The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston
The first thing that greeted the Little Colonel's eyes when she opened them next morning was her mother's old doll. Maria had laid it on the pillow beside her.
It was beautifully dressed, although in a queer, old-fashioned style that seemed very strange to the child.
She took it up with careful fingers, remembering its great age. Maria had warned her not to waken her grandfather, so she admired it in whispers.
"Jus' think, Fritz," she exclaimed, "this doll has seen my Gran'mothah Amanthis, an' it's named for her. My mothah wasn't any bigger'n me when she played with it. I think it is the loveliest doll I evah saw in my whole life."
Fritz gave a jealous bark.
"Sh!" commanded his little mistress. "Didn't you heah M'ria say, 'Fo' de Lawd's sake don't wake up ole Marse?' Why don't you mind?"
The Colonel was not in the best of humours after such a wakeful night, but the sight of her happiness made him smile in spite of himself, when she danced into his room with the doll.
She had eaten an early breakfast and gone back up-stairs to examine the other toys that were spread out in her room.
The door between the two rooms was ajar. All the time he was dressing and taking his coffee he could hear her talking to some one. He supposed it was Maria. But as he glanced over his mail he heard the Little Colonel saying, "May Lilly, do you know about Billy Goat Gruff? Do you want me to tell you that story?"
He leaned forward until he could look through the narrow opening of the door. Two heads were all he could see,--Lloyd's, soft-haired and golden, May Lilly's, covered with dozens of tightly braided little black tails.
He was about to order May Lilly back to the cabin, when he remembered the scene that followed the last time he had done so. He concluded to keep quiet and listen.
"Billy Goat Gruff was so fat," the story went on, "jus' as fat as gran'fathah."
The Colonel glanced up with an amused smile at the fine figure reflected in an opposite mirror.
"Trip-trap, trip-trap, went Billy Goat Gruff's little feet ovah the bridge to the giant's house."
Just at this point Walker, who was putting things in order, closed the door between the rooms.
"Open that door, you black rascal!" called the Colonel, furious at the interruption.
In his haste to obey, Walker knocked over a pitcher of water that had been left on the floor beside the wash-stand.
Then the Colonel yelled at him to be quick about mopping it up, so that by the time the door was finally opened, Lloyd was finishing her story.
The Colonel looked in just in time to see her put her hands to her temples, with her forefingers protruding from her forehead like horns. She said in a deep voice, as she brandished them at May Lilly, "With my two long speahs I'll poke yo' eyeballs through yo' yeahs." The little darky fell back giggling. "That sut'n'y was like a billy-goat. We had one once that 'ud make a body step around mighty peart. It slip up behine me one mawnin' on the poach, an' fo' awhile I thought my haid was buss open suah. I got up toreckly, though, an' I cotch him, and when I done got through, Mistah Billy-goat feel po'ly moah'n a week. He sut'n'y did."
Walker grinned, for he had witnessed the scene.
Just then Maria put her head in at the door to say, "May Lilly, yo' mammy's callin' you."
Lloyd and Fritz followed her noisily down-stairs. Then for nearly an hour it was very quiet in the great house.
The Colonel, looking out of the window, could see Lloyd playing hide-and-seek with Fritz under the bare locust-trees. When she came in her cheeks were glowing from her run in the frosty air. Her eyes shone like stars, and her face was radiant.
"See what I've found down in the dead leaves," she cried. "A little blue violet, bloomin' all by itself."
She brought a tiny cup from the next room, that belonged to the set of doll dishes, and put the violet in it.
"There!" she said, setting it on the table at her grandfather's elbow. "Now I'll put Amanthis in this chair, where you can look at her, an' you won't get lonesome while I'm playing outdoors."
He drew her toward him and kissed her.
"Why, how cold your hands are!" he exclaimed. "Staying in this warm room all the time makes me forget it is so wintry outdoors. I don't believe you are dressed warmly enough. You ought not to wear sunbonnets this time of year."
Then for the first time he noticed her outgrown cloak and shabby shoes.
"What are you wearing these old clothes for?" he said, impatiently. "Why didn't they dress you up when you were going visiting? It isn't showing proper respect to send you off in the oldest things you've got."
It was a sore point with the Little Colonel. It hurt her pride enough to have to wear old clothes without being scolded for it. Besides, she felt that in some way her mother was being blamed for what could not be helped.
"They's the best I've got," she answered, proudly choking back the tears. "I don't need any new ones, 'cause maybe we'll be goin' away pretty soon."
"Going away!" he echoed, blankly, "Where?" She did not answer until he repeated the question. Then she turned her back on him, and started toward the door. The tears she was too proud to let him see were running down her face.
"We's goin' to the poah-house," she exclaimed, defiantly, "jus' as soon as the money in the pocketbook is used up. It was nearly gone when I came away."
Here she began to sob, as she fumbled at the door she could not see to open.
"I'm goin' home to my mothah right now. She loves me if my clothes are old and ugly."
"Why, Lloyd," called the Colonel, amazed and distressed by her sudden burst of grief. "Come here to grandpa. Why didn't you tell me so before?"
The face, the tone, the outstretched arm, all drew her irresistibly to him. It was a relief to lay her head on his shoulder, and unburden herself of the fear that had haunted her so many days.
With her arms around his neck, and the precious little head held close to his heart, the old Colonel was in such a softened mood that he would have promised anything to comfort her.
"There, there," he said, soothingly, stroking her hair with a gentle hand, when she had told him all her troubles. "Don't you worry about that, my dear. Nobody is going to eat out of tin pans and sleep on straw. Grandpa just won't let them."
She sat up and wiped her eyes on her apron. "But Papa Jack would die befo' he'd take help from you," she wailed. "An' so would mothah. I heard her tell the doctah so."
The tender expression on the Colonel's face changed to one like flint, but he kept on stroking her hair. "People sometimes change their minds," he said, grimly. "I wouldn't worry over a little thing like that if I were you. Don't you want to run down-stairs and tell M'ria to give you a piece of cake?"
"Oh, yes," she exclaimed, smiling up at him. "I'll bring you some, too."
When the first train went into Louisville that afternoon, Walker was on board with an order in his pocket to one of the largest dry goods establishments in the city. When he came out again, that evening, he carried a large box into the Colonel's room.
Lloyd's eyes shone as she looked into it. There was an elegant fur-trimmed cloak, a pair of dainty shoes, and a muff that she caught up with a shriek of delight.
"What kind of a thing is this?" grumbled the Colonel, as he took out a hat that had been carefully packed in one corner of the box. "I told them to send the most stylish thing they had. It looks like a scarecrow," he continued, as he set it askew on the child's head.
She snatched it off to look at it herself. "Oh, it's jus' like Emma Louise Wyfo'd's!" she exclaimed. "You didn't put it on straight. See! This is the way it goes."
She climbed up in front of the mirror, and put it on as she had seen Emma Louise wear hers.
"Well, it's a regular Napoleon hat," exclaimed the Colonel, much pleased. "So little girls nowadays have taken to wearing soldier's caps, have they? It's right becoming to you with your short hair. Grandpa is real proud of his 'little Colonel.'"
She gave him the military salute he had taught her, and then ran to throw her arms around him. "Oh, gran'fathah!" she exclaimed, between her kisses, "you'se jus' as good as Santa Claus, every bit."
The Colonel's rheumatism was better next day; so much better that toward evening he walked down-stairs into the long drawing-room. The room had not been illuminated in years as it was that night.
Every wax taper was lighted in the silver candelabra, and the dim old mirrors multiplied their lights on every side. A great wood fire threw a cheerful glow over the portraits and the frescoed ceiling. All the linen covers had been taken from the furniture.
Lloyd, who had never seen this room except with the chairs shrouded and the blinds down, came running in presently. She was bewildered at first by the change. Then she began walking softly around the room, examining everything.
In one corner stood a tall, gilded harp that her grandmother had played in her girlhood. The heavy cover had kept it fair and untarnished through all the years it had stood unused. To the child's beauty-loving eyes it seemed the loveliest thing she had ever seen.
She stood with her hands clasped behind her as her gaze wandered from its pedals to the graceful curves of its tall frame. It shone like burnished gold in the soft firelight.
"Oh, gran'fathah!" she asked at last in a low, reverent tone, "where did you get it? Did an angel leave it heah fo' you?"
He did not answer for a moment. Then he said, huskily, as he looked up at a portrait over the mantel, "Yes, my darling, an angel did leave it here. She always was one. Come here to grandpa."
He took her on his knee, and pointed up to the portrait. The same harp was in the picture. Standing beside it, with one hand resting on its shining strings, was a young girl all in white.
"That's the way she looked the first time I ever saw her," said the Colonel, dreamily. "A June rose in her hair, and another at her throat; and her soul looked right out through those great, dark eyes--the purest, sweetest soul God ever made! My beautiful Amanthis!"
"My bu'ful Amanthis!" repeated the child, in an awed whisper.
She sat gazing into the lovely young face for a long time, while the old man seemed lost in dreams.
"Gran'fathah," she said at length, patting his cheek to attract his attention, and then nodding toward the portrait, "did she love my mothah like my mothah loves me?"
"Certainly, my dear," was the gentle reply.
It was the twilight hour, when the homesick feeling always came back strongest to Lloyd.
"Then I jus' know that if my bu'ful gran'mothah Amanthis could come down out of that frame, she'd go straight and put her arms around my mothah an' kiss away all her sorry feelin's."
The Colonel fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair a moment. Then to his great relief the tea-bell rang.