The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 11: Homeward Bound

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI.
HOMEWARD BOUND

ON that long, homeward journey it was well for Hero that he wore the Red Cross on his collar. The little symbol was the open sesame to many a privilege that ordinary dogs are not allowed on shipboard. Instead of being confined to the hold, he was given the liberty of the ship, and when his story was known he received as much flattering attention as if he had been some titled nobleman.

The captain shook the big white paw, gravely putt into his hand at the Little Colonel's bidding, and then stooped to stroke the dog's head. As he looked into the wistful, intelligent eyes his own grew tender.

"I have a son in the service," he said, "sent back from South Africa, covered with scars. I know what that Red Cross meant to him for a good many long weeks. Go where you like, old fellow! The ship is yours, so long as you make no trouble."

"Oh, thank you!" cried the Little Colonel, looking up at the big British captain with a beaming face. "I'd rathah be tied up myself than to have Hero kept down there in the hold. I'm suah he'll not bothah anybody."

Nor did he. No one from stoker to deck steward could make the slightest complaint against him, so dignified and well behaved was he. Lloyd was proud of him and his devotion. Wherever she went he followed her, lying at her feet when she sat in her steamer-chair, walking close beside her when she and Betty promenaded the deck.

Everybody stopped to speak to him, and to question Lloyd and Betty about him, so that it was not many days before the little girls and the. great St. Bernard had made friends of all the passengers who were able to be on deck.

The hours are long at sea, and people gladly welcome anything that provides entertainment, so Lloyd and Betty were often called aside as they walked, and invited to join some group, and tell to a knot of interested listeners all they knew of Hero and the Major, and the training of the French ambulance dogs.

In return Lloyd's stories nearly always called forth some anecdote from her listeners about the Red Cross work in America, and to her great surprise she found five persons among them who had met Clara Barton in some great national calamity of fire, flood, or pestilence.

One was a portly man with a gruff voice, who had passed through the experiences of the forest fires that swept through Michigan, over twenty years ago. As he told his story, he made the scenes so real that the children forgot where they were. They could almost smell the thick, stifling smoke of the burning forest, hear the terrible crackling of the flames, feel the scorching heat in their faces, and see the frightened cattle driven into the lakes and streams by the pursuing fire.

They listened with startled eyes as he described the wail of flame, hemming in the peaceful home where his little son played around the door-step. They held their breath while he told of their mad flight from it, when, lashing his horses into a gallop, he looked back to see it licking up everything in the world he held dear except the frightened little family huddled at his feet. He had worked hard to build the cottage. It was furnished with family heirlooms brought West with them from the old homestead in Vermont. It was hard to see those great red tongues devouring it in a mouthful.

In the morning, although they had reached a place of safety, they were out in a charred, blackened wilderness, without a roof to shelter them, a chair to sit on, or a crust to eat. "The hardest thing to bear," he said, "was to hear my little three-year-old Bertie begging for his breakfast, and to know that there was nothing within miles of us to satisfy his hunger, and that the next day it would be the same, and the next, and the next.
"We were powerless to help ourselves. But while we sat there in utter despair, a neighbour rode by and hailed us. He told us that Red Cross committees had started out from Milwaukee and Chicago at first tidings of the fire, with car-loads of supplies, and that if we could go to the place where they were distributing we could get whatever we needed.

"I wish you could have seen what they were handing out when we got there: tools and lumber to put up cabins, food and beds and clothes and coal-oil. They'd thought of everything and provided everything, and they went about the distributing in a systematic, businesslike way that somehow put heart and cheer into us all.

"They didn't make us feel as if they were handing out alms to paupers, but as if they were helping some of their own family on to their feet again, and putting them in shape to help themselves. Even my little Bertie felt it. Young as he was, he never forgot that awful night when we fled from the fire, nor the hungry day that followed, nor the fact that the arm that carried him food, when he got it at last, wore a brassard marked like that." He touched the Red Cross on Hero's collar.

"And when the chance came to show the same brotherly spirit to some one else in trouble and pass the help along, he was as ready as the rest of us to do his share.

"Three years afterward I read in the papers of the floods that had swept through the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, and of the thousands that were homeless. Bertie, --- he was six then, --- he listened to the account of the children walking the streets, crying because they hadn't a roof over them or anything to eat. He didn't say a word, but he climbed up to the mantel and took down his little red savings-bank.

"We were pretty near on our feet again by that time, although we were still living in a cabin. The crops had been good, and we had been able to save a little. He poured out all the pennies and nickels in his bank, --- ninety-three cents they came to, --- and then he got his only store toy, a box of tin soldiers that had been sent to him Christmas, and put that on the table beside the money. We didn't appear to notice what he was doing. Presently he brought the mittens his grandmother up in Vermont had knit for him. Then he waited a bit, and seemed to be weighing something in his mind. By and by he slipped away to the chest where his Sunday clothes were kept and took them out, new suit, shoes, cap and all, and laid them on the table with the money and the tin soldiers.

"'There, daddy,' he said, 'tell the Red Cross people to send them to some little boy like me, that's been washed out of his home and hasn't anything of toys left, or his clothes.'

"I tell you it made a lump come up in my throat to see that the little fellow had taken his very best to pay his debt of gratitude. Nothing was too great for him to sacrifice. Even his tin soldiers went when he remembered what the Red Cross had done for him."

"My experience with the Red Cross was in the Mississippi floods of '82," said a gentleman who had joined the party. "One winter day we were attracted by screams out in the river, and found that they came from some people who were floating down on a house that had been washed away. There they were, that freezing weather, out in the middle of the river, their clothes frozen on them, ill from fright and exposure. I went out in one of the boats that was sent to their rescue, and helped bring them to shore. I was so impressed by the tales of suffering they told that I went up the river to investigate.

"At every town, and nearly every steamboat landing, I found men from the relief committees already at work, distributing supplies. They didn't stop when they had provided food and clothing. They furnished seed by the car-load to the farmers, just as in the Galveston disaster, a few years ago, they furnished thousands of strawberry plants to the people who were wholly dependent on their crops for their next year's food."

"Where did they get all those stores?" asked Lloyd. "And the seeds and the strawberry plants?" 

"Most of it was donated," answered the gentleman. "Many contributions come pouring in after such a disaster, just as little Bertie's did. But the society is busy all the time, collecting and storing away the things that may be needed at a moment's notice. People would contribute, of course, even if there were no society to take charge of their donations, but without its wise hands to distribute, much would be lost.

"A number of years ago a physician in Bedford, Indiana, gave a tract of land to the American National Red Cross; more than a square mile, I believe, a beautiful farm with buildings and fruit-trees, a place where material can be accumulated and stored. By the terms of the treaty of Geneva, forty nations are pledged to hold it sacred for ever against all invading armies, to the use of the Red Cross. It is the only spot on earth pledged to perpetual peace."

It was from a sad-faced lady in black, who had had two sons drowned in the Johnstown flood, that Lloyd and Betty heard the description of Clara Barton's five months' labour there. A doctor's wife who had been in the Mt. Vernon cyclone, and a newspaper man who had visited the South Carolina islands after the tidal wave, and Charleston after the earthquake, piled up their accounts of those scenes of suffering, some of them even greater than the horrors of war, so that Lloyd could not sleep that night, for thinking of them.

"Betty," she whispered, across the stateroom, turning over in her berth. "Betty, are you awake?"

"Yes. Do you want anything?"

"I can't sleep. That's all. Every time I shut my eyes I see all those awful things they told about cities in ruins, and dead people lying around in piles, and the yellow fevah camps, and floods and fiah. It is a dreadful world, Betty. No one knows what awful thing is goin' to happen next."

"Don't think about the dreadful part," urged Betty. "Think of the funny things Mrs. Brown told, of the time the levee broke at Shawneetown. The table all set for supper, and the water pouring in until the table floated up to the ceiling, and went bobbing around like a fish."

"That doesn't help any," said Lloyd, after a moment. "I see the watah crawlin' highah and highah up the walls, above the piano and pictuabs, till I feel as if it is crawlin' aftah me, and will be all ovah the bed in a minute. Did you evah think how solemn it is, Betty Lewis, to be away out in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a few planks between us and drownin'? Seems to me the ship pitches around moah than usual, to-night, and the engine makes a mighty strange, creakin' noise."

"Do you remember the night I put you to sleep at the Cuckoo's Nest?" asked Betty. "The night after you fell down the barn stairs, playing barley-bright? Shut your eyes and let me try it again."

It was no nursery legend or border ballad that Betty crooned this time, but some peaceful lines of the old Quaker poet, and the quiet comfort of them stole into Lloyd's throbbing brain and soothed her excited fancy. Long after Betty was asleep she went on repeating to herself the last lines:

"I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air, 
I only know I cannot drift 
Beyond His love and care."

She did dream of fires and floods that night, but the horror of the scenes was less, because a baby voice called cheerfully through them, "Here, daddy, give these to the poor little boys that are cold and homesick;" and a great St. Bernard, with a Red Cross on his back, ran around distributing mittens and tin soldiers.

"Now that we are half-way across the ocean," said Mrs. Sherman, next morning, "I may give you Allison Walton's letter. She enclosed it in one her mother wrote, and asked me not to give it to you until we were in mid-ocean. I suppose her experience in coming over from Manila taught her that letters are more appreciated then than at the beginning of the voyage."

The Little Colonel unfolded it, exclaiming in surprise, "It is dated 'The Beeches.' I thought that they were in Lloydsboro Valley all summah, in the cottage next to the churchyard. That one you used to like," she added, turning to Betty. "The one with the high green roof and deah little diamond-shaped windowpanes."

So they are in the Valley," answered her mother. "But their new house is finished now, and they have moved into that. As they have left all the beautiful beech grove standing around it, they have decided to call the place The Beeches, as ours is called Locust, on account of the trees in front of it."
Beckoning to Betty to come and listen, Lloyd sat down to read the letter, and Mrs. Sherman turned to an acquaintance next her." It is General Walton's 's family of whom we were speaking," she explained. "Since his death in Manila they have been living in Louisville, until recently. We are so delighted to think that they have now come to the Valley to live. It was Mrs. Walton's home in her girlhood, and her mother's place, Edgewood, is just across the avenue from The Beeches. Lloyd and the little girls are the best of friends, and we are all interested in Ranald, the only son. He was the youngest captain in the army, you know. He received his appointment and was under fire before he was twelve years old."

"Oh, mothah," spoke up Lloyd, so eagerly that she did not notice that she had interrupted the conversation. "Listen to this, please. You know I wrote to Allison about Hero, and this lettah is neahly all about him. She said her fathah knew Clara Barton, and that in Cuba and Manila the games and books that the Red Cross sent to the hospitals were appreciated by the soldiahs almost as much as the delicacies. And she says her mothah thinks it would be fine for us all to start a fund for the Red Cross. They wanted to get up a play because they're always havin' tableaux and such things.

"They've been readin' 'Little Women' again, and Jo's Christmas play made them want to do something like that. They can have all the shields and knights' costumes that the MacIntyre boys had when they gave Jonesy's benefit. They were going to have an entahtainment last week, but couldn't agree. Allison wanted to play 'Cinda'ella,' because there are such pretty costumes in that, but Kitty wanted to make up one all about witches and spooks and robbah-dens, and call it 'The One-Eyed Ghost of Cocklin Tower.'

"She wanted to be the ghost. They've decided to wait till we get home befo' they do anything."

"There's your opportunity, Betty," said Mrs. Sherman , turning to her goddaughter with a smile. "Why can't you distinguish yourself by writing a play that will make us all proud of you, and at the same time swell the funds of the Red Cross?"

"Oh, do you really think I could, godmother? Are you in earnest?" cried Betty, her face shining with pleasure.

"Entirely so," answered Mrs. Sherman, running her hand caressingly over Betty's brown hair. "This little curly head is full of all sorts of tales of goblins and ogres and witches and fairy folk. String them together, dear, in some sort of shape, and I'll help with the costumes."

The suggestion was made playfully, but Betty looked dreamily out to sea, her face radiant. The longing to do something to please her godmother and make her proud of her was the first impulse that thrilled her, but as she began to search her brain for a plot, the joy of the work itself made her forget everything else, even the passing of time. She was amazed when Lloyd called to her that they were going down to lunch. She had sat the entire morning wrapped in her steamer-rug, looking out across the water with far-seeing eyes. As the blue waves rose and fell, her thoughts had risen and swayed to their rhythmic motion, and begun to shape themselves into rhyme. Line after line was taking form, and she wished impatiently that Lloyd had not called her. How could one be hungry when some inward power, past understanding, was making music in one's soul?

She followed Lloyd down to the table like one in a trance, but the spell was broken for awhile by Lloyd's persistent chatter.

"You know there's all sort of things you could have," she suggested, "if you wanted to use them in the piece. Tarbaby and the Filipino pony, and we could even borrow the beah from Fairchance if you wanted anything like Beauty and the Beast. We had that once though, at Jonesy's benefit, so maybe you wouldn't want to use it again."

"There's to be a knight in it," answered Betty, "and he'll be mounted in one scene. So we may need one of the ponies." Then she turned to her godmother. "Do you suppose there is a spinning-wheel anywhere in the neighbourhood that we could borrow?"

"Yes, I have one of my great-grandmother's stored away in the trunk-room. You may have that."

The Little Colonel shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "Oh, I can't wait to know what you're goin' to do with a spinnin'-wheel in the play. Tell me now, Betty."

But the little playwright only shook her head "I'm not sure myself yet. But I keep thinking of the humming of the wheel, and a sort of spinning song keeps running through my head. I thought, too, it would help to make a pretty scene."

"You're goin' to put Hero in it, aren't you?" was the Little Colonel's question.

"Oh, Lloyd! I can't," cried Betty, in dismay. "A dog couldn't have a part with princes and witches and fairies."

" I don't see why not," persisted Lloyd. "I sha'n't take half the interest if he isn't in it. I think you might put him in, Betty," she urged. "I'd do as much for you, if it was something you had set your heart on. Please, Betty!" she begged.

"But he won't fit anywhere!" said Betty, in a distressed tone. "I'd put him in, gladly, if he'd only go, but, don't you see, Lloyd, he isn't appropriate. It would spoil the whole thing to drag him in."

" I don't see why," said Lloyd, a trifle sharply.

"Isn't it going to be a Red Cross entahtainment, and isn't Hero a Red Cross dog? I think it's very appropriate for him to have a part, even one of the principal ones."

" I can't think of a single thing for him to do---" began Betty.

"You can if you try hard enough," insisted Lloyd.

Betty sighed hopelessly, and turned to her lunch in silence. She wanted to please the Little Colonel, but it seemed impossible to her to give Hero a part without spoiling the entertainment.

"Maybe some of the books in the ship's library might help you," said Mr. Sherman, who had been an amused listener. "I'll look over some of them for you."

Later in the day he came up to Betty where she stood leaning against the deck railing. He laid a book upon it, open at a picture of seven white swans. "Do you remember this?" he asked. "The seven brothers who were changed to swans, and the, good sister who wove a coat for each one out of flax she spun from the churchyard nettles? The magic coats gave them back their human forms. Maybe you can use the same idea, and have your prince changed into a dog for awhile."

"Oh, thank you!" she cried. "I'd forgotten that story. I am sure it will help."

He walked away, leaving her poring over the picture, but presently, as he paced the deck, he felt her light touch on his arm, and turned to see her glowing little face looking up into his.

"I've got it!" she cried. "The picture made me think of the very thing. I had been fumbling with a tangled skein, trying to find a place to begin unwinding. Now you have given me the starting thread, and it all begins to smooth out beautifully. I'm going for pencil and paper now, to write it all down before I forget."

That pencil and note-book were her constant companions the rest of the voyage. Sometimes Lloyd, coming upon her suddenly, would hear her whispering a list of rhymes such as more, core, pour, store, shore, before, or creature, teacher, feature, at which they would both laugh and Betty exclaim, hopelessly, "I can't find a word to fit that place." At other times Lloyd passed her in respectful silence, for she knew by the rapt look on Betty's face that the mysterious business of verse-making was proceeding satisfactorily, and she dared not interrupt.

The day they sighted land, Lloyd exclaimed: "Oh, I can hardly wait to get home! I've had a perfectly lovely summah, and I've enjoyed every mile of the journey, but the closah I get to Locust the moah it seems to me that the very nicest thing my wondah-ball can unroll (except givin' me Hero, of co'se) is the goin' back home."

"Your wonder-ball," repeated Betty, who knew the birthday story. "That gives me an idea. The princess shall have a wonder-ball in the play."

Lloyd laughed. "I believe that's all you think about nowadays, Betty. Put up yoah scribblin' for awhile and come and watch them swing the trunks up out of the hold. We're almost home, Betty Lewis, almost home!"

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