The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 1: The Magic Kettle

 

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOLIDAYS
By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER I
THE MAGIC KETTLE

ONCE upon a time, so the story goes (you may read it for yourself in the dear old tales of Hans Christian Andersen), there was a prince who disguised himself as a swineherd. It was to gain admittance to a beautiful princess that he thus came in disguise to her father's palace, and to attract her attention he made a magic caldron, hung around with strings of silver bells. Whenever the water in the caldron boiled and bubbled, the bells rang a little tune to remind her of him.

" Oh, thou dear Augustine,
All is lost and gone,"

they sang. Such was the power of the magic kettle, that when the water bubbled hard enough to set the bells a-tinkling, any one holding his hand in the steam could smell what was cooking in every kitchen in the kingdom.

It has been many a year since the swineherd's kettle was set a-boiling and its string of bells a-jingling to satisfy the curiosity of a princess, but a time has come for it to be used again. Not that anybody nowadays cares to know what his neighbour is going to have for dinner, but all the little princes and princesses in the kingdom want to know what happened next.

"What happened after the Little Colonel's house party?" they demand, and they send letters to the Valley by the score, asking  "Did Betty go blind?"  "Did the two little Knights of Kentucky ever meet Joyce again or find the Gate of the Giant Scissors?"  Did the Little Colonel ever have any more good times at Locust, or did Eugenia ever forget that she too had started out to build a Road of the Loving Heart?

It would be impossible to answer all these questions through the post-office, so that is why the magic kettle has been dragged from its hiding-place after all these years, and set a-boiling once more. Gather in a ring around it, all you who want to know, and pass your curious fingers through its wreaths. of rising steam. Now you shall see the Little Colonel and her guests of the house party in turn, and the bells shall ring for each a different song.

But before they begin, for the sake of some who may happen to be in your midst for the first time, and do not know what it is all about, let the kettle give them a glimpse into the past, that they may be able to understand all that is about to be shown to you. Those who already know the story need not put their fingers into the steam, until the bells have rung this explanation in parenthesis.

(In Lloydsboro Valley stands an old Southern mansion, known as "Locust." The place is named for a long avenue of giant locust-trees stretching a quarter of a mile from house to entrance gate, in a great arch of green. Here for years an old Confederate colonel lived all alone save for the negro servants. His only child, Elizabeth, had married a Northern man against his wishes, and gone away. From that day he would not allow her name to be spoken in his presence. But she came back to the Valley when her little daughter Lloyd was five years old. People began calling the child the Little Colonel because she seemed to have inherited so many of her grandfather's lordly ways as well as a goodly share of his  high temper. The military title seemed to suit her better than her own name, for in her fearless baby fashion she won her way into the old man's heart, and he made a complete surrender.

Afterward when she and her mother and "Papa Jack" went to live with him at Locust, one of her favourite games was playing soldier. The old man never tired of watching her march through the wide halls with his spurs strapped to her tiny slipper heels, and her dark eyes flashing out fearlessly from under the little Napoleon cap she wore.

She was eleven when she gave her house party. One of the guests was Joyce Ware, whom some of you have met, perhaps, in "The Gate of the Giant Scissors," a bright thirteen-year-old girl from the West.  Eugenia Forbes was another. She was a distant cousin of Lloyd's, who had no home-life like the other girls. Her winters were spent in a fashionable New York boarding-school, and her summers at the Waldorf-Astoria, except the few weeks when her busy father could find time to take her to some seaside resort.

The third guest, Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis, or Betty, as every one lovingly called her, was Mrs. Sherman's little god-daughter. She was an orphan, boarding on a backwoods farm on Green River. She had never been on the cars until Lloyd's invitation found its way to the Cuckoo's Nest. Only these three came to stay in the house, but Malcolm and Keith MacIntyre (the two little Knights of Kentucky) were there nearly every day. So was Rob Moore, one of the Little Colonel's summer neighbours.

The four Bobs were four little fox terrier puppies named for Rob, who had given one to each of the girls. They were so much alike they could only be distinguished by the colour of the ribbons tied around their necks. Tarbaby was the Little Colonel's pony, and Lad the one that Betty rode during her visit.

After six weeks of picnics and parties, and all sorts of surprises and good times, the house party came to a close with a grand feast of lanterns. Joyce regretfully went home to the little brown house in Plainsville, Kansas, taking her Bob with her. Eugenia and her father went to New York, but not until they had promised to come back for Betty in the fall, and take her abroad with them. It was on account of something that had happened at the house party, but which is too long a tale to repeat here.

Betty stayed on at Locust until the end of the summer in the House Beautiful, as she called her godmother's home, and here on the long vine-covered porch, with its stately white pillars, you shall sec them first through the steam of the magic caldron.)

Listen! Now the kettle boils and the bells begin the story!

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