The Little Colonel's House Party, Chapter 13: More Measles

 

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

Illustrated by Louis Meynell
Published 1900

 

CHAPTER XIII
MORE MEASLES

IT seemed to Betty that that night would never end. It was after midnight before the house grew quiet. Then, whenever she closed her eyes, she could see those ghostly figures dancing before her in a long, white wavering line. After awhile she gave up the attempt to sleep, and lay with her eyes wide open, staring into the darkness, alert, and quivering at the slightest sound.

"I don't know what makes me so nervous," she thought. "I feel as if I should fly, and the dark seems so horrible, as if it was full of creepy, crawling things, with horns and claws."

A beetle boomed against the window, striking the pane with a heavy thud. She drew the sheet over her head and shivered. "Maybe if I'd read awhile it would make me sleepy," she thought, and, slipping softly out of bed, she groped her way across the room in the dark to the dressing-table. Lighting a candle in one of the crystal candlesticks that always reminded her of twisted icicles, she put it on a stand beside her bed. The light flickered unsteadily, but she piled the pillows up behind her and settled herself to read.

It was a new book that she was greatly interested in, and before long she was so deep in the story that she never noticed how the time was flying. Instead of bringing sleep to her eyes, it seemed to drive it farther and farther away. The candle burned lower and lower, but she never noticed it, and read on by its unsteady light until she heard the hall clock strike four. The candle was flickering in its socket, and the June dawn was beginning to streak the sky. Her eyes smarted and burned and ached with a dull throbbing pain.

She turned over and went to sleep then, and slept so heavily that she did not hear the noises of the awakening household. Once Mrs. Sherman came to the door and peeped in, but, finding her asleep, tiptoed out again. It was nearly noon when she awoke, feeling as tired as when she went to bed. She dressed languidly and went down-stairs, but was so unlike her usually sunny self, that Mrs. Sherman watched her anxiously. Late in the afternoon she sent for Doctor Fuller, and a general wail went up when he announced what was the matter with her.

"More measles, Mrs. Sherman," he said, cheerflilly. "Well, this is the most extraordinary house party I ever heard of. You seem to be exceedingly partial to this one line of amusements."

"It isn't fair for Betty to have it," exclaimed Joyce, "when she wouldn't go to the camp, and she's had it before! It's just too bad!"

"We'll all have to be mighty good to her," said the Little Colonel, "for she was so sweet about amusing us. We'll take turns reading to her and entertaining her, for she stayed hours with us in that dark room when she could have been outdoors enjoying herself."

"That is probably the reason she is laid up now"' answered the doctor. "She should have kept entirely away from you."

"But she had had one case," explained Mrs. Sherman, "and we never dreamed of her having another. Poor little thing! I hope this will be light. She had a hard time before, so we must make a regular frolic of this, girls."

"Well, no, madam, at least not for several days"' said the doctor, gravely, " And you must be extremely careful about her eyes. They seem to be badly affected, and I must warn you that they are really in danger."

They told Betty that afterward, thinking it would stop her crying, when everything else failed to do so, if she realised how necessary it was for her not to inflame them with her tears. Usually she was a sensible little body, obedient to the slightest suggestion, but now she lay curled up in a disconsolate little heap in bed, sobbing as if her heart would break.

"Oh, I don't want to have the measles!" she sobbed, catching her breath in great gasps. "Oh, I don't want to!"

"My dear little girl, don't let it distress you so." begged Mrs. Sherman, leaning over and tenderly wiping the flushed little face.

"It will not be any worse for you than for the other girls, and in a few days when you feel better we are going to have all sorts of sport out of it. The girls are planning now what they shall do to make up to you for this disappointment. They feel as if they are to blame for bringing this illness upon you by their disobedience, and you cannot imagine how bad it makes them feel to have you take it to heart so bitterly."

But even that failed to stop her tears, and presently Mrs. Sherman went out into the hall, where the girls were waiting for her.

"There is some reason for all this distress that I am unable to discover," she said. "Joyce, maybe if you would go in and talk to her you might find out."

"She must be lots worse than we were," whispered Eugenia to Lloyd, as the high, shrill voice, so unlike Betty's usual tones, went on complainingly in the next room.

"Hush! " warned Lloyd. "She's telling Joyce what the matter is." The words came out to them distinctly. She was speaking with a nervous quickness as if her fever had almost reached delirium.

"I was trying to dig one of those roads," wailed Betty, in a high, querulous voice. "One that would last for ever, don't you know? like the one they built for Tusitala. You do know, don't you?" she insisted, feverishly, but Joyce had to acknowledge that she had never heard of it, and Betty cried again, because she felt too nervous and ill to explain.

"There, there! never mind!" said Joyce, soothingly, thinking that Betty's mind was wandering.  "You can tell me all about it when you get well."

"But I want you to know now!" sobbed Betty, with all the unreasoning impatience of a sick child. "It is all in my 'Good times book.' I cut it out of an old Youth's Companion, just after I came, and the piece is inside the cover of that little white and gold book in the writing-desk. Read it, won't you? Then you will understand."

Joyce took the slip of paper to the window, and glanced rapidly along the lines.

"No, read it aloud!" demanded Betty, fretfully. "I want to hear it, too. It is such a sweet story, and I read it over every day to help me remember."

Mrs. Sherman and the girls, sitting outside the door, leaned forward to listen, as Joyce read aloud the newspaper clipping that Betty counted among her chief treasures. This is what they heard:

"THE ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART."1

"Remembering the great love of his highness, Tusitala. and his loving care when we were in prison and sore distressed, we have prepared him an enduring present, this road which we have dug for ever."

In a far-off island, thousands of miles from the mainland and unconnected with the world by cable, stands this inscription. It was set up at the corner of a new road, cut through tropical jungle, and bears at its head the title of this article signed by the names of ten prominent chiefs. This is the story of the road, and why it was built:

Some years ago a Scotchman, broken in health and expecting an early death, sought out this lonely spot, because here the climate was favourable to the disease from which he suffered. He settled here for what remained to him of life.

He bought an estate of several hundred acres, and threw himself earnestly into the life of the natives of the island. There was great division among the many chiefs, and prolonged warfare. Very soon the chiefs found that this alien from a strange land was their best friend. They began coming to him for counsel, and invited him to their most important conferences.

Though he did not bear that name, he became a missionary to them. He was their hero, and they loved and trusted him because he tried to lead them aright. They had never had such a friend. And so it came about that when the wars ceased, the chiefs of both sides called him by a name of their own, and made him one of their own number, thus conferring upon him the highest honour within their power.

But many of the chiefs were still in prison, because of their political views or deeds, and in constant danger of being put to death. Their sole friend was the Scotchman, whom they called Tusitala. He visited them, comforted them, repeated passages from the history of Christ to them, and busied himself incessantly to effect their release.

At length he obtained their freedom, and then, glowing with gratitude, in despite of age, decrepitude, and loss of strength, they started directly for the estate of their benefactor, and there, in the terrible heat, they laboured for weeks in building him a road which they knew he had long desired. Love conquered weakness, and they did not cease their toil until their handiwork, which they called "The Road of the Loving Heart", was finished.

Not long after this the white chief suddenly died. At the news the native chiefs flocked from all parts of the island to the house, and took charge of the body. They kissed his hand as they came in, and all night sat in silence about him.

One of them, a feeble old man, threw himself on his knees beside the body of his benefactor, and cried out between his sobs:

"I am only a poor black man, and ignorant. Yet I am not afraid to come and take the last look of my dead friend's face. Behold, Tusitala is dead. We were in prison and he cared for us. The day was no longer than his kindness. Who is there so great as Tusitala? Who is there more loving-compassionate? What is your love to his love?"

So the chiefs took their friend to the top of a steep mountain which he had loved, and there buried him. It was a mighty task.

The civilised world mourns the great author. The name of Robert Louis Stevenson is lastingly inwrought into English literature. But the Samoans mourn in his loss a brother, who outdid all others in loving-kindness, and so long as the island in the Pacific exists, Tusitala will be gratefully remembered, not because he was so greatly gifted, but because he was a good man.

The phrase, "The Road of the Loving Heart", is a gospel in itself. "The day is not longer than his kindness "  is a new beatitude. Fame dies, and honours perish, but "loving-kindness" is immortal.

Joyce finished and looked up inquiringly. She still did not see what connection the road could have with Betty's distress over the measles.

"Now, don't you see?" asked Betty, tremulously. "It is for godmother that I wanted to build that road, for ever since I came she has been like Tusitala to me. 'The day is no longer than her kindness.' Oh, Joyce, nobody knows how good she has been to me!" Then between her sobs she told Joyce again the story of the gold beads, and the many things her godmother had done to make her visit a continual delight. Mrs. Sherman, outside the door, felt her eyes grow dim and her cheeks wet, as the child babbled on, reciting a long list of little kindnesses that she had treasured in her memory, and that her godmother had either done unconsciously, or had forgotten long ago.

It showed how hungry the poor little heart had been, that such trifles could make it brim over with gratitude. She wiped her eyes more than once as the voice went on.

"Of course I couldn't dig a road like those chiefs did, and she wouldn't have wanted one, even if I could; but I thought maybe I could leave a memory behind me when this beautiful visit is done, that would be like a smooth, white road. You know remembering things is like looking back over a road. At least it always seemed that way to me, and the unpleasant things that have happened are like the stones and rocks that we stumble over. But if there haven't been any unpleasant things to remember, then we can look back and see it stretched out behind us, all smooth and white and shining.

"So I tried from the very first of my visit to leave nothing behind me for her memory to stumble over; not a frown, a cross word, or a single disobedience. That's why I wouldn't go with you that day to have my fortune told. It would have spoiled my 'Road of the Loving Heart,' and put a stone in it that would always have made godmother sorry when she thought of my visit.

"That's why I came back from the picnic at the old mill and missed the charades. It would have spoiled the road if I hadn't kept my promise, --- kept it to the utmost. And now after all the days I have tried so hard, it is going to be spoiled because I've gone and got sick. I'll be so much care and trouble that the Memory Road will be all spoiled --- my 'Road of the Loving Heart!'"

Betty was so exhausted by this time, that she was not crying any longer; but now and then a long sob shook the little body from head to foot. Joyce, not knowing what to say, slipped away and went out into the hall.

"So that is the cause of the child's distress," whispered Mrs. Sherman. "Bless her little heart, now I've found out what is the matter, maybe I can succeed in quieting her."

What she said to comfort her the girls never knew, for the door closed behind her and they stole away to their own rooms.

But presently they heard the "White Seal's Lullaby " sung softly within. She had taken Betty in her arms, and was rocking her as tenderly as she had rocked the Little Colonel, while she sang, "Oh, flush thee, my baby, the night is behind us."

When Betty fell asleep it was in the, embrace of something far more comforting and restful than the arms of the slow-swinging seas." For the first time in her life since she could remember, she felt what it was to be folded fast in the mother-love that she had always longed for.

1Editorial in old copy of Youth's Companion.

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