The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 9: Left Behind

By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman




EVERY evening for a week, at the Cuckoo's Nest, a fire had been kindled on the sitting-room hearth, for the autumn rains made the nights chilly. Here until half-past eight the boys could play any game they chose. Hop-scotch left chalk marks on the new rag carpet, and tag upset the furniture as if a cyclone had swept through the room, but never a word of reproof interrupted their sport, no matter how boisterous. Lloyd wondered sometimes that the roof did not tumble in around their ears when she and Betty and Molly joined the five boys in a game of blind man's buff.

"It is nice to have old furniture and stout rag carpets," she confided to Betty, in a breathless pause of the game. "We couldn't romp in the house this way at Locust. I like the place now, it doesn't seem a bit queah. I wouldn't care if mothah would write for us to stay heah anothah week."

But the summons to leave came next day. A howl went up from all the little Appletons as the letter was read aloud. It had been the most exciting week of their lives, for Betty and the Little Colonel were on the friendliest terms with Molly, and the three together introduced new games into the Cuckoo's Nest with an enthusiasm that made the evening playtime a delight. The charades and tableaux and private theatricals were something to enjoy with keen zest at the moment, and dream of for weeks afterward.

"We will have one more jolly old evening together, anyhow," said Bradley. "I'll go out and get the firewood now." But when supper was over, and the two trunks stood in a corner, packed and strapped for their morrow's journey, nobody seemed in a mood for romping. The boys squatted on the hearth-rug as solemnly as Indians around a council-fire. As the shadows danced on the ceiling, Betty reached down from the low stool where she sat, to stroke the puppy stretched across her feet.

"What do you all want me to bring you from Europe?" she asked, playfully. "Pretend that I could bring you anything you wanted. Only remember the story of Beauty and the Beast, and don't anybody ask for a white rose. Molly, you are the oldest, you begin, and choose first."

Molly's gray eyes gazed wistfully into the embers. " Oh, you know that there is only one thing in the whole world that I ever wish for, and that is Dot.

But of course she isn't in Europe."

"You don't know," interrupted Lloyd. "I've read of stranger things than that. I have a story at home about a boy that was kidnapped, and yeahs aftah he was found strollin' around in a foreign country with a band of gypsies. They'd taken him across the ocean with them."

"And there's a piece in my Fourth Reader," added Scott, eagerly, "about a child that was stolen by Indians when she was so young that she soon forgot how to talk English. She grew up to look just like a squaw. When the tribe was captured, her own mother did not recognise her. Her mother was an old white-haired woman then. But there was a queer kind of scar that had always been on the girl's arm, and when her mother saw that she knew it was her daughter, and she began to sing a song that she used to sing when she rocked her children to sleep. And the girl remembered it, and it seemed to bring back all the other things she had forgotten, and she ran up to her mother and put her arms around her."

"Dot has a scar," said Molly. "I could tell her anywhere by that mark over her eye where the stick of wood hit her."

" S'pose Betty should find her somewhere abroad," said Lloyd, her eyes shining like stars at the thought. "S'pose they'd be driving along in Paris, and a little flower girl would come up with a basket of violets, and Eugenia would say, 'Oh, papa, please stop the carriage. I want some of those violets.' And while they were buying them Betty would talk to the little flower girl, and find out that she was Dot. Of co'se Cousin Carl would take her right into the carriage, and they'd whirl away to the hotel, and aftah they'd bought her a lot of pretty clothes they'd take her travellin' with them, and finally bring her back to America just as if it were in a fairy tale."

"Or Eugenia might find her in New York before we leave," suggested Betty. "You know she wrote that she is hunting, and that her father promised to ask the police force to look, too."

"Joyce, is lookin', too," said Lloyd. "Dot is as apt to wandah west as east. There's so many people interested now in tryin' to find her. I do wondah who'll be the one."

"Godmother, most likely," said Betty. "Wouldn't it be lovely if she should ? Suppose she'd find her about Christmas time, and she'd send word to Molly to hang up two stockings, because she was going to send her a present so big that it wouldn't go into one. And Christmas morning Molly would run down here to the chimney where she'd hung them, and there would be Dot standing in her stockings."

"Oh, don't!" said Molly, imploringly, with a little choke in her voice. "You make it seem so real that I can't bear to talk about it any more."

There was silence in the room for a little space, and only the shadows moved as the flames leaped and flickered on the old hearthstone. Then Lloyd, leaning forward, took hold of one of Betty's long brown curls.

"Tell us a story, Tusitala," she said, coaxingly. "It will be the last one before we go away."

"Why did you call her that ?" asked the inquisitive Bradley.

"Tusitala ? Oh, that means tale-teller, you know. That is the name the Samoan chiefs gave to Robert Louis Stevenson when he went to live on their island, and that is the name we gave Betty when we thought she was going blind, the time we all had the measles."

"Why ? " asked Bradley again.

"Because mothah said Betty writes stories so well now that she will be known as the children's Tusitala some day. Besides, she told us the tale about the Road of the Loving Heart, and Eugenia gave us each a ring to help us remembah it. See? They are just alike."

She laid her hand against Betty's a moment, to compare the little twists of gold, each tied in a lover's knot, and then slipped hers off, passing it around the circle, that each might see the name "Tusitala" engraved inside. "Tell them about it, Betty," she insisted.

"There isn't much to tell," began Betty, clasping her hands around her knees. "Only Stevenson was so good to those poor old Samoan chiefs, visiting them when they were put in prison, and treating them so kindly in every way he could think of, that they called him their white brother. They wanted to do something to show their appreciation, for they said, 'The day is not longer than his kindness.'  They had heard him wish for a road across part of the island, so they banded together and began to dig. It was hard work, for the heat was terrible there in the tropics, and they were weak from being in prison so long; but they worked for days and days, almost fainting. When it was done, they set up an inscription over it, calling it the Road of the Loving Heart that they had built to last for ever."

Betty paused a moment, twisting the little ring on her finger, and then repeated what she had confessed to Joyce, the afternoon that she thought she must be blind all the rest of her life.

"I wanted to build a road like that for godmother. Of course I couldn't dig one like those chiefs did, and she wouldn't have wanted it even if I could; but I thought maybe I could leave a memory behind me of my visit, that would be like a smooth white road. You know, remembering things is like looking back over a road. The unpleasant things that have happened are like the rocks we stumble over. But if we have done nothing unpleasant to remember, then we can look back and see it stretched out behind us, all smooth and white and shining.

"So, from the very first day of my visit, I tried to leave nothing behind me for her memory to stumble over. Not a frown or a cross word or a single disobedience. Nothing in all my life ever made me so happy as what she said to me the day I left Locust. I knew then that I had succeeded."

There was nothing preachy about Betty. She did not apply the story to her hearers, even in the tone in which she told it; but the silence that followed was uncomfortable to one squirming boy at least.

Bradley remembered the fishing-worms, and was in haste to change the subject. "Say, Betty, what are you going to do with Bob when you go away?"

"I have been trying for some time to make up my mind," said Betty. "First I thought I would take him back to Locust, and let him stay with his brothers; but I'll be away so long that he won't know me when I come back, and this afternoon I decided to give him to Davy."

"Oh, really, truly, Betty?" cried the child, tumbling forward at her feet in a quiver of delight, for he had loved the frolicsome puppy at first sight, and lead kept it with him every waking moment since it came.

"Really, truly," she repeated, picking up the puppy and dropping him into Davy's arms. "There, sir! Go to your new master, you rascal, and remember that your name isn't Bob Lewis any longer. It is Bob Appleton now."

Davy squeezed the fat puppy so close in his arms that his beaming face was nearly hidden by the big bow of yellow ribbon. He had never been so happy in all his life. The road that Betty had left in her godmother's memory was not the only one that stretched out white and shining behind her. No matter how long she might be gone from the Cuckoo's Nest, or how the years might pile up between them, in Davy's heart she would be the dearest memory of his childhood. With Bob she had given him its crowning joy, a reminder of herself, to live and move and frisk beside him; to keep pace with every step, and to bring her to his loving remembrance with every wag of its stumpy tail, and every glance of its faithful brown eyes.

Again it was, early morning, with dew on the meadows, as it had been when Betty first ventured out into the world. Now she fared forth on another and a longer pilgrimage, but this time there was no lonely sinking of the heart when she waved good-bye to the group on the porch. She was sorry to leave them, but the Little Colonel was with her, her godmother was to meet them at the junction, and just beyond was the wonderland of the old world, through which Cousin Carl was to be her guide.

It was one o'clock when they reached Louisville. The afternoon was taken up in shopping, for there were many things that Betty needed for her voyage. But by six o'clock the new steamer trunk, with all the bundles, was aboard the suburban train, and Betty, with the check in her purse, followed her godmother and Lloyd into the car for Lloydsboro Valley.

Then there were three more nights to go to sleep in the white and gold room of the House Beautiful; three more days to wander up and down the long avenue under the locusts, arm in arm with the Little Colonel, or to go riding through the valley with her on Lad and Tarbaby; three more evenings to sit in the long drawing-room where the light fell softly from all the wax tapers in the silver candelabra --- and Lloyd, standing below the portrait of the white-gowned girl with the June rose in her hair, played the harp that had belonged to her beautiful grandmother Amanthis. Then it was time to start to New York, for Mr. Sherman's business called him there, and Betty was to go in his care.

It seemed to the Little Colonel that the week which followed, that last week of September, was the longest one she had ever known. Since the beginning of the house party she had not been without a companion. Now as she wandered aimlessly around from one old haunt to another, not knowing how to pass the time, it seemed she had forgotten how to amuse herself. She was waiting until the first of October to start to school.

At last Betty's steamer letter came, and she dashed home from the post-office as fast as Tarbaby could run, to share it with her mother. The letter was dated "On board the Majestic," and ran:

"DEAREST GODMOTHER AND LLOYD: -Everybody is in the cabin writing letters to send back by the pilot-boat, so here is a little note to tell you that we are starting off in fine style. The band is playing, the sun is shining, and the harbour is smooth as glass. I have been looking over the deck railing, and the deep green water, rocking the little boats out in the harbour, makes me think of the White Seal's lullaby that godmother sang to us when we had the measles.

"The storm shall not wake thee,
Nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.'

"I know that I shall think of that many times during the passage, and am sure we are going to enjoy every minute of it. Eugenia sends lots of love to you both. She is writing to Joyce. The next time we write it will be from Southampton. If you could only be with us I should be perfectly happy. Good-bye, till you hear from me from the other side.

                                                        "Lovingly,             BETTY."

There was a hasty postscript scribbled across the end. "Be sure you let me know the minute you hear anything from Dot. If anybody finds her, Cousin Carl says cable the word 'found,' and we will know what you mean."

For a few minutes after the reading of the letter, the Little Colonel stood by the window, looking out without a word. Then she began:

 "I wish I'd nevah had a house party. I wish I'd nevah known Joyce or Eugenia or Betty. I wish I'd nevah laid eyes on any of them, or been to the Cuckoo's Nest, or --- or nothin'! "

" What is the trouble now, Lloyd?" asked her mother, wonderingly.

"Then I wouldn't be so lonesome now that everything is ovah. I despise that 'left behind' feelin' moah than anything I know. It makes me so misah'ble! They've all gone away and left me now, and I'll nevah be as happy again as I've been this summah. I'm suah of it!"

"'Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone.
All her lovely companions are faded and gone,"'

sang Mrs. Sherman, gaily, as she came and put an arm around Lloyd's drooping shoulders. "Every summer brings its own roses, little daughter. When the old friends go, look around for new ones, and you'll always find them."

"I don't want any new ones," exclaimed the Little Colonel, gloomily. "There'll nevah be anybody that I'll take the same interest in that I do in Betty and Joyce and Eugenia."

Yet even as she spoke, there were coming toward her life, nearer and nearer as the days went by, other friends, who were to have a large part in making its happiness, and who were to fill it with new interests and new pleasures.

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