The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 13: The Day After Thanksgiving

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

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER XIII.
THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING.

" THERE ! You are ready at last!" said Mrs. Sherman, as she finished buttoning Lloyd's gloves and fastened the jewelled clasp of her long park, cloak. She had come over to help the Little Colonel dress for the Butterfly Luncheon at Anna Moore's.

Feeling very elegant in her unusual party array, Lloyd surveyed herself in the mirror with a satisfied air, and sat down beside Allison to wait for the carriage that Mrs. Moore had promised to send for them. Mrs. Walton was tying Kitty's sash, and in the next room Elise was buzzing around like an excited little bee.

"Hold still! Do now!" they heard Milly say impatiently. "I'll never get the tangles brushed out of your curls, and the others will go off and leave. you, and you'll have to miss the party."

Presently there was a long protesting wail from Elise. "Oh, Milly, what did you put that ribbon on my hair for? It isn't pink enough to match my stockings."

There's scarcely any difference at all in the shades," answered Milly. "Sure it would take a microscope to tell, even if they were side by side, and your head is too far away from your heels for anybody to notice."

"Oh, but it won't do at all!" cried Elise, breaking away from her to run into the next room. "See, mamma, they don't match." In her eagerness Elise leaned over, bending herself like a little acrobat, till the pink bow on her hair was on a level with the pink silk stockings.

"There's barely a shade difference," laughed Mrs.Walton. "The difference is so slight that nobody will notice it unless you expect to double up occasionally like a jack-knife and call attention to it."

"Of course I don't expect to do that," said Elise, with such a funny little air of injured dignity that her mother caught her up with a hasty kiss. "You're a dear little peacock, even if you do think too much of your fine feathers. But you can't stop to make a fuss about your ribbons now. It would be making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Run back to Milly for your hat. I hear the carriage stopping out in front."

What a lot of things I'll have to write about in my next letter to the girls," thought Lloyd, as they rolled along in the carriage a few minutes later. "Joyce and Betty will like to hear about the general's home and all the interesting things in it, and Eugenia will enjoy this part of my visit most."

It was with a view to impressing Eugenia with the elegance of her friends, that Lloyd noticed every detail of the beautiful luncheon. She intended that Eugenia should hear about it all. Gay butterflies, so lifelike that one could not believe that human hand; had made them, were poised everywhere, on the flowers, the candle-shades, the curtains. The menu cards were decorated with them, the fine hand-painted china bore swarms of them around their dainty rims, and even the ices were moulded to represent them. The little hostess herself, fluttering around among her guests as gracefully as if she too were a winged creature, wore a gauzy dress of palest blue, embroidered in butterflies, and there were butterflies caught here and there in her golden curls.

The Little Colonel could scarcely eat for admiring. She felt very elegant and grown up to be the guest at such an entertainment, and as she took her place at the table between Malcolm and Rob, she wished with all her heart that Eugenia could peep in and see her.

It was time to start to the Butterfly Carnival almost immediately when luncheon was over, and again Lloyd felt very elegant and grown up rolling along in the carriage to the matinee. Mrs. Moore ushered the party into the box she had taken four Anna and her little friends, and more than one person in the audience turned to ask his neighbour, "Who are those lovely children? Did you ever see such handsome boys? They have such charming manners. It is like a scene from some old courtplay." The Little Colonel, sitting beside Anna, with the two little knights leaning forward to talk to her, to pick up her fan, or adjust her lorgnette, was all unconscious that any one in the audience was watching her admiringly, but she wished again that Eugenia could see her.

When the curtain went up the scene on the stage was so absorbing that she forgot Eugenia. She forgot where she was, for the play carried her bodily into fairy-land. The queen of the fairies was there with her star-tipped wand and all her spangled court, and Lloyd looked and listened with breathless attention, while the naughty Puck played pranks on all the butterflies, and, finally catching them at play in a moonlighted forest, took all the gauzy-winged creatures captive. It was as entrancing as looking into a living fairy tale, and when at last the queen released the prisoners with a wave of her star-tipped wand, and to the soft notes of the violins, the butterflies danced off the stage, Lloyd drew a long breath and came clown to earth with a sigh. She could have listened gladly for hours more.

But the curtain was down, the people were rising all over the house, and Keith was holding her party cloak for her to slip into. Mrs. Moore turned to Allison.

"Elise is wild to see behind the scenes," she said. "I am going to keep her with me a little while. Your cousin Malcolm says that he and Keith can take you home in their carriage with Lloyd and Kitty. So I'll send Anna and Rob home in mine and wait here until it comes back. Tell your mother I'll take good care of Elise and bring her home as soon as I attend to my little proteges behind the scene."

Many of the children who had taken part in the performance were from the free kindergarten, and Elise, holding fast to Mrs. Moore's hand, watched the transformation behind the scenes, from gauzy wings to gingham gowns, with wondering eyes.

"It is like when Cinderella lost her glass slipper," she said. "The clock struck twelve, and her silks turned to rags."

All the glitter and glory of fairy-land had disappeared with the footlights. In the wintry light of the late afternoon, some of the faces were pitifully thin and wan.

" Here are three little butterflies that must go back home and be grubs again," said Mrs. Moore, as she beckoned to the children whom she had promised to take home in her carriage. Elise looked at them, wondering if it could be possible that they were the same children, who, fifteen minutes before, had looked radiantly beautiful in their spangled costumes on the stage. They were shy little things who could scarcely find words to answer Mrs. Moore's questions, but they seemed to enjoy the drive in the warm closed carriage, behind the team of prancing bays.

Elise chatted on gaily, telling Mrs. Moore how much she had enjoyed the carnival, how she had admired the fairy queen, and how she longed for a real live fairy. She bad looked for them often in the morning-glories and the lily-bells. If she could find one maybe it would tell her where to look for Dot.

Presently they turned into a side street among unfamiliar tenement-houses, and paused at an alley entrance.

"I am going to the top of the stairs with the children," said Mrs. Moore, preparing to step out of the carriage. "I want to inquire about the baby, who is sick. I'll be back in a moment, Elise."

As the carriage door closed behind her she spoke to the coachman. "Wait here a moment, Dickson."  The man on the box touched his hat and then turned his fur collar higher around his ears. There was a cold wind whistling through the alley. Elise pressed her face against the glass and looked out into the wintry street. Mrs. Moore's moment stretched out into five. The baby up-stairs was worse, and she was making a list of the many things it needed for its comfort.

There was little of interest to watch from the carriage window. Few people were passing along the narrow pavement, and Elise wondered impatiently why Mrs. Moore did not come. Presently, down the street came a ragged child with its arm held up over its eyes, sobbing and sniffling as it shuffled along in a pair of worn-out shoes many sizes too large for its little feet.

Elise's heart gave a great thump, and she started forward eagerly.

"Molly's little lost sister!" she exclaimed aloud. "It must be, for she looks just like the girl in the picture. Oh, I must call her!"

She was fumbling at the knob of the carriage door, but before she could get it open, the child turned and started up the dirty alley, still sobbing aloud, with her arm over her face.

"Oh, I must call her back," thought Elise. "Everybody will be so glad if she is found. I mustn't let her get away."

It took all her strength to turn the knob, but with another desperate wrench she got the door open, and climbed out to the pavement. The coachman, half asleep in his great fur collar and heavy lap-robes, did not hear the tap of the little pink boots, as she ran up the dark alley between the high, rickety buildings, with their bad smells and dirty sewers.

"Oh, she is going so fast!" panted Elise. "I'll never catch up with her!" The pretty pink boots were wet and snowy now, the silk stockings splashed with muddy water. Her big velvet hat was tipped over one eye and her curls were blowing in tangles over the wide collar of her fur-trimmed cloak. But forgetting all about her fine feathers, she ran on, around corners, into strange passages, across unfamiliar streets, following the flutter of a tattered gown. All of a sudden she paused, looking around in bewilderment. The child she was following had disappeared.

With a bitter sense of disappointment swelling in her little heart, she turned to go back to the carriage, and then stood still in bewilderment. She could not tell which way she had come. She was lost herself! For a few minutes the little pink boots trudged bravely on, then the tears began to gather in her big black eyes.

"They'll feel so bad at home," she thought, "when they hunt and hunt and can't find me anywhere. Oh, what if I'd stay lost, and get to look all ragged and dirty like Dot, and just have to stand in a corner and cry. If there was any nice stores along here, I'd go in and ask the man to send me home, but these places look so dreadful I'm afraid."

She was in a disreputable part of the town, where second-hand clothing stores and pawn-shops were crowded in between saloons and cheap restaurant, and she dared not venture into any of them to ask for help. Little as she was, she felt that she was safer on the streets than inside those crowded, dirty quarters, where half-drunken negroes and coarse, brawling white men quarrelled and swore in loud tones,

" It's the saloons that brought all the trouble to Molly and Dot," thought Elise, shrinking away from a group of noisy loafers, as they straggled out of one "They made their father mean and their mother die and their grandmother go crazy and them lose each other. They're worse than wild beasts, and I'm afraid of 'em. Maybe if I walk far enough I'll come to a nice policeman, but I'm so tired now." Her lip quivered ;is she whispered the words. "Oh, it seems as if I'd drop!  And I'm so cold I am nearly frozen."

As she walked on, across her way an electric arch suddenly shot its cold white light into the street.

Then another and another appeared, and as far as she could see in any direction the streets were brilliantly illuminated.

"Oh, it's night!" she sobbed. " I'll freeze to death before morning if somebody doesn't come and find me."

Still she dragged on, growing more tired and frightened at every step, until she could walk no longer. At the end of a long block she sat down on a doorstep, and huddled up in one corner out of the wind. A dismal picture came to her mind of the little match-seller in Hans Andersen's fairy tales. The little match-seller who had frozen to death on Christmas eve, on the threshold of somebody's happy home.

" She had a box of matches to warm herself with," sobbed Elise. " I haven't even that. Oh, it's awful to be lost!"

With the tears trickling down her face she pictured to herself the grief of the family in case they should never find her.

"Mamma will stand in the door and look out into the dark and call and call, but her little Elise will never answer. And Allison and Kitty will feel so had that they won't want to play. They'll divide my things between them to remember me by, and for a long time it'll make them cry whenever they see my dolls and books, or my place at the table, or my little wicker chair in the library, that I'll never sit in any more. Ranald won't cry, 'cause he's a captain and he's brave. But he'll be just as sorry. Oh, I wish Ranald wasn't out in the country! He could find me if he was at home."

It was growing colder and colder on the doorstep. The child's teeth chattered and her lips were blue. Still she sat there, until an evil-looking man in the next house slouched out on to the street with a lean spotted dog at his heels. Suddenly, for no reason that Elise could discover, for she did not know that he was half drunk, he turned and kicked the poor beast, cursing it violently. It shrank away, yelping with pain. Seeing that the man was coming toward her, Elise sprang up in terror, and with one frightened glance over her shoulder, darted around the corner. Once out of his sight, she stopped running, but fear kept her moving, and she walked wearily on and on. Every step carried her farther away from home.

Through unwashed windows she could see the yellow lamplight streaming over dingy rooms. Most of the sights were unattractive, but in one house, cleaner than the rest, she saw a crowd of clamouring children seated around a supper-table, all reaching their spoons and plates toward a big steaming platter in the middle. It reminded her that she was hungry herself, and she lingered a moment, looking wistfully in at the cheerful scene. Then on she started again. Once she stumbled and fell in the slush of a snowy crossing, but scrambled bravely up again, walking on and on.

Meanwhile Allison, Kitty, and the Little Colonel, who had gone ahead in the carriage with the boys, had stopped at Klein's for a box of candy, and at a book store for a dissected game they had been discussing at the luncheon. When they reached Mrs. Walton's, Malcolm sent the carriage home, and both the boys went into the house with the girls.

"Tell mamma we'll come up-stairs in a few minutes and tell her all about the carnival," said Allison to the maid who opened the door.

The five children went into the library with their candy and game, and Mrs.Walton, busy with many letters, did not notice how Allison's few minutes lengthened out, until it grew so dark that she had to lay down her pen. As she did so, a carriage drove rapidly up to the house, Mrs. Moore hurried up the steps, and there was a hasty dialogue at the door between her and Allison.

Mrs. Walton did not hear the frightened cry, "Oh, mamma! Elise is lost! " that went up from Allison. And impetuous Kitty, hearing no answer, and feeling that she must summon help in some way, began beating madly on the bells of Luzon, as if she were trying to call out the whole fire department.

As the clangour startled her, Mrs. Walton's first thought was that the house must be on fire, and she hurried out to the head of the stairs and looked over the bannister. Kitty was still beating on the bells with an umbrella that she had snatched from the rack.

Stop, Kitty!" she called. "Tell me what is the matter?"

"Elise is lost! " repeated Allison, and Mrs. Walton, with a white face, hurried down to hear Mrs. Moore's explanation.

She had been detained some time in, the tenement house, listening to the tale of woe that the sick baby's mother poured out to her; but she had felt no uneasiness about Elise, knowing that the footstove in the carriage would keep her warm and comfortable. When she came down, to her utter amazement the carriage door stood open, and the child was gone.

The sleepy coachman, who roused himself from his cold doze when he heard her coming, was as surprised as she, and declared he had not heard the carriage door open or the child slip out. He had no idea what could have become of her. They made inquiries of people all along the block, but nobody had seen a child answering to the description of Elise. Then Mrs. Moore thought that the child must have grown tired of waiting, and for some reason had started to walk home. She had driven out to the louse with the hope that she might find her there, or might overtake her on the way.

Mrs. Walton acted quickly. "Telephone to your father, Malcolm," she cried, "and to the police station. Oh, my poor baby, out in the cold streets with night coming on. I must look for her without losing a minute."

She started up the stairs to call Milly help her dress for the search. "Get my furs," she called, "and my heaviest coat. It will be a cold night."  But Malcolm stopped her.

"Don't go, Aunt Mary," he cried. "Papa is on his way here now, and we boys will go in your place. The policemen are being notified all over the city, and it will do more good for you to stay here ready to answer any questions that may come."

"I'll wait until Mr. MacIntyre comes," said Mrs. Moore, "so that I can take him straight back to that tenement district if he thinks best to go."

While they were still standing, an anxious little group in the hall, Mr. MacIntyre came in, and after a hurried consultation he and Mrs. Moore drove in one direction, and the boys started in another.

None of them like to remember the three hours that followed. The news spread like wild-fire, and the telephone bell rang constantly with friendly messages. Each time they hoped that some one of the searching party was calling them up, but each time they were disappointed. At intervals one of the girls stole to the front door to look out into the night and listen. Every voice made them start, every footstep. Every roll of carriage wheels along the avenue made them hold their breath in suspense until it had passed.

Presently, Kitty, leaving her mother at the telephone, and Allison and Lloyd on the stairs, strolled down to the kitchen, where Milly and the cook were talking about Charlie Ross and all the children they had ever heard of who had mysteriously disappeared from home.

"An' it's just the loikes av her they'd be afther taking," said the cook, wiping her eyes. "She was that pretty wid her long currls, an' eyes shparklin' loike black dimonts, an' her swate little mouth wid its smile fit for a cherub. I moind the very last toime I saw her. Only this afthernoon she coom down here to show me her foine clothes she was wearin' to the parrty. There's no doubt in me moind but that somebody's stolen her on account av them same illigent clothes. Mebbe they think there'll be a big reward offered. Bless the two little pink shoes av her! It'll be a sorry day for this house if they niver coom walking into it again."

Kitty stole out of the kitchen cold with this new horror, and went back to whisper it to Allison and Lloyd, as they sat on the stairs ready to spring forward at the first sound of coming footsteps.

" Now if it had been Allison who was lost," thought Mrs. Walton, "she could have found her way home without any difficulty. She is such a sensible, woManley child, always to be trusted for doing the right thing in the right place. Kitty might not act so wisely, but she would bang ahead and come out all right in the end. She is the kind one might expect to see come home in almost any style, from a coal cart to a triumphal car. But my baby Elise is so little and so timid, my heart aches for her. She will be so sorely frightened."

Dinner was put on the table and carried out again. Nobody could eat, and as the moments dragged by the girls still sat on the stairs, and the anxious mother sprang to the telephone at every tinkle of the bell, praying for a hopeful message from the police station.

Elise, stumbling on down strange streets, exhausted, hungry, and cold, stopped on a street corner and looked around her. She had strayed down among the warehouses now, and the little feet, numb with cold, were too tired to go much farther. Down here few people were passing. A big tobacco warehouse, looming up tall and dark above her, made her feel so tiny and lost, that the last bit of her courage ebbed away, and she began to sob aloud.

Out of the shadow just ahead a man was coning toward her. So tall and broad-shouldered he looked, that he seemed a giant to her terrified eyes. She put her little gloved hands over her eyes to shut out the sight, and crouched close against the wall, her baby heart fluttering like a frightened bird's.

On he came, with slow, heavy tread, his footsteps ringing through the silent street with a strange metallic echo. As he passed out from the black shadow of the warehouse, into the light of the street crossing, Elise peeped between her fingers again, and then smiled through her tears. It was a big, burly policeman.

The next instant she was running toward him, calling, "Oh, Mister Policeman, I'm lost! Please take me home!"

It was a safe haven she had run into. The policeman had just come from home to go on his beat, and in a little cottage not many blocks away were three children who were still in his thoughts. They had followed him to the door to swarm over him and kiss him, and had called after him down the snowy street, "Good night, daddy!" The childish voices were still ringing in his ears.

As tenderly as if she had been one of his own, he lifted Elise in his strong, fatherly arms, wiped her tear-stained face, and began to question her. She told him her name, but in her confusion could not remember the name of the street where she lived.

It was the work of only a moment to carry her into a drug-store around the corner, ring up headquarters, and report his discovery, and it was only a few moments after that until they were on an electric car, homeward bound.

Elise was not the first lost child the big, tenderhearted policeman had taken home, but he had never had such a royal welcome as the one that awaited him in the hall when the joyful family met him.

He glanced around him curiously, seeing on every side the relics of victorious battle-fields, the grim weapons of warfare that stood as mute witnesses of a brave soldier's life. Beyond in the library he caught a glimpse of the portrait, the flag, and the sword, and then suddenly realised in whose presence he stood.

"Don't mention it, madam," he said, awkwardly, as the grateful mother tried to express her thanks.

Don't you know that this is about the proudest moment of my life? To know that it was his little one I found, and brought back with her arms around my neck! I read everything there was about him in the papers (he nodded toward the portrait), and I always did say he was exactly my idea of a hero. But f never thought the day would come when I'd stand in his house and see all the things he touched and looked at."

That's the way everybody seems to feel about the general," thought the Little Colonel, glancing from the blue-coated policeman to the portrait. "It's grand to be a hero."

Elise was too tired and sleepy to talk about her adventures that night, and asked to be put to bed as soon as she had had the bowl of oyster soup that was being kept hot for her. When the cook brought it in, loudly blessing all the saints in the calendar that the child had been found, all the family remembered that they were hungry and the long delayed dinner was brought on again.

Elise fell asleep at the table before she finished the soup, but she opened her drowsy eyes as they were carrying her away to bed to say, "You all won't feel very bad, will you, if I give you just a teenty weenty Christmas present this year? 'Cause I want to save most of my money to buy something nice for that big policeman that brought me home. Being found is the very best thing in all the world, and I would have been lost yet, if it hadn't been for him."

< Previous      Next >

The Little Colonel's Holidays - Table of Contents