The Little Colonel's Hero, Chapter 14: In Camp

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

Published 1902
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV.
IN CAMP

SEVERAL miles from Lloydsboro Valley, where a rapid brook runs by the ruins of an old paper-mill, a roaring waterfall foams and splashes. Even in the long droughts of midsummer it is green and cool there, for the spray, breaking on the slippery stones, freshens the ferns on the bank, and turns its moss to the vivid hue of an emerald. Near by, in an open pasture, sloping down from a circle of wooded hills, lies an ideal spot for a small camp.

It was here that Mrs. Walton and Miss Allison came one warm afternoon, the Monday following the entertainment, with a wagonette full of children. Ranald, Malcolm, Keith, and Rob Moore had ridden over earlier in the day to superintend the coloured men who dug the trenches and pitched the tents. By the time the wagonette arrived, fuel enough to last a week was piled near the stones where the camp-fire was laid, and everything was in readiness for the gay party. Flags floated from the tent poles, and Dinah, the young coloured woman who was to be the cook, came up from the spring, balancing a pail of water on her head, smiling broadly.

As the boys and girls swarmed out and scurried away in every direction like a horde of busy ants, Mrs. Walton turned to her sister with a laugh. "Did we lose any of them on the way, Allison? We'd better count noses."

"No, we are all here: eight girls, four boys, the four already on the field, Dinah and her baby, and ourselves, twenty in all."

"Twenty-one, counting Hero," corrected Mrs. Walton, as the great St. Bernard went leaping after Lloyd, sniffing at the tents, and barking occasionally to express his interest in the frolic. "He seems to be enjoying it as much as any of us."

"I wish that they were all as able to take care of themselves as he is. It would save us a world of anxiety. Do you begin to realise, Mary, what a load of responsibility we have taken on our shoulders? Sixteen boys and girls to keep out of harm's way for a week in the woods is no easy matter."

"We'll keep them so busy that they'll have no time for mischief. The wagonette isn't unloaded yet. Wait till you see the games I've brought, and the fishing-tackle. There's an old curtain that can be hung between those two trees any time we want to play charades."

"Swing that hammock over there, Ranald," she called, nodding to a clump of trees near the spring. "Then some of you boys can carry this chest back to Dinah." She pointed to the old army mess-chest, that always accompanied them on their picnics and outings.

"The Ogre can do that," said the Little Captain, nodding toward Joe Clark, who stood leaning lazily against a tree.

"Do it yourself, Frog-Eye Fearsome," retorted Joe, at the same time coming forward to help carry the chest to the place assigned it.

"They'll never be able to get away from those names," said Miss Allison. "Well, what is it, my Princess Winsome?" she asked, as Lloyd came running up to her.

"Please take care of these for me, Miss Allison," answered Lloyd, holding out Hero's shoulder-bags, which she had just taken from him. "I put on his things when we started, for mothah says nobody evah knows what's goin' to happen in camp, and we might need those bandages." Tumbling them into Miss Allison's lap, she was off again in breathless haste, to follow the other girls, who were exploring the tents, and exclaiming over all the queer makeshifts of camp life. Then they raced down to the waterfall, and, taking off shoes and stockings, waded up and down in the brook. These early fall days were as warm as August, so wading was not yet one of the forbidden pastimes. They splashed up and down until the Little Captain's bugle sent a ringing call for their return to camp. Katie was one of the last to leave the water. Lloyd waited for her while she hurriedly laced her shoes, and as they followed the others she said, in a confidential tone, "Do you think you are goin' to like to stay out heah till next Sata'day?"

"Like it!" echoed Katie, "I could stay here a year!"

"But at night, I mean. Sleepin' in those narrow little cots, with nothin' ovah ou' heads but the tents, and no floah. Ugh! What if a snake or a liz'ad should wiggle in, and you'd heah it rustlin' around in the grass undah you! There's suah to be bugs and ants and cattahpillahs. I like camp in the daylight, but it would be moah comfortable to have a house to sleep in at night. I wish I could wish myself back home till mawnin'."

"I don't mind the bugs and spiders," said Katie recklessly, "and you'd better not let the boys find out that you do, or they'll never stop teasing you."

A bountifully spread supper-table met their sight as they reached the camp. It had been made by laying long boards across two poles, which were supported by forked stakes driven into the ground. The eight girls made a rush for the camp-stools on one side of the table, and the eight boys grabbed those on the other side.
"Don't have to have no manners in the woods," remarked little Freddy Nicholls, straddling his stool, and beginning his supper, regardless of the knife and fork beside his plate. "That's what I like about camping out. You don't have to wait to have things handed to you, but can dip in and get what you want like an Injun."

Lloyd looked at him scornfully as she daintily unfolded her paper napkin. She nodded a decided yes when Katie whispered, "Aren't boys horrid and greedy!" Then she corrected herself hastily. She had seen Malcolm wait to pass a dish of fried chicken to his Aunt Allison before helping himself, and heard Ranald apologise to his next neighbour for accidentally jogging his elbow. "Not all of them," she replied.

It added much to Betty's interest in the meal to know that the cup from which she drank, and the fork with which she ate, had been used by real soldiers, and carried from one army post to another many times in the travel-worn old mess chest.

Little Elise was the only one who did not give due attention to her supper. She sat with a cooky in her hand, looking off at the hills with dreamy eyes, until her mother spoke to her.

"I am trying to make some poetry like Betty did," she answered. Ever since the play her thoughts seemed trying to twist themselves into rhymes, and she was constantly coming up to her mother with a new verse she had just made.

"Well, what is it, Titania?" asked Mrs. Walton, seeing from the gleam of satisfaction in the black eyes that the verse was ready.

"It's all of our names," she said, shyly, waving her hand toward the girls on her side of the table. 

"Betty, Corinne, and Lloyd, Margery, Kitty, and Kate,
Allison and Elise all together make eight."

"Oh, that's easy," said Rob. "You just strung a lot of names together. Anybody can do that."

"You do it, then," proposed Kitty. "Make a verse with the boys' names in it."

"Malcolm, Ranald, and Rob, Jamie, Freddy, Keith," he began, boldly, then hesitated. "There isn't any rhyme for Keith."

"Change them around," suggested Malcolm. The girls would not help, and the whole row of boys floundered among the names for a while, unwilling to be beaten by the youngest member of the party, and a girl, at that. Finally, by their united efforts and a hint from Miss Allison, they succeeded.

"MalcoIm, Ranald, and Rob, Keith and Freddy, and James, Joe the Ogre, and George. Those are the boys eight names."

" Let's make a law," suggested Kitty, "that nobody at the table can say anything from now on till we are through supper, unless they speak in rhymes."

They all agreed, but for a few minutes no one ventured a remark. Only giggles broke the silence, until Allison asked Freddy Nicholls to pass the pickles. Recorded here in a book, it may seem a very silly game, but to the jolly camping party, ready to laugh at even the sheerest nonsense, it proved to be the source of much fun. Even Freddy, to his own great delight, surprised himself and the company by asking Elise to take some cheese. Joe was thrown into confusion by Kitty's asking him if flesh, fowl, or fish, was his favourite dish. As he could only nod his head, he had to pay a forfeit, and Keith answered for him by saying, "That's not a fair question to Joe. An ogre eats all things, you know." So it went on until Mrs. Walton said:

"Now all who are able, may rise from the table. 
The camp-fire's burning bright. 
Spread rugs on the ground, and gather around, 
And we'll all tell tales in its light."

"This is the jolliest part of it all!" exclaimed Keith, a little later, as, stretched out on a thick Indian blanket, he looked around on the circle of faces, glowing in the light of the leaping fagot-fire. Twilight had settled on the camp. The tumbling of the waterfall over the rocks made a subdued roar in the background. An owl called somewhere from the depths of the woods. As the dismal "Tu-whit, to who-oo" sounded through the gloaming, Lloyd glanced over her shoulder with a shudder. 

"Ugh!" she exclaimed. " It looks as if the witch's orchard might be there behind us, with all sorts of snaky, crawlin' things in it. Come heah, Hero. Let me put my back against you. It makes me feel shivery to even think of such a thing!"

The dog edged nearer at her call, and she snuggled up against his tawny curls with a feeling of warmth and protection.

"Wish I had a dog like that," said Jamie, fondly stroking the silky ear that was nearest him. "I wouldn't take a thousand dollars for him if I had."

"Money couldn't buy Hero!" exclaimed Lloyd.

"Now what would you do," said Kitty, who was always supposing impossible things, "if some old witch would come to you and say, 'You may have your choice; a palace full of gold and silver and precious stones and give up Hero, or keep him and be a beggar in rags?"' "I'd be a beggah, of co'se!" cried Lloyd, warmly, throwing her arm around the dog's neck. "Think I'd go back on anybody that had saved my life? But I wouldn't stay a beggah," she continued. "I'd put on the Red Cross too, and we'd go away where there was war, Hero and I, and we'd spend ou' lives takin' care of the soldiahs. I wouldn't have to dress in rags, for I'd weah the nurse's costume, and I'd do so much good that some day, may be, somebody would send me the Gold Cross of Remembrance, as they did Clara Barton, and I'm suah that I'd rathah have that, with all it means, than all the precious stones and things that the witch could give me."

"When did Hero save your life?" asked Joe, who had not heard the story of the runaway in Geneva.

"Tell us all about it, Lloyd," asked Mrs. Walton. So Lloyd began, and the group around the fire listened with breathless attention. And that was followed by the Major's story, and all he had told her of St. Bernard dogs, and of the Red Cross service. Then the finding of the Major by his faithful dog on the dark mountain after the storm. Betty's turn came next. She repeated some of the stories they had heard on shipboard. Mrs. Walton added her part afterward, telling her personal experience with the Red Cross work in Cuba and the Philippines.

"That is one reason I took such a deep interest in your little entertainment," she said, "and was so pleased when it brought so much money. I know that every penny under the wise direction of the Red Cross will help to make some poor soldier more comfortable; or if some sudden calamity should come in this country, before it was sent away, your little fund might help to save dozens of lives."

The fire had burned low while they talked, and Elise was yawning sleepily. Miss Allison looked at her watch. "How the time has flown!" she exclaimed in surprise. "Where is the bugler of this camp? It is high time for him to play taps."

Ranald ran for his bugle, and the clear call that he had learned to play when he was "The Little Captain," in far-away Luzon, rang out into the dark woods. It was answered by the same silvery notes. Mrs. Walton and Miss Allison looked at each other in surprise, for the reply was no echo, but the call of a real bugle, somewhere not far away.

"Oh, we forgot to tell you, Aunt Mary," said Malcolm, noting the surprised glance. "It's a regiment of the State Guard, in camp over by Calkin's Cliff. We boys were over there this morning. They made a big fuss over us when they found that Ranald was General Walton's son and we were his nephews. They wanted us to stay to dinner, and when they found out that you were coming to camp here, the Colonel said he wanted to come over here and call. He used to know you out West."

"Colonel Wayne," repeated Mrs. Walton, when Malcolm finally remembered the name. "We knew him when he was only a young cadet at West Point. The General was very fond of him, and I shall be glad to see him again."

"They'll be interested in Hero," said Ranald. "Maybe they'll want to train some war dogs for our army if they see him at work. Do you suppose he has forgotten his training, Lloyd ? Let's try him in the morning."

"You can make a great game of it," suggested Mrs. Walton. "Rig up one of the tents for a hospital. Some of the boys can be wounded soldiers and some of the girls nurses."

"All but me," said Lloyd. "I'll have to be an officer to give the ordahs. He only knows the German words for that, and the Majah taught them to me.

"What can we use for the brassards and costumes?" said Kitty.

"Elise has an old red apron in the clothes-hamper that we can cut up for crosses," said Mrs. Walton, always ready for emergencies. "But now to your tents, every man of you, or you'll never be ready to get up in the morning."

It was hard to go to sleep in the midst of such strange surroundings, and more than once Lloyd started up, aroused by the hoot of an owl, or the thud of a bat against the side of the tent. Not until she reached out and laid her hand on the great St. Bernard stretched out beside her cot, did she settle herself comfortably to sleep. With the touch of his soft curls against her fingers, she was no longer afraid.

When the officers came into the camp next day, they found the children in the midst of their new game. It was some time before their attention was attracted to it, for the Colonel was one of the men who had followed General Walton on his long, hard Indian campaign, and there were many questions to be asked and answered about mutual friends in the army.

Hero was not making a serious business of the game, but was entering into it as if it were a big frolic. He could not make believe as the boys could, who played at soldiering. But the old words of command, uttered in the Little Colonel's high, excited voice, sent him bounding in the direction she pointed, and the prostrate forms he found scattered about the sham battle-field, seemed to quicken his memory. Mrs. Walton presently called the officer's attention to the efforts Hero was making to recall his old lessons, and briefly outlined his history.

"I believe he would remember perfectly," said the Colonel, watching him with deep interest, "if we were to take him over to our camp, and try him among the regular uniformed soldiers. Of course our accoutrements are not the kind he has been accustomed to, but I think they would suggest them. At least the smell of powder would be familiar, and the guns and canteens and knapsacks might awaken something in his memory that would revive his entire training. I should like very much to make the experiment."

After some further conversation, Lloyd was called up to meet the officers, and it was agreed that Hero should be taken over to the camp for a trial on the day the sham battle was to take place.

"The day has not yet been definitely determined," said the Colonel, "but I'll send you word as soon as it is. By the way, my orderly was once a young Prussian officer, and, I think, came from near Coblenz. He'll welcome Hero like a long-lost brother, for he has a soft spot in his heart for anything connected with the  Fatherland. I'll send him over either this evening or to-morrow."

That evening the orderly rode over to bring word that the sham battle would take place the following Thursday, and they were all invited to witness it. Hero's trial would take place immediately after the battle. While he stood talking to Mrs. Walton and Miss Allison, Lloyd and Kitty came running down the hill with Hero close behind them.

The orderly turned with an exclamation of admiration as the dog came toward him, and held out his hand with a friendly snap of the fingers. "Ah, old comrade," he called out in German, in a deep, hearty voice. "Come, give me a greeting! I, too, am from the Vaterland."

At sound of the familiar speech, the dog went forward, wagging his tail violently, as if he recognised an old acquaintance. Then he stopped and snuffed his boots in a puzzled manner, and looked up wistfully into the orderly's face. It was a stranger he gazed at, yet voice, speech, and appearance were like the man's who had trained him from a puppy, and he gave a wriggle of pleasure when the big hand came down on his head, and the deep voice spoke caressingly to him.
When the orderly mounted his horse, Hero would have followed had not the Little Colonel called him sharply, grieved and jealous that he should show such marked interest in a stranger. He turned back at her call, but stood in the road, looking after his new-found friend, till horse and rider disappeared down the bridle-path that led through the deep woods to the other camp.

< Chapter 13     Chapter 15 >

The Little Colonel's Hero - Table of Contents