The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 10: Home-Lessons And Jack-O'-Lanterns

By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman




IT was hard for the Little Colonel to start back to school after her long holiday. Hard, in the first place, because she was a month behind her classes, and had extra home-lessons to learn. Hard, in the second place, because a more gorgeous October had never been known in the Valley, and all out-doors called to her to come and play. In the lanes the sumach flamed crimson, and in the avenues the maples turned gold. In the woods, where the nuts were dropping all day long, the dogwood-trees hung out their coral berries, and every beech and sweet gum put on a glory of its own.

"Oh, mothah, I can't study," Lloyd declared one afternoon. "I don't care whethah the Amazon Rivah rises in South America or the South Pole; an' I think those old Mexicans were horrid to give their volcanoes an' things such terrible long names. They ought to have thought about the trouble they were makin' for all the poah children in the world who would have to learn to spell them. I nevah can learn Popocatepetl. Why didn't they call it something easy, like --- like Crosspatch!" she added, closing her book with a bang. "That's the way it makes me feel, anyhow. It is going to take all afternoon to get this one lesson."

Not if you put your mind on it. Your lips have been saying it over and over, but your thoughts seem to be miles away."

"But everything interrupts me," complained Lloyd. "The bumble-bees an' the woodpeckahs an' the jay-birds are all a-callin'. I'm goin' in the house an' sit on the stair steps an' put my fingahs in my yeahs. Maybe I can study bettah that way.

The plan worked like a charm. In less than ten minutes she was back again, glibly reciting her geography lesson. After that all her home-lessons were learned on the stairs, where no out-door sights and sounds could arrest her attention.

She was in the midst of her lessons one afternoon, her book open on her knees, and her hands over her ears, when she felt, rather than heard, the jar of a heavy chair drawn across the porch. Dropping her hands from her ears, she heard her mother say: "Take this rocker, Allison. I'm so glad you have come. I have been wishing . that you would all afternoon."

"Oh, it is Miss Allison MacIntyre! " thought Lloyd. "I wish I didn't have to study while she is heah. I love to listen to her talk."

Thinking to get through as soon as possible, she turned her attention resolutely to her book, but, after a few moments, she could not resist stopping to lift her head and listen, just to find out what subject they were discussing. Although Miss Allison was her mother's friend, Lloyd claimed her as her own especial property. But all children did that. Such was the charming interest with which she entered into comradeship with every boy and girl in the Valley, that they counted her one of themselves. A party without Miss Allison was not to be thought of, and a picnic was sure to be a failure unless she was one of the number.

The two little knights, Keith and Malcolm, were privileged, by reason of family ties, to call her auntie, but there were many like Lloyd who put her on a pedestal in their affections, and claimed a kinship almost as dear. Presently Lloyd caught a word that made her prick up her ears, and she leaned forward, listening eagerly.

"Sister Mary's children are coming out next Saturday. I was lying awake last night, wondering what I could do to entertain them, when it popped into my head that Saturday will be the last day of October, and of course they'll want to celebrate Hallowe'en."

"Sister Mary's children," repeated Lloyd to herself, with a puzzled expression, that suddenly turned to one of joyful recollection. "Oh, she means the little Waltons! I wondah how long they've been back in America?"

Her geography slipped unnoticed to the floor, as she sat thinking of her old playmates, whom she had not seen since their departure for the Philippines, and wondering if they had changed much in their long absence. There were four of them, Ranald (she remembered that he must be fourteen now, counting by his cousin Malcolm's age) and his three younger sisters, Allison, Kitty, and Elise. Some of the happiest days that Lloyd could remember had been the ones spent with them in the big tent pitched on the MacIntyre lawn; for no matter how far west was the army post at which their father happened to be stationed, they had been brought back every summer to visit their grandmother in the old Kentucky home.

Lloyd had not seen them since their father had been made a general, and they had gone away on the transport to the strange new life in the Philippines. Although many interesting letters were sent back to the Valley, in which the whole neighbourhood was interested, it happened that Lloyd had never heard any of them read. Her old playmates seemed to have dropped completely out of her life, until one sad day when the country hung its flags at half-mast, and the black head-lines in every newspaper in the land announced the loss of a nation's hero.

Lloyd remembered how strange it seemed to read the account, and know it was Ranald's father who was meant. She thought of them often in the weeks that followed, for Papa Jack could not pick up a newspaper without reading some touching tribute to the brave general's memory, some beautiful eulogy on his heroic life, but somehow the strange experiences her little playmates were passing through seemed to set them apart from other children in Lloyd's imagination, and she thought of them as people in a book, instead of children she had romped with through many a long summer day.

As she listened to the voice on the porch she found that Miss Allison was talking about her sister, and telling some of the interesting things that had happened to the children in Manila. It was more than the Little Colonel could endure, to sit in the house and hear only snatches of conversation.

"Oh, mothah, please let me come out and listen," she begged. "I'll study to-night instead, if you will. I'll learn two sets of lessons if you'll let me put it off just this once." There was a laughing consent given, and the next moment Lloyd was seated on a low stool at Miss Allison's feet, looking up into her face with an expectant smile, ready for every word that might fall from her lips.

"I was telling your mother about Ranald," began Miss Allison. " She asked me how it came about that such a little fellow was made captain in the army."

"Oh, was he a really captain?" cried Lloyd, in surprise. "I thought it was just a nickname like mine that they gave him, because his father was a general.

"No, he was really a captain, the youngest in the army of the United States Volunteers, for he received his appointment and his shoulder-straps a few weeks before his twelfth birthday. He'll never forget that Fourth of July if he lives to be a hundred; for those shoulder-straps meant more to him than all the noise and sky-rockets and powder-burns of all the boys in America put together. You see he had been under fire at the battle of San Pedro Macati. He had gone out with his father, a short time after they landed in Manila, and the general in command invited them out on the firing line. Before they realised their peril, they suddenly found themselves under a sharp fire from the enemy. One of the staff said afterward that he had never seen greater coolness in the face of as great danger, and all the officers praised his self-possession. For a little while the bullets whizzed around him thick and fast. One hit the ground between his feet. Another grazed his hat, but all he said as one hummed by way. 'Oh, papa, did you see that? It looked like a hop-toad.'

"It was a terrible sight for a child's eyes, for he saw war in all its horrors, and his mother did not want him to take the risks of any more battlefields, but he was a true soldier's son, and insisted on following his father wherever it was possible for him to go. At the battle of Zapote River he was in no danger, for he had been put in a church tower overlooking the field. But that was a terrible ordeal, for all day long he stood by the window, expecting any minute to see his father fall. All day long he looked for him, towering above his men, and whenever he lost sight of him for awhile, he leaned out to watch the litters the men were carrying into the church below where they brought the dead and dying. It was always with the sickening dread that the still figure on some one of them might be that of his beloved father. Sister Mary sent me a copy of the official announcement, that gave him the rank of captain. It mentions his coolness under fire. You may imagine I am quite proud of that little document, for I always think of Ranald as he was when I had him with me most, a sensitive little fellow with golden curls and big brown eyes, as silent and reserved as his father. You see I know that his courage has no element of daring recklessness. So many things he did showed that, even when he was a baby. It is just quiet grit that takes him through the things that hardier boys might court. That, and his strong will.

"At first he was appointed aide-de-camp on his father's staff, and went with him on all his expeditions, and rode on a dear little Filipino pony. The natives called him the Pickaninny Captain. He was under fire again at the capture of Calamba, and soon after he was made an aide on Gen. Fred. Grant's staff. Once while under him he was ordered back in charge of some insurgents' guns that had fallen into the hands of the Americans, to be turned in at headquarters. So you see he was a 'really' captain as you called him."

"Oh, tell some more, Miss Allison," begged Lloyd, thinking that the subject might be dropped, when Miss Allison paused for a moment.

Well, I hardly know what else to tell. His room is full of relics and trophies he brought home with him, --- shells and bullets and bolos --- great savage knives with zigzag two-edged blades ---flags, curios, --- all sorts of things that he picked up or that the officers gave him. His mother can tell you volumes of interesting experiences he has had, but he is as shy and modest as ever about his own affairs, and maybe he'll never speak of them. He'll tell you possibly of the deer which the English consul gave him, and the pet monkey that followed him everywhere, even when it had to swim out through a rice swamp after him;  maybe he'll mention the Filipino pony that the officers gave him when he came back to America, but he rarely speaks of those graver experiences, those scenes of battle and bloodshed."

"It doesn't seem possible that it is Ranald who has seen and done all those things," said the Little Colonel, thoughtfully. "When you play with people and fuss with them, and slap their faces when they pull your hair, or throw away their marbles when they break your dolls, as we did, when we were little, it seems so queah to think of them bein' heroes."

Miss Allison laughed heartily. "That's a universal trouble," she said. "We never can be heroes to our family and neighbours. Even brass buttons and shoulder-straps cannot outshine the memory of early hair-pullings."

"Tell about the girls," said Lloyd, fearing that if a pause were allowed in the conversation Miss Allison would begin talking about something less entertaining than her nephew and nieces. "Do they still love to play papah dolls and have tableaux in the barn?"

"Yes, I am sure they do. They didn't have as exciting a time as Ranald, for of course they stayed at home with their mother in the palace at Manila. But it was interesting. It had queer windows of little sliding squares of mother-of-pearl, that were shut only when it rained. They could peep through and see the coolies in their capes and skirts of cocoanut fibre, and the big hats, like inverted baskets, that made them look as if they had stepped out of Robinson Crusoe's story.

"On one side of the palace was the Pasig River, where the natives go by in their long skiffs. On the other side were the sights of the streets. Sometimes it was only an old peanut vendor whom they watched, or a man with fruit or boiled eggs or shrimps or dulce. Sometimes it was the seller of parched corn, squatting beside the earthen pot of embers which he constantly fanned, as he turned the ears laid across it to roast. And sometimes the ambulances went by on their way to the hospital, reminding them that life on the island was not a happy play-day for every one. I am sure that the Lady of Shalott never saw more entertaining pictures in her magic mirror than the panorama that daily passed those windows of mother-of-pearl.

"Time never dragged there, you may be sure. Sometimes they were invited to spend an afternoon on the English war-ship, and the young officers gave them a spread and a romp over the ship. Allison still keeps an old hat with the ship's ribbon on it for a hat-band, which a gallant little midshipman gave her to remind her of the good times they had had together on the vessel. The English consul and vice-consul frequently invited them to tiffin or to parties, and their garden of monkeys was open to their little American neighbours at all times.

"Coming home the transport stopped in a Japanese harbour for a week. The faithful old Japanese servants, Fuzzi and her husband, who had lived with them in California and followed them to the Philippines, were with them on the transport. This place where they stopped happened to be their native town, so they took the children on land every day and gave them a glimpse behind the scenes of Japanese life, which few foreigners see.

"Then Allison had a birthday, while they were homeward bound, away out in the middle of the Pacific, and the ship's cook surprised her by making her a magnificent birthday cake with her name on it in icing. Oh, they've had all sorts of unusual experiences, and many, no doubt, that I have never heard of, although they have been back in America a year. But now that they have taken a house in town I expect to have them with me a great deal. And that brings me to the matter I came up to see you both about. They are coming out Saturday and I want you to help me give them a Hallowe'en party."

"Another holiday! " exclaimed Lloyd, clappin her hands. "I had forgotten that there was anything to celebrate between Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. I never went to a Hallowe'en party in my life, but it sounds as if it would be lots of fun."

"Do you remember the old house at Hartwell Hollow that has been vacant so long?" asked Miss Allison. "The coloured people say it is haunted. Of course we do not believe such foolish things, or any of the foolishness of Hallowe'en in fact, but as long as we're going to resurrect the old superstitions, it is appropriate to have a haunted house for the purpose. The landlord says that it is that report which keeps it vacant. I saw him this morning, and got his permission to use it for the party. I think we can make an ideal spot of it. I'll have it swept and cleaned, and on Saturday afternoon I want you both to come and help me decorate it."

"Of course the only lights must be jack-o'-lanterns," said Mrs. Sherman, entering into the plan as heartily as if she had been Lloyd's, age. "The corn-field is full of pumpkins. Walker can make lanterns all day if necessary.  It will take nearly a hundred, will it not, Allison?"

"I think so, although we will light only the downstairs rooms, but there ought to be some large ones on the porches. We'll try all the old charms that we tried when we were children; bake a fate cake, melt lead, bob for apples, and observe every silly old custom that we can think of. The house is unfurnished except for an old stove in the kitchen, but I can easily send over enough tables and chairs."

Miss Allison went away soon, after they had finished all their plans, and Lloyd stood looking after her as long as she was in sight.

"How can I wait until Saturday?" she asked, with a wriggle of impatience. "I'm so glad she asked us to help. Getting ready for things is nearly as much fun as the things themselves. But Hallowe'en pahties and home-lessons don't mix very well. I'll be thinking about that now, instead of my lessons. Oh, mothah, it seems to me I nevah can learn to spell that old volcano. I knew how last week, but I missed it again yestahday when we had review in spelling."

"I have thought of a way to mix Hallowe'en and home-lessons in such a way that you will never forget one word, at least," said her mother. "Tell Walker to bring the largest, roundest pumpkin that he can find in the field, and put it on the bench by the spring-house. Call me when he is ready."

Wondering what pumpkins and volcanoes had to do with each other, but charmed with the novelty of her mother's way of teaching spelling, Lloyd went skipping down the path to give the order to Walker. It was only a little while until she was back again.

"It is the biggest pumpkin I evah saw," shereported. "It was too big fo' Walkah to carry.

He had to bring it up on a wheelbarrow."

Taking a carving-knife as she passed through the kitchen, Mrs. Sherman caught up her dainty skirts and followed Lloyd down the path to the springhouse. It was late in the afternoon and a touch of frost was in the air. The yellow maple leaves were floating softly down from the branches above the path, and wherever the sun touched them on the ground lay a carpet of shining gold.

"See, mothah, isn't it a whoppah?" cried Lloyd, trying to put her arms around the mammoth pumpkin on the bench. " It is a beauty," answered Mrs. Sherman, as she began deftly outlining a face on one side of it, with the sharp carving-knife. First she drew two large circles in the yellow skin where the eyes were to be cut, a triangle for the nose, and a grinning crescent just below for the mouth.

"Now," she said, passing the knife to Lloyd, "carve the letters P-O in each circle. It does not matter if they are crooked. They are to be cut out with the circle afterwhile. Now in the triangle put the word CAT and the letter E after it, and in the crescent the word PET and the letter L. Now what does the face say to you?"

The eyes say popo, the nose cat- e and the mouth pet-1," answered Lloyd, laughing at the comical face outlined on the pumpkin.

Shut your eyes and spell Popocatepetl," said Mrs. Sherman.

"Why, it is just as easy," cried Lloyd, as she rattled it off. "I can see each syllable grinning at me, one aftah the othah. I am suah I'll nevah fo'get it now. I like your way of teaching, bettah than anybody's."

Presently, as she scooped out the seeds while her mother made a mandarin hat of the slice she had cut off below the stem, she said, "Old Popocatepetl will make the biggest Jack-o'-lantern of them all. It's a good name for him, too, because he'll be all smoke and fiah inside aftah the candles are lighted. We can put him ovah the front doah. I wondah what Allison and Kitty and Elise will think of him. Oh, mothah, do you remembah the time that Kitty set all the clocks and watches in the house back a whole hour and made everybody late fo' church? And the time she folded a grasshoppah up in everybody's napkin, the night the ministah was invited to Mrs. MacIntyre's to dinnah, and what a mighty hoppin' there was as soon as the napkins were unfolded?"

Once started on Kitty's pranks, Lloyd went on with a chapter of don't you remember this and don't you remember that, until the sun went down behind the western hills and old Popocatepetl grinned in ugly completeness even to the last tooth in his wide-spread jaw.

< Previous     Next >

The Little Colonel's Holidays - Table of Contents