The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 8: With Betty and Eugenia

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII.

WITH BETTY AND EUGENIA

WHEN the Little Colonel reached the hotel, the omnibus was leaving the door to go to the railroad station, a few blocks away. Thinking that Betty and Eugenia might be on the coming train, she went into the parlour to wait for the return of the omnibus. She had bought a box of chocolate creams at the cake shop on the corner to divide with Hero.

Fidelia had wandered down to the parlour in her absence, and now seated at the old piano was banging on its yellow keys with all her might. She played unusually well for a girl of her age, but Lloyd had a feeling that a public parlour was not a place to show off one's accomplishments, and her nose went up a trifle scornfully as she entered.

Then she caught sight of herself in the mirror over the mantel, and her expression changed instantly.

"For mercy sakes!" she said to herself. "I look like one of the proud and haughty sistahs in 'Cindahella,' as if I thought the earth wasn't good enough for me to step on. It certainly isn't becoming, and it would make me furious if anybody looked at me in such a cool, scornful way. I know that I feel that way inside whenevah I talk to Fidelia. I wondah if she sees it in my face, and that's what makes her cross and scratchy, like a cat that has had its fur rubbed the wrong way. Just for fun I believe I'll pretend to myself for ten minutes that I love her deahly, and I'll smile when I talk to her, just as if she were Betty, and nevah pay any attention to her mean speeches. I'll give her this one chance. Then if she keeps on bein' hateful, I'll nevah have anything moah to do with her again."

So while Fidelia played on toward the end of the waltz, purposely regardless of Lloyd's presence. Lloyd, sitting behind her, looked into the mirror, and practised making pleasant faces for Fidelia's benefit.

The music came to a close with a loud double bang that made Lloyd start up from her chair with a guilty flush, fearing that she had been caught at her peculiar occupation. Before Fidelia could say anything, Lloyd walked over to her with the friendliest of her practised smiles, and held out the box of chocolate creams.

"Take some, she said. "They are the best I've had since I left Kentucky."

"Thanks," said Fidelia, stiffly, screwing around on the piano-stool, and helping herself to just one.

But feeling the warmth of Lloyd's cordial tone, urging her to take more, she thawed into smiling friendliness, and took several. "They are delicious!" she exclaimed. "You got them at the cake shop on the corner, didn't you? There are two awfully nice American girls stopping at this hotel who took me in there one day for some. They've been in Kentucky, too. The one named Elizabeth lives there."

"Why, it must be Betty and Eugenia." cried Lloyd. "The very girls we came here to meet. Do you know them?"

"Not very well. We've only been here a few days. But I dearly love the one you call Betty. She came into my room one night when I had the toothache, and brought a spice poultice and a hot-water bag. Mamma was at a concert, and Fanchette was cross, and I was so miserable and lonesome I wanted to die. But Elizabeth knew exactly what to do to stop the pain, and then she stayed and talked to me for a long time. She told me about a house party she went to last year, where the girls all caught the measles at a gypsy camp, and she nearly went blind on account of it."

"That was my house pahty," exclaimed the Little Colonel, "and my mothah is Betty's godmothah, and Betty is goin' to live at my house all next wintah' and go to school with me."

Fidelia swung farther around on the piano-stool, and faced Lloyd in surprise. "And are you the Little Colonel!" she cried. "From what Elizabeth said, I thought she was pretty near an angel!" Fidelia's tone implied more plainly than her words that she wondered how Betty could think so.

A cutting reply was on the tip of Lloyd's tongue, but the sight of her face in the mirror checked it. She only said, pleasantly, "Betty is certainly the loveliest girl in the world, and -- "

"There she is now!" interrupted Fidelia, nodding toward the door as voices sounded in the hall and footsteps came out from the office.

"Oh, they'll be so surprised!" said Lloyd, looking back with a radiant face as she ran toward the door. "We came two whole days earlier than they expected!"

Fidelia heard the joyful greeting, the chorus of surprised exclamations as Lloyd flew first at Betty, then at Eugenia, with a hug and a kiss, then turned to greet her Cousin Carl.

"Betty will never look at me again," Fidelia thought, with a throb of jealousy, turning away from the sight of their happy meeting, and beginning to strike soft aimless chords on the piano. "I wish I were one of them," she whispered, with the tears springing to her eyes. "I hate to be always on the edge of things, and never in them. We never stay in a place long enough at a time to make any real friends or have any good times."

Chattering and laughing, and asking eager questions, the girls hurried up the stairs to Mrs. Sherman's room. Almost a year had gone by since Eugenia and Lloyd had parted on the lantern decked lawn at Locust, the last night of the house party. The year had made little difference in Lloyd, but Eugenia had grown so tall that the change was startling.

"Really, you are taller than I," exclaimed Mrs. Sherman, in the midst of an affectionate greeting, as she held her off for a better view.

"And doesn't she look stylish and young ladyfied, with her skirts down to her ankles," added Lloyd.  "You'd nevah think that she was only fifteen, would you?"

"I had to have them made long," explained Eugenia, much flattered by Lloyd's speech. It was her greatest wish to appear "grown up." "Papa says that I am probably as tall now as I shall ever be, and really I'd look ridiculous with my dresses any shorter."

Mrs. Sherman noticed presently, with a smile, that Eugenia seemed to have gained dignity with her added height. There was something amusingly patronising in her manner toward the younger girls. She answered Lloyd several times with an "Oh, no, child" that was almost grandmotherly in its tone.

"But here is somebody who has come back just as sweet and childlike as ever," thought Mrs. Sherman, twisting one of Betty's brown curls around her finger. Then she said aloud. "Was the trip as delightful as you dreamed it would be, my little Tusitala?"

"Oh, yes, godmother," sighed Betty, blissfully. "It was a thousand times better! And the best of it is my eyes are as well as ever. I needn't be afraid, now, of that 'long night' that haunted me like a bad dream."

All during dinner Fidelia kept looking across at the merry party sitting at the next table, and wished she could be with them. She could not help hearing all they said, for they were only a few feet away, and there was no one talking at the table where she sat. The boys were in the children's dining-room with Fanchette, and her mother was spending the evening with some friends at the new hotel across the way

"I'm going to make believe that I'm one of them,"  the lonely child said to herself, smiling as she caught a friendly nod from Betty. So she listened eagerly to Mr. Forbes's account of their visit to Venice, and to the volcano of Vesuvius, and laughed with the others over the amusing experiences Betty and Eugenia had in Norway with a chambermaid who could not understand them, and in Holland with an old Dutch market-woman, the day they became separated from Mr. Forbes, and were lost for several hours.

Fidelia's salad almost choked her, there was such an ache in her throat when she heard them planning an excursion for the next day. She had no one to make plans with, and when she was taken sightseeing it was by a French teacher, more intent on improving her pupil's accent than in giving her a happy time.

As they were finishing their dessert, Mr. Sherman suddenly remembered that he had a letter in his pocket for Lloyd, which he had forgotten to give her.

"It is from Joyce," she said, looking at the post mark. "Oh, if she were only heah, what a lovely time we could have! It would be like havin' anothah house pahty. May I read it now at the table, mothah? It is to all of us."

Fidelia almost held her breath. She was so afraid that Mrs. Sherman would suggest waiting until they went to the parlour. There she could no longer be one of them, no matter how hard she might pretend. She wanted the interesting play to go on as long as possible. She did not know that she ought not to listen. There were many things she had never been taught. Lloyd began to read aloud.

 

"DEAR GIRLS:---You will be in Tours by the time this letter reaches you, and I am simply wild to be there with you. Oh, if I could be there only one day to take you to all the old places! Do please go to the home of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor,' and ask for Sister Denisa. Give her my love, and tell her that I often think of her. And do go to that funny pie shop on the Rue Nationale, where everybody is allowed to walk around and help themselves and keep their own count. And eat one of those tiny delicious tarts for me. They're the best in the world.

"I can't think of anything else to-day, but that walk which you will be taking soon without me. I can shut my eyes and see every inch of the way, as it used to look when we went home just after sunset. There is the river Loire all rosy red in the after-glow, and the bridge with the soldiers marching across it ; and on the other side of the river is the little old village of St. Symphorian with its narrow, crooked streets. How I love every old cobblestone! You will see the fat old women rattling home in their market carts, and hear the clang and click of wooden shoes down the streets. Then there'll be the high gate of customs in the old stone wall that fences in the village, and the country road beyond. You'll climb the hill with the new moon coming up behind the tall Lombardy poplars, and go on between the fields, turning brown in the twilight, till the Gate of the Giant Scissors looms up beside the road like a picture out of some fairy tale. A little farther on you'll come to Madame's dear old villa with the high wall around it, and the laurel hedges and lime-trees inside.

"I wonder which of you will have my room with the blue parrots on the wall-paper. Oh, I'm home sick to go back. Yet, isn't it strange, when I was there I used to long so for America, that many a time I climbed up in the pear-tree at the end of the garden for a good cry. Don't forget to swing up into that pear-tree. There's a fine view from the top.

"When you see Jules, ask him to show you the goats that chewed up the cushions of the pony cart, the day we had our Thanksgiving barbecue in the garden. I fairly ache to be with you. Please write me a good long letter and tell me what you are doing ; and whenever you hear the nightingales in Madame's garden, and the cathedral bells tolling out across the Loire, think of your loving JOYCE."
"Let's do those things to-morrow," exclaimed Lloyd, as she folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. "I don't want to waste time on any old châteaux with the Gate of the Giant Scissors just across the river, that we haven't seen yet."

"I have heard about that gate ever since we left America," said Mr. Forbes, laughingly. Nobody has taken the trouble to inform me why it is important, or why it was selected for a meeting-place.  Somebody owes me an explanation."

"It's only an old gate with a mammoth pair of scissors swung on a medallion above it," said Mr. Sherman. "They were put thereby a half-crazy old man who built the place, by the name of Ciseaux. Joyce Ware spent a winter in sight of it, and she came back with some wonderful tale about the scissors being the property of a prince who went around doing all sorts of impossible things with them.  I believe the girls have actually come to think that the scissors are enchanted."

"Oh, Papa Jack, stop teasin'!" said the Little Colonel. "You know we don't!"

"If it is really, settled that we are to go there to-morrow, I want to hear the story," said Cousin Carl. " I make a practice of reading the history of a place before I visit it, so I'll have to know the story of the gate in order to take a proper interest in it."

"Come into the parlour," said Mrs. Sherman, rising. "Betty will tell us."

As she turned, she saw Fidelia looking after the girls with wistful eyes, and she read the longing and loneliness in her face.

"Wouldn't you like to come too, and hear the fairy tale with us?" she asked, kindly holding out her hand.

A look of happy surprise came over Fidelia's face, and before she could stammer out her acceptance of the unlooked-for invitation, Mrs. Sherman drew her toward her and led her into the little circle in one corner of the parlour.

"Now, we are ready, Tusitala," said Mrs. Sherman, settling herself on the sofa, with Fidelia beside her. Shaking back her brown curls, Betty began the fairy tale that Joyce's Cousin Kate had told one bleak November day, to make the homesick child forget that she was " a stranger in a strange land."

"Once upon a time, in a far island of the sea, there lived a king with seven sons."

Word for word as she had heard it, Betty told the adventures of the princes ("the three that were dark and the three that were fair"), and then of the middle son, Prince Ethelried, to whom the old king gave no portion of his kingdom. With no sword, nothing but the scissors of the Court Tailor, he had been sent out into the world to make his fortune. Even Cousin Carl listened with close attention to the prince's adventures with the Ogre, in which he was, victorious, because the grateful fairy whom he had rescued laid on the scissors a magic spell.

"Here," she said, giving them into his hands again, "because thou wast persevering and fearless in setting me free, these shall win for thee thy heart's desire. But remember that thou canst not keel them sharp and shining unless they are used at least once each day in some unselfish service." After that he had only to utter his request in rhyme, and immediately they would shoot out to an enormous size that could cut down forests for him, bridge chasms, and reap whole wheat fields at a single stroke.

Many a peasant he befriended, shepherds and high-born dames, lords and lowly beggars; and at the last, when he stood up before the Ogre to fight for the beautiful princess kept captive in the tower, it was their voices, shouting out their tale of gratitude to him for all these unselfish services, that made the scissors grow long enough and strong enough to cut the ugly old Ogre's head off.

"So he married the princess," concluded Betty at last, "and came into the kingdom that was his heart's desire. There was feasting and merrymaking for seventy days and seventy nights, and they all lived happily ever after. On each gable of the house he fastened a pair of shining scissors to remind himself that only through unselfish service to others comes the happiness that is highest and best. Over the great entrance gate he hung the ones that served him so valiantly, saying, 'Only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts can ever enter here'; and to this day they guard the portal of Ethelried, and only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts may enter the Gate of the Giant Scissors."

"Go on," said Mr. Forbes, as Betty stopped. "What happened next? I want to hear some more.''

"So did Joyce," said Betty. "She used to climb up in the pear-tree and watch the gate, wishing she knew what lay behind it, and one day she found out. A poor little boy lived there with only the care-taker and another servant. The care-taker beat him and half starved him. His uncle didn't know how he was treated, for he was away in Algiers. Joyce found this little Jules out in the fields one day, tending the goats, and they got to be great friends. She told him this story, and they played that he was the prince and she was the Giant Scissors who was to rescue him from the clutches of the Ogre. She made up a rhyme for him to say. He had only to whisper

"Giant Scissors, fearless friend,
Hasten, pray, thy aid to lend,"

and she would fly to help him. She really did, too, for she played ghost one night to frighten the old care-taker, and she told Jules's uncle, when he came hack, how cruelly the poor little thing had been treated.

"Then the little prince really did come into his kingdom, for all sorts of lovely things happened after that. The gate had been closed for years on account of a terrible quarrel in the Ciseaux family, but at last something Joyce did helped to make it up. The gate swung open, and the old white-haired brother and sister went back to the home of their childhood together, and it was Christmas Day in the morning. They had been kept from going through the gate all those years, because the Giant Scissors wouldn't let them pass. Only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts can enter in."

"Some day you must put that all in a book, Betty," said Cousin Carl, when she had finished. "When we go to see the gate, I'll take my camera, and we'll get a picture of it. Now I feel that I can properly appreciate it, having heard its wonderful history."

There was a teasing light in his eyes that made Lloyd say, "Now you're laughin' at us, Cousin Carl, but it doesn't make any difference. I'd rathah see that gate than any old chateau in France."

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