The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston
That early twilight hour just before the lamps were lit was the lonesomest one the Little Colonel had ever spent.
Her grandfather was asleep up-stairs. There was a cheery wood fire crackling on the hearth of the big fireplace in the hall, but the great house was so still. The corners were full of shadows.
She opened the front door with a wild longing to run away.
"Come, Fritz," she said, closing the door softly behind her, "let's go down to the gate."
The air was cold. She shivered as they raced along under the bare branches of the locusts. She leaned against the gate, peering out through the bars. The road stretched white through the gathering darkness in the direction of the little cottage.
"Oh, I want to go home so bad!" she sobbed. "I want to see my mothah."
She laid her hand irresolutely on the latch, pushed the gate ajar, and then hesitated.
"No, I promised the doctah I'd stay," she thought. "He said I could help mothah and Papa Jack, both of 'em, by stayin' heah, an' I'll do it."
Fritz, who had pushed himself through the partly opened gate to rustle around among the dead leaves outside, came bounding back with something in his mouth.
"Heah, suh!" she called. "Give it to me!" He dropped a small gray kid glove in her outstretched hand. "Oh, it's mothah's!" she cried. "I reckon she dropped it when she was tellin' me good-bye. Oh, you deah old dog fo' findin' it."
She laid the glove against her cheek as fondly as if it had been her mother's soft hand. There was something wonderfully comforting in the touch.
As they walked slowly back toward the house she rolled it up and put it lovingly away in her tiny apron pocket.
All that week it was a talisman whose touch helped the homesick little soul to be brave and womanly.
When Maria, the coloured housekeeper, went into the hall to light the lamps, the Little Colonel was sitting on the big fur rug in front of the fire, talking contentedly to Fritz, who lay with his curly head in her lap.
"You all's goin' to have tea in the Cun'ls room to-night," said Maria. "He tole me to tote it up soon as he rung the bell."
"There it goes now," cried the child, jumping up from the rug.
She followed Maria up the wide stairs. The Colonel was sitting in a large easy chair, wrapped in a gaily flowered dressing-gown, that made his hair look unusually white by contrast.
His dark eyes were intently watching the door. As it opened to let the Little Colonel pass through, a very tender smile lighted up his stern face.
"So you did come to see grandpa after all," he cried, triumphantly. "Come here and give me a kiss. Seems to me you've been staying away a mighty long time."
As she stood beside him with his arm around her, Walker came in with a tray full of dishes. "We're going to have a regular little tea-party," said the Colonel.
Lloyd watched with sparkling eyes as Walker set out the rare old-fashioned dishes. There was a fat little silver sugar-bowl with a butterfly perched on each side to form the handles, and there was a slim, graceful cream-pitcher shaped like a lily.
"They belonged to your great-great-grandmother," said the Colonel, "and they're going to be yours some day if you grow up and have a house of your own."
The expression on her beaming face was worth a fortune to the Colonel.
When Walker pushed her chair up to the table, she turned to her grandfather with shining eyes.
"Oh, it's just like a pink story," she cried, clapping her hands. "The shades on the can'les, the icin' on the cake, an' the posies in the bowl,--why, even the jelly is that colah, too. Oh, my darlin' little teacup! It's jus' like a pink rosebud. I'm so glad I came!"
The Colonel smiled at the success of his plan. In the depths of his satisfaction he even had a plate of quail and toast set down on the hearth for Fritz.
"This is the nicest pahty I evah was at," remarked the Little Colonel, as Walker helped her to jam the third time.
Her grandfather chuckled.
"Blackberry jam always makes me think of Tom," he said. "Did you ever hear what your Uncle Tom did when he was a little fellow in dresses?"
She shook her head gravely.
"Well, the children were all playing hide-and-seek one day. They hunted high and they hunted low after everybody else had been caught, but they couldn't find Tom. At last they began to call, 'Home free! You can come home free!' but he did not come. When he had been hidden so long they were frightened about him, they went to their mother and told her he wasn't to be found anywhere. She looked down the well and behind the fire-boards in the fireplaces. They called and called till they were out of breath. Finally she thought of looking in the big dark pantry where she kept her fruit. There stood Mister Tom. He had opened a jar of blackberry jam, and was just going for it with both hands. The jam was all over his face and hair and little gingham apron, and even up his wrists. He was the funniest sight I ever saw."
The Little Colonel laughed heartily at his description, and begged for more stories. Before he knew it he was back in the past with his little Tom and Elizabeth.
Nothing could have entertained the child more than these scenes he recalled of her mother's childhood.
"All her old playthings are up in the garret," he said, as they rose from the table. "I'll have them brought down to-morrow. There's a doll I brought her from New Orleans once when she was about your size. No telling what it looks like now, but it was a beauty when it was new."
Lloyd clapped her hands and spun around the room like a top.
"Oh, I'm so glad I came!" she exclaimed for the third time. "What did she call the doll, gran'fathah, do you remembah?"
"I never paid much attention to such things," he answered, "but I do remember the name of this one, because she named it for her mother,--Amanthis."
"Amanthis," repeated the child, dreamily, as she leaned against his knee. "I think that is a lovely name, gran'fathah. I wish they had called me that." She repeated it softly several times. "It sounds like the wind a-blowin' through white clovah, doesn't it?"
"It is a beautiful name to me, my child," answered the old man, laying his hand tenderly on her soft hair, "but not so beautiful as the woman who bore it. She was the fairest flower of all Kentucky. There never was another lived as sweet and gentle as your Grandmother Amanthis."
He stroked her hair absently, and gazed into the fire. He scarcely noticed when she slipped away from him.
She buried her face a moment in the bowl of pink roses. Then she went to the window and drew back the curtain. Leaning her head against the window-sill, she began stringing on the thread of a tune the things that just then thrilled her with a sense of their beauty.
"Oh, the locus'-trees a-blowin'," she sang, softly. "An' the moon a-shinin' through them. An' the starlight an' pink roses; an' Amanthis--an' Amanthis!"
She hummed it over and over until Walker had finished carrying the dishes away.
It was a strange thing that the Colonel's unfrequent moods of tenderness were like those warm days that they call weather-breeders.
They were sure to be followed by a change of atmosphere. This time as the fierce rheumatic pain came back he stormed at Walker, and scolded him for everything he did and everything he left undone.
When Maria came up to put Lloyd to bed, Fritz was tearing around the room barking at his shadow.
"Put that dog out, M'ria!" roared the Colonel, almost crazy with its antics. "Take it down-stairs, and put it out of the house, I say! Nobody but a heathen would let a dog sleep in the house, anyway."
The homesick feeling began to creep over Lloyd again. She had expected to keep Fritz in her room at night for company. But for the touch of the little glove in her pocket, she would have said something ugly to her grandfather when he spoke so harshly.
His own ill humour was reflected in her scowl as she followed Maria down the stairs to drive Fritz out into the dark. They stood a moment in the open door, after Maria had slapped him with her apron to make him go off the porch.
"Oh, look at the new moon!" cried Lloyd, pointing to the slender crescent in the autumn sky.
"I'se feared to, honey," answered Maria, "less I should see it through the trees. That 'ud bring me bad luck for a month, suah. I'll go out on the lawn where it's open, an' look at it ovah my right shouldah."
While they were walking backward down the path, intent on reaching a place where they could have an uninterrupted view of the moon, Fritz sneaked around to the other end of the porch.
No one was watching. He slipped into the house as noiselessly as his four soft feet could carry him.
Maria, going through the dark upper hall, with a candle held high above her head and Lloyd clinging to her skirts, did not see a tasselled tail swinging along in front of her. It disappeared under the big bed when she led Lloyd into the room next the old Colonel's.
The child felt very sober while she was being put to bed.
The furniture was heavy and dark. An ugly portrait of a cross old man in a wig frowned at her from over the mantel. The dancing firelight made his eyes frightfully lifelike.
The bed was so high she had to climb on a chair to get in. She heard Maria's heavy feet go shuffling down the stairs. A door banged. Then it was so still she could hear the clock tick in the next room.
It was the first time in all her life that her mother had not come to kiss her good night. Her lips quivered, and a big tear rolled down on the pillow.
She reached out to the chair beside her bed, where her clothes were hanging, and felt in her apron pocket for the little glove. She sat up in bed, and looked at it in the dim firelight. Then she held it against her face. "Oh, I want my mothah! I want my mothah!" she sobbed, in a heart-broken whisper.
Laying her head on her knees, she began to cry quietly, but with great sobs that nearly choked her.
There was a rustling under the bed. She lifted her wet face in alarm. Then she smiled through her tears, for there was Fritz, her own dear dog, and not an unknown horror waiting to grab her.
He stood on his hind legs, eagerly trying to lap away her tears with his friendly red tongue.
She clasped him in her arms with an ecstatic hug. "Oh, you're such a comfort!" she whispered. "I can go to sleep now."
She spread her apron on the bed, and motioned him to jump. With one spring he was beside her.
It was nearly midnight when the door from the Colonel's room was noiselessly opened.
The old man stirred the fire gently until it burst into a bright flame. Then he turned to the bed. "You rascal!" he whispered, looking at Fritz, who raised his head quickly with a threatening look in his wicked eyes.
Lloyd lay with one hand stretched out, holding the dog's protecting paw. The other held something against her tear-stained cheek.
"What under the sun!" he thought, as he drew it gently from her fingers. The little glove lay across his hand, slim and aristocratic-looking. He knew instinctively whose it was. "Poor little thing's been crying," he thought. "She wants Elizabeth. And so do I! And so do I!" his heart cried out with bitter longing. "It's never been like home since she left."
He laid the glove back on her pillow, and went to his room.
"If Jack Sherman should die," he said to himself many times that night, "then she would come home again. Oh, little daughter, little daughter! why did you ever leave me?"