The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 7: In Tours

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII.
IN TOURS

A DOZEN times between Paris and Tours the Little Colonel turned from the car window to smile at her mother, and say with a wriggle of impatience, "Oh, I can't wait to get there! Won't Betty and Eugenia be surprised to see us two whole days earlier than they expected!"

"But you mustn't count too much on seeing them at the hotel the minute we arrive," her mother cautioned her. "You know Cousin Carl wrote that they were making excursions every day to the old chateaux near there, and I think it quite probable they will be away. So don't set your heart on seeing them before tomorrow night. Some of those trips take two days."

Lloyd turned to the window again and tried to busy herself with the scenes flying past: the peasant women with handkerchiefs over their heads, and the men in blue cotton blouses and wooden shoes at work in the fields; the lime-trees and the vineyards, the milk-carts that dogs helped to draw. It was all as Joyce had described it to her, and she pinched herself to make sure that she was awake, and actually in France, speeding along toward the Gate of the Giant Scissors, and all the delightful foreign experience that Joyce had talked about. She had dreamed many day-dreams about this journey, but the thought that was giving her most pleasure now was not that these dreams were at last coming true, but that in a very short time she would be face to face with Betty and Eugenia. 

It was noon when they reached Tours, and went rattling up to the Hotel Bordeaux in the big omnibus,. At first Lloyd was disposed to find fault with the quaint, old-fashioned hotel which Cousin Carl had chosen as their meeting-place. It had no conveniences like the modern ones to which she had been accustomed. There was not even an elevator in it.

She looked in dismay at the steep, spiral stairway, winding around and around in the end of the hall, like the steps in the tower of a lighthouse. On a side table in the hall, several long rows of candles, with snuffers, suggested the kind of light they would have in their bedrooms.

But everything was spotlessly clean, and the landlady and her daughter came out to meet them with an air of giving them a welcome home, which extended even to the dog. After their hospitable reception of Hero, Lloyd had no more fault to find. She knew that at no modern hotel would he have been treated so considerately and given the liberty of the house. Since he was not banished to the courtyard or turned over to a porter's care, she was willing to climb a dozen spiral stairways, or grope her way through the semi-darkness of a candle-lighted bedroom every night while they were in France, for the sake of having Hero free to come and go as he pleased.

"Come on!" she cried, gaily, to her mother, as a porter with a trunk on his shoulder led the way up the spiral stairs. "It makes me think of the old song you used to sing me about the spidah and the fly, 'The way into my pahlah is up a winding stair.' Nobody but a circus acrobat could run up the whole flight without getting dizzy. It's a good thing we are only goin' to the next floah."

She ran around several circles of steps, and then paused to look back at her mother, who was waiting for Mr. Sherman's helping arm. "The elephant now goes round and round when the band begins to play," quoted Lloyd, looking down on them, her face dimpling with laughter.

"Look out!" piped a shrill voice far above her.

"I'm coming!" Lloyd gave a hasty glance upward to the top floor, and drew back against the wall. For down the banister, with the speed of a runaway engine, came sliding a small bare-legged boy. Around and around the dizzy spiral he went, hugging the railing closely, and bringing up with a tremendous bump against the newel post at the bottom.

"Hullo!" he said, coolly, looking up at the Little Colonel.

"It's Henny!" she exclaimed, in amazement. "Henderson Sattawhite! Of all people! How did you get heah?"

But the boy had no time to waste in talking. He stuck his thumb in his mouth, looked at her an instant, and then, climbing down from the banister, started to the top of the stairs as fast as his short legs could carry him, for another downward spin.

Lloyd waited for her mother to come up to the step on which she stood, and then said, with a look of concern, "Do you suppose they are all heah, 'Fido' an' all of them? And that Howl will follow me around as he did on shipboard, beggin' for stories? It will spoil all my fun with the girls if he does."

"' Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you,'" said her father, playfully pinching her cheek. "You'll find it easier to escape persecution on land than on shipboard. Henny didn't seem at all anxious to renew his acquaintance with you. He evidently finds sliding down bannisters more to his taste. Maybe Howel has found something equally interesting."
"I certainly hope so," said Lloyd, running on to their rooms at the end of the hall. The casement window in her room looked out over a broad boulevard, down the middle of which went a double row of trees, shading a strip of grass, where benches were set at intervals.

Lloyd leaned out to look and listen. A company of soldiers was marching up the street in the gay red and blue of their French uniforms, to the music of a band. A group of girls from a convent school passed by. Then some nuns. She stood there a long time, finding the panorama that passed her window so interesting that she forgot how time was passing, until her mother called to her that they were going down to lunch.

"I like it heah, evah so much," she announced, as she followed her father and mother into the dining-room. "Did you ask in the office, Papa Jack, when the girls would be back?"

"Yes, they have gone to Amboise. They will be home before dark. I am sorry you missed taking that trip with them, Lloyd. It is one of the most interesting chateaux around here in my opinion. Mary, Queen of Scots, went there a bride. There she was forced to watch the Hugenots being thrown over into the river. Leonardo da Vinci is buried there, and Charles VIII. was killed there by bumping his head against a low doorway."

"Oh, deah!" sighed the Little Colonel, "my head is all in a tangle. There's so many spots to remembah. Every time you turn around you bump into something you ought to remembah because some great man was bawn there, or died there, or did something wondahful there. It would be lots easiah for travellers in Europe if there wasn't so many monuments to smaht people. Who must I remembah in Tours?"

"Balzac," said her father, laughing. "The great French novelist. But that will not be hard. There is a statue of him on one of the principal streets, and after you have passed him every day for a week, you will think of him as an old acquaintance. Then this is the scene of one of Scott's novels 'Quentin Durward.' And the good St. Martin lived here. There is a church to his memory. He is the patron saint of the place. At the châteaux you will get into a tangle of history, for their chief interest is their associations with the old court life."

"Where is Hero?" asked Mrs. Sherman, suddenly changing the conversation.

"He's in the pahlah, stretched out on a rug," answered Lloyd. " It's cool and quiet in there with the blinds down. The landlady's daughtah said no one went in there often, in the middle of the day, so nobody would disturb him, and he'd not disturb anybody. He's all tiahed out, comin' so far on the cars. May I go walkin' with him aftah awhile, mothah?"

Mrs. Sherman looked at her husband, questioningly. "Oh, it's perfectly safe," he answered. "She could go alone here as well as in Lloydsboro Valley, and with Hero she could have nothing to fear."

"I want you to rest awhile first," said Mrs. Sherman. "At four o'clock you may go."

Leaving Hero comfortably stretched out asleep in the parlour, Lloyd went back to her room. She lay down for a few minutes across the bed and closed her eyes. But she could not sleep with so many interesting sights in the street below. Presently she tiptoed to the window, and sat looking out until she heard her mother moving around in the next room. She knew then that she had had her nap and was unpacking the trunks.

"Mothah," called Lloyd, "I want to put on my prettiest white embroidered dress and my rosebud sash, because I'll meet Cousin Carl and the girls to-night."

"That is just what I have unpacked for you," said her mother. "Come in and I'll help you dress."

Half an hour later it was a very fresh and dainty picture that smiled back at Lloyd from the mirror of her dressing-table. She shook out her crisp white skirts, gave the rosebud sash an admiring pat, and turned her head for another view of the big leghorn hat with its stylish rosettes of white chiffon. Then she started down the hall toward the spiral stairway. It was a narrow hall with several cross passages, and at one of them she paused, wondering if it did not lead to Eugenia's and Betty's rooms.

To her speechless surprise, a door popped open and a cupful of water was dashed full in her face. Spluttering and angry, she drew back in time to avoid another cupful, which came flying through the transom above the same door. Retreating still farther down the passage, and wiping her face as she went, she kept her gaze on the door, walking backward in order to do so.

Another cupful came splashing out into the hall through the transom. A boy, tiptoeing up to the door, dodged back so quickly that not a drop touched him; then with a long squirt gun that he carried, he knelt before the keyhole and sent a stream of water squirting through it. It was Howell.

There was a scream from the bedroom, Fidelia's voice. "Stop that, you hateful boy! I'll tell mamma! You've nearly put my eye out."

A muffled giggle and a scamper of feet down the hall was the only answer. Fidelia threw open the door and looked out, a water pitcher in her hand. She stopped in amazement at sight of the Little Colonel, who was waiting for a chance to dodge down the hall past the dangerous door, into the main passage.

"For mercy sakes!" exclaimed Fidelia. "When did you come?"

"In time fo' yoah watah fight," answered the indignant Little Colonel, shaking out her wet handkerchief. She was thoroughly provoked, for the front of her fresh white dress was drenched, and the dainty rosebud sash streaked with water.

Fidelia laughed. "You don't mean to say that you caught the ducking I meant for Howl!" she exclaimed. "Well, if that isn't a joke! It's the funniest thing I ever heard of!" Putting the pitcher on the floor and clasping her hands to her sides, she laughed until she had to lean against the wall.

"It's moah bad mannahs than a joke!" retorted Lloyd, angered more by the laugh than she had been by the wetting. "A girl as old as you oughtn't to go travellin' till you know how to behave yo'self in a hotel. I don't wondah that wherevah you go people say, 'Oh, those dreadful American children!'"

"It isn't so! They don't say it!" snapped Fidelia. "I've got just as good manners as you have, anyhow, and I'll throw this whole pitcher of water on you if you say another word." She caught it up threateningly.

"You just dare!" cried the Little Colonel, her eyes flashing and her cheeks flushing. Not for years had she been so angry. She wanted to scream and pull Fidelia's hair with savage fingers. She wanted to bump her head against the wall, again and again. But with an effort so great that it made her tremble, she controlled herself, and stood looking steadily at Fidelia without a word.

"I mustn't speak," she kept saying desperately to herself. "I mustn't speak, or my tempah will get away with me. I might claw her eyes out. I wish I could! Oh, I wish I could!"  Her teeth were set tightly together, and her hands were clenched.
Fidelia met her angry gaze unflinchingly for an instant, and then, with a contemptuous "pooh!" raised the pitcher and gave it a lurch forward. It was so heavy that it turned in her hands, and instead of drenching Lloyd, its contents deluged Fanchette, who suddenly came out of the door beside Lloyd, with the thousand dollar poodle in her arms.

Poor Beauty gave an injured yelp, and Fidelia drew back and slammed the door, locking it hastily. She knew that the maid would hurry to her mistress while he was still shivering, and that there would be an uncomfortable account to settle by and by.

Howell, who had crept up to watch the fuss, doubled himself with laughter. It amused him even more than it had Fidelia that he had escaped the water, and Lloyd had caught it in his stead. Lloyd swept past him without a word, and ran to her mother's room so angry that she could not keep the tears back while telling her grievance.

"See what that horrid Sattawhite girl has done!" she cried, holding out her limp wet skirts, and streaked sash, with an expression of disgust. I just despise her!"
"It was an accident, was it not?" asked Mrs. Sherman.

"Oh, she didn't know she was throwing the watah on me, when she pitched it out, but she was glad that it happened to hit me. She didn't even say 'excuse me,' let alone say that she was sorry. And she laughed and held on to her sides, and laughed again, and said, 'oh, what a joke,' and that it was the funniest thing that she evah saw. I think her mothah ought to know what bad mannahs she's got. Somebody ought to tell her. I told Fidelia what I thought of her, and I'll nevah speak to her again! So there!"

Mrs. Sherman listened sympathetically to her tale of woe, but as she unbuttoned the wet dress, and Lloyd still stormed on, she sighed as if to herself, "Poor Fidelia!"

"Why, mothah," said Lloyd, in an aggrieved tone, " I didn't s'pose that you'd take her part against me."

"Stop and think a minute, little daughter," said Mrs. Sherman, opening her trunk to take out another white dress. Lloyd was working herself up into a white heat. "Put yourself in Fidelia's place, and think how she has always been left to the care of of a governess who neglected her. Think how much help you have had in trying to control your temper, and how little you have had to provoke. Suppose you had Howell and Henderson always tagging after you to tease and annoy you, and that I had had always been too busy with my own affairs to take any interest in you, except to punish you when I was exasperated by the tales that you told of each of each other. Wouldn't that have made a difference in your manners?"

"Y-yes," acknowledged Lloyd, slowly. Then, after a moment's silence, she broke out again. I might have forgiven her if only she hadn't laughed at me. Whenevah I think of that I want to shake her. If I live to be a hundred yeahs old, I can nevah think Fidelia Sattawhite, without remembahin' the mean little way she laughed!

"What kind of a memory are you leaving behind you?" suggested Mrs. Sherman, touching the little ring on Lloyd's finger that had been her talisman since the house party. "Will it be a Road of the Loving Heart?"

Lloyd hesitated. "No," she acknowledged, frankly. "Of co'se when I stop to think, I do want to leave that kind of a memory for everybody. I'd hate to think that when I died, there'd be even one person who had cause to say ugly things about me, even Fidelia. But just now, mothah, honestly when I remembah how she laughed, I feel that I must be as mean to her as she is to me. I can't help it."
Mrs. Sherman made no answer, but turned to her own dressing, and presently Lloyd kissed her, and went slowly down-stairs to find Hero. He was no longer dreaming in peace. Two restless boys cooped up in the narrow limits of the hotel, and burning with a desire to be amused, had discovered him through the crack of the door, and immediately pounced upon him.

"Aw, ain't he nice!" exclaimed Henny, stroking the shaggy back with a dirty little hand. Howl felt in his blouse, hoping to find some crumb left of the stock of provisions stored away at lunch-time.

"Feel there, Henny," he commanded, backing up to his little brother, and humping his shoulders. "Ain't that a cooky slipped around to the back of my blouse? Put your hand up and feel."

Henny obligingly explored the back of his brother's blouse, and fished out the last cooky, which they fed to Hero.
"Wisht we had some more," said Howell, as the cake disappeared. "Henny, you go up and see if you can't hook some of Beauty's biscuit."

"Naw! I don't want to. I want to play with the dog," answered Henny. "He's big enough to ride on. Stand up, old fellow, and let me get on your back."

"I'll tell you a scheme," cried Howl; "you run up-stairs and get one of mamma's shawl-straps, and we'll fix a harness for him, and make him ride us around the room."

"All right," agreed Henny, trotting out into the hall. At the door he met Lloyd. When she went into the room she found Howell lying on the floor, burrowing his head into the dog's side for a pillow. Hero did not like it, and, shaking himself free, walked across the room and lay down in another place.

Howl promptly followed, and pillowed his head on him again. Hero looked around with an appealing expression in his big, patient eyes, once more got up, crossed the room, and lay down in a corner. Howell followed him like a teasing mosquito.

"Don't bothah him, Howl," said Lloyd. "Don't you see that he doesn't like it?"

"But he makes such a nice, soft pillow," said the boy, once more burrowing his hard little head into Hero's ribs.

"He might snap at you if you tease him too much. I nevah saw him do it to any one, but nobody has evah teased him since he belonged to me."

"Is he your dog?" asked Howl, in surprise.

"Yes," answered Lloyd, proudly. "He saved my life one time, and his mastah's anothah. And that medal on his collah was one that was one the Emperor of Germany gave his mastah fo' bravery, and the Majah gave it to him because he said that Hero had twice earned the right to wear it."

"Tell about it," demanded Howl, scenting a story. ,'How did he--- "His question was stopped in the middle by Hero, who, determined to be no longer used as a pillow, stood up and gave himself a mighty shake. Walking over to the sofa piled with cushions, he took one in bis mouth, and carrying it back to Howl dropped it at his feet as if to say, "There! Use that! I am no sofa pillow." That done hestretched himself out again in the farthest corner of the room, and laid his head on his paws with a sigh of relief.

"Oh! Oh! " cried the Little Colonel. "Did you evah see anything so sma'ht as that in all yo' life? It's the brightest thing I evah saw a dog do. He thought it all out, just like a person. I wish Papa jack could have seen him do it. I'm goin' to treat you to something nice fo' that, Hero. Wait till I run back upstairs and get my purse."

Anxious to make him do something else interesting, Howl still followed the dog. He tickled his paws, turned his ears back and blew in them and blindfolded him with a dirty handkerchief.

Lloyd was gone longer than she intended, for she could not find her purse for several minutes, and she stopped to tell her mother of Hero's performance with the sofa pillow. When she went into the parlour again, both boys were kneeling beside the dog. Their backs were toward the door, Henderson had brought the shawl-strap, and they were using it for the further discomfort of the patient old St. Bernard.

"Here, Henny, you sit on his head," commanded Howl, "and I'll buckle his hind feet to his fore feet so that when he tries to walk he'll wabble around and tip over. Won't that be funny?"

"Stop!" demanded Lloyd. "Don't you do that, Howl Sattawhite! I've told you enough times to stop teasing my dog."

Howl only giggled in reply and drew the buckle tighter. There was a quick yelp of pain, and Hero, trying to pull away, found himself fast by the foot.

Before Howl could rise from his knees, the Little Colonel had darted across the room, and seizing him by the shoulders, shook him till his teeth chattered.

"There!" she said, giving him a final shake as she pushed him away. "Don' t you evah lay a fingah on that dog again, as long as you live. If you do you'll be sorry. I'll do something awful to you!"

For the second time that afternoon her face was white with anger. Her eyes flashed so threateningly that Howl backed up against the wall, thoroughly frightened. Releasing Hero from the strap, she led him out of the room, and, with her hand laid protectingly on his collar, marched him out into the street.

"Those tawmentin' Sattawhites!" she grumbled, under her breath. "I wish they were all shut up in jail, every one of them!"

But her anger died out as she walked on in the bright sunshine, watching the strange scenes around her with eager eyes. More than one head turned admiringly, as the daintily dressed little girl and the great St. Bernard passed slowly down the broad boulevard. It seemed as if all the nurses and babies in Touraine were out for an airing on the grass where the benches stood, between the long double rows of trees.

Once Lloyd stopped to peep through a doorway set in a high stone wall. Within the enclosure a group of girls, in the dark uniforms of a charity school, walked sedately around, arm in arm, under the watchful eyes of the attendant nuns. Then some soldiers passed on foot, and a little while after, some more dashed by on horseback, and she remembered that Tours was the headquarters of the Ninth Army corps, and that she might expect to meet them often.
Not till the tolling of the great cathedral bell reminded her that it was time to go back to the hotel, did she think again of Howl and Henny and Fidelia. By that time her walk had put her into such a pleasant frame of mind, that she could think of them without annoyance.

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