The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 12: The Home Of A Hero

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

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER XII.
THE HOME OF A HERO.

WITH November came heavier frosts and the first light snowfall of the season, a skim of ice on the meadow-ponds, shorter days, and long cheerful evenings around the library fire. More than that, it brought the end of the extra home-lessons, for by this time the Little Colonel had not only caught up with her classes, but stood at the head of most of them.

"I think she deserves a reward of merit," said Papa Jack when she came home one day, proudly bearing a record of perfect recitations for a week. And so it came about that the next Friday afternoon she had a reward of her own choosing. Allison, Kitty, and Elise were invited out to stay until Monday. So for two happy days four little girls raced back and forth under the bare branches of the locusts, where usually one lonely child walked to and fro by herself. And because the daylight did not last half long enough, and because bedtime seemed to come hours too soon, they were invited to come out next week also.

"It is almost like having Betty back again to have Allison," Lloyd confided to her mother. "She is so sensible, and has the same sweet little ways that Betty had of thinking of other people's pleasure first. Sometimes I forget and call her Betty. I wish they could all come out again next week."

"Have you looked at the calendar to see what comes next week, Lloyd?"

"No, mothah. What is it ? Anybody's birthday?"

"What do we always have the last Thursday in November?"

"Oh, Thanksgiving!" exclaimed Lloyd, joyfully. "Anothah holiday! How fast they come!"

Usually Thanksgiving was made a great occasion at Locust, and the house was full of guests; but this year Mr. Sherman was obliged to be in New York all week, and the old Colonel was in Virginia. Lloyd and her mother were planning to celebrate alone when Aunt Jane sent for them to spend the Thanksgiving vacation with her in town.

Lloyd never enjoyed her visits to her great-aunt Jane. The house was too big and solemn with its dark furniture and heavily curtained windows. The chairs were all so tall that they lifted her feet high above the floor. The books in the library were all heavy volumes with dull, hard names that she could not pronounce. The tedious hours when she sat in the invalid's dimly lighted room and listened to the details of her many ailments, or to tales of people whom she had never seen, seemed endless.

This Thanksgiving Day it was unusually cheerless. All so grown-up and grumbly! " thought Lloyd. "Seems to me the lesson set for me to learn on every holiday is patience. I'm tiahed of being patient."

Aunt Jane had her Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the day. Much turkey and plum-pudding made Lloyd drowsy, and the hour that followed was a stupid one. She sat motionless in a big velvet armchair listening to more of Aunt Jane's long stories of unknown people. Now and then she stifled a yawn, wishing with all her heart that she could change places with the little newsboy, calling papers in the street below the window, or with the stumpy-tailed dog frisking by in the snow. She fairly ached with sitting still so long, and wondered how her mother could be so interested in all that Aunt Jane was telling.  She could have clapped her hands for joy when the maid broke the tediousness of the hour by asking Mrs. Sherman to step out into the hall. Mrs. Walton wanted to speak to her at the telephone.

Lloyd slipped from her chair and followed her mother out of the room, thankful for any excuse to make her escape. She wished she could hear what Mrs. Walton was saying, instead of only one side of the conversation. This is what she heard her mother say

"Is that you, Mary?"

"Yes; we came in for the Thanksgiving holidays, and expect to stay until Saturday afternoon."

"A Butterfly Carnival ? How lovely! "

"No, I couldn't possibly leave for any length of time, thank you. Aunt Jane is counting on my staying with her; but I'll gladly accept for Lloyd if she is willing to stay away all night without me. Wait a moment, please, I'll ask her."

"Lloyd," she said, turning from the instrument, "Mrs. Walton has just telephoned me that you are included in the invitation that Anna Moore has given the girls to the Butterfly Carnival at the Opera House to-morrow afternoon. It is for the benefit of the free kindergarten in which Mrs. Moore is interested, and she has taken a box at the matinee for Anna and her friends. Anna is going to give a butterfly luncheon just before the performance. She heard that you were in town and thought that you were visiting Allison, so she called at Mrs. Walton's to invite you. Mrs. Walton has asked you to stay all night with the girls. Would you like to go?"

Mrs. Sherman could not help laughing at the expression of delight on Lloyd's face as she began noiselessly clapping her hands.

"Oh, if it wouldn't be rude to Aunt Jane," she exclaimed, in a whisper, "I'd just squeal, I'm so glad to get out of this dismal place. It is all so grown-up and grumbly heah, and a Buttahfly Cahnival has such a delicious sound."

Mrs. Sherman turned to the receiver again, and Lloyd listened eagerly to one side of a short conversation about what to wear and when to go. Then Mrs. Sherman hung up the receiver, saying, "Allison and Kitty are coming for you. They will start on the next car. I'll ask Aunt Jane to send the man over with your clothes in a little while, and I'll call in the morning."

Twenty minutes later two bright faces smiled up at the window, two little muffs waved an excited greeting, and Kitty and Allison ran up the front steps to meet the Little Colonel.

"We're going to have the best time that ever was," cried Kitty. "Malcolm and Keith and Rob are invited. So is Ranald, but he went out to grandmother's directly after dinner to-day. He said he wouldn't miss the good times he'd have in the country for forty old Butterfly Carnivals. But the lunch is going to be beautiful, and it will be so nice to go to the Carnival afterward, and all sit in the same box."

Mrs. Sherman, watching from an upper window, breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the three girls going gaily down the street together. She knew that Lloyd's vacation time could not fail to be a happy one if spent in the home of her old friend, Mary Walton.

[Left:  Mrs. Walton's Home in Old Louisville]

"I feel so queah," said the Little Colonel, as she followed Kitty and Allison into the house and up the stairs to their rooms. "It is just as if some one had waved a wand, and said, 'Presto! change!' Only half an hour ago it was in a big dark house that was as quiet as a deaf and dumb person. But heah, it seems as if the very walls were talkin', and I can't take a step without seeing something curious. I am sure that there is a story about that Indian tomahawk and peace-pipe on the wall, and all those pretty things hanging ovah the doah."

"There is," answered Allison, pausing to point over the bannister to the curios arranged in the hall below "Papa brought them back from that Indian campaign, when he was out so long, and captured that dreadful old Apache chief, Geronimo. The things in that other corner are relics of the Cuban War, and the other things are from the Philippines."

Lloyd lingered a moment on the stairs, leaning over the bannister to peep into the library, where a flag, a portrait, and a sword shrined the memory of one of the nation's best beloved. It was only a glimpse she caught, but with it came the impressive thought that she was in the home of a hero; and a queer feeling, that she could not understand, surged over her, warm and tender. It was as if she were in a church and ought to tread softly, and move reverently in such a presence.

"Come on," called Allison, throwing open the door into her room.

"How different this is from the Cuckoo's Nest," was Lloyd's next thought, as she looked about the interesting room, filled with toys and souvenirs from all parts of the world.

"I'd lots rathah look at these things than play," she said, when a choice of entertainment was offered her "Oh, what a darling book!"

It was a quaint little volume of Japanese fairy tales she pounced upon, printed on queer, crinkly paper, with pictures of amazing dragons and brilliant birds, such as only the Japanese artists can paint. But before she could examine that, Kitty had brought her a tortoise-shell jinrikisha, and Allison a toy Filipino bed. Elise marshalled out a whole colony of dolls, from Spanish soldiers to fur-clad Esquimaux babies. Each brought out her special treasures, and all talked at once. They piled the floor around her with interesting things, they filled her lap, they covered the chairs and tables. And for every article there was an interesting tale of the time or place where it had come into their possession.

Outside the snow began to fall again. The electric cars passed and repassed with whirr and rush and clang. The short winter day ended in sudden dusk and the maid came in to light the gas.

"Why, how could it get dark so soon!" exclaimed Lloyd, looking up in surprise as she suddenly realised that it was night. "It doesn't seem to me that I have been heah any time at all. I have enjoyed it so much."

After the big Thanksgiving dinner nobody was very hungry, but they all followed Mrs. Walton down to the dining-room for a light lunch. Here Lloyd , found herself in another treasure-house of interesting things. She could not turn her head without a glimpse of something to arouse her curiosity, the quaint Chinese ladle on the sideboard, the gay procession of elephants and peacocks around the border the table-cover, the old army chest, the silver candlesticks that had lighted the devotions of many a Spanish friar in the gray monasteries of Cuba, and the exquisite needlework of the nuns of far-away Luzon.

Mrs. Walton was the tale-teller now, and Lloyd listened with an intense eagerness that made her dark eyes grow more starlike than ever, and brought, the delicate wild-rose pink flushing up into her cheeks.

Seeing what pleasure it was giving her little guest, Mrs. Walton took her into the library afterward and opened the cabinets, pointing out one object of interest after another. But the things that pleased Lloyd most were the bells in the hall. Near the foot of the stairs, in an oaken frame placed there for the purpose, swung three Spanish bells, that had been presented to Mrs. Walton as trophies of war. They had been taken from different church towers on the island of Luzon, by the Filipino insurgents, when they were sacking the villages and taking everything before them. These bells had been captured from the insurgents by the soldiers of the general's division . A thrill went through the Little Colonel as Mrs. Walton told her their history, and swung one of the great iron tongues back and forth till the hall echoed with the clear ringing.

Several times during the evening Lloyd slipped out into the hall again to stand before these mute witnesses of the ravages of war, and tap the rims with light finger tips. She tapped so lightly that only the faintest echo sounded in the hall, but from her rapt face Mrs. Walton knew that the note awakened other voices in the Little Colonel's imagination. She had known Lloyd ever since she had gone to live at Locust, and she remembered the child's quaint habit of singing to herself.

All the words that pleased her fancy she strung together on the thread of a soft minor tune, in a crooning little melody of her own. "Oh, the buttercups an' daisies," she had heard her sing one time, standing waist-high in a field of nodding bloom. "Oh, the buttercups an' daisies, all white an' gold an' yellow. They're all a-smilin' at me! All a-sayin' howdy! howdy!"

And another time when the August lilies, standing white and waxen in the moonlight, had moved the old Colonel to speak tenderly of the wife of his youth,  Mrs.Walton had seen a smile cross his face, when the baby voice, unconscious of an audience, crooned softly from the door-step, "Oh, the locus'-trees a-blowin', an' the stars a-shinin' through them, an' the moonlight an' the lilies, an' Amanthis! An' Amanthis!"

Now, curious to know what thoughts the bell; were awakening, Mrs. Walton bent her head to listen as the Little Colonel chanted to herself in a half-whisper, "Oh, the bells, the bells a-tolling, and the tales they ring for evah, of the battle-flags an' victory, an' their hero! An' their hero!"

The tears sprang to Mrs. Walton's eyes as she listened to the child's interpretation of the voices of the bells, and presently, when she looked up and saw Lloyd standing in front of the general's portrait, gazing reverently into the brave, calm face, she crossed the room and put an arm around her.

"Do you know," said the Little Colonel, in a confiding undertone, " when I look up at that, I know just how Betty feels when she writes poetry. She heahs voices inside, and thinks things too beautiful to find words for. There's something in his face, and about that sword that he used for his country, and the flag that he followed, and the bells that ring for his memory, that make me want to cry; and yet there's a glad, proud feelin' in my heart because he was so brave, as if he sort of belonged to me, too. It makes me wish I could be a man, and go out and do something brave and grand. What do you suppose makes me feel both ways at the same time?"

"It is a part of patriotism," said Mrs. Walton, with a caressing hand on her hair.

"I didn't know I had any," said Lloyd, seriously, looking up with wondering eyes. "I always took grandfathah's side, you know, because the Yankees shot his arm off. I hated 'em for it, and I nevah would hurrah for the Union. I've despised Republicans and the Nawth from the time I could talk."

"Don't say that, Lloyd," said Mrs. Walton, still caressing her soft hair. "What have we to do with that old quarrel? Its time has long gone by. I, too, am a daughter of the South, Lloyd, but surely such lives as his have not been sacrificed in vain. "She pointed impressively to the portrait. "That, if nothing else, would make me want to forget that North and South had ever been arrayed against each other. Surely such lives as his by their high loyalty should inspire a love of country deep enough to make America the guiding star of the nations."

Bedtime came long before Lloyd was ready for it. "Do you want to tell your mother good night?" asked Mrs. Walton, stopping at the telephone as they passed through the upper hall.

"Oh, yes," cried Lloyd. "How different it is from the Cuckoo's Nest. You can't get homesick when you know you're at one end of a wiah, and yo' mothah is at the othah."

Mrs. Walton called up Aunt Jane's number, and, putting the receiver into Lloyd's hand, passed on into her room.

"Oh, mothah," Allison heard her say, "it's like livin' in that fairy tale, where everything in the picture was made alive. Don't you remembah? The birds sang, and the fishes swam, and the rivah ran. Everything in the picture acted as if it were alive and out of its frame. Everything in the house talks, for it has a story of its own. All the family have been tellin' me stories, and I've had a lovely Thanksgiving Day."

There was a long pause while Mrs. Sherman answered, then Allison heard Lloyd's voice again.

"The lesson is a beautiful one this time. It isn't patience any moah. It is Patriotism. Good night. Can you catch a kiss ? Heah it is." Allison heard the noise of her lips, and then a laughing good night as she hung up the receiver.

They often had what they called night-gown parties at the Waltons, and they had one that night, when they were all ready for bed. The little group of white-robed figures gathered on the hearth rug at Mrs. Walton's feet, counting their causes for thankfulness, and chattering sociably of many things. Presently, across the merry conversation, fell a recollection that rested on Lloyd's mind like a shadow. She remembered Molly in her bare little bedroom over the kitchen, at the Cuckoo's Nest. Poor little Molly, who could never know a happy Thanksgiving so long as Dot was away from her!

Here was shelter and home-light and mother-love, but Molly had none of the latter to be thankful for. Lloyd could not drive away the thought, and when there came a pause in the conversation she began telling Molly's story to her interested listeners. It had the same effect on them that it had on Joyce and Eugenia, and presently Allison slipped down to the library to bring up a volume of bound magazines that the girls might see the picture that reminded Molly of Dot.

The grief of the poor little waif seemed very real to Elise, who hung over the picture, calling attention to every detail of the shabby room. " Look at the old broken stool," she said, "and her thin little arms. And her shoes are all worn out, too. I wish she had a pair of mine."

Long after she was tucked away in her little white bed she called out through the darkness, " Mamma, do you s'pose Dot knows how to say her prayers?"

"I don't know, darling," came the answer. " It has been a long time since she had any one to teach her." There was a pause, then another whispered call.

"Mamma, do you s'pose it would do any good if I'd say them for her?"

"Yes, love, I am sure it would."

There was a rustling of bedclothes. Two bare feet struck the floor, and Elise knelt down in the dark, saying, softly:

"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee, Lord, her soul to keep.
If she should die before I wake,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.

Please, God, help poor little lost Dot to get back to her sister. Amen. There, I guess he'll know, even if it did sound sort of mixed up," she said, climbing back to bed with a sigh of mingled relief and satisfaction.

" That's the kind he loves best, little one," said her mother, coming into the room to tuck her in once more. "It doesn't make any difference about the pronouns. The more we mix our neighbours with ourselves in our prayers, the better he is pleased."

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