The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 3: Lloyd Meets Hero

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER III.
LLOYD MEETS HERO

IT was July when they reached Switzerland after three weeks of constant travel, it seemed good to leave boats and railroads for awhile, and stop to rest in the clean old town of Geneva. The windows of the big hotel dining-room looked out on the lake, and the Little Colonel, sitting at breakfast the morning after their arrival, could scarcely eat for watching the scene outside.

Gay little pleasure boats flashed back and forth on the sparkling water. The quay and bridge were thronged with people. From open windows down the street came the tinkle of pianos, and out on the pier, where a party of tourists were crowding on to one of the excursion steamers, a band was playing its merriest holiday music.

Far away in the distance she could see the shining snow crown of Mont Blanc, and it gave her an odd feeling, as if she were living in a geography lesson, to know that she was bounded on one side by the famous Alpine mountain, and on the other by the River Rhône, whose source she had often traced on the map. The sunshine, the music, and the gay crowds made it seem to Lloyd as if the whole world were out for a holiday, and she ate her melon and listened to the plans for the day with the sensation that something very delightful was about to happen.

"We'll go shopping this morning," said Mrs. Sherman. "I want Lloyd to see some of those wonderful music boxes they make here; the dancing bears, and the musical hand-mirrors; the chairs that play when you sit down in them, and the beer-mugs that begin a tune when you lift them up."

Lloyd's face dimpled with pleasure, and she began to ask eager questions. "Couldn't we take one to Mom Beck, mothah? A lookin'-glass that would play 'Kingdom Comin', when she picked it up? It would surprise her so she would think it was bewitched, and she'd shriek the way she does when a cattapillah gets on her."

Lloyd laughed so heartily at the recollection, that an old gentleman sitting at an opposite table smiled in sympathy. He had been watching the child ever since she came into the dining-room, interested in every look and gesture. He was a dignified old German soldier, tall and broad-shouldered, with gray hair and a fierce-looking gray moustache drooping heavily over his mouth. But the eyes under his shaggy brows were so kind and gentle that the shyest child or the sorriest waif of a stray dog would claim him for a friend at first glance.

The Little Colonel was so busy watching the scene from the window that she did not see him until he had finished his breakfast and rose from the table. As he came toward them on his way to the door, she whispered, "Look, mothah! He has only one arm, like grandfathah. I wondah if he was a soldiah, too. Why is he bowing to Papa Jack?"

"I met him last night in the office," explained her father when the old gentleman had passed out of hearing. "We got into conversation over the dog he had with him --- a magnificent St. Bernard, that had been trained as a war dog, to go out with the ambulances to hunt for dead and wounded soldiers. Major Gerhart von Werner is the old man's name. He served many years in the German army, but was retired after the siege of Strasburg. The clerk told me that it was there that the Major lost his arm, and received his country's medal for some act of bravery. He is well known here in Geneva, where he comes every summer for a few weeks." 

"Oh, I hope I'll see the war dog!" cried the Little Colonel. "What do you suppose his name is?"

The waiter, who was changing their plates, could not resist this temptation to show off the little English he knew. "Hes name is Hero, mademoiselle," he answered. " He vair smart dog. He know evair sing somebody say to him, same as a person."

"You'll probably see him as we go out to the carriage," said Mr. Sherman. "He follows the Major constantly."

As soon as breakfast was over, Mrs. Sherman went up to her room for her hat. Lloyd, who had worn hers down to breakfast, wandered out into the hall to wait for her. There was a tall, carved chair standing near the elevator, and Lloyd climbed into it. To her great confusion, something inside of it gave a loud click as she seated herself, and began to play. It played so loudly that Lloyd was both startled and embarrassed. It seemed to her that every one in the hotel must hear the noise, and know that she had started it.

"Silly old thing!" she muttered, as with a very red face she slipped down and walked hurriedly away. She intended to go into the reading-room, but in her confusion turned to the left instead of the right, and ran against some one coming out of the hotel office. It was the Major.

"Oh, I beg your pahdon!" she cried, blushing still more. From the twinkle in his eye she was sure that he had witnessed her mortifying encounter with the musical chair. But his first words made her forget her embarrassment. He spoke in the best of English, but with a slight accent that Lloyd thought very odd and charming.

"Ah, it is Mr. Sherman's little daughter. He told me last night that you had come to Switzerland because it was a land of heroes, and he was sure that you would be especially interested in mine. So come, Hero, my brave fellow, and be presented to the little American lady. Give her your paw, sir!"

He stepped aside to let the great creature past him, and Lloyd uttered an exclamation of delight, he was so unusually large and beautiful. His curly coat of tawny yellow was as soft as silk, and a great ruff of white circled his neck like a collar. His breast was white, too, and his paws, and his eyes had a wistful, human look that went straight to Lloyd's heart. She shook the offered paw, and then impulsively threw her arms around his neck, exclaiming, "Oh, you deah old fellow! I can't help lovin' you. You're the beautifulest dog I evah saw!"

He understood the caress, if not the words, for he reached up to touch her cheek with his tongue, and wagged his tail as if he were welcoming a long-lost friend. Just then Mrs. Sherman stepped out of the elevator. "Good-bye, Hero," said the Little Colonel.  "I must go now, but I hope I'll see you when I come back."  Nodding good-bye to the Major, she followed her mother out to the street, where her father stood waiting beside an open carriage.

Lloyd enjoyed the drive that morning as they spun along beside the river, up and down the strange streets with the queer foreign signs over the shop doors. Once, as they drove along the quay, they met the Major and the dog, and in response to a courtly bow, the Little Colonel waved her hand and smiled The empty sleeve recalled her grandfather, and gave her a friendly feeling for the old soldier. She looked back at Hero as long as she could see a glimpse of his white and yellow curls.

It was nearly noon when they stopped at a place where Mrs. Sherman wanted to leave an enamelled buckle to be repaired. Lloyd was not interested in the show-cases, and could not understand the conversation her father and mother were having with the shopkeeper about enamelling. So, saying that she would go out and sit in the carriage until they were ready to come, she slipped away.

She liked to watch the stir of the streets. It was interesting to guess what the foreign signs meant, and to listen to the strange speech around her. Besides there was a band playing somewhere down the street, and children were tugging at their nurses' hands to hurry them along. Some carried dolls dressed in the quaint costumes of Swiss peasants, and some had balloons. A man with a bunch of them like a cluster of great red bubbles, had just sold out on the corner.

So she sat in the sunshine, looking around her with eager, interested eyes. The coachman, high up on his box, seemed as interested as herself; at least, he sat up very straight and stiff. But it was only his back that Lloyd saw. He had been at a fête the night before. There seems to be always a holiday in Geneva. He had stayed long at the merry-making and had taken many mugs of beer. They made him drowsy and stupid. The American gentleman and his wife stayed long in the enameller's shop. He could scarcely keep his eyes open. Presently, although he never moved a muscle of his back and sat up stiff and straight as a poker, he was sound asleep, and the reins in his grasp slipped lower and lower and lower.

The horse was an old one, stiffened and jaded by much hard travel, but it had been a mettlesome one in its younger days, with the recollection of many exciting adventures. Now, although it seemed half asleep, dreaming, maybe, of the many jaunts it had taken with other American tourists, or wondering if it were not time for it to have its noonday nose-bag, it was really keeping one eye open, nervously watching some painters on the sidewalk. They were putting up a scaffold against a building, in order that they might paint the cornice.

Presently the very thing happened that the old horse had been expecting. A heavy board fell from the scaffold with a crash, knocking over a ladder, which fell into the street in front of the frightened animal. Now the old horse had been in several runaways. Once it had been hurt by a falling ladder and it had never recovered from its fear of one.

This one fell just under it's nose, all the old fright and pain that caused its first runaway seemed to come back to its memory. In a frenzy of terror it roared, plunged forward, then suddenly turned and dashed down the street.

The plunge and sudden turn threw the sleeping coachman from the box to the street. With the lines dragging at its heels, the frightened horse sped on. The Little Colonel, clutching frantically at the seat in front of her, screamed at the horse to stop.  She had been used to driving ever since she was big enough to grasp the reins, and she felt that if she could only reach the dragging lines, she could control the horse. But that was impossible. All she could do was to cling to the seat as the carriage whirled dizzily around corners, and wonder how many more frightful turns it would make before she should be thrown out.
The white houses on either side seemed racing past them. Nurses ran, screaming, to the pavements, dragging the baby-carriages out of the way. Dogs barked and teams were jerked hastily aside. Some one dashed out of a shop and threw his arms up in front of the horse to stop it, but, veering to one side, it only plunged on the faster.

Lloyd's hat blew off. Her face turned white with a sickening dread, and her breath began to come in frightened sobs. On and on they went, and, as the scenes of a lifetime will be crowded into a moment in the memory of a drowning man, so a thousand things came flashing into Lloyd's mind. She saw the locust avenue all white and sweet in blossom time, and thought, with a strange thrill of self-pity, that she would never ride under its white arch again. Then she saw Betty's face on the pillow, as she had lain with bandaged eyes, telling in her tremulous little voice the story of the Road of the Loving Heart. Queerly enough, with that came the thought of Howl and Henny, and she had time to be glad that she had amused them on the voyage, and made them happy. Then came her mother's face, and Papa Jack's. In a few moments, she told herself, they would be picking up her poor, broken, lifeless little body from the street. How horribly they would feel. And then she screamed and shut her eyes. The carriage had dashed into something that tore off a wheel. There was a crash --- a sound as of splintering wood. But it did not stop their mad flight. With a horrible bumping motion that nearly threw her from the carriage at every jolt, they still kept on.

They were on the quay now. The noon sun on the water flashed into her eyes like the blinding light thrown back from a looking-glass. Then something white and yellow darted from the crowd on the pavement, and catching the horse by the bit, swung on heavily. The horse dragged along for a few paces, and came to a halt, trembling like a leaf.

A wild hurrah went up from both sides of the street, and the Little Colonel, as she was lifted out white and trembling, saw that it was a huge St. Bernard that the crowd was cheering.

"Oh, it's H-Hero!" she cried, with chattering teeth. "How did he get here?" But no one understood her question. The faces she looked into, while beaming with friendly interest, were all foreign. The eager exclamations on all sides were uttered in a foreign tongue. There was no one to take her home, and in her fright she could not remember the name of their hotel. But in the midst of her confusion a hearty sentence in English sounded in her ear, and a strong arm caught her up in a fatherly embrace. It was the Major who came pushing through the crowd to reach her. Her grandfather himself could not have been more welcome just at that time, and her tears came fast when she found herself in his friendly shelter. The shock had been a terrible one.

"Come, liebes Mädchen!" he exclaimed, gently, patting her shoulder. "Courage! We are almost at the hotel. See, it is on the corner, there. The father and mother will soon be here."

Wiping her eyes, he led her across the street, explaining as he went how it happened that he and the dog were on the street when she passed. They had been in the gardens all morning and were going home to lunch, when they heard the clatter of the runaway far down the street. The Major could not see who was in the carriage, only that it appeared to be a child. He was too old a man, and with his one arm too helpless to attempt to stop it, but he remembered that Hero had once shared the training of some collies for police service, before it had been decided to use him as an ambulance dog. They were taught to spring at the bridles of escaping horses.

"I was doubtful if Hero remembered those early lessons," said the Major, " but I called out to him sharply, for the love of heaven to stop it if he could, and that instant he was at the horse's head, hanging on with all his might. Bravo, old fellow!" he continued, turning to the dog as he spoke. "We are proud of you this day!"

They were in the corridor of the hotel now, and the Little Colonel, kneeling beside Hero and putting her arms around his neck, finished her sobbing with her fair little face laid fondly against his silky coat.

"Oh, you deah, deah old Hero," she said. "You saved me, and I'll love you fo' evah and evah!"

The crowd was still in front of the hotel, and the corridor full of excited servants and guests, when Mr. and Mrs. Sherman hurried in. They had taken the first carriage they could hail and driven as fast as possible in the wake of the runaway. Mrs. Sherman was trembling so violently that she could scarcely stand, when they reached the hotel. The clerk who ran out to assure them of the Little Colonel's safety was loud in his praises of the faithful St. Bernard.

Hero had known many masters. Any one in the uniform of the army had once had authority over him. He had been taught to obey many voices. Many hands had fed and fondled him, but no hand had ever lain quite so tenderly on his head, as the Little Colonel's. No one had ever looked into his eyes so gratefully as she, and no voice had ever thrilled him with as loving tones as hers, as she knelt there beside him, calling him all the fond endearing names she knew. He understood far better than if he had been human, that she loved him. Eagerly licking her hands and wagging his tail, he told her as plainly as a dog can talk that henceforth he would be one of her best and most faithful of friends.

If petting and praise and devoted attention could spoil a dog, Hero's head would certainly have been turned that day, for friends and strangers alike made much of him. A photographer came to take his picture for the leading daily paper. Before nightfall his story was repeated in every home in Geneva. No servant in the hotel but took a personal pride in him or watched his chance to give him a sly sweetmeat or a caress. But being a dog instead of a human, the attention only made him the more lovable, for it made him feel that it was a kind world he lived in and everybody was his friend.

It was after lunch that the Little Colonel came upstairs carrying the diary, now half-filled with the record of their journeying.

"Put it all down in the book, Papa Jack," she demanded. "I'll nevah forget to my dyin' day, but I want it written down heah in black and white that Hero saved me!"

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