The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 4: Hero's Story

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV.
HERO'S STORY

LATE that afternoon the Major sat out in the shady courtyard of the hotel, where vines, potted plants, and a fountain made a cool green garden spot. He was thinking of his little daughter, who had been dead many long years. The American child, whom his dog had rescued from the runaway in the morning was wonderfully like her. She had the same fair hair, he thought, that had been his little Christine's great beauty; the same delicate, wild-rose pink in her cheeks, the same mischievous smile dimpling her laughing face. But Christine's eyes had not been a starry hazel like the Little Colonel's. They were blue as the flax-flowers she used to gather --- thirty, was it? No, forty years ago.

As he counted the years, the thought came to him like a pain that he was an old, old man now, all alone in the world, save for a dog, and a niece whom he scarcely knew and seldom saw.

As he sat there with his head bowed down, dreaming over his past, the Little Colonel came out into the courtyard. She had dressed early and gone down to the reading-room to wait until her mother was ready for dinner, but catching sight of the Major through the long glass doors, she laid down her book. The lonely expression of his furrowed face the bowed head, and the empty sleeve appealed to her strongly.
I believe I'll go out and talk to him," she thought. "If grandfathah were away off in a strange land by himself like that, I'd want somebody to cheer him up."

It is always good to feel that one is welcome, and Lloyd was glad that she had ventured into the courtyard , when she saw the smile that lighted the Major's face at sight of her, and when the dog, rising at her approach, came forward joyfully wagging his tail.

The conversation was easy to begin, with Hero for a subject. There were many things she wanted to know about him: how he happened to belong to the :Major, what country he came from, why he was Called a St. Bernard, and if the Major had ever owned any other dogs.

After a few questions it all came about as she had hoped it would. The old man settled himself back in his chair, thought a moment, and then began at the first of his acquaintance with St. Bernard dogs, as if he were reading a story from a book.

"Away up in the Alpine Mountains, too high for trees to grow, where there is only bare rock and snow and cutting winds, climbs the road that is known as the Great St. Bernard Pass. It is an old, old road. The Celts crossed it when they invaded Italy. The Roman legions crossed it when they marched out to subdue Gaul and Germany. Ten hundred years ago the Saracen robbers hid among its rocks to waylay unfortunate travellers. You will read about all that in your history sometime, and about the famous march Napoleon made across it on his way to Marengo. But the most interesting fact about the road to me, is that for over seven hundred years there has been a monastery high up on the bleak mountain-top, called , the monastery of St. Bernard.

"Once, when I was travelling through the Alps, I stopped there one cold night, almost frozen. The good monks welcomed me to their hospice, as they do all strangers who stop for food and shelter, and treated me as kindly as if I had been a brother. In the morning one of them took me out to the kennels, and showed me the dogs that are trained to look for travellers in the snow. You may imagine with what pleasure I followed him, and listened to the tales he told me.
"He said there is not as much work for the dogs now as there used to be years ago. Since the hospice has been connected with the valley towns by telephone, travellers can inquire about the state of the weather and the paths, before venturing up the dangerous mountain passes. Still, the storms begin with little warning sometimes, and wayfarers are overtaken by them and lost in the blinding snowfall. The paths fill suddenly, and but for the dogs many. would perish."

"Oh, I know," interrupted Lloyd, eagerly. "There is a story about them in my old third readah, and a pictuah of a big St. Bernard dog with a flask tied around his neck, and a child on his back."

"Yes," answered the Major, "it is quite probable that that was a picture of the dog they called Barry. He was with the good monks for twelve years, and in that time saved the lives of forty travellers. There is a monument erected to him in Paris in the cemetery for dogs. The sculptor carved that picture into the stone, the noble animal with a child on his back, as if he were in the act of carrying it to the hospice. Twelve years is a long time for a dog to suffer such hardship and exposure. Night after night he plunged out alone into the deep snow and the darkness, barking at the top of his voice to attract the attention of lost travellers. Many a time he dropped into the drifts exhausted, with scarcely enough strength left to drag himself back to the hospice.

"Forty lives saved is a good record. You may be sure that in his old age Barry was tenderly cared for. The monks gave him a pension and sent him to Berne, where the climate is much warmer. When he died, a taxidermist preserved his skin, and he was placed in the museum at Berne, where he stands to this day, I am told, with the little flask around his neck. I saw him there one time, and although Barry was only a dog, and I an officer in my country's service, I stood with uncovered head before him. For he was as truly a hero and served human kind as nobly as if he had fallen on the field of battle.

"He had been trained like a soldier to his duty, and no matter how the storms raged on the mountains, how dark the night, or how dangerous the paths that led along the slippery precipices, at the word of command he sprang to obey. Only a dumb beast, some people would call him, guided only by brute instinct, but in his shaggy old body beat a loving heart, loyal to his master's command, and faithful to his duty.

"As I stood there gazing into the kind old face, I thought of the time when I lay wounded on the field of Strasburg. How glad I would have been to have seen some dog like Barry come bounding to my aid! I had fallen in a thicket, where the ambulance corps did not discover me until next day. I lay there all that black night, wild with pain, groaning for water. I could see the lanterns of the ambulances as they moved about searching for the wounded among the many dead, but was too faint from loss of blood to raise my head and shout for help. They told me, afterward that, if my wound could have received immediate attention, perhaps my arm might have been saved.

"But only a keen sense of smell could have traced me in the dense thicket where I lay. No one had thought of training dogs for ambulance service then. The men did their best, but they were only men, and I was overlooked until it was too late to save my arm.

"Well, as I said, I stood and looked at Barry, wondering if it were not possible to train dogs for rescue work on battle-fields as well as in mountain passes. The more I thought of it, the more my longing grew to make such an attempt. I read everything I could find about trained dogs, visited kennels where collies and other intelligent sheepdogs were kept, and corresponded with many people about it. Finally I found a man who was as much interested in the subject as I. Herr Bungartz is his name. To him chiefly belongs the credit for the development of the use of ambulance dogs, to aid the wounded on the field of battle. He is now at the head of a society to which I belong. It has over a thousand members, including many princes and generals.

"We furnish the money that supports the kennels, and the dogs are bred and trained free for the army. Now for the last eight years it has been my greatest pleasure to visit the kennels, where as many as fifty dogs are kept constantly in training. It was on my last visit that I got Hero. His leg had been hurt in some accident on the training field. It was thought that he was too much disabled to ever do good service again, so they allowed me to take him. Two old cripples, I suppose they thought we were, comrades in misfortune.

"That was nearly a year ago. I took him to an eminent surgeon, told him his history, and interested him in his case. He treated him so successfully, that now, as you see, the leg is entirely well. Someti mes I feel that it is my duty to give him back to the service, although I paid for the rearing of a fine Scotch collie in his stead. He is so unusually intelligent and well trained. But it would be hard to part with such a good friend. Although I have had him less than a year, he seems very much attached to me, and I have grown more fond of him than I would have believed possible. I am an old man now, and I think he understands that he is all I have. Good Hero! He knows he is a comfort to his old master! "

At the sound of his name, uttered in a sad voice, the great dog got up and laid his head on the Major's knee, looking wistfully into his face.

"Of co'se you oughtn't to give him back!" cried the Little Colonel. "If he were mine, I wouldn't give him up for the president, or the emperor, or the czar, or anybody!"

But for the soldiers, the poor wounded soldiers!" suggested the Major.
Lloyd hesitated, looking from the dog to the empty sleeve above it. "Well," she declared, at last, "I wouldn't give him up while the country is at peace.  I'd wait till the last minute, until there was goin' to be an awful battle, and then I'd make them promise to let me have him again when the wah was ovah. Just the minute it was ovah. It  would be like givin' away part of your family to give away Hero."

Suddenly the Major spoke to the dog in German, a quick, sharp sentence that Lloyd could not understand. But Hero, without an instant's hesitation, bounded from the courtyard, where they Sat, into the hall of the hotel. Through the glass doors she could see him leaping up the stairs, and, almost before the Major could explain that he had sent him for the shoulder-bags he wore in service, the dog was back with them grasped firmly in his mouth.

"Now the flask," said the Major. While the dog obeyed the second order, he opened the bags for Lloyd to examine them. They were marked with a red cross in a square of white, and contained rolls of bandages, from which any man, able to use his arms, could help himself until his rescuer brought further aid.

The flask which Hero brought was marked in the same way, and the Major buckled it to his collar, saying, as he fastened first that and then the shoulder-bags in place, "When a dog is in training, soldiers, pretending to be dead or wounded, are hidden in the woods or ravines and he is taught to find a fallen body, and to bark loudly. If the soldier is in some place too remote for his voice to bring aid, the dog seizes a cap, a handkerchief, or a belt, --- any article of the man's clothing which he can pick up, --- and dashes back to the nearest ambulance."

"What a lovely game that would make!" exclaimed Lloyd. " Do you suppose that I could train the two Bobs to do that? We often play soldiah at Locust. Now, what is it you say to Hero when you want him to hunt the men? Let me see if he'll mind me."

The Major repeated the command.

"But I can't speak German," she said in dismay: "What is it in English?"

"Hero can't understand anything but German," said the Major, laughing at the perplexed expression that crept into the Little Colonel's face.

"How funny!" she exclaimed. "I nevah thought that befo'. I supposed of co'se that all animals were English. Anyway, Hero comes when I call him, and wags his tail when I speak, just as if he undahstands every word."

"It is the kindness in your voice he understands, and the smile in your eyes, the affection in your caress. That language is the same the world over, men and animals alike. But he never would start out to hunt the wounded soldiers unless you gave this command. Let me hear if you can say it after me."

Lloyd tripped over some of the rough sounds as she repeated the sentence, but tried it again and again until the Major cried "Bravo! You shall have more lessons in German, liebes Mädchen, until you can give the command so well that Hero shall obey you as he does me."
Then he began talking of Christine, her fair hair, her blue eyes, her playful ways; and Lloyd, listening, drew him on with many questions, till the little German maiden seemed to stand pictured before her, her hands filled with the lovely spring flowers of the motherland.

Suddenly the Major arose, bowing courteously, for Mrs. Sherman, seeing them from the doorway, had smiled and started toward them. Springing up, Lloyd ran to meet her.

"Mothah," she whispered, " please ask the Majah to sit at ou' table to-night at dinnah. He's such a deah old man, and tells such interestin' things, and he's lonesome. The tears came into his eyes when he talked about his little daughtah. She was just my age when she died, mothah, and he thinks she looked like me."

The Major's courtly manner and kind face had already aroused Mrs. Sherman's interest. His empty sleeve reminded her of her father. His loneliness appealed to her sympathy, and his kindness to her little daughter had won her deepest appreciation. She turned with a cordial smile to repeat Lloyd's invitation, which was gladly accepted.

That was the beginning of a warm friendship. From that time he was included in their plans. Now, in nearly all their excursions and drives, there were four in the party instead of three, and five, very often. Whenever it was possible, Hero was with them. He and the Little Colonel often went out together alone. It grew to be a familiar sight in the town, the graceful fair-haired child and the big tawny St. Bernard, walking side by side along the quay. She was not afraid to venture anywhere with such a guard. As for Hero, he followed her as gladly as he did his master.

< Chapter 3     Chapter 5 >

The Little Colonel's Hero - Table of Contents