The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 10: On The Wing

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER X.
ON THE WING

"WHO is going away?" asked Lloyd, one afternoon, of the girls who were sitting in her room, manicuring their nails. "There goes a pile of trunks out to the baggage wagon."

As she spoke, a carriage drove up to the door of the hotel, and Fanchette went out with the poodle in her arms. 

"The Sattawhites," answered Eugenia. "There's Howl and Henny climbing into the carriage, and, oh, look, girls! There comes Mrs. Sattawhite herself. I haven't had many glimpses of her. Isn't she gorgeous! You know they had to leave," she continued, turning to the girls. "I forgot to tell you what happened early this morning while you were down-town.

"I was up in my room writing to Joyce, when I heard a rumble and a running down in the back hall. Somebody called 'Fire! Fire!' Then somebody else took it up, and the old gentleman at the end of the hall, who never appears in public until noon, came bursting out of his room in his bath robe his shoes in one hand and his false teeth in the other. It was the funniest sight! There was wild excitcment for a few minutes. One woman began throwing things out of the window, and another stood and shrieked and wrung her hands.

"The waiter with the long black side-whiskers tore up-stairs and grabbed his -arms full of those bottles in the racks --- you know --- those fire-extiguishing bottles that have some kind of chemical stuff in them. There was a strong smell of smoke and a little puff of it curling up from under the stairs. He threw all those bottles down into the lower hall. You can imagine the smash there was when they struck the stone floor.

"Papa rushed down to investigate, at the first alarm. He found that it was only Howl and Henny playing hook-and-ladder with a little red wagon. They had taken an old flannel blouse of Henny's and set fire to it. Howl explained that they did it because woollen rags make such a nice thick smoke, and last a long time, and when they yelled fire they were not to blame, he said, if other people didn't know that they were 'jes' a-playin', and went and yelled in earnest.'

"Papa, took their part, and said that two boys with as much energy as they have must find an outlet somewhere and that it was no wonder that they were restless, cooped up in a hotel day after day, with no amusement but their prim walks with the maid and the poodle. But the old gentleman who had been so frightened that he ran out in public without his teeth, and the woman who bad thrown her toilet bottles out of the window and broken them, were furious. They complained to the landlord, and said that it was not the first offence. The boys were always annoying them.

"So the landlord had to go to Mrs. Sattawhite. She found out what the old gentleman said, that a mother who had to go travelling around all over Europe, giving her time and attention to society and a miserable poodle, had better put her children in an orphan asylum before she started. She was so indignant that I could hear her talking away down in the office. She said that she would leave the instant that Fanchette could get the trunks packed. So there they go."

Mrs. Sattawhite had sailed back to the office during the telling of Eugenia's story, so their departure was delayed a moment. When she came out again, Fidelia followed her sulkily. Just as they drove off, she looked up at the open window, and saw the girls, who were waving good-bye. Then a smile flickered across her sorry little face, for, moved by some sudden impulse, the Little Colonel leaned out and threw her a kiss.

"I suppose I'll nevah see her again," she said, thoughtfully, as the carriage rolled around a corner, out of sight. "I wish now that I had been niceah to her. We may both change evah so much by the time we are grown, yet if I live to be a hundred I'll always think of her as the girl who was so quarrelsome that the English lady groaned, 'Oh, those dreadful American children!' And I suppose she'll remembah me for the high anti mighty way I tried to snub her whenevah I had a chance."

As she spoke there was a knock at the door, and a maid brought in a package for Lloyd. "Oh, look, .girls!" she exclaimed, holding up a tiny pair of silver embroidery scissors, Fidelia's parting gift. They were evidently something that had been given her, for the little silver sheath into which they were thrust was beautifully engraved in old English letters with the name "Fidelia." Around them was wrapped a strip of rumpled paper on which was scrawled: " For you to remember me by. That day you took me to the Gate of the Giant. Scissors was the best time I ever had."

" Poor little thing!" exclaimed Betty. "To think that she was afraid to go in, for fear that she didn't belong to the kingdom, and that the scissors might leap down and drive her back."

"Oh, if I had only known!" sighed Lloyd, remorsefully. "I feel too mean for anything! If I'd only believed that it was because she hadn't been brought up to know any bettah that she acted so horrid, and that all the time she really wanted to be liked! Mothah told me I ought to put myself in her place, and make allowances for her, but I didn't want to even try, and I nevah was nice to her but once --- that time I gave her the candy. Then I was only pretendin' I cared for her, just for fun. I didn't want her to go with us to the Scissahs gate that day. Mothah made me invite her. I fussed about it. I'm goin' to write to her the minute I finish polishin' my nails, and tell her how sorry I am that I didn't leave a kindah memory behind me."

They rubbed away in silence for a few minutes, then Lloyd spoke again. " I suahly have enough things now to remind me about the memory roads I am tryin' to leave behind me for everybody. Every time I look at this little ring it says 'A Road of the Loving Heart.' And the scissahs will recall the fairy tale. It was only unselfish service that kept them bright and shining, and only those who belonged to the kingdom of loving hearts could go in at the gate. Then there's the Red Cross of Geneva on Hero's collah --- there couldn't be a moah beautiful memory than the one left by all who have wo'n that Red Cross."

"Yes," said Betty, holding up a hand to inspect the pink finger nails now polished to her satisfaction.  "And there is the white flower that the two little Knights of Kentucky wear. Keith said that his badge meant the same thing to him that my ring does to me. Their motto is 'Right the wrong.' That's what the Giant Scissors always did, and that's what Robert Louis Stevenson tried to do for the Samoan chiefs. That is why they loved him and built the road."

"Funny, how they all sing the same song," said Eugenia. "It's just the same, only they sing it in different keys."

After Betty and Eugenia had gone to their rooms, Lloyd sat a long time toying with the silver scissors, before writing her note of acknowledgment. The sheath was of hammered silver, and around the name was a beautifully wrought design of tiny clustered grapes.

ON THE WING 153

"It is one of the prettiest things that my wondah-ball has unrolled," she said to herself, " and it has certainly taught me a lesson. Poah little Fidelia! If I'd only known that she cared, there were lots of times that she could have gone with us, and it would have made her so happy. If I had only put myself in her place when mothah told me! But I was so cross and hateful I enjoyed bein' selfish. Now all the bein' sorry in the world won't change things!"

It would be too much like a guide-book if this story were to give a record of the next two weeks.

Betty's good-times book was filled, down to the last line on the last page, and the partnership diary had to have several extra leaves pasted inside the cover.

From morning until night there was a constant round of sightseeing. The shops and streets of London first, the Abbey and the Tower, a hundred places that they had read about and longed to see, and after they had seen, longed to come back to for another visit.

"We can only take a bird's-eye view now and hurry on, but we must certainly come back some other summer," said Mr. Sherman, when Lloyd wanted to linger in the Tower of London among the armour and weapons that had been worn by the old knights, centuries ago. He repeated it when Betty looked back longingly at the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, where the great organ was echoing down the solemn aisles, and again when Eugenia begged for another coach ride out to Hampton Court.

"'Gay go up and gay go down
To ring the bells of London town,"

sang the Little Colonel. "I am having such a good time that I'd like to stay on right heah all the rest of the summah."

But she thought that about nearly every other place they visited, Windsor, and Warwick Castle, and Shakespeare's birthplace, --- the quaint little village on the Avon; Ambleside, where they took the coach for long rides among the lakes made famous by the poets who lived among them and made them immortal with their songs.

From these English lakes to Scottish moors, from the land of hawthorne to the land of heather, from low green meadows where the larks sang, to the highlands where plaided shepherds watched their flocks, they went with enthusiasm that never waned. They found the "banks and braes o' Bonnie Doon," and wandered along the banks of more than one little river that they had loved for years in song and story.

"Haven't we learned a lot!" exclaimed Eugenia, as they journeyed back by rail to Liverpool, where the Shermans and Betty were to take the steamer.

"I'm sure that I've learned ten times as much as I would in school, this last year."

"And had such a lovely time in the bargain," added Lloyd. "It's goin' to make a difference in the way I study this wintah, and in what I read. If we evah come ovah heah again, I intend to know something about English history. Then the places we visit will be so much moah interestin'. I'll not spend so much time on fairy tales and magazine stories. I'm goin' to make my reading count for some thing aftah this. It was dreadfully mawtifyin' to find out that I was so ignorant, and how much there is in the world to know, that I had nevah even heard of."

That afternoon, in the big Liverpool hotel, the trunks were packed for the last time. 

"Seems something like the night befo' Christmas," said the Little Colonel, as she counted the packages piled on the floor beside her trunk. They were the presents that she had chosen for the friends at home.

"Nineteen, twenty," she went on counting, "and that music box for Mom Beck makes twenty-one, and the souvenir spoons for the Walton girls make twenty-five. Oh, I didn't show you these," she said.

"This is Allison's," she explained, opening a little box. "See the caldron and the bells on the handle? I got this in Denmark. That's from Andersen's tale the swineherd's magic kettle, you know. Kitty's is from Tam O'Shanter's town. That's why there is a witch and a broomstick engraved on it. This spoon for Elise came from Berne. I think that's a darling little bear's head on the handle. What did you get, Betty?" she continued, turning to her suddenly. "You haven't shown me a single thing."

Betty laid down the spoons she was admiring. "You'll not think they are worth carrying home"' she said, slowly. " I couldn't buy handsome presents like yours, you know, so I just picked up little things here and there, that wouldn't be worth anything at all if they hadn't come from famous places."

"Show them to me, anyhow," persisted Lloyd.

Betty untied a small box. "It's only a handful of lava," she explained, "that I picked up on Vesuvius. But Davy will like it because he thinks a volcano is such a wonderful thing. Here are some pebbles the boys will be interested in, because I found them on the field of Waterloo. They are making collections of such things, and Waterloo is a long way from the Cuckoo's Nest. They haven't any foreign things at all.

"I wanted to take something nice to Miss Allison, but I couldn't afford to buy anything fine enough. So I just pressed these buttercups that grew by the gate of Anne Hathaway's cottage. See how sunshiny and satiny they are? Cousin Carl gave me a photograph of the cottage, and I fastened the butter cups here on the side. I couldn't offer such a little gift to some people, but Miss Allison is the kind that appreciates the thought that prompts a gift more than the thing itself."

There were a few more photographs, a handkerchief for Mom Beck, and a string of cheap Venetian beads for May Lily. The most expensive article in the collection was a little mosaic pin for her Cousin Hetty. "I got that in Venice," said Betty. "Cousin Hetty hasn't a single piece of jewelry to her name, and she never gets any presents but plain, useful things, so I am sure she will be pleased."

Lloyd turned away, thinking of the great contrast between her gifts and Betty's, and wishing that she had not made such a display of hers.

"If I were in Betty's place," she said to herself, "I'd be so jealous of me that I could hardly stand it. She's just a little orphan alone in the world, and I have mothah and Papa Jack and Hero and Tarbaby for my very own."

But the Little Colonel need not have wasted any sympathy on Betty. While one stowed away her expensive presents in her trunk, the other wrapped up her little souvenirs, humming softly to herself. It would have been hard to find anywhere in the queen's dominion, a happier child than Betty, as she sat beside her trunk, thinking of the beautiful journey with Cousin Carl, just ending, and the life awaiting her at Locust with her godmother and the Little Colonel. There was only one cloud on her horizon, and that was the parting with Eugenia and her father.

That last evening they spent together in the private parlour adjoining Mrs. Sherman's room. Early after dinner Lloyd and her father went down to pay a visit to Hero, and see that he was properly cared for. He had had a hard time since reaching England, for the laws regarding the quarantining of dogs are strict, and it had taken many shillings on Mr. Sherman's part and some tears on the Little Colonel's to procure him the privileges he had.

"The whole party will be glad when he is safely landed in Kentucky, I am sure," said Mrs. Sherman, as the door closed after them. "I'd never consent to take another dog on such a journey, after all the trouble and expense this one has been. Lloyd is so devoted to him that she is heartbroken if he has to be tied up or made uncomfortable in any way.  She'll probably come up-stairs in tears to-night because he wants to follow her, and must be kept a prisoner."

While they waited for her return, Mrs. Sherman drew Eugenia into her room for a last confidential talk, and Betty, nestling beside Cousin Carl on the sofa, tried to thank him for all his fatherly kindness to her on their long pilgrimage together. But he would not let her put her gratitude in words. His answer was the same that it had been that last night of the house party, when, looking down the locust avenue gleaming with its myriad of lights, like some road to the City of the Shining Ones, she had cried out: " Oh, why is everybody so good to me?"

The others came in presently, and the evening seemed to be on wings, it flew so swiftly, as they planned for another summer to be spent at Locust, when Eugenia should come home from her year in the Paris school. And never, it seemed, were good nights followed so quickly by good mornings, or good mornings by good-byes.

Almost before they realised that the parting time had actually come, the Little Colonel and Betty were leaning over the railing of the great steamer, waving their handkerchiefs to Eugenia and her father on the dock. Smaller and smaller grew the familiar outlines, wider and wider the distance between the ship and the shore, until at last even Eugenia's red jacket faded into a mere speck, and it was no longer of any use to wave good-bye. 

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