The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 7: A Feast Of Sails

By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman



Now ring your merriest tune, ye silver bells of the magic caldron. 'Tis a birthday feast that awakes your chiming, so make your key-note joy. And now if the little princes and princesses will thrust their curious fingers into the steam as the water bubbles again, it will take them far away from the Cuckoo's Nest. They will see the village of Plainsville, Kansas, and the little brown house where the Ware family lived.

The day that the Little Colonel's letter reached Joyce was Holland's tenth birthday. One would not have dreamed that there was a party of ten boys in the parlour that bright September afternoon, for the shutters were closed, and every blind tightly drawn. Jack had darkened the room to give them a magic lantern exhibition, while Joyce was spreading the table under an apple-tree in the side yard. Mary, her funny little braids with their big bows of blue ribbon continually bobbing over her shoulders, was helping to carry out the curious dishes from the house that had taken all morning to prepare.

There was never much money to spend in entertainments in the little brown house, but birthdays never passed unheeded. Love can always find some way to keep the red-letter days of its calendar. Joyce and her mother had planned a novel supper for Holland and his friends, thinking it would make a merry feast for them to laugh over now, and a pleasant memory by and by, when three score years had been added to his ten. Looking back on the day when somebody cared that it was his birthday, and celebrated it with loving forethought, would kindle a glow in his heart, no matter how old and white-haired he might live to be.

The little mother could not take much time front her sewing, but she suggested and helped with the verses, and came out when the table was nearly ready, to add a few finishing touches.

A Feast of Sails, Joyce called it, saying that if Cinderella's godmother could change a pumpkin into a gilded coach, there was no reason why they should not transform an ordinary luncheon into a fleet of boats, for a boy whose greatest ambition was to be a naval officer, and who was always talking about the sea.

These were  the invitations, printed in Jack's best style, and decorated by Joyce with a little water-colour sketch of a ship in full sail:

Please come, hale and hearty,
To Holland Ware's party,
September, the twenty-first day,
And partake in a bunch
Of a queer birthday lunch,
And afterward join in a play.
The things which we'll eat
Will be boats, sour and sweet,
With maybe an entrde of whales.
Will you please to arrive Awhile before five,
The hour that this boat-luncheon sails.

The invitations aroused great interest among all Holland's friends, and every boy was at the gate long before the appointed hour, curious to see the "boats sour and sweet" that could be eaten. But even Holland did not know what was in store for them. Joyce had driven him out of the kitchen while she was preparing the surprise, and would not begin to set the table until Jack had marshalled every boy into the dark parlour and begun his magic lantern show. The baby was with them, a baby no longer, he stoutly declared, as he had that day been promoted from kilts to his first pair of trousers, and he insisted on being called henceforth by his own name, Norman.

As he and Jack were to be added to the party of ten, the table was set for twelve. It was a gay sight when everything was ready. From the mirror lake in the middle, on which a dozen toy swans were afloat, arose a lighthouse made of doughnuts. It was surmounted by a little lantern from which floated a tiny flag. At one end of the table a huge watermelon cut lengthwise, and furnished with mast and sails of red crepe paper, looked like a brig just launched. At the other end rose the great white island of the birthday cake, with its ten red candles. All down the sides of the table was a flutter of yellow and green and white and blue sails, for at each plate was a little fleet sporting the colours of the rainbow.

It had been an interesting task to make the dressed eggs into canoes, to cut the cheese into square rafts, and hollow out the long cucumber pickles into skiffs, fitting sails or pennons to each broomstraw mast. It had been still more interesting to change a bag of big fat raisins into turtles, by poking five cloves and a bit of stem into each one for the head, legs, and tail.

Joyce took an artistic pleasure in arranging the orange boats around the table. She had made them by cutting an orange in two, and putting a stick of peppermint candy in each half for a mast, and they had a foreign, Chinese look with their queer sails, flaming with little red-ink dragons. Jack had drawn them. Here and there, over the sea of white table cloth, she had scattered candy fish and the raisin turtles. At the last moment there were potato chips to be heated, and islands of sandwiches and jelly to distribute, and the can of sardines to open. Mary had insisted on having the sardines to personate whales and she herself served one to each guest on a little shell-shaped plate belonging to her set of doll dishes. It had taken so long to prepare all these boats, that Joyce had had no time to decorate the menu cards as she had planned, but Jack had cut them in the shape of an anchor, and stuck a fish-hook through each one for a souvenir. This was what was printed on them:

An egg Canoe                     A Skiff of pickle
A Cheese Raft too.                  Your taste to tickle.
Turtles galore,                          Entree of Whales
Found alongshore.                  (A la sardine tails).
Chips in a pile, and
A Sandwich Island.
The Brig Watermelon                   An orange boat last
With sails all a-swellin'.                 With a candy mast.
The Island of Cake
With fish from Sweet Lake.

Mary gave the signal when everything was ready, a long toot on an old tin whistle that sounded like a fog-horn. She blew it through the keyhole of the parlour door, expecting a speedy answer, but was not prepared for the sensation her summons created. The door flew open so suddenly that she was nearly taken off her feet, and the boys fell all over each other in their race for the table. When they were all seated, Norman, standing up at the foot of the table, repeated the rhyme which Joyce had carefully taught him

"Heave ho, my hearties, let these boat
Sail down the Red Sea of your throats."

They're surely obeying orders," said Mary, mournfully, a few minutes later, when she hurried into the kitchen for another Sandwich Island.  "They're swallowing up those boats quicker'n the real Red Sea swallowed up old Pharaoh and all his chariots. There'll be nothing left for us but the rinds and the broom-straws."

"Oh, yes, there will," said Joyce, cheerfully, opening the pantry door and showing her three plates on the lower shelf. "There is our supper. I put it aside, for boys are like grasshoppers. They'll eat everything in sight. I didn't take time to put sails in my boats or in mother's, but you've got one of every kind just like the boys, even to a menu-card with a fish-hook in it."

There was a broad smile on Mary's beaming little face as she surveyed her part of the feast, and popping one of the fat raisin-turtles into her mouth, she hurried back to her duties as waitress. Joyce followed to pass around the birthday cake, telling each boy to blow out a candle as he took a slice, and to make a birthday wish.

Just as she finished there was a click of the gate-latch, and one of her schoolmates came up the path. It was Grace Link, one of her best friends, yet Joyce wished she had not happened in at that particular time.

Grace had a way of looking around her with a very superior air. It may have been due to her effort to keep her eye-glasses in position, but Joyce found it irritating at times. The glances made her feel how shabby the little brown house must look in comparison to the Links' elegant home, and she resented Grace's apparent notice of the fact.

"In just a minute, Grace," she called, thinking she would pass the cake around once more, and leave the boys to finish quietly, by themselves. But she did not have a chance to do that. With a whoop as of one voice, each boy started up, grabbing another slice of cake in one hand as he passed the plate, and all the candy fish he could scoop up with the other, and was off for a noisy game of hum-bum in the back yard.

"My gracious! what a noisy lot," exclaimed Grace, recognising her own small brother among them, and making mental note of a lecture she meant to give him after awhile.

"Oh, you ought to have seen how beautiful everything looked when they sat down," cried Mary, noticing Grace's critical glances, as she surveyed the wreck they had made of the table. "They've eaten up the lighthouse all but the lantern and the flag, and the watermelon ship was so pretty. Here's what the little boats looked like." She dashed into the pantry for her own gay little fleet of egg and orange and pickle boats with their many-coloured sails.

"How cunning! " said Grace, looking admiringly from the boats to the row of raisin-turtles. "But what a lot of time and trouble you all must have taken for those kids. Do you think boys appreciate it? I don't."

"My brothers do," said Joyce, stoutly. "We can't afford to have ices and fine things from the confectioner's, so we have to think up all sorts of odd surprises to take their place. Mother began it long ago when Jack and I were little, and she gave us our first Valentine tea. She said it was no more trouble to cut the cookies and sandwiches heart-shaped than to make them round, and it took very little time to decorate the table to look like a lace-paper valentine, but it made a world of difference in our enjoyment. Jack and I have dozens of bright spots to remember because she made gala days of all our birthdays and holidays, and it's no more than right that we should do it for Mary and Holland and the baby, now that she is so busy."

"We have something for every month in the year," chimed in Mary, "counting our five birthdays and Washington's, and New Year and Decoration Day and Christmas and Hallowe'en and Valentine and Thanksgiving."

"There are more than that," added Joyce, " for there's always the Fourth of July picnic, you know, and the eggs and rabbits and flowers at Easter."

"Yes, and April fool's day," Mary called out triumphantly after them, as the two girls walked slowly toward the house. " That makes fifteen."

"Can't you go over to Elsie Somers's with me, Joyce?" asked Grace. "That's what I stopped by for. It is only half-past five. I want to look at the centrepiece she is embroidering before I begin mine, and ask her about the stitch. Then I can begin it this evening after supper."

"Oh, I don't believe I can," answered Joyce, sitting wearily down on the doorstep, and making room for Grace beside her. "There's all that mess to clean up, and the boys will be coming in soon when it begins to get dark, for their bonfire stories. Do you see that enormous pile of leaves over there ? We're going to have a jolly big bonfire after awhile, and sit around it telling stories. That is Holland's idea, and part of our way of keeping birthdays is to let the one who celebrates choose what he would like to do."

"Hum, bum! Here I come!" shouted several voices from the stable roof and alley fence, and Jack repeated it at the top of his voice, as he dashed around the corner of the house.

"Here, Joyce," he cried, pitching a letter toward her. " It came in the last mail, and I forgot to give it to you when I came back from the post-office. Just thought of it," and off he went again.

"It is from the Little Colonel," said Joyce, in a pleased tone. " Don't you want to hear it?"

Grace, who had heard so much about the happenings at the house party that she almost felt as if she had been one of the guests, promptly settled herself to listen, and at Joyce's call, Mrs. Ware, who was still stitching beside the dining-room window, laid down her sewing, and came out to be part of the interested audience.

"Oh, goody! Betty has written, too," said Joyce, as she unfolded the closely written pages. " I've wondered so often what Lloyd would think of life at the Cuckoo's Nest, and if it would seem the same to Betty after her visit at Locust."

But there was nothing of the Little Colonel's experience, in either letter. Not a word about Aunt Jane's illness, or the game of barley-bright, or the trap-door accident. They had just come from listening to Molly's pitiful story, and both letters were full of it. The story-telling gift, that was to make Betty famous in after years, showed in the pathetic little tale she wrote Joyce, and so real did she make the scene that Joyce could scarcely keep a tremble out of her voice as she read it aloud.

"Wouldn't you love to see the picture that looks so much like Molly's little lost sister?" asked Mary, drawing a deep breath when the letter was done.

"Maybe we've got it at home," said Grace, eagerly. "We've taken the Harper's Weekly for years, and there is a pile of them in the attic. Some of them have been lost or torn up, but if I can find the picture I'll bring it over. What did Betty say is the date of that number?"

"December twenty-fifth, ninety-seven," said Joyce, referring to the letter.

"Well, as you can't go over to Elsie's with me now, I'll wait till some other time. I'll go home now and look for that picture before dark."

"Come back in time for the bonfire," said Joyce cordially. "We have some fine stories ready."

"All right," responded Grace. " I'd love to."

"In the meantime we'll clear away the wreck, and eat our supper," said Joyce, as Grace went down the path and Mary followed the little mother into the pantry. They had just hung up the last tea towel and called Jack to light the bonfire, when Grace came back. She had the picture with her, and they looked long and earnestly at the little bunch of rnisery, sobbing in the corner.

"What if Dot's father has brought her out West!" exclaimed Mary, impulsively, as she continued to gaze at the forlorn little figure. " What if she should come to our house begging some day, and we should find her! Wouldn't it be grand? and wouldn't Molly and the girls be glad?"

"It makes me want to cry," said Joyce. " If I were rich I'd go out and hunt for all the poor little children like this that I could find, and do something to make them happy. Surely somebody of all the thousands who have seen that picture must have been moved to pity by it. No telling how much good that artist has done, by making people see some of the misery in the world that they can help. That is the kind of an artist I hope to be some day."

There were many stories told that evening around the birthday bonfire, which Jack kept ablaze, not only with leaves, but with pine cones and hickory knots. Giants and ghosts and hobgoblins, Indians and burglars and wild beasts, took their turns in the thrilling tales. But none made such a profound impression as the story of Molly's little lost sister, who perhaps at that very moment was locked in a dark closet by a drunken father, or sobbing herself to sleep, bruised and hungry. For one reason, it was real, and for another, the picture passed around the circle in the light of the glowing bonfire appealed to every child heart there.

"I wish the Giant Scissors were real," said Holland, referring to his favourite tale. "They'd find her. Joyce, what would you have to say to them to make them go in search?"

"Giant Scissors, rise in power!
Find little Dot this very hour!"

And then they would go rushing away over mountains and dales," continued Joyce, who knew how greatly Holland enjoyed these variations of his favourite story. "Through streets and through alleys they'd go, through mansions and tenements until they found her and brought her back to Molly. Then, hand in hand, the big sister and the little one would follow the Scissors back to the home of Ethelred, because, like him, the only kingdom that they crave is the kingdom of a loving heart and a happy fireside. There would be feasting and merrymaking; for seventy days and seventy nights, with the Scissors keeping guard at the portal of Ethelred, so that only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts and gentle hands might enter in."

Strangely moved by the story, little Norman got up from his seat and ran to Joyce, burying his heal in her lap. " I hope I'll never be losted from my big sister," he cried, his voice quivering, despite the fact that he no longer wore kilts.

"Me, too," said Holland, sliding along the bench a little closer to her. "Fellows that haven't got any sisters to get up birthday parties for 'em and everything don't know what they miss."

Joyce looked over at Grace with a smile that seemed to say, "What did I tell you? These kids, as you call them, do appreciate what their sisters do for them."

Long after the bonfire was out and the birthday guests had departed, Holland turned restlessly on his pillow. The many boats he had eaten may have had something to do with his restlessness, but the thought of the lonely little child for whom Molly was grieving was still in his mind, when his mother looked in an hour later, to see if all was well for the night.

"I'm thankful for the party," he announced unexpectedly, as she bent over him,  "and I'm thankful for most everything I can think of, but I'm most thankfullest because we aren't any of us in this house lost from each other."

"Please God you may say that on all your birthdays," whispered his mother, kissing him. Then she went away with the light, and silence reigned in the little brown house.

< Previous      Next >

The Little Colonel's Holidays - Table of Contents