The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 4: To Barley-Bright

By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman



THE next few days went by happily for the Little Colonel, for Betty took her to all her favourite haunts, and kept her entertained from morning till night. Once they stayed all day in the woods below the barn, building a playhouse at the base of a great oak-tree, with carpets of moss, and cups and saucers made of acorns.

Scott and Bradley joined them, and for once played peaceably, building a furnace in the ravine with some flat stones and an old piece of stove pipe. There they cooked their dinner. Davy was sent to raid the garden and spring-house, and even Lee and Morgan were allowed a place at the feast, when one came in with a hatful of guinea eggs that he had found in the orchard, and the other loaned his new red wheelbarrow, to add to the housekeeping outfit.

"Isn't this fun!" exclaimed the Little Colonel, as she watched Betty, who stood over the furnace with a very red face, scrambling the eggs in an old pie-pan. "I bid to be the cook next time we play out here, and I'm going to make a furnace like this when I go back to Locust."

High above them, up the hill, on the back porch of the farmhouse, Molly stood ironing sheets and towels. Whenever she glanced down into the shady hollow, she could see Lloyd's pink dress fluttering along the ravine, or Betty's white sunbonnet bobbing up from behind the rocks. The laughing voices and the shouts of the boys came tantalisingly to her ears, and the old sullen pout settled on her face as she listened.

"It isn't fair that I should have to work all day long while they are off having a good time," she muttered, slapping an iron angrily down on the stove. "I s'pose they think that because I'm so big I oughtn't to care about playing; but I couldn't help growing so fast. If I am nearly as big as Mrs. Appleton, that doesn't keep me from feeling like a little girl inside. I'm only a year older than Scott. I hate them! I wish that little Sherman girl would fall into a brier patch and scratch her face, and that a hornet would sting Betty Lewis smack in the mouth!"

By and by a tear sizzled down on the hot iron in her hand. "It isn't fair!" she sobbed again, "for them to have everything and me nothing, not even to know where my poor little sister is. Maybe somebody's beating her this very minute, or she is shut up in a dark closet crying for me." With that thought, all the distressing scenes that had made her past life miserable began to crowd into her mind, and the tears sizzled faster and faster on the hot iron, as she jerked it back and forth over a long towel.

There had been beatings and dark closets for Molly many a time before she was rescued by the orphan asylum, and the great fear of her life was that there was still the same cruel treatment for the little sister who had not been rescued, but who had been hidden away by their drunken father when the Humane Society made its search for her.

Three years had passed since they were lost from each other. Molly was only eleven then, and Dot, although nearly seven, was such a tiny, half-starved little thing that she seemed only a baby in her sister's eyes. Many a night, when the wind moaned in the chimney, or the rats scampered in the walls, Molly had started up out of a sound sleep, staring fearfully into the darkness, thinking that she had heard Dot calling to her. Then suddenly remembering that Dot was too far away to make her hear, no matter how wildly she might call, she had buried her face in her pillow, and sobbed and sobbed until she fell asleep.

The matron of the asylum knew why she often came down in the morning with red eyes and swollen face, and the knowledge made her more patient with the wayward girl. Nobody taxed her patience more than Molly, with her unhappy moods, her outbursts of temper, and her suspicious, jealous disposition. She loved to play, and yelled and ran like some wild creature, whenever she had a chance, climbing the highest trees, making daring leaps from forbidden heights, and tearing her clothes into ribbons. But she rebelled at having to work, and in all the time she was at the asylum the matron had found only one lovable trait in her. It was her affection for the little lost sister that made her gentle to the smaller children on the place and kind to the animals.

She had been happier since coming to the Appleton farm, where there were no rules, and the boys accepted her leadership admiringly. She found great pleasure in inventing wild tales for their entertainment, in frightening them with stories of ghosts and hobgoblins, and in teaching them new games which she had played in alleys with bootblacks and street gamins.

All that had stopped with the arrival of the visitors. Their coming brought her more work, and left her less time to play. The sight of Lloyd and Betty in their dainty dresses aroused her worst jealousy, and awoke the old bitterness that had grown up in her slum life, and that always raged within her whenever she saw people with whom fortune had dealt more kindly than with herself. All that day, while the seven happy children played and sang in the shady woodland, she went around at her work with a rebellious feeling against her lot. Everything she did was to the tune of a bitter refrain that kept echoing through her sore heart

"It isn't fair! It isn't fair!"

Late in the afternoon a boy came riding up from the railroad station with a telegram for Mrs. Sherman. It was the first one that had ever been sent to the farm, and Bradley, who had gone up to the house for a hatchet, waited to watch Mrs. Sherman tear open the yellow envelope.

"Take it to Lloyd, please," she said, after a hurried reading. "Tell her to hurry up to the house." Thrusting the message into his hand, she hurried out of the room, to find Mrs. Appleton. Bradley felt very important at being the bearer of a telegram, and ran down the hill as fast as his bare feet could carry him over the briers and dry stubble. He would have teased Lloyd awhile by making her guess what he had, before giving it to her, if it had not been for Mrs. Sherman's request to hurry.

Lloyd read the message aloud. "Aunt Jane alarmingly ill; wants to see you. Come immediately" " Oh, how provoking! " she exclaimed. " I s'pose we'll have to start right off. We always do. We nevah plan to go anywhere or do anything without Aunt Jane gets sick and thinks she's goin' to die. She's an old, old lady," she hastened to explain, seeing Betty's shocked face. "She's my great-aunt, you know, 'cause she's my grandmothah's sistah. I wouldn't have minded it so much when we first came," she confessed, "but I don't want to leave now, one bit. We've had a lovely time to-day, and I hate to go away befo' I've seen the cave you promised to take me to and the Glenrock watahfall, and all those places."

It never occurred to the Little Colonel that she might be left behind, until she reached the house and found her mother with her hat on, packing her satchel.

"I've barely time to catch the next train," she said, as Lloyd came running into the room. "It is a two-mile drive to the station, you know, and there's not time to get you and all your things ready to take with me. It wouldn't be wise, anyhow, for everything is always in confusion at Aunt Jane's when she is ill. Mrs. Appleton will take good care of you, and you can follow me next week if Aunt Jane is better. Betty will come with you, and we'll have a nice little visit in the city while she does her shopping and gets ready for her journey. I'll write to you as soon as I can decide when it will be best for you to come. Aunt Jane's illness is probably half scare, like all her others, but still I feel that I must never lose a moment when she sends for me, as she might be worse than we think."

Mrs. Sherman packed rapidly while she talked, and almost before Lloyd realised that she was really to be left behind, a light buckboard was at the door, and Mr. Appleton was standing beside the horse's head waiting. There was not even time for Lloyd to cling around her mother's neck and be petted and comforted for the sudden separation. There was a hasty hug, a loving kiss, and a whispered "Good-bye, little daughter. Mother's sorry to go without her little girl, but it can't be helped. The time will soon pass -only a week, and remember this is one of your school days, and the lesson set for you to learn is Patience."

Lloyd smiled bravely while she promised to be good and not give Mrs. Appleton any trouble. Her mother, looking back as they drove away, saw the two little girls standing with their arms around each other, waving their handkerchiefs, and thought thankfully, "I am glad that Lloyd is here with Betty instead of at Locust. She'll not have time to be lonesome with so many playmates."

It was hard for Lloyd to keep back the tears as the carriage passed out of sight around the corner of the graveyard. But Bradley challenged her to a race down-hill, and with a loud whoop they all started helter-skelter back to the ravine to play. She had been busy making some pine-cone chairs for the little parlour at the roots of the oak-tree, when the telegram called her away, and now she went back to that delightful occupation, working busily until the supper-horn blew to call the men from the field. It was always a pleasure to Lloyd to hear that horn, and several times she had puffed at it until she was red in the face, in her vain attempts to blow it herself. All the sound she could awaken was a short dismal toot. It was a cow's horn, carved and polished, that had been used for nearly forty years to call the men from the field. When Mrs. Appleton puckered her lips to blow it, her thin cheeks puffed out until they were as round and pink as the baby's, and the long mellow note went floating across the fields, clear and sweet, till the men at work in the farthest field heard it and answered with a far-away cheer.

Let's get Molly to play Barley-bright with us to-night," said Bradley, as they trudged up the hill. "It is a fine game, and if we help her with the dishes, she'll get done in just a few minutes, and we'll have nearly an hour to play before it gets dark."

The same thought was in Molly's mind, for after supper she called the boys aside and whispered to them. She wanted to slip away from the girls and not allow them to join in the game; but Bradley would not listen to such an arrangement. He insisted that the game would not be any fun without them.

Then Molly, growing jealous, turned away with a pout, saying that she might have known it would be that way. They had had plenty of fun before the girls came, but to go ahead and do as they pleased. It didn't make any difference to her. She could get on very well by herself.

Lloyd had gone down to the spring-house with Mrs. Appleton, but Betty heard the dispute and put an end to it at once. " Here! " she cried, catching up a towel. "Everybody come and help, and we'll be through before you can say Jack Robinson. Pour out the hot water, Molly. Get another towel, Bradley. We'll wipe, and Davy can carry the dishes to the pantry. We'll be through before Scott has half filled the wood-box."

Molly could not keep her jealous mood and sulky frowns very long in the midst of the laughing chatter that followed, and in a very few minutes Betty had talked her into good humour with herself and all the world. Such light work did the many hands make of the dish-washing, that the sky was still pink with the sunset glow when they were ready to begin the game.

"We always go down to the hay-barn to play Barley-bright," said Bradley. "I never cared for it when we played it at school in the day-time, but when we play it Molly's way it is the most exciting game I know. We usually wait till it begins to get dark and the lightning-bugs are flying about.

"Molly and I will stand the crowd, this time. Our base will be here at the persimmon-tree in front of the barn, and yours will be the pasture bars down yonder. The barn will be Barley-bright, and after we call out the questions and answers, you're to try to run around our base to the barn, and back again to yours, without being caught by a witch. There are six of you, so you can have six runs to Barley-bright and back, and if by that time we have caught half of you the game is ours. The witch has the right to hide and jump out at you from any place she chooses, but I can't touch you except when you pass my base. Vow shut your eyes till I count one hundred, while the witch hides."

Six pairs of hands were clasped over six pairs of eyes, while Bradley slowly counted, and Molly, darting away from his side, hid behind the straw-stack.

" One --- hun-dred --- all eyes open!" he shouted. They looked around. The fireflies were flashing across the pasture and the dusk was beginning to deepen. Then six voices rang out in chorus, Bradley's shrill pipe answering them.

"How many miles to Barley-bright?"
"Three score and ten!"
"Can I get there by candle-light?"
"Yes, if your legs are long and light---
There and back again!
Lookout! The witches will catch you!"

Molly was nowhere in sight, so with a delicious thrill of excitement, not knowing from what ambush they would be pounced upon, the six pilgrims to Barley-bright started off at the top of their speed.

Across the pasture they rushed, around Bradley's base at the persimmon-tree, and up to the big barn door, which they were obliged to touch before they could turn and make a wild dash back to the pasture bars.






Just as they reached the barn door, Molly sprang out from behind the straw-stack; but they could not believe it was Molly, she was so changed. To their excited fancy she seemed a real witch. Her black hair was unbraided, and streamed out in elfish wisps from under a tall pointed black hat. A hideous mask covered her face, and she brandished the stump of an old broom with such effect that they ran from her, shrieking wildly.

Some heavy wrapping paper, a strip of white cotton cloth, and coal-soot from the bottom of a stove lid had changed an ordinary girl of fourteen into a nameless terror, from which they fled, shrieking at the top of their voices. The boys had been through the performance many times, but they enjoyed the cold thrill it gave them as much as Betty and Lloyd, who were feeling it for the first time.

Lee was caught in that first mad race, and Morgan in the second, and they had to go over to the enemy's base; where Bradley stood guard under the persimmon-tree. As they came in from the third run, Lloyd leaned against the pasture bars, out of breath.

"Oh, I believe I should drop dead," she panted, "if that awful thing should get me. I can't believe that it is only Molly. She seems like a real suah 'nuff witch." She glanced over her shoulder again with a little nervous shudder as the others began calling again

"How many miles to Barley-bright?"

Betty was caught this time, and Lloyd, to whom the game was becoming a terrible reality, stood with her heart beating like a trip-hammer and her eyes peering in a startled way through the dusk. This time the witch popped up from behind the pasture bars, and Lloyd, giving a startled look over her shoulder as she flew, saw that the broomstick was flourished in her direction, and the hideous black and white mask was almost upon her. With an ear-splitting scream she redoubled her speed, racing around and around the barn, instead of touching the door and turning back, when she saw that she was followed.

Finally, with one sharp scream of terror after another, she darted into the great dark barn, in a blind frenzy to escape. She heard the voices of the children outside, the bang of the broomstick against the door, and then plunging forward, felt herself falling - falling!

There was just an instant in which she seemed to see the faces of her mother and Papa Jack. Then she remembered nothing more, for her head struck; something hard, and she lay in a little heap on the floor below. She had fallen through a trap-door into an empty manger.

< Previous      Next >

The Little Colonel's Holidays - Table of Contents