Annie Fellows Johnston.

Two Little Knights of Kentucky online

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that gold cup, but when he came back he'd 'a' worked like a horse
getting up a benefit for him, and would have divided his own home with
him, if he hadn't been living at his grandmother's, and couldn't."

An amused smile went around that part of the audience which overheard
Ted's shrilly given explanation.

Pictures from the "Idylls of the King" followed in rapid succession,
and then came the prettiest of all, being the one in which Keith was
made a knight. Virginia as queen, her short black hair covered by a
powdered wig, and a long court-train sweeping behind her, stood touching
his shoulder with the jewel-hilted sword, as he knelt at her feet. Lloyd
and Sally Fairfax, Julia Ferris, and a dozen other pretty girls of the
neighbourhood, helped to fill out the gay court scene, while all the
boys that could be persuaded to take part were dressed up for heralds,
guardsmen, pages, and knights. That tableau had to be shown four times,
and then the audience kept on applauding as if they never intended
to stop.

The last one in this series of tableaux was the Hall of the Shields, as
Keith had described it to Jonesy. A whole row of dazzling shields hung
across the back of the stage, emblazoned with the arms of all the old
knights whose names have come down to us in song or story. Then for the
first time that evening Miss Bond came out on the stage where she could
be seen, and told the story of the death of King Arthur, and the passing
away of the order of the Round Table. She told it so well that little
Ted Fairfax listened with his mouth open, seeming to see the great arm
that rose out of the water to take back the king's sword into the sea,
from which it had been given him. An arm like a giant's, "clothed in
white samite, mystic, wonderful, that caught the sword by the hilt,
flourished it three times, and drew it under the mere."

"True, 'the old order changeth,'" said Miss Bond, "but knighthood has
_not_ passed away. The flower of chivalry has blossomed anew in this new
world, and America, too, has her Hall of the Shields."

Just a moment the curtains were drawn together, and then were widely
parted again, as a chorus of voices rang out with the words:

"Hail, Columbia, happy land;
Hail, ye heroes, heaven-born band!"

In that moment, on every shield had been hung the pictured face of some
well-known man who had helped to make his country a power among the
nations; presidents, patriots, philanthropists, statesmen, inventors,
and poets, - there they were, from army and navy, city and farm, college
halls and humble cabins, - a long, long line, and the first was
Washington, and the last was the "Hero of Manila."

Cheer after cheer went up, and it might have been well to have ended the
programme there, but to satisfy the military-loving little Ginger, one
more was added.

"There ought to be a Goddess of Liberty in it," she insisted, "because
it is Washington's birthday; and if we had been doing it by ourselves we
were going to have something in it about Cuba, on papa's account."

So when the curtain rose the last time, it was on Sally Fairfax as a
gorgeous Goddess of Liberty, conferring knighthood on two boys who stood
for the Army and Navy, while a little dark-eyed girl knelt at their feet
as Cuba, the distressed maiden whom their chivalry had rescued.

It was late when the performance closed; later still when the children
reached home that night, for Mrs. MacIntyre had determined to have a
flash-light picture taken of them, and they had to wait until the
photographer could send home for his camera.

After they reached the house they could hardly be persuaded to undress.
Virginia trailed up and down the halls in her royal robes, Malcolm
clanked around in his suit of mail and plumed helmet, and Keith stood
before a mirror, admiring the handsome little figure it showed him.

"I hate to take it off," he said, fingering the dazzling collar, ablaze
with jewels. "I'd like to be a knight always, and wear a sword and spurs
every day."

"So would I," said Malcolm, beginning to yawn sleepily. "I wish that
Jonesy had been well enough to go to-night. Isn't it splendid that the
Benefit turned out so well? Aunt Allison says there is plenty of money
now to get Jonesy's clothes and pay his board till papa comes, and send
him back to Barney, too, if papa thinks best and hasn't any
better plan."

"I wish there'd been enough money to buy a nice little home out here in
the country for him and Barney. Wouldn't it have been lovely if there
had a-been?" cried Keith.

"Well, I should say!" answered Malcolm. "Maybe we can have another
benefit some day and make enough for that."

With this pleasant prospect before them, they laid aside their knightly
garments, hoping to put them on again soon in Jonesy's behalf, and
talked about the home that might be his some day, until they
fell asleep.

* * * * *

The flash-light pictures of the three children were all that the fondest
grandmother could wish. As soon as they came, Keith carried his away to
his room to admire in private. "It is so pretty that it doesn't seem it
can be me," he said, propping it up on the desk before him. "I wish that
I could look that way always."

The next time that Miss Allison went into the room she found that Keith
had written under it in his round, boyish hand, a quotation that had
taken his fancy the first time he heard it. It was in one of Miss Bond's
stories, and he repeated it until he learned it: "_Live pure,_ _speak
truth, right the wrong, follow the king; else wherefore born?_"

She asked him about it at bedtime. "Why, that's our motto," he
explained. "Malcolm has it written under his, too. We've made up our
minds to be a sort of knight, just as near the real thing as we can, you
know, and that is what knights have to do: live pure, and speak truth,
and right the wrong. We've always tried to do the first two, so that
won't be so hard. It's righting the wrong that will be the tough job,
but we have done it a little teenty, weenty bit for Jonesy, don't you
think, auntie? It was all wrong that he should have such a hard time and
be sent to an asylum away from Barney, when we have you all and
everything nice. Malcolm and I have been talking it over. If we could do
something to keep him from growing up into a tramp like that awful man
that brought him here, wouldn't that be as good a deed as some that the
real knights did? Wouldn't that be serving our country, too, Aunt
Allison, just a little speck?" He asked the question anxiously. Malcolm
said nothing, but also waited with a wistful look for her answer.

"My dear little Sir Galahads," she said, bending over to give each of
the boys a good-night kiss, "you will be 'really truly' knights if you
can live up to the motto you have chosen. Heaven help you to be always
as worthy of that title as you are to-night!"

Keith held her a moment, with both arms around her neck. "What does that
mean, auntie?" he asked. "That is what the professor said,
too, - Galahad."

"It is too late to explain to you to-night," she said, "but I will tell
you sometime soon, dear."

It was several days before she reminded them of that promise. Then she
called them into her room and told them the story of Sir Galahad, the
maiden knight, whose "strength was as the strength of ten because his
heart was pure." Then from a little morocco case, lined with purple
velvet, she took two pins that she had bought in the city that morning.
Each was a little white enamel flower with a tiny diamond in the centre,
like a drop of dew.

"You can't wear armour in these days," she said, as she fastened one on
the lapel of each boy's coat, "but this shall be the badge of your
knighthood, - 'wearing the white flower of a blameless life.' The little
pins will help you to remember, maybe, and will remind you that you are
pledged to right the wrong wherever you find it, in little things as
well as great."

It was a very earnest talk that followed. The boys came out from her
room afterward, wearing the tiny white pins, and with a sweet
seriousness in their faces. A noble purpose had been born in their
hearts; but alas for chivalry! the first thing they did was to taunt
Virginia with the fact that she could never be a knight because she was
only a girl.

"I don't care," retorted Ginger, quickly. "I can be a - a - _patriot_,
anyhow, and that's lots better."

The boys laughed, and she flushed angrily.

"They ought to mean the same thing exactly in this day of the world,"
said Miss Allison, coming up in time to hear the dispute that followed.
"Virginia, you shall have a badge, too. Run into my room and bring me
that little jewelled flag on my cushion."

"I think that this is the very prettiest piece of jewelry you have,"
exclaimed Virginia, coming back with the pin. It was a little flag
whose red, white, and blue was made of tiny settings of garnets,
sapphires, and diamonds.

"You think that, because it is in the shape of a flag," said Miss
Allison, with an amused smile. "Well, it shall be yours. See how well it
can remind you of the boys' knightly motto. There is the white for the
first part, the 'live pure,' and the 'true blue' for the 'speak truth,'
and then the red, - surely no soldier's little daughter needs to be told
what that stands for, when her own brave father has spilled part of his
good red life-blood to 'right the wrong' on the field of battle."

"Oh, Aunt Allison!" was all that Virginia could gasp in her delight as
she clasped the precious pin tightly in her hand. "Is it mine? For my
very own?"

"For your very own, dear," was the answer.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Virginia, thanking her with a kiss. "I'd a
thousand times rather have it than one like the boys'. It means so
much more!"



Early in March, when the crocuses were beginning to bud under the
dining-room windows, there came one of those rare spring days that seem
to carry the warmth of summer in its sunshine.

"Exactly the kind of a day for a picnic," Virginia had said that
morning, and when her grandmother objected, saying that the ground was
still too damp, she suggested having it in the hay-barn. The boys piled
the hay that was left from the winter's supply up on one side of the
great airy room, set wide the big double doors, and swept it clean.

"It is clean enough now for even grandmother to eat in," said Virginia,
as she spread a cloth on the table Unc' Henry had carried out for them.
"It's good enough for a queen. Oh, I'll tell you what let's do. Let's
play that Malcolm and I are a wicked king and queen and Lloyd is a
'fair ladye' that we have shut up in a dungeon. This will be a banquet,
and while we are eating Keith can be the knight who comes to her rescue
and carries her off on his pony."

"That's all right," consented Keith, "except the eating part. How can we
get our share of the picnic?"

"We'll save it for you," answered Virginia, "and you can eat it

"Save enough for Jonesy, too," said Keith. "He shall be my page and help
me rescue her. I'll go and ask him now."

The month had made a great change in Jonesy. With plenty to eat, his
thin little snub-nosed face grew plump and bright. There was a
good-humoured twinkle in his sharp eyes, and being quick as a monkey at
imitating the movements of those around him, Mrs. MacIntyre found
nothing to criticise in his manners when Malcolm and Keith brought him
into the house. Their pride in him was something amusing, and seeing
that, after all, he was an inoffensive little fellow, she made no more
objections to their playing with him.

By the time Keith was back again with Jonesy, the other guests had
arrived, and the Little Colonel had been lowered into a deep feed-bin,
in lieu of a dungeon. The banquet began in great state, but in a few
moments was interrupted by a fearful shrieking from the depths of the
bin. The fair ladye protested that she would not stay in her dungeon.

"There's nasty big spidahs down heah!" she called. "Ow! One is crawlin'
on my neck now, and my face is all tangled up in cobwebs! Get me out!
Get me out! Quick, Gingah!"

The king sprang up to go to her rescue, but was promptly motioned to his
seat again by a warning shake of the other crowned head.

"Why, of course! There's always spiders in dungeons," called the wicked
queen, coolly helping herself to another piece of chicken. "Besides, you
should say 'your Majesty' when you are talking to me."

"But there's a mouse in heah, too," she called back, in distress. "Oo!
Oo! It ran ovah my feet. If you don't make them take me out of heah,
Gingah Dudley, I'll do something _awful_ to you! Murdah! Murdah!" she
yelled, pounding on the sides of the bin with both her fists, and
stamping her little foot in a furious rage.


Seeing that Lloyd was really terrified, and fearing that her screams
would bring some one from the house, the royal couple and their guests
sprang to the rescue, nearly upsetting the banquet as they did so. The
game would have been broken up then, when she was lifted out from the
feed-bin, red and angry, if it had not been for the king's great tact.
He brushed the cobwebs from her face and hair, and even got down on his
royal knees to ask her pardon.

His polite coaxing finally had its effect on the little lady, and he
persuaded her to climb a ladder into a loft just above them. Here on a
pile of clean hay, beside an open window that looked across a peaceful
meadow, her anger cooled. Towers were far more comfortable than
dungeons, in her opinion, and when Malcolm came up the ladder with a
plateful of the choicest morsels of the feast, she began to enjoy her
part of the play. Jonesy was sent to inform his knight of the change
from dungeon to tower, and the banquet went merrily on.

He found Keith waiting below the barn, with his pony tied to a fence. On
the other side of the fence lay the railroad track, which skirted the
back of Mrs. MacIntyre's place for over half a mile.

"Do you see that hand-car?" asked Keith, pointing with his riding-whip
to one on the track. "The section boss let Malcolm and me ride up and
down on it all afternoon one day this winter. Some workman left it on
the switch while ago, and while you were up at the barn I got two
darkeys to move it for me. They didn't want to at first, but I knew that
there'd be no train along for an hour, and told 'em so, and they finally
did it for a dime apiece. As soon as I rescue Lloyd I'll dash down here
on my pony with her behind me. Then we'll slip through the fence and get
on the hand-car, and be out of sight around the curve before the rest
get here. They won't know where on earth we've gone, and it will be the
best joke on them. It's down grade all the way to the section-house, so
I can push it easily enough by myself, but I'll need your help coming
back, maybe. S'pose you cut across lots to the section-house as soon as
I start to the barn, and meet me there. It isn't half as far that way,
so you'll get there as soon as we do."

"All right," said Jonesy. "I'm your kid."

"You should say, ''Tis well, Sir Knight, I fly to do thy bidding,'"
prompted Keith.

Jonesy grinned. He could not enter into the spirit of the play as the
others did. "Aw, I'll be on time," he said; then, as Keith untied his
pony, started on a run across the fields.

The Lady Lloyd had not finished her repast when her rescuer appeared,
but she put the plate down on the hay to await her return, and
obediently climbed down the ladder he placed for her. They reached the
fence before the banqueters knew that she had escaped. Flinging the
pony's bridle over a fence-post, when they reached the edge of the
field, the brave knight crawled through the fence and pulled Lloyd after
him, tearing her dress, much to that dainty little lady's
extreme disgust.

By the time the king and his guard were mounted in pursuit, on the other
pony which stood in waiting, the runaways were in the hand-car. It moved
slowly at first, although Keith was strong for his age, and his hardy
little muscles were untiring.

"Isn't it lovely?" cried Lloyd, as they moved faster and faster and
swept around the curve. "I wish we could go all the way to Louisville on
this." The warm March wind fanned her pink cheeks, and blew her soft
light hair into her eyes.

Jonesy was waiting at the section-house, and waved his cap as they
passed. "We're going on, around the next bend," shouted Keith, as they
passed him. "Whoop-la! this is fine, and not a bit hard to work!"

"What will the wicked queen think when she can't find us?" asked Lloyd,
laughing happily, as they sped on down the track.

"She'll think that I am a magician and have spirited you away," said

"Then if you are a magician you ought to change her into a nasty black
spidah, to pay her back fo' shuttin' me up with them!" Lloyd was
delighted with this new play. For the time it seemed as if she really
were escaping from a castle prison. Faster and faster they went. Jonesy,
who had followed them to the second curve, stood watching them with
wistful eyes, wishing he could be with them. They passed the depot, and
then the hand-car seemed to grow smaller and smaller as it rolled away,
until it was only a moving speck in the distance. Then he turned and
walked back to the section-house.

"I s'pect we've gone about far enough," said Keith, after awhile. "We'd
better turn around now and go back, or the picnic will all be over
before we get our share. Let's wait here a minute till I rest my arms,
and then we'll start."

The place where they had stopped was the loneliest part of the track
that could be found in miles, on either side. It was in the midst of a
thick beech woods, and the twitter of a bird, now and then, was the only
sound in all the deep stillness.

"What lovely green moss on that bank!" cried the Little Colonel.
"Wouldn't it make a beautiful carpet for our playhouse down by the
old mill?"

"I'll get you some," said Keith, gallantly springing from the car and
clambering up the bank. Taking out his knife, he began to cut great
squares of the velvety green moss, and pile it up to carry back to
the hand-car.

Meanwhile Jonesy waited at the section-house, digging his heels into the
cinders that lined the track, and looking impatiently down the road.
Presently the section boss came limping along painfully, and sat down on
the bank in the warm spring sunshine. He had dropped a piece of heavy
machinery on his foot, the week before, and was only able to hobble
short distances.

Everybody in the Valley was interested in Jonesy since the fire and the
Benefit had made him so well known, and the man was glad of this
opportunity to satisfy his curiosity about the boy. Jonesy, with all the
fearlessness of a little street gamin brought up in a big city, answered
him fearlessly, even saucily at times, much to the man's amusement.

"So you want to get a job around here, do you?" said the man, presently,
with a grin. "Maybe I can give you one. Know anything about

"Heaps," answered Jonesy. "Well, I'd ought to, seem' as I've lived next
door to the engine yards all my life, and spent my time dodgin' the cop
on watch there, when I was tryin' to steal rides on freight-cars
and such."

"Is that what you're hangin' around here now for?" asked the man, with a
good-natured twinkle in his eyes.

"Nope! I'm waiting for that MacIntyre kid to come back this way. He went
down the track a bit ago on a hand-car, playing rescue a princess with
one of the girls at the picnic,"

The section boss sprang up with an exclamation of alarm. "How far's he
gone?" he asked. "There's a special due to pass here in a few minutes."

Even while he spoke there sounded far away in the distance, so far that
it was like only a faint echo, the whistle of an approaching locomotive.
The man hobbled down the track a yard or so and stopped. "What do you
suppose they'll do?" he asked. "There are so many bends in this road,
the train may come right on to 'em before the engineer sees 'em. S'pose
they'll jump off, or turn and try to come back?"

Jonesy glanced around wildly a second, and then sprang forward toward
the man.

"Give me the switch-key!" he cried, in a high voice, shrill with
excitement. "You can't run, but I can. Give me the switch-key!"
Perplexed by the sudden turn of affairs and the little fellow's
commanding tone, the man took the key from his pocket. He realised his
own helplessness to do anything, and there was something in Jonesy's
manner that inspired confidence. He felt that the child's quick wit had
grasped the situation and formed some sensible plan of action.

Again the whistle sounded in the distance, and, snatching the key,
Jonesy was off down the track like an arrow. The section boss, leaning
heavily on his cane, limped after him as fast as he could.

Keith and the Little Colonel, having gathered the moss and started back
home, were rolling leisurely along, still talking of magicians and
their ilk.

"What if we should meet a dragon?" cried the Little Colonel. "A dragon
with a scaly green tail, and red eyes and a fiery tongue. What would
you do then?"

"I'd say, 'What! Ho! Thou monster!' and cleave him in twain with my good
broadsword, and when he saw its shining blade smite through the air he'd
just curl up and die."

Keith looked back to smile at the bright laughing face beside him. Then
he caught sight of something over his shoulder that made him pause. "Oh,
look!" he cried, pointing over the tree-tops behind them. A little puff
of smoke, rising up in the distance, trailed along the sky like a long
banner. At the same instant, out of the smoke, sounded the whistle of an
approaching engine. The track behind them had so many turns, he could
not judge of their distance from it, and for an instant he stopped
working the handle bar up and down, too thoroughly frightened to know
what to do. An older child might have acted differently; might have
jumped from the hand-car and left it to be run into by the approaching
train, or have hurried back around the bend to flag the engine. But
Keith had only one idea left: that was to keep ahead of the train as
long as possible. It seemed so far away he thought they could surely
reach the depot before it caught up with them, and his sturdy little
arms bent to the task.

For a moment there was a real pleasure in the exertion. He felt with an
excited thrill that he was really running away with the Little Colonel,
and rescuing her from a pursuing danger. Suddenly the whistle sounded
again, and this time it seemed so close behind them that the Little
Colonel gave a terrified glance over her shoulder and then screamed at
the sight of the great snorting monster, breathing out fire and smoke,
worse than any scaly-tailed dragon that she had ever imagined. It was
far down the track but they could hear its terrible rumble as it rushed
over a trestle, and the singing of the wires overhead.

Keith was straining every muscle now, but it was like running in a
nightmare. His arms moved up and down at a furious speed, but it seemed
to him that the hand-car was glued to one spot. It seemed, too, that it
had been hours since they first discovered that the engine was after
them, and he felt that he would soon be too exhausted to move another
stroke. Would the depot never never come in sight?

Just then they shot around the curve and caught sight of Jonesy at the
depot switch, wildly beckoning with his cap and shouting for them to
come on. At that sight, with one supreme effort Keith put his
fast-failing strength to the test, and sent the hand-car rolling forward
faster than ever. It shot past the switch that Jonesy had unlocked and
off to the side-track, just as the train bore down upon them around the
last bend.

There was barely time for Jonesy to set the switch again before it
thundered on along the main track past the little depot. Being a
special, it did not stop. As it went shrieking by, the engineer cast a
curious glance at a hand-car on the side-track. A little girl sat on it,
a pretty golden-haired child with dark eyes big with fright, and her
face as white as her dress. He wondered what was the matter.

For a moment after the shrieking train whizzed by everything seemed
deathly still. Keith sat leaning against the embankment, white and limp
from exhaustion and the excitement of his close escape. Jonesy was
panting and wiping the perspiration from his red face, for he had run
like a deer to reach the switch in time.

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Online LibraryAnnie Fellows JohnstonTwo Little Knights of Kentucky → online text (page 5 of 8)