The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 5: A Time For Patience

By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman




THEY thought at first that she was hiding in the barn, afraid to come out, lest Molly might be lying in wait to grab her. So they began calling: "Come on, Lloyd! King's X! King's excuse! Home free! You may come home free!" But there was no answer, and Betty, suddenly remembering the trap-door, grew white with fear.

The children played in the barn so much that Mr. Appleton's first order, when he hired a new man, was that the trap-door must always be closed and fastened the moment he finished pitching the: hay down to the manger below. The children themselves had been cautioned time and again to keel away from it, but Lloyd, never having played in the barn before, was not aware of its existence.

"Lloyd, Lloyd!" called Betty, hurrying into the twilight of the big barn. There was no answer. and peering anxiously ahead, Betty saw that the trap-door was open, and on the floor below was the gleam of the Little Colonel's light pink dress, shining white through the dusk.

Betty's startled cry brought the other children, who clattered down the barn stairs after her, into the straw-covered circle where the young calves were kept. They met Mr. Appleton, coming in from the corn-crib with a basket on his shoulder, and all began to talk at once. The words "Lloyd" and "trap-door" were all he could distinguish in the jumble of excited exclamations, but they told the whole story.

Hastily dropping his basket, he strode across to the manger that Betty pointed out, with a look of grave concern on his face. They all crowded breathlessly around him as he bent over the quiet little figure, lifting it gently in his arms. It was a solemn-faced little company that followed him up the hill with his unconscious burden. A cold fear seized Betty as she walked along, glancing at the Little Colonel's closed eyes, and the tiny stream of blood trickling across the still white face.

"Oh, if godmother were only here!" she groaned.

"There's no telling how badly Lloyd is hurt. Maybe she'll be a cripple for life. Oh, I wish I'd never heard of such a game as Barley-bright."

If the accident had happened at Locust, a doctor would have been summoned to the spot, as fast as telephones and swift horses could bring him, and the whole household would have held its breath in anxiety. But very little fuss was made over accidents at the Cuckoo's Nest. It was a weekly occurrence for some of the children to be brought in limp and bleeding from various falls. Bradley had once sprained his neck turning somersaults down the hay-mow, so that he had not been able to look over his shoulder for two weeks. Scott had been picked up senseless twice, once from falling out of the top of a walnut-tree, and the other time because a high ladder broke under him. Every one of the boys but Pudding had at some time or another left a trail of blood behind him from barn to house as he went weeping homeward with some part of his body to be bandaged. So Lloyd's fall did not cause the commotion it might have done in a less adventurous family.

"Oh, she's coming around all right," said Mr. Appleton, cheerfully, as her head stirred a little on his shoulder, and she half opened her eyes.

"Here you are," he added a moment later, laying her on the bed in the parlour. "Scott, run call your mother. Bring a light, Molly. We'll soon see what is the matter."

There were no bones broken, and in a little while Lloyd sat up, white and dizzy. Then she walked across the room, and looked at herself in the little mirror hanging over a shelf, on which stood a bouquet of stiff wax flowers. It was hung so high and tilted forward so much, and the wax flowers were in the way, so that she could not get a very satisfactory view of her wounds, but she saw enough to make her feel like an old soldier home from the wars, with the marks of many battles upon her.

A bandage wet with arnica was tied around her head, over a large knot that was rapidly swelling larger. Several strips of court-plaster covered the cut on her temple. One cheek was scratched, and she was stiff and sore from many bruises.

"But not half so stiff as you'll be in the morning," Mrs. Appleton assured her, cheerfully. "All that side of your body that struck against the manger is black and blue."

"I think I'll go to bed," said the Little Colonel, faintly. "This day has been long enough, and I don't want anything else to happen to me. Fallin' through a trap-doah and havin' my mothah leave me is enough fo' one while. I think I need her moah than Aunt Jane does. You'll have to sleep with me to-night, Betty. I wouldn't stay down heah alone fo' anything."

It was very early to go to bed, scarcely more than half-past seven, when Betty blew out the candle and climbed in beside the Little Colonel. She lay for a long time, listening to the croaking of the frogs, thinking that Lloyd had forgotten her troubles in dreamland, until a mournful little voice whispered, "Say, Betty, are you asleep?"

"No; but I thought you were."

"I was, for a few minutes, but that dreadful false face of Molly's woke me up. I dreamed it was chasing me, and I seemed to be falling and falling, and somebody screamed at me  'Look out! The witches will catch you!'  It frightened me so that I woke up all a tremble. I know I am safe, here in bed with you, but I'm shaking so hard that I can't go to sleep again. Oh, Betty, you don't know how much I want my mothah! I'll nevah leave her again as long as I live. My head aches, and I'm so stiff, and soah I can't tu'n ovah!"

"Do you want me to tell you a story?" asked Betty, hearing the sob in Lloyd's voice, and divining that her pillow had caught more than one tear under cover of the darkness.

"Oh, yes!" begged the Little Colonel. "Talk to me, even if you don't say anything but the multiplication table. It will keep me from hearin' those dreadful frogs, and seein' that face in the dark. I'm ashamed to be frightened at nothing. I don't know what makes me such a coward."

"Maybe the fall was a sort of shock to your nerves," said Betty, comfortingly, reaching out to pat the trembling shoulders with a motherly air. "There, go to sleep, and I'll stay awake and keep away the hobgoblins. I'll recite the Lady Jane, because it jingles so beautifully. It goes like a cradle."

A little groping hand reached through the darkness and touched Betty's face, then buried itself in leer soft curls, as if the touch brought a soothing sense of safety. In a slow, sing-song tone, as monotonous as the droning of a bee, Betty began, accenting every other syllable with a sleepy drawl.

"The la-dy Jane was tall and slim,
The la-dy Jane was fair.
Sir Thomas her lord was stout of limb,
His cough was short and his eyes were dim,
And he wore green specs with a tortoise shell rim,
 And his hat was re-mark-ably broad in the brim,
And she was un-common-ly fond of him,
And they were a lov-ing pair.
And the name and the fame of this knight and his dame
Were every-where hailed with the loud-est ac-claim."

But it took more than the Lady Jane to put the restless little listener to sleep that night. Maud Muller was recited in the same sing-song measure, and Lord Ullin's daughter followed without a pause, till Betty herself grew sleepy, and, like a tired little mosquito, droned lower and lower, finally stopping in the middle of a sentence.

They woke in the morning, to hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Betty, peeping through the curtains, announced that the sky was gray with clouds, and she thought that it must surely begin to rain soon. Lloyd, so stiff and sore from the effects of her fall that she could scarcely move, sat up with a groan.

"Oh, deah!" she exclaimed. "What is there to do heah on rainy days? No books, no games, no piano! Mothah said that the lesson set fo' me to learn was patience, but I'd lose my mind, just sitting still in front of a clock and watching the minutes go by. I don't see how Job stood it."

"Job didn't do that way," said Betty, soberly, as she looked up from lacing her shoes. "They didn't have any clocks in those days, and besides, patience isn't just sitting still all day without fidgeting. It's putting up with whatever happens to you, without making a fuss about it. The best way to do it is not to think about it any more than you can help."

"I'd like to know how I'm goin' to keep from thinkin' about my bruises and cuts," groaned the Little Colonel, limping stiffly across the room to look again in the little mirror, at her bandaged forehead, her scratched cheek, and her temple, crisscrossed with strips of court-plaster. "What would Papa Jack say if he could see me now?"

She repeated Betty's definition of patience to her reflection in the mirror, making a wry face as she did so. " 'Puttin' up with whatevah happens to you, without makin' a fuss about it.'  Well, I'll try, but it's mighty hard to do when one of the happenings is fallin' through a trap-doah, and gettin' as stiff and soah as I am."

She thought about the definition more than once during the long morning that followed; when the hash was too salty at breakfast, and the oatmeal was scorched; when Betty was busy in the springhouse, and she was left all alone for awhile with nothing to entertain herself with but the almanac and a week-old paper. The thunder, that had been only a low muttering over the distant hills when they, awoke, was coming nearer, and the damp air was heavy with the approaching storm.

" I'll have one little run out-of-doahs befo' it begins to rain," thought Lloyd, and started up to skip across the porch; but her skipping changed to a painful walk as her aching muscles reminded her of her fall, and she limped slowly down the lane toward the gate.

A strong wind suddenly began lashing the cherry trees that lined the lane, and sent a gust of dust and leaves into her face. She stopped a moment to rub her eyes, and as she did so something fluttering on the hedge-row broke loose from the thorns that held it, and came blowing toward her. It was something soft and gray, and it fluttered long uncertainly, like a bit of fleecy thistledown, as the wind bore it to her feet.

"Oh, it's mothah's gray veil!" she exclaimed. " It was on the back of the seat when she waved goodbye to me, and they were drivin' so fast it must have blown away."

She picked up the dainty piece of silk tissue, soft and filmy as a cloud, and held it against her cheek. Then she hurried into the house with it, lest some of the boys should see her and notice the tears in her eyes. But inside the dark closet, where she climbed to lay the veil on a shelf, the lonely feeling was too strong for her to overcome. Crouching down in a corner, with her face hidden in the soft violet-scented veil, she cried quietly for a long time.

Then something came to her mind that had happened when she was only five years old, before she had gone to Locust to live. It was that first lonesome evening when she had been left to spend the night at her grandfather's, and she grew so homesick as twilight fell that she decided to run away. And while she stood with her hand on the latch of the great gate, peering through the bars at the darkening world outside, Fritz (the wisest little terrier that ever peeped through tangled bangs) found something in the dead leaves at her feet. It was a little gray glove that her mother had dropped, when she stooped to kiss her good-bye. Lloyd remembered how she had squeezed it, and cried over it, and fondled it as if it held the touch of her mother's hand, and then, baby though she was, she had tucked it into her tiny apron pocket as a talisman to help her be brave. Then she walked back to the house without another tear.

"That visit had a beautiful ending," thought Lloyd, tenderly folding the veil. "Then I had only Fritz for company, but now I have Betty. I'll just stop wishin' I could run away from the Cuckoo's Nest, and I'll have all the good times that I can get out of this visit."

She felt better now. The tears seemed to have washed away the ache in her throat. Bradley was calling her, and only stopping at the wash-stand a moment to bathe her red eyes, she went out to see what he wanted.

His freckled face was all alight with a beaming smile, as if he were the bearer of good news. His hands were behind his back, and as he came toward her he called out, in the pleasantest of voices, " Which will you take, Lloyd, right or left ?"

Forgetting that Betty had cautioned her about his love of teasing, and remembering the apples he had brought her the day before, she answered, with a friendly smile, "I choose what's in the right hand."

"Then shut your eyes, and hold fast all I give you."

Squinting her eyelids tightly together, Lloyd held out her unsuspecting little hand, only to receive a squirming bunch of clammy, wriggling fishing worms. She gave a loud shriek, and wrung the hand that the worms had touched, as if it had been stung.

"Oo-ooh ! Bradley Appleton! You horrid boy!" she cried. "How could you be so mean? There's nothing I hate like worms. I could touch a mouse or even a snake soonah than those bare crawly things! Oh, I'll nevah, nevah be able to get the feel of them off my hands, even if I should scrub them a week. I don't mind things with feet, but the feel of the squirmin' is awful!"

Bradley laughed so loudly over the success of his joke, that Betty came out smiling to see what was the matter, and was surprised to see Lloyd marching indignantly into the house, her head held high and her face very red.

"Well, I didn't do anything but give her a handful of angleworms," said Bradley, in reply to Betty's demand for an explanation. " Molly heard her say that she despised worms, and that nothing could make her touch one or put it on a hook. I was just showing her for her own good that there is nothing to be afraid of in a harmless little fishing-worm, and she had to go off and get mad. Girls are such touchy things. They make me tired."

Long experience had taught Betty that the best thing to do, when Bradley was in a teasing mood, was to keep out of his way, so she turned without a word and went in search of Lloyd. As she did so, the rain that they had been expecting all morning came dashing against the window-panes in torrents. Suddenly it grew so dark one could scarcely see to read without lighting a lamp.

"Come up to my room, Lloyd," called Betty, stopping at the parlour door, with Davy tagging behind her. "It's lighter up there, and I love to be close up under the roof when the rain patters on it."

"Wait till I finish washing my hands," answered Lloyd, looking up with a disgusted face. "Ugh! I can't wash away that horrid squirmin' feelin', even with a nail-brush."

As Davy climbed the stairs after them he caught Lloyd by the dress. "Say!" he exclaimed in a half whisper, "it was Molly that told Bradley to put those worms on you. She dared him to, and they're laughing about it now, down in the kitchen."

It was on the tip of Lloyd's tongue to say, "They're both of them mean, hateful things, and I'll get even with them if it takes all the rest of my visit to do it." But before the words could slip out she remembered the definition, "Putting up with anything that happens to you without making a fuss about it."

"There couldn't anything nastier happen than fishin'-worms," she said to herself," so this must be one of the times I need patience the very most."

Although the lesson was remembered in time to keep her from getting into a rage, it did not put her into a good humour. It was a very unhappy little face that looked out of the gable window, against which the autumn rain was dashing. Her head ached from its bumps and bruise, and her eyes wore as forlorn an expression as if she were some unhappy Crusoe, cast away on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

Davy perched himself on the trunk and awaited developments. Betty looked around the room in search of something to brighten the dull day; but the bare walls offered no suggestion of entertainment. Lloyd's fingers drumming restlessly on the window pane, and the patter of the rain on the roof, were the only sounds in the room.

"I wondah if it's rainin' where Joyce and Eugenia are," said the Little Colonel, after awhile, breaking the long silence.

"Oh, let's write to them," cried Betty, eagerly. "One can write East and one can write West, and we'll tell them all that has happened in the Cuckoo's Nest since we came back to it."

Davy slid off the trunk in silent disapproval when the writing material was brought out, and the girls began their letters. The scratching of the pens across the paper and the dismal dripping of the rain was too monotonous for him, and he felt forced to go below in search of livelier companionship.

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