The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 12: Home Again

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII.
HOME AGAIN

MEANWHILE in Lloydsboro Valley the summer had slipped slowly by. Locust seemed strangely quiet with the great front gates locked, and never any sound of wheels or voices coming down the avenue. Judge Moore's place was closed also, and Tanglewood, just across the way, had been opened only a few weeks in the spring. So birds and squirrels held undisputed possession of that part of the Valley, and the grass grew long and the vines climbed high, and often the soft whisper of the leaves was the only sound to be heard.

But in the shady beech grove, next the church-yard, and across the avenue from Mrs. MacIntyre's, the noise of hammer and saw and trowel had gone on unceasingly, until at last the new home was ready for its occupants. The family did not have far to move to "The Beeches"; only over the stile from the quaint green-roofed cottage next door, where they had spent the summer.

Allison, Kitty, and Elise climbed back and forth over the stile, their arms full of their particular treasures, which they could not trust to the moving-vans.

All the week that Betty and Lloyd were tossing out on the ocean, they were flitting about the new house, growing accustomed to its unfamiliar corners. By the time the Majestic steamed into the New York harbour, they were as much at home in their new surroundings as if they had always lived there. The tent was pitched on the lawn, the large family of dolls was brought out under the trees, and the games, good times, and camp-fire cooking went on as if they had never been interrupted for an instant by the topsy-turvy work of moving.

"Whose day is it for the pony-cart?" asked. Mrs. Walton, coming out on the steps one morning. "It was mine," answered Kitty, speaking up from the hammock, where she swung, half in, half out, watching a colony of ants crawling along the ground underneath. "But I traded my turn to Elise, for her biggest paper boy doll."

"And I traded my turn to Allison, if she would let me use all the purple and yellow paint I want in her paint-box, while I am making my Princess Pansy's ball dress," said Elise.

Mrs. Walton smiled at the transfer of rights. The little girls had an arrangement by which they took turns in using the cart certain days in the week, when Ranald did not want to ride his Filipino pony.

"Whoever has it to-day may do an errand for me," Mrs. Walton said, adding, as she turned toward the house, " Do you know that Lloyd and Betty are coming on the three o'clock train this afternoon?"

"Then I don't want the pony-cart," exclaimed Allison, quickly. "I'm going down to the depot to meet them."

The depot was in sight of The Beeches, not more than three minutes' walk distant.

"Can't go back on your trade!" sang out Elise. "Can't go back on your trade!"

"Oh, you take it, Elise," coaxed Allison. "It's my regular turn tomorrow. I'll make some fudge in the morning, if you will."

Elise considered a moment. "Well," she said, finally, "I'll let you off from your trade if Kitty will. let me off from mine."

"No, sir!" answered Kitty. "A trade's a trade. I want that paper boy doll."

"But it's your regular turn," coaxed Elise, "and I'd much rather go down to the depot to meet the girls than go riding."

"So would I," said Kitty, spurring the procession of ants to faster speed with her slipper toe. Then she sat up and considered the matter a moment.

"Oh, well," she said, presently, "I don't care, after all. If it will oblige you any I'll let you off, and take the pony myself."

"Oh, thank you, sister," cried Elise.

"They'll only be at the depot a few minutes," continued the wily Kitty. "So I'll drive down to meet them in style in the cart, and then I'll go up to Locust with them, beside the carriage, and hear all about the trip first of anybody."

"I wish I'd thought of that," said Elise, a shade of disappointment in her big dark eyes.

"I'll tell you," proposed Allison, enthusiastically. "We'll all go down in the pony-cart to meet them together. That would be the nicest way to do."

"Oh!" was Kitty's cool reply, "I had thought of going by for Katy or Corinne." Then, seeing the disappointment in the faces opposite, she added, "But maybe I might change my mind. Have you got anything to trade for a chance to go?"

This transfer of possessions which they carried on was like a continuous game, of which they never tired, because of its endless variety. It was a source of great amusement to the older members of the family. 

"It is a mystery to me," said Miss Allison, "how they manage to keep track of their property, and remember who is the owner. I have known a doll or a dish to change hands half a dozen times in the course of a forenoon."

Elise promptly offered the paper boy doll again, which was promptly accepted. Allison had nothing to offer which Kitty considered equivalent to a seat in the cart, but by a roundabout transfer the trade was finally made. Allison gave Elise the amount of purple and yellow paint she needed for the Princess Pansy's ball gown, in return for which Elise gave her a piece of spangled gauze which Kitty had long had an eye upon. Allison in turn handed the gauze to Kitty for her right to a seat in the pony-cart, and the affair was thus happily settled to the satisfaction of all parties.

"It isn't that we are selfish with each other," Allison had retorted, indignantly, one day when Corinne remarked that she didn't see how sisters who loved each other could be so particular about everything. It's only with our toys and the cart that we do that way. It's a kind of game that we've played always, and we think it's lots of fun."

So it happened that that afternoon, when the train stopped at Lloydsboro Valley, the first thing the Little Colonel saw was the pony-cart drawn close to the platform. Then three little girls in white dresses and fresh ribbons, smiling broadly under their flower-wreathed hats, sprang out to give them a warm welcome home, with enthusiastic hugs and kisses.

Hero's turn came next. Released from his long, tiresome confinement in the baggage-car, he came bounding into their midst, almost upsetting the Little Colonel in his joy at having his freedom again. He put out his great paw to each of the little girls in turn as Lloyd bade him shake hands with his new neighbors but he growled suspiciously when Walker came up and laid black fingers upon him. He had never seen a coloured man before.

It was Betty's first meeting with the Walton girls. She had looked forward to it eagerly, first because they were the daughters of a man whom her little hero-loving heart honoured as one of the greatest generals of the army, who had given his life to his country, and died bravely in its service, and secondly because Lloyd's letters the winter before had been full of their sayings and doings. Mrs. Sherman, too, had told her many things of their life in Manila, and she felt that children who had such unusual experiences could not fail to be interesting. There was a third reason, however, that she scanned each face so closely. She had given them parts in the new play, and she was wondering how well they would fit those parts.

They in turn cast many inquiring glances at Betty, for they had heard all about this little song-bird that had been taken away from the Cuckoo's Nest. They had read her poem on "Night," which was published in a real paper, and they could not help looking upon her with a deep feeling of respect, tinged a little with awe, that a twelve-year-old girl could write verses good enough to be published. They had heard Keith's enthusiastic praises of her.
"Betty's a brick!" he had said, telling of several incidents of the house party, especially the picnic at the old mill, when she had gone so far to keep her "sacred promise." "She's the very nicest girl I know," he had added, emphatically, and that was high praise, coming from the particular Keith, who judged all girls by the standard of his mother.

As soon as the trunks were attended to, Mr. Sherman led the way to the carriage, waiting on the other side of the platform. Hero was given a place beside Walker, and although he sprang up obediently when he was bidden, he eyed his companion suspiciously all the way. The pony-cart trundled along beside the carriage, the girls calling back and forth to each other, above the rattle of the wheels.

"Oh, isn't Hero the loveliest dog that ever was! But you ought to see our puppy --- the cutest thing --- nothing but a bunch of soft, woozy curls." . . . We're in the new house now, you must come over tomorrow." . . . "Mother is going to take us all camping soon. You are invited, too."  This from the pony-cart in high-pitched voices in different keys.
"Oh, I've had a perfectly lovely time, and I've brought you all something in my trunk. And say, girls, Betty is writing a play for the Red Cross entertainment. There's a witch in it, Kitty, and lots of pretty costumes, Allison. And, oh, deah, I'm so glad to get home I don't know what to do first!"  This from the carriage. 

The great entrance gates were unlocked now, the lawn smoothly cut, the green lace-work of vines trimly trained around the high white pillars of the porches. The pony-cart turned back at the gate, and the carriage drove slowly up the avenue alone. The mellow sunlight of the warm September afternoon filtered down like gold, through the trees arching overhead.

"'Oh, the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,"' sang Lloyd, softly, leaning out of the carriage to wave her hand to Mom Beck, who, in whitest of aprons and gayest of head bandanas, stood smiling and curtseying on the steps. The good old black face beamed with happiness as she cried, "Heah comes my baby, an 'li'l' Miss Betty, too, bless her soul an' body!" Around the house came May Lily and a tribe of little pickaninnies, who fell back at sight of Hero leaping out of the carriage. He was the largest dog they had ever seen. Lloyd called them all around her and made them each shake hands with the astonished St. Bernard, who did not seem to relish this part of his introduction to Kentucky.

"He'll soon get used to you," said the Little Colonel. "May Lily, you run tell Aunt Cindy to give you a cooky or a piece of chicken for him to eat. Henry Clay, you bring a pan of watah. If you all fly around and wait on him right good, he'll like you lots bettah."

Leaving Lloyd to offer Hero the hospitality of Locust in the midst of her little black admirers, Betty slowly followed her godmother up the wide stairs.

"You're to have the same white and gold room again, dear," said Mrs. Sherman, peeping in as she passed the door. "I see that it is all in readiness. So walk in and take possession."
Betty was glad that she was alone, those first few minutes, the joy of the home-coming was so keen. Going in, she shut the door and gave a swift glance all around, from the dark polished floor, with its white angora rugs, to the filmy white curtains at the open casement windows. Everything was just as she had seen it last, --- the dear little white dressing-table, with its crystal candlesticks, that always made her think of twisted icicles; the little heart-shaped pincushion and all the dainty toilet articles of ivory and gold; the pictures on the wall ; the freshly gathered plumes of goldenrod in the crystal bowl on the mantel. She stood a moment, looking out of the open window, and thinking of the year that had gone by since she last stood in that room. Many a long and perilous mile she had travelled, but here she was back in safety, and instead of bandaged eyes and the horror of blindness hovering over her, she was able to look out on the beautiful world with strong, far seeing sight.

The drudgery of the Cuckoo's Nest was far behind her now, and the bare little room under the eaves. Henceforth this was to be her home. She remembered the day in the church when her godmother's invitation to the house party reached her, and just as she had knelt then in front of the narrow, bench-like altar, she knelt now, beside the little white bed. Now, as then, the late afternoon sun streamed across her brown curls and shining face, and "Thank you, dear God," came in the same grateful whisper from the depths of the same glad little heart.

"Betty! Betty!" called Lloyd, under her window. "Come and take a run over the place. I want to show Hero his new home."

Tired of sitting still so long on the cars, Betty was glad to join in the race over the smooth lawn and green meadows. Out in the pasture, Tarbaby waited by the bars. The grapevine swing in the mulberry-tree, every nook and corner where the guests of the house party had romped and played the summer before, seemed to hold a special greeting for them, and every foot of ground in old Locust seemed dearer for their long absence.

The next morning, when Tarbaby was led around for Lloyd to take her usual ride, both girls gave a cry of delight, for another pony followed close at his heels. It was the one that had been kept for Betty's use during the house party.

"It is Lad!" called the Little Colonel, excitedly.  "Oh, Papa Jack! Is he goin' to stay heah all the time?"

"Yes, he belongs here now," answered Mr. Sherman. "I want both my little girls to be well mounted, and to ride every day."

He motioned to a card hanging from Lad's bridle, and, leaning over, Lloyd read aloud, "For Betty from Papa Jack."

Betty could hardly realise her good fortune.

"Is he really mine?" she insisted, " the same as Tarbaby is Lloyd's?"

"Really yours, and just the same," answered Mr. Sherman, holding out his hand to help her mount.

She tried to thank him, tried to tell him how happy the gift had made her, but words could not measure either her gratitude or her pleasure. He read them both, however, in her happy face. As he swung her into the saddle, she leaned forward, saying, "I want to whisper something in your ear, Mr. Sherman." As he bent his head she whispered, "Thank you for writing Papa Jack on the card. That made me happier than anything else."

"That is what I want you to call me always now, my little daughter," he answered, kissing her lightly on the cheek. "Locust is your home now, and you belong to all of us. Your godmother, the Little Colonel, and I each claim a share."

"What makes you so quiet?" asked Lloyd, as they rode on down the avenue.

"I was thinking of the way Joyce's fairy tale ended," said Betty. "'So the prince came into his kingdom, the kingdom of loving hearts and gentle hands.' Only this time it's the princess who's come into her kingdom."

"What do you mean?" asked Lloyd, with a puzzled look.

"Oh, it's only some of my foolishness," said Betty, looking back over her shoulder with a laugh. "I'm just so glad that I'm alive, and so glad that I am me, and so happy because everybody is so heavenly kind to me, that I wouldn't change places with the proudest princess that ever sat on a throne."

"Then come on, and let's race to the post-office," cried Lloyd, dashing off, with Hero bounding along beside her.

From the post-office they rode to The Beeches, where Allison was cooking something over the campfire, beside the tent on the lawn.

It proved to be candy, and she waved a sticky spoon in welcome. Mrs. Walton was in a hammock, near by, her mending basket beside her, and Kitty and Elise on the grass at her feet, watching the molasses bubble up in the kettle. Betty felt a little shy at first, for this was her first meeting with the General's wife, and she wished that the girls would not insist on having an immediate outline of the play. It had seemed very fine indeed to her when she read it aloud to herself, or repeated it to Lloyd. It had not seemed a very childish thing to her even when she read it to her godmother. But she shrank from Mrs. Walton's criticism. It was with many blushes that she began. Afterward she wondered why she should have been timid about it. Mrs. Walton applauded it so heartily, and entered into plans for making the entertainment a success as enthusiastically as any of the girls.

"I bid to be witch!" cried Kitty, when Betty had finished.

"I'd like to be the queen, if you don't care," said Allison, " for I am the largest, and I'd rather act with Rob than the other boys. But it doesn't make any difference. I'll be anything you want me to."

"That's the way Betty planned it," said Lloyd.

"I'm to be the captive princess, and Keith will be my brother whom the witch changes into a dog. That's Hero, of co'se. Malcolm will be the knight who rescues me. Rob Moore will be king, and Elise the queen of the fairies, and Ranald the ogah."

Ranald said last night that he wouldn't be in the play if he had to learn a lot of foolishness to speak, or if he couldn't be disguised so that nobody would know him," said Kitty. "He'll help any other way, fixing the stage and the red lights and all that, but the Captain has a dread of making himself appear ridiculous. Now I don't. I'd rather have the funny parts than the high and mighty ones."

"He might be Frog-eye-Fearsome," suggested Betty. "Then he wouldn't have anything to do but drag the prince and princess across the stage to the ogre's tower, and the costume could be so hideous that no one could tell whether a human or a hobgoblin was inside of it."

"Who'll buy all the balloons for the fairies, and make our spangled wings?" asked Elise. "Oh, I know," she cried, instantly answering her own question. "I'll tell Aunt Elise all about it, and I know that she'll help."

"How will you go all the way to the seashore to tell her?" asked Kitty.

"She isn't at the seashore," answered Elise, with an air of triumph.  "She came back from Narragansett Pier last night. Didn't she, mamma.? And she and Malcolm and Keith are coming out to grandmother's this afternoon as straight as the train can carry them, you might know. They always do, first thing. Don't they, mamma?"
Mrs. Walton nodded yes, then said: "Suppose you bring the play down this afternoon, Betty. Ask your our mother to come too, Lloyd, and we'll read it out under the trees. Now are all the characters decided upon?"

"All but the ogre," said Betty.

"Joe Clark is the very one for that," exclaimed Lloyd "He is head and shouldahs tallah than all the othah boys, although he is only fifteen, and his voice is so deep and gruff it sounds as if it came out of the cellah. We can stop and ask him if he'll take the part."

Invite him to come down to the reading of the play too," said Mrs. Walton. "I'll look for you all promptly at four."

Betty almost lost her courage that afternoon when she saw the large group waiting for her under the beech-trees on Mrs. Walton's lawn. Mrs. MacIntyre was there, fresh and dainty as Betty always remembered her, with the sunshine flickering softly through the leaves on her beautiful white hair. Miss Allison, who, in the children's opinion, knew everything, sat beside her, and worst of all, the younger Mrs. MacIntyre was there; Malcolm's and Keith's mother, whom Betty had never seen before, but of whom she had heard glowing descriptions from her admiring sons.

Lloyd pointed her out to Betty as they drove in at the gate. "See, there she is, in that lovely pink organdy. Wouldn't you love to look like her? I would. She's like a queen."

Betty sank back, faint with embarrassment. "Oh, godmother!" she whispered. "I know I can't read it before all those people. It will choke me. There's at least a dozen, and some of them are strangers."

Mrs. Sherman smiled, encouragingly. "There's nothing to be afraid of, dear. Your play is beautiful, in my opinion, and every one there will agree with me when they've all heard it. Go on and do your best and make us all proud of you."

There was no time to hesitate. Keith was already swinging on the carriage steps to welcome them, and Malcolm and Ranald were bringing out more chairs to make places for them with the group under the beeches. Nobody mentioned the play for some time. The older people were busy questioning Mrs. Sherman about her summer abroad, and Malcolm and Keith had much to tell the others of their vacation at the seashore; of polo and parties and ping-pong, and several pranks that sent the children into shrieks of laughter.

In the midst of the hum of conversation Betty's heart almost stood still. Mrs. Walton was calling the company to order. Coming forward, she led Betty to a chair in the centre of the circle, and asked her to begin. It was with hands that trembled visibly that Betty opened her note-book and began to read "The Rescue of the Princess Winsome."

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