The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 14: Lloyd Makes A Discovery

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

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER XIV.
LLOYD MAKES A DISCOVERY.

"IT was Molly's little lost sister, I'm sure of it!" insisted Elise next morning, stopping in the middle of her dressing to argue the matter with Lloyd and Allison. "Of course I couldn't see her face, for sly; had her apron up over it, crying. But neither can you see the little girl's face in the picture, Allison Walton, and the rest of her was exactly like the picture. See?"

She ran across the room for the magazine that had been brought up from the library on the night of Thanksgiving, and which still lay open on the table.

"They have the same thin little arms and ragged clothes and everything. Oh, I am sure it was Dot that I ran after, and now that I know how awful it is to be lost, I'd do anything to find her. I dreamed about her last night, and I can't think about anybody else."

So positive was she, that Lloyd could hardly wait for ten o'clock to come, the hour that her mother had promised to call for her. They were to begin their Christmas shopping that morning, for the calendar showed them that whatever gifts they intended sending Betty and Eugenia must soon be started on their way, in order to reach them in time. Lloyd was so excited over the prospect of finding Dot that she wanted to postpone the shopping, and start at once for the tenement district where Elise had wandered away from her carriage.

"I know that Betty and Eugenia would rather do without any Christmas gifts," she declared almost tearfully, "than miss this chance of finding her. Betty used to talk about it all the time, and if we don't go this morning, something may happen that we may never find her."

"But be reasonable, dear," answered Mrs. Sherman. "It would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack. You have such a slight clue, Lloyd. That picture is not a picture of Molly's sister. It is only one that reminded Molly of her, and there are thousands of poor little waifs in the world that look like that. I will see the Humane Society about her, and the teachers of the free kindergarten who work in that district, and we will report the case to the police.

It would be useless for us to go wandering aimlessly around, up one flight of dirty stairs and down, another."

Lloyd had to be content with that, but all the time she was going around among the shops, trying choose gifts appropriate to send across the sea, she kept thinking of Molly as she had seen her that rainy day, lying face downward on her cot and sobbing out her misery in the little attic room of the Cuckoo's Nest.

They went back to Mrs. Walton's for lunch, where Elise was still talking of her adventure of the night before.

"I wish Dot had some of this good plum-pudding," she remarked. "She looked so cold and hungry. Maybe she was crying because she didn't hake anything to eat."

Mrs. Walton shook her head in perplexity. "Everything leads straight back to that subject," she exclaimed "The child has talked of nothing else all morning. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, Lloyd. Mrs. Moore called while you were out this morning, and promised Elise she would take her through all those tenements next week. She is very charitable, and has helped so many poor people in that part of the city that they will do anything for her. She thinks that there really may be some possibility of finding the child."

Lloyd's face shone as if she had come into the possession of a fortune. She was sure now that Dot would be found in time to keep Christmas with them, and she could scarcely wait until she reached home to write to Betty about the search that was to be made.

She went back to her Aunt Jane's that afternoon to wait until train time, much to the disappointment of Allison and Kitty, who were arranging some tableaux.

"You'll write to me if they find out anything about Dot, won't you?" she asked Allison at parting.

"Yes, the very next breath," answered Allison. So the Little Colonel went away quite hopeful, and for days she haunted the post-office. Before school, after school, at recess, sometimes the last thing before dark, she made a pilgrimage to the post-office, to stand on tiptoe and see if anything was in their box. But the days went by, and the long-looked-for letter never came. There were papers and magazines, thick letters from Joyce, and thin foreign-stamped ones from Betty and Eugenia, but none that told of a successful search for Dot.

Two weeks before Christmas there came a letter from Allison, inviting her to spend the following Saturday in town. On the opposite page her mother had pencilled a postscript almost as long as the letter itself, saying: "Do come in with Lloyd. Sister Elise usually makes a merry Christmas for the little ones at the Children's Hospital, but this year she will be so busy with other things that she has asked us to take her place. Malcolm and Keith have asked for an unusually big celebration at Fairchance this Christmas, and she will have her hands full trying to carry out all their plans.

"I have promised to take her place here, and we have planned a tiny individual Christmas tree for each child in the hospital. I am going to take the girls down there Saturday and let them talk to the children, and find out, as far as possible, what gift would make each one happy. Be sure to come in with Lloyd. Even if we have failed in our efforts to find little Dot, we may have a hand in making twenty other little souls supremely happy on Christmas Day. Come on the early train, and we will go to the hospital first, and spend the rest of the day in shopping."

Luckily it was late in the week when the letter arrived, or Lloyd would have had a hard time waiting for Saturday. So impatient was she for the holiday  to come that she began to count the hours and then even the minutes.

"Two whole days and nights!" she exclaimed. "That makes forty-eight hours, and there's sixty minutes in an hour, and sixty seconds in a minute. That makes --- let me see." It was too big a sum to do in her head, so she ran for pencil and paper and began multiplying carefully, putting down the amount in neat little figures.

"One hundred and seventy-two thousand eight hundred seconds," she announced, finally. "What a terrible lot. The clock has to tick that many times before I can go."

"But remember, part of that time you will be asleep," suggested Papa Jack. "Over fifty thousand of these seconds will be ticked off when you know nothing about it."

That was some comfort, and the Little Colonel, putting on her warmest winter wrappings, went out to make some of the other seconds go by unnoticed, by rolling up snowballs for a huge snow-man on the lawn.

It had been a dull week in the hospital. Gray skies and falling snow is a dreary outlook for children who can do nothing but lie in their narrow beds and look wearily out of the windows. This Saturday morning the nurses had given the little invalids their baths and breakfasts, the doctors had made their rounds, and in each ward were restless little bodies who longed to be amused.

Those who were well enough to be propped up in bed fingered the games and pictures that had entertained them before; but a dozen pairs of eyes in search of some new interest turned expectantly toward the door every time it opened. Suddenly a stir went through the ward where the convalescents lay, and the wintry morning seemed to blossom into June-time.

Four little girls, each with her arms full of great red roses, with leafy stems so long that it seemed the whole bush must have been cut down with them, passed down the room, leaving one at each pillow.

"My Aunt Elise sent them," said the smallest child, pausing at the first white bed. "She asked us to bring them 'cause she couldn't come herself. They're American Beauties and they always make me think of my Aunt Elise."

"She must be a dandy, then," was the response of Micky O'Brady, on whom she bestowed one, taking it up awkwardly in his left hand. His right one was still in a sling, and one leg had just been taken out of a plaster cast, for he had been run over by a heavy truck, and narrowly escaped being made a cripple for life. Elise stopped to question him about his accident, and found that despite his crippled leg a pair of skates was what he wished for above all things.. While she was chattering away to him like a little magpie, Kitty and Allison went on down the room with their roses. It was not the first time they had been there, and they knew some of the children name. But it was all new to Lloyd. In the next room the sight of the white little faces, some them drawn with pain, almost brought the tears her eyes.

There were only six beds in this ward, and at the last one Lloyd laid a rose down very softly, because in that bed the little invalid lay on one side as if she were asleep. But as the perfume of the great American Beauty reached her, she opened her eyes and smiled weakly. Lloyd was so startled that she dropped the rest of the roses to the floor and clasped both hands around the bedpost. For the eyes that smiled up at her, keen and gray with their curly black lashes, might have been Molly's own, they were like hers. The black hair brushed back from the white face waved over the left temple exactly Molly's did. There were the same straight black eyebrows and the familiar droop of the pretty little mouth, and it seemed to Lloyd, as she stared at her with a fascinated gaze, that it was Molly herself who lay there white and wan. Only a much smaller Molly, with a sad, hopeless little face, as if the battle with life had proved too hard, and she was slowly giving it up.

The child, still smiling, weakly raised her bony little hand to lift the rose from the pillow, and even the gesture with which she laid it against her cheek was familiar.

"Oh, what is your name?" cried Lloyd, forgetting that she had been told not to talk in that room.

The people I lived with last called me Muggins," said the child, faintly, " but a long time ago it used to be Dot."

As she spoke she turned her head so that both sides of her 'face were visible, and Lloyd saw that across the right eyebrow was a thin white scar.

"Oh, I knew it!" cried Lloyd, under her breath. "I knew it the minute I looked at you!" Then to the child's astonishment, without waiting to pick up the fallen roses, she ran breathlessly into the hall.

"Mothah! Mrs. Walton!" she cried, breaking into their conversation with one of the nurses. "Come quick, I've found her! It's really, truly Dot!  She says that is her name, and she looks exactly like Molly. Oh, do come and see her!"

She wanted to rush back to the child with the news that she knew her sister Molly and that they should soon be together, but the nurse said it would excite her too much if it were really so. Then she wanted to send a telegram to Molly and a cable to Betty saying that Dot had been found, but nobody except herself was sure that this little Dot was Molly's sister.

"We must be absolutely sure of that first," said Mrs. Sherman, who saw the same strong resemblance to Molly that had startled the Little Colonel, but who knew how often such resemblances exist between entire strangers. "Think how cruel it would be to raise any false hopes in either one. Think how sure Elise was that the child she followed was Molly's sister. You both couldn't be right, for this one was brought to the hospital before Elise was lost."

The nurse could tell very little. The child had been picked up on the street so ill that she was delirious, and all their investigating had proved little beyond the fact that she had been deserted by her drunken father. Her illness was evidently caused by lack of proper food and clothing. Nobody knew her by any other name than Muggins.

While they were still discussing the matter in the hall, Allison had a bright idea. "Why couldn't you telephone for Ranald to bring his camera and take a picture of her and send that to Molly. If she says it is Dot that will settle it.''

The nurse thought that would be a sensible thing to do, but they had to wait until one of the doctors was consulted. As soon as he gave his permission, they began to make arrangements. Ranald answered his mother's summons promptly, and it was not long before he was setting up his tripod in the room where the child lay.

A pleased smile came over the child's face when she discovered what was to be done. "Put in all the things that have made me so happy while I have been in the hospital," she said to the nurse, "so that when I leave here I can have the picture of them to look at."

So they laid a big wax doll in her arms, that had been her constant companion, and around her on the counterpane they spread the games and pictures she had played with before she grew so weak. On her pillow was the queen-rose, and close beside the bed they wheeled the little table that held a plate of white grapes and oranges. Just as Ranald was ready to take the picture, the matron came in with a plate of  ice-cream. "Oh, put that in, too," cried Muggins. "Miss Hale sends it every day, and it's one of the happiest things to remember about the hospital. It is like heaven, isn't it?" she exclaimed, glancing around at the luxuries she had never known until she came to the hospital, and that smile was on her face when Ranald took the picture.

"I'll develop it as soon as I get home, and print one for you this afternoon," he promised. "You shall have one to-morrow."

"Will you print me one, too?" inquired the Little Colonel, anxiously, when they had bidden Muggins good-bye, and were going through the hall. "I want one to send to Betty and Eugenia, and one to send to Joyce, and one to keep."

"I'll print a dozen next week if you want them," promised Ranald, "but the first one must be for that little Dot or Muggins, or whatever you call her, and the next one for Molly."

It was Mrs. Sherman who wrote the letter that carried the picture to Molly. By the same mail there went a note to Mrs. Appleton, saying that in case Molly recognised it as her sister, they would send for her to come and spend Christmas with her in the hospital, for the nurse had said it would probably be the child's last Christmas, and they wanted to do all they could to make it a happy one.

In a few days the answer came. Molly was almost wild with joy, and would start as soon as the promised railroad ticket reached her. The photograph of little Dot was scarcely out of her hands, Mrs. Appleton said. She propped it up in front of her while she washed the dishes. It lay in her lap when she was at the table, and at night she slept with it under her pillow to bring her happy dreams.

The day that Mrs. Appleton's letter came, Allison went up to her mother's room and stood beside her desk waiting for her pen to come to the end of a page. "Mamma," she said, as Mrs. Walton finally looked up, "I've thought of such a nice plan. Have you time to listen?"

Mrs. Walton smiled up at the thoughtful face of her eldest daughter." You should have been named Pansy, my dear. Pensee is for thought, you know, and I'm glad to say you are always having thoughts of some sensible way to help other people. I'm very busy, but I am sure your plan is a good one, so I'll let the letters wait for awhile."

She leaned back in her chair, and Allison, dropping down on the rug at her feet, began eagerly. "Out at the hospital, mamma, there is a little empty room at the end of a side hall. It is a dear little room with a fireplace and a sunny south window. It has never been furnished because they haven't enough money. I asked one of the nurses about it, and she said they often need it for cases like Dot. It would be so much pleasanter to have her away from all the noise. And I've been thinking if it could be fixed up for Dot to spend Christmas in, how much nicer it would be for her and Molly both. It wouldn't cost very much to furnish it, just enough to get the little white bedroom set and the sheets and towels and things. Anyhow, it wouldn't be much more than you've often spent on my Christmas presents. And I wanted to know if you wouldn't let me do that this year instead of your giving me a Christmas present. Please, mamma, I've set my heart on it. If I got books they'd soon be read, and jewelry or games I'd get tired of after awhile, and things to wear, no matter how pretty, would be worn out soon. But this is something that would last for years. I could think every day that some poor little soul who has never known anything but to be sick or sad was enjoying my pretty room."

"That is as beautiful a pensee as ever blossomed in any heart-garden, I am sure," said Mrs. Walton, softly, smoothing the curly head resting against her knee, "and mother is glad that her little girl's plans are such sweet unselfish ones. We'll go this very afternoon and talk to the matron about it."

Aladdin's lamp is not the only thing that can suddenly bring wonderful things to pass. There is a modern magic of telephones and electric cars, and the great Genii of sympathy and good-will are all-powerful when once unbottled. So a few hours wrought wonderful changes in the empty little room, and next morning Allison stood in the centre of it looking around her with delighted eyes.

Everything was as white and fresh as a snowdrop, from the little bed to the dainty dressing-table beside the window. A soft firelight shone on the white-tiled hearth of the open fireplace. The morning sun streamed in through the wide south window, where a pot of pink hyacinths swung its rosy bells, and Allison's Japanese canary, Nagasaki, twittered in its gilded cage. She had brought it all the way from Japan.

"Of course they won't want it in the room all the time," she said, "but there will be days when the children will love to have it brought in a little while to sing to them."

"If you give up Nagasaki then I'll give my globe of goldfish," said Kitty, anxious to do her part toward making a happy time for little Dot. "Afterward, if the child who stays in that room is too sick to enjoy it, it can go into the convalescent ward."

It was into this room that Molly came, bringing her picture of the Good Shepherd. She had carried it in her arms all the way, frequently taking it out of its brown paper wrapping, for down in one corner of the frame she had fastened the photograph of Dot.

All that morning on the train, the refrain that had gone through her happy heart as she looked at the picture was, "Oh, she's been happy for a month! She's got grapes and oranges, and a doll, and roses in the picture, and ice-cream! And there's lace on her nightgown, and she is smiling,"

"Shall we name the room for you, Miss Allison?" asked the nurse, when the picture of the Good Shepherd was hung over the mantel, and Dot lay looking tip at it with tired eyes, her little hand clasped in Molly's, and a satisfied smile on her face.

"No," whispered Allison, her glance following the gaze of the child's eyes. "Call it The Fold of the Good Shepherd. She looks like a poor little lost lamb that had just found its way home."

"I wish all the poor little stray lambs might find as warm a shelter," answered the nurse, in an undertone, "and I hope, my dear, that all your Christmases will be as happy as the one you are making for her."

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