Keith and the Little Colonel were cutting tinsel into various lengths for Virginia to tie into fringe for a gay banner. Malcolm was gilding some old spurs, Mrs. Maclntyre sat stringing yards of wax beads, that gleamed softly in the lamplight like great rope of pearls, and Mrs. Sherman was painting the posters, which were to be put up in the post-office and depot as advertisements of the Jonesy Benefit.
Miss Allison, who had been busy for hours with pasteboard and glue, tin-foil and scissors, held up the suit of mail which she had just finished.
"Isn't that fine!" cried Malcolm. "It looks exactly like some of the armour we saw in the Tower of London, doesn't it, Keith?"
"I've thought of a riddle!" exclaimed Virginia. "Why is Aunt Allison's head like Aladdin's lamp?"
"'Cause it's so bright?" ventured Malcolm.
"No; because she has only to rub it, and everything she thinks of appears. I don't see how it is possible to make so many beautiful things out of almost nothing."
Virginia looked admiringly around at all the pretty articles scattered over the room. A helmet with nodding white plumes lay on the piano. A queen's robe trailed its royal ermine beside it. A sword with a jewelled hilt shone on the mantel, and a dozen dazzling shields were ranged in various places on the low bookshelves.
It was easy, in the midst of such surroundings, for the children to imagine themselves back in the days of King Arthur and his court, while Miss Bond sat there telling them such beautiful tales of its fair ladies and noble knights. Indeed, before the day of the entertainment came around they even found themselves talking to each other in the quaint speech of that olden time.
When Malcolm accidentally ran against his grandmother in the hall, instead of his usual, "Oh, excuse me, grandmother," it was "Prithee grant me gracious pardon, fair dame. Not for a king's ransom would I have thus jostled thee in such unseemly haste!" And Ginger, instead of giving Keith a slap when he teasingly penned her up in a corner, to make her divide some nuts with him, said, in a most tragic way, "Unhand me, villain, or by my troth thou'lt rue this ruffian conduct sore!"
The library-table was strewn with books of old court life, and pictures of kings and queens whose costumes were to be copied in the tableaux. There was one book which Keith carried around with him until he had spelled out the whole beautiful tale. It was called "In Kings' Houses," and was the story of the little Duke of Gloster who was made a knight in his boyhood. And when Keith had read it himself, he took it down to the professor's, and read it all over again to Jonesy.
"Think how grand he must have looked, Jonesy," cried Keith, "and I am to be dressed exactly like him when I am knighted in the tableau." Then he read the description again:
"'A suit of white velvet embroidered with seed pearls, and literally blazing with jewels,--even the buttons being great brilliants. From his shoulder hung a cloak of azure blue velvet, the colour of the order, richly wrought with gold; and around his neck he wore the magnificent collar and jewel of St. George and the Dragon, that was the personal gift of his Majesty, the king.'
"Think how splendid it must have been, Jonesy, when the procession came in to the music of trumpets and bugles and silver flutes and hautboys! Wouldn't you like to have seen the heralds marching by, two by two, in cloth of gold, with an escort of the queen's guard following? All of England's best and bravest were there, and they sat in the carven stalls in St. George's Chapel, with their gorgeous banners drooping over them. I saw that chapel, Jonesy, when we were in England, and I saw where the knights kept the 'vigil of arms' in the holy places, the night before they took their vows." He picked up the book and read again: "'Fasting and praying and lonely watching by night in the great abbey where there are so many dead folk.'
"Oh, don't you wish you could have lived in those days, Jonesy, and have been a knight?"
It was all Greek to Jonesy. The terms puzzled him, but he enjoyed Keith's description of the tournaments.
Several evenings after that, Keith went down to the cottage dressed in the beautiful velvet costume of white and blue, ablaze with rhinestones and glittering jewels. He had been wrapped in his Aunt Allison's golf cape, and, as he threw it off, Jonesy's eyes opened wider and wider with wonder.
"Hi! You look like a whole jeweller's window!" he cried, dazzled by the gorgeous sight. The professor lighted another lamp, and Keith turned slowly around, to be admired on every side like a pleased peacock.
"Of course it's all only imitation," he explained, "but it will look just as good as the real thing behind the footlights. But you ought to see the stage when it's fixed up to look like the Hall of the Shields, if you want to see glitter. It's be-yu-tiful! Like the one at Camelot, you know."
But Jonesy did not know, and Keith had to tell about that old castle at Camelot, as Miss Bond had told him. How that down the side of the long hall ran a treble range of shields,--
"And under every shield a knight was named, For such was Arthur's custom in his hall. When some good knight had done one noble deed His arms were carven only, but if twain His arms were blazoned also, but if none The shield was blank and bare, without a sign, Saving the name beneath."
Keith had been greatly interested in watching the carpenters fix the stage so that it could be made to look like the Hall of the Shields in a very few moments, when the time for that tableau should come. He knew where every glittering shield was to hang, and every banner and battle-axe.
"How do you suppose those knights felt," he said to Jonesy, "who saw their shields hanging there year after year, blank and bare, because they had never done even one noble deed? They must have been dreadfully ashamed when the king walked by and read their names underneath, and then looked up at the shields and saw nothing emblazoned on them or even carved. Seems to me that I would have done something to have made me worthy of that honour if I had died for it!"
Something,--it may have been the soft, rich colour of the jewel-broidered velvet the boy wore, or maybe the flush that rose to his cheeks at the thrill of such noble thoughts,--something had brought an unusual beauty into his face. As he stood there, with head held high, his dark eyes flashing, his face glowing, and in that princely dress of a bygone day, he looked every inch a nobleman. There was something so pure and sweet, too, in the expression of his upturned face that the light upon it seemed to touch it into an almost unearthly fairness.
The professor, who had been watching him with a tender smile on his rugged old face, drew the child toward him, and brushed the hair back on his forehead.
"Ach, liebchen," he said, in his queer broken speech, "thy shield will never be blank and bare. Already thou hast blazoned it with the beauty of a noble purpose, and like Galahad, thou too shalt find the Grail."
It was Keith's turn to be puzzled, but he did not like to ask for an explanation; there was something so solemn in the way the old man put his hand on his head as he spoke, almost as if he were bestowing a blessing. Besides, it was time to go to the rehearsal at the college. One of the servants had come to stay with Jonesy while the professor went over to practise on his violin. He was to play behind the scenes, a soft, low accompaniment to Miss Bond's reading.
By eight o'clock, the night of the Benefit, every seat in the house was full. "That's jolly for Jonesy," exclaimed Malcolm, peeping out from behind the curtain. "We counted up that ten cents a ticket would make enough, if they were all sold, to pay his board till papa comes home, and buy him all the new clothes he needs, too. Now every ticket is sold."
"Hurry up, Malcolm," called Keith. "We are first on the programme, and it is time to begin."
There was a great bustle behind the scenes for a few minutes, and then "Beauty and the Beast" was announced. When the Little Colonel came on the stage leading the great bear, such a cheering and clapping began that they both looked around, half frightened; but the boys followed immediately and the Little Colonel, dressed as a flower girl, danced out to meet Keith, who came in clicking his castanets in time to Malcolm's whistling. The bear was made to go through all his tricks and his soldier drill.
The children in the audience stood on tiptoe in their eagerness to see the great animal perform, and were so wild in their applause that the boys begged to be allowed to take it in front of the curtain every time during the evening when there was a long pause while some tableau was being prepared.
Over the rustle of fluttering programmes and the hum of conversation that followed the first number, there fell presently the soft, sweet notes of the professor's violin, and Miss Bond's musical voice began the story of the Vision of Sir Launfal.
"My golden spurs now bring to me, And bring to me my richest mail, For to-morrow I go over land and sea In search of the Holy Grail."
Here the curtains were drawn apart to show Malcolm seated on his pony as Sir Launfal, "in his gilded mail that flamed so bright." It was really a beautiful picture he made, and his grandmother, leaning forward, her face beaming with pride at the boy's noble bearing, compared him with Arthur himself, "with lance in rest, from spur to plume a star of tournament,"
The next tableau showed him spurning the leper at his gate, and turning away in disgust from the beggar who "seemed the one blot on the summer morn." How Miss Bond's voice rang out when "the leper raised not the gold from the dust."
"Better to me the poor man's crust. That is no true alms which the hand can hold. He gives nothing but worthless gold Who gives from a sense of duty."
In the next tableau it was "as an old bent man, worn-out and frail," that Sir Launfal came back from his weary pilgrimage. He had not found the Holy Grail, but through his own sufferings he had learned pity for all pain and poverty. Once more he stood beside the leper at his castle gate, but this time he stooped to share with him his crust and wooden bowl of water.
Then it happened on the stage just as was told in the poem.
A light shone round about the place, and the crouching leper stood up. The old ragged mantle dropped off, and there in a long garment almost dazzling in its whiteness, stood a figure--
"Shining and tall, and fair, and straight As the pillar that stood by the Beautiful gate."
They could not see the face, it was turned aside; but the golden hair was like a glory, and the uplifted arms held something high in air that gleamed like a burnished star, as all the lights in the room were turned full upon it, for a little space. It was a golden cup. Then the voice again:
"In many climes without avail Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail. Behold it is here--this cup, which thou Didst fill at the streamlet for me but now. The holy supper is kept indeed In whatso we share with another's need."
It was an old story to most of the audience, worn threadbare by many readings, but with these living illustrations, and Miss Bond's wonderful way of telling it, a new meaning crept into the well-known lines, that thrilled every listener.
"Could you understand that, Teddy?" asked old Judge Fairfax, patting his little grandson on the head.
"Course!" exclaimed seven-year-old Ted, who had followed his sister Sally to every rehearsal.
"When you give money to people just to get rid of 'em, and because you feel you'd ought to, it doesn't count for anything. But if you divide something you've got, and would like to keep it all yourself, because you love to, and are sorry for 'em, then it counts a pile. Sir Launfal would have popped Jonesy into a 'sylum when he first started out to find that gold cup, but when he came back he'd 'a' worked like a horse getting up a benefit for him, and would have divided his own home with him, if he hadn't been living at his grandmother's, and couldn't."
An amused smile went around that part of the audience which overheard Ted's shrilly given explanation.
Pictures from the "Idylls of the King" followed in rapid succession, and then came the prettiest of all, being the one in which Keith was made a knight. Virginia as queen, her short black hair covered by a powdered wig, and a long court-train sweeping behind her, stood touching his shoulder with the jewel-hilted sword, as he knelt at her feet. Lloyd and Sally Fairfax, Julia Ferris, and a dozen other pretty girls of the neighbourhood, helped to fill out the gay court scene, while all the boys that could be persuaded to take part were dressed up for heralds, guardsmen, pages, and knights. That tableau had to be shown four times, and then the audience kept on applauding as if they never intended to stop.
The last one in this series of tableaux was the Hall of the Shields, as Keith had described it to Jonesy. A whole row of dazzling shields hung across the back of the stage, emblazoned with the arms of all the old knights whose names have come down to us in song or story. Then for the first time that evening Miss Bond came out on the stage where she could be seen, and told the story of the death of King Arthur, and the passing away of the order of the Round Table. She told it so well that little Ted Fairfax listened with his mouth open, seeming to see the great arm that rose out of the water to take back the king's sword into the sea, from which it had been given him. An arm like a giant's, "clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, that caught the sword by the hilt, flourished it three times, and drew it under the mere."
"True, 'the old order changeth,'" said Miss Bond, "but knighthood has not passed away. The flower of chivalry has blossomed anew in this new world, and America, too, has her Hall of the Shields."
Just a moment the curtains were drawn together, and then were widely parted again, as a chorus of voices rang out with the words:
"Hail, Columbia, happy land; Hail, ye heroes, heaven-born band!"
In that moment, on every shield had been hung the pictured face of some well-known man who had helped to make his country a power among the nations; presidents, patriots, philanthropists, statesmen, inventors, and poets,--there they were, from army and navy, city and farm, college halls and humble cabins,--a long, long line, and the first was Washington, and the last was the "Hero of Manila."
Cheer after cheer went up, and it might have been well to have ended the programme there, but to satisfy the military-loving little Ginger, one more was added.
"There ought to be a Goddess of Liberty in it," she insisted, "because it is Washington's birthday; and if we had been doing it by ourselves we were going to have something in it about Cuba, on papa's account."
So when the curtain rose the last time, it was on Sally Fairfax as a gorgeous Goddess of Liberty, conferring knighthood on two boys who stood for the Army and Navy, while a little dark-eyed girl knelt at their feet as Cuba, the distressed maiden whom their chivalry had rescued.
It was late when the performance closed; later still when the children reached home that night, for Mrs. MacIntyre had determined to have a flash-light picture taken of them, and they had to wait until the photographer could send home for his camera.
After they reached the house they could hardly be persuaded to undress. Virginia trailed up and down the halls in her royal robes, Malcolm clanked around in his suit of mail and plumed helmet, and Keith stood before a mirror, admiring the handsome little figure it showed him.
"I hate to take it off," he said, fingering the dazzling collar, ablaze with jewels. "I'd like to be a knight always, and wear a sword and spurs every day."
"So would I," said Malcolm, beginning to yawn sleepily. "I wish that Jonesy had been well enough to go to-night. Isn't it splendid that the Benefit turned out so well? Aunt Allison says there is plenty of money now to get Jonesy's clothes and pay his board till papa comes, and send him back to Barney, too, if papa thinks best and hasn't any better plan."
"I wish there'd been enough money to buy a nice little home out here in the country for him and Barney. Wouldn't it have been lovely if there had a-been?" cried Keith.
"Well, I should say!" answered Malcolm. "Maybe we can have another benefit some day and make enough for that."
With this pleasant prospect before them, they laid aside their knightly garments, hoping to put them on again soon in Jonesy's behalf, and talked about the home that might be his some day, until they fell asleep.
* * * * *
The flash-light pictures of the three children were all that the fondest grandmother could wish. As soon as they came, Keith carried his away to his room to admire in private. "It is so pretty that it doesn't seem it can be me," he said, propping it up on the desk before him. "I wish that I could look that way always."
The next time that Miss Allison went into the room she found that Keith had written under it in his round, boyish hand, a quotation that had taken his fancy the first time he heard it. It was in one of Miss Bond's stories, and he repeated it until he learned it: "Live pure, speak truth, right the wrong, follow the king; else wherefore born?"
She asked him about it at bedtime. "Why, that's our motto," he explained. "Malcolm has it written under his, too. We've made up our minds to be a sort of knight, just as near the real thing as we can, you know, and that is what knights have to do: live pure, and speak truth, and right the wrong. We've always tried to do the first two, so that won't be so hard. It's righting the wrong that will be the tough job, but we have done it a little teenty, weenty bit for Jonesy, don't you think, auntie? It was all wrong that he should have such a hard time and be sent to an asylum away from Barney, when we have you all and everything nice. Malcolm and I have been talking it over. If we could do something to keep him from growing up into a tramp like that awful man that brought him here, wouldn't that be as good a deed as some that the real knights did? Wouldn't that be serving our country, too, Aunt Allison, just a little speck?" He asked the question anxiously. Malcolm said nothing, but also waited with a wistful look for her answer.
"My dear little Sir Galahads," she said, bending over to give each of the boys a good-night kiss, "you will be 'really truly' knights if you can live up to the motto you have chosen. Heaven help you to be always as worthy of that title as you are to-night!"
Keith held her a moment, with both arms around her neck. "What does that mean, auntie?" he asked. "That is what the professor said, too,--Galahad."
"It is too late to explain to you to-night," she said, "but I will tell you sometime soon, dear."
It was several days before she reminded them of that promise. Then she called them into her room and told them the story of Sir Galahad, the maiden knight, whose "strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure." Then from a little morocco case, lined with purple velvet, she took two pins that she had bought in the city that morning. Each was a little white enamel flower with a tiny diamond in the centre, like a drop of dew.
"You can't wear armour in these days," she said, as she fastened one on the lapel of each boy's coat, "but this shall be the badge of your knighthood,--'wearing the white flower of a blameless life.' The little pins will help you to remember, maybe, and will remind you that you are pledged to right the wrong wherever you find it, in little things as well as great."
It was a very earnest talk that followed. The boys came out from her room afterward, wearing the tiny white pins, and with a sweet seriousness in their faces. A noble purpose had been born in their hearts; but alas for chivalry! the first thing they did was to taunt Virginia with the fact that she could never be a knight because she was only a girl.
"I don't care," retorted Ginger, quickly. "I can be a--a--patriot, anyhow, and that's lots better."
The boys laughed, and she flushed angrily.
"They ought to mean the same thing exactly in this day of the world," said Miss Allison, coming up in time to hear the dispute that followed. "Virginia, you shall have a badge, too. Run into my room and bring me that little jewelled flag on my cushion."
"I think that this is the very prettiest piece of jewelry you have," exclaimed Virginia, coming back with the pin. It was a little flag whose red, white, and blue was made of tiny settings of garnets, sapphires, and diamonds.
"You think that, because it is in the shape of a flag," said Miss Allison, with an amused smile. "Well, it shall be yours. See how well it can remind you of the boys' knightly motto. There is the white for the first part, the 'live pure,' and the 'true blue' for the 'speak truth,' and then the red,--surely no soldier's little daughter needs to be told what that stands for, when her own brave father has spilled part of his good red life-blood to 'right the wrong' on the field of battle."
"Oh, Aunt Allison!" was all that Virginia could gasp in her delight as she clasped the precious pin tightly in her hand. "Is it mine? For my very own?"
"For your very own, dear," was the answer.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Virginia, thanking her with a kiss. "I'd a thousand times rather have it than one like the boys'. It means so much more!"