The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 2: The Wonder-Ball Begins To Unwind

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HERO
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER II.
THE WONDER-BALL BEGINS TO UNWIND

LLOYD'S wonder-ball began to unroll the morning that her father took her to town to choose her own steamer trunk, and some of the things that were to go in it. She packed and unpacked it many times in the two weeks that followed, although she knew that Mom Beck would do the final packing, and probably take out half the things which she insisted upon crowding into it.

Every morning it was a fresh delight to waken and find it standing by her dressing-table, reminding her of the journey they would soon begin together, and, when the journey was actually begun, she settled back in her seat with a happy sigh.

"Now, I'll commence to count my packages as they fall out," she said. "I think I ought to count what I see from the car windows as one, for I enjoy looking out at the different places we pass moah than I evah enjoyed my biggest pictuah books "

"Then count this number two," said her father, putting a flat, square parcel in her lap. Lloyd looked puzzled as she opened it. There was only a blank book inside, bound in Russia leather, with the word "Record" stamped on it in gilt.

"I thought it would be a good idea to keep a partnership diary," he said. "We can take turns in writing in it, and some day, when you are grown, and your mother and I are old and gray, it will help us to remember much of the journey that otherwise might pass out of our memories. So many things happen when one is travelling, that they are apt to crowd each other out of mind unless a record is kept of them."

"We'll begin as soon as we get on the ship," said Lloyd. "Mothah shall write first, then you, and then I. And let's put photographs in it, too, as Mrs. Walton did in hers. It will be like writing a real book. Package numbah two is lovely, Papa Jack."

It happened that Mr. Sherman was the only one who made an entry in the record for more than a week. Mrs. Sherman felt the motion of the vessel too much to be able to do more than lie out on deck in her steamer-chair. The Little Colonel, while she was not at all seasick, was afraid to attempt writing until she reached land.

"The table jiggles so!" she complained, when she sat down at a desk in the ship's library. "I'm afraid that I'll spoil the page. You write it, Papa Jack." She put back the pen, and stood at his elbow while he wrote.

"Put down about all the steamah lettahs that we got," she suggested, " and the little Japanese stove Allison Walton sent me for my muff, and the books Rob sent. Oh, yes! And the captain's name and how long the ship is, and how many tons of things to eat they have on board. Mom Beck won't believe me when I tell her, unless I can show it to her in black and white."

After they had explored the vessel together, her father was ready to settle down in his deck-chair in a sheltered corner, and read aloud or sleep. But the Little Colonel grew tired of being wrapped like a mummy in her steamer rug. She did not care to read long at a time, and she grew tired of looking at nothing but water. Soon she began walking up and down the deck, looking for something to entertain her. In one place some little girls were busy with scissors and paint-boxes, making paper dolls. Farther along two boys were playing checkers, and, under the stairs, a group of children, gathered around their governess, were listening to a fairy tale. Lloyd longed to join them, for she fairly ached for some amusement. She paused an instant, with her hand on the rail, as she heard one sentence: "And the white prince, clasping the crystal ball, waved his plumed cap to the gnome, and vanished."

Wondering what the story was about, Lloyd walked around to the other side of the deck, only to find another long uninteresting row of sleepy figures stretched out in steamer chairs, and half hidden in rugs and cloaks. She turned to go back, but paused as she caught sight of a girl, about her own age, standing against the deck railing, looking over into the sea. She was not a pretty girl. Her face was too dark and thin, according to Lloyd's standard of beauty, and her mouth looked as if it were used to saying disagreeable things.

But Lloyd thought her interesting, and admired the scarlet jacket she wore, with its gilt braid and buttons, and the scarlet cap that made her long plaits of hair look black as a crow's wing by contrast. Her hair was pretty, and hung far below her waist, tied at the end with two bows of scarlet ribbon.

The girl glanced up as Lloyd passed, and although there was a cool stare in her queer black eyes, Lloyd found herself greatly interested. She wanted to make the stranger's acquaintance, and passed back and forth several times, to steal another side glance at her. As she turned for the third time to retrace her steps, she was nearly knocked off her feet by two noisy boys, who bumped against her. They were playing horse, to the annoyance of all the passengers on deck, stepping on people's toes, knocking over chairs, and stumbling against the stewards who were hurrying along with their heavy trays of beef tea and lemonade.

Lloyd had seen the boys several times before. They were little fellows of six and nine, with unusually thin legs and shrill voices, and were always eating.

Every time a deck steward passed, they grabbed a share of whatever he carried. They seemed to have discovered some secret passage to the ship's supplies. Their blouses were pouched out all around with the store of gingersnaps, nuts, and apples which they had managed to stow away as a reserve fund. Lloyd had seen the larger boy draw out six bananas, one after another, from his blouse, and then squirm and wriggle and almost stand on his head to reach the seventh, which had slipped around to his back while he was eating the others. They were munching raisins now, as they ran.

After their collision with Lloyd they stopped running, and suddenly began calling, "Here, Fido! Here, Fido!" Lloyd looked around eagerly, expecting to see some pet dog, and wishing that she had one of the many pet animals left behind at Locust, to amuse her now. But no dog was in sight. The girl in the scarlet jacket turned around with an angry scowl.

"Stop calling me that, Howl Sattawhite!" she exclaimed, crossly. "I'll tell mamma. You know what she said she'd do to you if you called me anything but Fidelia."

"And you know what she said she'd do to you if you kept calling me Howl," shouted the larger of the boys, making a saucy face and darting forward to give one of her long plaits of hair a sudden pull.

Quick as a flash, Fidelia turned, and catching him by the wrists, twisted them till he began to whimper with pain, and tried to set his teeth in her hand.

"You dare bite me, you little beast!" she cried. "You just dare, and I'll tell mamma how you spit at the waiter the morning we left the hotel."

Lloyd was scandalised. They were quarrelling like two little dogs, seemingly unconscious of the fact that a hundred people were within hearing. As Fidelia seemed to be getting the upper hand, the little brother joined in, calling in a high piping voice, "And if you squeal on. Howell, Fidelia Sattawhite, I'll tell mamma how you went out walking by yourself in New York when she told you not to, and took her new purse and lost it! So there, Miss Smarty!"

"Oh, those dreadful American children!" said an English woman near Lloyd. "They're all alike. At least the ones who travel. I have never seen any yet that had any manners. They are all pert and spoiled. Fancy an English child, now, making such a scene in public!"

The Little Colonel could feel her face growing painfully red. She was indignant at being classed with such rude children, and walked quickly away. At the cabin door she met a maid, who, coming out on deck with something wrapped carefully in an embroidered shawl, sat down on one of the empty benches.

Scarcely was she seated when the two boys pounced down upon her and began pulling at the blanket. "Oh, let me see Beauty, Fanchette," begged Howell. "Make him sit up and do some tricks."

The maid pushed them away with a strong hand, and then carefully drew aside a corner of the covering. Lloyd gave an exclamation of pleasure, for the head that popped out was that of a bright little French poodle. She had thought many times that morning of the two Bobs, and good old Fritz, dead and gone, of Boots, the hunting-dog, and the goat and the gobbler and the parrot, --- all the animals she had loved and played with at Locust, wishing she had them with her. Now as she saw the bright eyes of the poodle peeping over the blanket, she forgot that she was a stranger, and running across the deck, she stooped down beside it.

"Oh, the darling little dog!" she exclaimed, touching the silky hair softly. "May I hold him for a minute?"

The maid smiled, but shook her head. "Ah, that the madame will not allow," she said.

"It cost a thousand dollars," explained Howell, eagerly, "and mamma thinks more of it than she does of us. Doesn't she, Henny?"

The small boy nodded with a finger in his mouth.

"Show her Beauty's bracelet, Fanchette," said Howell. Turning back another fold of the blanket, the maid lifted a little white paw, on which sparkled a tiny diamond bracelet. Lloyd drew a long breath of astonishment.  Some of its teeth are filled with gold," continued Howell. "We had to stay a whole week in New York while Beauty was in the dog hospital, having them filled. They could only do a little at a time. One of his tricks is to laugh so that he shows all his fillings. Laugh, Beauty!" he commanded. "Laugh, old fellow, and show your old teeth!"

He shook a dirty finger in the poodle's face, and it obediently stretched its mouth, to show all its little gold-filled teeth.

"See!" exclaimed Howell, much pleased. "Do it again!"

But the maid interfered. "Your mother told you not to touch Beauty again. You'd have the poor little thing's mouth stretched till it had the face-ache, if you weren't watched all the time. Go away! You are a naughty boy!"

Howell's lips shot out in a sullen pout, and the maid, not knowing what he might do next, rose with the poodle in her arms and walked to the other side of  the vessel.

"Wish't one little beast was dead!" he muttered. "I get scolded and punished for nothing at all whenever it is around. It and Fidelia! I haven't any use for girls and puppy-dogs!"

After this uncivil remark he waited for the angry retort which he thought would naturally follow, but to his surprise Lloyd only laughed good-naturedly. She found him amusing, even if he was rude and cross, and she could not wonder that he had such an opinion of girls, after witnessing his quarrel with Fidelia. The boys had begun it, but she was older and could have turned it aside had she wished. And she thought it perfectly natural that he should dislike the dog if he thought his mother preferred its comfort to his.

"You'd like dogs if you could have one like my old Fritz," began Lloyd, glad of some one to talk to. Sitting down on the bench that the maid had left, she began talking of him and the pony and the other pets at Locust. At first the boys listened carelessly. Howell cracked his whip, and Henderson slapped his feet with the ends of the reins he wore. They were not used to having stories told them, except when they were being scolded, and their mother or the maid told them tales of what happens to bad little boys when they will not obey. Although Lloyd's wild ride in a hand-car with one of the two little knights began thrillingly, they listened with one foot out, ready to run at first word of the moral lecture which they thought would surely come at the end.

The poodle had a maid to make it happy and comfortable, every moment of its pampered little life. The boys had some one to see that they were properly clothed and fed, and their nursery at home looked as if a toy store had been emptied into it. But no one took any interest in their amusement. When they asked questions the answer always was, "Oh, run along and don't bother me now." There were no quiet bedtime talks for them to smooth the snarls out of the day. Their mother was always dining out or receiving company at that time, and their nurse hurried them to sleep with threats of the bugaboos under the bed that would catch them if they were not still. They suspected that the Little Colonel's stories would soon lead to a lecture on quarrelling.

Presently they forgot their fears in the interest of the tale. The youngest boy sidled a little nearer and climbed up on the end of the bench beside her. then Howell, dragging his whip behind him, came a step closer, then another, till he too was on the bench beside her.

She had never had such a flattering audience. They never took their eyes from her face, and listened with such breathless attention that she talked on and on,  wondering how long she could hold their interest.

"They listen to me just as people do to Betty," she thought, proudly. An hour went by, and half of another and the bugle blew the first dinner-call.

"Go on," demanded Howell, edging closer. "We ain't hungry. Are we, Henny?"

"But I must go and get ready for dinner," said Lloyd, rising.

"Will you tell us some more to-morrow?" begged Howell, holding her skirts with his dirty little band.

"Yes, Yes," promised Lloyd, laughing and breaking loose from his hold. "I'll tell you as many stories as you want."

It was a rash promise, for next day, no sooner had she finished breakfast and started to take her morning walk around the deck with her father, than the boys were at her heels. They were eating bananas as they staggered along, and as fast as one disappeared another was dragged out of their blouses, which seemed pouched out all around their waists with an inexhaustible supply. Up and down they followed her, until Papa Jack began to laugh, and ask what she had done to tame the little savages.

As soon as she stopped at her chair they dropped down on the floor, tailor-fashion, waiting for her to begin. Their devotion amused her at first, and gratified her later, when the English woman who had complained of their manners stopped to speak to her.

"You are a real little good Samaritan,"' she said, to keep those two nuisances quiet. The passengers owe you a vote of thanks. It is very sweet of you, my dear, to sacrifice yourself for others in that way.

Lloyd grew very red. She had not looked upon it as a sacrifice. She had been amusing herself. But after awhile storytelling did become very tiresome as a steady occupation. She groaned whenever she saw the boys coming toward her.

Fidelia joined them on several occasions, but her appearance was always the signal for a quarrel to begin. Not until one morning when the boys were locked in their stateroom for punishment, did she have a chance to speak to Lloyd by herself.

The boys opened a port-hole this morning"' explained Fidelia. "They had been forbidden to touch it. Poor Beauty was asleep on the couch just uinder it, and a big wave sloshed over him and nearly drowned him. He was soaked through. It give him a chill, and mamma is in a terrible way about him. Howl and Henny told Fanchette they wanted him to drown. That's why they did it. They will be locked up all morning. I should think that you'd be glad. I don't see how you stand them tagging after you all the time. They are the meanest boys I ever knew."

They are not mean to me," said Lloyd. "I can't help feelin' sorry for them." Then she stopped abruptly, with a blush, feeling that was not a polite thing to say to the boys' sister.

"I'm sure I don't see why you should feel sorry for them," said Fidelia, angrily. At which the Little Colonel was more embarrassed than ever. She could not tell Fidelia that it was because a little poodle received the fondling and attention that belonged to them, and that it was Fidelia's continual fault-finding and nagging that made the boys tease her. So after a pause she changed the subject by asking her what she wanted most to see in Europe.

"Nothing!" answered Fidelia. "I wouldn't give a penny to see all the old ruins and cathedrals and picture galleries in the world. The only reason that I care to go abroad is to be able to say I have been to those places when the other girls brag about what they've seen. What do you want to see?"

"Oh, thousands of things!" exclaimed Lloyd. There are the chateaux where kings and queens have lived, and the places that are in the old songs, like Bonnie Doon, and London Bridge, and Twickenham Ferry. I want to see Denmark, because Hans Christian Andersen lived there, and wrote his fairy tales, and London, because Dickens and Little Nell lived there.  But I think I shall enjoy Switzerland most. We expect to stay there a long time. It is such a brave little country. Papa has told me a great deal about its heroes. He is going to take me to see the Lion of Lucerne, and to Altdorf. under the lime-tree, where William Tell shot the apple. I love that story."

"Well, aren't you queer!" exclaimed Fidelia, opening her eyes wide and looking at Lloyd as if she were some sort of a freak. It was her tone and look that were offensive, more than her words. Lloyd was furious.

"No, I am not queah, Miss Sattawhite!" she exclaimed, moving away much ruffled. As she flounced toward the cabin, her eyes very bright and her cheeks very red, she looked back with an indignant glance. "I wish now that I'd told her why I'm sorry for Howl and Henny. I'd be sorry for anybody that had such a rude sistah!"

But there were other children on the vessel whose acquaintance Lloyd made before the week was over. She played checkers and quoits with the boys, and paper dolls with the girls, and one sunny morning she was invited to join the group under the stairs, where she heard the story of the white prince from beginning to end, and found out why he vanished.

Those were happy days on the big steamer, despite the fact that Howl and Henny haunted her like two hungry little shadows. Sometimes the captain himself came down and walked with her. The Shermans sat at his table, and he had grown, quite fond of the little Kentucky girl with her soft Southern accent. As they paced the deck hand in hand, he told her marvellous tales of the sea, till she grew to love the ship and the heaving water world around them, and wished that they might sail on and on, and never come to land until the end of the summer.

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