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Title: Little Men - Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys
Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Little Men - Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys" ***

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: _The good Professor and his wife were taken prisoner by
many arms. See page 354. Frontispiece._]



                              LITTLE MEN

                   Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys
                     _A Sequel to “Little Women”_

                                  By
                           Louisa M. Alcott

                   _With Illustrations in Color by_
                            Reginald Birch

                            [Illustration]

                      LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
                              BOSTON 1934

      Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
                           LOUISA M. ALCOTT,
       In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.

                       _Copyright, 1899, 1913,_
                         BY JOHN S. P. ALCOTT.

                          _Copyright, 1901,_
                    BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

                         _All rights reserved_

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                  TO
                           FREDDY AND JOHNNY
                            The Little Men
            TO WHOM SHE OWES SOME OF THE BEST AND HAPPIEST
                          HOURS OF HER LIFE,
                   THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
                            BY THEIR LOVING
                             “AUNT WEEDY.”



Contents


    CHAPTER                      PAGE

        I. NAT                      1

       II. THE BOYS                18

      III. SUNDAY                  28

       IV. STEPPING-STONES         49

        V. PATTY PANS              62

       VI. A FIRE BRAND            84

      VII. NAUGHTY NAN            106

     VIII. PRANKS AND PLAYS       118

       IX. DAISY’S BALL           131

        X. HOME AGAIN             145

       XI. UNCLE TEDDY            164

      XII. HUCKLEBERRIES          180

     XIII. GOLDILOCKS             206

      XIV. DAMON AND PYTHIAS      216

       XV. IN THE WILLOW          239

      XVI. TAMING THE COLT        259

     XVII. COMPOSITION DAY        271

    XVIII. CROPS                  286

      XIX. JOHN BROOKE            297

       XX. ROUND THE FIRE         312

      XXI. THANKSGIVING           336



Illustrations


    The good Professor and his wife were taken prisoner
        by many arms                                    _Frontispiece_

    Miss Smith accompanied herself with a vigor which
        made the old desk rattle                                   136

    All were glad to gather round the hearth, as the
        evenings grew longer                                       312



_Little Men_

_Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys_



CHAPTER I

NAT


“Please, sir, is this Plumfield?” asked a ragged boy of the man who
opened the great gate at which the omnibus left him.

“Yes; who sent you?”

“Mr. Laurence. I have got a letter for the lady.”

“All right; go up to the house, and give it to her; she’ll see to you,
little chap.”

The man spoke pleasantly, and the boy went on, feeling much cheered
by the words. Through the soft spring rain that fell on sprouting
grass and budding trees, Nat saw a large square house before him,--a
hospitable-looking house, with an old-fashioned porch, wide steps, and
lights shining in many windows. Neither curtains nor shutters hid the
cheerful glimmer; and, pausing a moment before he rang, Nat saw many
little shadows dancing on the walls, heard the pleasant hum of young
voices, and felt that it was hardly possible that the light and warmth
and comfort within could be for a homeless “little chap” like him.

“I hope the lady _will_ see to me,” he thought; and gave a timid rap
with the great bronze knocker, which was a jovial griffin’s head.

A rosy-faced servant-maid opened the door, and smiled as she took the
letter which he silently offered. She seemed used to receiving strange
boys, for she pointed to a seat in the hall, and said, with a nod,--

“Sit there and drip on the mat a bit, while I take this in to missis.”

Nat found plenty to amuse him while he waited, and stared about him
curiously, enjoying the view, yet glad to do so unobserved in the dusky
recess by the door.

The house seemed swarming with boys, who were beguiling the rainy
twilight with all sorts of amusements. There were boys everywhere,
“up-stairs and down-stairs and in the lady’s chamber,” apparently,
for various open doors showed pleasant groups of big boys, little
boys, and middle-sized boys in all stages of evening relaxation, not
to say effervescence. Two large rooms on the right were evidently
school-rooms, for desks, maps, blackboards, and books were scattered
about. An open fire burned on the hearth, and several indolent lads
lay on their backs before it, discussing a new cricket-ground, with
such animation that their boots waved in the air. A tall youth was
practising on the flute in one corner, quite undisturbed by the racket
all about him. Two or three others were jumping over the desks,
pausing, now and then, to get their breath, and laugh at the droll
sketches of a little wag who was caricaturing the whole household on a
blackboard.

In the room on the left a long supper-table was seen, set forth with
great pitchers of new milk, piles of brown and white bread, and perfect
stacks of the shiny gingerbread so dear to boyish souls. A flavor
of toast was in the air, also suggestions of baked apples, very
tantalizing to one hungry little nose and stomach.

The hall, however, presented the most inviting prospect of all, for
a brisk game of tag was going on in the upper entry. One landing was
devoted to marbles, the other to checkers, while the stairs were
occupied by a boy reading, a girl singing lullaby to her doll, two
puppies, a kitten, and a constant succession of small boys sliding down
the banisters, to the great detriment of their clothes, and danger to
their limbs.

So absorbed did Nat become in this exciting race, that he ventured
farther and farther out of his corner; and when one very lively boy
came down so swiftly that he could not stop himself, but fell off
the banisters, with a crash that would have broken any head but one
rendered nearly as hard as a cannon-ball by eleven years of constant
bumping, Nat forgot himself, and ran up to the fallen rider, expecting
to find him half-dead. The boy, however, only winked rapidly for a
second, then lay calmly looking up at the new face with a surprised
“Hullo!”

“Hullo!” returned Nat, not knowing what else to say, and thinking that
form of reply both brief and easy.

“Are you a new boy?” asked the recumbent youth, without stirring.

“Don’t know yet.”

“What’s your name?”

“Nat Blake.”

“Mine’s Tommy Bangs; come up and have a go, will you?” and Tommy got
upon his legs like one suddenly remembering the duties of hospitality.

“Guess I won’t, till I see whether I’m going to stay or not,” returned
Nat, feeling the desire to stay increase every moment.

“I say, Demi, here’s a new one. Come and see to him;” and the lively
Thomas returned to his sport with unabated relish.

At his call, the boy reading on the stairs looked up with a pair of big
brown eyes, and after an instant’s pause, as if a little shy, he put
the book under his arm, and came soberly down to greet the new-comer,
who found something very attractive in the pleasant face of this
slender, mild-eyed boy.

“Have you seen Aunt Jo?” he asked, as if that was some sort of
important ceremony.

“I haven’t seen anybody yet but you boys; I’m waiting,” answered Nat.

“Did Uncle Laurie send you?” proceeded Demi, politely, but gravely.

“Mr. Laurence did.”

“He is Uncle Laurie; and he always sends nice boys.”

Nat looked gratified at the remark, and smiled, in a way that made his
thin face very pleasant. He did not know what to say next, so the two
stood staring at one another in friendly silence, till the little girl
came up with her doll in her arms. She was very like Demi, only not so
tall, and had a rounder, rosier face, and blue eyes.

“This is my sister Daisy,” announced Demi, as if presenting a rare and
precious creature.

The children nodded to one another; and the little girl’s face dimpled
with pleasure, as she said, affably,--

“I hope you’ll stay. We have such good times here; don’t we, Demi?”

“Of course, we do; that’s what Aunt Jo has Plumfield for.”

“It seems a very nice place indeed,” observed Nat, feeling that he must
respond to these amiable young persons.

“It’s the nicest place in the world; isn’t it, Demi?” said Daisy, who
evidently regarded her brother as authority on all subjects.

“No; I think Greenland, where the icebergs and seals are, is more
interesting. But I’m fond of Plumfield, and it is a very nice place
to be in,” returned Demi, who was interested just now in a book on
Greenland. He was about to offer to show Nat the pictures and explain
them, when the servant returned, saying, with a nod toward the
parlor-door,--

“All right; you are to stop.”

“I’m glad; now come to Aunt Jo.” And Daisy took him by the hand with a
pretty protecting air, which made Nat feel at home at once.

Demi returned to his beloved book, while his sister led the new-comer
into a back room, where a stout gentleman was frolicking with two
little boys on the sofa, and a thin lady was just finishing the letter
which she seemed to have been re-reading.

“Here he is, Aunty!” cried Daisy.

“So this is my new boy? I am glad to see you, my dear, and hope you’ll
be happy here,” said the lady, drawing him to her, and stroking back
the hair from his forehead with a kind hand and a motherly look, which
made Nat’s lonely little heart yearn toward her.

She was not at all handsome, but she had a merry sort of face, that
never seemed to have forgotten certain childish ways and looks, any
more than her voice and manner had; and these things, hard to describe
but very plain to see and feel, made her a genial, comfortable kind of
person, easy to get on with, and generally “jolly,” as boys would say.
She saw the little tremble of Nat’s lips as she smoothed his hair, and
her keen eyes grew softer, but she only drew the shabby figure nearer
and said, laughing,--

“I am Mother Bhaer, that gentleman is Father Bhaer, and these are the
two little Bhaers.--Come here, boys, and see Nat.”

The three wrestlers obeyed at once; and the stout man, with a chubby
child on each shoulder, came up to welcome the new boy. Rob and Teddy
merely grinned at him, but Mr. Bhaer shook hands, and pointing to a low
chair near the fire, said, in a cordial voice,--

“There is a place all ready for thee, my son; sit down and dry thy wet
feet at once.”

“Wet? so they are! My dear, off with your shoes this minute, and I’ll
have some dry things ready for you in a jiffy,” cried Mrs. Bhaer,
bustling about so energetically, that Nat found himself in the cosy
little chair, with dry socks and warm slippers on his feet, before he
would have had time to say Jack Robinson, if he had wanted to try. He
said “Thank you, ma’am,” instead; and said it so gratefully, that Mrs.
Bhaer’s eyes grew soft again, and she said something merry, because she
felt so tender, which was a way she had.

“These are Tommy Bangs’ slippers; but he never will remember to put
them on in the house; so he shall not have them. They are too big; but
that’s all the better; you can’t run away from us so fast as if they
fitted.”

“I don’t want to run away, ma’am.” And Nat spread his grimy little
hands before the comfortable blaze, with a long sigh of satisfaction.

“That’s good! Now I am going to toast you well, and try to get rid of
that ugly cough. How long have you had it, dear?” asked Mrs. Bhaer, as
she rummaged in her big basket for a strip of flannel.

“All winter. I got cold, and it wouldn’t get better, somehow.”

“No wonder, living in that damp cellar with hardly a rag to his poor
dear back!” said Mrs. Bhaer, in a low tone to her husband, who was
looking at the boy with a skilful pair of eyes, that marked the thin
temples and feverish lips, as well as the hoarse voice and frequent
fits of coughing that shook the bent shoulders under the patched jacket.

“Robin, my man, trot up to Nursey, and tell her to give thee the
cough-bottle and the liniment,” said Mr. Bhaer, after his eyes had
exchanged telegrams with his wife’s.

Nat looked a little anxious at the preparations, but forgot his fears,
in a hearty laugh, when Mrs. Bhaer whispered to him, with a droll
look,--

“Hear my rogue Teddy try to cough. The syrup I’m going to give you has
honey in it; and he wants some.”

Little Ted was red in the face with his exertions by the time the
bottle came, and was allowed to suck the spoon, after Nat had manfully
taken a dose, and had the bit of flannel put about his throat.

These first steps toward a cure were hardly completed, when a great
bell rang, and a loud tramping through the hall announced supper.
Bashful Nat quaked at the thought of meeting many strange boys, but
Mrs. Bhaer held out her hand to him, and Rob said, patronizingly,
“Don’t be ’fraid; I’ll take care of you.”

Twelve boys, six on a side, stood behind their chairs, prancing with
impatience to begin, while the tall flute-playing youth was trying to
curb their ardor. But no one sat down, till Mrs. Bhaer was in her place
behind the teapot, with Teddy on her left, and Nat on her right.

“This is our new boy, Nat Blake. After supper you can say, How do you
do? Gently, boys, gently.”

As she spoke every one stared at Nat, and then whisked into their
seats, trying to be orderly, and failing utterly. The Bhaers did
their best to have the lads behave well at meal times, and generally
succeeded pretty well, for their rules were few and sensible, and
the boys, knowing that they tried to make things easy and happy, did
their best to obey. But there _are_ times when hungry boys cannot
be repressed without real cruelty, and Saturday evening, after a
half-holiday, was one of those times.

“Dear little souls, do let them have one day in which they can howl and
racket and frolic, to their hearts’ content. A holiday isn’t a holiday,
without plenty of freedom and fun; and they shall have full swing
once a week,” Mrs. Bhaer used to say, when prim people wondered why
banister-sliding, pillow-fights, and all manner of jovial games were
allowed under the once decorous roof of Plumfield.

It did seem at times as if the aforesaid roof was in danger of flying
off; but it never did, for a word from Father Bhaer could at any time
produce a lull, and the lads had learned that liberty must not be
abused. So, in spite of many dark predictions, the school flourished,
and manners and morals were insinuated, without the pupils exactly
knowing how it was done.

Nat found himself very well off behind the tall pitchers, with Tommy
Bangs just round the corner, and Mrs. Bhaer close by, to fill up plate
and mug as fast as he could empty them.

“Who is that boy next the girl down at the other end?” whispered Nat to
his young neighbor under cover of a general laugh.

“That’s Demi Brooke. Mr. Bhaer is his uncle.”

“What a queer name!”

“His real name is John, but they call him Demi-John, because his
father is John too. That’s a joke, don’t you see?” said Tommy, kindly
explaining. Nat did not see, but politely smiled, and asked, with
interest,--

“Isn’t he a very nice boy?”

“I bet you he is; knows lots and reads like any thing.”

“Who is the fat one next him?”

“Oh, that’s Stuffy Cole. His name is George, but we call him Stuffy
’cause he eats so much. The little fellow next Father Bhaer is his boy
Rob, and then there’s big Franz his nephew; he teaches some, and kind
of sees to us.”

“He plays the flute, doesn’t he?” asked Nat as Tommy rendered himself
speechless by putting a whole baked apple into his mouth at one blow.

Tommy nodded, and said, sooner than one would have imagined possible
under the circumstances, “Oh, don’t he, though? and we dance sometimes,
and do gymnastics to music. I like a drum myself, and mean to learn as
soon as ever I can.”

“I like a fiddle best; I can play one too,” said Nat, getting
confidential on this attractive subject.

“Can you?” and Tommy stared over the rim of his mug with round eyes,
full of interest. “Mr. Bhaer’s got an old fiddle, and he’ll let you
play on it if you want to.”

“Could I? Oh, I would like it ever so much. You see I used to go round
fiddling with my father, and another man, till he died.”

“Wasn’t that fun?” cried Tommy, much impressed.

“No, it was horrid; so cold in winter, and hot in summer. And I
got tired; and they were cross sometimes; and I didn’t have enough
to eat.” Nat paused to take a generous bite of gingerbread, as if
to assure himself that the hard times were over; and then he added
regretfully,--“But I did love my little fiddle, and I miss it. Nicolo
took it away when father died, and wouldn’t have me any longer, ’cause
I was sick.”

“You’ll belong to the band if you play good. See if you don’t.”

“Do you have a band here?” And Nat’s eyes sparkled.

“Guess we do; a jolly band, all boys; and they have concerts and
things. You just see what happens to-morrow night.”

After this pleasantly exciting remark, Tommy returned to his supper,
and Nat sank into a blissful reverie over his full plate.

Mrs. Bhaer had heard all they said, while apparently absorbed in
filling mugs, and overseeing little Ted, who was so sleepy that he put
his spoon in his eye, nodded like a rosy poppy, and finally fell fast
asleep, with his cheek pillowed on a soft bun. Mrs. Bhaer had put Nat
next to Tommy, because that roly-poly boy had a frank and social way
with him, very attractive to shy persons. Nat felt this, and had made
several small confidences during supper, which gave Mrs. Bhaer the
key to the new boy’s character, better than if she had talked to him
herself.

In the letter which Mr. Laurence had sent with Nat, he had said--

    “DEAR JO,--Here is a case after your own heart. This poor
    lad is an orphan now, sick and friendless. He has been a
    street-musician; and I found him in a cellar, mourning for his
    dead father, and his lost violin. I think there is something in
    him, and have a fancy that between us we may give this little
    man a lift. You cure his over-tasked body, Fritz help his
    neglected mind, and when he is ready I’ll see if he is a genius
    or only a boy with a talent which may earn his bread for him.
    Give him a trial, for the sake of your own boy,

                                                           “TEDDY.”

“Of course we will!” cried Mrs. Bhaer, as she read the letter; and when
she saw Nat, she felt at once that whether he was a genius or not, here
was a lonely, sick boy, who needed just what she loved to give, a home,
and motherly care. Both she and Mr. Bhaer observed him quietly; and in
spite of ragged clothes, awkward manners, and a dirty face, they saw
much about Nat that pleased them. He was a thin, pale boy, of twelve,
with blue eyes, and a good forehead under the rough, neglected hair; an
anxious, scared face, at times, as if he expected hard words, or blows;
and a sensitive mouth, that trembled when a kind glance fell on him;
while a gentle speech called up a look of gratitude, very sweet to see.
“Bless the poor dear, he shall fiddle all day long if he likes,” said
Mrs. Bhaer to herself, as she saw the eager, happy expression on his
face when Tommy talked of the band.

So, after supper, when the lads flocked into the school-room for more
“high jinks,” Mrs. Jo appeared with a violin in her hand, and after a
word with her husband, went to Nat, who sat in a corner watching the
scene with intense interest.

“Now, my lad, give us a little tune. We want a violin in our band, and
I think you will do it nicely.”

She expected that he would hesitate; but he seized the old fiddle at
once, and handled it with such loving care, it was plain to see that
music was his passion.

“I’ll do the best I can, ma’am,” was all he said; and then drew the bow
across the strings, as if eager to hear the dear notes again.

There was a great clatter in the room, but as if deaf to any sounds
but those he made, Nat played softly to himself, forgetting every
thing in his delight. It was only a simple negro melody, such as
street-musicians play, but it caught the ears of the boys at once, and
silenced them, till they stood listening with surprise and pleasure.
Gradually they got nearer and nearer, and Mr. Bhaer came up to watch
the boy; for, as if he was in his element now, Nat played away and
never minded any one, while his eyes shone, his cheeks reddened, and
his thin fingers flew, as he hugged the old fiddle and made it speak to
all their hearts the language that he loved.

A hearty round of applause rewarded him better than a shower of
pennies, when he stopped and glanced about him, as if to say--

“I’ve done my best; please like it.”

“I say, you do that first rate,” cried Tommy, who considered Nat his
_protégé_.

“You shall be first fiddle in my band,” added Franz, with an approving
smile.

Mrs. Bhaer whispered to her husband--

“Teddy is right: there’s something in the child.” And Mr. Bhaer nodded
his head emphatically, as he clapped Nat on the shoulder, saying,
heartily--

“You play well, my son. Come now and play something which we can sing.”

It was the proudest, happiest minute of the poor boy’s life when he was
led to the place of honor by the piano, and the lads gathered round,
never heeding his poor clothes, but eying him respectfully, and waiting
eagerly to hear him play again.

They chose a song he knew; and after one or two false starts they got
going, and violin, flute, and piano led a chorus of boyish voices that
made the old roof ring again. It was too much for Nat, more feeble than
he knew; and as the final shout died away, his face began to work, he
dropped the fiddle, and turning to the wall, sobbed like a little child.

“My dear, what is it?” asked Mrs. Bhaer, who had been singing with all
her might, and trying to keep little Rob from beating time with his
boots.

“You are all so kind--and it’s so beautiful--I can’t help it,” sobbed
Nat, coughing till he was breathless.

“Come with me, dear; you must go to bed and rest; you are worn out, and
this is too noisy a place for you,” whispered Mrs. Bhaer; and took him
away to her own parlor, where she let him cry himself quiet.

Then she won him to tell her all his troubles, and listened to the
little story with tears in her own eyes, though it was not a new one to
her.

“My child, you _have_ got a father and a mother now, and this is home.
Don’t think of those sad times any more, but get well and happy; and
be sure you shall never suffer again, if we can help it. This place is
made for all sorts of boys to have a good time in, and to learn how to
help themselves and be useful men, I hope. You shall have as much music
as you want, only you must get strong first. Now come up to Nursey and
have a bath, and then go to bed, and to-morrow we will lay some nice
little plans together.”

Nat held her hand fast in his, but had not a word to say, and let his
grateful eyes speak for him, as Mrs. Bhaer led him up to a big room,
where they found a stout German woman with a face so round and cheery,
that it looked like a sort of sun, with the wide frill of her cap for
rays.

“This is Nursey Hummel, and she will give you a nice bath, and cut
your hair, and make you all ‘comfy,’ as Rob says. That’s the bath-room
in there; and on Saturday nights we scrub all the little lads first,
and pack them away in bed before the big ones get through singing. Now
then, Rob, in with you.”

As she talked, Mrs. Bhaer had whipped off Rob’s clothes and popped him
into a long bath-tub in the little room opening into the nursery.

There were two tubs, besides foot-baths, basins, douche-pipes, and all
manner of contrivances for cleanliness. Nat was soon luxuriating in the
other bath; and while simmering there, he watched the performances of
the two women, who scrubbed, clean night-gowned, and bundled into bed
four or five small boys, who, of course, cut up all sorts of capers
during the operation, and kept every one in a gale of merriment till
they were extinguished in their beds.

By the time Nat was washed and done up in a blanket by the fire, while
Nursey cut his hair, a new detachment of boys arrived and were shut
into the bath-room, where they made as much splashing and noise as a
school of young whales at play.

“Nat had better sleep here, so that if his cough troubles him in the
night you can see that he takes a good draught of flax-seed tea,” said
Mrs. Bhaer, who was flying about like a distracted hen with a large
brood of lively ducklings.

Nursey approved the plan, finished Nat off with a flannel night-gown,
a drink of something warm and sweet, and then tucked him into one of
the three little beds standing in the room, where he lay looking like
a contented mummy, and feeling that nothing more in the way of luxury
could be offered him. Cleanliness in itself was a new and delightful
sensation; flannel gowns were unknown comforts in his world; sips of
“good stuff” soothed his cough as pleasantly as kind words did his
lonely heart; and the feeling that somebody cared for him made that
plain room seem a sort of heaven to the homeless child. It was like a
cozy dream; and he often shut his eyes to see if it would not vanish
when he opened them again. It was too pleasant to let him sleep, and he
could not have done so if he had tried, for in a few minutes one of the
peculiar institutions of Plumfield was revealed to his astonished but
appreciative eyes.

A momentary lull in the aquatic exercises was followed by the sudden
appearance of pillows flying in all directions, hurled by white
goblins, who came rioting out of their beds. The battle raged in
several rooms, all down the upper hall, and even surged at intervals
into the nursery, when some hard-pressed warrior took refuge there.
No one seemed to mind this explosion in the least; no one forbade it,
or even looked surprised. Nursey went on hanging up towels, and Mrs.
Bhaer looked out clean clothes, as calmly as if the most perfect order
reigned. Nay, she even chased one daring boy out of the room, and fired
after him the pillow he had slyly thrown at her.

“Won’t they hurt ’em?” asked Nat, who lay laughing with all his might.

“Oh dear, no! we always allow one pillow-fight Saturday night. The
cases are changed to-morrow; and it gets up a glow after the boys’
baths; so I rather like it myself,” said Mrs. Bhaer, busy again among
her dozen pairs of socks.

“What a very nice school this is!” observed Nat, in a burst of
admiration.

“It’s an odd one,” laughed Mrs. Bhaer; “but you see we don’t believe
in making children miserable by too many rules, and too much study.
I forbade night-gown parties at first; but, bless you, it was of no
use. I could no more keep those boys in their beds, than so many
jacks in the box. So I made an agreement with them: I was to allow a
fifteen-minute pillow-fight, every Saturday night; and they promised to
go properly to bed, every other night. I tried it, and it worked well.
If they don’t keep their word, no frolic; if they do, I just turn the
glasses round, put the lamps in safe places, and let them rampage as
much as they like.”

“It’s a beautiful plan,” said Nat, feeling that he should like to join
in the fray, but not venturing to propose it the first night. So he lay
enjoying the spectacle, which certainly was a lively one.

Tommy Bangs led the assailing party, and Demi defended his own room
with a dogged courage, fine to see, collecting pillows behind him as
fast as they were thrown, till the besiegers were out of ammunition,
when they would charge upon him in a body, and recover their arms. A
few slight accidents occurred, but nobody minded, and gave and took
sounding thwacks with perfect good humor, while pillows flew like big
snowflakes, till Mrs. Bhaer looked at her watch, and called out--

“Time is up, boys. Into bed, every man Jack, or pay the forfeit!”

“What is the forfeit?” asked Nat, sitting up in his eagerness to know
what happened to those wretches who disobeyed this most peculiar, but
public-spirited schoolma’am.

“Lose their fun next time,” answered Mrs. Bhaer. “I give them five
minutes to settle down, then put out the lights, and expect order. They
are honorable lads, and they keep their word.”

That was evident, for the battle ended as abruptly as it began--a
parting shot or two, a final cheer, as Demi fired the seventh pillow at
the retiring foe, a few challenges for next time, then order prevailed;
and nothing but an occasional giggle, or a suppressed whisper, broke
the quiet which followed the Saturday-night frolic, as Mother Bhaer
kissed her new boy, and left him to happy dreams of life at Plumfield.



CHAPTER II

THE BOYS


While Nat takes a good long sleep, I will tell my little readers
something about the boys, among whom he found himself when he woke up.

To begin with our old friends. Franz was a tall lad, of sixteen now, a
regular German, big, blond, and bookish, also very domestic, amiable,
and musical. His uncle was fitting him for college, and his aunt for a
happy home of his own hereafter, because she carefully fostered in him
gentle manners, love of children, respect for women, old and young,
and helpful ways about the house. He was her right-hand man on all
occasions, steady, kind, and patient; and he loved his merry aunt like
a mother, for such she had tried to be to him.

Emil was quite different, being quick-tempered, restless, and
enterprising, bent on going to sea, for the blood of the old vikings
stirred in his veins, and could not be tamed. His uncle promised that
he should go when he was sixteen, and set him to studying navigation,
gave him stories of good and famous admirals and heroes to read, and
let him lead the life of a frog in river, pond, and brook, when lessons
were done. His room looked like the cabin of a man-of-war, for every
thing was nautical, military, and ship shape. Captain Kyd was his
delight, and his favorite amusement was to rig up like that piratical
gentleman, and roar out sanguinary sea-songs at the top of his voice.
He would dance nothing but sailors’ hornpipes, rolled in his gait,
and was as nautical in conversation as his uncle would permit. The
boys called him “Commodore,” and took great pride in his fleet, which
whitened the pond and suffered disasters that would have daunted any
commander but a sea-struck boy.

Demi was one of the children who show plainly the effect of intelligent
love and care, for soul and body worked harmoniously together. The
natural refinement which nothing but home influence can teach, gave
him sweet and simple manners: his mother had cherished an innocent and
loving heart in him; his father had watched over the physical growth
of his boy, and kept the little body straight and strong on wholesome
food and exercise and sleep, while Grandpa March cultivated the little
mind with the tender wisdom of a modern Pythagoras,--not tasking it
with long, hard lessons, parrot-learned, but helping it to unfold as
naturally and beautifully as sun and dew help roses bloom. He was not
a perfect child, by any means, but his faults were of the better sort;
and being early taught the secret of self-control, he was not left at
the mercy of appetites and passions, as some poor little mortals are,
and then punished for yielding to the temptations against which they
have no armor. A quiet, quaint boy was Demi, serious, yet cheery, quite
unconscious that he was unusually bright and beautiful, yet quick to
see and love intelligence or beauty in other children. Very fond of
books, and full of lively fancies, born of a strong imagination and a
spiritual nature, these traits made his parents anxious to balance them
with useful knowledge and healthful society, lest they should make him
one of those pale precocious children who amaze and delight a family
sometimes, and fade away like hot-house flowers, because the young
soul blooms too soon, and has not a hearty body to root it firmly in
the wholesome soil of this world.

So Demi was transplanted to Plumfield, and took so kindly to the life
there, that Meg and John and Grandpa felt satisfied that they had
done well. Mixing with other boys brought out the practical side of
him, roused his spirit, and brushed away the pretty cobwebs he was so
fond of spinning in that little brain of his. To be sure, he rather
shocked his mother when he came home, by banging doors, saying “by
George” emphatically, and demanding tall thick boots “that clumped like
papa’s.” But John rejoiced over him, laughed at his explosive remarks,
got the boots, and said contentedly, “He is doing well; so let him
clump. I want my son to be a manly boy, and this temporary roughness
won’t hurt him. We can polish him up by and by; and as for learning, he
will pick that up as pigeons do peas. So don’t hurry him.”

Daisy was as sunshiny and charming as ever, with all sorts of little
womanlinesses budding in her, for she was like her gentle mother, and
delighted in domestic things. She had a family of dolls, whom she
brought up in the most exemplary manner; she could not get on without
her little work-basket and bits of sewing, which she did so nicely,
that Demi frequently pulled out his handkerchief to display her neat
stitches, and Baby Josy had a flannel petticoat beautifully made by
Sister Daisy. She liked to quiddle about the china-closet, prepare the
salt-cellars, put the spoons straight on the table; and every day went
round the parlor with her brush, dusting chairs and tables. Demi called
her a “Betty,” but was very glad to have her keep his things in order,
lend him her nimble fingers in all sorts of work, and help him with
his lessons, for they kept abreast there, and had no thought of rivalry.

The love between them was as strong as ever; and no one could laugh
Demi out of his affectionate ways with Daisy. He fought her battles
valiantly, and never could understand why boys should be ashamed to
say “right out,” that they loved their sisters. Daisy adored her twin,
thought “my brother” the most remarkable boy in the world, and every
morning, in her little wrapper, trotted to tap at his door with a
motherly--“Get up, my dear, it’s ’most breakfast time; and here’s your
clean collar.”

Rob was an energetic morsel of a boy, who seemed to have discovered the
secret of perpetual motion, for he never was still. Fortunately, he was
not mischievous, nor very brave; so he kept out of trouble pretty well,
and vibrated between father and mother like an affectionate little
pendulum with a lively tick, for Rob was a chatterbox.

Teddy was too young to play a very important part in the affairs of
Plumfield, yet he had his little sphere, and filled it beautifully.
Every one felt the need of a pet at times, and Baby was always ready
to accommodate, for kissing and cuddling suited him excellently. Mrs.
Jo seldom stirred without him; so he had his little finger in all the
domestic pies, and every one found them all the better for it, for they
believed in babies at Plumfield.

Dick Brown, and Adolphus or Dolly Pettingill, were two eight-year-olds.
Dolly stuttered badly, but was gradually getting over it, for no one
was allowed to mock him and Mr. Bhaer tried to cure it, by making him
talk slowly. Dolly was a good little lad, quite uninteresting and
ordinary, but he flourished here, and went through his daily duties
and pleasures with placid content and propriety.

Dick Brown’s affliction was a crooked back, yet he bore his burden
so cheerfully, that Demi once asked in his queer way, “Do humps make
people good-natured? I’d like one if they do.” Dick was always merry,
and did his best to be like other boys, for a plucky spirit lived in
the feeble little body. When he first came, he was very sensitive about
his misfortune, but soon learned to forget it, for no one dared remind
him of it, after Mr. Bhaer had punished one boy for laughing at him.

“God don’t care; for my soul is straight if my back isn’t,” sobbed Dick
to his tormentor on that occasion; and, by cherishing this idea, the
Bhaers soon led him to believe that people also loved his soul, and did
not mind his body, except to pity and help him to bear it.

Playing menagerie once with the others, some one said, “What animal
will you be, Dick?”

“Oh, I’m the dromedary; don’t you see the hump on my back?” was the
laughing answer.

“So you are, my nice little one that don’t carry loads, but marches by
the elephant first in the procession,” said Demi, who was arranging the
spectacle.

“I hope others will be as kind to the poor dear as my boys have learned
to be,” said Mrs. Jo, quite satisfied with the success of her teaching,
as Dick ambled past her, looking like a very happy, but a very feeble
little dromedary, beside stout Stuffy, who did the elephant with
ponderous propriety.

Jack Ford was a sharp, rather a sly lad, who was sent to this school,
because it was cheap. Many men would have thought him a smart boy,
but Mr. Bhaer did not like his way of illustrating that Yankee word,
and thought his unboyish keenness and money-loving as much of an
affliction as Dolly’s stutter, or Dick’s hump.

Ned Barker was like a thousand other boys of fourteen, all legs,
blunder, and bluster. Indeed the family called him the “Blunderbuss,”
and always expected to see him tumble over the chairs, bump against the
tables, and knock down any small articles near him. He bragged a good
deal about what he could do, but seldom did any thing to prove it, was
not brave, and a little given to tale-telling. He was apt to bully the
small boys, and flatter the big ones, and without being at all bad, was
just the sort of fellow who could very easily be led astray.

George Cole had been spoilt by an over-indulgent mother, who stuffed
him with sweetmeats till he was sick, and then thought him too delicate
to study, so that at twelve years old, he was a pale, puffy boy, dull,
fretful, and lazy. A friend persuaded her to send him to Plumfield, and
there he soon got waked up, for sweet things were seldom allowed, much
exercise required, and study made so pleasant, that Stuffy was gently
lured along, till he quite amazed his anxious mamma by his improvement,
and convinced her that there was really something remarkable in
Plumfield air.

Billy Ward was what the Scotch tenderly call an “innocent,” for
though thirteen years old, he was like a child of six. He had been
an unusually intelligent boy, and his father had hurried him on too
fast, giving him all sorts of hard lessons, keeping him at his books
six hours a day, and expecting him to absorb knowledge as a Strasburg
goose does the food crammed down its throat. He thought he was doing
his duty, but he nearly killed the boy, for a fever gave the poor child
a sad holiday, and when he recovered, the over-tasked brain gave out,
and Billy’s mind was like a slate over which a sponge has passed,
leaving it blank.

It was a terrible lesson to his ambitious father; he could not bear
the sight of his promising child, changed to a feeble idiot, and he
sent him away to Plumfield, scarcely hoping that he could be helped,
but sure that he would be kindly treated. Quite docile and harmless
was Billy, and it was pitiful to see how hard he tried to learn, as
if groping dimly after the lost knowledge which had cost him so much.
Day after day, he pored over the alphabet, proudly said A and B, and
thought he knew them, but on the morrow they were gone, and all the
work was to be done over again. Mr. Bhaer had infinite patience with
him, and kept on in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the task, not
caring for book lessons, but trying gently to clear away the mists from
the darkened mind, and give it back intelligence enough to make the boy
less a burden and an affliction.

Mrs. Bhaer strengthened his health by every aid she could invent, and
the boys all pitied and were kind to him. He did not like their active
plays, but would sit for hours watching the doves, would dig holes for
Teddy till even that ardent grubber was satisfied, or follow Silas,
the man, from place to place seeing him work, for honest Si was very
good to him, and though he forgot his letters Billy remembered friendly
faces.

Tommy Bangs was the scapegrace of the school, and the most trying
little scapegrace that ever lived. As full of mischief as a monkey,
yet so good-hearted that one could not help forgiving his tricks; so
scatterbrained that words went by him like the wind, yet so penitent
for every misdeed, that it was impossible to keep sober when he
vowed tremendous vows of reformation, or proposed all sorts of queer
punishments to be inflicted upon himself. Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer lived in
a state of preparation for any mishap, from the breaking of Tommy’s
own neck, to the blowing up of the entire family with gunpowder; and
Nursey had a particular drawer in which she kept bandages, plasters,
and salves for his especial use, for Tommy was always being brought in
half dead; but nothing ever killed him, and he rose from every downfall
with redoubled vigor.

The first day he came, he chopped the top off one finger in the
hay-cutter, and during the week, fell from the shed roof, was chased
by an angry hen who tried to pick his eyes out because he examined her
chickens, got run away with, and had his ears boxed violently by Asia,
who caught him luxuriously skimming a pan of cream with half a stolen
pie. Undaunted, however, by any failures or rebuffs, this indomitable
youth went on amusing himself with all sorts of tricks till no one felt
safe. If he did not know his lessons, he always had some droll excuse
to offer, and as he was usually clever at his books, and as bright as a
button in composing answers when he did not know them, he got on pretty
well at school. But out of school,--Ye gods and little fishes! how
Tommy did carouse!

He wound fat Asia up in her own clothes line against the post, and left
her there to fume and scold for half an hour one busy Monday morning.
He dropped a hot cent down Mary Ann’s back as that pretty maid was
waiting at table one day when there were gentlemen to dinner, whereat
the poor girl upset the soup and rushed out of the room in dismay,
leaving the family to think that she had gone mad. He fixed a pail of
water up in a tree, with a bit of ribbon fastened to the handle, and
when Daisy, attracted by the gay streamer, tried to pull it down, she
got a douche bath that spoiled her clean frock and hurt her little
feelings very much. He put rough white pebbles in the sugar-bowl
when his grandmother came to tea, and the poor old lady wondered why
they didn’t melt in her cup, but was too polite to say anything. He
passed round snuff in church so that five of the boys sneezed with
such violence they had to go out. He dug paths in winter time, and
then privately watered them so that people should tumble down. He
drove poor Silas nearly wild by hanging his big boots in conspicuous
places, for his feet were enormous, and he was very much ashamed of
them. He persuaded confiding little Dolly to tie a thread to one of
his loose teeth, and leave the string hanging from his mouth when he
went to sleep, so that Tommy could pull it out without his feeling the
dreaded operation. But the tooth wouldn’t come at the first tweak, and
poor Dolly woke up in great anguish of spirit, and lost all faith in
Tommy from that day forth. The last prank had been to give the hens
bread soaked in rum, which made them tipsy and scandalized all the
other fowls, for the respectable old biddies went staggering about,
pecking and clucking in the most maudlin manner, while the family were
convulsed with laughter at their antics, till Daisy took pity on them
and shut them up in the hen-house to sleep off their intoxication.

These were the boys, and they lived together as happily as twelve lads
could, studying and playing, working and squabbling, fighting faults
and cultivating virtues in the good old-fashioned way. Boys at other
schools probably learned more from books, but less of that better
wisdom which makes good men. Latin, Greek, and mathematics were all
very well, but in Professor Bhaer’s opinion, self-knowledge, self-help,
and self-control were more important, and he tried to teach them
carefully. People shook their heads sometimes at his ideas, even while
they owned that the boys improved wonderfully in manners and morals.
But then, as Mrs. Jo said to Nat, it was an “odd school.”



CHAPTER III

SUNDAY


The moment the bell rang next morning Nat flew out of bed, and dressed
himself with great satisfaction in the suit of clothes he found on
the chair. They were not new, being half-worn garments of one of the
well-to-do boys; but Mrs. Bhaer kept all such cast-off feathers for
the picked robins who strayed into her nest. They were hardly on when
Tommy appeared in a high state of clean collar, and escorted Nat down
to breakfast.

The sun was shining into the dining-room on the well-spread table, and
the flock of hungry, hearty lads who gathered round it. Nat observed
that they were much more orderly than they had been the night before,
and every one stood silently behind his chair while little Rob,
standing beside his father at the head of the table, folded his hands,
reverently bent his curly head, and softly repeated a short grace in
the devout German fashion, which Mr. Bhaer loved and taught his little
son to honor. Then they all sat down to enjoy the Sunday-morning
breakfast of coffee, steak, and baked potatoes, instead of the bread
and milk fare with which they usually satisfied their young appetites.
There was much pleasant talk while the knives and forks rattled
briskly, for certain Sunday lessons were to be learned, the Sunday walk
settled, and plans for the week discussed. As he listened, Nat thought
it seemed as if this day must be a very pleasant one, for he loved
quiet, and there was a cheerful sort of hush over every thing that
pleased him very much; because, in spite of his rough life, the boy
possessed the sensitive nerves which belong to a music-loving nature.

“Now, my lads, get your morning jobs done, and let me find you ready
for church when the ’bus comes round,” said Father Bhaer, and set the
example by going into the school-room to get books ready for the morrow.

Every one scattered to his or her task, for each had some little daily
duty, and was expected to perform it faithfully. Some brought wood and
water, brushed the steps, or ran errands for Mrs. Bhaer. Others fed the
pet animals, and did chores about the barn with Franz. Daisy washed
the cups, and Demi wiped them, for the twins liked to work together,
and Demi had been taught to make himself useful in the little house at
home. Even Baby Teddy had his small job to do, and trotted to and fro,
putting napkins away, and pushing chairs into their places. For half
an hour the lads buzzed about like a hive of bees, then the ’bus drove
round, Father Bhaer and Franz with the eight older boys piled in, and
away they went for a three mile drive to church in town.

Because of the troublesome cough Nat preferred to stay at home with
the four small boys, and spent a happy morning in Mrs. Bhaer’s room,
listening to the stories she read them, learning the hymn she taught
them, and then quietly employing himself pasting pictures into an old
ledger.

“This is my Sunday closet,” she said, showing him shelves filled with
picture-books, paint-boxes, architectural blocks, little diaries, and
materials for letter-writing. “I want my boys to love Sunday, to find
it a peaceful, pleasant day, when they can rest from common study and
play, yet enjoy quiet pleasures, and learn, in simple ways, lessons
more important than any taught in school. Do you understand me?” she
asked, watching Nat’s attentive face.

“You mean to be good?” he said, after hesitating a minute.

“Yes; to be good, and to love to be good. It is hard work sometimes, I
know very well; but we all help one another, and so we get on. This is
one of the ways in which I try to help my boys,” and she took down a
thick book, which seemed half-full of writing, and opened at a page on
which there was one word at the top.

“Why, that’s my name!” cried Nat, looking both surprised and interested.

“Yes; I have a page for each boy. I keep a little account of how he
gets on through the week, and Sunday night I show him the record. If it
is bad I am sorry and disappointed, if it is good I am glad and proud;
but, whichever it is, the boys know I want to help them, and they try
to do their best for love of me and Father Bhaer.”

“I should think they would,” said Nat, catching a glimpse of Tommy’s
name opposite his own, and wondering what was written under it.

Mrs. Bhaer saw his eye on the words, and shook her head, saying, as she
turned a leaf--

“No, I don’t show my records to any but the one to whom each belongs. I
call this my conscience book; and only you and I will ever know what is
to be written on the page below your name. Whether you will be pleased
or ashamed to read it next Sunday depends on yourself. I think it will
be a good report; at any rate, I shall try to make things easy for you
in this new place, and shall be quite contented if you keep our few
rules, live happily with the boys, and learn something.”

“I’ll try, ma’am;” and Nat’s thin face flushed up with the earnestness
of his desire to make Mrs. Bhaer “glad and proud,” not “sorry and
disappointed.” “It must be a great deal of trouble to write about so
many,” he added, as she shut her book with an encouraging pat on the
shoulder.

“Not for me, for I really don’t know which I like best, writing or
boys,” she said, laughing to see Nat stare with astonishment at the
last item. “Yes, I know many people think boys are a nuisance, but that
is because they don’t understand them. I do; and I never saw the boy
yet whom I could not get on capitally with after I had once found the
soft spot in his heart. Bless me, I couldn’t get on at all without my
flock of dear, noisy, naughty, harum-scarum little lads, could I, my
Teddy?” and Mrs. Bhaer hugged the young rogue, just in time to save the
big inkstand from going into his pocket.

Nat, who had never heard anything like this before, really did not know
whether Mother Bhaer was a trifle crazy, or the most delightful woman
he had ever met. He rather inclined to the latter opinion, in spite of
her peculiar tastes, for she had a way of filling up a fellow’s plate
before he asked, of laughing at his jokes, gently tweaking him by the
ear, or clapping him on the shoulders, that Nat found very engaging.

“Now, I think you would like to go into the school-room and practise
some of the hymns we are to sing to-night,” she said, rightly guessing
the thing of all others that he wanted to do.

Alone with the beloved violin and the music-book propped up before him
in the sunny window, while Spring beauty filled the world outside, and
Sabbath silence reigned within, Nat enjoyed an hour or two of genuine
happiness, learning the sweet old tunes, and forgetting the hard past
in the cheerful present.

When the church-goers came back and dinner was over, every one read,
wrote letters home, said their Sunday lessons, or talked quietly to
one another, sitting here and there about the house. At three o’clock
the entire family turned out to walk, for all the active young bodies
must have exercise; and in these walks the active young minds were
taught to see and love the providence of God in the beautiful miracles
which Nature was working before their eyes. Mr. Bhaer always went with
them, and in his simple, fatherly way, found for his flock “Sermons in
stones, books in the running brooks, and good in every thing.”

Mrs. Bhaer with Daisy and her own two boys drove into town, to pay the
weekly visit to Grandma, which was busy Mother Bhaer’s one holiday and
greatest pleasure. Nat was not strong enough for the long walk, and
asked to stay at home with Tommy, who kindly offered to do the honors
of Plumfield. “You’ve seen the house, so come out and have a look at
the garden, and the barn, and the menagerie,” said Tommy, when they
were left alone with Asia, to see that they didn’t get into mischief;
for, though Tommy was one of the best-meaning boys who ever adorned
knickerbockers, accidents of the most direful nature were always
happening to him, no one could exactly tell how.

“What is your menagerie?” asked Nat, as they trotted along the drive
that encircled the house.

“We all have pets, you see, and we keep ’em in the corn-barn, and call
it the menagerie. Here you are. Isn’t my guinea-pig a beauty?” and
Tommy proudly presented one of the ugliest specimens of that pleasing
animal that Nat ever saw.

“I know a boy with a dozen of ’em, and he said he’d give me one, only
I hadn’t any place to keep it, so I couldn’t have it. It was white,
with black spots, a regular rouser, and maybe I could get it for you
if you’d like it,” said Nat, feeling it would be a delicate return for
Tommy’s attentions.

“I’d like it ever so much, and I’ll give you this one, and they can
live together if they don’t fight. Those white mice are Rob’s, Franz
gave ’em to him. The rabbits are Ned’s, and the bantams outside are
Stuffy’s. That box thing is Demi’s turtle-tank, only he hasn’t begun
to get ’em yet. Last year he had sixty-two, whackers some of ’em. He
stamped one of ’em with his name and the year, and let it go; and he
says maybe he will find it ever so long after and know it. He read
about a turtle being found that had a mark on it that showed it must be
hundreds of years old. Demi’s such a funny chap.”

“What is in this box?” asked Nat, stopping before a large deep one,
half-full of earth.

“Oh, that’s Jack Ford’s worm-shop. He digs heaps of ’em and keeps ’em
here, and when we want any to go a fishing with, we buy some of him.
It saves lots of trouble, only he charged too much for ’em. Why, last
time we traded I had to pay two cents a dozen, and then got little
ones. Jack’s mean sometimes, and I told him I’d dig for myself if he
didn’t lower his prices. Now, I own two hens, those gray ones with top
knots, first-rate ones they are too, and I sell Mrs. Bhaer the eggs,
but I never ask her more than twenty-five cents a dozen, never! I’d be
ashamed to do it,” cried Tommy, with a glance of scorn at the worm-shop.

“Who owns the dogs?” asked Nat, much interested in these commercial
transactions, and feeling that T. Bangs was a man whom it would be a
privilege and a pleasure to patronize.

“The big dog is Emil’s. His name is Christopher Columbus. Mrs. Bhaer
named him because she likes to say Christopher Columbus, and no one
minds it if she means the dog,” answered Tommy, in the tone of a
showman displaying his menagerie. “The white pup is Rob’s, and the
yellow one is Teddy’s. A man was going to drown them in our pond, and
Pa Bhaer wouldn’t let him. They do well enough for the little chaps, I
don’t think much of ’em myself. Their names are Castor and Pollux.”

“I’d like Toby the donkey best, if I could have anything, it’s so nice
to ride, and he’s so little and good,” said Nat, remembering the weary
tramps he had taken on his own tired feet.

“Mr. Laurie sent him out to Mrs. Bhaer, so she shouldn’t carry Teddy
on her back when we go to walk. We’re all fond of Toby, and he’s a
first-rate donkey, sir. Those pigeons belong to the whole lot of us,
we each have our pet one, and go shares in all the little ones as they
come along. Squabs are great fun; there ain’t any now, but you can go
up and take a look at the old fellows, while I see if Cockletop and
Granny have laid any eggs.”

Nat climbed up a ladder, put his head through a trap door and took a
long look at the pretty doves billing and cooing in their spacious
loft. Some on their nests, some bustling in and out, and some sitting
at their doors, while many went flying from the sunny housetop to the
straw-strewn farmyard, where six sleek cows were placidly ruminating.

“Everybody has got something but me. I wish I had a dove, or a hen, or
even a turtle, all my own,” thought Nat, feeling very poor as he saw
the interesting treasures of the other boys. “How do you get these
things?” he asked, when he joined Tommy in the barn.

“We find ’em, or buy ’em, or folks give ’em to us. My father sends me
mine; but as soon as I get egg money enough, I’m going to buy a pair of
ducks. There’s a nice little pond for ’em behind the barn, and people
pay well for duck-eggs, and the little duckies are pretty, and it’s fun
to see ’em swim,” said Tommy, with the air of a millionaire.

Nat sighed for he had neither father nor money, nothing in the wide
world but an old empty pocket-book, and the skill that lay in his ten
finger tips. Tommy seemed to understand the question and the sigh which
followed his answer, for after a moment of deep thought, he suddenly
broke out,--

“Look here, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you will hunt eggs for me,
I hate it, I’ll give you one egg out of every dozen. You keep account,
and when you’ve had twelve, Mother Bhaer will give you twenty-five
cents for ’em, and then you can buy what you like, don’t you see?”

“I’ll do it! What a kind feller you are, Tommy!” cried Nat, quite
dazzled by this brilliant offer.

“Pooh! that is not anything. You begin now and rummage the barn, and
I’ll wait here for you. Granny is cackling, so you’re sure to find one
somewhere,” and Tommy threw himself down on the hay with a luxurious
sense of having made a good bargain, and done a friendly thing.

Nat joyfully began his search, and went rustling from loft to loft till
he found two fine eggs, one hidden under a beam, and the other in an
old peck measure, which Mrs. Cockletop had appropriated.

“You may have one and I’ll have the other, that will just make up
my last dozen, and to-morrow we’ll start fresh. Here, you chalk your
account up near mine, and then we’ll be all straight,” said Tommy,
showing a row of mysterious figures on the smooth side of an old
winnowing machine.

With a delightful sense of importance, the proud possessor of one egg
opened his account with his friend, who laughingly wrote above the
figures these imposing words,

                           “T. Bangs & Co.”

Poor Nat found them so fascinating that he was with difficulty
persuaded to go and deposit his first piece of portable property
in Asia’s store-room. Then they went on again, and having made the
acquaintance of the two horses, six cows, three pigs, and one Alderney
“Bossy,” as calves are called in New England, Tommy took Nat to a
certain old willow-tree that overhung a noisy little brook. From the
fence it was an easy scramble into a wide niche between the three big
branches, which had been cut off to send out from year to year a crowd
of slender twigs, till a green canopy rustled overhead. Here little
seats had been fixed, and in a hollow place a closet made big enough
to hold a book or two, a dismantled boat, and several half-finished
whistles.

“This is Demi’s and my private place; we made it, and nobody can come
up unless we let ’em, except Daisy, we don’t mind her,” said Tommy,
as Nat looked with delight from the babbling brown water below to the
green arch above, where bees were making a musical murmur as they
feasted on the long yellow blossoms that filled the air with sweetness.

“Oh, it’s just beautiful!” cried Nat. “I do hope you’ll let me up
sometimes. I never saw such a nice place in all my life. I’d like to
be a bird, and live here always.”

“It is pretty nice. You can come if Demi don’t mind, and I guess he
won’t, because he said last night that he liked you.”

“Did he?” and Nat smiled with pleasure, for Demi’s regard seemed to be
valued by all the boys, partly because he was Father Bhaer’s nephew,
and partly because he was such a sober, conscientious little fellow.

“Yes; Demi likes quiet chaps, and I guess he and you will get on if you
care about reading as he does.”

Poor Nat’s flush of pleasure deepened to a painful scarlet at those
last words, and he stammered out,--

“I can’t read very well; I never had any time; I was always fiddling
round, you know.”

“I don’t love it myself, but I can do it well enough when I want to,”
said Tommy, after a surprised look, which said as plainly as words, “A
boy twelve years old and can’t read!”

“I can read music, anyway,” added Nat, rather ruffled at having to
confess his ignorance.

“I can’t;” and Tommy spoke in a respectful tone, which emboldened Nat
to say firmly,--

“I mean to study real hard and learn every thing I can, for I never had
a chance before. Does Mr. Bhaer give hard lessons?”

“No, he isn’t a bit cross; he sort of explains and gives you a boost
over the hard places. Some folks don’t; my other master didn’t. If we
missed a word, didn’t we get raps on the head!” and Tommy rubbed his
own pate as if it tingled yet with the liberal supply of raps, the
memory of which was the only thing he brought away after a year with
his “other master.”

“I think I could read this,” said Nat, who had been examining the
books.

“Read a bit, then; I’ll help you,” resumed Tommy, with a patronizing
air.

So Nat did his best, and floundered through a page with many friendly
“boosts” from Tommy, who told him he would soon “go it” as well as
anybody. Then they sat and talked boy-fashion about all sorts of
things, among others, gardening; for Nat, looking down from his perch,
asked what was planted in the many little patches lying below them on
the other side of the brook.

“These are our farms,” said Tommy. “We each have our own patch, and
raise what we like in it, only we have to choose different things, and
can’t change till the crop is in, and we must keep it in order all
summer.”

“What are you going to raise this year?”

“Wal, I _cattle_ated to hev beans, as they are about the easiest crop
a-goin’.”

Nat could not help laughing, for Tommy had pushed back his hat, put
his hands in his pockets, and drawled out his words in unconscious
imitation of Silas, the man who managed the place for Mr. Bhaer.

“Come, you needn’t laugh; beans _are_ ever so much easier than corn or
potatoes. I tried melons last year, but the bugs were a bother, and the
old things wouldn’t get ripe before the frost, so I didn’t have but one
good water and two little ‘mush mellions,’” said Tommy, relapsing into
a “Silasism” with the last word.

“Corn looks pretty growing,” said Nat, politely, to atone for his laugh.

“Yes, but you have to hoe it over and over again. Now, six weeks’ beans
only have to be done once or so, and they get ripe soon. I’m going to
try ’em, for I spoke first. Stuffy wanted ’em, but he’s got to take
peas; they only have to be picked, and he ought to do it, he eats such
a lot.”

“I wonder if I shall have a garden?” said Nat, thinking that even
corn-hoeing must be pleasant work.

“Of course you will,” said a voice from below, and there was Mr. Bhaer
returned from his walk, and come to find them, for he managed to have
a little talk with every one of the lads sometime during the day, and
found that these chats gave them a good start for the coming week.

Sympathy is a sweet thing, and it worked wonders here, for each boy
knew that Father Bhaer was interested in him, and some were readier to
open their hearts to him than to a woman, especially the older ones,
who liked to talk over their hopes and plans, man to man. When sick or
in trouble they instinctively turned to Mrs. Jo, while the little ones
made her their mother-confessor on all occasions.

In descending from their nest, Tommy fell into the brook; being used to
it, he calmly picked himself out and retired to the house to be dried.
This left Nat to Mr. Bhaer, which was just what he wished, and, during
the stroll they took among the garden plots, he won the lad’s heart by
giving him a little “farm,” and discussing crops with him as gravely as
if the food for the family depended on the harvest. From this pleasant
topic they went to others, and Nat had many new and helpful thoughts
put into a mind that received them as gratefully as the thirsty earth
had received the warm spring rain. All supper time he brooded over
them, often fixing his eyes on Mr. Bhaer with an inquiring look, that
seemed to say,--“I like that, do it again, sir.” I don’t know whether
the man understood the child’s mute language or not, but when the boys
were all gathered together in Mrs. Bhaer’s parlor for the Sunday
evening talk, he chose a subject which might have been suggested by the
walk in the garden.

As he looked about him Nat thought it seemed more like a great family
than a school, for the lads were sitting in a wide half-circle round
the fire, some on chairs, some on the rug, Daisy and Demi on the knees
of Uncle Fritz, and Rob snugly stowed away in the back of his mother’s
easy-chair, where he could nod unseen if the talk got beyond his depth.
Every one looked quite comfortable, and listened attentively, for the
long walk made rest agreeable, and as every boy there knew that he
would be called upon for his views, he kept his wits awake to be ready
with an answer.

“Once upon a time,” began Mr. Bhaer, in the dear old-fashioned way,
“there was a great and wise gardener who had the largest garden ever
seen. A wonderful and lovely place it was, and he watched over it with
the greatest skill and care, and raised all manner of excellent and
useful things. But weeds would grow even in this fine garden; often the
ground was bad and the good seeds sown in it would not spring up. He
had many under gardeners to help him. Some did their duty and earned
the rich wages he gave them; but others neglected their parts and let
them run to waste, which displeased him much. But he was very patient,
and for thousands and thousands of years he worked and waited for his
great harvest.”

“He must have been pretty old,” said Demi, who was looking straight
into Uncle Fritz’s face, as if to catch every word.

“Hush, Demi, it’s a fairy story,” whispered Daisy.

“No, I think it’s a arrygory,” said Demi.

“What is a arrygory?” called out Tommy, who was of an inquiring turn.

“Tell him, Demi, if you can, and don’t use words unless you are quite
sure you know what they mean,” said Mr. Bhaer.

“I do know, Grandpa told me! A fable is a arrygory; it’s a story that
means something. My ‘Story without an end’ is one, because the child in
it means a soul; don’t it, Aunty?” cried Demi, eager to prove himself
right.

“That’s it, dear; and Uncle’s story is an allegory, I am quite sure; so
listen and see what it means,” returned Mrs. Jo, who always took part
in whatever was going on, and enjoyed it as much as any boy among them.

Demi composed himself, and Mr. Bhaer went on in his best English, for
he had improved much in the last five years, and said the boys did it.

“This great gardener gave a dozen or so of little plots to one of his
servants, and told him to do his best and see what he could raise. Now
this servant was not rich, nor wise, nor very good, but he wanted to
help because the gardener had been very kind to him in many ways. So he
gladly took the little plots and fell to work. They were all sorts of
shapes and sizes, and some were very good soil, some rather stony, and
all of them needed much care, for in the rich soil the weeds grew fast,
and in the poor soil there were many stones.”

“What was growing in them besides the weeds, and stones?” asked Nat; so
interested, he forgot his shyness and spoke before them all.

“Flowers,” said Mr. Bhaer, with a kind look. “Even the roughest, most
neglected little bed had a bit of heart’s-ease or a sprig of mignonette
in it. One had roses, sweet peas, and daisies in it,”--here he pinched
the plump cheek of the little girl leaning on his arm. “Another had
all sorts of curious plants in it, bright pebbles, a vine that went
climbing up like Jack’s bean-stalk, and many good seeds just beginning
to sprout; for, you see, _this_ bed had been taken fine care of by a
wise old man, who had worked in gardens of this sort all his life.”

At this part of the “arrygory,” Demi put his head on one side like
an inquisitive bird, and fixed his bright eye on his uncle’s face,
as if he suspected something and was on the watch. But Mr. Bhaer
looked perfectly innocent, and went on glancing from one young face to
another, with a grave, wistful look, that said much to his wife, who
knew how earnestly he desired to do his duty in these little garden
plots.

“As I tell you, some of these beds were easy to cultivate,--that means
to take care of, Daisy,--and others were very hard. There was one
particularly sunshiny little bed, that might have been full of fruits
and vegetables as well as flowers, only it wouldn’t take any pains, and
when the man sowed, well, we’ll say melons in this bed, they came to
nothing, because the little bed neglected them. The man was sorry, and
kept on trying, though every time the crop failed, all the bed said,
was, ‘I forgot.’”

Here a general laugh broke out, and every one looked at Tommy, who had
pricked up his ears at the word “melons,” and hung down his head at the
sound of his favorite excuse.

“I knew he meant us!” cried Demi, clapping his hands. “You are the man,
and we are the little gardens; aren’t we, Uncle Fritz?”

“You have guessed it. Now each of you tell me what crop I shall try to
sow in you this spring, so that next autumn I may get a good harvest
out of my twelve, no, thirteen, plots,” said Mr. Bhaer, nodding at Nat
as he corrected himself.

“You can’t sow corn and beans and peas in us. Unless you mean we are to
eat a great many and get fat,” said Stuffy, with a sudden brightening
of his round, dull face as the pleasing idea occurred to him.

“He don’t mean that kind of seeds. He means things to make us good; and
the weeds are faults,” cried Demi, who usually took the lead in these
talks, because he was used to this sort of thing, and liked it very
much.

“Yes, each of you think what you need most, and tell me, and I will
help you to grow it; only, you must do your best, or you will turn out
like Tommy’s melons,--all leaves and no fruit. I will begin with the
oldest, and ask the mother what she will have in her plot, for we are
all parts of the beautiful garden, and may have rich harvests for our
Master if we love Him enough,” said Father Bhaer.

“I shall devote the whole of _my_ plot to the largest crop of patience
I can get, for that is what I need most,” said Mrs. Jo, so soberly that
the lads fell to thinking in good earnest what they should say when
their turns came, and some among them felt a twinge of remorse, that
they had helped to use up Mother Bhaer’s stock of patience so fast.

Franz wanted perseverance, Tommy steadiness, Ned went in for good
temper, Daisy for industry, Demi for “as much wiseness as Grandpa,”
and Nat timidly said he wanted so many things he would let Mr. Bhaer
choose for him. The others chose much the same things, and patience,
good temper, and generosity seemed the favorite crops. One boy wished
to like to get up early, but did not know what name to give that sort
of seed; and poor Stuffy sighed out,--

“I wish I loved my lessons as much as I do my dinner, but I can’t.”

“We will plant self-denial, and hoe it and water it, and make it
grow so well that next Christmas no one will get ill by eating too
much dinner. If you exercise your mind, George, it will get hungry
just as your body does, and you will love books almost as much as my
philosopher here,” said Mr. Bhaer; adding, as he stroked the hair off
Demi’s fine forehead, “You are greedy also, my son, and you like to
stuff your little mind full of fairy tales and fancies, as well as
George likes to fill his little stomach with cake and candy. Both are
bad, and I want you to try something better. Arithmetic is not half so
pleasant as ‘Arabian Nights,’ I know, but it is a very useful thing,
and now is the time to learn it, else you will be ashamed and sorry by
and by.”

“But, ‘Harry and Lucy,’ and ‘Frank,’ are not fairy books, and they are
full of barometers, and bricks, and shoeing horses, and useful things,
and I’m fond of them; ain’t I, Daisy?” said Demi, anxious to defend
himself.

“So they are; but I find you reading ‘Roland and Maybird’ a great
deal oftener than ‘Harry and Lucy,’ and I think you are not half as
fond of ‘Frank’ as you are of ‘Sinbad.’ Come, I shall make a little
bargain with you both,--George shall eat but three times a day, and
you shall read but one story-book a week, and I will give you the new
cricket-ground; only, you must promise to play in it,” said Uncle Fritz
in his persuasive way, for Stuffy hated to run about, and Demi was
always reading in play hours.

“But we don’t like cricket,” said Demi.

“Perhaps not _now_, but you will when you know it. Besides, you do like
to be generous, and the other boys want to play, and you can give them
the new ground if you choose.”

This was taking them both on the right side, and they agreed to the
bargain, to the great satisfaction of the rest.

There was a little more talk about the gardens, and then they all sang
together. The band delighted Nat, for Mrs. Bhaer played the piano,
Franz the flute, Mr. Bhaer a bass viol, and he himself the violin. A
very simple little concert, but all seemed to enjoy it, and old Asia,
sitting in the corner, joined at times with the sweetest voice of any,
for in this family, master and servant, old and young, black and white,
shared in the Sunday song, which went up to the Father of them all.
After this they each shook hands with Father Bhaer; Mother Bhaer kissed
them every one from sixteen-year-old Franz to little Rob, who kept the
tip of her nose for his own particular kisses, and then they trooped up
to bed.

The light of the shaded lamp that burned in the nursery shone softly on
a picture hanging at the foot of Nat’s bed. There were several others
on the walls, but the boy thought there must be something peculiar
about this one, for it had a graceful frame of moss and cones about it,
and on a little bracket underneath stood a vase of wild flowers freshly
gathered from the spring woods. It was the most beautiful picture of
them all, and Nat lay looking at it, dimly feeling what it meant, and
wishing he knew all about it.

“That’s my picture,” said a little voice in the room. Nat popped up his
head, and there was Demi in his night-gown pausing on his way back from
Aunt Jo’s chamber, whither he had gone to get a cot for a cut finger.

“What is he doing to the children?” asked Nat.

“That is Christ, the Good Man, and He is blessing the children. Don’t
you know about Him?” said Demi, wondering.

“Not much, but I’d like to, He looks so kind,” answered Nat, whose
chief knowledge of the Good Man consisted in hearing His name taken in
vain.

“I know all about it, and I like it very much, because it is true,”
said Demi.

“Who told you?”

“My Grandpa, he knows _every thing_, and tells the best stories in
the world. I used to play with his big books, and make bridges, and
railroads, and houses, when I was a little boy,” began Demi.

“How old are you now?” asked Nat, respectfully.

“’Most ten.”

“You know a lot of things, don’t you?”

“Yes; you see my head is pretty big, and Grandpa says it will take a
good deal to fill it, so I keep putting pieces of wisdom into it as
fast as I can,” returned Demi, in his quaint way.

Nat laughed, and then said soberly,--

“Tell on, please.”

And Demi gladly told on without pause or punctuation. “I found a very
pretty book one day and wanted to play with it, but Grandpa said I
mustn’t, and showed me the pictures, and told me about them, and I
liked the stories very much, all about Joseph and his bad brothers, and
the frogs that came up out of the sea, and dear little Moses in the
water, and ever so many more lovely ones, but I like about the Good Man
best of all, and Grandpa told it to me so many times that I learned it
by heart, and he gave me this picture so I shouldn’t forget, and it was
put up here once when I was sick, and I left it for other sick boys to
see.”

“What makes Him bless the children?” asked Nat, who found something
very attractive in the chief figure of the group.

“Because He loved them.”

“Were they poor children?” asked Nat, wistfully.

“Yes, I think so; you see some haven’t got hardly any clothes on, and
the mothers don’t look like rich ladies. He liked poor people, and
was very good to them. He made them well, and helped them, and told
rich people they must not be cross to them, and they loved Him dearly,
dearly,” cried Demi, with enthusiasm.

“Was He rich?”

“Oh no! He was born in a barn, and was so poor He hadn’t any house to
live in when He grew up, and nothing to eat sometimes, but what people
gave Him, and He went round preaching to everybody, and trying to make
them good, till the bad men killed Him.”

“What for?” and Nat sat up in his bed to look and listen, so interested
was he in this man who cared for the poor so much.

“I’ll tell you all about it; Aunt Jo won’t mind;” and Demi settled
himself on the opposite bed, glad to tell his favorite story to so good
a listener.

Nursey peeped in to see if Nat was asleep, but when she saw what was
going on, she slipped away again, and went to Mrs. Bhaer, saying with
her kind face full of motherly emotion,--

“Will the dear lady come and see a pretty sight? It’s Nat listening
with all his heart to Demi telling the story of the Christ-child, like
a little white angel as he is.”

Mrs. Bhaer had meant to go and talk with Nat a moment before he slept,
for she had found that a serious word spoken at this time often did
much good. But when she stole to the nursery door, and saw Nat eagerly
drinking in the words of his little friend, while Demi told the sweet
and solemn story as it had been taught him, speaking softly as he sat
with his beautiful eyes fixed on the tender face above them, her own
filled with tears, and she went silently away, thinking to herself,--

“Demi is unconsciously helping the poor boy better than I can; I will
not spoil it by a single word.”

The murmur of the childish voice went on for a long time, as one
innocent heart preached that great sermon to another, and no one hushed
it. When it ceased at last, and Mrs. Bhaer went to take away the lamp,
Demi was gone and Nat fast asleep, lying with his face toward the
picture, as if he had already learned to love the Good Man who loved
little children, and was a faithful friend to the poor. The boy’s face
was very placid, and as she looked at it she felt that if a single day
of care and kindness had done so much, a year of patient cultivation
would surely bring a grateful harvest from this neglected garden, which
was already sown with the best of all seed by the little missionary in
the night-gown.



CHAPTER IV

STEPPING-STONES


When Nat went into school on Monday morning, he quaked inwardly, for
now he thought he should have to display his ignorance before them all.
But Mr. Bhaer gave him a seat in the deep window, where he could turn
his back on the others, and Franz heard him say his lessons there, so
no one could hear his blunders or see how he blotted his copy-book. He
was truly grateful for this, and toiled away so diligently that Mr.
Bhaer said, smiling, when he saw his hot face and inky fingers,--

“Don’t work so hard, my boy; you will tire yourself out, and there is
time enough.”

“But I _must_ work hard, or I can’t catch up with the others. They know
heaps, and I don’t know any thing,” said Nat, who had been reduced to a
state of despair by hearing the boys recite their grammar, history, and
geography with what he thought amazing ease and accuracy.

“You know a good many things which they don’t,” said Mr. Bhaer, sitting
down beside him, while Franz led a class of small students through the
intricacies of the multiplication table.

“Do I?” and Nat looked utterly incredulous.

“Yes; for one thing, you can keep your temper, and Jack, who is quick
at numbers, cannot; that is an excellent lesson, and I think you have
learned it well. Then, you can play the violin, and not one of the
lads can, though they want to do it very much. But, best of all, Nat,
you really care to learn something, and that is half the battle. It
seems hard at first, and you will feel discouraged, but plod away, and
things will get easier and easier as you go on.”

Nat’s face had brightened more and more as he listened, for, small as
the list of his learning was, it cheered him immensely to feel that he
had any thing to fall back upon. “Yes, I can keep my temper--father’s
beating taught me that; and I can fiddle, though I don’t know where the
Bay of Biscay is,” he thought, with a sense of comfort impossible to
express. Then he said aloud, and so earnestly that Demi heard him,--

“I _do_ want to learn, and I _will_ try. I never went to school, but I
couldn’t help it; and if the fellows don’t laugh at me, I guess I’ll
get on first rate--you and the lady are so good to me.”

“They shan’t laugh at you; if they do, I’ll--I’ll--tell them not to,”
cried Demi, quite forgetting where he was.

The class stopped in the middle of 7 times 9, and every one looked up
to see what was going on.

Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than
arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an
interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted
lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be
called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so
capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and
Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for every one was glad to
give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.

Till he was stronger, much study was not good for him, however, and
Mrs. Jo found various amusements in the house for him while others
were at their books. But his garden was his best medicine, and he
worked away like a beaver, preparing his little farm, sowing his
beans, watching eagerly to see them grow, and rejoicing over each
green leaf and slender stock that shot up and flourished in the warm
spring weather. Never was a garden more faithfully hoed; Mr. Bhaer
really feared that nothing would find time to grow, Nat kept up such
a stirring of the soil; so he gave him easy jobs in the flower garden
or among the strawberries, where he worked and hummed as busily as the
bees booming all about him.

“This is the crop I like best,” Mrs. Bhaer used to say, as she pinched
the once thin cheeks now getting plump and ruddy, or stroked the bent
shoulders that were slowly straightening up with healthful work, good
food, and the absence of that heavy burden, poverty.

Demi was his little friend, Tommy his patron, and Daisy the comforter
of all his woes; for, though the children were younger than he, his
timid spirit found a pleasure in their innocent society, and rather
shrunk from the rough sports of the elder lads. Mr. Laurence did not
forget him, but sent clothes and books, music and kind messages, and
now and then came out to see how his boy was getting on, or took him
into town to a concert; on which occasions Nat felt himself translated
into the seventh heaven of bliss, for he went to Mr. Laurence’s great
house, saw his pretty wife and little fairy of a daughter, had a good
dinner, and was made so comfortable, that he talked and dreamed of it
for days and nights afterward.

It takes so little to make a child happy, that it is a pity in a
world full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any
wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts. Feeling this, the
Bhaers gathered up all the crumbs they could find to feed their flock
of hungry sparrows, for they were not rich, except in charity. Many of
Mrs. Jo’s friends who had nurseries sent her the toys of which their
children so soon tired, and in mending these Nat found an employment
that just suited him. He was very neat and skilful with those slender
fingers of his, and passed many a rainy afternoon with his gum-bottle,
paint-box, and knife, repairing furniture, animals, and games, while
Daisy was dressmaker to the dilapidated dolls. As fast as the toys
were mended, they were put carefully away in a certain drawer which
was to furnish forth a Christmas-tree for all the poor children of the
neighborhood, that being the way the Plumfield boys celebrated the
birthday of Him who loved the poor and blessed the little ones.

Demi was never tired of reading and explaining his favorite books, and
many a pleasant hour did they spend in the old willow, revelling over
“Robinson Crusoe,” “Arabian Nights,” “Edgeworth’s Tales,” and the other
dear immortal stories that will delight children for centuries to come.
This opened a new world to Nat, and his eagerness to see what came
next in the story helped him on till he could read as well as anybody,
and felt so rich and proud with his new accomplishment, that there was
danger of his being as much of a bookworm as Demi.

Another helpful thing happened in a most unexpected and agreeable
manner. Several of the boys were “in business,” as they called it, for
most of them were poor, and knowing that they would have their own way
to make by and by, the Bhaers encouraged any efforts at independence.
Tommy sold his eggs; Jack speculated in live stock; Franz helped in the
teaching, and was paid for it; Ned had a taste for carpentry, and a
turning-lathe was set up for him in which he turned all sorts of useful
or pretty things, and sold them; while Demi constructed water-mills,
whirligigs, and unknown machines of an intricate and useless nature,
and disposed of them to the boys.

“Let him be a mechanic if he likes,” said Mr. Bhaer. “Give a boy a
trade, and he is independent. Work is wholesome, and whatever talent
these lads possess, be it for poetry or ploughing, it shall be
cultivated and made useful to them if possible.”

So when Nat came running to him one day to ask with an excited face,--

“Can I go and fiddle for some people who are to have a picnic in our
woods? They will pay me, and I’d like to earn some money as the other
boys do, and fiddling is the only way I know how to do it,”--

Mr. Bhaer answered readily,--

“Go, and welcome. It is an easy and a pleasant way to work, and I am
glad it is offered you.”

Nat went, and did so well, that when he came home he had two dollars in
his pocket, which he displayed with intense satisfaction, as he told
how much he had enjoyed the afternoon, how kind the young people were,
and how they had praised his dance-music, and promised to have him
again.

“It is so much nicer than fiddling in the street, for then I got none
of the money, and now I have it all, and a good time besides. I’m in
business now as well as Tommy and Jack, and I like it ever so much,”
said Nat, proudly patting the old pocket-book, and feeling like a
millionaire already.

He _was_ in business truly, for picnics were plenty as summer opened,
and Nat’s skill was in great demand. He was always at liberty to go if
lessons were not neglected, and if the picnics were respectable young
people. For Mr. Bhaer explained to him that a good plain education is
necessary for every one, and that no amount of money should hire him
to go where he might be tempted to do wrong. Nat quite agreed to this,
and it was a pleasant sight to see the innocent-hearted lad go driving
away in the gay wagons that stopped at the gate for him, or to hear him
come fiddling home tired but happy, with his well-earned money in one
pocket, and some “goodies” from the feast for Daisy or little Ted, whom
he never forgot.

“I’m going to save up till I get enough to buy a violin for myself, and
then I can earn my own living, can’t I?” he used to say, as he brought
his dollars to Mr. Bhaer to keep.

“I hope so, Nat; but we must get you strong and hearty first, and put a
little more knowledge into this musical head of yours. Then Mr. Laurie
will find you a place somewhere, and in a few years we will all come to
hear you play in public.”

With much congenial work, encouragement, and hope, Nat found life
getting easier and happier every day, and made such progress in his
music lessons, that his teacher forgave his slowness in some other
things, knowing very well that where the heart is the mind works best.
The only punishment the boy ever needed for neglect of more important
lessons was to hang up the fiddle and the bow for a day. The fear of
losing his bosom friend entirely made him go at his books with a will;
and having proved that _he could_ master the lessons, what was the use
of saying “I can’t”?

Daisy had a great love of music, and a great reverence for any one who
could make it, and she was often found sitting on the stairs outside
Nat’s door while he was practising. This pleased him very much, and he
played his best for that one quiet little listener; for she never would
come in, but preferred to sit sewing her gay patchwork, or tending one
of her many dolls, with an expression of dreamy pleasure on her face
that made Aunt Jo say, with tears in her eyes,--

“So like my Beth,” and go softly by, lest even her familiar presence
mar the child’s sweet satisfaction.

Nat was very fond of Mrs. Bhaer, but found something even more
attractive in the good professor, who took fatherly care of the shy
feeble boy, who had barely escaped with his life from the rough sea on
which his little boat had been tossing rudderless for twelve years.
Some good angel must have watched over him, for, though his body had
suffered, his soul seemed to have taken little harm, and came ashore
as innocent as a shipwrecked baby. Perhaps his love of music kept it
sweet in spite of the discord all about him; Mr. Laurie said so, and he
ought to know. However that might be, Father Bhaer took real pleasure
in fostering poor Nat’s virtues, and in curing his faults, finding his
new pupil as docile and affectionate as a girl. He often called Nat
his “daughter” when speaking of him to Mrs. Jo, and she used to laugh
at his fancy, for Madame liked manly boys, and thought Nat amiable but
weak, though you never would have guessed it, for she petted him as she
did Daisy, and he thought her a very delightful woman.

One fault of Nat’s gave the Bhaers much anxiety, although they saw how
it had been strengthened by fear and ignorance. I regret to say that
Nat sometimes told lies. Not very black ones, seldom getting deeper
than gray, and often the mildest of white fibs; but that did not
matter, a lie is a lie, and though we all tell many polite untruths in
this queer world of ours, it is not right, and everybody knows it.

“You cannot be too careful; watch your tongue, and eyes, and hands, for
it is easy to tell, and look, and act untruth,” said Mr. Bhaer, in one
of the talks he had with Nat about his chief temptation.

“I know it, and I don’t mean to, but it’s so much easier to get along
if you ain’t very fussy about being exactly true. I used to tell ’em
because I was afraid of father and Nicolo, and now I do sometimes
because the boys laugh at me. I know it’s bad, but I forget,” and Nat
looked much depressed by his sins.

“When I was a little lad I used to tell lies! Ach! what fibs they were,
and my old grandmother cured me of it--how, do you think? My parents
had talked, and cried, and punished, but still did I forget as you.
Then said the dear old grandmother, ‘I shall help you to remember, and
put a check on this unruly part,’ with that she drew out my tongue
and snipped the end with her scissors till the blood ran. That was
terrible, you may believe, but it did me much good, because it was
sore for days, and every word I said came so slowly that I had time to
think. After that I was more careful, and got on better, for I feared
the big scissors. Yet the dear grandmother was most kind to me in all
things, and when she lay dying far away in Nuremberg, she prayed that
little Fritz might love God and tell the truth.”

“I never had any grandmothers, but if you think it will cure me, I’ll
let you snip my tongue,” said Nat, heroically, for he dreaded pain, yet
did wish to stop fibbing.

Mr. Bhaer smiled, but shook his head.

“I have a better way than that, I tried it once before and it worked
well. See now, when you tell a lie I will not punish you, but you shall
punish me.”

“How?” asked Nat, startled at the idea.

“You shall ferule me in the good old-fashioned way, I seldom do it
myself, but it may make you remember better to give me pain than to
feel it yourself.”

“Strike you? Oh, I couldn’t!” cried Nat.

“Then mind that tripping tongue of thine. I have no wish to be hurt,
but I would gladly bear much pain to cure this fault.”

This suggestion made such an impression on Nat, that for a long time
he set a watch upon his lips, and was desperately accurate, for Mr.
Bhaer judged rightly, that love of him would be more powerful with Nat
than fear for himself. But alas! one sad day Nat was off his guard, and
when peppery Emil threatened to thrash him, if it was he who had run
over his garden and broken down his best hills of corn, Nat declared he
didn’t, and then was ashamed to own up that he did do it, when Jack was
chasing him the night before.

He thought no one would find it out, but Tommy happened to see him, and
when Emil spoke of it a day or two later, Tommy gave his evidence, and
Mr. Bhaer heard it. School was over, and they were all standing about
in the hall, and Mr. Bhaer had just sat down on the straw settee, to
enjoy his frolic with Teddy; but when he heard Tommy, and saw Nat turn
scarlet, and look at him with a frightened face, he put the little boy
down, saying, “Go to thy mother, bübchen, I will come soon,” and taking
Nat by the hand led him into the school, and shut the door.

The boys looked at one another in silence for a minute, then Tommy
slipped out and peeping in at the half-closed blinds, beheld a sight
that quite bewildered him. Mr. Bhaer had just taken down that long rule
that hung over his desk, so seldom used that it was covered with dust.

“My eye! he’s going to come down heavy on Nat this time. Wish I hadn’t
told,” thought good-natured Tommy, for to be feruled was the deepest
disgrace at this school.

“You remember what I told you last time?” said Mr. Bhaer, sorrowfully,
not angrily.

“Yes; but please don’t make me, I can’t bear it,” cried Nat, backing
up against the door with both hands behind him, and a face full of
distress.

“Why don’t he up and take it like a man? I would,” thought Tommy,
though his heart beat fast at the sight.

“I shall keep my word, and you must remember to tell the truth. Obey
me, Nat, take this and give me six good strokes.”

Tommy was so staggered by this last speech that he nearly tumbled down
the bank, but saved himself, and hung on to the window ledge, staring
in with eyes as round as the stuffed owl’s on the chimney-piece.

Nat took the rule, for when Mr. Bhaer spoke in that tone every one
obeyed him, and, looking as scared and guilty as if about to stab his
master, he gave two feeble blows on the broad hand held out to him.
Then he stopped and looked up half-blind with tears, but Mr. Bhaer said
steadily,--

“Go on, and strike harder.”

As if seeing that it must be done, and eager to have the hard task soon
over, Nat drew his sleeve across his eyes and gave two more quick hard
strokes that reddened the hand, yet hurt the giver more.

“Isn’t that enough?” he asked in a breathless sort of tone.

“Two more,” was all the answer, and he gave them, hardly seeing where
they fell, then threw the rule all across the room, and hugging the
kind hand in both his own, laid his face down on it sobbing out in a
passion of love, and shame, and penitence,--

“I will remember! Oh! I will!”

Then Mr. Bhaer put an arm about him, and said in a tone as
compassionate as it had just now been firm,--

“I think you will. Ask the dear God to help you, and try to spare us
both another scene like this.”

Tommy saw no more, for he crept back to the hall, looking so excited
and sober that the boys crowded round him to ask what was being done to
Nat.

In a most impressive whisper Tommy told them, and they looked as if the
sky was about to fall, for this reversing the order of things almost
took their breath away.

“He made me do the same thing once,” said Emil, as if confessing a
crime of the deepest dye.

“And you hit him? dear old Father Bhaer? By thunder, I’d just like to
see you do it now!” said Ned, collaring Emil in a fit of righteous
wrath.

“It was ever so long ago. I’d rather have my head cut off than do it
now,” and Emil mildly laid Ned on his back instead of cuffing him, as
he would have felt it his duty to do on any less solemn occasion.

“How could you?” said Demi, appalled at the idea.

“I was hopping mad at the time, and thought I shouldn’t mind a bit,
rather like it perhaps. But when I’d hit Uncle one good crack, every
thing he had ever done for me came into my head all at once somehow,
and I couldn’t go on. No, sir! if he’d laid me down and walked on me,
I wouldn’t have minded, I felt so mean;” and Emil gave himself a good
thump in the chest to express his sense of remorse for the past.

“Nat’s crying like any thing, and feels no end sorry, so don’t let’s
say a word about it; will we?” said tender-hearted Tommy.

“Of course we won’t, but it’s awful to tell lies,” and Demi looked as
if he found the awfulness much increased when the punishment fell not
upon the sinner, but his best Uncle Fritz.

“Suppose we all clear out, so Nat can cut up-stairs if he wants to,”
proposed Franz, and led the way to the barn, their refuge in troublous
times.

Nat did not come to dinner, but Mrs. Jo took some up to him, and said
a tender word, which did him good, though he could not look at her.
By and by the lads playing outside heard the violin, and said among
themselves: “He’s all right now.” He was all right, but felt shy about
going down, till, opening his door to slip away into the woods, he
found Daisy sitting on the stairs with neither work nor doll, only her
little handkerchief in her hand, as if she had been mourning for her
captive friend.

“I’m going to walk; want to come?” asked Nat, trying to look as if
nothing was the matter, yet feeling very grateful for her silent
sympathy, because he fancied every one must look upon him as a wretch.

“Oh, yes!” and Daisy ran for her hat, proud to be chosen as a companion
by one of the big boys.

The others saw them go, but no one followed, for boys have a great deal
more delicacy than they get credit for, and the lads instinctively felt
that, when in disgrace, gentle little Daisy was their most congenial
friend.

The walk did Nat good, and he came home quieter than usual, but looking
cheerful again, and hung all over with daisy-chains, made by his little
playmate while he lay on the grass and told her stories.

No one said a word about the scene of the morning, but its effect was
all the more lasting for that reason, perhaps. Nat tried his very best,
and found much help, not only from the earnest little prayers he prayed
to his Friend in heaven, but also in the patient care of the earthly
friend, whose kind hand he never touched without remembering that it
had willingly borne pain for his sake.



CHAPTER V

PATTY PANS


“What’s the matter, Daisy?”

“The boys won’t let me play with them.”

“Why not?”

“They say girls can’t play football.”

“They can, for I’ve done it!” and Mrs. Bhaer laughed at the remembrance
of certain youthful frolics.

“I know I can play; Demi and I used to, and have nice times, but he
won’t let me now because the other boys laugh at him,” and Daisy looked
deeply grieved at her brother’s hardness of heart.

“On the whole, I think he is right, deary. It’s all very well when you
two are alone, but it is too rough a game for you with a dozen boys; so
I’d find some nice little play for myself.”

“I’m tired of playing alone!” and Daisy’s tone was very mournful.

“I’ll play with you by and by, but just now I must fly about and get
things ready for a trip into town. You shall go with me and see mamma,
and if you like you can stay with her.”

“I should like to go and see her and Baby Josy, but I’d rather come
back, please. Demi would miss me, and I love to be here, Aunty.”

“You can’t get on without your Demi, can you?” and Aunt Jo looked as if
she quite understood the love of the little girl for her only brother.

“’Course I can’t; we’re twins, and so we love each other more than
other people,” answered Daisy, with a brightening face, for she
considered being a twin one of the highest honors she could ever
receive.

“Now, what will you do with your little self while I fly round?” asked
Mrs. Bhaer, who was whisking piles of linen into a wardrobe with great
rapidity.

“I don’t know, I’m tired of dolls and things; I wish you’d make up a
new play for me, Aunty Jo,” said Daisy, swinging listlessly on the door.

“I shall have to think of a brand new one, and it will take me some
time; so suppose you go down and see what Asia has got for your lunch,”
suggested Mrs. Bhaer, thinking that would be a good way in which to
dispose of the little hindrance for a time.

“Yes, I think I’d like that, if she isn’t cross,” and Daisy slowly
departed to the kitchen, where Asia, the black cook, reigned
undisturbed.

In five minutes Daisy was back again, with a wide-awake face, a bit of
dough in her hand and a dab of flour on her little nose.

“O Aunty! please could I go and make gingersnaps and things? Asia isn’t
cross, and she says I may, and it would be such fun, please do,” cried
Daisy, all in one breath.

“Just the thing, go and welcome, make what you like, and stay as long
as you please,” answered Mrs. Bhaer, much relieved, for sometimes the
one little girl was harder to amuse than the dozen boys.

Daisy ran off, and while she worked, Aunt Jo racked her brain for a new
play. All of a sudden she seemed to have an idea, for she smiled to
herself, slammed the doors of the wardrobe, and walked briskly away,
saying, “I’ll do it, if it’s a possible thing!”

What it was no one found out that day, but Aunt Jo’s eyes twinkled so
when she told Daisy she had thought of a new play, and was going to buy
it, that Daisy was much excited and asked questions all the way into
town, without getting answers that told her anything. She was left at
home to play with the new baby and delight her mother’s eyes, while
Aunt Jo went off shopping. When she came back with all sorts of queer
parcels in corners of the carry-all, Daisy was so full of curiosity
that she wanted to go back to Plumfield at once. But her aunt would not
be hurried, and made a long call in mamma’s room, sitting on the floor
with baby in her lap, making Mrs. Brooke laugh at the pranks of the
boys, and all sorts of droll nonsense.

How her aunt told the secret Daisy could not imagine, but her mother
evidently knew it, for she said, as she tied on the little bonnet and
kissed the rosy little face inside, “Be a good child, my Daisy, and
learn the nice new play Aunty has got for you. It’s a most useful
and interesting one, and it is very kind of her to play it with you,
because she does not like it very well herself.”

This last speech made the two ladies laugh heartily, and increased
Daisy’s bewilderment. As they drove away something rattled in the back
of the carriage.

“What’s that?” asked Daisy, pricking up her ears.

“The new play,” answered Mrs. Jo, solemnly.

“What is it made of?” cried Daisy.

“Iron, tin, wood, brass, sugar, salt, coal, and a hundred other things.”

“How strange! what color is it?”

“All sorts of colors.”

“Is it large?”

“Part of it is, and a part isn’t.”

“Did I ever see one?”

“Ever so many, but never one so nice as this.”

“Oh! what can it be? I can’t wait. When _shall_ I see it?” and Daisy
bounced up and down with impatience.

“To-morrow morning, after lessons.”

“Is it for the boys too?”

“No, all for you and Bess. The boys will like to see it, and want to
play one part of it. But you can do as you like about letting them.”

“I’ll let Demi, if he wants to.”

“No fear that they won’t all want to, especially Stuffy,” and Mrs.
Bhaer’s eyes twinkled more than ever, as she patted a queer knobby
bundle in her lap.

“Let me feel just once,” prayed Daisy.

“Not a feel; you’d guess in a minute and spoil the fun.”

Daisy groaned and then smiled all over her face, for through a little
hole in the paper she caught a glimpse of something bright.

“How _can_ I wait so long? Couldn’t I see it to-day?”

“Oh dear, no! it has got to be arranged, and ever so many parts fixed
in their places. I promised Uncle Teddy that you shouldn’t see it till
it was all in apple-pie order.”

“If Uncle knows about it then it _must_ be splendid!” cried Daisy,
clapping her hands; for this kind, rich, jolly uncle of hers was as
good as a fairy godmother to the children, and was always planning
merry surprises, pretty gifts, and droll amusements for them.

“Yes; Teddy went and bought it with me, and we had such fun in the shop
choosing the different parts. He would have everything fine and large,
and my little plan got regularly splendid when he took hold. You must
give him your very best kiss when he comes, for he is the kindest uncle
that ever went and bought a charming little coo---- Bless me! I nearly
told you what it was!” and Mrs. Bhaer cut that most interesting word
short off in the middle, and began to look over her bills, as if afraid
she would let the cat out of the bag if she talked any more. Daisy
folded her hands with an air of resignation, and sat quite still trying
to think what play had a “coo” in it.

When they got home she eyed every bundle that was taken out, and one
large heavy one, which Franz took straight up-stairs and hid in the
nursery, filled her with amazement and curiosity. Something very
mysterious went on up there that afternoon, for Franz was hammering,
and Asia trotting up and down, and Aunt Jo flying around like a
will-o’-the-wisp, with all sorts of things under her apron, while
little Ted, who was the only child admitted, because he couldn’t talk
plain, babbled and laughed, and tried to tell what the “sumpin pitty”
was.

All this made Daisy half wild, and her excitement spread among the
boys, who quite overwhelmed Mother Bhaer with offers of assistance,
which she declined by quoting their own words to Daisy,--

“Girls can’t play with boys. This is for Daisy, and Bess, and me, so
we don’t want you.” Whereupon the young gentlemen meekly retired,
and invited Daisy to a game of marbles, horse, football, anything
she liked, with a sudden warmth and politeness which astonished her
innocent little soul.

Thanks to these attentions, she got through the afternoon, went early
to bed, and next morning did her lessons with an energy which made
Uncle Fritz wish that a new game could be invented every day. Quite a
thrill pervaded the school-room when Daisy was dismissed at eleven
o’clock, for every one knew that _now_ she was going to have the new
and mysterious play.

Many eyes followed her as she ran away, and Demi’s mind was so
distracted by this event that when Franz asked him where the desert
of Sahara was, he mournfully replied, “In the nursery,” and the whole
school laughed at him.

“Aunt Jo, I’ve done all my lessons, and I can’t wait one single minute
more!” cried Daisy, flying into Mrs. Bhaer’s room.

“It’s all ready, come on;” and tucking Ted under one arm, and her
work-basket under the other, Aunt Jo promptly led the way up-stairs.

“I don’t see any thing,” said Daisy, staring about her as she got
inside the nursery door.

“Do you hear any thing?” asked Aunt Jo, catching Ted back by his little
frock as he was making straight for one side of the room.

Daisy did hear an odd crackling, and then a purry little sound as of a
kettle singing. These noises came from behind a curtain drawn before a
deep bay window. Daisy snatched it back, gave one joyful “Oh!” and then
stood gazing with delight at--what do you think?

A wide seat ran round the three sides of the window; on one side hung
and stood all sorts of little pots and pans, gridirons and skillets;
on the other side a small dinner and tea set; and on the middle part
a cooking-stove. Not a tin one, that was of no use, but a real iron
stove, big enough to cook for a large family of very hungry dolls. But
the best of it was that a real fire burned in it, real steam came out
of the nose of the little tea-kettle, and the lid of the little boiler
actually danced a jig, the water inside bubbled so hard. A pane of
glass had been taken out and replaced by a sheet of tin, with a hole
for the small funnel, and real smoke went sailing away outside so
naturally, that it did one’s heart good to see it. The box of wood with
a hod of charcoal stood near by; just above hung dustpan, brush, and
broom; a little market basket was on the low table at which Daisy used
to play, and over the back of her little chair hung a white apron with
a bib, and a droll mob cap. The sun shone in as if he enjoyed the fun,
the little stove roared beautifully, the kettle steamed, the new tins
sparkled on the walls, the pretty china stood in tempting rows, and
it was altogether as cheery and complete a kitchen as any child could
desire.

Daisy stood quite still after the first glad “Oh!” but her eyes went
quickly from one charming object to another, brightening as they
looked, till they came to Aunt Jo’s merry face; there they stopped as
the happy little girl hugged her, saying gratefully,--

“O Aunty, it’s a splendid new play! can I really cook at the dear
stove, and have parties and mess, and sweep, and make fires that truly
burn? I like it _so_ much! What made you think of it?”

“Your liking to make gingersnaps with Asia made me think of it,” said
Mrs. Bhaer, holding Daisy, who frisked as if she would fly. “I knew
Asia wouldn’t let you mess in her kitchen very often, and it wouldn’t
be safe at this fire up here, so I thought I’d see if I could find a
little stove for you, and teach you to cook; that would be fun, and
useful too. So I travelled round among the toy shops, but every thing
large cost too much and I was thinking I should have to give it up,
when I met Uncle Teddy. As soon as he knew what I was about, he said he
wanted to help, and insisted on buying the biggest toy stove we could
find. I scolded, but he only laughed, and teased me about my cooking
when we were young, and said I must teach Bess as well as you, and went
on buying all sorts of nice little things for my ‘cooking class’ as he
called it.”

“I’m so glad you met him!” said Daisy, as Mrs. Jo stopped to laugh at
the memory of the funny time she had with Uncle Teddy.

“You must study hard and learn to make all kinds of things, for he says
he shall come out to tea very often, and expects something uncommonly
nice.”

“It’s the sweetest, dearest kitchen in the world, and I’d rather study
with it than do anything else. Can’t I learn pies, and cake, and
macaroni, and every thing?” cried Daisy, dancing round the room with a
new saucepan in one hand and the tiny poker in the other.

“All in good time. This is to be a useful play, I am to help you, and
you are to be my cook, so I shall tell you what to do, and show you
how. Then we shall have things fit to eat, and you will be really
learning how to cook on a small scale. I’ll call you Sally, and say you
are a new girl just come,” added Mrs. Jo, settling down to work, while
Teddy sat on the floor sucking his thumb, and staring at the stove as
if it was a live thing, whose appearance deeply interested him.

“That will be _so_ lovely! What shall I do first?” asked Sally, with
such a happy face and willing air that Aunt Jo wished all new cooks
were half as pretty and pleasant.

“First of all, put on this clean cap and apron. I am rather
old-fashioned, and I like my cook to be very tidy.”

Sally tucked her curly hair into the round cap, and put on the apron
without a murmur, though usually she rebelled against bibs.

“Now, you can put things in order, and wash up the new china. The old
set needs washing also, for my last girl was apt to leave it in a sad
state after a party.”

Aunt Jo spoke quite soberly, but Sally laughed, for she knew who the
untidy girl was who had left the cups sticky. Then she turned up her
cuffs, and with a sigh of satisfaction began to stir about her kitchen,
having little raptures now and then over the “sweet rolling pin,” the
“darling dish-tub,” or the “cunning pepper-pot.”

“Now, Sally, take your basket and go to market; here is the list of
things I want for dinner,” said Mrs. Jo, giving her a bit of paper when
the dishes were all in order.

“Where is the market?” asked Daisy, thinking that the new play got more
and more interesting every minute.

“Asia is the market.”

Away went Sally, causing another stir in the school-room as she passed
the door in her new costume, and whispered to Demi, with a face full of
delight,--“It’s a perfectly splendid play!”

Old Asia enjoyed the joke as much as Daisy, and laughed jollily as the
little girl came flying into the room with her cap all on one side,
the lids of her basket rattling like castanets and looking like a very
crazy little cook.

“Mrs. Aunt Jo wants these things, and I must have them right away,”
said Daisy, importantly.

“Let’s see, honey; here’s two pounds of steak, potatoes, squash,
apples, bread, and butter. The meat ain’t come yet; when it does I’ll
send it up. The other things are all handy.”

Then Asia packed one potato, one apple, a bit of squash, a little pat
of butter, and a roll, into the basket, telling Sally to be on the
watch for the butcher’s boy, because he sometimes played tricks.

“Who is he?” and Daisy hoped it would be Demi.

“You’ll see,” was all Asia would say; and Sally went off in great
spirits, singing a verse from dear Mary Howitt’s sweet story in rhyme,--

    “Away went little Mabel,
      With the wheaten cake so fine,
    The new-made pot of butter,
      And the little flask of wine.”

“Put every thing but the apple into the store-closet for the present,”
said Mrs. Jo, when the cook got home.

There was a cupboard under the middle shelf, and on opening the door
fresh delights appeared. One half was evidently the cellar, for wood,
coal, and kindlings were piled there. The other half was full of little
jars, boxes, and all sorts of droll contrivances for holding small
quantities of flour, meal, sugar, salt, and other household stores. A
pot of jam was there, a little tin box of gingerbread, a cologne bottle
full of currant wine, and a tiny canister of tea. But the crowning
charm was two doll’s pans of new milk, with cream actually rising on
it, and a wee skimmer all ready to skim it with. Daisy clasped her
hands at this delicious spectacle, and wanted to skim immediately. But
Aunt Jo said,--

“Not yet; you will want the cream to eat on your apple-pie at dinner,
and must not disturb it till then.”

“Am I going to have pie?” cried Daisy, hardly believing that such bliss
could be in store for her.

“Yes; if your oven does well we will have two pies,--one apple and one
strawberry,” said Mrs. Jo, who was nearly as much interested in the
new play as Daisy herself.

“Oh, what next?” asked Sally, all impatience to begin.

“Shut the lower draught of the stove, so that the oven may heat.
Then wash your hands and get out the flour, sugar, salt, butter, and
cinnamon. See if the pie-board is clean, and pare your apple ready to
put in.”

Daisy got things together with as little noise and spilling as could be
expected, from so young a cook.

“I really don’t know how to measure for such tiny pies; I must guess
at it, and if these don’t succeed, we must try again,” said Mrs. Jo,
looking rather perplexed, and very much amused with the small concern
before her. “Take that little pan full of flour, put in a pinch of
salt, and then rub in as much butter as will go on that plate. Always
remember to put your dry things together first, and then the wet. It
mixes better so.”

“I know how; I saw Asia do it. Don’t I butter the pie plates too? She
did, the first thing,” said Daisy, whisking the flour about at a great
rate.

“Quite right! I do believe you have a gift for cooking, you take to it
so cleverly,” said Aunt Jo, approvingly. “Now a dash of cold water,
just enough to wet it; then scatter some flour on the board, work in a
little, and roll the paste out; yes, that’s the way. Now put dabs of
butter all over it, and roll it out again. We won’t have our pastry
very rich, or the dolls will get dyspeptic.”

Daisy laughed at the idea, and scattered the dabs with a liberal hand.
Then she rolled and rolled with her delightful little pin, and having
got her paste ready, proceeded to cover the plates with it. Next the
apple was sliced in, sugar and cinnamon lavishly sprinkled over it, and
then the top crust put on with breathless care.

“I always wanted to cut them round, and Asia never would let me. How
nice it is to do it all my ownty donty self!” said Daisy, as the little
knife went clipping round the doll’s plate poised on her hand.

All cooks, even the best, meet with mishaps sometimes, and Sally’s
first one occurred then, for the knife went so fast that the plate
slipped, turned a somersault in the air, and landed the dear little
pie upside down on the floor. Sally screamed, Mrs. Jo laughed, Teddy
scrambled to get it, and for a moment confusion reigned in the new
kitchen.

“It didn’t spill or break, because I pinched the edges together so
hard; it isn’t hurt a bit, so I’ll prick holes in it, and then it will
be ready,” said Sally, picking up the capsized treasure and putting it
into shape with a childlike disregard of the dust it had gathered in
its fall.

“My new cook has a good temper, I see, and that is such a comfort,”
said Mrs. Jo. “Now open the jar of strawberry jam, fill the uncovered
pie, and put some strips of paste over the top as Asia does.”

“I’ll make a D in the middle, and have zigzags all round; that will be
so interesting when I come to eat it,” said Sally, loading her pie with
quirls and flourishes that would have driven a real pastry cook wild.
“_Now_ I put them in!” she exclaimed, when the last grimy knob had been
carefully planted in the red field of jam, and with an air of triumph
she shut them into the little oven.

“Clear up your things; a good cook never lets her utensils collect.
Then pare your squash and potatoes.”

“There is only one potato,” giggled Sally.

“Cut it in four pieces, so it will go into the little kettle, and put
the bits into cold water till it is time to cook them.”

“Do I soak the squash too?”

“No, indeed! just pare it and cut it up, and put it into the steamer
over the pot. It is drier so, though it takes longer to cook.”

Here a scratching at the door caused Sally to run and open it, when Kit
appeared with a covered basket in his mouth.

“Here’s the butcher’s boy!” cried Daisy, much tickled at the idea, as
she relieved him of his load, whereat he licked his lips and began
to beg, evidently thinking that it was his own dinner, for he often
carried it to his master in that way. Being undeceived, he departed in
great wrath and barked all the way down-stairs, to ease his wounded
feelings.

In the basket were two bits of steak (doll’s pounds), a baked pear,
a small cake, and paper with them on which Asia had scrawled, “For
Missy’s lunch, if her cookin’ don’t turn out well.”

“I don’t want any of her old pears and things; my cooking _will_ turn
out well, and I’ll have a splendid dinner; see if I don’t!” cried
Daisy, indignantly.

“We may like them if company should come. It is always well to have
something in the store-room,” said Aunt Jo, who had been taught this
valuable fact by a series of domestic panics.

“Me is hundry,” announced Teddy, who began to think what with so much
cooking going on it was about time for somebody to eat something. His
mother gave him her work-basket to rummage, hoping to keep him quiet
till dinner was ready, and returned to her housekeeping.

“Put on your vegetables, set the table, and then have some coals
kindling ready for the steak.”

What a thing it was to see the potatoes bobbing about in the little
pot; to peep at the squash getting soft so fast in the tiny steamer;
to whisk open the oven door every five minutes to see how the pies
got on, and at last when the coals were red and glowing, to put two
real steaks on a finger-long gridiron and proudly turn them with a
fork. The potatoes were done first, and no wonder, for they had boiled
frantically all the while. They were pounded up with a little pestle,
had much butter and no salt put in (cook forgot it in the excitement of
the moment), then it was made into a mound in a gay red dish, smoothed
over with a knife dipped in milk, and put in the oven to brown.

So absorbed in these last performances had Sally been, that she forgot
her pastry till she opened the door to put in the potato, then a wail
arose, for, alas! alas! the little pies were burnt black!

“Oh, my pies! my darling pies! they are all spoilt!” cried poor Sally,
wringing her dirty little hands as she surveyed the ruin of her work.
The tart was especially pathetic, for the quirls and zigzags stuck up
in all directions from the blackened jelly, like the walls and chimney
of a house after a fire.

“Dear, dear, I forgot to remind you to take them out; it’s just my
luck,” said Aunt Jo, remorsefully. “Don’t cry, darling, it was my
fault; we’ll try again after dinner,” she added, as a great tear
dropped from Sally’s eyes and sizzled on the hot ruins of the tart.

More would have followed, if the steak had not blazed up just then, and
so occupied the attention of cook, that she quickly forgot the lost
pastry.

“Put the meat-dish and your own plates down to warm, while you mash
the squash with butter, salt, and a little pepper on the top,” said
Mrs. Jo, devoutly hoping that the dinner would meet with no further
disasters.

The “cunning pepper-pot” soothed Sally’s feelings, and she dished up
her squash in fine style. The dinner was safely put upon the table;
the six dolls were seated three on a side; Teddy took the bottom, and
Sally the top. When all were settled, it was a most imposing spectacle,
for one doll was in full ball costume, another in her night-gown;
Jerry, the worsted boy, wore his red winter suit, while Annabella,
the noseless darling, was airily attired in nothing but her own kid
skin. Teddy, as father of the family, behaved with great propriety,
for he smilingly devoured every thing offered him, and did not find a
single fault. Daisy beamed upon her company like the weary, warm, but
hospitable hostess, so often to be seen at larger tables than this, and
did the honors with an air of innocent satisfaction, which we do _not_
often see elsewhere.

The steak was so tough, that the little carving-knife would not cut it;
the potato did not go round, and the squash was very lumpy; but the
guests appeared politely unconscious of these trifles; and the master
and mistress of the house cleared the table with appetites that any one
might envy them. The joy of skimming a jug-full of cream mitigated the
anguish felt for the loss of the pies, and Asia’s despised cake proved
a treasure in the way of dessert.

“That is the nicest lunch I ever had; can’t I do it every day?” asked
Daisy as she scraped up and ate the leavings all round.

“You can cook things every day after lessons, but I prefer that you
should eat your dishes at your regular meals, and only have a bit of
gingerbread for lunch. To-day, being the first time, I don’t mind, but
we must keep our rules. This afternoon you can make something for tea
if you like,” said Mrs. Jo, who had enjoyed the dinner-party very much,
though no one had invited her to partake.

“Do let me make flapjacks for Demi, he loves them so, and it’s such fun
to turn them and put sugar in between,” cried Daisy, tenderly wiping a
yellow stain off Annabella’s broken nose, for Bella had refused to eat
squash when it was pressed upon her as good for “lumatism,” a complaint
which it is no wonder she suffered from, considering the lightness of
her attire.

“But if you give Demi goodies, all the others will expect some also,
and then you will have your hands full.”

“Couldn’t I have Demi come up to tea alone just this one time, and
after that I could cook things for the others if they were good,”
proposed Daisy, with a sudden inspiration.

“That is a capital idea, Posy! We will make your little messes rewards
for the good boys, and I don’t know one among them who would not like
something nice to eat more than almost any thing else. If little men
are like big ones, good cooking will touch their hearts and soothe
their tempers delightfully,” added Aunt Jo, with a merry nod toward the
door, where stood Papa Bhaer, surveying the scene with a face full of
amusement.

“That last hit was for me, sharp woman. I accept it, for it is true;
but if I had married thee for thy cooking, heart’s dearest, I should
have fared badly all these years,” answered the professor, laughing,
as he tossed Teddy, who became quite apoplectic in his endeavors to
describe the feast he had just enjoyed.

Daisy proudly showed her kitchen, and rashly promised Uncle Fritz as
many flapjacks as he could eat. She was just telling about the new
rewards when the boys, headed by Demi, burst into the room snuffing the
air like a pack of hungry hounds, for school was out, dinner was not
ready, and the fragrance of Daisy’s steak led them straight to the spot.

A prouder little damsel was never seen than Sally as she displayed her
treasures and told the lads what was in store for them. Several rather
scoffed at the idea of her cooking any thing fit to eat, but Stuffy’s
heart was won at once, Nat and Demi had firm faith in her skill, and
the others said they would wait and see. All admired the kitchen,
however, and examined the stove with deep interest. Demi offered to
buy the boiler on the spot, to be used in a steam-engine which he was
constructing; and Ned declared that the best and biggest saucepan was
just the thing to melt his lead in when he ran bullets, hatchets, and
such trifles.

Daisy looked so alarmed at these proposals, that Mrs. Jo then and
there made and proclaimed a law that no boy should touch, use, or
even approach the sacred stove without a special permit from the
owner thereof. This increased its value immensely in the eyes of the
gentlemen, especially as any infringement of the law would be punished
by the forfeiture of all right to partake of the delicacies promised to
the virtuous.

At this point the bell rang, and the entire population went down to
dinner, which meal was enlivened by each of the boys giving Daisy a
list of things he would like to have cooked for him as fast as he
earned them. Daisy, whose faith in her stove was unlimited, promised
every thing, if Aunt Jo would tell her how to make them. This
suggestion rather alarmed Mrs. Jo, for some of the dishes were quite
beyond her skill,--wedding-cake, for instance, bull’s-eye candy, and
cabbage soup with herrings and cherries in it, which Mr. Bhaer proposed
as his favorite, and immediately reduced his wife to despair, for
German cookery was beyond her.

Daisy wanted to begin again the minute dinner was done, but she was
only allowed to clear up, fill the kettle ready for tea, and wash out
her apron, which looked as if she had cooked a Christmas feast. She
was then sent out to play till five o’clock, for Uncle Fritz said that
too much study, even at cooking stoves, was bad for little minds and
bodies, and Aunt Jo knew by long experience how soon new toys lose
their charm if they are not prudently used.

Every one was very kind to Daisy that afternoon. Tommy promised her
the first fruits of his garden, though the only visible crop just then
was pig-weed; Nat offered to supply her with wood, free of charge;
Stuffy quite worshipped her; Ned immediately fell to work on a little
refrigerator for her kitchen; and Demi, with a punctuality beautiful
to see in one so young, escorted her to the nursery just as the clock
struck five. It was not time for the party to begin, but he begged so
hard to come in and help that he was allowed privileges few visitors
enjoy, for he kindled the fire, ran errands, and watched the progress
of his supper with intense interest. Mrs. Jo directed the affair as she
came and went, being very busy putting up clean curtains all over the
house.

“Ask Asia for a cup of sour cream, then your cakes will be light
without much soda, which I don’t like,” was the first order.

Demi tore down-stairs, and returned with the cream, also a puckered-up
face, for he had tasted it on his way, and found it so sour that he
predicted the cakes would be uneatable. Mrs. Jo took this occasion to
deliver a short lecture from the step-ladder on the chemical properties
of soda, to which Daisy did not listen, but Demi did, and understood
it, as he proved by the brief but comprehensive reply,--

“Yes, I see, soda turns sour things sweet, and the fizzling up makes
them light. Let’s see you do it, Daisy.”

“Fill that bowl nearly full of flour and add a little salt to it,”
continued Mrs. Jo.

“Oh dear, every thing has to have salt in it, seems to me,” said Sally,
who was tired of opening the pill-box in which it was kept.

“Salt is like good-humor, and nearly every thing is better for a pinch
of it, Posy,” and Uncle Fritz stopped as he passed, hammer in hand, to
drive up two or three nails for Sally’s little pans to hang on.

“You are not invited to tea, but I’ll give you some cakes, and I won’t
be cross,” said Daisy, putting up her floury little face to thank him
with a kiss.

“Fritz, you must not interrupt my cooking class, or I’ll come in and
moralize when you are teaching Latin. How would you like that?” said
Mrs. Jo, throwing a great chintz curtain down on his head.

“Very much, try it and see,” and the amiable Father Bhaer went singing
and tapping about the house like a mammoth woodpecker.

“Put the soda into the cream, and when it ‘fizzles’ as Demi says, stir
it into the flour, and beat it up as hard as ever you can. Have your
griddle hot, butter it well, and then fry away till I come back,” and
Aunt Jo vanished also.

Such a clatter as the little spoon made, and such a beating as the
batter got, it quite foamed, I assure you; and when Daisy poured some
on to the griddle, it rose like magic into a puffy flapjack, that made
Demi’s mouth water. To be sure, the first one stuck and scorched,
because she forgot the butter, but after that first failure all went
well, and six capital little cakes were safely landed in a dish.

“I think I’d like maple-syrup better than sugar,” said Demi from his
arm-chair, where he had settled himself after setting the table in a
new and peculiar manner.

“Then go and ask Asia for some,” answered Daisy, going into the
bath-room to wash her hands.

While the nursery was empty something dreadful happened. You see, Kit
had been feeling hurt all day because he had carried meat safely and
yet got none to pay him. He was not a bad dog, but he had his little
faults like the rest of us, and could not always resist temptation.
Happening to stroll into the nursery at that moment, he smelt the
cakes, saw them unguarded on the low table, and never stopping to think
of consequences, swallowed all six at one mouthful. I am glad to say
that they were very hot, and burned him so badly that he could not
repress a surprised yelp. Daisy heard it, ran in, saw the empty dish,
also the end of a yellow tail disappearing under the bed. Without a
word she seized that tail, pulled out the thief, and shook him until
his ears flapped wildly, then bundled him down-stairs to the shed,
where he spent a lonely evening in the coal-bin.

Cheered by the sympathy which Demi gave her, Daisy made another bowlful
of batter, and fried a dozen cakes, which were even better than the
others. Indeed, Uncle Fritz after eating two sent up word that he had
never tasted any so nice, and every boy at the table below envied Demi
at the flapjack party above.

It was a truly delightful supper, for the little teapot lid only fell
off three times, and the milk jug upset but once; the cakes floated in
syrup, and the toast had a delicious beef-steak flavor, owing to cook’s
using the gridiron to make it on. Demi forgot philosophy, and stuffed
like any carnal boy, while Daisy planned sumptuous banquets, and the
dolls looked on smiling affably.

“Well, dearies, have you had a good time?” asked Mrs. Jo, coming up
with Teddy on her shoulder.

“A _very_ good time. I shall come again _soon_,” answered Demi, with
emphasis.

“I’m afraid you have eaten too much, by the look of that table.”

“No, I haven’t; I only ate fifteen cakes, and they were very little
ones,” protested Demi, who had kept his sister busy supplying his plate.

“They won’t hurt him, they are so nice,” said Daisy, with such a funny
mixture of maternal fondness and housewifely pride that Aunt Jo could
only smile and say,--

“Well, on the whole, the new game is a success, then?”

“_I_ like it,” said Demi, as if his approval was all that was necessary.

“It is the dearest play ever made!” cried Daisy, hugging her little
dish-tub as she proposed to wash up the cups. “I just wish everybody
had a sweet cooking stove like mine,” she added, regarding it with
affection.

“This play ought to have a name,” said Demi, gravely removing the syrup
from his countenance with his tongue.

“It has.”

“Oh, what?” asked both children, eagerly.

“Well, I think we will call it Patty pans,” and Aunt Jo retired,
satisfied with the success of her last trap to catch a sunbeam.



CHAPTER VI

A FIRE BRAND


“Please, ma’am, could I speak to you? It is something _very_
important,” said Nat, popping his head in at the door of Mrs. Bhaer’s
room.

It was the fifth head which had popped in during the last half-hour;
but Mrs. Jo was used to it, so she looked up, and said briskly,--

“What is it, my lad?”

Nat came in, shut the door carefully behind him, and said in an eager,
anxious tone,--

“Dan has come.”

“Who is Dan?”

“He’s a boy I used to know when I fiddled round the streets. He sold
papers, and he was kind to me, and I saw him the other day in town, and
told him how nice it was here, and he’s come.”

“But, my dear boy, that is rather a sudden way to pay a visit.”

“Oh, it isn’t a visit; he wants to stay if you will let him!” said Nat,
innocently.

“Well, but I don’t know about that,” began Mrs. Bhaer, rather startled
by the coolness of the proposition.

“Why, I thought you liked to have poor boys come and live with you,
and be kind to ’em as you were to me,” said Nat, looking surprised and
alarmed.

“So I do, but I like to know something about them first. I have to
choose them, because there are so many. I have not room for all. I wish
I had.”

“I told him to come because I thought you’d like it, but if there isn’t
room he can go away again,” said Nat, sorrowfully.

The boy’s confidence in her hospitality touched Mrs. Bhaer, and she
could not find the heart to disappoint his hope, and spoil his kind
little plan, so she said,--

“Tell me about this Dan.”

“I don’t know any thing, only he hasn’t got any folks, and he’s poor,
and he was good to me, so I’d like to be good to him if I could.”

“Excellent reasons every one; but really, Nat, the house is full, and
I don’t know where I could put him,” said Mrs. Bhaer, more and more
inclined to prove herself the haven of refuge he seemed to think her.

“He could have my bed, and I could sleep in the barn. It isn’t cold
now, and I don’t mind, I used to sleep anywhere with father,” said Nat,
eagerly.

Something in his speech and face made Mrs. Jo put her hand on his
shoulder, and say in her kindest tone:

“Bring in your friend, Nat; I think we must find room for him without
giving him your place.”

Nat joyfully ran off, and soon returned followed by a most
unprepossessing boy, who slouched in and stood looking about him, with
a half bold, half sullen look, which made Mrs. Bhaer say to herself,
after one glance,--

“A bad specimen, I am afraid.”

“This is Dan,” said Nat, presenting him as if sure of his welcome.

“Nat tells me you would like to come and stay with us,” began Mrs. Jo,
in a friendly tone.

“Yes,” was the gruff reply.

“Have you no friends to take care of you?”

“No.”

“Say, ‘No, ma’am,’” whispered Nat.

“Shan’t neither,” muttered Dan.

“How old are you?”

“About fourteen.”

“You look older. What can you do?”

“’Most any thing.”

“If you stay here we shall want you to do as the others do, work and
study as well as play. Are you willing to agree to that?”

“Don’t mind trying.”

“Well, you can stay a few days, and we will see how we get on together.
Take him out, Nat, and amuse him till Mr. Bhaer comes home, when
we will settle about the matter,” said Mrs. Jo, finding it rather
difficult to get on with this cool young person, who fixed his big
black eyes on her with a hard, suspicious expression, sorrowfully
unboyish.

“Come on, Nat,” he said, and slouched out again.

“Thank you, ma’am,” added Nat, as he followed him, feeling without
quite understanding the difference in the welcome given to him and to
his ungracious friend.

“The fellows are having a circus out in the barn; don’t you want to
come and see it?” he asked, as they came down the wide steps on to the
lawn.

“Are they big fellows?” said Dan.

“No; the big ones are gone fishing.”

“Fire away, then,” said Dan.

Nat led him to the great barn and introduced him to his set, who were
disporting themselves among the half-empty lofts. A large circle was
marked out with hay on the wide floor, and in the middle stood Demi
with a long whip, while Tommy, mounted on the much-enduring Toby,
pranced about the circle playing being a monkey.

“You must pay a pin apiece, or you can’t see the show,” said Stuffy,
who stood by the wheelbarrow in which sat the band, consisting of a
pocket-comb blown upon by Ned, and a toy drum beaten spasmodically by
Rob.

“He’s company, so I’ll pay for both,” said Nat, handsomely, as he stuck
two crooked pins in the dried mushroom which served as money-box.

With a nod to the company they seated themselves on a couple of boards,
and the performance went on. After the monkey act, Ned gave them a fine
specimen of his agility by jumping over an old chair, and running up
and down ladders, sailor fashion. Then Demi danced a jig with a gravity
beautiful to behold. Nat was called upon to wrestle with Stuffy, and
speedily laid that stout youth upon the ground. After this, Tommy
proudly advanced to turn a somersault, an accomplishment which he had
acquired by painful perserverance, practising in private till every
joint of his little frame was black and blue. His feats were received
with great applause, and he was about to retire, flushed with pride and
a rush of blood to the head, when a scornful voice in the audience was
heard to say,--

“Ho! that ain’t any thing!”

“Say that again, will you?” and Tommy bristled up like an angry
turkey-cock.

“Do you want to fight?” said Dan, promptly descending from the barrel
and doubling up his fists in a business-like manner.

“No, I don’t;” and the candid Thomas retired a step, rather taken aback
by the proposition.

“Fighting isn’t allowed!” cried the others, much excited.

“You’re a nice lot,” sneered Dan.

“Come, if you don’t behave, you shan’t stay,” said Nat, firing up at
that insult to his friends.

“I’d like to see him do better than I did, that’s all,” observed Tommy,
with a swagger.

“Clear the way, then,” and without the slightest preparation Dan turned
three somersaults one after the other and came up on his feet.

“You can’t beat that, Tom; you always hit your head and tumble flat,”
said Nat, pleased at his friend’s success.

Before he could say any more the audience were electrified by three
more somersaults backwards, and a short promenade on the hands, head
down, feet up. This brought down the house, and Tommy joined in the
admiring cries which greeted the accomplished gymnast as he righted
himself, and looked at them with an air of calm superiority.

“Do you think I could learn to do it without its hurting me very much?”
Tom meekly asked, as he rubbed the elbows which still smarted after the
last attempt.

“What will you give me if I’ll teach you?” said Dan.

“My new jack-knife; it’s got five blades, and only one is broken.”

“Give it here, then.”

Tommy handed it over with an affectionate look at its smooth handle.
Dan examined it carefully, then putting it into his pocket, walked off,
saying with a wink,--

“Keep it up till you learn, that’s all.”

A howl of wrath from Tommy was followed by a general uproar, which
did not subside till Dan, finding himself in a minority, proposed
that they should play stick-knife, and whichever won should have the
treasure. Tommy agreed, and the game was played in a circle of excited
faces, which all wore an expression of satisfaction, when Tommy won and
secured the knife in the depth of his safest pocket.

“You come off with me, and I’ll show you round,” said Nat, feeling that
he must have a little serious conversation with his friend in private.

What passed between them no one knew, but when they appeared again, Dan
was more respectful to every one, though still gruff in his speech, and
rough in his manner; and what else could be expected of the poor lad
who had been knocking about the world all his short life with no one to
teach him any better?

The boys had decided that they did not like him, and so they left him
to Nat, who soon felt rather oppressed by the responsibility, but was
too kind-hearted to desert him.

Tommy, however, felt that in spite of the jack-knife transaction,
there was a bond of sympathy between them, and longed to return to the
interesting subject of somersaults. He soon found an opportunity, for
Dan, seeing how much he admired him, grew more amiable, and by the end
of the first week was quite intimate with the lively Tom.

Mr. Bhaer, when he heard the story and saw Dan, shook his head, but
only said quietly,--

“The experiment may cost us something, but we will try it.”

If Dan felt any gratitude for his protection, he did not show it, and
took without thanks all that was given him. He was ignorant, but very
quick to learn when he chose; had sharp eyes to watch what went on
about him; a saucy tongue, rough manners, and a temper that was fierce
and sullen by turns. He played with all his might, and played well at
almost all the games. He was silent and gruff before grown people, and
only now and then was thoroughly social among the lads. Few of them
really liked him, but few could help admiring his courage and strength,
for nothing daunted him, and he knocked tall Franz flat on one occasion
with an ease that caused all the others to keep at a respectful
distance from his fists. Mr. Bhaer watched him silently, and did his
best to tame the “Wild Boy,” as they called him, but in private the
worthy man shook his head, and said soberly, “I _hope_ the experiment
will turn out well, but I am a little afraid it may cost too much.”

Mrs. Bhaer lost her patience with him half a dozen times a day, yet
never gave him up, and always insisted that there was something good
in the lad, after all; for he was kinder to animals than to people,
he liked to rove about in the woods, and, best of all, little Ted was
fond of him. What the secret was no one could discover, but Baby took
to him at once--gabbled and crowed whenever he saw him--preferred his
strong back to ride on to any of the others--and called him “My Danny”
out of his own little head. Teddy was the only creature to whom Dan
showed any affection, and this was only manifested when he thought no
one else could see it; but mothers’ eyes are quick, and motherly hearts
instinctively divine who love their babies. So Mrs. Jo soon saw and
felt that there _was_ a soft spot in rough Dan, and bided her time to
touch and win him.

But an unexpected and decidedly alarming event upset all their plans,
and banished Dan from Plumfield.

Tommy, Nat, and Demi began by patronizing Dan, because the other lads
rather slighted him; but soon they each felt there was a certain
fascination about the bad boy, and from looking down upon him they came
to looking up, each for a different reason. Tommy admired his skill
and courage; Nat was grateful for past kindness; and Demi regarded him
as a sort of animated story book, for when he chose Dan could tell his
adventures in a most interesting way. It pleased Dan to have the three
favorites like him, and he exerted himself to be agreeable, which was
the secret of his success.

The Bhaers were surprised, but hoped the lads would have a good
influence over Dan, and waited with some anxiety, trusting that no harm
would come of it.

Dan felt they did not quite trust him, and never showed them his best
side, but took a wilful pleasure in trying their patience and thwarting
their hopes as far as he dared.

Mr. Bhaer did not approve of fighting, and did not think it a proof
of either manliness or courage for two lads to pommel one another for
the amusement of the rest. All sorts of hardy games and exercises were
encouraged, and the boys were expected to take hard knocks and tumbles
without whining; but black eyes and bloody noses given for the fun of
it were forbidden as a foolish and a brutal play.

Dan laughed at this rule, and told such exciting tales of his own
valor, and the many frays that he had been in, that some of the lads
were fired with a desire to have a regular good “mill.”

“Don’t tell, and I’ll show you how,” said Dan; and, getting half a
dozen of the lads together behind the barn, he gave them a lesson
in boxing, which quite satisfied the ardor of most of them. Emil,
however, could not submit to be beaten by a fellow younger than
himself,--for Emil was past fourteen, and a plucky fellow,--so he
challenged Dan to a fight. Dan accepted at once, and the others looked
on with intense interest.

What little bird carried the news to head-quarters no one ever knew,
but, in the very hottest of the fray, when Dan and Emil were fighting
like a pair of young bull-dogs, and the others with fierce, excited
faces were cheering them on, Mr. Bhaer walked into the ring, plucked
the combatants apart with a strong hand, and said, in the voice they
seldom heard,--

“I can’t allow this, boys! Stop it at once; and never let me see it
again. I keep a school for boys, not for wild beasts. Look at each
other and be ashamed of yourselves.”

“You let me go, and I’ll knock him down again,” shouted Dan, sparring
away in spite of the grip on his collar.

“Come on, come on, I ain’t thrashed yet!” cried Emil, who had been down
five times, but did not know when he was beaten.

“They are playing be gladdy--what-you-call-’ems, like the Romans, Uncle
Fritz,” called out Demi, whose eyes were bigger than ever with the
excitement of this new pastime.

“They were a fine set of brutes; but we have learned something since
then, I hope, and I cannot have you make my barn a Colosseum. Who
proposed this?” asked Mr. Bhaer.

“Dan,” answered several voices.

“Don’t you know that it is forbidden?”

“Yes,” growled Dan, sullenly.

“Then why break the rule?”

“They’ll all be molly-coddles, if they don’t know how to fight.”

“Have you found Emil a molly-coddle? He doesn’t look much like one,”
and Mr. Bhaer brought the two face to face. Dan had a black eye, and
his jacket was torn to rags; but Emil’s face was covered with blood
from a cut lip and a bruised nose, while a bump on his forehead was
already as purple as a plum. In spite of his wounds, however, he still
glared upon his foe, and evidently panted to renew the fight.

“He’d make a first-rater if he was taught,” said Dan, unable to
withhold the praise from the boy who made it necessary for him to do
his best.

“He’ll be taught to fence and box by and by, and till then I think he
will do very well without any lessons in mauling. Go and wash your
faces; and remember, Dan, if you break any more of the rules again, you
will be sent away. That was the bargain; do your part and we will do
ours.”

The lads went off, and after a few more words to the spectators, Mr.
Bhaer followed to bind up the wounds of the young gladiators. Emil went
to bed sick, and Dan was an unpleasant spectacle for a week.

But the lawless lad had no thought of obeying, and soon transgressed
again.

On Saturday afternoon as a party of the boys went out to play, Tommy
said,--

“Let’s go down to the river, and cut a lot of new fish-poles.”

“Take Toby to drag them back, and one of us can ride him down,”
proposed Stuffy, who hated to walk.

“That means _you_, I suppose; well, hurry up, lazy-bones,” said Dan.

Away they went, and having got the poles were about to go home, when
Demi unluckily said to Tommy, who was on Toby with a long rod in his
hand,--

“You look like the picture of the man in the bull-fight, only you
haven’t got a red cloth, or pretty clothes on.”

“I’d like to see one; wouldn’t you?” said Tommy, shaking his lance.

“Let’s have one; there’s old Buttercup in the big meadow, ride at her,
Tom, and see her run,” proposed Dan, bent on mischief.

“No, you mustn’t,” began Demi, who was learning to distrust Dan’s
propositions.

“Why not, little fuss-button?” demanded Dan.

“I don’t think Uncle Fritz would like it.”

“Did he ever say we must not have a bull-fight?”

“No, I don’t think he ever did,” admitted Demi.

“Then hold your tongue. Drive on, Tom, and here’s a red rag to flap at
the old thing. I’ll help you to stir her up,” and over the wall went
Dan, full of the new game, and the rest followed like a flock of sheep;
even Demi, who sat upon the bars, and watched the fun with interest.

Poor Buttercup was not in a very good mood, for she had been lately
bereft of her calf, and mourned for the little thing most dismally.
Just now she regarded all mankind as her enemies (and I do not blame
her), so when the matadore came prancing towards her with the red
handkerchief flying at the end of his long lance, she threw up her
head, and gave a most appropriate “Moo!” Tommy rode gallantly at her,
and Toby, recognizing an old friend, was quite willing to approach;
but when the lance came down on her back with a loud whack, both cow
and donkey were surprised and disgusted. Toby backed with a bray of
remonstrance, and Buttercup lowered her horns angrily.

“At her again, Tom; she’s jolly cross, and will do it capitally!”
called Dan, coming up behind with another rod, while Jack and Ned
followed his example.

Seeing herself thus beset, and treated with such disrespect, Buttercup
trotted round the field, getting more and more bewildered and excited
every moment, for whichever way she turned, there was a dreadful boy,
yelling and brandishing a new and very disagreeable sort of whip. It
was great fun for them, but real misery for her, till she lost her
patience and turned the tables in the most unexpected manner. All
at once she wheeled short round, and charged full at her old friend
Toby, whose conduct cut her to the heart. Poor slow Toby backed so
precipitately that he tripped over a stone, and down went horse,
matadore, and all, in one ignominious heap, while distracted Buttercup
took a surprising leap over the wall, and galloped wildly out of sight
down the road.

“Catch her, stop her, head her off! run, boys, run!” shouted Dan,
tearing after at his best pace, for she was Mr. Bhaer’s pet Alderney,
and if anything happened to her, Dan feared it would be all over
with him. Such a running and racing and bawling and puffing as there
was before she was caught! The fish-poles were left behind; Toby was
trotted nearly off his legs in the chase; and every boy was red,
breathless, and scared. They found poor Buttercup at last in a flower
garden, where she had taken refuge, worn out with the long run.
Borrowing a rope for a halter, Dan led her home, followed by a party
of very sober young gentlemen, for the cow was in a sad state, having
strained her shoulder in jumping, so that she limped, her eyes looked
wild, and her glossy coat was wet and muddy.

“You’ll catch it this time, Dan,” said Tommy, as he led the wheezing
donkey beside the maltreated cow.

“So will you, for you helped.”

“We all did, but Demi,” added Jack.

“He put it into our heads,” said Ned.

“I told you not to do it,” cried Demi, who was most broken-hearted at
poor Buttercup’s state.

“Old Bhaer will send me off, I guess. Don’t care if he does,” muttered
Dan, looking worried in spite of his words.

“We’ll ask him not to, all of us,” said Demi, and the others assented
with the exception of Stuffy, who cherished the hope that all the
punishment might fall on one guilty head. Dan only said, “Don’t bother
about me;” but he never forgot it, even though he led the lads astray
again, as soon as the temptation came.

When Mr. Bhaer saw the animal, and heard the story, he said very
little, evidently fearing that he should say too much in the first
moments of impatience. Buttercup was made comfortable in her stall,
and the boys sent to their rooms till supper-time. This brief respite
gave them time to think the matter over, to wonder what the penalty
would be, and to try to imagine where Dan would be sent. He whistled
briskly in his room, so that no one should think he cared a bit; but
while he waited to know his fate, the longing to stay grew stronger and
stronger, the more he recalled the comfort and kindness he had known
here, the hardship and neglect he had felt elsewhere. He knew they
tried to help him, and at the bottom of his heart he was grateful, but
his rough life had made him hard and careless, suspicious and wilful.
He hated restraint of any sort, and fought against it like an untamed
creature, even while he knew it was kindly meant, and dimly felt that
he would be the better for it. He made up his mind to be turned adrift
again, to knock about the city as he had done nearly all his life; a
prospect that made him knit his black brows, and look about the cosy
little room with a wistful expression that would have touched a much
harder heart than Mr. Bhaer’s if he had seen it. It vanished instantly,
however, when the good man came in, and said in his accustomed grave
way,--

“I have heard all about it, Dan, and though you have broken the rules
again, I am going to give you one more trial, to please Mother Bhaer.”

Dan flushed up to his forehead at this unexpected reprieve, but he only
said in his gruff way,--

“I didn’t know there was any rule about bull-fighting.”

“As I never expected to have any at Plumfield, I never did make such
a rule,” answered Mr. Bhaer, smiling in spite of himself at the boy’s
excuse. Then he added gravely, “But one of the first and most important
of our few laws is the law of kindness to every dumb creature on the
place. I want everybody and every thing to be happy here, to love,
and trust, and serve us, as we try to love and trust and serve them
faithfully and willingly. I have often said that you were kinder to the
animals than any of the other boys, and Mrs. Bhaer liked that trait in
you very much, because she thought it showed a good heart. But you have
disappointed us in that, and we are sorry, for we hoped to make you
quite one of us. Shall we try again?”

Dan’s eyes had been on the floor, and his hands nervously picking at
the bit of wood he had been whittling as Mr. Bhaer came in, but when
he heard the kind voice ask that question, he looked up quickly, and
said in a more respectful tone than he had ever used before,--

“Yes, please.”

“Very well, then, we will say no more, only you will stay at home from
the walk to-morrow, as the other boys will and all of you must wait on
poor Buttercup till she is well again.”

“I will.”

“Now, go down to supper, and do your best, my boy, more for your own
sake than for ours.” Then Mr. Bhaer shook hands with him, and Dan
went down more tamed by kindness than he would have been by the good
whipping which Asia had strongly recommended.

Dan did try for a day or two, but not being used to it, he soon tired
and relapsed into his old wilful ways. Mr. Bhaer was called from home
on business one day, and the boys had no lessons. They liked this, and
played hard till bedtime, when most of them turned in and slept like
dormice. Dan, however, had a plan in his head, and when he and Nat were
alone, he unfolded it.

“Look here!” he said, taking from under his bed a bottle, a cigar, and
a pack of cards, “I’m going to have some fun, and do as I used to with
the fellows in town. Here’s some beer, I got it of the old man at the
station, and this cigar; you can pay for ’em, or Tommy will, he’s got
heaps of money, and I haven’t a cent. I’m going to ask him in; no, you
go, they won’t mind you.”

“The folks won’t like it,” began Nat.

“They won’t know. Daddy Bhaer is away, and Mrs. Bhaer’s busy with Ted;
he’s got croup or something, and she can’t leave him. We shan’t sit up
late or make any noise, so where’s the harm?”

“Asia will know if we burn the lamp long, she always does.”

“No, she won’t, I’ve got the dark lantern on purpose; it don’t give
much light, and we can shut it quick if we hear any one coming,” said
Dan.

This idea struck Nat as a fine one, and lent an air of romance to the
thing. He started off to tell Tommy, but put his head in again to say,--

“You want Demi, too, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t; the Deacon will roll up eyes and preach if you tell him.
He will be asleep, so just tip the wink to Tom and cut back again.”

Nat obeyed, and returned in a minute with Tommy half dressed, rather
tousled about the head and very sleepy, but quite ready for fun as
usual.

“Now, keep quiet, and I’ll show you how to play a first-rate game
called ‘Poker,’” said Dan, as the three revellers gathered round the
table, on which were set forth the bottle, the cigar, and the cards.
“First we’ll all have a drink, then we’ll take a go at the ‘weed,’ and
then we’ll play. That’s the way men do, and it’s jolly fun.”

The beer circulated in a mug, and all three smacked their lips over
it, though Nat and Tommy did not like the bitter stuff. The cigar was
worse still, but they dared not say so, and each puffed away till he
was dizzy or choked, when he passed the “weed” on to his neighbor.
Dan liked it, for it seemed like old times when he now and then had a
chance to imitate the low men who surrounded him. He drank, and smoked,
and swaggered as much like them as he could, and, getting into the
spirit of the part he assumed, he soon began to swear under his breath
for fear some one should hear him. “You mustn’t; it’s wicked to say
‘Damn’!” cried Tommy, who had followed his leader so far.

“Oh, hang! don’t you preach, but play away; it’s part of the fun to
swear.”

“I’d rather say ‘thunder-turtles,’” said Tommy, who had composed this
interesting exclamation and was very proud of it.

“And I’ll say ‘The Devil;’ that sounds well,” added Nat, much impressed
by Dan’s manly ways.

Dan scoffed at their “nonsense,” and swore stoutly as he tried to teach
them the new game.

But Tommy was very sleepy, and Nat’s head began to ache with the beer
and the smoke, so neither of them was very quick to learn, and the game
dragged. The room was nearly dark, for the lantern burned badly; they
could not laugh loud nor move about much, for Silas slept next door in
the shed-chamber, and altogether the party was dull. In the middle of
a deal Dan stopped suddenly, called out, “Who’s that?” in a startled
tone, and at the same moment drew the slide over the light. A voice in
the darkness said tremulously, “I can’t find Tommy,” and then there was
the quick patter of bare feet running away down the entry that led from
the wing to the main house.

“It’s Demi! he’s gone to call some one; cut into bed, Tom, and don’t
tell!” cried Dan, whisking all signs of the revel out of sight, and
beginning to tear off his clothes, while Nat did the same.

Tommy flew to his room and dived into bed, where he lay laughing
till something burned his hand, when he discovered that he was still
clutching the stump of the festive cigar, which he happened to be
smoking when the revel broke up.

It was nearly out, and he was about to extinguish it carefully when
Nursey’s voice was heard, and fearing it would betray him if he hid
it in the bed, he threw it underneath, after a final pinch which he
thought finished it.

Nursey came in with Demi, who looked much amazed to see the red face of
Tommy reposing peacefully upon his pillow.

“He wasn’t there just now, because I woke up and could not find him
anywhere,” said Demi, pouncing on him.

“What mischief are you at now, bad child?” asked Nursey, with a
good-natured shake, which made the sleeper open his eyes to say
meekly,--

“I only ran into Nat’s room to see him about something. Go away, and
let me alone; I’m awful sleepy.”

Nursey tucked Demi in, and went off to reconnoitre, but only found two
boys slumbering peacefully in Dan’s room. “Some little frolic,” she
thought, and as there was no harm done she said nothing to Mrs. Bhaer,
who was busy and worried over little Teddy.

Tommy was sleepy, and telling Demi to mind his own business and not
ask questions, he was snoring in ten minutes, little dreaming what was
going on under his bed. The cigar did not go out, but smouldered away
on the straw carpet till it was nicely on fire, and a hungry little
flame went creeping along till the dimity bed-cover caught, then the
sheets, and then the bed itself. The beer made Tommy sleep heavily,
and the smoke stupefied Demi, so they slept on till the fire began to
scorch them, and they were in danger of being burned to death.

Franz was sitting up to study, and as he left the school-room he smelt
the smoke, dashed up-stairs and saw it coming in a cloud from the left
wing of the house. Without stopping to call any one, he ran into the
room, dragged the boys from the blazing bed, and splashed all the water
he could find at hand on to the flames. It checked but did not quench
the fire, and the children, wakened on being tumbled topsy-turvy into
a cold hall, began to roar at the top of their voices. Mrs. Bhaer
instantly appeared, and a minute after Silas burst out of his room
shouting “Fire!” in a tone that raised the whole house. A flock of
white goblins with scared faces crowded into the hall, and for a minute
every one was panic-stricken.

Then Mrs. Bhaer found her wits, bade Nursey see to the burnt boys, and
sent Franz and Silas down-stairs for some tubs of wet clothes which she
flung on to the bed, over the carpet, and up against the curtains, now
burning finely, and threatening to kindle the walls.

Most of the boys stood dumbly looking on, but Dan and Emil worked
bravely, running to and fro with water from the bath-room, and helping
to pull down the dangerous curtains.

The peril was soon over, and ordering the boys all back to bed, and
leaving Silas to watch lest the fire broke out again, Mrs. Bhaer and
Franz went to see how the poor boys got on. Demi had escaped with
one burn and a grand scare, but Tommy had not only most of his hair
scorched off his head, but a great burn on his arm, that made him
half crazy with the pain. Demi was soon made cosy, and Franz took him
away to his own bed, where the kind lad soothed his fright and hummed
him to sleep as cosily as a woman. Nursey watched over poor Tommy all
night, trying to ease his misery, and Mrs. Bhaer vibrated between him
and little Teddy with oil and cotton, paregoric and squills, saying
to herself from time to time, as if she found great amusement in the
thought, “I always _knew_ Tommy would set the house on fire, and now he
has done it!”

When Mr. Bhaer got home next morning he found a nice state of things.
Tommy in bed, Teddy wheezing like a little grampus, Mrs. Jo quite used
up, and the whole flock of boys so excited that they all talked at
once, and almost dragged him by main force to view the ruins. Under
his quiet management things soon fell into order, for every one felt
that he was equal to a dozen conflagrations, and worked with a will at
whatever task he gave them.

There was no school that morning, but by afternoon the damaged room was
put to rights, the invalids were better, and there was time to hear and
judge the little culprits quietly. Nat and Tommy told their parts in
the mischief, and were honestly sorry for the danger they had brought
to the dear old house and all in it. But Dan put on his devil-may-care
look, and would not own that there was much harm done.

Now, of all things, Mr. Bhaer hated drinking, gambling, and swearing;
smoking he had given up that the lads might not be tempted to try
it, and it grieved and angered him deeply to find that the boy, with
whom he had tried to be most forbearing, should take advantage of his
absence to introduce these forbidden vices, and teach his innocent
little lads to think it manly and pleasant to indulge in them. He
talked long and earnestly to the assembled boys, and ended by saying,
with an air of mingled firmness and regret,--

“I think Tommy is punished enough, and that scar on his arm will remind
him for a long time to let these things alone. Nat’s fright will do for
him, for he is really sorry, and does try to obey me. But you, Dan,
have been many times forgiven, and yet it does no good. I cannot have
my boys hurt by your bad example, nor my time wasted in talking to deaf
ears, so you can say good-by to them all, and tell Nursey to put up
your things in my little black bag.”

“Oh! sir, where is he going?” cried Nat.

“To a pleasant place up in the country, where I sometimes send boys
when they don’t do well here. Mr. Page is a kind man, and Dan will be
happy there if he chooses to do his best.”

“Will he ever come back?” asked Demi.

“That will depend on himself; I hope so.”

As he spoke, Mr. Bhaer left the room to write his letter to Mr. Page,
and the boys crowded round Dan very much as people do about a man who
is going on a long and perilous journey to unknown regions.

“I wonder if you’ll like it,” began Jack.

“Shan’t stay if I don’t,” said Dan, coolly.

“Where will you go?” asked Nat.

“I may go to sea, or out west, or take a look at California,” answered
Dan, with a reckless air that quite took away the breath of the little
boys.

“Oh, don’t! stay with Mr. Page awhile and then come back here; do,
Dan,” pleaded Nat, much affected at the whole affair.

“I don’t care where I go, or how long I stay, and I’ll be hanged if I
ever come back here,” with which wrathful speech Dan went away to put
up his things, every one of which Mr. Bhaer had given him.

That was the only good-by he gave the boys, for they were all talking
the matter over in the barn when he came down, and he told Nat not to
call them. The wagon stood at the door, and Mrs. Bhaer came out to
speak to Dan, looking so sad that his heart smote him, and he said in a
low tone,--

“May I say good-by to Teddy?”

“Yes, dear; go in and kiss him, he will miss his Danny very much.”

No one saw the look in Dan’s eyes as he stooped over the crib, and saw
the little face light up at first sight of him, but he heard Mrs.
Bhaer say pleadingly,--

“Can’t we give the poor lad _one_ more trial, Fritz?” and Mr. Bhaer
answer in his steady way,--

“My dear, it is not best, so let him go where he can do no harm to
others, while they do good to him, and by and by he shall come back, I
promise you.”

“He’s the only boy we ever failed with, and I am so grieved, for I
thought there was the making of a fine man in him, in spite of his
faults.”

Dan heard Mrs. Bhaer sigh, and he wanted to ask for _one more_ trial
himself, but his pride would not let him, and he came out with the hard
look on his face, shook hands without a word, and drove away with Mr.
Bhaer, leaving Nat and Mrs. Jo to look after him with tears in their
eyes.

A few days afterwards they received a letter from Mr. Page, saying that
Dan was doing well, whereat they all rejoiced. But three weeks later
came another letter, saying that Dan had run away, and nothing had been
heard of him, whereat they all looked sober, and Mr. Bhaer said,--

“Perhaps I ought to have given him another chance.”

Mrs. Bhaer, however, nodded wisely and answered, “Don’t be troubled,
Fritz; the boy will come back to us, I’m sure of it.”

But time went on and no Dan came.



CHAPTER VII

NAUGHTY NAN


“Fritz, I’ve got a new idea,” cried Mrs. Bhaer, as she met her husband
one day after school.

“Well, my dear, what is it?” and he waited willingly to hear the new
plan, for some of Mrs. Jo’s ideas were so droll, it was impossible to
help laughing at them, though usually they were quite sensible, and he
was glad to carry them out.

“Daisy needs a companion, and the boys would be all the better for
another girl among them; you know we believe in bringing up little men
and women together, and it is high time we acted up to our belief. They
pet and tyrannize over Daisy by turns, and she is getting spoilt. Then
they must learn gentle ways, and improve their manners, and having
girls about will do it better than any thing else.”

“You are right, as usual. Now, who shall we have?” asked Mr. Bhaer,
seeing by the look in her eye that Mrs. Jo had some one all ready to
propose.

“Little Annie Harding.”

“What! Naughty Nan, as the lads call her?” cried Mr. Bhaer, looking
very much amused.

“Yes, she is running wild at home since her mother died, and is too
bright a child to be spoilt by servants. I have had my eye on her for
some time, and when I met her father in town the other day I asked him
why he did not send her to school. He said he would gladly if he could
find as good a school for girls as ours was for boys. I know he would
rejoice to have her come; so suppose we drive over this afternoon and
see about it.”

“Have not you cares enough now, my Jo, without this little gypsy to
torment you?” asked Mr. Bhaer, patting the hand that lay on his arm.

“Oh dear, no,” said Mother Bhaer, briskly. “I like it, and never was
happier than since I had my wilderness of boys. You see, Fritz, I feel
a great sympathy for Nan, because I was such a naughty child myself
that I know all about it. She is full of spirits, and only needs to be
taught what to do with them to be as nice a little girl as Daisy. Those
quick wits of hers would enjoy lessons if they were rightly directed,
and what is now a tricksy midget would soon become a busy, happy child.
I know how to manage her, for I remember how my blessed mother managed
me, and--”

“And if you succeed half as well as she did, you will have done a
magnificent work,” interrupted Mr. Bhaer, who labored under the
delusion that Mrs. B. was the best and most charming woman alive.

“Now, if you make fun of my plan I’ll give you bad coffee for a week,
and then where are you, sir?” cried Mrs. Jo, tweaking him by the ear
just as if he was one of the boys.

“Won’t Daisy’s hair stand erect with horror at Nan’s wild ways?” asked
Mr. Bhaer, presently, when Teddy had swarmed up his waistcoat, and Rob
up his back, for they always flew at their father the minute school was
done.

“At first, perhaps, but it will do Posy good. She is getting prim and
Bettyish, and needs stirring up a bit. She always has a good time when
Nan comes over to play, and the two will help each other without
knowing it. Dear me, half the science of teaching is knowing how much
children do for one another, and when to mix them.”

“I only hope she won’t turn out another firebrand.”

“My poor Dan! I never can quite forgive myself for letting him go,”
sighed Mrs. Bhaer.

At the sound of the name, little Teddy, who had never forgotten his
friend, struggled down from his father’s arms, and trotted to the
door, looked out over the sunny lawn with a wistful face, and then
trotted back again, saying, as he always did when disappointed of the
longed-for sight,--

“My Danny’s tummin’ soon.”

“I really think we ought to have kept him, if only for Teddy’s sake,
he was so fond of him, and perhaps baby’s love would have done for him
what we failed to do.”

“I’ve sometimes felt that myself; but after keeping the boys in a
ferment, and nearly burning up the whole family, I thought it safer to
remove the firebrand, for a time at least,” said Mr. Bhaer.

“Dinner’s ready, let me ring the bell,” and Rob began a solo upon that
instrument which made it impossible to hear one’s self speak.

“Then I may have Nan, may I?” asked Mrs. Jo.

“A dozen Nans if you want them, my dear,” answered Mr. Bhaer, who had
room in his fatherly heart for all the naughty neglected children in
the world.

When Mrs. Bhaer returned from her drive that afternoon, before she
could unpack the load of little boys, without whom she seldom moved,
a small girl of ten skipped out at the back of the carry-all, and ran
into the house, shouting,--

“Hi, Daisy! where are you?”

Daisy came, and looked pleased to see her guest, but also a trifle
alarmed, when Nan said, still prancing, as if it was impossible to keep
still,--

“I’m going to stay here always, papa says I may, and my box is coming
to-morrow, all my things had to be washed and mended, and your aunt
came and carried me off. Isn’t it great fun?”

“Why, yes. Did you bring your big doll?” asked Daisy, hoping she had,
for on the last visit Nan had ravaged the baby house, and insisted on
washing Blanche Matilda’s plaster face, which spoilt the poor dear’s
complexion for ever.

“Yes, she’s somewhere round,” returned Nan, with most unmaternal
carelessness. “I made you a ring coming along, and pulled the hairs out
of Dobbin’s tail. Don’t you want it?” and Nan presented a horse-hair
ring in token of friendship, as they had both vowed they would never
speak to one another again when they last parted.

Won by the beauty of the offering, Daisy grew more cordial, and
proposed retiring to the nursery, but Nan said, “No, I want to see the
boys, and the barn,” and ran off, swinging her hat by one string till
it broke, when she left it to its fate on the grass.

“Hullo! Nan!” cried the boys as she bounced in among them with the
announcement,--

“I’m going to stay.”

“Hooray!” bawled Tommy from the wall on which he was perched, for Nan
was a kindred spirit, and he foresaw “larks” in the future.

“I can bat; let me play,” said Nan, who could turn her hand to any
thing, and did not mind hard knocks.

“We ain’t playing now, and our side beat without you.”

“I can beat you in running, any way,” returned Nan, falling back on her
strong point.

“Can she?” asked Nat of Jack.

“She runs very well for a girl,” answered Jack, who looked down upon
Nan with condescending approval.

“Will you try?” said Nan, longing to display her powers.

“It’s too hot,” and Tommy languished against the wall as if quite
exhausted.

“What’s the matter with Stuffy?” asked Nan, whose quick eyes were
roving from face to face.

“Ball hurt his hand; he howls at every thing,” answered Jack,
scornfully.

“I don’t, I never cry, no matter how much I’m hurt; it’s babyish,” said
Nan, loftily.

“Pooh! I could make you cry in two minutes,” returned Stuffy, rousing
up.

“See if you can.”

“Go and pick that bunch of nettles, then,” and Stuffy pointed to a
sturdy specimen of that prickly plant growing by the wall.

Nan instantly “grasped the nettle,” pulled it up, and held it with a
defiant gesture, in spite of the almost unbearable sting.

“Good for you,” cried the boys, quick to acknowledge courage even in
one of the weaker sex.

More nettled than she was, Stuffy determined to get a cry out of her
somehow, and he said tauntingly, “You are used to poking your hands
into every thing, so that isn’t fair. Now go and bump your head real
hard against the barn, and see if you don’t howl then.”

“Don’t do it,” said Nat, who hated cruelty.

But Nan was off, and running straight at the barn, she gave her head a
blow that knocked her flat, and sounded like a battering-ram. Dizzy,
but undaunted, she staggered up, saying stoutly, though her face was
drawn with pain,--

“That hurt, but I don’t cry.”

“Do it again,” said Stuffy, angrily; and Nan _would_ have done it, but
Nat held her; and Tommy, forgetting the heat, flew at Stuffy like a
little game-cock, roaring out,--

“Stop it, or I’ll throw you over the barn!” and so shook and hustled
poor Stuffy that for a minute he did not know whether he was on his
head or his heels.

“She told me to,” was all he could say, when Tommy let him alone.

“Never mind if she did; it is awfully mean to hurt a little girl,” said
Demi, reproachfully.

“Ho! I don’t mind; I ain’t a little girl, I’m older than you and Daisy;
so now,” cried Nan, ungratefully.

“Don’t preach, Deacon, you bully Posy every day of your life,” called
out the Commodore, who just then hove in sight.

“I don’t hurt her; do I, Daisy?” and Demi turned to his sister, who was
“pooring” Nan’s tingling hands, and recommending water for the purple
lump rapidly developing itself on her forehead.

“You are the best boy in the world,” promptly answered Daisy; adding,
as truth compelled her to do, “You do hurt me sometimes, but you don’t
mean to.”

“Put away the bats and things, and mind what you are about, my
hearties. No fighting allowed aboard this ship,” said Emil, who rather
lorded it over the others.

“How do you do, Madge Wildfire?” said Mr. Bhaer, as Nan came in with
the rest to supper. “Give the right hand, little daughter, and mind
thy manners,” he added, as Nan offered him her left.

“The other hurts me.”

“The poor little hand! what has it been doing to get those blisters?”
he asked, drawing it from behind her back, where she had put it with a
look which made him think she had been in mischief.

Before Nan could think of any excuse, Daisy burst out with the whole
story, during which Stuffy tried to hide his face in a bowl of bread
and milk. When the tale was finished, Mr. Bhaer looked down the long
table towards his wife, and said with a laugh in his eyes,--

“This rather belongs to your side of the house, so I won’t meddle with
it, my dear.”

Mrs. Jo knew what he meant, but she liked her little black sheep all
the better for her pluck, though she only said in her soberest way,--

“Do you know why I asked Nan to come here?”

“To plague me,” muttered Stuffy, with his mouth full.

“To help me make little gentlemen of you, and I think you have shown
that some of you need it.”

Here Stuffy retired into his bowl again, and did not emerge till Demi
made them all laugh by saying, in his slow wondering way,--

“How can she, when she’s such a tomboy!”

“That’s just it, she needs help as much as you, and I expect you to set
her an example of good manners.”

“Is she going to be a little gentleman too?” asked Rob.

“She’d like it; wouldn’t you, Nan?” added Tommy.

“No, I shouldn’t; I hate boys!” said Nan, fiercely, for her hand still
smarted, and she began to think that she might have shown her courage
in some wiser way.

“I am sorry you hate my boys, because they _can_ be well-mannered, and
most agreeable when they choose. Kindness in looks and words and ways
is true politeness, and any one can have it if they only try to treat
other people as they like to be treated themselves.”

Mrs. Bhaer had addressed herself to Nan, but the boys nudged one
another, and appeared to take the hint, for that time at least, and
passed the butter; said “please,” and “thank you,” “yes, sir,” and “no,
ma’am,” with unusual elegance and respect. Nan said nothing, but kept
herself quiet and refrained from tickling Demi, though strongly tempted
to do so, because of the dignified airs he put on. She also appeared to
have forgotten her hatred of boys, and played “I spy” with them till
dark. Stuffy was observed to offer her frequent sucks of his candy-ball
during the game, which evidently sweetened her temper, for the last
thing she said on going to bed was,--

“When my battledore and shuttle-cock comes, I’ll let you all play with
’em.”

Her first remark in the morning was “Has my box come?” and when told
that it would arrive sometime during the day, she fretted and fumed,
and whipped her doll, till Daisy was shocked. She managed to exist,
however, till five o’clock, when she disappeared, and was not missed
till supper-time, because those at home thought she had gone to the
hill with Tommy and Demi.

“I saw her going down the avenue alone as hard as she could pelt,”
said Mary Ann, coming in with the hasty-pudding, and finding every one
asking, “Where is Nan?”

“She has run home, little gypsy!” cried Mrs. Bhaer, looking anxious.

“Perhaps she has gone to the station to look after her luggage,”
suggested Franz.

“That is impossible, she does not know the way, and if she found it she
could never carry the box a mile,” said Mrs. Bhaer, beginning to think
that her new idea might be rather a hard one to carry out.

“It would be like her,” and Mr. Bhaer caught up his hat to go and find
the child, when a shout from Jack, who was at the window, made every
one hurry to the door.

There was Miss Nan, to be sure, tugging along a large band-box tied up
in a linen bag. Very hot and dusty and tired did she look, but marched
stoutly along, and came puffing up to the steps, where she dropped her
load with a sigh of relief, and sat down upon it, observing as she
crossed her tired arms,--

“I couldn’t wait any longer, so I went and got it.”

“But you did not know the way,” said Tommy, while the rest stood round
enjoying the joke.

“Oh, I found it, I never get lost.”

“It’s a mile, how could you go so far?”

“Well, it was pretty far, but I rested a good deal.”

“Wasn’t that thing very heavy?”

“It’s so round, I couldn’t get hold of it good, and I thought my arms
would break right off.”

“I don’t see how the station-master let you have it,” said Tommy.

“I didn’t say any thing to him. He was in the little ticket place, and
didn’t see me, so I just took it off the platform.”

“Run down and tell him it is all right, Franz, or old Dodd will think
it is stolen,” said Mr. Bhaer, joining in the shout of laughter at
Nan’s coolness.

“I told you we would send for it if it did not come. Another time you
must wait, for you will get into trouble if you run away. Promise me
this, or I shall not dare to trust you out of my sight,” said Mrs.
Bhaer, wiping the dust off Nan’s little hot face.

“Well, I won’t, only papa tells me not to put off doing things, so I
don’t.”

“That is rather a poser; I think you had better give her some supper
now, and a private lecture by and by,” said Mr. Bhaer, too much amused
to be angry at the young lady’s exploit.

The boys thought it “great fun,” and Nan entertained them all
supper-time with an account of her adventures; for a big dog had barked
at her, a man had laughed at her, a woman had given her a doughnut, and
her hat had fallen into the brook when she stopped to drink, exhausted
with her exertion.

“I fancy you will have your hands full now, my dear; Tommy and Nan are
quite enough for one woman,” said Mr. Bhaer, half an hour later.

“I know it will take some time to tame the child, but she is such a
generous, warm-hearted little thing, I should love her even if she were
twice as naughty,” answered Mrs. Jo, pointing to the merry group, in
the middle of which stood Nan, giving away her things right and left,
as lavishly as if the big band-box had no bottom.

It was those good traits that soon made little “Giddy-gaddy,” as they
called her, a favorite with every one. Daisy never complained of being
dull again, for Nan invented the most delightful plays, and her pranks
rivalled Tommy’s, to the amusement of the whole school. She buried her
big doll and forgot it for a week, and found it well mildewed when
she dug it up. Daisy was in despair, but Nan took it to the painter
who was at work about the house, got him to paint it brick red, with
staring black eyes, then she dressed it up with feathers, and scarlet
flannel, and one of Ned’s leaden hatchets; and in the character of an
Indian chief, the late Poppydilla tomahawked all the other dolls, and
caused the nursery to run red with imaginary gore. She gave away her
new shoes to a beggar child, hoping to be allowed to go barefoot, but
found it impossible to combine charity and comfort, and was ordered
to ask leave before disposing of her clothes. She delighted the boys
by making a fire-ship out of a shingle with two large sails wet with
turpentine, which she lighted, and then sent the little vessel floating
down the brook at dusk. She harnessed the old turkey-cock to a straw
wagon, and made him trot round the house at a tremendous pace. She gave
her coral necklace for four unhappy kittens, which had been tormented
by some heartless lads, and tended them for days as gently as a mother,
dressing their wounds with cold cream, feeding them with a doll’s
spoon, and mourning over them when they died, till she was consoled by
one of Demi’s best turtles. She made Silas tattoo an anchor on her arm
like his, and begged hard to have a blue star on each cheek, but he
dared not do it, though she coaxed and scolded till the soft-hearted
fellow longed to give in. She rode every animal on the place, from
the big horse Andy to the cross pig, from whom she was rescued with
difficulty. Whatever the boys dared her to do she instantly attempted,
no matter how dangerous it might be, and they were never tired of
testing her courage.

Mr. Bhaer suggested that they should see who would study best, and Nan
found as much pleasure in using her quick wits and fine memory as her
active feet and merry tongue, while the lads had to do their best
to keep their places, for Nan showed them that girls could do most
things as well as boys, and some things better. There were no rewards
in school, but Mr. Bhaer’s “Well done!” and Mrs. Bhaer’s good report
on the conscience book, taught them to love duty for its own sake, and
try to do it faithfully, sure that sooner or later the recompense would
come. Little Nan was quick to feel the new atmosphere, to enjoy it, to
show that it was what she needed; for this little garden was full of
sweet flowers, half hidden by the weeds; and when kind hands gently
began to cultivate it, all sorts of green shoots sprung up, promising
to blossom beautifully in the warmth of love and care, the best climate
for young hearts and souls all the world over.



CHAPTER VIII

PRANKS AND PLAYS


As there is no particular plan to this story, except to describe a few
scenes in the life at Plumfield for the amusement of certain little
persons, we will gently ramble along in this chapter and tell some
of the pastimes of Mrs. Jo’s boys. I beg leave to assure my honored
readers that most of the incidents are taken from real life, and
that the oddest are the truest; for no person, no matter how vivid
an imagination he may have, can invent anything half so droll as the
freaks and fancies that originate in the lively brains of little people.

Daisy and Demi were full of these whims, and lived in a world of their
own, peopled with lovely or grotesque creatures, to whom they gave the
queerest names, and with whom they played the queerest games. One of
these nursery inventions was an invisible sprite called “The Naughty
Kitty-mouse,” whom the children had believed in, feared, and served for
a long time. They seldom spoke of it to any one else, kept their rites
as private as possible; and, as they never tried to describe it even
to themselves, this being had a vague mysterious charm very agreeable
to Demi, who delighted in elves and goblins. A most whimsical and
tyrannical imp was the Naughty Kitty-mouse, and Daisy found a fearful
pleasure in its service, blindly obeying its most absurd demands,
which were usually proclaimed from the lips of Demi, whose powers
of invention were great. Rob and Teddy sometimes joined in these
ceremonies, and considered them excellent fun, although they did not
understand half that went on.

One day after school Demi whispered to his sister, with an ominous wag
of the head,--

“The Kitty-mouse wants us this afternoon.”

“What for?” asked Daisy, anxiously.

“A _sackerryfice_,” answered Demi, solemnly. “There must be a fire
behind the big rock at two o’clock, and we must all bring the things we
like best, and burn them!” he added, with an awful emphasis on the last
words.

“Oh, dear! I love the new paper dollies Aunt Amy painted for me best
of any thing; must I burn them up?” cried Daisy, who never thought of
denying the unseen tyrant any thing it demanded.

“Every one. I shall burn my boat, my best scrap-book, and _all_ my
soldiers,” said Demi, firmly.

“Well, I will; but it’s too bad of Kitty-mouse to want our very nicest
things,” sighed Daisy.

“A _sackerryfice_ means to give up what you are fond of, so we _must_,”
explained Demi, to whom the new idea had been suggested by hearing
Uncle Fritz describe the customs of the Greeks to the big boys who were
reading about them in school.

“Is Rob coming too?” asked Daisy.

“Yes, and he is going to bring his toy village; it is all made of wood,
you know, and will burn nicely. We’ll have a grand bonfire, and see
them blaze up, won’t we?”

This brilliant prospect consoled Daisy, and she ate her dinner with a
row of paper dolls before her, as a sort of farewell banquet.

At the appointed hour the sacrificial train set forth, each child
bearing the treasures demanded by the insatiable Kitty-mouse. Teddy
insisted on going also, and seeing that all the others had toys, he
tucked a squeaking lamb under one arm, and old Annabella under the
other, little dreaming what anguish the latter idol was to give him.

“Where are you going, my chickens?” asked Mrs. Jo, as the flock passed
her door.

“To play by the big rock; can’t we?”

“Yes, only don’t go near the pond, and take good care of baby.”

“I always do,” said Daisy, leading forth her charge with a capable air.

“Now, you must all sit round, and not move till I tell you. This flat
stone is an altar, and I am going to make a fire on it.”

Demi then proceeded to kindle up a small blaze, as he had seen the boys
do at picnics. When the flame burned well, he ordered the company to
march round it three times and then stand in a circle.

“I shall begin, and as fast as my things are burnt, you must bring
yours.”

With that he solemnly laid on a little paper book full of pictures,
pasted in by himself; this was followed by a dilapidated boat, and
then one by one the unhappy leaden soldiers marched to death. Not one
faltered or hung back, from the splendid red and yellow captain to the
small drummer who had lost his legs; all vanished in the flames and
mingled in one common pool of melted lead.

“Now, Daisy!” called the high priest of Kitty-mouse, when his rich
offerings had been consumed, to the great satisfaction of the children.

“My dear dollies, how _can_ I let them go?” moaned Daisy, hugging the
entire dozen with a face full of maternal woe.

“You must,” commanded Demi; and with a farewell kiss to each, Daisy
laid her blooming dolls upon the coals.

“Let me keep one, the dear blue thing, she is so sweet,” besought the
poor little mamma, clutching her last in despair.

“More! more!” growled an awful voice, and Demi cried, “That’s the
Kitty-mouse! she must have every one, quick, or she will scratch us.”

In went the precious blue belle, flounces, rosy hat, and all, and
nothing but a few black flakes remained of that bright band.

“Stand the houses and trees round, and let them catch themselves; it
will be like a real fire then,” said Demi, who liked variety even in
his “sackerryfices.”

Charmed by this suggestion, the children arranged the doomed village,
laid a line of coals along the main street, and then sat down to watch
the conflagration. It was somewhat slow to kindle owing to the paint,
but at last one ambitious little cottage blazed up, fired a tree of
the palm species, which fell on to the roof of a large family mansion,
and in a few minutes the entire town was burning merrily. The wooden
population stood and stared at the destruction like blockheads, as
they were, till they also caught and blazed away without a cry. It
took some time to reduce the town to ashes, and the lookers-on enjoyed
the spectacle immensely, cheering as each house fell, dancing like
wild Indians when the steeple flamed aloft, and actually casting one
wretched little churn-shaped lady, who had escaped to the suburbs, into
the very heart of the fire.

The superb success of this last offering excited Teddy to such a
degree, that he first threw his lamb into the conflagration, and
before it had time even to roast, he planted poor dear Annabella on
the funeral pyre. Of course she did not like it, and expressed her
anguish and resentment in a way that terrified her infant destroyer.
Being covered with kid, she did not blaze, but did what was worse, she
_squirmed_. First one leg curled up, then the other, in a very awful
and lifelike manner; next she flung her arms over her head as if in
great agony; her head itself turned on her shoulders, her glass eyes
fell out, and with one final writhe of her whole body, she sank down a
blackened mass on the ruins of the town. This unexpected demonstration
startled every one and frightened Teddy half out of his little wits. He
looked, then screamed and fled toward the house, roaring “Marmar” at
the top of his voice.

Mrs. Bhaer heard the outcry and ran to the rescue, but Teddy could only
cling to her and pour out in his broken way something about, “poor
Bella hurted,” “a dreat fire,” and “all the dollies dorn.” Fearing
some dire mishap, his mother caught him up and hurried to the scene of
action, where she found the blind worshippers of Kitty-mouse mourning
over the charred remains of the lost darling.

“What have you been at? Tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Jo, composing
herself to listen patiently, for the culprits looked so penitent, she
forgave them beforehand.

With some reluctance Demi explained their play, and Aunt Jo laughed
till the tears ran down her cheeks, the children were so solemn, and
the play was so absurd.

“I thought you were too sensible to play such a silly game as this. If
I had any Kitty-mouse I’d have a good one who liked you to play in safe
pleasant ways, and not destroy and frighten. Just see what a ruin you
have made; all Daisy’s pretty dolls, Demi’s soldiers, and Rob’s new
village, beside poor Teddy’s pet lamb, and dear old Annabella. I shall
have to write up in the nursery the verse that used to come in the
boxes of toys,--

    ‘The children of Holland take pleasure in making,
    What the children of Boston take pleasure in breaking.’

Only I shall put Plumfield instead of Boston.”

“We never will again, truly, truly!” cried the repentant little
sinners, much abashed at this reproof.

“Demi told us to,” said Rob.

“Well, I heard Uncle tell about the Greece people, who had altars
and things, and so I wanted to be like them, only I hadn’t any live
creatures to sackerryfice, so we burnt up our toys.”

“Dear me, that is something like the bean story,” said Aunt Jo,
laughing again.

“Tell about it,” suggested Daisy, to change the subject.

“Once there was a poor woman who had three or four little children, and
she used to lock them up in her room when she went out to work, to keep
them safe. One day when she was going away she said, ‘Now, my dears,
don’t let baby fall out of the window, don’t play with the matches, and
don’t put beans up your noses.’ Now the children had never dreamed of
doing that last thing, but she put it into their heads, and the minute
she was gone, they ran and stuffed their naughty little noses full of
beans, just to see how it felt, and she found them all crying when she
came home.”

“Did it hurt?” asked Rob, with such intense interest that his mother
hastily added a warning sequel, lest a new edition of the bean story
should appear in her own family.

“Very much, as I know, for when _my_ mother told me this story, I was
so silly that I went and tried it myself. I had no beans, so I took
some little pebbles, and poked several into my nose. I did not like it
at all, and wanted to take them out again very soon, but one would not
come, and I was so ashamed to tell what a goose I had been that I went
for hours with the stone hurting me very much. At last the pain got so
bad I had to tell, and when my mother could not get it out the doctor
came. Then I was put in a chair and held tight, Rob, while he used his
ugly little pincers till the stone hopped out. Dear me! how my wretched
little nose did ache, and how people laughed at me!” and Mrs. Jo shook
her head in a dismal way, as if the memory of her sufferings was too
much for her.

Rob looked deeply impressed and I am glad to say took the warning to
heart. Demi proposed that they should bury poor Annabella, and in
the interest of the funeral Teddy forgot his fright. Daisy was soon
consoled by another batch of dolls from Aunt Amy, and the Naughty
Kitty-mouse seemed to be appeased by the last offerings, for she
tormented them no more.

“Brops,” was the name of a new and absorbing play, invented by Bangs.
As this interesting animal is not to be found in any Zoölogical Garden,
unless Du Chaillu has recently brought one from the wilds of Africa, I
will mention a few of its peculiar habits and traits, for the benefit
of inquiring minds. The Brop is a winged quadruped, with a human face
of a youthful and merry aspect. When it walks the earth it grunts,
when it soars it gives a shrill hoot, occasionally it goes erect, and
talks good English. Its body is usually covered with a substance much
resembling a shawl, sometimes red, sometimes blue, often plaid, and,
strange to say, they frequently change skins with one another. On their
heads they have a horn very like a stiff brown paper lamp-lighter.
Wings of the same substance flap upon their shoulders when they fly;
this is never very far from the ground, as they usually fall with
violence if they attempt any lofty flights. They browse over the earth,
but can sit up and eat like the squirrel. Their favorite nourishment is
the seed-cake; apples also are freely taken, and sometimes raw carrots
are nibbled when food is scarce. They live in dens, where they have a
sort of nest, much like a clothes-basket, in which the little Brops
play till their wings are grown. These singular animals quarrel at
times, and it is on these occasions that they burst into human speech,
call each other names, cry, scold, and sometimes tear off horns and
skin, declaring fiercely that they “won’t play.” The few privileged
persons who have studied them are inclined to think them a remarkable
mixture of the monkey, the sphinx, the roc, and the queer creatures
seen by the famous Peter Wilkins.

This game was a great favorite, and the younger children beguiled
many a rainy afternoon flapping or creeping about the nursery, acting
like little bedlamites and being as merry as little grigs. To be
sure, it was rather hard upon clothes, particularly trouser-knees and
jacket-elbows; but Mrs. Bhaer only said, as she patched and darned,--

“We do things just as foolish, and not half so harmless. If I could
get as much happiness out of it as the little dears do, I’d be a Brop
myself.”

Nat’s favorite amusements were working in his garden, and sitting in
the willow-tree with his violin, for that green nest was a fairy world
to him, and there he loved to perch, making music like a happy bird.
The lads called him “Old Chirper,” because he was always humming,
whistling, or fiddling, and they often stopped a minute in their work
or play to listen to the soft tones of the violin, which seemed to lead
a little orchestra of summer sounds. The birds appeared to regard him
as one of themselves, and fearlessly sat on the fence or lit among the
boughs to watch him with their quick bright eyes. The robins in the
apple-tree near by evidently considered him a friend, for the father
bird hunted insects close beside him, and the little mother brooded as
confidingly over her blue eggs as if the boy was only a new sort of
blackbird, who cheered her patient watch with his song. The brown brook
babbled and sparkled below him, the bees haunted the clover fields on
either side, friendly faces peeped at him as they passed, the old house
stretched its wide wings hospitably toward him, and with a blessed
sense of rest and love and happiness, Nat dreamed for hours in this
nook, unconscious what healthful miracles were being wrought upon him.

One listener he had who never tired, and to whom he was more than a
mere schoolmate. Poor Billy’s chief delight was to lie beside the
brook, watching leaves and bits of foam dance by, listening dreamily to
the music in the willow-tree. He seemed to think Nat a sort of angel
who sat aloft and sang, for a few baby memories still lingered in his
mind and seemed to grow brighter at these times. Seeing the interest
he took in Nat, Mr. Bhaer begged him to help them lift the cloud from
the feeble brain by this gentle spell. Glad to do any thing to show
his gratitude, Nat always smiled on Billy when he followed him about,
and let him listen undisturbed to the music which seemed to speak
a language he could understand. “Help one another,” was a favorite
Plumfield motto, and Nat learned how much sweetness is added to life by
trying to live up to it.

Jack Ford’s peculiar pastime was buying and selling; and he bid fair
to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, a country merchant, who sold
a little of every thing and made money fast. Jack had seen the sugar
sanded, the molasses watered, the butter mixed with lard, and things of
that kind, and labored under the delusion that it was all a proper part
of the business. His stock in trade was of a different sort, but he
made as much as he could out of every worm he sold, and always got the
best of the bargain when he traded with the boys for string, knives,
fish-hooks, or whatever the article might be. The boys, who all had
nicknames, called him “Skinflint,” but Jack did not care as long as the
old tobacco-pouch in which he kept his money grew heavier and heavier.

He established a sort of auction-room, and now and then sold off all
the odds and ends he had collected, or helped the lads exchange things
with one another. He got bats, balls, hockey-sticks, etc., cheap, from
one set of mates, furbished them up, and let them for a few cents a
time to another set, often extending his business beyond the gates of
Plumfield in spite of the rules. Mr. Bhaer put a stop to some of his
speculations, and tried to give him a better idea of business talent
than mere sharpness in overreaching his neighbors. Now and then Jack
made a bad bargain, and felt worse about it than about any failure in
lessons or conduct, and took his revenge on the next innocent customer
who came along. His account-book was a curiosity; and his quickness at
figures quite remarkable. Mr. Bhaer praised him for this, and tried to
make his sense of honesty and honor as quick; and, by and by, when Jack
found that he could not get on without these virtues, he owned that his
teacher was right.

Cricket and football the boys had of course; but, after the stirring
accounts of these games in the immortal “Tom Brown at Rugby,” no feeble
female pen may venture to do more than respectfully allude to them.

Emil spent his holidays on the river or the pond, and drilled the
elder lads for a race with certain town boys, who now and then invaded
their territory. The race duly came off, but as it ended in a general
shipwreck, it was not mentioned in public; and the Commodore had
serious thoughts of retiring to a desert island, so disgusted was he
with his kind for a time. No desert island being convenient, he was
forced to remain among his friends, and found consolation in building a
boat-house.

The little girls indulged in the usual plays of their age, improving
upon them somewhat as their lively fancies suggested. The chief and
most absorbing play was called “Mrs. Shakespeare Smith;” the name
was provided by Aunt Jo, but the trials of the poor lady were quite
original. Daisy was Mrs. S. S., and Nan by turns her daughter or a
neighbor, Mrs. Giddy-gaddy.

No pen can describe the adventures of these ladies, for in one short
afternoon their family was the scene of births, marriages, deaths,
floods, earthquakes, tea-parties, and balloon ascensions. Millions of
miles did these energetic women travel, dressed in hats and habits
never seen before by the mortal eye, perched on the bed, driving the
posts like mettlesome steeds, and bouncing up and down till their heads
spun. Fits and fires were the pet afflictions, with a general massacre
now and then by way of change. Nan was never tired of inventing fresh
combinations, and Daisy followed her leader with blind admiration. Poor
Teddy was a frequent victim, and was often rescued from real danger,
for the excited ladies were apt to forget that he was not of the same
stuff as their long-suffering dolls. Once he was shut into a closet for
a dungeon, and forgotten by the girls, who ran off to some out-of-door
game. Another time he was half drowned in the bath-tub, playing be a
“cunning little whale.” And, worst of all, he was cut down just in time
after being hung up for a robber.

But the institution most patronized by all was the Club. It had no
other name, and it needed none, being the only one in the neighborhood.
The elder lads got it up, and the younger were occasionally admitted
if they behaved well. Tommy and Demi were honorary members, but were
always obliged to retire unpleasantly early, owing to circumstances
over which they had no control. The proceedings of this club were
somewhat peculiar, for it met at all sorts of places and hours, had all
manner of queer ceremonies and amusements, and now and then was broken
up tempestuously, only to be re-established, however, on a firmer basis.

Rainy evenings the members met in the school-room, and passed the time
in games: chess, morris, backgammon, fencing matches, recitations,
debates, or dramatic performances of a darkly tragical nature.
In summer the barn was the rendezvous, and what went on there no
uninitiated mortal knows. On sultry evenings the Club adjourned to the
brook for aquatic exercises, and the members sat about in airy attire,
frog-like and cool. On such occasions the speeches were unusually
eloquent, quite flowing, as one might say; and if any orator’s remarks
displeased the audience, cold water was thrown upon him till his
ardor was effectually quenched. Franz was president, and maintained
order admirably, considering the unruly nature of the members. Mr.
Bhaer never interfered with their affairs, and was rewarded for this
wise forbearance by being invited now and then to behold the mysteries
unveiled, which he appeared to enjoy much.

When Nan came she wished to join the Club, and caused great excitement
and division among the gentlemen by presenting endless petitions,
both written and spoken, disturbing their solemnities by insulting
them through the key-hole, performing vigorous solos on the door, and
writing up derisive remarks on walls and fences, for she belonged to
the “Irrepressibles.” Finding these appeals vain, the girls, by the
advice of Mrs. Jo, got up an institution of their own, which they
called the Cosy Club. To this they magnanimously invited the gentlemen
whose youth excluded them from the other one, and entertained these
favored beings so well with little suppers, new games devised by Nan,
and other pleasing festivities, that, one by one, the elder boys
confessed a desire to partake of these more elegant enjoyments, and,
after much consultation, finally decided to propose an interchange of
civilities.

The members of the Cosy Club were invited to adorn the rival
establishment on certain evenings, and to the surprise of the gentlemen
their presence was not found to be a restraint upon the conversation or
amusement of the regular frequenters; which could not be said of all
Clubs, I fancy. The ladies responded handsomely and hospitably to these
overtures of peace, and both institutions flourished long and happily.



CHAPTER IX

DAISY’S BALL


“Mrs. Shakespeare Smith would like to have Mr. John Brooke, Mr. Thomas
Bangs, and Mr. Nathaniel Blake to come to her ball at three o’clock
to-day.

“P.S.--Nat must bring his fiddle, so we can dance, and all the boys
must be good, or they cannot have any of the nice things we have
cooked.”

This elegant invitation would, I fear, have been declined, but for the
hint given in the last line of the postscript.

“They _have_ been cooking lots of goodies, I smelt ’em. Let’s go,” said
Tommy.

“We needn’t stay after the feast, you know,” added Demi.

“I never went to a ball. What do you have to do?” asked Nat.

“Oh, we just play be men, and sit round stiff and stupid like grown-up
folks, and dance to please the girls. Then we eat up everything, and
come away as soon as we can.”

“I think I could do that,” said Nat, after considering Tommy’s
description for a minute.

“I’ll write and say we’ll come;” and Demi despatched the following
gentlemanly reply,--

“We will all come. Please have lots to eat.--J. B. Esquire.”

Great was the anxiety of the ladies about their first ball, because
if every thing went well they intended to give a dinner-party to the
chosen few.

“Aunt Jo likes to have the boys play with us, if they are not rough; so
we must make them like our balls, then they will do them good,” said
Daisy, with her maternal air, as she set the table and surveyed the
store of refreshments with an anxious eye.

“Demi and Nat will be good, but Tommy will do something bad, I know he
will,” replied Nan, shaking her head over the little cake-basket which
she was arranging.

“Then I shall send him right home,” said Daisy, with decision.

“People don’t do so at parties, it isn’t proper.”

“I shall never ask him any more.”

“That would do. He’d be sorry not to come to the dinner-ball, wouldn’t
he?”

“I guess he would! we’ll have the splendidest things ever seen, won’t
we? Real soup with a ladle and a tureem [she meant _tureen_] and a
little bird for turkey, and gravy, and all kinds of nice vegytubbles.”
Daisy never _could_ say vegetables properly, and had given up trying.

“It is ’most three, and we ought to dress,” said Nan, who had arranged
a fine costume for the occasion, and was anxious to wear it.

“I am the mother, so I shan’t dress up much,” said Daisy, putting on a
night-cap ornamented with a red bow, one of her aunt’s long skirts, and
a shawl; a pair of spectacles and a large pocket handkerchief completed
her toilette, making a plump, rosy little matron of her.

Nan had a wreath of artificial flowers, a pair of old pink slippers, a
yellow scarf, a green muslin skirt, and a fan made of feathers from the
duster; also, as a last touch of elegance, a smelling-bottle without
any smell in it.

“I am the daughter, so I rig up a good deal, and I must sing and dance,
and talk more than you do. The mothers only get the tea and be proper,
you know.”

A sudden very loud knock caused Miss Smith to fly into a chair, and fan
herself violently, while her mamma sat bolt upright on the sofa, and
tried to look quite calm and “proper.” Little Bess, who was on a visit,
acted the part of maid, and opened the door, saying with a smile, “Wart
in, gemplemun; it’s all weady.”

In honor of the occasion, the boys wore high paper collars, tall
black hats, and gloves of every color and material, for they were an
afterthought, and not a boy among them had a perfect pair.

“Good day, mum,” said Demi, in a deep voice, which was so hard to keep
up that his remarks had to be extremely brief.

Every one shook hands and then sat down, looking so funny, yet so
sober, that the gentlemen forgot their manners, and rolled in their
chairs with laughter.

“Oh, don’t!” cried Mrs. Smith, much distressed.

“You can’t ever come again if you act so,” added Miss Smith, rapping
Mr. Bangs with her bottle because he laughed loudest.

“I can’t help it, you look so like fury,” gasped Mr. Bangs, with most
uncourteous candor.

“So do you, but I shouldn’t be so rude as to say so. He shan’t come to
the dinner-ball, shall he, Daisy?” cried Nan, indignantly.

“I think we had better dance now. Did you bring your fiddle, sir?”
asked Mrs. Smith, trying to preserve her polite composure.

“It is outside the door,” and Nat went to get it.

“Better have tea first,” proposed the unabashed Tommy, winking openly
at Demi to remind him that the sooner the refreshments were secured,
the sooner they could escape.

“No, we never have supper first; and if you don’t dance well you won’t
have any supper at all, _not one bit, sir_,” said Mrs. Smith, so
sternly that her wild guests saw she was not to be trifled with, and
grew overwhelmingly civil all at once.

“_I_ will take Mr. Bangs and teach him the polka, for he does not know
it fit to be seen,” added the hostess, with a reproachful look that
sobered Tommy at once.

Nat struck up, and the ball opened with two couples, who went
conscientiously through a somewhat varied dance. The ladies did well,
because they liked it, but the gentlemen exerted themselves from more
selfish motives, for each felt that he must earn his supper, and
labored manfully toward that end. When every one was out of breath they
were allowed to rest; and, indeed, poor Mrs. Smith needed it, for her
long dress had tripped her up many times. The little maid passed round
molasses and water in such small cups that one guest actually emptied
nine. I refrain from mentioning his name, because this mild beverage
affected him so much that he put cup and all into his mouth at the
ninth round, and choked himself publicly.

“You must ask Nan to play and sing now,” said Daisy to her brother, who
sat looking very much like an owl, as he gravely regarded the festive
scene between his high collars.

“Give us a song, mum,” said the obedient guest, secretly wondering
where the piano was.

Miss Smith sailed up to an old secretary which stood in the room,
threw back the lid of the writing-desk, and sitting down before it,
accompanied herself with a vigor which made the old desk rattle as she
sang that new and lovely song, beginning--

    “Gaily the troubadour
      Touched his guitar,
    As he was hastening
      Home from the war.”

The gentlemen applauded so enthusiastically that she gave them
“Bounding Billows,” “Little Bo-Peep,” and other gems of song, till they
were obliged to hint that they had had enough. Grateful for the praises
bestowed upon her daughter, Mrs. Smith graciously announced,--

“_Now_ we will have tea. Sit down carefully, and don’t grab.”

It was beautiful to see the air of pride with which the good lady did
the honors of her table, and the calmness with which she bore the
little mishaps that occurred. The best pie flew wildly on the floor
when she tried to cut it with a very dull knife; the bread and butter
vanished with a rapidity calculated to dismay a housekeeper’s soul;
and, worst of all, the custards were so soft that they had to be drunk
up, instead of being eaten elegantly with the new tin spoons.

I grieve to state that Miss Smith squabbled with the maid for the best
jumble, which caused Bess to toss the whole dish into the air, and
burst out crying amid a rain of falling cakes. She was comforted by a
seat at the table, and the sugar-bowl to empty; but during this flurry
a large plate of patties was mysteriously lost, and could not be found.
They were the chief ornament of the feast, and Mrs. Smith was indignant
at the loss, for she had made them herself, and they were beautiful
to behold. I put it to any lady if it was not hard to have one dozen
delicious patties (made of flour, salt, and water, with a large raisin
in the middle of each, and much sugar over the whole) swept away at one
fell swoop?

“You hid them, Tommy; I know you did!” cried the outraged hostess,
threatening her suspected guest with the milk-pot.

“I didn’t!”

“You did!”

“It isn’t proper to contradict,” said Nan, who was hastily eating up
the jelly during the fray.

“Give them back, Demi,” said Tommy.

“That’s a fib, you’ve got them in your own pocket,” bawled Demi, roused
by the false accusation.

“Let’s take ’em away from him. It’s too bad to make Daisy cry,”
suggested Nat, who found his first ball more exciting than he expected.

Daisy was already weeping, Bess like a devoted servant mingled her
tears with those of her mistress, and Nan denounced the entire race
of boys as “plaguey things.” Meanwhile the battle raged among the
gentlemen, for, when the two defenders of innocence fell upon the
foe, that hardened youth intrenched himself behind a table and pelted
them with the stolen tarts, which were very effective missiles, being
nearly as hard as bullets. While his ammunition held out the besieged
prospered, but the moment the last patty flew over the parapet, the
villain was seized, dragged howling from the room, and cast upon the
hall floor in an ignominious heap. The conquerors then returned flushed
with victory, and while Demi consoled poor Mrs. Smith, Nat and Nan
collected the scattered tarts, replaced each raisin in its proper bed,
and rearranged the dish so that it really looked almost as well as
ever. But their glory had departed, for the sugar was gone, and no one
cared to eat them after the insult offered to them.

[Illustration: _Miss Smith accompanied herself with a vigor which made
the old desk rattle. Page 135._]

“I guess we had better go,” said Demi, suddenly, as Aunt Jo’s voice was
heard on the stairs.

“P’r’aps we had,” and Nat hastily dropped a stray jumble that he had
just picked up.

But Mrs. Jo was among them before the retreat was accomplished, and
into her sympathetic ear the young ladies poured the story of their
woes.

“No more balls for these boys till they have atoned for this bad
behavior by doing something kind to you,” said Mrs. Jo, shaking her
head at the three culprits.

“We were only in fun,” began Demi.

“I don’t like fun that makes other people unhappy. I am disappointed
in you, Demi, for I hoped you would never learn to tease Daisy. Such a
kind little sister as she is to you.”

“Boys always tease their sisters; Tom says so,” muttered Demi.

“I don’t intend that _my_ boys shall, and I must send Daisy home if you
cannot play happily together,” said Aunt Jo, soberly.

At this awful threat, Demi sidled up to his sister, and Daisy hastily
dried her tears, for to be separated was the worst misfortune that
could happen to the twins.

“Nat was bad too, and Tommy was baddest of all,” observed Nan, fearing
that two of the sinners would not get their fair share of punishment.

“I am sorry,” said Nat, much ashamed.

“I ain’t!” bawled Tommy through the key-hole, where he was listening,
with all his might.

Mrs. Jo wanted very much to laugh, but kept her countenance, and said
impressively, as she pointed to the door,--

“You can go, boys, but remember, you are not to speak to or play with
the little girls till I give you leave. You don’t deserve the pleasure,
so I forbid it.”

The ill-mannered young gentlemen hastily retired, to be received
outside with derision and scorn by the unrepentant Bangs, who would
not associate with them for at least fifteen minutes. Daisy was soon
consoled for the failure of her ball, but lamented the edict that
parted her from her brother, and mourned over his short-comings in her
tender little heart. Nan rather enjoyed the trouble, and went about
turning up her pug nose at the three, especially Tommy, who pretended
not to care, and loudly proclaimed his satisfaction at being rid of
those “stupid girls.” But in his secret soul he soon repented of the
rash act that caused this banishment from the society he loved, and
every hour of separation taught him the value of the “stupid girls.”

The others gave in very soon, and longed to be friends, for now there
was no Daisy to pet and cook for them; no Nan to amuse and doctor them;
and, worst of all, no Mrs. Jo to make home pleasant and life easy for
them. To their great affliction, Mrs. Jo seemed to consider herself one
of the offended girls, for she hardly spoke to the outcasts, looked as
if she did not see them when she passed, and was always too busy now to
attend to their requests. This sudden and entire exile from favor cast
a gloom over their souls, for when Mother Bhaer deserted them, their
sun had set at noon-day, as it were, and they had no refuge left.

This unnatural state of things actually lasted for three days, then
they could bear it no longer, and fearing that the eclipse might become
total, went to Mr. Bhaer for help and counsel.

It is my private opinion that he had received instructions how to
behave if the case should be laid before him. But no one suspected
it, and he gave the afflicted boys some advice, which they gratefully
accepted and carried out in the following manner:--

Secluding themselves in the garret, they devoted several play-hours
to the manufacture of some mysterious machine, which took so much
paste that Asia grumbled, and the little girls wondered mightily. Nan
nearly got her inquisitive nose pinched in the door, trying to see
what was going on, and Daisy sat about, openly lamenting that they
could not all play nicely together, and not have any dreadful secrets.
Wednesday afternoon was fine, and after a good deal of consultation
about wind and weather, Nat and Tommy went off, bearing an immense flat
parcel hidden under many newspapers. Nan nearly died with suppressed
curiosity, Daisy nearly cried with vexation, and both quite trembled
with interest when Demi marched into Mrs. Bhaer’s room, hat in hand,
and said, in the politest tone possible to a mortal boy of his years,--

“Please, Aunt Jo, would you and the girls come out to a surprise party
we have made for you? Do, it’s a _very_ nice one.”

“Thank you, we will come with pleasure; only, I must take Teddy with
me,” replied Mrs. Bhaer, with a smile that cheered Demi like sunshine
after rain.

“We’d like to have him. The little wagon is all ready for the girls;
and you won’t mind walking just up to Pennyroyal Hill, will you,
Aunty?”

“I should like it exceedingly; but are you quite sure I shall not be in
the way?”

“Oh, no, indeed! we want you very much; and the party will be spoilt if
you don’t come,” cried Demi, with great earnestness.

“Thank you kindly, sir;” and Aunt Jo made him a grand curtsey, for she
liked frolics as well as any of them.

“Now, young ladies, we must not keep them waiting; on with the hats,
and let us be off at once. I’m all impatience to know what the surprise
is.”

As Mrs. Bhaer spoke every one bustled about, and in five minutes the
three little girls and Teddy were packed into the “clothes-basket,”
as they called the wicker wagon which Toby drew. Demi walked at the
head of the procession, and Mrs. Jo brought up the rear, escorted
by Kit. It was a most imposing party, I assure you, for Toby had a
red feather-duster in his head, two remarkable flags waved over the
carriage, Kit had a blue bow on his neck, which nearly drove him wild,
Demi wore a nosegay of dandelions in his buttonhole, and Mrs. Jo
carried the queer Japanese umbrella in honor of the occasion.

The girls had little flutters of excitement all the way; and Teddy was
so charmed with the drive that he kept dropping his hat overboard, and
when it was taken from him he prepared to tumble out himself, evidently
feeling that it behooved him to do something for the amusement of the
party.

When they came to the hill “nothing was to be seen but the grass
blowing in the wind,” as the fairy books say, and the children looked
disappointed. But Demi said, in his most impressive manner,--

“Now, you all get out and stand still, and the surprise party will come
in;” with which remark he retired behind a rock, over which heads had
been bobbing at intervals for the last half-hour.

A short pause of intense suspense, and then Nat, Demi, and Tommy
marched forth, each bearing a new kite, which they presented to the
three young ladies. Shrieks of delight arose, but were silenced by the
boys, who said, with faces brimful of merriment, “That isn’t all the
surprise;” and, running behind the rock, again emerged bearing a fourth
kite of superb size, on which was printed, in bright yellow letters,
“For Mother Bhaer.”

“We thought you’d like one, too, because you were angry with us, and
took the girls’ part,” cried all three, shaking with laughter, for this
part of the affair evidently _was_ a surprise to Mrs. Jo.

She clapped her hands, and joined in the laugh, looking thoroughly
tickled at the joke.

“Now, boys, that is regularly splendid! Who did think of it?” she
asked, receiving the monster kite with as much pleasure as the little
girls did theirs.

“Uncle Fritz proposed it when we planned to make the others; he said
you’d like it, so we made a bouncer,” answered Demi, beaming with
satisfaction at the success of the plot.

“Uncle Fritz knows what I like. Yes, these are magnificent kites, and
we were wishing we had some the other day when you were flying yours,
weren’t we, girls?”

“That’s why we made them for you,” cried Tommy, standing on his head as
the most appropriate way of expressing his emotions.

“Let us fly them,” said energetic Nan.

“I don’t know how,” began Daisy.

“We’ll show you, we want to!” cried all the boys in a burst of
devotion, as Demi took Daisy’s, Tommy Nan’s, and Nat, with difficulty,
persuaded Bess to let go her little blue one.

“Aunty, if you will wait a minute, we’ll pitch yours for you,” said
Demi, feeling that Mrs. Bhaer’s favor must not be lost again by any
neglect of theirs.

“Bless your buttons, dear, I know all about it; and here is a boy who
will toss up for me,” added Mrs. Jo, as the professor peeped over the
rock with a face full of fun.

He came out at once, tossed up the big kite, and Mrs. Jo ran off with
it in fine style, while the children stood and enjoyed the spectacle.
One by one all the kites went up, and floated far overhead like gay
birds, balancing themselves on the fresh breeze that blew steadily
over the hill. Such a merry time as they had! running and shouting,
sending up the kites or pulling them down, watching their antics in
the air, and feeling them tug at the string like live creatures trying
to escape. Nan was quite wild with the fun, Daisy thought the new play
nearly as interesting as dolls, and little Bess was so fond of her “boo
tite,” that she would only let it go on very short flights, preferring
to hold it in her lap and look at the remarkable pictures painted on it
by Tommy’s dashing brush. Mrs. Jo enjoyed hers immensely, and it acted
as if it knew who owned it, for it came tumbling down head first when
least expected, caught on trees, nearly pitched into the river, and
finally darted away to such a height that it looked a mere speck among
the clouds.

By and by every one got tired, and fastening the kite-strings to trees
and fences, all sat down to rest, except Mr. Bhaer, who went off to
look at the cows, with Teddy on his shoulder.

“Did you ever have such a good time as this before?” asked Nat, as
they lay about on the grass, nibbling pennyroyal like a flock of sheep.

“Not since I last flew a kite, years ago, when I was a girl,” answered
Mrs. Jo.

“I’d like to have known you when you were a girl, you must have been so
jolly,” said Nat.

“I was a naughty little girl, I am sorry to say.”

“I like naughty little girls,” observed Tommy, looking at Nan, who made
a frightful grimace at him in return for the compliment.

“Why don’t I remember you then, Aunty? Was I too young?” asked Demi.

“Rather, dear.”

“I suppose my memory hadn’t come then. Grandpa says that different
parts of the mind unfold as we grow up, and the memory part of my mind
hadn’t unfolded when you were little, so I can’t remember how you
looked,” explained Demi.

“Now, little Socrates, you had better keep that question for grandpa,
it is beyond me,” said Aunt Jo, putting on the extinguisher.

“Well, I will, _he_ knows about those things, and _you don’t_,”
returned Demi, feeling that on the whole kites were better adapted to
the comprehension of the present company.

“Tell about the last time you flew a kite,” said Nat, for Mrs. Jo had
laughed as she spoke of it, and he thought it might be interesting.

“Oh, it was only rather funny, for I was a great girl of fifteen, and
was ashamed to be seen at such a play. So Uncle Teddy and I privately
made our kites, and stole away to fly them. We had a capital time, and
were resting as we are now, when suddenly we heard voices, and saw a
party of young ladies and gentlemen coming back from a picnic. Teddy
did not mind, though he was rather a large boy to be playing with a
kite, but I was in a great flurry, for I knew I should be sadly laughed
at, and never hear the last of it, because my wild ways amused the
neighbors as much as Nan’s do us.

“‘What shall I do?’ I whispered to Teddy, as the voices drew nearer and
nearer.

“‘I’ll show you,’ he said, and whipping out his knife he cut the
strings. Away flew the kites, and when the people came up we were
picking flowers as properly as you please. They never suspected us, and
we had a grand laugh over our narrow escape.”

“Were the kites lost, Aunty?” asked Daisy.

“Quite lost, but I did not care, for I made up my mind that it would be
best to wait till I was an old lady before I played with kites again;
and you see I have waited,” said Mrs. Jo, beginning to pull in the big
kite, for it was getting late.

“Must we go now?”

“I must, or you won’t have any supper; and that sort of surprise party
would not suit you, I think, my chickens.”

“Hasn’t our party been a nice one?” asked Tommy, complacently.

“Splendid!” answered every one.

“Do you know why? It is because _your_ guests have behaved themselves,
and tried to make every thing go well. You understand what I mean,
don’t you?”

“Yes’m,” was all the boys said, but they stole a shamefaced look
at one another, as they meekly shouldered their kites and walked
home, thinking of another party where the guests had _not_ behaved
themselves, and things had gone badly on account of it.



CHAPTER X

HOME AGAIN


July had come, and haying begun; the little gardens were doing finely,
and the long summer days were full of pleasant hours. The house stood
open from morning till night, and the lads lived out of doors, except
at school time. The lessons were short, and there were many holidays,
for the Bhaers believed in cultivating healthy bodies by much exercise,
and our short summers are best used in out-of-door work. Such a rosy,
sunburnt, hearty set as the boys became; such appetites as they had;
such sturdy arms and legs, as outgrew jackets and trousers; such
laughing and racing all over the place; such antics in house and barn;
such adventures in the tramps over hill and dale; and such satisfaction
in the hearts of the worthy Bhaers, as they saw their flock prospering
in mind and body, I cannot begin to describe. Only one thing was needed
to make them quite happy, and it came when they least expected it.

One balmy night when the little lads were in bed, the elder ones
bathing down at the brook, and Mrs. Bhaer undressing Teddy in her
parlor, he suddenly cried out, “Oh, my Danny!” and pointed to the
window, where the moon shone brightly.

“No, lovey, he is not there, it was the pretty moon,” said his mother.

“No, no, Danny at a window; Teddy saw him,” persisted baby, much
excited.

“It might have been,” and Mrs. Bhaer hurried to the window, hoping it
would prove true. But the face was gone, and nowhere appeared any signs
of a mortal boy; she called his name, ran to the front door with Teddy
in his little shirt, and made him call too, thinking the baby voice
might have more effect than her own. No one answered, nothing appeared,
and they went back much disappointed. Teddy would not be satisfied with
the moon, and after he was in his crib kept popping up his head to ask
if Danny was not “tummin’ soon.”

By and by he fell asleep, the lads trooped up to bed, the house grew
still, and nothing but the chirp of the crickets broke the soft silence
of the summer night. Mrs. Bhaer sat sewing, for the big basket was
always piled with socks, full of portentous holes, and thinking of the
lost boy. She had decided that baby had been mistaken, and did not even
disturb Mr. Bhaer by telling him of the child’s fancy, for the poor man
got little time to himself till the boys were abed, and he was busy
writing letters. It was past ten when she rose to shut up the house. As
she paused a minute to enjoy the lovely scene from the steps, something
white caught her eye on one of the hay-cocks scattered over the lawn.
The children had been playing there all the afternoon, and, fancying
that Nan had left her hat as usual, Mrs. Bhaer went out to get it. But
as she approached, she saw that it was neither hat nor handkerchief,
but a shirt sleeve with a brown hand sticking out of it. She hurried
round the hay-cock, and there lay Dan, fast asleep.

Ragged, dirty, thin, and worn-out he looked; one foot was bare, the
other tied up in the old gingham jacket which he had taken from his
own back to use as a clumsy bandage for some hurt. He seemed to have
hidden himself behind the hay-cock, but in his sleep had thrown out
the arm that had betrayed him. He sighed and muttered as if his dreams
disturbed him, and once when he moved, he groaned as if in pain, but
still slept on quite spent with weariness.

“He must not lie here,” said Mrs. Bhaer, and stooping over him she
gently called his name. He opened his eyes and looked at her, as if
she was a part of his dream, for he smiled and said drowsily, “Mother
Bhaer, I’ve come home.”

The look, the words, touched her very much, and she put her hand under
his head to lift him up, saying in her cordial way,--

“I thought you would, and I’m so glad to see you, Dan.” He seemed
to wake thoroughly then, and started up looking about him as if he
suddenly remembered where he was, and doubted even that kind welcome.
His face changed, and he said in his old rough way,--

“I was going off in the morning. I only stopped to peek in, as I went
by.”

“But why not come in, Dan? Didn’t you hear us call you? Teddy saw, and
cried for you.”

“Didn’t suppose you’d let me in,” he said, fumbling with a little
bundle which he had taken up as if going immediately.

“Try and see,” was all Mrs. Bhaer answered, holding out her hand and
pointing to the door, where the light shone hospitably.

With a long breath, as if a load was off his mind, Dan took up a stout
stick, and began to limp towards the house, but stopped suddenly, to
say inquiringly,--

“Mr. Bhaer won’t like it. I ran away from Page.”

“He knows it, and was sorry, but it will make no difference. Are you
lame?” asked Mrs. Jo, as he limped on again.

“Getting over a wall a stone fell on my foot and smashed it. I don’t
mind,” and he did his best to hide the pain each step cost him.

Mrs. Bhaer helped him into her own room, and, once there, he dropped
into a chair, and laid his head back, white and faint with weariness
and suffering.

“My poor Dan! drink this, and then eat a little; you are at home now,
and Mother Bhaer will take good care of you.”

He only looked up at her with eyes full of gratitude, as he drank the
wine she held to his lips, and then began slowly to eat the food she
brought him. Each mouthful seemed to put heart into him, and presently
he began to talk as if anxious to have her know all about him.

“Where have you been, Dan?” she asked, beginning to get out some
bandages.

“I ran off more’n a month ago. Page was good enough, but too strict. I
didn’t like it, so I cut away down the river with a man who was going
in his boat. That’s why they couldn’t tell where I’d gone. When I left
the man, I worked for a couple of weeks with a farmer, but I thrashed
his boy, and then the old man thrashed me, and I ran off again and
walked here.”

“All the way?”

“Yes, the man didn’t pay me, and I wouldn’t ask for it. Took it out in
beating the boy,” and Dan laughed, yet looked ashamed, as he glanced at
his ragged clothes and dirty hands.

“How did you live? It was a long, long tramp for a boy like you.”

“Oh, I got on well enough, till I hurt my foot. Folks gave me things
to eat, and I slept in barns and tramped by day. I got lost trying to
make a short cut, or I’d have been here sooner.”

“But if you did not mean to come in and stay with us, what were you
going to do?”

“I thought I’d like to see Teddy again, and you; and then I was going
back to my old work in the city, only I was so tired I went to sleep on
the hay. I’d have been gone in the morning, if you hadn’t found me.”

“Are you sorry I did?” and Mrs. Jo looked at him with a half merry,
half reproachful look, as she knelt down to look at his wounded foot.

The color came up into Dan’s face, and he kept his eyes fixed on his
plate, as he said very low, “No, ma’am, I’m glad, I wanted to stay, but
I was afraid you--”

He did not finish, for Mrs. Bhaer interrupted him by an exclamation of
pity, as she saw his foot, for it was seriously hurt.

“When did you do it?”

“Three days ago.”

“And you have walked on it in this state?”

“I had a stick, and I washed it at every brook I came to, and one woman
gave me a rag to put on it.”

“Mr. Bhaer must see and dress it at once,” and Mrs. Jo hastened into
the next room, leaving the door ajar behind her, so that Dan heard all
that passed.

“Fritz, that boy has come back.”

“Who? Dan?”

“Yes, Teddy saw him at the window, and we called to him, but he went
away and hid behind the hay-cocks on the lawn. I found him there just
now fast asleep, and half dead with weariness and pain. He ran away
from Page a month ago, and has been making his way to us ever since. He
pretends that he did not mean to let us see him, but go on to the city,
and his old work, after a look at us. It is evident, however, that the
hope of being taken in has led him here through every thing, and there
he is waiting to know if you will forgive and take him back.”

“Did he say so?”

“His eyes did, and when I waked him, he said, like a lost child,
‘Mother Bhaer, I’ve come home.’ I hadn’t the heart to scold him, and
just took him in like a poor little black sheep come back to the fold.
I may keep him, Fritz?”

“Of course you may! This proves to me that we have a hold on the boy’s
heart, and I would no more send him away now than I would my own Rob.”

Dan heard a soft little sound, as if Mrs. Jo thanked her husband
without words, and, in the instant’s silence that followed, two great
tears that had slowly gathered in the boy’s eyes brimmed over and
rolled down his dusty cheeks. No one saw them, for he brushed them
hastily away; but in that little pause I think Dan’s old distrust for
these good people vanished for ever, the soft spot in his heart was
touched, and he felt an impetuous desire to prove himself worthy of the
love and pity that was so patient and forgiving. He said nothing, he
only wished the wish with all his might, resolved to try in his blind
boyish way, and sealed his resolution with the tears which neither
pain, fatigue, nor loneliness could wring from him.

“Come and see his foot. I am afraid it is badly hurt, for he has kept
on three days through heat and dust, with nothing but water and an old
jacket to bind it up with. I tell you, Fritz, that boy is a brave lad,
and will make a fine man yet.”

“I hope so, for your sake, enthusiastic woman, your faith deserves
success. Now, I will go and see your little Spartan. Where is he?”

“In my room; but, dear, you’ll be very kind to him, no matter how gruff
he seems. I am sure that is the way to conquer him. He won’t bear
sternness nor much restraint, but a soft word and infinite patience
will lead him as it used to lead me.”

“As if you ever were like this little rascal!” cried Mr. Bhaer,
laughing, yet half angry at the idea.

“I was in spirit, though I showed it in a different way. I seem to know
by instinct how he feels, to understand what will win and touch him,
and to sympathize with his temptations and faults. I am glad I do, for
it will help me to help him; and if I can make a good man of this wild
boy, it will be the best work of my life.”

“God bless the work, and help the worker!”

Mr. Bhaer spoke now as earnestly as she had done, and both came in
together to find Dan’s head down upon his arm, as if he was quite
overcome by sleep. But he looked up quickly, and tried to rise as Mr.
Bhaer said pleasantly,--

“So you like Plumfield better than Page’s farm. Well, let us see if we
can get on more comfortably this time than we did before.”

“Thanky, sir,” said Dan, trying not to be gruff, and finding it easier
than he expected.

“Now, the foot! Ach!--this is not well. We must have Dr. Firth
to-morrow. Warm water, Jo, and old linen.”

Mr. Bhaer bathed and bound up the wounded foot, while Mrs. Jo prepared
the only empty bed in the house. It was in the little guest-chamber
leading from the parlor, and often used when the lads were poorly, for
it saved Mrs. Jo from running up and down, and the invalids could
see what was going on. When it was ready, Mr. Bhaer took the boy in
his arms, and carried him in, helped him undress, laid him on the
little white bed, and left him with another hand-shake, and a fatherly
“Good-night, my son.”

Dan dropped asleep at once, and slept heavily for several hours; then
his foot began to throb and ache, and he awoke to toss about uneasily,
trying not to groan lest any one should hear him, for he _was_ a brave
lad, and did bear pain like “a little Spartan,” as Mr. Bhaer called him.

Mrs. Jo had a way of flitting about the house at night, to shut the
windows if the wind grew chilly, to draw mosquito curtains over Teddy,
or look after Tommy, who occasionally walked in his sleep. The least
noise waked her, and as she often heard imaginary robbers, cats, and
conflagrations, the doors stood open all about, so her quick ear
caught the sound of Dan’s little moans, and she was up in a minute. He
was just giving his hot pillow a despairing thump when a light came
glimmering through the hall, and Mrs. Jo crept in, looking like a droll
ghost, with her hair in a great knob on the top of her head, and a long
gray dressing-gown trailing behind her.

“Are you in pain, Dan?”

“It’s pretty bad; but I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I’m a sort of owl, always flying about at night. Yes, your foot is
like fire; the bandages must be wet again,” and away flapped the
maternal owl for more cooling stuff, and a great mug of ice water.

“Oh, that’s _so_ nice!” sighed Dan, as the wet bandages went on again,
and a long draught of water cooled his thirsty throat.

“There, now, sleep your best, and don’t be frightened if you see me
again, for I’ll slip down by and by, and give you another sprinkle.”

As she spoke, Mrs. Jo stooped to turn the pillow and smooth the
bed-clothes, when, to her great surprise, Dan put his arm round her
neck, drew her face down to his, and kissed her, with a broken “Thank
you, ma’am,” which said more than the most eloquent speech could have
done; for the hasty kiss, the muttered words, meant, “I’m sorry, I will
try.” She understood it, accepted the unspoken confession, and did not
spoil it by any token of surprise. She only remembered that he had no
mother, kissed the brown cheek half hidden on the pillow, as if ashamed
of that little touch of tenderness, and left him, saying, what he long
remembered, “You are my boy now, and if you choose you can make me
proud and glad to say so.”

Once again, just at dawn, she stole down to find him so fast asleep
that he did not wake, and showed no sign of consciousness as she wet
his foot, except that the lines of pain smoothed themselves away, and
left his face quite peaceful.

The day was Sunday, and the house so still that he never waked till
near noon, and, looking round him, saw an eager little face peering in
at the door. He held out his arms, and Teddy tore across the room to
cast himself bodily upon the bed, shouting, “My Danny’s tum!” as he
hugged and wriggled with delight. Mrs. Bhaer appeared next, bringing
breakfast, and never seeming to see how shamefaced Dan looked at the
memory of the little scene last night. Teddy insisted on giving him his
“betfus,” and fed him like a baby, which, as he was not very hungry,
Dan enjoyed very much.

Then came the doctor, and the poor Spartan had a bad time of it, for
some of the little bones of his foot were injured, and putting them to
rights was such a painful job, that Dan’s lips were white, and great
drops stood on his forehead, though he never cried out, and only held
Mrs. Jo’s hand so tight that it was red long afterwards.

“You must keep this boy quiet, for a week at least, and not let him put
his foot to the ground. By that time, I shall know whether he may hop a
little with a crutch, or stick to his bed for a while longer,” said Dr.
Firth, putting up the shining instruments that Dan did not like to see.

“It will get well sometime, won’t it?” he asked, looking alarmed at the
word “crutches.”

“I hope so;” and with that the doctor departed, leaving Dan much
depressed; for the loss of a foot is a dreadful calamity to an active
boy.

“Don’t be troubled, I am a famous nurse, and we will have you tramping
about as well as ever in a month,” said Mrs. Jo, taking a hopeful view
of the case.

But the fear of being lame haunted Dan, and even Teddy’s caresses did
not cheer him; so Mrs. Jo proposed that one or two of the boys should
come in and pay him a little visit, and asked whom he would like to see.

“Nat and Demi; I’d like my hat too, there’s something in it I guess
they’d like to see. I suppose you threw away my bundle of plunder?”
said Dan, looking rather anxious as he put the question.

“No, I kept it, for I thought they must be treasures of some kind, you
took such care of them;” and Mrs. Jo brought him his old straw hat
stuck full of butterflies and beetles, and a handkerchief containing a
collection of odd things picked up on his way: birds’ eggs, carefully
done up in moss, curious shells and stones, bits of fungus, and several
little crabs, in a state of great indignation at their imprisonment.

“Could I have something to put these fellers in? Mr. Hyde and I found
’em, and they are first-rate ones, so I’d like to keep and watch’em;
can I?” asked Dan, forgetting his foot, and laughing to see the crabs
go sidling and backing over the bed.

“Of course you can; Polly’s old cage will be just the thing. Don’t let
them nip Teddy’s toes while I get it;” and away went Mrs. Jo, leaving
Dan overjoyed to find that his treasures were not considered rubbish,
and thrown away.

Nat, Demi, and the cage arrived together, and the crabs were settled
in their new house, to the great delight of the boys, who, in the
excitement of the performance, forgot any awkwardness they might
otherwise have felt in greeting the runaway. To these admiring
listeners Dan related his adventures much more fully than he had done
to the Bhaers. Then he displayed his “plunder,” and described each
article so well, that Mrs. Jo, who had retired to the next room to
leave them free, was surprised and interested, as well as amused, at
their boyish chatter.

“How much the lad knows of these things! how absorbed he is in them!
and what a mercy it is just now, for he cares so little for books, it
would be hard to amuse him while he is laid up; but the boys can supply
him with beetles and stones to any extent, and I am glad to find out
this taste of his; it is a good one, and may perhaps prove the making
of him. If he should turn out a great naturalist, and Nat a musician,
I should have cause to be proud of this year’s work;” and Mrs. Jo sat
smiling over her book as she built castles in the air, just as she used
to do when a girl, only then they were for herself, and now they were
for other people, which is the reason perhaps that some of them came
to pass in reality--for charity is an excellent foundation to build
anything upon.

Nat was most interested in the adventures, but Demi enjoyed the beetles
and butterflies immensely, drinking in the history of their changeful
little lives as if it were a new and lovely sort of fairy tale--for,
even in his plain way, Dan told it well, and found great satisfaction
in the thought that here at least the small philosopher could learn of
him. So interested were they in the account of catching a musk rat,
whose skin was among the treasures, that Mr. Bhaer had to come himself
to tell Nat and Demi it was time for the walk. Dan looked so wistfully
after them as they ran off, that Father Bhaer proposed carrying him to
the sofa in the parlor for a little change of air and scene.

When he was established, and the house quiet, Mrs. Jo, who sat near
by showing Teddy pictures, said, in an interested tone, as she nodded
towards the treasures still in Dan’s hands,--

“Where did you learn so much about these things?”

“I always liked ’em, but didn’t know much till Mr. Hyde told me.”

“Who was Mr. Hyde?”

“Oh, he was a man who lived round in the woods studying these things--I
don’t know what you call him--and wrote about frogs, and fishes, and so
on. He stayed at Page’s, and used to want me to go and help him, and it
was great fun, ’cause he told me ever so much, and was uncommon jolly
and wise. Hope I’ll see him again sometime.”

“I hope you will,” said Mrs. Jo, for Dan’s face had brightened up, and
he was so interested in the matter that he forgot his usual taciturnity.

“Why, he could make birds come to him, and rabbits and squirrels didn’t
mind him any more than if he was a tree. He never hurt ’em, and they
seemed to know him. Did you ever tickle a lizard with a straw?” asked
Dan, eagerly.

“No, but I should like to try it.”

“Well, I’ve done it, and it’s so funny to see ’em turn over and stretch
out, they like it so much. Mr. Hyde used to do it; and he’d make
snakes listen to him while he whistled, and he knew just when certain
flowers would blow, and bees wouldn’t sting him, and he’d tell the
wonderfullest things about fish and flies, and the Indians and the
rocks.”

“I think you were so fond of going with Mr. Hyde, you rather neglected
Mr. Page,” said Mrs. Jo, slyly.

“Yes, I did; I hated to have to weed and hoe when I might be tramping
round with Mr. Hyde. Page thought such things silly, and called Mr.
Hyde crazy because he’d lay hours watching a trout or a bird.”

“Suppose you say _lie_ instead of _lay_, it is better grammar,”
said Mrs. Jo, very gently; and then added, “Yes, Page is a thorough
farmer, and would not understand that a naturalist’s work was just as
interesting, and perhaps just as important as his own. Now, Dan, if you
really love these things, as I think you do, and I am glad to see it,
you shall have time to study them and books to help you; but I want
you to do something besides, and to do it faithfully, else you will be
sorry by and by, and find that you have got to begin again.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Dan, meekly, and looked a little scared by the
serious tone of the last remarks, for he hated books, yet had
evidently made up his mind to study anything she proposed.

“Do you see that cabinet with twelve drawers in it?” was the next very
unexpected question.

Dan did see two tall old-fashioned ones standing on either side of
the piano; he knew them well, and had often seen nice bits of string,
nails, brown paper, and such useful matters come out of the various
drawers. He nodded and smiled. Mrs. Jo went on,--

“Well, don’t you think those drawers would be good places to put your
eggs, and stones, and shells, and lichens?”

“Oh, splendid, but you wouldn’t like my things ‘clutterin’ round,’ as
Mr. Page used to say, would you?” cried Dan, sitting up to survey the
old piece of furniture with sparkling eyes.

“I like litter of that sort; and if I didn’t, I should give you the
drawers, because I have a regard for children’s little treasures, and
think they should be treated respectfully. Now, I am going to make a
bargain with you, Dan, and I hope you will keep it honorably. Here are
twelve good-sized drawers, one for each month of the year, and they
shall be yours as fast as you earn them, by doing the little duties
that belong to you. I believe in rewards of a certain kind, especially
for young folks; they help us along and though we may begin by being
good for the sake of the reward, if it is rightly used, we shall soon
learn to love goodness for itself.”

“Do you have ’em?” asked Dan, looking as if this was new talk for him.

“Yes, indeed! I haven’t learnt to get on without them yet. My rewards
are not drawers, or presents, or holidays, but they are things which I
like as much as you do the others. The good behavior and success of
my boys is one of the rewards I love best, and I work for it as I want
you to work for your cabinet. Do what you dislike, and do it well, and
you get two rewards,--one, the prize you see and hold; the other, the
satisfaction of a duty cheerfully performed. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We all need these little helps; so you shall try to do your lessons
and your work, play kindly with all the boys, and use your holidays
well; and if you bring me a good report, or if I see and know it
without words--for I’m quick to spy out the good little efforts of my
boys--you shall have a compartment in the drawer for your treasures.
See, some are already divided into four parts, and I will have the
others made in the same way, a place for each week; and when the
drawer is filled with curious and pretty things, I shall be as proud
of it as you are; prouder, I think--for in the pebbles, mosses, and
gay butterflies, I shall see good resolutions carried out, conquered
faults, and a promise well kept. Shall we do this, Dan?”

The boy answered with one of the looks which said much, for it showed
that he felt and understood her wish and words, although he did not
know how to express his interest and gratitude for such care and
kindness. She understood the look, and seeing by the color that flushed
up to his forehead that he was touched, as she wished him to be, she
said no more about that side of the new plan, but pulled out the upper
drawer, dusted it, and set it on two chairs before the sofa, saying
briskly,--

“Now, let us begin at once by putting those nice beetles in a safe
place. These compartments will hold a good deal, you see. I’d pin the
butterflies and bugs round the sides; they will be quite safe there,
and leave room for the heavy things below. I’ll give you some cotton
wool, and clean paper and pins, and you can get ready for the week’s
work.”

“But I can’t go out to find any new things,” said Dan, looking
piteously at his foot.

“That’s true; never mind, we’ll let these treasures do for this week,
and I dare say the boys will bring you loads of things if you ask them.”

“They don’t know the right sort; besides, if I lay, no, _lie_ here all
the time, I can’t work and study, and earn my drawers.”

“There are plenty of lessons you can learn lying there, and several
little jobs of work you can do for me.”

“Can I?” and Dan looked both surprised and pleased.

“You can learn to be patient and cheerful in spite of pain and no play.
You can amuse Teddy for me, wind cotton, read to me when I sew, and do
many things without hurting your foot, which will make the days pass
quickly, and not be wasted ones.”

Here Demi ran in with a great butterfly in one hand, and a very ugly
little toad in the other.

“See, Dan, I found them, and ran back to give them to you; aren’t they
beautiful ones?” panted Demi, all out of breath.

Dan laughed at the toad, and said he had no place to put him, but the
butterfly was a beauty, and if Mrs. Jo would give him a big pin, he
would stick it right up in the drawer.

“I don’t like to see the poor thing struggle on a pin; if it must be
killed, let us put it out of pain at once with a drop of camphor,”
said Mrs. Jo, getting out the bottle.

“I know how to do it--Mr. Hyde always killed ’em that way--but I didn’t
have any camphor, so I use a pin,” and Dan gently poured a drop on the
insect’s head, when the pale green wings fluttered an instant, and then
grew still.

This dainty little execution was hardly over when Teddy shouted from
the bedroom, “Oh, the little trabs are out, and the big one’s eaten ’em
all up.” Demi and his aunt ran to the rescue, and found Teddy dancing
excitedly in a chair, while two little crabs were scuttling about the
floor, having got through the wires of the cage. A third was clinging
to the top of the cage, evidently in terror of his life, for below
appeared a sad yet funny sight. The big crab had wedged himself into
the little recess where Polly’s cup used to stand, and there he sat
eating one of his relations in the coolest way. All the claws of the
poor victim were pulled off, and he was turned upside down, his upper
shell held in one claw close under the mouth of the big crab like a
dish, while he leisurely ate out of it with the other claw, pausing
now and then to turn his queer bulging eyes from side to side, and to
put out a slender tongue and lick them in a way that made the children
scream with laughter. Mrs. Jo carried the cage in for Dan to see the
sight, while Demi caught and confined the wanderers under an inverted
wash-bowl.

“I’ll have to let these fellers go, for I can’t keep ’em in the house,”
said Dan, with evident regret.

“I’ll take care of them for you, if you will tell me how, and they
can live in my turtle-tank just as well as not,” said Demi, who found
them more interesting even than his beloved slow turtles. So Dan gave
him directions about the wants and habits of the crabs, and Demi bore
them away to introduce them to their new home and neighbors. “What a
good boy he is!” said Dan, carefully settling the first butterfly, and
remembering that Demi had given up his walk to bring it to him.

“He ought to be, for a great deal has been done to make him so.”

“He’s had folks to tell him things, and to help him; I haven’t,” said
Dan, with a sigh, thinking of his neglected childhood, a thing he
seldom did, and feeling as if he had not had fair play somehow.

“I know it, dear, and for that reason I don’t expect as much from you
as from Demi, though he is younger; you shall have all the help that we
can give you now, and I hope to teach you how to help yourself in the
best way. Have you forgotten what Father Bhaer told you when you were
here before, about wanting to be good, and asking God to help you?”

“No, ma’am,” very low.

“Do you try that way still?”

“No, ma’am,” lower still.

“Will you do it every night to please me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” very soberly.

“I shall depend on it, and I think I shall know if you are faithful to
your promise, for these things always show to people who believe in
them, though not a word is said. Now here is a pleasant story about a
boy who hurt his foot worse than you did yours; read it, and see how
bravely he bore his troubles.”

She put that charming little book, “The Crofton Boys,” into his hands,
and left him for an hour, passing in and out from time to time that
he might not feel lonely. Dan did not love to read, but soon got
so interested that he was surprised when the boys came home. Daisy
brought him a nosegay of wild flowers, and Nan insisted on helping
bring him his supper, as he lay on the sofa with the door open into the
dining-room, so that he could see the lads at table, and they could nod
socially to him over their bread and butter.

Mr. Bhaer carried him away to his bed early, and Teddy came in his
night-gown to say good-night, for he went to his little nest with the
birds.

“I want to say my prayers to Danny; may I?” he asked; and when his
mother said, “Yes,” the little fellow knelt down by Dan’s bed, and
folding his chubby hands, said softly,--

“Pease Dod bess everybody, and hep me to be dood.”

Then he went away smiling with sleepy sweetness over his mother’s
shoulder.

But after the evening talk was done, the evening song sung, and the
house grew still with beautiful Sunday silence, Dan lay in his pleasant
room wide awake, thinking new thoughts, feeling new hopes and desires
stirring in his boyish heart, for two good angels had entered in: love
and gratitude began the work which time and effort were to finish; and
with an earnest wish to keep his first promise, Dan folded his hands
together in the darkness, and softly whispered Teddy’s little prayer,--

“Please God bless every one, and help me to be good.”



CHAPTER XI

UNCLE TEDDY


For a week Dan only moved from bed to sofa; a long week and a hard
one, for the hurt foot was very painful at times, the quiet days very
wearisome to the active lad, longing to be out enjoying the summer
weather, and especially difficult was it to be patient. But Dan did
his best, and every one helped him in their various ways; so the time
passed, and he was rewarded at last by hearing the doctor say, on
Saturday morning,--

“This foot is doing better than I expected. Give the lad the crutch
this afternoon, and let him stump about the house a little.”

“Hooray!” shouted Nat, and raced away to tell the other boys the good
news.

Everybody was very glad, and after dinner the whole flock assembled to
behold Dan crutch himself up and down the hall a few times before he
settled in the porch to hold a sort of _levée_. He was much pleased
at the interest and good-will shown him, and brightened up more and
more every minute; for the boys came to pay their respects, the little
girls fussed about him with stools and cushions, and Teddy watched over
him as if he was a frail creature unable to do any thing for himself.
They were still sitting and standing about the steps, when a carriage
stopped at the gate, a hat was waved from it, and with a shout of
“Uncle Teddy! Uncle Teddy!” Rob scampered down the avenue as fast as
his short legs would carry him. All the boys but Dan ran after him to
see who should be first to open the gate, and in a moment the carriage
drove up with boys swarming all over it, while Uncle Teddy sat laughing
in the midst, with his little daughter on his knee.

“Stop the triumphal car and let Jupiter descend,” he said, and jumping
out ran up the steps to meet Mrs. Bhaer, who stood smiling and clapping
her hands like a girl.

“How goes it, Teddy?”

“All right, Jo.”

Then they shook hands, and Mr. Laurie put Bess into her aunt’s arms,
saying, as the child hugged her tight, “Goldilocks wanted to see you so
much that I ran away with her, for I was quite pining for a sight of
you myself. We want to play with your boys for an hour or so, and to
see how ‘the old woman who lived in a shoe, and had so many children
she did not know what to do,’ is getting on.”

“I’m so glad! Play away, and don’t get into mischief,” answered Mrs.
Jo, as the lads crowded round the pretty child, admiring her long
golden hair, dainty dress, and lofty ways, for the little “Princess,”
as they called her, allowed no one to kiss her, but sat smiling down
upon them, and graciously patting their heads with her little, white
hands. They all adored her, especially Rob, who considered her a sort
of doll, and dared not touch her lest she should break, but worshipped
her at a respectful distance, made happy by an occasional mark of favor
from her little highness. As she immediately demanded to see Daisy’s
kitchen, she was borne off by Mrs. Jo, with a train of small boys
following. The others, all but Nat and Demi, ran away to the menagerie
and gardens to have all in order; for Mr. Laurie always took a general
survey, and looked disappointed if things were not flourishing.

Standing on the steps, he turned to Dan, saying like an old
acquaintance, though he had only seen him once or twice before,--

“How is the foot?”

“Better, sir.”

“Rather tired of the house, aren’t you?”

“Guess I am!” and Dan’s eyes roved away to the green hills and woods
where he longed to be.

“Suppose we take a little turn before the others come back? That big,
easy carriage will be quite safe and comfortable, and a breath of fresh
air will do you good. Get a cushion and a shawl, Demi, and let’s carry
Dan off.”

The boys thought it a capital joke, and Dan looked delighted, but
asked, with an unexpected burst of virtue,--

“Will Mrs. Bhaer like it?”

“Oh, yes; we settled all that a minute ago.”

“You didn’t say any thing about it, so I don’t see how you could,” said
Demi, inquisitively.

“We have a way of sending messages to one another, without any words.
It is a great improvement on the telegraph.”

“I know--it’s eyes; I saw you lift your eyebrows, and nod toward the
carriage, and Mrs. Bhaer laughed and nodded back again,” cried Nat, who
was quite at his ease with kind Mr. Laurie by this time.

“Right. Now then, come on,” and in a minute Dan found himself settled
in the carriage, his foot on a cushion on the seat opposite, nicely
covered with a shawl, which fell down from the upper regions in a most
mysterious manner, just when they wanted it. Demi climbed up to the
box beside Peter, the black coachman. Nat sat next Dan in the place of
honor, while Uncle Teddy would sit opposite,--to take care of the foot,
he said, but really that he might study the faces before him--both so
happy, yet so different, for Dan’s was square, and brown, and strong,
while Nat’s was long, and fair, and rather weak, but very amiable with
its mild eyes and good forehead.

“By the way, I’ve got a book somewhere here that you may like to see,”
said the oldest boy of the party, diving under the seat and producing a
book which made Dan exclaim,--

“Oh! by George, isn’t that a stunner?” as he turned the leaves, and saw
fine plates of butterflies, and birds, and every sort of interesting
insect, colored like life. He was so charmed that he forgot his thanks,
but Mr. Laurie did not mind, and was quite satisfied to see the boy’s
eager delight, and to hear his exclamations over certain old friends as
he came to them. Nat leaned on his shoulder to look, and Demi turned
his back to the horses, and let his feet dangle inside the carriage, so
that he might join in the conversation.

When they got among the beetles, Mr. Laurie took a curious little
object out of his vest-pocket, and laying it in the palm of his hand,
said,--

“There’s a beetle that is thousands of years old;” and then, while
the lads examined the queer stone-bug, that looked so old and gray,
he told them how it came out of the wrappings of a mummy, after lying
for ages in a famous tomb. Finding them interested, he went on to tell
about the Egyptians, and the strange and splendid ruins they have left
behind them--the Nile, and how he sailed up the mighty river, with
the handsome dark men to work his boat; how he shot alligators, saw
wonderful beasts and birds; and afterwards crossed the desert on a
camel, who pitched him about like a ship in a storm.

“Uncle Teddy tells stories ’most as well as Grandpa,” said Demi,
approvingly, when the tale was done, and the boys’ eyes asked for more.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Laurie, quite soberly, for he considered Demi’s
praise worth having, for children are good critics in such cases, and
to suit them is an accomplishment that any one may be proud of.

“Here’s another trifle or two that I tucked into my pocket as I was
turning over my traps to see if I had any thing that would amuse Dan,”
and Uncle Teddy produced a fine arrow-head and a string of wampum.

“Oh! tell about the Indians,” cried Demi, who was fond of playing
wigwam.

“Dan knows lots about them,” added Nat.

“More than I do, I dare say. Tell us something,” and Mr. Laurie looked
as interested as the other two.

“Mr. Hyde told me; he’s been among ’em, and can talk their talk,
and likes ’em,” began Dan, flattered by their attention, but rather
embarrassed by having a grown-up listener.

“What is wampum for?” asked curious Demi, from his perch.

The others asked questions likewise, and, before he knew it, Dan was
reeling off all Mr. Hyde had told him, as they sailed down the river
a few weeks before. Mr. Laurie listened well, but found the boy more
interesting than the Indians, for Mrs. Jo had told him about Dan, and
he rather took a fancy to the wild lad, who ran away as he himself
had often longed to do, and who was slowly getting tamed by pain and
patience.

“I’ve been thinking that it would be a good plan for you fellows to
have a museum of your own; a place in which to collect all the curious
and interesting things that you find, and make, and have given you.
Mrs. Jo is too kind to complain, but it is rather hard for her to have
the house littered up with all sorts of rattletraps,--half-a-pint of
dor-bugs in one of her best vases, for instance, a couple of dead bats
nailed up in the back entry, wasps’ nests tumbling down on people’s
heads, and stones lying round everywhere, enough to pave the avenue.
There are not many women who would stand that sort of thing, are there,
now?”

As Mr. Laurie spoke with a merry look in his eyes, the boys laughed and
nudged one another, for it was evident that some one told tales out of
school, else how could he know of the existence of these inconvenient
treasures.

“Where can we put them, then?” said Demi, crossing his legs and leaning
down to argue the question.

“In the old carriage-house.”

“But it leaks, and there isn’t any windows, nor any place to put
things, and it’s all dust and cobwebs,” began Nat.

“Wait till Gibbs and I have touched it up a bit, and then see how
you like it. He is to come over on Monday to get it ready; then
next Saturday I shall come out, and we will fix it up, and make the
beginning, at least, of a fine little museum. Every one can bring
his things, and have a place for them; and Dan is to be the head
man, because he knows most about such matters, and it will be quiet,
pleasant work for him now that he can’t knock about much.”

“Won’t that be jolly?” cried Nat, while Dan smiled all over his face
and had not a word to say, but hugged his book, and looked at Mr.
Laurie as if he thought him one of the greatest public benefactors that
ever blessed the world.

“Shall I go round again, sir?” asked Peter, as they came to the gate,
after two slow turns about the half-mile triangle.

“No, we must be prudent, else we can’t come again. I must go over the
premises, take a look at the carriage-house, and have a little talk
with Mrs. Jo before I go”; and, having deposited Dan on his sofa to
rest and enjoy his book, Uncle Teddy went off to have a frolic with
the lads who were raging about the place in search of him. Leaving
the little girls to mess up-stairs, Mrs. Bhaer sat down by Dan, and
listened to his eager account of the drive till the flock returned,
dusty, warm, and much excited about the new museum, which every one
considered the most brilliant idea of the age.

“I always wanted to endow some sort of an institution, and I am going
to begin with this,” said Mr. Laurie, sitting down on a stool at Mrs.
Jo’s feet.

“You have endowed one already. What do you call this?” and Mrs. Jo
pointed to the happy-faced lads, who had camped upon the floor about
them.

“I call it a very promising Bhaer-garden, and I’m proud to be a member
of it. Did you know I was the head boy in this school?” he asked,
turning to Dan, and changing the subject skilfully, for he hated to be
thanked for the generous things he did.

“I thought Franz was!” answered Dan, wondering what the man meant.

“Oh, dear no! I’m the first boy Mrs. Jo ever had to take care of, and
I was such a bad one that she isn’t done with me yet, though she has
been working at me for years and years.”

“How old she must be!” said Nat, innocently.

“She began early, you see. Poor thing! she was only fifteen when she
took me, and I led her such a life, it’s a wonder she isn’t wrinkled
and gray, and quite worn out,” and Mr. Laurie looked up at her laughing.

“Don’t, Teddy; I won’t have you abuse yourself so;” and Mrs. Jo stroked
the curly black head at her knee as affectionately as ever, for, in
spite of every thing, Teddy was her boy still.

“If it hadn’t been for you, there never would have been a Plumfield. It
was my success with you, sir, that gave me courage to try my pet plan.
So the boys may thank you for it, and name the new institution ‘The
Laurence Museum,’ in honor of its founder,--won’t we, boys?” she added,
looking very like the lively Jo of old times.

“We will! we will!” shouted the boys, throwing up their hats, for
though they had taken them off on entering the house, according to
rule, they had been in too much of a hurry to hang them up.

“I’m as hungry as a bear, can’t I have a cookie?” asked Mr. Laurie,
when the shout subsided and he had expressed his thanks by a splendid
bow.

“Trot out and ask Asia for the gingerbread-box, Demi. It isn’t in order
to eat between meals, but, on this joyful occasion, we won’t mind,
and have a cookie all round,” said Mrs. Jo; and when the box came she
dealt them out with a liberal hand, every one munching away in a social
circle.

Suddenly, in the midst of a bite, Mr. Laurie cried out, “Bless my
heart, I forgot grandma’s bundle!” and running out to the carriage,
returned with an interesting white parcel, which, being opened,
disclosed a choice collection of beasts, birds, and pretty things cut
out of crisp sugary cake, and baked a lovely brown.

“There’s one for each, and a letter to tell which is whose. Grandma and
Hannah made them, and I tremble to think what would have happened to me
if I had forgotten to leave them.”

Then, amid much laughing and fun, the cakes were distributed. A fish
for Dan, a fiddle for Nat, a book for Demi, a monkey for Tommy, a
flower for Daisy, a hoop for Nan, who had driven twice round the
triangle without stopping, a star for Emil, who put on airs because he
studied astronomy, and, best of all, an omnibus for Franz, whose great
delight was to drive the family bus. Stuffy got a fat pig, and the
little folks had birds, and cats, and rabbits, with black currant eyes.

“Now I must go. Where is my Goldilocks? Mamma will come flying out to
get her if I’m not back early,” said Uncle Teddy, when the last crumb
had vanished, which it speedily did, you may be sure.

The young ladies had gone into the garden, and while they waited till
Franz looked them up, Jo and Laurie stood at the door talking together.

“How does little Giddy-gaddy come on?” he asked, for Nan’s pranks
amused him very much, and he was never tired of teasing Jo about her.

“Nicely; she is getting quite mannerly, and begins to see the error of
her wild ways.”

“Don’t the boys encourage her in them?”

“Yes; but I keep talking, and lately she has improved much. You saw how
prettily she shook hands with you, and how gentle she was with Bess.
Daisy’s example has its effect upon her, and I’m quite sure that a few
months will work wonders.”

Here Mrs. Jo’s remarks were cut short by the appearance of Nan tearing
round the corner at a break-neck pace, driving a mettlesome team of
four boys, and followed by Daisy trundling Bess in a wheelbarrow. Hats
off, hair flying, whip cracking, and barrow bumping, up they came in
a cloud of dust, looking as wild a set of little hoydens as one would
wish to see.

“So these are the model children, are they? It’s lucky I didn’t bring
Mrs. Curtis out to see your school for the cultivation of morals
and manners; she would never have recovered from the shock of this
spectacle,” said Mr. Laurie, laughing at Mrs. Jo’s premature rejoicing
over Nan’s improvement.

“Laugh away; I’ll succeed yet. As you used to say at College, quoting
some professor, ‘Though the experiment has failed, the principle
remains the same,’” said Mrs. Bhaer, joining in the merriment.

“I’m afraid Nan’s example is taking effect upon Daisy, instead of
the other way. Look at my little princess! she has utterly forgotten
her dignity, and is screaming like the rest. Young ladies, what does
this mean?” and Mr. Laurie rescued his small daughter from impending
destruction, for the four horses were champing their bits and
curvetting madly all about her, as she sat brandishing a great whip in
both hands.

“We’re having a race, and I beat,” shouted Nan.

“I could have run faster, only I was afraid of spilling Bess,” screamed
Daisy.

“Hi! go long!” cried the princess, giving such a flourish with her whip
that the horses ran away, and were seen no more.

“My precious child! come away from this ill-mannered crew before you
are quite spoilt. Good-by, Jo! Next time I come, I shall expect to find
the boys making patchwork.”

“It wouldn’t hurt them a bit. I don’t give in, mind you; for my
experiments always fail a few times before they succeed. Love to Amy
and my blessed Marmee,” called Mrs. Jo, as the carriage drove away; and
the last Mr. Laurie saw of her, she was consoling Daisy for her failure
by a ride in the wheelbarrow, and looking as if she liked it.

Great was the excitement all the week about the repairs in the
carriage-house, which went briskly on in spite of the incessant
questions, advice, and meddling of the boys. Old Gibbs was nearly
driven wild with it all, but managed to do his work nevertheless; and
by Friday night the place was all in order--roof mended, shelves up,
walls whitewashed, a great window cut at the back, which let in a flood
of sunshine, and gave them a fine view of the brook, the meadows, and
the distant hills; and over the great door, painted in red letters, was
“The Laurence Museum.”

All Saturday morning the boys were planning how it should be furnished
with their spoils, and when Mr. Laurie arrived, bringing an aquarium
which Mrs. Amy said she was tired of, their rapture was great.

The afternoon was spent in arranging things, and when the running and
lugging and hammering was over, the ladies were invited to behold the
institution.

It certainly was a pleasant place, airy, clean, and bright. A hop-vine
shook its green bells round the open window, the pretty aquarium stood
in the middle of the room, with some delicate water plants rising above
the water, and gold-fish showing their brightness as they floated to
and fro below. On either side of the window were rows of shelves ready
to receive the curiosities yet to be found. Dan’s tall cabinet stood
before the great door which was fastened up, while the small door was
to be used. On the cabinet stood a queer Indian idol, very ugly, but
very interesting; old Mr. Laurence sent it, as well as a fine Chinese
junk in full sail, which had a conspicuous place on the long table
in the middle of the room. Above, swinging in a loop, and looking as
if she was alive, hung Polly, who died at an advanced age, had been
carefully stuffed, and was now presented by Mrs. Jo. The walls were
decorated with all sorts of things. A snake’s skin, a big wasp’s nest,
a birch-bark canoe, a string of birds’ eggs, wreaths of gray moss from
the South, and a bunch of cotton-pods. The dead bats had a place, also
a large turtle-shell, and an ostrich-egg proudly presented by Demi, who
volunteered to explain these rare curiosities to guests whenever they
liked. There were so many stones that it was impossible to accept them
all, so only a few of the best were arranged among the shells on the
shelves, the rest were piled up in corners, to be examined by Dan at
his leisure.

Every one was eager to give something, even Silas, who sent home for
a stuffed wild-cat killed in his youth. It was rather moth-eaten and
shabby, but on a high bracket and best side foremost the effect was
fine, for the yellow glass eyes glared, and the mouth snarled so
naturally, that Teddy shook in his little shoes at sight of it, when he
came bringing his most cherished treasure, one cocoon, to lay upon the
shrine of science.

“Isn’t it beautiful? I’d no idea we had so many curious things. I gave
that; don’t it look well? We might make a lot by charging something for
letting folks see it.”

Jack added that last suggestion to the general chatter that went on as
the family viewed the room.

“This is a free museum and if there is any speculating on it I’ll paint
out the name over the door,” said Mr. Laurie, turning so quickly that
Jack wished he had held his tongue.

“Hear! hear!” cried Mr. Bhaer.

“Speech! speech!” added Mrs. Jo.

“Can’t, I’m too bashful. You give them a lecture yourself--you are used
to it,” Mr. Laurie answered, retreating towards the window, meaning to
escape. But she held him fast, and said, laughing as she looked at the
dozen pairs of dirty hands about her,--

“If I did lecture, it would be on the chemical and cleansing properties
of soap. Come now, as the founder of the institution, you really ought
to give us a few moral remarks, and we will applaud tremendously.”

Seeing that there was no way of escaping, Mr. Laurie looked up at Polly
hanging overhead, seemed to find inspiration in the brilliant old bird,
and sitting down upon the table, said, in his pleasant way,--

“There _is_ one thing I’d like to suggest, boys, and that is, I want
you to get some good as well as much pleasure out of this. Just putting
curious or pretty things here won’t do it; so suppose you read up about
them, so that when anybody asks questions you can answer them, and
understand the matter. I used to like these things myself, and should
enjoy hearing about them now, for I’ve forgotten all I once knew. It
wasn’t much, was it, Jo? Here’s Dan now, full of stories about birds,
and bugs, and so on; let him take care of the museum, and once a week
the rest of you take turns to read a composition, or tell about some
animal, mineral, or vegetable. We should all like that, and I think
it would put considerable useful knowledge into our heads. What do you
say, Professor?”

“I’d like it much, and will give the lads all the help I can. But they
will need books to read up these new subjects, and we have not many, I
fear,” began Mr. Bhaer, looking much pleased, and planning many fine
lectures on geology, which he liked. “We should have a library for the
special purpose.”

“Is that a useful sort of book, Dan?” asked Mr. Laurie, pointing to the
volume that lay open by the cabinet.

“Oh, yes! it tells all I want to know about insects. I had it here to
see how to fix the butterflies right. I covered it, so it is not hurt;”
and Dan caught it up, fearing the lender might think him careless.

“Give it here a minute;” and, pulling out his pencil, Mr. Laurie
wrote Dan’s name in it, saying, as he set the book up on one of the
corner shelves, where nothing stood but a stuffed bird without a tail,
“There, that is the beginning of the museum library. I’ll hunt up some
more books, and Demi shall keep them in order. Where are those jolly
little books we used to read, Jo? ‘Insect Architecture’ or some such
name,--all about ants having battles, and bees having queens, and
crickets eating holes in our clothes and stealing milk, and larks of
that sort.”

“In the garret at home. I’ll have them sent out, and we will plunge
into Natural History with a will,” said Mrs. Jo, ready for any thing.

“Won’t it be hard to write about such things?” asked Nat, who hated
compositions.

“At first, perhaps; but you will soon like it. If you think that hard,
how would you like to have this subject given to you, as it was to a
girl of thirteen:--A conversation between Themistocles, Aristides, and
Pericles on the proposed appropriation of the funds of the confederacy
of Delos for the ornamentation of Athens?” said Mrs. Jo.

The boys groaned at the mere sound of the long names, and the gentlemen
laughed at the absurdity of the lesson.

“Did she write it?” asked Demi, in an awe-stricken tone.

“Yes, but you can imagine what a piece of work she made of it, though
she was rather a bright child.”

“I’d like to have seen it,” said Mr. Bhaer.

“Perhaps I can find it for you; I went to school with her,” and Mrs. Jo
looked so wicked that every one knew who the little girl was.

Hearing of this fearful subject for a composition quite reconciled
the boys to the thought of writing about familiar things. Wednesday
afternoon was appointed for the lectures, as they preferred to call
them, for some chose to talk instead of write. Mr. Bhaer promised a
portfolio in which the written productions should be kept, and Mrs.
Bhaer said she would attend the course with great pleasure.

Then the dirty-handed society went off to wash, followed by the
Professor, trying to calm the anxiety of Rob, who had been told by
Tommy that all water was full of invisible pollywogs.

“I like your plan very much, only don’t be too generous, Teddy,” said
Mrs. Bhaer, when they were left alone. “You know most of the boys have
got to paddle their own canoes when they leave us, and too much sitting
in the lap of luxury will unfit them for it.”

“I’ll be moderate, but do let me amuse myself. I get desperately tired
of business sometimes, and nothing freshens me up like a good frolic
with your boys. I like that Dan very much, Jo. He isn’t demonstrative;
but he has the eye of a hawk, and when you have tamed him a little he
will do you credit.”

“I’m so glad you think so. Thank you very much for your kindness to
him, especially for this museum affair; it will keep him happy while
he is lame, give me a chance to soften and smooth this poor, rough
lad, and make him love us. What did inspire you with such a beautiful,
helpful idea, Teddy?” asked Mrs. Bhaer, glancing back at the pleasant
room, as she turned to leave it.

Laurie took both her hands in his, and answered, with a look that made
her eyes fill with happy tears,--

“Dear Jo! I have known what it is to be a motherless boy, and I never
can forget how much you and yours have done for me all these years.”



CHAPTER XII

HUCKLEBERRIES


There was a great clashing of tin pails, much running to and fro, and
frequent demands for something to eat, one August afternoon, for the
boys were going huckleberrying, and made as much stir about it as if
they were setting out to find the North-West Passage.

“Now, my lads, get off as quietly as you can, for Rob is safely out
of the way, and won’t see you,” said Mrs. Bhaer, as she tied Daisy’s
broad-brimmed hat, and settled the great blue pinafore in which she had
enveloped Nan.

But the plan did not succeed, for Rob had heard the bustle, decided
to go, and prepared himself, without a thought of disappointment. The
troop was just getting under way when the little man came marching
down-stairs with his best hat on, a bright tin pail in his hand, and a
face beaming with satisfaction.

“Oh, dear! now we shall have a scene,” sighed Mrs. Bhaer, who found her
eldest son very hard to manage at times.

“I’m all ready,” said Rob, and took his place in the ranks with such
perfect unconsciousness of his mistake, that it really was very hard to
undeceive him.

“It’s too far for you, my love; stay and take care of me, for I shall
be all alone,” began his mother.

“You’ve got Teddy. I’m a big boy, so I can go; you said I might when I
was bigger, and I am now,” persisted Rob, with a cloud beginning to
dim the brightness of his happy face.

“We are going up to the great pasture, and it’s ever so far; we don’t
want you tagging on,” cried Jack, who did not admire the little boys.

“I won’t tag, I’ll run and keep up. O Mamma! let me go! I want to
fill my new pail, and I’ll bring ’em all to you. Please, please, I
will be good!” prayed Robby, looking up at his mother, so grieved and
disappointed that her heart began to fail her.

“But, my deary, you’ll get so tired and hot you won’t have a good time.
Wait till I go, and then we will stay all day, and pick as many berries
as you want.”

“You never do go, you are so busy, and I’m tired of waiting. I’d rather
go and get the berries for you all myself. I love to pick ’em, and I
want to fill my new pail dreffly,” sobbed Rob.

The pathetic sight of great tears tinkling into the dear new pail,
and threatening to fill it with salt water instead of huckleberries,
touched all the ladies present. His mother patted the weeper on his
back; Daisy offered to stay at home with him; and Nan said, in her
decided way,--

“Let him come; I’ll take care of him.”

“If Franz was going I wouldn’t mind, for he is very careful; but he is
haying with the father, and I’m not sure about the rest of you,” began
Mrs. Bhaer.

“It’s so far,” put in Jack.

“I’d carry him if I was going--wish I was,” said Dan, with a sigh.

“Thank you, dear, but you must take care of your foot. I wish I could
go. Stop a minute, I think I can manage it after all;” and Mrs. Bhaer
ran out to the steps, waving her apron wildly.

Silas was just driving away in the hay-cart, but turned back, and
agreed at once, when Mrs. Jo proposed that he should take the whole
party to the pasture, and go for them at five o’clock.

“It will delay your work a little, but never mind; we will pay you in
huckleberry pies,” said Mrs. Jo, knowing Silas’s weak point.

His rough, brown face brightened up, and he said, with a cheery “Haw!
haw!”--“Wal now, Mis’ Bhaer, if you go to bribin’ of me, I shall give
in right away.”

“Now, boys, I have arranged it so that you can all go,” said Mrs.
Bhaer, running back again, much relieved, for she loved to make them
happy, and always felt miserable when she had disturbed the serenity of
her little sons; for she believed that the small hopes and plans and
pleasures of children should be tenderly respected by grown-up people,
and never rudely thwarted or ridiculed.

“Can I go?” said Dan, delighted.

“I thought especially of you. Be careful, and never mind the berries,
but sit about and enjoy the lovely things which you know how to find
all about you,” answered Mrs. Bhaer, who remembered his kind offer to
her boy.

“Me too! me too!” sung Rob, dancing with joy, and clapping his precious
pail and cover like castanets.

“Yes, and Daisy and Nan must take good care of you. Be at the bars at
five o’clock, and Silas will come for you all.”

Robby cast himself upon his mother in a burst of gratitude, promising
to bring her every berry he picked, and not eat one. Then they were all
packed into the hay-cart, and went rattling away, the brightest face
among the dozen being that of Rob, as he sat between his two temporary
little mothers, beaming upon the whole world, and waving his best hat;
for his indulgent mamma had not the heart to bereave him of it, since
this was a gala-day to him.

Such a happy afternoon as they had, in spite of the mishaps which
usually occur on such expeditions! Of course Tommy came to grief,
tumbled upon a hornets’ nest and got stung; but being used to woe,
he bore the smart manfully, till Dan suggested the application of
damp earth, which much assuaged the pain. Daisy saw a snake, and in
flying from it lost half her berries; but Demi helped her to fill up
again, and discussed reptiles most learnedly the while. Ned fell out
of a tree, and split his jacket down the back, but suffered no other
fracture. Emil and Jack established rival claims to a certain thick
patch, and while they were squabbling about it, Stuffy quickly and
quietly stripped the bushes and fled to the protection of Dan, who was
enjoying himself immensely. The crutch was no longer necessary, and
he was delighted to see how strong his foot felt as he roamed about
the great pasture, full of interesting rocks and stumps, with familiar
little creatures in the grass, and well-known insects dancing in the
air.

But of all the adventures that happened on this afternoon that which
befell Nan and Rob was the most exciting, and it long remained one of
the favorite histories of the household. Having explored the country
pretty generally, torn three rents in her frock, and scratched her
face in a barberry-bush, Nan began to pick the berries that shone like
big, black beads on the low, green bushes. Her nimble fingers flew,
but still her basket did not fill up as rapidly as she desired, so she
kept wandering here and there to search for better places, instead of
picking contentedly and steadily as Daisy did. Rob followed Nan, for
her energy suited him better than his cousin’s patience, and he too
was anxious to have the biggest and best berries for Marmar.

“I keep putting ’em in, but it don’t fill up, and I’m so tired,” said
Rob, pausing a moment to rest his short legs, and beginning to think
huckleberrying was not all his fancy painted it; for the sun blazed,
Nan skipped hither and thither like a grasshopper, and the berries
fell out of his pail almost as fast as he put them in, because, in his
struggles with the bushes, it was often upside-down.

“Last time we came they were ever so much thicker over that wall--great
bouncers; and there is a cave there, where the boys made a fire. Let’s
go and fill our things quick, and then hide in the cave and let the
others find us,” proposed Nan, thirsting for adventures.

Rob consented, and away they went, scrambling over the wall and running
down the sloping fields on the other side, till they were hidden among
the rocks and underbrush. The berries were thick, and at last the pails
were actually full. It was shady and cool down there, and a little
spring gave the thirsty children a refreshing drink out of its mossy
cup.

“Now we will go and rest in the cave, and eat our lunch,” said Nan,
well satisfied with her success so far.

“Do you know the way?” asked Rob.

“’Course I do; I’ve been once, and I always remember. Didn’t I go and
get my box all right?”

That convinced Rob, and he followed blindly as Nan led him over stock
and stone, and brought him, after much meandering, to a small recess in
the rock, where the blackened stones showed that fires had been made.

“Now, isn’t it nice?” asked Nan, as she took out a bit of
bread-and-butter, rather damaged by being mixed up with nails,
fish-hooks, stones and other foreign substances, in the young lady’s
pocket.

“Yes; do you think they will find us soon?” asked Rob, who found the
shadowy glen rather dull, and began to long for more society.

“No, I don’t; because if I hear them, I shall hide, and have fun making
them find me.”

“P’raps they won’t come.”

“Don’t care; I can get home myself.”

“Is it a great way?” asked Rob, looking at his little, stubby boots,
scratched and wet with his long wandering.

“It’s six miles, I guess.” Nan’s ideas of distance were vague, and her
faith in her own powers great.

“I think we better go now,” suggested Rob, presently.

“I shan’t go till I have picked over my berries;” and Nan began what
seemed to Rob an endless task.

“Oh, dear! you said you’d take good care of me,” he sighed, as the sun
seemed to drop behind the hill all of a sudden.

“Well, I _am_ taking care of you as hard as I can. Don’t be cross,
child; I’ll go in a minute,” said Nan, who considered five-year-old
Robby a mere infant compared to herself.

So little Rob sat looking anxiously about him, and waiting patiently,
for, spite of some misgivings, he felt great confidence in Nan.

“I guess it’s going to be night pretty soon,” he observed, as if to
himself, as a mosquito bit him, and the frogs in a neighboring marsh
began to pipe up for the evening concert.

“My goodness me! so it is. Come right away this minute, or they will
be gone,” cried Nan, looking up from her work, and suddenly perceiving
that the sun was down.

“I heard a horn about an hour ago; may be they were blowing for us,”
said Rob, trudging after his guide as she scrambled up the steep hill.

“Where was it?” asked Nan, stopping short.

“Over that way;” he pointed with a dirty little finger in an entirely
wrong direction.

“Let’s go that way and meet them;” and Nan wheeled about, and began to
trot through the bushes, feeling a trifle anxious, for there were so
many cow-paths all about she could not remember which way they came.

On they went over stock and stone again, pausing now and then to listen
for the horn, which did not blow any more, for it was only the moo of a
cow on her way home.

“I don’t remember seeing that pile of stones--do you?” asked Nan, as
she sat on a wall to rest a moment and take an observation.

“I don’t remember any thing, but I want to go home,” and Rob’s voice
had a little tremble in it that made Nan put her arms round him and
lift him gently down, saying, in her most capable way,--

“I’m going just as fast as I can, dear. Don’t cry, and when we come to
the road, I’ll carry you.”

“Where is the road?” and Robby wiped his eyes to look for it.

“Over by that big tree. Don’t you know that’s the one Ned tumbled out
of?”

“So it is. May be they waited for us; I’d like to ride home--wouldn’t
you?” and Robby brightened up as he plodded along toward the end of the
great pasture.

“No, I’d rather walk,” answered Nan, feeling quite sure that she would
be obliged to do so, and preparing her mind for it.

Another long trudge through the fast-deepening twilight and another
disappointment, for when they reached the tree, they found to their
dismay that it was not the one Ned climbed, and no road anywhere
appeared.

“Are we lost?” quavered Rob, clasping his pail in despair.

“Not much. I don’t just see which way to go, and I guess we’d better
call.”

So they both shouted till they were hoarse, yet nothing answered but
the frogs in full chorus.

“There is another tall tree over there, perhaps that’s the one,” said
Nan, whose heart sunk within her, though she still spoke bravely.

“I don’t think I can go any more; my boots are so heavy I can’t pull
’em;” and Robby sat down on a stone quite worn out.

“Then we must stay here all night. _I_ don’t care much, if snakes don’t
come.”

“I’m frightened of snakes. I can’t stay all night. Oh, dear! I don’t
like to be lost,” and Rob puckered up his face to cry, when suddenly a
thought occurred to him, and he said, in a tone of perfect confidence,--

“Marmar will come and find me--she always does; I ain’t afraid now.”

“She won’t know where we are.”

“She didn’t know I was shut up in the ice-house, but she found me.
I know she’ll come,” returned Robby, so trustfully, that Nan felt
relieved, and sat down by him, saying, with a remorseful sigh,--

“I wish we hadn’t run away.”

“You made me; but I don’t mind much--Marmar will love me just the
same,” answered Rob, clinging to his sheet-anchor when all other hope
was gone.

“I’m so hungry. Let’s eat our berries,” proposed Nan after a pause,
during which Rob began to nod.

“So am I, but I can’t eat mine, ’cause I told Marmar I’d keep them all
for her.”

“You’ll have to eat them if no one comes for us,” said Nan, who felt
like contradicting every thing just then. “If we stay here a great many
days, we shall eat up all the berries in the field, and then we shall
starve,” she added, grimly.

“I shall eat sassafras. I know a big tree of it, and Dan told me how
squirrels dig up the roots and eat them, and I love to dig,” returned
Rob, undaunted by the prospect of starvation.

“Yes; and we can catch frogs, and cook them. My father ate some once,
and he said they were nice,” put in Nan, beginning to find a spice of
romance even in being lost in a huckleberry pasture.

“How could we cook frogs? we haven’t got any fire.”

“I don’t know; next time I’ll have matches in my pocket,” said Nan,
rather depressed by this obstacle to the experiment in frog-cookery.

“Couldn’t we light a fire with a fire-fly?” asked Rob, hopefully, as he
watched them flitting to and fro like winged sparks.

“Let’s try;” and several minutes were pleasantly spent in catching the
flies, and trying to make them kindle a green twig or two. “It’s a lie
to call them fire-flies when there isn’t a fire in them,” Nan said,
throwing one unhappy insect away with scorn, though it shone its best,
and obligingly walked up and down the twigs to please the innocent
little experimenters.

“Marmar’s a good while coming,” said Rob, after another pause, during
which they watched the stars overhead, smelt the sweet fern crushed
under foot, and listened to the crickets’ serenade.

“I don’t see why God made any night; day is so much pleasanter,” said
Nan, thoughtfully.

“It’s to sleep in,” answered Rob, with a yawn.

“Then do go to sleep,” said Nan, pettishly.

“I want my own bed. Oh, I wish I could see Teddy!” cried Rob, painfully
reminded of home by the soft chirp of birds safe in their little nests.

“I don’t believe your mother will ever find us,” said Nan, who was
becoming desperate, for she hated patient waiting of any sort. “It’s so
dark she won’t see us.”

“It was all black in the ice-house, and I was so scared I didn’t call
her, but she saw me; and she will see me now, no matter how dark it
is,” returned confiding Rob, standing up to peer into the gloom for the
help which never failed him.

“I see her! I see her!” he cried, and ran as fast as his tired legs
would take him toward a dark figure slowly approaching. Suddenly he
stopped, then turned about, and came stumbling back, screaming in a
great panic,--

“No, it’s a bear, a big, black one!” and hid his face in Nan’s skirts.

For a moment Nan quailed; even her courage gave out at thought of a
real bear, and she was about to turn and flee in great disorder, when a
mild “Moo!” changed her fear to merriment, as she said, laughing,--

“It’s a cow, Robby! the nice, black cow we saw this afternoon.”

The cow seemed to feel that it was not just the thing to meet two
little people in her pasture after dark, and the amiable beast paused
to inquire into the case. She let them stroke her, and stood regarding
them with her soft eyes so mildly, that Nan, who feared no animal but a
bear, was fired with a desire to milk her.

“Silas taught me how; and berries and milk would be so nice,” she said,
emptying the contents of her pail into her hat, and boldly beginning
her new task, while Rob stood by and repeated, at her command, the poem
from Mother Goose:--

    “Cushy cow, bonny, let down your milk,
      Let down your milk to me,
    And I will give you a gown of silk,
      A gown of silk and a silver tee.”

But the immortal rhyme had little effect, for the benevolent cow had
already been milked, and had only half a gill to give the thirsty
children.

“Shoo! get away! you are an old cross patch,” cried Nan, ungratefully,
as she gave up the attempt in despair; and poor Mooly walked on with a
gentle gurgle of surprise and reproof.

“Each can have a sip, and then we must take a walk. We shall go to
sleep if we don’t; and lost people mustn’t sleep. Don’t you know how
Hannah Lee in the pretty story slept under the snow and died?”

“But there isn’t any snow now, and it’s nice and warm,” said Rob, who
was not blessed with as lively a fancy as Nan.

“No matter, we will poke about a little, and call some more; and then,
if nobody comes, we will hide under the bushes, like Hop-o’-my-thumb
and his brothers.”

It was a very short walk, however, for Rob was so sleepy he could not
get on, and tumbled down so often that Nan entirely lost patience,
being half distracted by the responsibility she had taken upon herself.

“If you tumble down again, I’ll shake you,” she said, lifting the poor
little man up very kindly as she spoke, for Nan’s bark was much worse
than her bite.

“Please don’t. It’s my boots--they keep slipping so;” and Rob manfully
checked the sob just ready to break out, adding, with a plaintive
patience that touched Nan’s heart, “If the skeeters didn’t bite me so,
I could go to sleep till Marmar comes.”

“Put your head on my lap, and I’ll cover you up with my apron; I’m not
afraid of the night,” said Nan, sitting down and trying to persuade
herself that she did not mind the shadow nor the mysterious rustlings
all about her.

“Wake me up when she comes,” said Rob, and was fast asleep in five
minutes with his head in Nan’s lap under the pinafore.

The little girl sat for some fifteen minutes, staring about her with
anxious eyes, and feeling as if each second was an hour. Then a pale
light began to glimmer over the hill-top, and she said to herself--

“I guess the night is over and morning is coming. I’d like to see the
sun rise, so I’ll watch, and when it comes up we can find our way right
home.”

But before the moon’s round face peeped above the hill to destroy her
hope, Nan had fallen asleep, leaning back in a little bower of tall
ferns, and was deep in a midsummer night’s dream of fire-flies and blue
aprons, mountains of huckleberries, and Robby wiping away the tears of
a black cow, who sobbed, “I want to go home! I want to go home!”

While the children were sleeping, peacefully lulled by the drowsy hum
of many neighborly mosquitoes, the family at home were in a great state
of agitation. The hay-cart came at five, and all but Jack, Emil, Nan,
and Rob were at the bars ready for it. Franz drove instead of Silas,
and when the boys told him that the others were going home through the
wood, he said, looking ill-pleased, “They ought to have left Rob to
ride, he will be tired out by the long walk.”

“It’s shorter that way, and they will carry him,” said Stuffy, who was
in a hurry for his supper.

“You are sure Nan and Rob went with them?”

“Of course they did; I saw them getting over the wall, and sung out
that it was ’most five, and Jack called back that they were going the
other way,” explained Tommy.

“Very well, pile in then,” and away rattled the hay-cart with the tired
children and the full pails.

Mrs. Jo looked sober when she heard of the division of the party, and
sent Franz back with Toby to find and bring the little ones home.
Supper was over, and the family sitting about in the cool hall as
usual, when Franz came trotting back, hot, dusty, and anxious.

“Have they come?” he called out when half-way up the avenue.

“No!” and Mrs. Jo flew out of her chair looking so alarmed that every
one jumped up and gathered round Franz.

“I can’t find them anywhere,” he began; but the words were hardly
spoken when a loud “Hullo!” startled them all, and the next minute Jack
and Emil came round the house.

“Where are Nan and Rob?” cried Mrs. Jo, clutching Emil in a way that
caused him to think his aunt had suddenly lost her wits.

“I don’t know. They came home with the others, didn’t they?” he
answered, quickly.

“No; George and Tommy said they went with you.”

“Well, they didn’t. Haven’t seen them. We took a swim in the pond, and
came by the wood,” said Jack, looking alarmed, as well he might.

“Call Mr. Bhaer, get the lanterns, and tell Silas I want him.”

That was all Mrs. Jo said, but they knew what she meant, and flew
to obey orders. In ten minutes, Mr. Bhaer and Silas were off to the
wood, and Franz tearing down the road on Old Andy to search the great
pasture. Mrs. Jo caught up some food from the table, a little bottle of
brandy from the medicine-closet, took a lantern, and bidding Jack and
Emil to come with her, and the rest not stir, she trotted away on Toby,
never stopping for hat or shawl. She heard some one running after her,
but said not a word till, as she paused to call and listen, the light
of her lantern shone on Dan’s face.

“You here! I told Jack to come,” she said, half-inclined to send him
back, much as she needed help.

“I wouldn’t let him; he and Emil hadn’t had any supper, and I wanted
to come more than they did,” he said, taking the lantern from her and
smiling up in her face with the steady look in his eyes that made her
feel as if, boy though he was, she had some one to depend on.

Off she jumped, and ordered him on to Toby, in spite of his pleading to
walk; then they went on again along the dusty, solitary road, stopping
every now and then to call and hearken breathlessly for little voices
to reply.

When they came to the great pasture, other lights were already flitting
to and fro like will-o’-the-wisps, and Mr. Bhaer’s voice was heard
shouting, “Nan! Rob! Rob! Nan!” in every part of the field. Silas
whistled and roared, Dan plunged here and there on Toby, who seemed to
understand the case, and went over the roughest places with unusual
docility. Often Mrs. Jo hushed them all, saying, with a sob in her
throat, “The noise may frighten them, let me call; Robby will know _my_
voice;” and then she would cry out the beloved little name in every
tone of tenderness, till the very echoes whispered it softly, and the
winds seemed to waft it willingly; but still no answer came.

The sky was overcast now, and only brief glimpses of the moon were
seen, heat-lightning darted out of the dark clouds now and then, and a
faint far-off rumble as of thunder told that a summer-storm was brewing.

“O my Robby! my Robby!” mourned poor Mrs. Jo, wandering up and down
like a pale ghost, while Dan kept beside her like a faithful fire-fly.
“What shall I say to Nan’s father if she comes to harm? Why did I ever
trust my darling so far away? Fritz, do you hear any thing?” And when a
mournful “No” came back, she wrung her hands so despairingly, that Dan
sprung down from Toby’s back, tied the bridle to the bars, and said, in
his decided way,--

“They may have gone down to the spring--I’m going to look.”

He was over the wall and away so fast that she could hardly follow him;
but when she reached the spot, he lowered the lantern and showed her
with joy the marks of little feet in the soft ground about the spring.
She fell down on her knees to examine the tracks, and then sprung up,
saying eagerly,--

“Yes; that is the mark of my Robby’s little boots! Come this way, they
must have gone on.”

Such a weary search! But now some inexplicable instinct seemed to lead
the anxious mother, for presently Dan uttered a cry, and caught up a
little shining object lying in the path. It was the cover of the new
tin pail, dropped in the first alarm of being lost. Mrs. Jo hugged and
kissed it as if it were a living thing; and when Dan was about to utter
a glad shout to bring the others to the spot, she stopped him, saying,
as she hurried on, “No, let _me_ find them; I let Rob go, and I want to
give him back to his father all myself.”

A little farther on Nan’s hat appeared, and after passing the place
more than once, they came at last upon the babes in the wood, both
sound asleep. Dan never forgot the little picture on which the light of
his lantern shone that night. He thought Mrs. Jo would cry out, but she
only whispered “Hush!” as she softly lifted away the apron, and saw the
little ruddy face below. The berry-stained lips were half-opened as the
breath came and went, the yellow hair lay damp on the hot forehead, and
both the chubby hands held fast the little pail still full.

The sight of the childish harvest, treasured through all the troubles
of that night for her, seemed to touch Mrs. Jo to the heart, for
suddenly she gathered up her boy, and began to cry over him, so
tenderly, yet so heartily, that he woke up, and at first seemed
bewildered. Then he remembered, and hugged her close, saying with a
laugh of triumph,--

“I knew you’d come! O Marmar! I did want you so!” For a moment they
kissed and clung to one another, quite forgetting all the world; for no
matter how lost and soiled and worn-out wandering sons may be, mothers
can forgive and forget every thing as they fold them in their fostering
arms. Happy the son whose faith in his mother remains unchanged, and
who, through all his wanderings, has kept some filial token to repay
her brave and tender love.

Dan meantime picked Nan out of her bush, and, with a gentleness none
but Teddy ever saw in him before, he soothed her first alarm at the
sudden waking, and wiped away her tears; for Nan also began to cry for
joy, it was so good to see a kind face and feel a strong arm round her
after what seemed to her ages of loneliness and fear.

“My poor little girl, don’t cry! You are all safe now, and no one
shall say a word of blame to-night,” said Mrs. Jo, taking Nan into her
capacious embrace, and cuddling both children as a hen might gather her
lost chickens under her motherly wings.

“It was my fault; but I _am_ sorry. I tried to take care of him, and I
covered him up and let him sleep, and didn’t touch his berries, though
I was _so_ hungry; and I never will do it again--truly never, never,”
sobbed Nan, quite lost in a sea of penitence and thankfulness.

“Call them now, and let us get home,” said Mrs. Jo; and Dan, getting
upon the wall, sent the joyful word “Found!” ringing over the field.

How the wandering lights came dancing from all sides, and gathered
round the little group among the sweet fern bushes! Such a hugging,
and kissing, and talking, and crying, as went on must have amazed the
glowworms, and evidently delighted the mosquitoes, for they hummed
frantically, while the little moths came in flocks to the party, and
the frogs croaked as if they could not express their satisfaction
loudly enough.

Then they set out for home,--a queer party, for Franz rode on to tell
the news; Dan and Toby led the way; then came Nan in the strong arms of
Silas, who considered her “the smartest little baggage he ever saw,”
and teased her all the way home about her pranks. Mr. Bhaer would let
no one carry Rob but himself, and the little fellow, refreshed by
sleep, sat up, and chattered gayly, feeling himself a hero, while his
mother went beside him holding on to any part of his precious little
body that came handy, and never tired of hearing him say, “I _knew_
Marmar would come,” or seeing him lean down to kiss her, and put a
plump berry into her mouth, “’Cause he picked ’em all for her.”

The moon shone out just as they reached the avenue, and all the boys
came shouting to meet them, so the lost lambs were borne in triumph
and safety, and landed in the dining-room, where the unromantic little
things demanded supper instead of preferring kisses and caresses. They
were set down to bread and milk, while the entire household stood round
to gaze upon them. Nan soon recovered her spirits, and recounted her
perils with a relish now that they were all over. Rob seemed absorbed
in his food, but put down his spoon all of a sudden, and set up a
doleful roar.

“My precious, why do you cry?” asked his mother, who still hung over
him.

“I’m crying ’cause I was lost,” bawled Rob, trying to squeeze out a
tear, and failing entirely.

“But you are found now. Nan says you didn’t cry out in the field, and I
was glad you were such a brave boy.”

“I was so busy being frightened I didn’t have any time then. But I want
to cry now, ’cause I don’t like to be lost,” exclaimed Rob, struggling
with sleep, emotion, and a mouthful of bread and milk.

The boys set up such a laugh at this funny way of making up for lost
time, that Rob stopped to look at them, and the merriment was so
infectious, that after a surprised stare he burst out into a merry
“Ha, ha!” and beat his spoon upon the table as if he enjoyed the joke
immensely.

“It is ten o’clock; into bed, every man of you,” said Mr. Bhaer,
looking at his watch.

“And, thank Heaven! there will be no empty ones to-night,” added
Mrs. Bhaer, watching, with full eyes, Robby going up in his father’s
arms, and Nan escorted by Daisy and Demi, who considered her the most
interesting heroine of their collection.

“Poor Aunt Jo is so tired she ought to be carried up herself,”
said gentle Franz, putting his arm round her as she paused at the
stair-foot, looking quite exhausted by her fright and long walk.

“Let’s make an arm-chair,” proposed Tommy.

“No, thank you, my lads; but somebody may lend me a shoulder to lean
on,” answered Mrs. Jo.

“Me! me!” and half-a-dozen jostled one another, all eager to be chosen,
for there was something in the pale motherly face that touched the warm
hearts under the round jackets.

Seeing that they considered it an honor, Mrs. Jo gave it to the one who
had earned it, and nobody grumbled when she put her arm on Dan’s broad
shoulder, saying, with a look that made him color up with pride and
pleasure,--

“He found the children; so I think he must help me up.”

Dan felt richly rewarded for his evening’s work, not only that he was
chosen from all the rest to go proudly up bearing the lamp, but because
Mrs. Jo said, heartily, “Good-night, my boy! God bless you!” as he left
her at her door.

“I wish I _was_ your boy,” said Dan, who felt as if danger and trouble
had somehow brought him nearer than ever to her.

“You shall be my oldest son,” and she sealed her promise with a kiss
that made Dan hers entirely.

Little Rob was all right next day, but Nan had a headache, and lay
on Mother Bhaer’s sofa with cold-cream upon her scratched face. Her
remorse was quite gone, and she evidently thought being lost rather a
fine amusement. Mrs. Jo was not pleased with this state of things, and
had no desire to have her children led from the paths of virtue, or her
pupils lying round loose in huckleberry fields. So she talked soberly
to Nan, and tried to impress upon her mind the difference between
liberty and license, telling several tales to enforce her lecture. She
had not decided how to punish Nan, but one of these stories suggested a
way, and as Mrs. Jo liked odd penalties she tried it.

“All children run away,” pleaded Nan, as if it was as natural and
necessary a thing as measles or hooping cough.

“Not all, and some who do run away don’t get found again,” answered
Mrs. Jo.

“Didn’t you do it yourself?” asked Nan, whose keen little eyes saw
some traces of a kindred spirit in the serious lady who was sewing so
morally before her.

Mrs. Jo laughed, and owned that she did.

“Tell about it,” demanded Nan, feeling that she was getting the upper
hand in the discussion.

Mrs. Jo saw that, and sobered down at once, saying, with a remorseful
shake of the head,--

“I did it a good many times, and led my poor mother rather a hard life
with my pranks, till she cured me.”

“How?” and Nan sat up with a face full of interest.

“I had a new pair of shoes once, and wanted to show them; so, though I
was told not to leave the garden, I ran away and was wandering about
all day. It was in the city, and why I wasn’t killed I don’t know. Such
a time as I had. I frolicked in the park with dogs, sailed boats in
the Back Bay with strange boys, dined with a little Irish beggar-girl
on salt fish and potatoes, and was found at last fast asleep on a
door-step with my arms round a great dog. It was late in the evening,
and I was as dirty as a little pig, and the new shoes were worn out--I
had travelled so far.”

“How nice!” cried Nan, looking all ready to go and do it herself.

“It was _not_ nice the next day;” and Mrs. Jo tried to keep her eyes
from betraying how much she enjoyed the memory of her early capers.

“Did your mother whip you?” asked Nan, curiously.

“She never whipped me but once, and then she begged my pardon, or I
don’t think I ever should have forgiven her, it hurt my feelings so
much.”

“Why did she beg your pardon?--my father don’t.”

“Because, when she had done it, I turned round and said, ‘Well, you are
mad yourself, and ought to be whipped as much as me.’ She looked at me
a minute, then her anger all died out, and she said, as if ashamed,
‘You are right, Jo, _I am_ angry; and why should I punish you for being
in a passion when I set you such a bad example? Forgive me, dear, and
let us try to help one another in a better way.’ I never forgot it, and
it did me more good than a dozen rods.”

Nan sat thoughtfully turning the little cold-cream jar for a minute,
and Mrs. Jo said nothing, but let that idea get well into the busy
little mind that was so quick to see and feel what went on about her.

“I like that,” said Nan, presently, and her face looked less elfish,
with its sharp eyes, inquisitive nose, and mischievous mouth. “What did
your mother do to you when you ran away that time?”

“She tied me up to the bed-post with a long string, so that I could
not go out of the room, and there I stayed all day with the little
worn-out shoes hanging up before me to remind me of my fault.”

“I should think that _would_ cure anybody,” cried Nan, who loved her
liberty above all things.

“It did cure me, and I think it will you, so I am going to try it,”
said Mrs. Jo, suddenly taking a ball of strong twine out of a drawer in
her work-table.

Nan looked as if she was decidedly getting the worst of the argument
now, and sat feeling much crestfallen while Mrs. Jo tied one end
round her waist and the other to the arm of the sofa, saying as she
finished,--

“I don’t like to tie you up like a naughty little dog, but if you don’t
remember any better than a dog, I must treat you like one.”

“I’d just as lief be tied up as not--I like to play dog;” and Nan put
on a don’t-care face, and began to growl and grovel on the floor.

Mrs. Jo took no notice, but leaving a book or two and a handkerchief
to hem, she went away, and left Miss Nan to her own devices. This was
not agreeable, and after sitting a moment she tried to untie the cord.
But it was fastened in the belt of her apron behind, so she began on
the knot at the other end. It soon came loose, and, gathering it up,
Nan was about to get out of the window, when she heard Mrs. Jo say to
somebody as she passed through the hall,--

“No, I don’t think she will run away now; she is an honorable little
girl, and knows that I do it to help her.”

In a minute Nan whisked back, tied herself up, and began to sew
violently. Rob came in a moment after, and was so charmed with the new
punishment, that he got a jump-rope and tethered himself to the other
arm of the sofa in the most social manner.

“I got lost too, so I ought to be tied up as much as Nan,” he
explained to his mother when she saw the new captive.

“I’m not sure that you don’t deserve a little punishment, for you knew
it was wrong to go far away from the rest.”

“Nan took me,” began Rob, willing to enjoy the novel penalty, but not
willing to take the blame.

“You needn’t have gone. You have got a conscience, though you are a
little boy, and you must learn to mind it.”

“Well, my conscience didn’t prick me a bit when she said ‘Let’s get
over the wall,’” answered Rob, quoting one of Demi’s expressions.

“Did you stop to see if it did?”

“No.”

“Then you cannot tell.”

“I guess it’s such a little conscience that it don’t prick hard enough
for me to feel it,” added Rob, after thinking over the matter for a
minute.

“We must sharpen it up. It’s bad to have a dull conscience, so you may
stay here till dinner-time, and talk about it with Nan. I trust you
both not to untie yourselves till I say the word.”

“No, we won’t,” said both, feeling a certain sense of virtue in helping
to punish themselves.

For an hour they were very good, then they grew tired of one room, and
longed to get out. Never had the hall seemed so inviting; even the
little bedroom acquired a sudden interest, and they would gladly have
gone in and played tent with the curtains of the best bed. The open
windows drove them wild because they could not reach them; and the
outer world seemed so beautiful, they wondered how they ever found the
heart to say it was dull. Nan pined for a race round the lawn, and Rob
remembered with dismay that he had not fed his dog that morning, and
wondered what poor Pollux would do. They watched the clock, and Nan did
some nice calculations in minutes and seconds, while Rob learned to
tell all the hours between eight and one so well that he never forgot
them. It was maddening to smell the dinner, to know that there was to
be succotash and huckleberry pudding, and to feel that they would not
be on the spot to secure good helps of both. When Mary Ann began to
set the table, they nearly cut themselves in two trying to see what
meat there was to be; and Nan offered to help her make the beds, if she
would only see that she had “lots of sauce on her pudding.”

When the boys came bursting out of school, they found the children
tugging at their halters like a pair of restive little colts, and
were much edified, as well as amused, by the sequel to the exciting
adventures of the night.

“Untie me now, Marmar; my conscience will prick like a pin next time,
I know it will,” said Rob, as the bell rang, and Teddy came to look at
him with sorrowful surprise.

“We shall see,” answered his mother, setting him free. He took a good
run down the hall, back through the dining-room, and brought up beside
Nan, quite beaming with virtuous satisfaction.

“I’ll bring her dinner to her, may I?” he asked, pitying his
fellow-captive.

“That’s my kind little son! Yes, pull out the table, and get a chair;”
and Mrs. Jo hurried away to quell the ardor of the others, who were
always in a raging state of hunger at noon.

Nan ate alone, and spent a long afternoon attached to the sofa. Mrs.
Bhaer lengthened her bonds so that she could look out of the window;
and there she stood watching the boys play, and all the little summer
creatures enjoying their liberty. Daisy had a picnic for the dolls on
the lawn, so that Nan might see the fun if she could not join in it.
Tommy turned his best somersaults to console her; Demi sat on the steps
reading aloud to himself, which amused Nan a good deal; and Dan brought
a little tree-toad to show her as the most delicate attention in his
power.

But nothing atoned for the loss of freedom; and a few hours of
confinement taught Nan how precious it was. A good many thoughts went
through the little head that lay on the window-sill during the last
quiet hour when all the children went to the brook to see Emil’s new
ship launched. She was to have christened it, and had depended on
smashing a tiny bottle of currant-wine over the prow as it was named
_Josephine_ in honor of Mrs. Bhaer. Now she had lost her chance,
and Daisy wouldn’t do it half so well. Tears rose to her eyes as
she remembered that it was all her own fault; and she said aloud,
addressing a fat bee who was rolling about in the yellow heart of a
rose just under the window,--

“If you have run away, you’d better go right home, and tell your mother
you are sorry, and never do so any more.”

“I am glad to hear you give him such good advice, and I think he has
taken it,” said Mrs. Jo, smiling, as the bee spread his dusty wings and
flew away.

Nan brushed off a bright drop or two that shone on the window-sill,
and nestled against her friend as she took her on her knee, adding
kindly--for she had seen the little drops, and knew what they meant--

“Do you think my mother’s cure for running away a good one?”

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Nan, quite subdued by her quiet day.

“I hope I shall not have to try it again.”

“I guess not;” and Nan looked up with such an earnest little face that
Mrs. Jo felt satisfied, and said no more, for she liked to have her
penalties do their own work, and did not spoil the effect by too much
moralizing.

Here Rob appeared, bearing with infinite care what Asia called a
“sarcer pie,” meaning one baked in a saucer.

“It’s made out of some of my berries, and I’m going to give you half at
supper-time,” he announced with a flourish.

“What makes you, when I’m so naughty?” asked Nan, meekly.

“Because we got lost together. You ain’t going to be naughty again, are
you?”

“Never,” said Nan, with great decision.

“Oh, goody! now let’s go and get Mary Ann to cut this for us all ready
to eat; it’s ’most tea-time;” and Rob beckoned with the delicious
little pie.

Nan started to follow, then stopped, and said,--

“I forgot, I can’t go.”

“Try and see,” said Mrs. Bhaer, who had quietly untied the cord sash
while she had been talking.

Nan saw that she was free, and with one tempestuous kiss to Mrs.
Jo, she was off like a humming-bird, followed by Robby, dribbling
huckleberry juice as he ran.



CHAPTER XIII

GOLDILOCKS


After the last excitement peace descended upon Plumfield and reigned
unbroken for several weeks, for the elder boys felt that the loss of
Nan and Rob lay at their door, and all became so paternal in their care
that they were rather wearying; while the little ones listened to Nan’s
recital of her perils so many times, that they regarded being lost as
the greatest ill humanity was heir to, and hardly dared to put their
little noses outside the great gate lest night should suddenly descend
upon them, and ghostly black cows come looming through the dusk.

“It’s too good to last,” said Mrs. Jo; for years of boy-culture had
taught her that such lulls were usually followed by outbreaks of some
sort, and when less wise women would have thought that the boys had
become confirmed saints, she prepared herself for a sudden eruption of
the domestic volcano.

One cause of this welcome calm was a visit from little Bess, whose
parents lent her for a week while they were away with Grandpa Laurence,
who was poorly. The boys regarded Goldilocks as a mixture of child,
angel, and fairy, for she was a lovely little creature, and the golden
hair which she inherited from her blonde mamma enveloped her like
a shining veil, behind which she smiled upon her worshippers when
gracious, and hid herself when offended. Her father would not have it
cut and it hung below her waist, so soft and fine and bright, that
Demi insisted that it was silk spun from a cocoon. Every one praised
the little Princess, but it did not seem to do her harm, only to teach
her that her presence brought sunshine, her smiles made answering
smiles on other faces, and her baby griefs filled every heart with
tenderest sympathy.

Unconsciously she did her young subjects more good than many a real
sovereign, for her rule was very gentle and her power was felt rather
than seen. Her natural refinement made her dainty in all things, and
had a good effect upon the careless lads about her. She would let no
one touch her roughly or with unclean hands, and more soap was used
during her visits than at any other time, because the boys considered
it the highest honor to be allowed to carry her highness, and the
deepest disgrace to be repulsed with the disdainful command, “Do away,
dirty boy!”

Loud voices displeased her and quarrelling frightened her; so gentler
tones came into the boyish voices as they addressed her, and squabbles
were promptly suppressed in her presence by lookers-on if the
principals could not restrain themselves. She liked to be waited on,
and the biggest boys did her little errands without a murmur, while the
small lads were her devoted slaves in all things. They begged to be
allowed to draw her carriage, bear her berry-basket, or pass her plate
at table. No service was too humble, and Tommy and Ned came to blows
before they could decide which should have the honor of blacking her
little boots.

Nan was especially benefited by a week in the society of a well-bred
lady, though such a very small one; for Bess would look at her with
a mixture of wonder and alarm in her great blue eyes when the hoyden
screamed and romped; and she shrunk from her as if she thought her a
sort of wild animal. Warm-hearted Nan felt this very much. She said at
first, “Pooh! I don’t care!” But she did care, and was so hurt when
Bess said, “I love my tuzzin best, tause she is twiet,” that she shook
poor Daisy till her teeth chattered in her head, and then fled to the
barn to cry dismally. In that general refuge for perturbed spirits she
found comfort and good counsel from some source or other. Perhaps the
swallows from their mud-built nests overhead twittered her a little
lecture on the beauty of gentleness. However that might have been,
she came out quite subdued, and carefully searched the orchard for a
certain kind of early apple that Bess liked because it was sweet and
small and rosy. Armed with this peace-offering, she approached the
Princess, and humbly presented it. To her great joy it was graciously
accepted, and when Daisy gave Nan a forgiving kiss, Bess did likewise,
as if she felt that she had been too severe, and desired to apologize.
After this they played pleasantly together, and Nan enjoyed the royal
favor for days. To be sure she felt a little like a wild bird in a
pretty cage at first, and occasionally had to slip out to stretch her
wings in a long flight, or to sing at the top of her voice, where
neither would disturb the plump turtle-dove Daisy, nor the dainty
golden canary Bess. But it did her good; for, seeing how every one
loved the little Princess for her small graces and virtues, she began
to imitate her, because Nan wanted much love, and tried hard to win it.

Not a boy in the house but felt the pretty child’s influence, and was
improved by it without exactly knowing how or why, for babies can
work miracles in the hearts that love them. Poor Billy found infinite
satisfaction in staring at her, and though she did not like it she
permitted it without a frown, after she had been made to understand
that he was not quite like the others, and on that account must be more
kindly treated. Dick and Dolly overwhelmed her with willow whistles,
the only thing they knew how to make, and she accepted but never used
them. Rob served her like a little lover, and Teddy followed her like
a pet dog. Jack she did not like, because he was afflicted with warts
and had a harsh voice. Stuffy displeased her because he did not eat
tidily, and George tried hard not to gobble, that he might not disgust
the dainty little lady opposite. Ned was banished from court in utter
disgrace when he was discovered tormenting some unhappy field-mice.
Goldilocks never could forget the sad spectacle, and retired behind her
veil when he approached, waving him away with an imperious little hand,
and crying, in a tone of mingled grief and anger,--

“No, I tarn’t love him; he tut the poor mouses’ little tails off, and
they queeked!”

Daisy promptly abdicated when Bess came, and took the humble post of
chief cook, while Nan was first maid of honor; Emil was chancellor
of the exchequer, and spent the public moneys lavishly in getting up
spectacles that cost whole ninepences. Franz was prime minister, and
directed her affairs of state, planned royal progresses through the
kingdom, and kept foreign powers in order. Demi was her philosopher,
and fared much better than such gentlemen usually do among crowned
heads. Dan was her standing army, and defended her territories
gallantly; Tommy was court fool, and Nat a tuneful Rizzio to this
innocent little Mary.

Uncle Fritz and Aunt Jo enjoyed this peaceful episode, and looked on at
the pretty play in which the young folk unconsciously imitated their
elders, without adding the tragedy that is so apt to spoil the dramas
acted on the larger stage.

“They teach us quite as much as we teach them,” said Mr. Bhaer.

“Bless the dears! they never guess how many hints they give us as to
the best way of managing them,” answered Mrs. Jo.

“I think you were right about the good effect of having girls among
the boys. Nan _has_ stirred up Daisy, and Bess is teaching the little
bears how to behave better than we can. If this reformation goes on as
it has begun, I shall soon feel like Dr. Blimber with his model young
gentlemen,” said Professor, laughing, as he saw Tommy not only remove
his own hat, but knock off Ned’s also, as they entered the hall where
the Princess was taking a ride on the rocking-horse, attended by Rob
and Teddy astride of chairs, and playing gallant knights to the best of
their ability.

“You will never be a Blimber, Fritz, you couldn’t do it if you tried;
and our boys will never submit to the forcing process of that famous
hot-bed. No fear that they will be too elegant: American boys like
liberty too well. But good manners they cannot fail to have, if we
give them the kindly spirit that shines through the simplest demeanor,
making it courteous and cordial, like yours, my dear old boy.”

“Tut! tut! we will not compliment; for if I begin you will run away,
and I have a wish to enjoy this happy half hour to the end;” yet Mr.
Bhaer looked pleased with the compliment, for it was true, and Mrs.
Jo felt that she had received the best her husband could give her, by
saying that he found his truest rest and happiness in her society.

“To return to the children: I have just had another proof of
Goldilocks’ good influence,” said Mrs. Jo, drawing her chair nearer
the sofa, where the Professor lay resting after a long day’s work in
his various gardens. “Nan hates sewing, but for love of Bess has been
toiling half the afternoon over a remarkable bag in which to present a
dozen of our love-apples to her idol when she goes. I praised her for
it, and she said, in her quick way, ‘I like to sew for other people;
it is stupid sewing for myself.’ I took the hint, and shall give her
some little shirts and aprons for Mrs. Carney’s children. She is so
generous, she will sew her fingers sore for them, and I shall not have
to make a task of it.”

“But needlework is not a fashionable accomplishment, my dear.”

“Sorry for it. My girls shall learn all I can teach them about it,
even if they give up the Latin, Algebra, and half-a-dozen ologies it
is considered necessary for girls to muddle their poor brains over
now-a-days. Amy means to make Bess an accomplished woman; but the
dear’s mite of a forefinger has little pricks on it already, and her
mother has several specimens of needlework which she values more than
the clay bird without a bill, that filled Laurie with such pride when
Bess made it.”

“I also have a proof of the Princess’s power,” said Mr. Bhaer, after
he had watched Mrs. Jo sew on a button with an air of scorn for the
whole system of fashionable education. “Jack is so unwilling to be
classed with Stuffy and Ned, as distasteful to Bess, that he came to
me a little while ago, and asked me to touch his warts with caustic. I
have often proposed it, and he never would consent; but now he bore the
smart manfully, and consoles his present discomfort by hopes of future
favor, when he can show her fastidious ladyship a smooth hand.”

Mrs. Bhaer laughed at the story, and just then Stuffy came in to ask if
he might give Goldilocks some of the bonbons his mother had sent him.

“She is not allowed to eat sweeties; but if you like to give her
the pretty box with the pink sugar-rose in it, she would like it
very much,” said Mrs. Jo, unwilling to spoil this unusual piece of
self-denial, for the “fat boy” seldom offered to share his sugar-plums.

“Won’t she eat it? I shouldn’t like to make her sick,” said Stuffy,
eying the delicate sweetmeat lovingly, yet putting it into the box.

“Oh, no, she won’t touch it, if I tell her it is to look at, not to
eat. She will keep it for weeks, and never think of tasting it. Can you
do as much?”

“I should hope so! I’m ever so much older than she is,” cried Stuffy,
indignantly.

“Well, suppose we try. Here, put your bonbons in this bag, and see how
long you can keep them. Let me count--two hearts, four red fishes,
three barley-sugar horses, nine almonds, and a dozen chocolate drops.
Do you agree to that?” asked sly Mrs. Jo, popping the sweeties into her
little spool-bag.

“Yes,” said Stuffy, with a sigh; and pocketing the forbidden fruit,
he went away to give Bess the present, that won a smile from her, and
permission to escort her round the garden.

“Poor Stuffy’s heart has really got the better of his stomach at last,
and his efforts will be much encouraged by the rewards Bess gives him,”
said Mrs. Jo.

“Happy the man who can put temptation in his pocket and learn
self-denial from so sweet a little teacher!” added Mr. Bhaer, as
the children passed the window, Stuffy’s fat face full of placid
satisfaction, and Goldilocks surveying her sugar-rose with polite
interest, though she would have preferred a real flower with a “pitty
smell.”

When her father came to take her home, a universal wail arose, and the
parting gifts showered upon her increased her luggage to such an extent
that Mr. Laurie proposed having out the big wagon to take it into
town. Every one had given her something; and it was found difficult to
pack white mice, cake, a parcel of shells, apples, a rabbit kicking
violently in a bag, a large cabbage for his refreshment, a bottle of
minnows, and a mammoth bouquet. The farewell scene was moving, for
the Princess sat upon the hall-table, surrounded by her subjects. She
kissed her cousins, and held out her hand to the other boys, who shook
it gently with various soft speeches, for they were taught not to be
ashamed of showing their emotions.

“Come again soon, little dear,” whispered Dan, fastening his best
green-and-gold beetle in her hat.

“Don’t forget me, Princess, whatever you do,” said the engaging Tommy,
taking a last stroke of the pretty hair.

“I am coming to your house next week, and then I shall see you, Bess,”
added Nat, as if he found consolation in the thought.

“Do shake hands now,” cried Jack, offering a smooth paw.

“Here are two nice new ones to remember us by,” said Dick and Dolly,
presenting fresh whistles, quite unconscious that seven old ones had
been privately deposited in the kitchen-stove.

“My little precious! I shall work you a bookmark right away, and you
must keep it always,” said Nan, with a warm embrace.

But of all the farewells, poor Billy’s was the most pathetic, for the
thought that she was really going became so unbearable that he cast
himself down before her, hugging her little blue boots and blubbering
despairingly, “Don’t go away! oh, don’t!” Goldilocks was so touched by
this burst of feeling, that she leaned over and lifting the poor lad’s
head, said, in her soft, little voice,--

“Don’t cry, poor Billy! I will tiss you and tum adain soon.”

This promise consoled Billy, and he fell back beaming with pride at the
unusual honor conferred upon him.

“Me too! me too!” clamored Dick and Dolly, feeling that their devotion
deserved some return. The others looked as if they would like to join
in the cry; and something in the kind, merry faces about her moved the
Princess to stretch out her arms and say, with reckless condescension,--

“I will tiss evvybody!”

Like a swarm of bees about a very sweet flower, the affectionate lads
surrounded their pretty playmate, and kissed her till she looked like a
little rose, not roughly, but so enthusiastically that nothing but the
crown of her hat was visible for a moment. Then her father rescued her,
and she drove away still smiling and waving her hands, while the boys
sat on the fence screaming like a flock of guinea-fowls, “Come back!
come back!” till she was out of sight.

They all missed her, and each dimly felt that he was better for
having known a creature so lovely, delicate, and sweet; for little
Bess appealed to the chivalrous instinct in them as something to
love, admire, and protect with a tender sort of reverence. Many a man
remembers some pretty child who has made a place in his heart and kept
her memory alive by the simple magic of her innocence; these little
men were just learning to feel this power, and to love it for its
gentle influence, not ashamed to let the small hand lead them, nor to
own their loyalty to womankind, even in the bud.



CHAPTER XIV

DAMON AND PYTHIAS


Mrs. Bhaer was right; peace was only a temporary lull, a storm was
brewing, and two days after Bess left, a moral earthquake shook
Plumfield to its centre.

Tommy’s hens were at the bottom of the trouble, for if they had not
persisted in laying so many eggs, he could not have sold them and
made such sums. Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a
useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can
without potatoes. Tommy certainly could not, for he spent his income
so recklessly, that Mr. Bhaer was obliged to insist on a savings-bank,
and presented him with a private one--an imposing tin edifice, with the
name over the door, and a tall chimney, down which the pennies were to
go, there to rattle temptingly till leave was given to open a sort of
trap-door in the floor.

The house increased in weight so rapidly, that Tommy soon became
satisfied with his investment, and planned to buy unheard-of treasures
with his capital. He kept account of the sums deposited, and was
promised that he might break the bank as soon as he had five dollars,
on condition that he spent the money wisely. Only one dollar was
needed, and the day Mrs. Jo paid him for four dozen eggs, he was so
delighted, that he raced off to the barn to display the bright quarters
to Nat, who was also laying by money for the long-desired violin.

“I wish I had ’em to put with my three dollars, then I’d soon get
enough to buy my fiddle,” he said, looking wistfully at the money.

“P’raps I’ll lend you some. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do with
mine,” said Tommy, tossing up his quarters, and catching them as they
fell.

“Hi! boys! come down to the brook and see what a jolly great snake
Dan’s got!” called a voice from behind the barn.

“Come on,” said Tommy; and, laying his money inside the old winnowing
machine, away he ran, followed by Nat.

The snake was very interesting, and then a long chase after a lame
crow, and its capture, so absorbed Tommy’s mind and time, that he never
thought of his money till he was safely in bed that night.

“Never mind, no one but Nat knows where it is,” said the easy-going
lad, and fell asleep untroubled by any anxiety about his property.

Next morning, just as the boys assembled for school, Tommy rushed into
the room breathlessly, demanding,--

“I say, who has got my dollar?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Franz.

Tommy explained, and Nat corroborated his statement.

Every one else declared they knew nothing about it, and began to look
suspiciously at Nat, who got more and more alarmed and confused with
each denial.

“Somebody must have taken it,” said Franz, as Tommy shook his fist at
the whole party, and wrathfully declared that--

“By thunder turtles! if I get hold of the thief, I’ll give him what he
won’t forget in a hurry.”

“Keep cool, Tom; we shall find him out; thieves always come to grief,”
said Dan, as one who knew something of the matter.

“May be some tramp slept in the barn and took it,” suggested Ned.

“No, Silas don’t allow that; besides, a tramp wouldn’t go looking in
that old machine for money,” said Emil, with scorn.

“Wasn’t it Silas himself?” said Jack.

“Well, I like that! Old Si is as honest as daylight. You wouldn’t catch
him touching a penny of ours,” said Tommy, handsomely defending his
chief admirer from suspicion.

“Whoever it was had better tell, and not wait to be found out,” said
Demi, looking as if an awful misfortune had befallen the family.

“I know you think it’s me,” broke out Nat, red and excited.

“You are the only one who knew where it was,” said Franz.

“I can’t help it--I didn’t take it. I tell you I didn’t--I didn’t!”
cried Nat, in a desperate sort of way.

“Gently, gently, my son! What is all this noise about?” and Mr. Bhaer
walked in among them.

Tommy repeated the story of his loss, and, as he listened, Mr. Bhaer’s
face grew graver and graver; for, with all their faults and follies,
the lads till now had been honest.

“Take your seats,” he said; and, when all were in their places, he
added slowly, as his eye went from face to face with a grieved look,
that was harder to bear than a storm of words,--

“Now, boys, I shall ask each one of you a single question, and I
want an honest answer. I am not going to try to frighten, bribe,
or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a
conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong
done to Tommy, and to set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive
the yielding to a sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit.
Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try
to help you make us forget and forgive.”

He paused a moment, and one might have heard a pin drop, the room was
so still; then slowly and impressively he put the question to each
one, receiving the same answer in varying tones from all. Every face
was flushed and excited, so that Mr. Bhaer could not take color as
a witness, and some of the little boys were so frightened that they
stammered over the two short words as if guilty, though it was evident
that they could not be. When he came to Nat, his voice softened, for
the poor lad looked so wretched, Mr. Bhaer felt for him. He believed
him to be the culprit, and hoped to save the boy from another lie, by
winning him to tell the truth without fear.

“Now, my son, give me an honest answer. Did you take the money?”

“No, sir!” and Nat looked up at him imploringly.

As the words fell from his trembling lips, somebody hissed.

“Stop that!” cried Mr. Bhaer, with a sharp rap on his desk, as he
looked sternly toward the corner whence the sound came.

Ned, Jack, and Emil sat there, and the first two looked ashamed of
themselves, but Emil called out,--

“It wasn’t me, uncle! I’d be ashamed to hit a fellow when he is down.”

“Good for you!” cried Tommy, who was in a sad state of affliction at
the trouble his unlucky dollar had made.

“Silence!” commanded Mr. Bhaer; and when it came, he said soberly,--

“I am _very_ sorry, Nat, but evidences are against you, and your old
fault makes us more ready to doubt you than we should be if we could
trust you as we do some of the boys, who never fib. But mind, my child,
I do not charge you with this theft; I shall not punish you for it
till I am _perfectly_ sure, nor ask any thing more about it. I shall
leave it for you to settle with your own conscience. If you are guilty,
come to me at any hour of the day or night and confess it, and I will
forgive and help you to amend. If you are innocent, the truth will
appear sooner or later, and the instant it does, I will be the first
to beg your pardon for doubting you, and will so gladly do my best to
clear your character before us all.”

“I didn’t! I didn’t!” sobbed Nat, with his head down upon his arms, for
he could not bear the look of distrust and dislike which he read in the
many eyes fixed on him.

“I hope not.” Mr. Bhaer paused a minute, as if to give the culprit,
whoever he might be, one more chance. Nobody spoke, however, and only
sniffs of sympathy from some of the little fellows broke the silence.
Mr. Bhaer shook his head, and added, regretfully,--

“There is nothing more to be done, then, and I have but one thing to
say: I shall not speak of this again, and I wish you all to follow my
example. I cannot expect you to feel as kindly toward any one whom you
suspect as before this happened, but I do expect and desire that you
will not torment the suspected person in any way,--he will have a hard
enough time without that. Now go to your lessons.”

“Father Bhaer let Nat off too easy,” muttered Ned to Emil, as they got
out their books.

“Hold your tongue,” growled Emil, who felt that this event was a blot
upon the family honor.

Many of the boys agreed with Ned, but Mr. Bhaer was right,
nevertheless; and Nat would have been wiser to confess on the spot
and have the trouble over, for even the hardest whipping he ever
received from his father was far easier to bear than the cold looks,
the avoidance, and general suspicion that met him on all sides. If ever
a boy was sent to Coventry and kept there, it was poor Nat; and he
suffered a week of slow torture, though not a hand was raised against
him, and hardly a word said.

That was the worst of it; if they would only have talked it out, or
even have thrashed him all round, he could have stood it better than
the silent distrust that made every face so terrible to meet. Even Mrs.
Bhaer’s showed traces of it, though her manner was nearly as kind as
ever; but the sorrowful anxious look in Father Bhaer’s eyes cut Nat
to the heart, for he loved his teacher dearly, and knew that he had
disappointed all his hopes by this double sin.

Only one person in the house entirely believed in him, and stood up for
him stoutly against all the rest. This was Daisy. She could not explain
why she trusted him against all appearances, she only felt that she
could not doubt him, and her warm sympathy made her strong to take his
part. She would not hear a word against him from any one, and actually
slapped her beloved Demi when he tried to convince her that it _must_
have been Nat, because no one else knew where the money was.

“May be the hens ate it; they are greedy old things,” she said; and
when Demi laughed, she lost her temper, slapped the amazed boy, and
then burst out crying and ran away, still declaring, “He didn’t! he
didn’t! he didn’t!”

Neither aunt nor uncle tried to shake the child’s faith in her friend,
but only hoped her innocent instinct might prove sure, and loved her
all the better for it. Nat often said, after it was over, that he
couldn’t have stood it, if it had not been for Daisy. When the others
shunned him, she clung to him closer than ever, and turned her back on
the rest. She did not sit on the stairs now when he solaced himself
with the old fiddle, but went in and sat beside him, listening with a
face so full of confidence and affection, that Nat forgot disgrace for
a time, and was happy. She asked him to help her with her lessons, she
cooked him marvellous messes in her kitchen, which he ate manfully, no
matter what they were, for gratitude gave a sweet flavor to the most
distasteful. She proposed impossible games of cricket and ball, when
she found that he shrank from joining the other boys. She put little
nosegays from her garden on his desk, and tried in every way to show
that _she_ was not a fair-weather friend, but faithful through evil
as well as good repute. Nan soon followed her example, in kindness
at least; curbed her sharp tongue, and kept her scornful little nose
from any demonstration of doubt or dislike, which was good of Madame
Giddy-gaddy, for she firmly believed that Nat took the money.

Most of the boys let him severely alone, but Dan, though he said he
despised him for being a coward, watched over him with a grim sort of
protection, and promptly cuffed any lad who dared to molest his mate
or make him afraid. His idea of friendship was as high as Daisy’s, and,
in his own rough way, he lived up to it as loyally.

Sitting by the brook one afternoon, absorbed in the study of the
domestic habits of water-spiders, he overheard a bit of conversation
on the other side of the wall. Ned, who was intensely inquisitive, had
been on tenter-hooks to know _certainly_ who was the culprit; for of
late one or two of the boys had begun to think that they were wrong,
Nat was so steadfast in his denials, and so meek in his endurance of
their neglect. This doubt had teased Ned past bearing, and he had
several times privately beset Nat with questions, regardless of Mr.
Bhaer’s express command. Finding Nat reading alone on the shady side of
the wall, Ned could not resist stopping for a nibble at the forbidden
subject. He had worried Nat for some ten minutes before Dan arrived,
and the first word the spider-student heard were these, in Nat’s
patient, pleading voice,--

“Don’t, Ned! oh, don’t! I can’t tell you because I don’t know, and it’s
mean of you to keep nagging at me on the sly, when Father Bhaer told
you not to plague me. You wouldn’t dare to if Dan was round.”

“I ain’t afraid of Dan; he’s nothing but an old bully. Don’t believe
but what he took Tom’s money, and you know it, and won’t tell. Come,
now!”

“He didn’t, but, if he did, I _would_ stand up for him, he has always
been so good to me,” said Nat, so earnestly, that Dan forgot his
spiders, and rose quickly to thank him, but Ned’s next words arrested
him.

“I _know_ Dan did it, and gave the money to you. Shouldn’t wonder if he
got his living picking pockets before he came here, for nobody knows
any thing about him but you,” said Ned, not believing his own words,
but hoping to get the truth out of Nat by making him angry.

He succeeded in a part of his ungenerous wish, for Nat cried out,
fiercely,--

“If you say that again I’ll go and tell Mr. Bhaer all about it. I don’t
want to tell tales, but, by George! I will, if you don’t let Dan alone.”

“Then you’ll be a sneak, as well as a liar and a thief,” began Ned,
with a jeer, for Nat had borne insult to himself so meekly, the other
did not believe he would dare to face the master just to stand up for
Dan.

What he might have added I cannot tell, for the words were hardly out
of his mouth when a long arm from behind took him by the collar, and,
jerking him over the wall in a most promiscuous way, landed him with a
splash in the middle of the brook.

“Say that again and I’ll duck you till you can’t see!” cried Dan,
looking like a modern Colossus of Rhodes as he stood, with a foot on
either side of the narrow stream, glaring down at the discomfited youth
in the water.

“I was only in fun,” said Ned.

“You are a sneak yourself to badger Nat round the corner. Let me catch
you at it again, and I’ll souse you in the river next time. Get up, and
clear out!” thundered Dan, in a rage.

Ned fled, dripping, and his impromptu sitz-bath evidently did him good,
for he was very respectful to both the boys after that, and seemed to
have left his curiosity in the brook. As he vanished Dan jumped over
the wall, and found Nat lying as if quite worn out and bowed down with
his troubles.

“He won’t pester you again, I guess. If he does, just tell me, and I’ll
see to him,” said Dan, trying to cool down.

“I don’t mind what he says about me so much, I’ve got used to it,”
answered Nat, sadly; “but I hate to have him pitch into you.”

“How do you know he isn’t right?” asked Dan, turning his face away.

“What, about the money?” cried Nat, looking up with a startled air.

“Yes.”

“But I don’t believe it! _You_ don’t care for money; all you want is
your old bugs and things,” and Nat laughed, incredulously.

“I want a butterfly net as much as you want a fiddle; why shouldn’t I
steal the money for it as much as you?” said Dan, still turning away,
and busily punching holes in the turf with his stick.

“I don’t think you would. You like to fight and knock folks round
sometimes, but you don’t lie, and I don’t believe you’d steal,” and Nat
shook his head decidedly.

“I’ve done both. I used to fib like fury; it’s too much trouble now;
and I stole things to eat out of gardens when I ran away from Page, so
you see I _am_ a bad lot,” said Dan, speaking in the rough, reckless
way which he had been learning to drop lately.

“O Dan! Don’t say it’s you! I’d rather have it any of the other boys,”
cried Nat, in such a distressed tone that Dan looked pleased, and
showed that he did, by turning round with a queer expression in his
face, though he only answered,--

“I won’t say any thing about it. But don’t you fret, and we’ll pull
through somehow, see if we don’t.”

Something in his face and manner gave Nat a new idea; and he said,
pressing his hands together, in the eagerness of his appeal,--

“I think you know who did it. If you do, beg him to tell, Dan. It’s so
hard to have ’em all hate me for nothing. I don’t think I _can_ bear it
much longer. If I had any place to go to, I’d run away, though I love
Plumfield dearly; but I’m not brave and big like you, so I must stay
and wait till some one shows them that I haven’t lied.”

As he spoke, Nat looked so broken and despairing, that Dan could not
bear it, and, muttering huskily,--

“You won’t wait long,” he walked rapidly away, and was seen no more for
hours.

“What is the matter with Dan?” asked the boys of one another several
times during the Sunday that followed a week which seemed as if it
would _never_ end. Dan was often moody, but that day he was so sober
and silent that no one could get any thing out of him. When they walked
he strayed away from the rest, and came home late. He took no part
in the evening conversation, but sat in the shadow, so busy with his
own thoughts that he scarcely seemed to hear what was going on. When
Mrs. Jo showed him an unusually good report in the Conscience Book, he
looked at it without a smile, and said, wistfully,--

“You think I am getting on, don’t you?”

“Excellently, Dan! and I am so pleased, because I always thought you
only needed a little help to make you a boy to be proud of.”

He looked up at her with a strange expression in his black eyes--an
expression of mingled pride and love and sorrow which she could not
understand then--but remembered afterward.

“I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed, but I do try,” he said, shutting
the book without a sign of pleasure in the page that he usually liked
so much to read over and talk about.

“Are you sick, dear?” asked Mrs. Jo, with her hand on his shoulder.

“My foot aches a little; I guess I’ll go to bed. Good-night, mother,”
he added, and held the hand against his cheek a minute, then went away
looking as if he had said good-by to something very dear.

“Poor Dan! he takes Nat’s disgrace to heart sadly. He is a strange
boy; I wonder if I ever shall understand him thoroughly?” said Mrs.
Jo to herself, as she thought over Dan’s late improvement with real
satisfaction, yet felt that there was more in the lad than she had at
first suspected.

One of the things which cut Nat most deeply was an act of Tommy’s, for
after his loss Tommy had said to him, kindly but firmly,--

“I don’t wish to hurt you, Nat, but you see I can’t afford to lose my
money, so I guess we won’t be partners any longer;” and with that Tommy
rubbed out the sign, “T. Bangs & Co.”

Nat had been very proud of the “Co.,” and had hunted eggs
industriously, kept his accounts all straight, and had added a good sum
to his income from the sale of his share of stock in trade.

“O Tom! must you?” he said, feeling that his good name was gone for
ever in the business world if this was done.

“I must,” returned Tommy, firmly. “Emil says that when one man ’bezzles
(I believe that’s the word--it means to take money and cut away with
it) the property of a firm, the other one sues him, or pitches into him
somehow, and won’t have any thing more to do with him. Now you have
’bezzled my property; I shan’t sue you, and I shan’t pitch into you,
but I _must_ dissolve the partnership, because I can’t trust you, and I
don’t wish to fail.”

“I can’t make you believe me, and you won’t take my money, though I’d
be thankful to give all my dollars if you’d only say you don’t think I
took your money. Do let me hunt for you, I won’t ask any wages, but do
it for nothing. I know all the places, and I like it,” pleaded Nat.

But Tommy shook his head, and his jolly round face looked suspicious
and hard as he said, shortly, “Can’t do it; wish you didn’t know the
places. Mind you don’t go hunting on the sly, and speculate in my eggs.”

Poor Nat was so hurt that he could not get over it. He felt that he
had lost not only his partner and patron, but that he was bankrupt in
honor, and an outlaw from the business community. No one trusted his
word, written or spoken, in spite of his efforts to redeem the past
falsehood; the sign was down, the firm broken up, and he a ruined man.
The barn, which was the boys’ Wall Street, knew him no more. Cockletop
and her sisters cackled for him in vain, and really seemed to take
his misfortune to heart, for eggs were fewer, and some of the biddies
retired in disgust to new nests, which Tommy could not find.

“_They_ trust me,” said Nat, when he heard of it; and though the boys
shouted at the idea, Nat found comfort in it, for when one is down in
the world, the confidence of even a speckled hen is most consoling.

Tommy took no new partner, however, for distrust had entered in, and
poisoned the peace of his once confiding soul. Ned offered to join him,
but he declined, saying, with a sense of justice that did him honor,--

“It might turn out that Nat didn’t take my money, and then we could
be partners again. I don’t think it will happen, but I will give him a
chance, and keep the place open a little longer.”

Billy was the only person whom Bangs felt he could trust in his shop,
and Billy was trained to hunt eggs, and hand them over unbroken, being
quite satisfied with an apple or a sugar-plum for wages. The morning
after Dan’s gloomy Sunday, Billy said to his employer, as he displayed
the results of a long hunt,--

“Only two.”

“It gets worse and worse; I never saw such provoking old hens,” growled
Tommy, thinking of the days when he often had six to rejoice over.
“Well, put ’em in my hat and give me a new bit of chalk; I must mark
’em up, any way.”

Billy mounted a peck-measure, and looked into the top of the machine,
where Tommy kept his writing materials.

“There’s lots of money in here,” said Billy.

“No, there isn’t. Catch me leaving my cash round again,” returned Tommy.

“I see ’em--one, four, eight, two dollars,” persisted Billy, who had
not yet mastered the figures correctly.

“What a jack you are!” and Tommy hopped up to get the chalk for
himself, but nearly tumbled down again, for there actually were four
bright quarters in a row, with a bit of paper on them directed to “Tom
Bangs,” that there might be no mistake.

“Thunder turtles!” cried Tommy, and seizing them he dashed into the
house, bawling wildly, “It’s all right! Got my money! Where’s Nat?”

He was soon found, and his surprise and pleasure were so genuine that
few doubted his word when he now denied all knowledge of the money.

“How could I put it back when I didn’t take it? Do believe me now, and
be good to me again,” he said, so imploringly, that Emil slapped him on
the back, and declared _he_ would for one.

“So will I, and I’m jolly glad it’s not you. But who the dickens is
it?” said Tommy, after shaking hands heartily with Nat.

“Never mind, as long as it’s found,” said Dan with his eyes fixed on
Nat’s happy face.

“Well, I like that! I’m not going to have my things hooked, and then
brought back like the juggling man’s tricks,” cried Tommy, looking at
his money as if he suspected witchcraft.

“We’ll find him out somehow, though he was sly enough to print this so
his writing wouldn’t be known,” said Franz, examining the paper.

“Demi prints tip-top,” put in Rob, who had not a very clear idea what
the fuss was all about.

“You can’t make me believe it’s him, not if you talk till you are
blue,” said Tommy, and the others hooted at the mere idea; for the
little deacon, as they called him, was above suspicion.

Nat felt the difference in the way they spoke of Demi and himself, and
would have given all he had or ever hoped to have to be so trusted;
for he had learned how easy it is to lose the confidence of others,
how very, very hard to win it back, and truth became to him a precious
thing since he had suffered from neglecting it.

Mr. Bhaer was very glad one step had been taken in the right direction,
and waited hopefully for yet further revelations. They came sooner than
he expected, and in a way that surprised and grieved him very much. As
they sat at supper that night, a square parcel was handed to Mr. Bhaer
from Mrs. Bates, a neighbor. A note accompanied the parcel, and, while
Mr. Bhaer read it, Demi pulled off the wrapper, exclaiming, as he saw
its contents,--

“Why, it’s the book Uncle Teddy gave Dan!”

“The devil!” broke from Dan, for he had not yet quite cured himself of
swearing, though he tried hard.

Mr. Bhaer looked up quickly at the sound. Dan tried to meet his eyes,
but could not; his own fell, and he sat biting his lips, getting redder
and redder till he was the picture of shame.

“What is it?” asked Mrs. Bhaer, anxiously.

“I should have preferred to talk about this in private, but Demi has
spoilt that plan, so I may as well have it out now,” said Mr. Bhaer,
looking a little stern, as he always did when any meanness or deceit
came up for judgment.

“The note is from Mrs. Bates, and she says that her boy Jimmy told her
he bought this book of Dan last Saturday. She saw that it was worth
much more than a dollar, and thinking there was some mistake, has sent
it to me. Did you sell it, Dan?”

“Yes, sir,” was the slow answer.

“Why?”

“Wanted money.”

“For what?”

“To pay somebody.”

“To whom did you owe it?”

“Tommy.”

“Never borrowed a cent of me in his life,” cried Tommy, looking scared,
for he guessed what was coming now, and felt that on the whole he would
have preferred witchcraft, for he admired Dan immensely.

“Perhaps he took it,” cried Ned, who owed Dan a grudge for the ducking,
and, being a mortal boy, liked to pay it off.

“O Dan!” cried Nat, clasping his hands, regardless of the bread and
butter in them.

“It is a hard thing to do, but I must have this settled, for I cannot
have you watching each other like detectives, and the whole school
disturbed in this way. Did you put that dollar in the barn this
morning?” asked Mr. Bhaer.

Dan looked him straight in the face, and answered steadily, “Yes, I
did.”

A murmur went round the table, Tommy dropped his mug with a crash;
Daisy cried out, “I knew it wasn’t Nat;” Nan began to cry, and Mrs. Jo
left the room, looking so disappointed, sorry, and ashamed that Dan
could not bear it. He hid his face in his hands a moment, then threw up
his head, squared his shoulders as if settling some load upon them, and
said, with the dogged look, and half-resolute, half-reckless tone he
had used when he first came--

“I did it; now you may do what you like to me, but I won’t say another
word about it.”

“Not even that you are sorry?” asked Mr. Bhaer, troubled by the change
in him.

“I ain’t sorry.”

“I’ll forgive him without asking,” said Tommy, feeling that it was
harder somehow to see brave Dan disgraced than timid Nat.

“Don’t want to be forgiven,” returned Dan, gruffly.

“Perhaps you will when you have thought about it quietly by yourself. I
won’t tell you now how surprised and disappointed I am, but by and by I
will come up and talk to you in your room.”

“Won’t make any difference,” said Dan, trying to speak defiantly, but
failing as he looked at Mr. Bhaer’s sorrowful face; and, taking his
words for a dismissal, Dan left the room as if he found it impossible
to stay.

It would have done him good if he had stayed; for the boys talked the
matter over with such sincere regret, and pity, and wonder, it might
have touched and won him to ask pardon. No one was glad to find that it
was he, not even Nat; for, spite of all his faults, and they were many,
every one liked Dan now, because under his rough exterior lay some of
the manly virtues which we most admire and love. Mrs. Jo had been the
chief prop, as well as cultivator, of Dan; and she took it sadly to
heart that her last and most interesting boy had turned out so ill. The
theft was bad, but the lying about it, and allowing another to suffer
so much from an unjust suspicion, was worse; and most discouraging of
all was the attempt to restore the money in an underhand way, for it
showed not only a want of courage, but a power of deceit that boded ill
for the future. Still more trying was his steady refusal to talk of
the matter, to ask pardon, or express any remorse. Days passed; and he
went about his lessons and his work, silent, grim, and unrepentant. As
if taking warning by their treatment of Nat, he asked no sympathy of
any one, rejected the advances of the boys, and spent his leisure hours
roaming about the fields and woods, trying to find playmates in the
birds and beasts, and succeeding better than most boys would have done,
because he knew and loved them so well.

“If this goes on much longer, I’m afraid he will run away again, for he
is too young to stand a life like this,” said Mr. Bhaer, quite dejected
at the failure of all his efforts.

“A little while ago I should have been quite sure that nothing would
tempt him away, but now I am ready for any thing, he is so changed,”
answered poor Mrs. Jo, who mourned over her boy and could not be
comforted, because he shunned her more than any one else, and only
looked at her with the half-fierce, half-imploring eyes of a wild
animal caught in a trap, when she tried to talk to him alone.

Nat followed him about like a shadow, and Dan did not repulse him as
rudely as he did others, but said, in his blunt way, “_You_ are all
right; don’t worry about me. I can stand it better than you did.”

“But I don’t like to have you all alone,” Nat would say, sorrowfully.

“I like it;” and Dan would tramp away, stifling a sigh sometimes, for
he _was_ lonely.

Passing through the birch grove one day, he came upon several of the
boys, who were amusing themselves by climbing up the trees and swinging
down again, as the slender elastic stems bent till their tops touched
the ground. Dan paused a minute to watch the fun, without offering
to join in it, and as he stood there Jack took his turn. He had
unfortunately chosen too large a tree; for when he swung off, it only
bent a little way, and left him hanging at a dangerous height.

“Go back; you can’t do it!” called Ned from below.

Jack tried, but the twigs slipped from his hands, and he could not get
his legs round the trunk. He kicked, and squirmed, and clutched in
vain, then gave it up, and hung breathless, saying helplessly,--

“Catch me! help me! I must drop!”

“You’ll be killed if you do,” cried Ned, frightened out of his wits.

“Hold on!” shouted Dan; and up the tree he went, crashing his way along
till he nearly reached Jack, whose face looked up at him, full of fear
and hope.

“You’ll both come down,” said Ned, dancing with excitement on the slope
underneath, while Nat held out his arms, in the wild hope of breaking
the fall.

“That’s what I want; stand from under,” answered Dan, coolly; and, as
he spoke, his added weight bent the tree many feet nearer the earth.

Jack dropped safely; but the birch, lightened of half its load, flew up
again so suddenly, that Dan, in the act of swinging round to drop feet
foremost, lost his hold and fell heavily.

“I’m not hurt, all right in a minute,” he said, sitting up, a little
pale and dizzy, as the boys gathered round him, full of admiration and
alarm.

“You’re a trump, Dan, and I’m ever so much obliged to you,” cried Jack,
gratefully.

“It wasn’t any thing,” muttered Dan, rising slowly.

“I say it was, and I’ll shake hands with you, though you are----” Ned
checked the unlucky word on his tongue, and held out his hand, feeling
that it was a handsome thing on his part.

“But _I_ won’t shake hands with a sneak;” and Dan turned his back with
a look of scorn, that caused Ned to remember the brook, and retire with
undignified haste.

“Come home, old chap; I’ll give you a lift;” and Nat walked away with
him leaving the others to talk over the feat together, to wonder
when Dan would “come round,” and to wish one and all that Tommy’s
“confounded money had been in Jericho before it made such a fuss.”

When Mr. Bhaer came into school next morning, he looked so happy, that
the boys wondered what had happened to him, and really thought he had
lost his mind when they saw him go straight to Dan, and, taking him by
both hands, say all in one breath, as he shook them heartily,--

“I know all about it, and I beg your pardon. It was like you to do it,
and I love you for it, though it’s never right to tell lies, even for a
friend.”

“What is it?” cried Nat, for Dan said not a word, only lifted up his
head, as if a weight of some sort had fallen off his back.

“Dan did _not_ take Tommy’s money;” and Mr. Bhaer quite shouted it, he
was so glad.

“Who did?” cried the boys in a chorus.

Mr. Bhaer pointed to one empty seat, and every eye followed his finger,
yet no one spoke for a minute, they were so surprised.

“Jack went home early this morning, but he left this behind him;” and
in the silence Mr. Bhaer read the note which he had found tied to his
door-handle when he rose.

    “I took Tommy’s dollar. I was peeking in through a crack, and
    saw him put it there. I was afraid to tell before, though I
    wanted to. I didn’t care so much about Nat, but Dan is a trump,
    and I can’t stand it any longer. I never spent the money; it’s
    under the carpet in my room, right behind the washstand. I’m
    awful sorry. I am going home, and don’t think I shall ever come
    back, so Dan may have my things.

                                                            “JACK.”

It was not an elegant confession, being badly written, much blotted,
and very short; but it was a precious paper to Dan; and, when Mr. Bhaer
paused, the boy went to him, saying, in rather a broken voice, but with
clear eyes, and the frank, respectful manner they had tried to teach
him,--

“I’ll say I’m sorry now, and ask you to forgive me, sir.”

“It was a kind lie, Dan, and I can’t help forgiving it; but you see it
did no good,” said Mr. Bhaer, with a hand on either shoulder, and a
face full of relief and affection.

“It kept the boys from plaguing Nat. That’s what I did it for. It made
him right down miserable. I didn’t care so much,” explained Dan, as if
glad to speak out after his hard silence.

“How could you do it? You are always so kind to me,” faltered Nat,
feeling a strong desire to hug his friend and cry. Two girlish
performances, which would have scandalized Dan to the last degree.

“It’s all right now, old fellow, so don’t be a fool,” he said,
swallowing the lump in his throat, and laughing out as he had not done
for weeks. “Does Mrs. Bhaer know?” he asked, eagerly.

“Yes; and she is so happy I don’t know what she will do to you,” began
Mr. Bhaer, but got no farther, for here the boys came crowding about
Dan in a tumult of pleasure and curiosity; but before he had answered
more than a dozen questions, a voice cried out,--

“Three cheers for Dan!” and there was Mrs. Jo in the doorway waving her
dish-towel, and looking as if she wanted to dance a jig for joy, as she
used to do when a girl.

“Now then,” cried Mr. Bhaer, and led off a rousing hurrah, which
startled Asia in the kitchen, and made old Mr. Roberts shake his head
as he drove by, saying,--

“Schools are not what they were when I was young!”

Dan stood it pretty well for a minute, but the sight of Mrs. Jo’s
delight upset him, and he suddenly bolted across the hall into the
parlor, whither she instantly followed, and neither were seen for half
an hour.

Mr. Bhaer found it very difficult to calm his excited flock; and,
seeing that lessons were an impossibility for a time, he caught
their attention by telling them the fine old story of the friends
whose fidelity to one another has made their names immortal. The lads
listened and remembered, for just then their hearts were touched by
the loyalty of a humbler pair of friends. The lie was wrong, but the
love that prompted it and the courage that bore in silence the disgrace
which belonged to another, made Dan a hero in their eyes. Honesty and
honor had a new meaning now; a good name was more precious than gold;
for once lost money could not buy it back; and faith in one another
made life smooth and happy as nothing else could do.

Tommy proudly restored the name of the firm; Nat was devoted to Dan;
and all the boys tried to atone to both for former suspicion and
neglect. Mrs. Jo rejoiced over her flock, and Mr. Bhaer was never tired
of telling the story of his young Damon and Pythias.



CHAPTER XV

IN THE WILLOW


The old tree saw and heard a good many little scenes and confidences
that summer, because it became the favorite retreat of all the
children, and the willow seemed to enjoy it, for a pleasant welcome
always met them, and the quiet hours spent in its arms did them all
good. It had a great deal of company one Saturday afternoon, and some
little bird reported what went on there.

First came Nan and Daisy with their small tubs and bits of soap, for
now and then they were seized with a tidy fit, and washed up all their
dolls’ clothes in the brook. Asia would not have them “slopping round”
in her kitchen, and the bath-room was forbidden since Nan forgot to
turn off the water till it overflowed and came gently dripping down
through the ceiling. Daisy went systematically to work, washing first
the white and then the colored things, rinsing them nicely, and hanging
them to dry on a cord fastened from one barberry-bush to another, and
pinning them up with a set of tiny clothes-pins Ned had turned for
her. But Nan put all her little things to soak in the same tub, and
then forgot them while she collected thistledown to stuff a pillow for
Semiramis, Queen of Babylon, as one doll was named. This took some
time, and when Mrs. Giddy-gaddy came to take out her clothes, deep
green stains appeared on every thing, for she had forgotten the green
silk lining of a certain cape, and its color had soaked nicely into
the pink and blue gowns, the little chemises, and even the best ruffled
petticoat.

“Oh me! what a mess!” sighed Nan.

“Lay them on the grass to bleach,” said Daisy, with an air of
experience.

“So I will, and we can sit up in the nest and watch that they don’t
blow away.”

The Queen of Babylon’s wardrobe was spread forth upon the bank, and,
turning up their tubs to dry, the little washerwomen climbed into the
nest, and fell to talking, as ladies are apt to do in the pauses of
domestic labor.

“I’m going to have a feather-bed to go with my new pillow,” said Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy, as she transferred the thistledown from her pocket to her
handkerchief, losing about half in the process.

“I wouldn’t; Aunt Jo says feather-beds aren’t healthy. I never let _my_
children sleep on any thing but a mattress,” returned Mrs. Shakespeare
Smith, decidedly.

“I don’t care; my children are so strong they often sleep on the
floor, and don’t mind it” (which was quite true). “I can’t afford nine
mattresses, and I like to make beds myself.”

“Won’t Tommy charge for the feathers?”

“May be he will, but I shan’t pay him, and he won’t care,” returned
Mrs. G., taking a base advantage of the well-known good-nature of T.
Bangs.

“I think the pink will fade out of that dress sooner than the green
mark will,” observed Mrs. S., looking down from her perch, and changing
the subject, for she and her gossip differed on many points, and Mrs.
Smith was a discreet lady.

“Never mind; I’m tired of dolls, and I guess I shall put them all away
and attend to my farm; I like it rather better than playing house,”
said Mrs. G., unconsciously expressing the desire of many older ladies,
who cannot dispose of their families so easily however.

“But you mustn’t leave them; they will die without their mother,” cried
tender Mrs. Smith.

“Let ’em die then; I’m tired of fussing over babies, and I’m going
to play with the boys; they need me to see to ’em,” returned the
strong-minded lady.

Daisy knew nothing about woman’s rights; she quietly took all she
wanted, and no one denied her claim, because she did not undertake what
she could not carry out, but unconsciously used the all-powerful right
of her own influence to win from others any privilege for which she had
proved her fitness. Nan attempted all sorts of things, undaunted by
direful failures, and clamored fiercely to be allowed to do every thing
that the boys did. They laughed at her, hustled her out of the way,
and protested against her meddling with their affairs. But she would
not be quenched and she would be heard, for her will was strong, and
she had the spirit of a rampant reformer. Mrs. Bhaer sympathized with
her, but tried to curb her frantic desire for entire liberty, showing
her that she must wait a little, learn self-control, and be ready to
use her freedom before she asked for it. Nan had meek moments when she
agreed to this, and the influences at work upon her were gradually
taking effect. She no longer declared that she would be engine-driver
or a blacksmith, but turned her mind to farming, and found in it a vent
for the energy bottled up in her active little body. It did not quite
satisfy her, however; for her sage and sweet marjoram were dumb things,
and could not thank her for her care. She wanted something human to
love, work for, and protect, and was never happier than when the little
boys brought their cut fingers, bumped heads, or bruised joints for her
to “mend up.” Seeing this, Mrs. Jo proposed that she should learn how
to do it nicely, and Nursey had an apt pupil in bandaging, plastering,
and fomenting. The boys began to call her “Dr. Giddy-gaddy,” and she
liked it so well that Mrs. Jo one day said to the Professor--

“Fritz, I see what we can do for that child. She wants something to
live for even now, and will be one of the sharp, strong, discontented
women if she does not have it. Don’t let us snub her restless little
nature, but do our best to give her the work she likes, and by and by
persuade her father to let her study medicine. She will make a capital
doctor, for she has courage, strong nerves, a tender heart, and an
intense love and pity for the weak and suffering.”

Mr. Bhaer smiled at first, but agreed to try, and gave Nan an
herb-garden, teaching her the various healing properties of the plants
she tended, and letting her try their virtues on the children in
the little illnesses they had from time to time. She learned fast,
remembered well, and showed a sense and interest most encouraging to
her Professor, who did not shut his door in her face because she was a
little woman.

She was thinking of this, as she sat in the willow that day, and when
Daisy said in her gentle way--

“I love to keep house, and mean to have a nice one for Demi when we
grow up and live together.”

Nan replied with decision--

“Well, I haven’t got any brother, and I don’t want any house to fuss
over. I shall have an office, with lots of bottles and drawers and
pestle things in it, and I shall drive round in a horse and chaise and
cure sick people. That will be such fun.”

“Ugh! how can you bear the bad-smelling stuff and the nasty little
powders and castor-oil and senna and hive syrup?” cried Daisy, with a
shudder.

“I shan’t have to take any, so I don’t care. Besides, they make people
well, and I like to cure folks. Didn’t my sage-tea make Mother Bhaer’s
headache go away, and my hops stop Ned’s toothache in five hours? So
now!”

“Shall you put leeches on people, and cut off legs and pull out teeth?”
asked Daisy, quaking at the thought.

“Yes, I shall do every thing; I don’t care if the people are all
smashed up, I shall mend them. My grandpa was a doctor, and I saw him
sew a great cut in a man’s cheek, and I held the sponge, and wasn’t
frightened a bit, and Grandpa said I was a brave girl.”

“How could you? I’m sorry for sick people, and I like to nurse them,
but it makes my legs shake so I have to run away. I’m not a brave
girl,” sighed Daisy.

“Well, you can be my nurse, and cuddle my patients when I have given
them the physic and cut off their legs,” said Nan, whose practice was
evidently to be of the heroic kind.

“Ship ahoy! Where are you, Nan?” called a voice from below.

“Here we are.”

“Ay, ay!” said the voice, and Emil appeared holding one hand in the
other, with his face puckered up as if in pain.

“Oh, what’s the matter?” cried Daisy, anxiously.

“A confounded splinter in my thumb. Can’t get it out. Take a pick at
it, will you, Nanny?”

“It’s in very deep, and I haven’t any needle,” said Nan, examining a
tarry thumb with interest.

“Take a pin,” said Emil, in a hurry.

“No, it’s too big and hasn’t got a sharp point.”

Here Daisy, who had dived into her pocket, presented a neat little
housewife with four needles in it.

“You are the Posy who always has what we want,” said Emil; and Nan
resolved to have a needle-book in her own pocket henceforth, for just
such cases as this were always occurring in her practice.

Daisy covered her eyes, but Nan probed and picked with a steady hand,
while Emil gave directions not down in any medical work or record.

“Starboard now! Steady, boys, steady! Try another tack. Heave ho! there
she is!”

“Suck it,” ordered the Doctor, surveying the splinter with an
experienced eye.

“Too dirty,” responded the patient, shaking his bleeding hand.

“Wait; I’ll tie it up if you have got a handkerchief.”

“Haven’t; take one of those rags down there.”

“Gracious! no, indeed; they are dolls’ clothes,” cried Daisy,
indignantly.

“Take one of mine; I’d like to have you,” said Nan; and swinging
himself down, Emil caught up the first “rag” he saw. It happened to be
the frilled skirt; but Nan tore it up without a murmur; and when the
royal petticoat was turned into a neat little bandage, she dismissed
her patient with the command--

“Keep it wet, and let it alone; then it will heal right up, and not be
sore.”

“What do you charge?” asked the Commodore, laughing.

“Nothing; I keep a ’spensary; that is a place where poor people are
doctored free gratis for nothing,” explained Nan, with an air.

“Thank you, Doctor Giddy-gaddy. I’ll always call you in when I come to
grief;” and Emil departed, but looked back to say--for one good turn
deserved another--“Your duds are blowing away, Doctor.”

Forgiving the disrespectful word, “duds,” the ladies hastily descended,
and, gathering up their wash, retired to the house to fire up the
little stove, and go to ironing.

A passing breath of air shook the old willow, as if it laughed softly
at the childish chatter which went on in the nest, and it had hardly
composed itself when another pair of birds alighted for a confidential
twitter.

“Now, I’ll tell you the secret,” began Tommy, who was “swellin’
wisibly” with the importance of his news.

“Tell away,” answered Nat, wishing he had brought his fiddle, it was so
shady and quiet here.

“Well we fellows were talking over the late interesting case of
circumstantial evidence,” said Tommy, quoting at random from a speech
Franz had made at the club, “and I proposed giving Dan something to
make up for our suspecting him, to show our respect, and so on, you
know--something handsome and useful, that he could keep always, and be
proud of. What do you think we chose?”

“A butterfly-net; he wants one ever so much,” said Nat, looking a
little disappointed, for he meant to get it himself.

“No, sir; it’s to be a microscope, a real swell one, that we see
what-do-you-call-’ems in water with, and stars, and ant-eggs, and all
sorts of games, you know. Won’t it be a jolly good present?” said
Tommy, rather confusing microscopes and telescopes in his remarks.

“Tip-top! I’m so glad! Won’t it cost a heap, though?” cried Nat,
feeling that his friend was beginning to be appreciated.

“Of course it will; but we are all going to give something. I headed
the paper with my five dollars; for if it is done at all, it must be
done handsome.”

“What! all of it? I never did see such a generous chap as you are;” and
Nat beamed upon him with sincere admiration.

“Well, you see, I’ve been so bothered with my property, that I’m tired
of it, and don’t mean to save up any more, but give it away as I go
along, and then nobody will envy me, or want to steal it, and I shan’t
be suspecting folks, and worrying about my old cash,” replied Tommy, on
whom the cares and anxieties of a millionaire weighed heavily.

“Will Mr. Bhaer let you do it?”

“He thought it was a first-rate plan, and said that some of the best
men he knew preferred to do good with their money, instead of laying it
up to be squabbled over when they died.”

“Your father is rich; does he do that way?”

“I’m not sure; he gives me all I want; I know that much. I’m going to
talk to him about it when I go home. Anyhow, I shall set him a good
example;” and Tommy was so serious, that Nat did not dare to laugh, but
said, respectfully,--

“You will be able to do ever so much with your money, won’t you?”

“So Mr. Bhaer said, and he promised to advise me about useful ways of
spending it. I’m going to begin with Dan; and next time I get a dollar
or so, I shall do something for Dick, he’s such a good little chap, and
only has a cent a week for pocket-money. He can’t earn much, you know;
so I’m going to kind of see to him;” and good-hearted Tommy quite
longed to begin.

“I think that’s a beautiful plan, and I’m not going to try to buy a
fiddle any more; I’m going to get Dan his net all myself, and if there
is any money left, I’ll do something to please poor Billy. He’s fond
of me, and though he isn’t poor, he’d like some little thing from me,
because I can make out what he wants better than the rest of you.”
And Nat fell to wondering how much happiness could be got out of his
precious three dollars.

“So I would. Now come and ask Mr. Bhaer if you can’t go in town with
me on Monday afternoon, so you can get the net, while I get the
microscope. Franz and Emil are going too, and we’ll have a jolly time
larking round among the shops.”

The lads walked away arm-in-arm, discussing the new plans with droll
importance, yet beginning already to feel the sweet satisfaction which
comes to those who try, no matter how humbly, to be earthly providences
to the poor and helpless, and gild their mite with the gold of charity
before it is laid up where thieves cannot break through and steal.

“Come up and rest while we sort the leaves; it’s so cool and pleasant
here,” said Demi, as he and Dan came sauntering home from a long walk
in the woods.

“All right!” answered Dan, who was a boy of few words, and up they went.

“What makes the birch leaves shake so much more than the others?” asked
inquiring Demi, who was always sure of an answer from Dan.

“They are hung differently. Don’t you see the stem where it joins the
leaf is sort of pinched one way, and where it joins the twig, it is
pinched another. That makes it waggle with the least bit of wind, but
the elm leaves hang straight, and keep stiller.”

“How curious! will this do so?” and Demi held up a sprig of acacia,
which he had broken from a little tree on the lawn, because it was so
pretty.

“No; that belongs to the sort that shuts up when you touch it. Draw
your finger down the middle of the stem, and see if the leaves don’t
curl up,” said Dan, who was examining a bit of mica.

Demi tried it, and presently the little leaves did fold together, till
the spray showed a single instead of a double line of leaves.

“I like that; tell me about the others. What do these do?” asked Demi,
taking up a new branch.

“Feed silk-worms; they live on mulberry leaves, till they begin to
spin themselves up. I was in a silk-factory once, and there were rooms
full of shelves all covered with leaves, and worms eating them so fast
that it made a rustle. Sometimes they eat so much they die. Tell that
to Stuffy,” and Dan laughed, as he took up another bit of rock with a
lichen on it.

“I know one thing about this mullein leaf: the fairies use them for
blankets,” said Demi, who had not quite given up his faith in the
existence of the little folk in green.

“If I had a microscope, I’d show you something prettier than fairies,”
said Dan, wondering if he should ever own that coveted treasure. “I
knew an old woman who used mullein leaves for a night-cap because she
had face-ache. She sewed them together, and wore it all the time.”

“How funny! was she your grandmother?”

“Never had any. She was a queer old woman, and lived alone in a little
tumble-down house with nineteen cats. Folks called her a witch, but
she wasn’t, though she looked like an old rag-bag. She was real kind
to me when I lived in that place, and used to let me get warm at her
fire when the folks at the poorhouse were hard on me.”

“Did you live in a poorhouse?”

“A little while. Never mind that--I didn’t mean to speak of it;” and
Dan stopped short in his unusual fit of communicativeness.

“Tell about the cats, please,” said Demi, feeling that he had asked an
unpleasant question, and sorry for it.

“Nothing to tell; only she had a lot of ’em, and kept ’em in a barrel
nights; and I used to go and tip over the barrel sometimes, and let ’em
out all over the house, and then she’d scold, and chase ’em and put ’em
in again, spitting and yowling like fury.”

“Was she good to them?” asked Demi, with a hearty child’s laugh,
pleasant to hear.

“Guess she was. Poor old soul! she took in all the lost and sick cats
in the town; and when anybody wanted one they went to Marm Webber,
and she let ’em pick any kind and color they wanted, and only asked
ninepence,--she was so glad to have her pussies get a good home.”

“I should like to see Marm Webber. Could I, if I went to that place?”

“She’s dead. All my folks are,” said Dan, briefly.

“I’m sorry;” and Demi sat silent a minute, wondering what subject would
be safe to try next. He felt delicate about speaking of the departed
lady, but was very curious about the cats, and could not resist asking
softly--

“Did she cure the sick ones?”

“Sometimes. One had a broken leg, and she tied it up to a stick, and it
got well; and another had fits, and she doctored it with _yarbs_ till
it was cured. But some of ’em died, and she buried ’em; and when they
couldn’t get well, she killed ’em easy.”

“How?” asked Demi, feeling that there was a peculiar charm about this
old woman, and some sort of joke about the cats, because Dan was
smiling to himself.

“A kind lady, who was fond of cats, told her how, and gave her some
stuff, and sent all her own pussies to be killed that way. Marm used to
put a sponge, wet with ether, in the bottom of an old boot, then poke
puss in head downwards. The ether put her to sleep in a jiffy, and she
was drowned in warm water before she woke up.”

“I hope the cats didn’t feel it. I shall tell Daisy about that. You
have known a great many interesting things, haven’t you?” asked Demi,
and fell to meditating on the vast experience of a boy who had run away
more than once, and taken care of himself in a big city.

“Wish I hadn’t sometimes.”

“Why? Don’t remembering them feel good?”

“No.”

“It’s very singular how hard it is to manage your mind,” said Demi,
clasping his hands round his knees, and looking up at the sky as if for
information upon his favorite topic.

“Devilish hard--no, I don’t mean that;” and Dan bit his lips, for the
forbidden word slipped out in spite of him, and he wanted to be more
careful with Demi than with any of the other boys.

“I’ll play I didn’t hear it,” said Demi; “and you won’t do it again,
I’m sure.”

“Not if I can help it. That’s one of the things I don’t want to
remember. I keep pegging away, but it don’t seem to do much good;” and
Dan looked discouraged.

“Yes, it does. You don’t say half so many bad words as you used to; and
Aunt Jo is pleased, because she said it was a hard habit to break up.”

“Did she?” and Dan cheered up a bit.

“You must put swearing away in your fault-drawer, and lock it up;
that’s the way I do with my badness.”

“What do you mean?” asked Dan, looking as if he found Demi almost as
amusing as a new sort of cockchafer or beetle.

“Well, it’s one of my private plays, and I’ll tell you, but I think
you’ll laugh at it,” began Demi, glad to hold forth on this congenial
subject. “I play that my mind is a round room, and my soul is a little
sort of creature with wings that lives in it. The walls are full of
shelves and drawers, and in them I keep my thoughts, and my goodness
and badness, and all sorts of things. The goods I keep where I can see
them, and the bads I lock up tight, but they get out, and I have to
keep putting them in and squeezing them down, they are so strong. The
thoughts I play with when I am alone or in bed, and I make up and do
what I like with them. Every Sunday I put my room in order, and talk
with the little spirit that lives there, and tell him what to do. He
is very bad sometimes, and won’t mind me, and I have to scold him, and
take him to Grandpa. He always makes him behave, and be sorry for his
faults, because Grandpa likes this play, and gives me nice things to
put in the drawers, and tells me how to shut up the naughties. Hadn’t
you better try that way? it’s a very good one;” and Demi looked so
earnest and full of faith, that Dan did not laugh at his quaint fancy,
but said, soberly,--

“I don’t think there is a lock strong enough to keep my badness shut
up. Any way my room is in such a clutter I don’t know how to clear it
up.”

“You keep your drawers in the cabinet all spandy nice; why can’t you do
the others?”

“I ain’t used to it. Will you show me how?” and Dan looked as if
inclined to try Demi’s childish way of keeping a soul in order.

“I’d love to, but I don’t know how, except to talk as Grandpa does. I
can’t do it good like him, but I’ll try.”

“Don’t tell any one; only now and then we’ll come here and talk things
over, and I’ll pay you for it by telling all I know about my sort of
things. Will that do?” and Dan held out his big, rough hand.

Demi gave his smooth, little hand readily, and the league was made;
for in the happy, peaceful world where the younger boy lived, lions
and lambs played together, and little children innocently taught their
elders.

“Hush!” said Dan, pointing toward the house, as Demi was about to
indulge in another discourse on the best way of getting badness down,
and keeping it down; and peeping from their perch, they saw Mrs. Jo
strolling slowly along, reading as she went, while Teddy trotted behind
her, dragging a little cart upside down.

“Wait till they see us,” whispered Demi, and both sat still as the pair
came nearer, Mrs. Jo so absorbed in her book that she would have walked
into the brook if Teddy had not stopped her by saying--

“Marmar, I wanter fis.”

Mrs. Jo put down the charming book which she had been trying to read
for a week, and looked about her for a fishing-pole, being used to
making toys out of nothing. Before she had broken one from the hedge,
a slender willow bough fell at her feet; and, looking up, she saw the
boys laughing in the nest.

“Up! up!” cried Teddy, stretching his arms and flapping his skirts as
if about to fly.

“I’ll come down and you come up. I must go to Daisy now;” and Demi
departed to rehearse the tale of the nineteen cats, with the exciting
boot-and-barrel episodes.

Teddy was speedily whisked up; and then Dan said, laughing, “Come, too;
there’s plenty of room. I’ll lend you a hand.”

Mrs. Jo glanced over her shoulder, but no one was in sight; and, rather
liking the joke of the thing, she laughed back, saying, “Well, if you
won’t mention it, I think I will;” and with two nimble steps was in the
willow.

“I haven’t climbed a tree since I was married. I used to be very fond
of it when I was a girl,” she said, looking well-pleased with her shady
perch.

“Now, you read if you want to, and I’ll take care of Teddy,” proposed
Dan, beginning to make a fishing-rod for impatient Baby.

“I don’t think I care about it now. What were you and Demi at up here?”
asked Mrs. Jo, thinking, from the sober look in Dan’s face, that he had
something on his mind.

“Oh! we were talking. I’d been telling him about leaves and things,
and he was telling me some of his queer plays. Now, then, Major,
fish away;” and Dan finished off his work by putting a big blue fly
on the bent pin which hung at the end of the cord he had tied to the
willow-rod.

Teddy leaned down from the tree, and was soon wrapt up in watching for
the fish which he felt sure would come. Dan held him by his little
petticoats, lest he should take a “header” into the brook, and Mrs. Jo
soon won him to talk by doing so herself.

“I am so glad you told Demi about ‘leaves and things;’ it is just what
he needs; and I wish you would teach him, and take him to walk with
you.”

“I’d like to, he is so bright; but--”

“But what?”

“I didn’t think you’d trust me.”

“Why not?”

“Well, Demi is so kind of precious, and so good, and I’m such a bad
lot, I thought you’d keep him away from me.”

“But you are not a ‘bad lot,’ as you say; and I do trust you, Dan,
entirely, because you honestly try to improve, and do better and better
every week.”

“Really?” and Dan looked up at her with the cloud of despondency
lifting from his face.

“Yes; don’t you feel it?”

“I hoped so, but I didn’t know.”

“I have been waiting and watching quietly, for I thought I’d give you a
good trial first; and if you stood it, I would give you the best reward
I had. You _have_ stood it well; and now I’m going to trust not only
Demi, but my own boy, to you, because you can teach them some things
better than any of us.”

“Can I?” and Dan looked amazed at the idea.

“Demi has lived among older people so much that he needs just what you
have--knowledge of common things, strength, and courage. He thinks you
are the bravest boy he ever saw, and admires your strong way of doing
things. Then you know a great deal about natural objects, and can tell
him more wonderful tales of birds, and bees, and leaves, and animals,
than his story-books give him; and, being true, these stories will
teach and do him good. Don’t you see now how much you can help him,
and why I like to have him with you?”

“But I swear sometimes, and might tell him something wrong. I wouldn’t
mean to, but it might slip out, just as ‘devil’ did a few minutes ago,”
said Dan, anxious to do his duty, and let her know his short-comings.

“I know you try not to say or do any thing to harm the little
fellow, and here is where I think Demi will help _you_, because he
is so innocent and wise in his small way, and has what I am trying
to give you, dear,--good principles. It is never too early to try
and plant them in a child, and never too late to cultivate them in
the most neglected person. You are only boys yet; you can teach one
another. Demi will unconsciously strengthen your moral sense, you will
strengthen his common sense, and I shall feel as if I had helped you
both.”

Words could not express how pleased and touched Dan was by this
confidence and praise. No one had ever trusted him before, no one had
cared to find out and foster the good in him, and no one had suspected
how much there was hidden away in the breast of the neglected boy,
going fast to ruin, yet quick to feel and value sympathy and help. No
honor that he might earn hereafter would ever be half so precious as
the right to teach his few virtues and his small store of learning
to the child whom he most respected; and no more powerful restraint
could have been imposed upon him than the innocent companion confided
to his care. He found courage now to tell Mrs. Jo of the plan already
made with Demi, and she was glad that the first step had been so
naturally taken. Every thing seemed working well for Dan, and she
rejoiced over him, because it had seemed a hard task, yet, working on
with a firm belief in the possibility of reformation in far older and
worse subjects than he, there had come this quick and hopeful change
to encourage her. He felt that he had friends now and a place in the
world, something to live and work for, and, though he said little, all
that was best and bravest in a character made old by a hard experience
responded to the love and faith bestowed on him, and Dan’s salvation
was assured.

Their quiet talk was interrupted by a shout of delight from Teddy, who,
to the surprise of every one, did actually catch a trout where no trout
had been seen for years. He was so enchanted with his splendid success
that he insisted on showing his prize to the family before Asia cooked
it for supper; so the three descended and went happily away together,
all satisfied with the work of that half hour.

Ned was the next visitor to the tree, but he only made a short stay,
sitting there at his ease while Dick and Dolly caught a pailful of
grasshoppers and crickets for him. He wanted to play a joke on Tommy,
and intended to tuck up a few dozen of the lively creatures in his bed,
so that when Bangs got in he would speedily tumble out again, and pass
a portion of the night in chasing “hopper-grasses” round the room. The
hunt was soon over, and having paid the hunters with a few peppermints
apiece Ned retired to make Tommy’s bed.

For an hour the old willow sighed and sung to itself, talked with the
brook, and watched the lengthening shadows as the sun went down. The
first rosy color was touching its graceful branches when a boy came
stealing up the avenue, across the lawn, and, spying Billy by the
brook-side, went to him, saying, in a mysterious tone,--

“Go and tell Mr. Bhaer I want to see him down here, please. Don’t let
any one hear.”

Billy nodded and ran off, while the boy swung himself up into the tree,
and sat there looking anxious, yet evidently feeling the charm of the
place and hour. In five minutes Mr. Bhaer appeared, and, stepping up on
the fence, leaned into the nest, saying, kindly,--

“I am glad to see you, Jack; but why not come in and meet us all at
once?”

“I wanted to see you first, please, sir. Uncle made me come back. I
know I don’t deserve any thing, but I hope the fellows won’t be hard
upon me.”

Poor Jack did not get on very well, but it was evident that he was
sorry and ashamed, and wanted to be received as easily as possible; for
his Uncle had thrashed him well and scolded him soundly for following
the example he himself set. Jack had begged not to be sent back, but
the school was cheap, and Mr. Ford insisted, so the boy returned as
quietly as possible, and took refuge behind Mr. Bhaer.

“I hope not, but I can’t answer for them, though I will see that they
are not unjust. I think, as Dan and Nat have suffered so much, being
innocent, you should suffer something, being guilty. Don’t you?” asked
Mr. Bhaer, pitying Jack, yet feeling that he deserved punishment for a
fault which had so little excuse.

“I suppose so, but I sent Tommy’s money back, and I said I was sorry,
isn’t that enough?” said Jack, rather sullenly; for the boy who could
do so mean a thing was not brave enough to bear the consequences well.

“No; I think you should ask pardon of all three boys, openly and
honestly. You cannot expect them to respect and trust you for a time,
but you _can_ live down this disgrace if you try, and I will help
you. Stealing and lying are detestable sins, and I hope this will be a
lesson to you. I am glad you are ashamed, it is a good sign; bear it
patiently, and do your best to earn a better reputation.”

“I’ll have an auction, and sell off all my goods dirt cheap,” said
Jack, showing his repentance in the most characteristic way.

“I think it would be better to _give_ them away, and begin on a new
foundation. Take ‘Honesty is the best policy’ for your motto, and live
up to it in act, and word, and thought, and though you don’t make a
cent of money this summer, you will be a rich boy in the autumn,” said
Mr. Bhaer, earnestly.

It was hard, but Jack consented, for he really felt that cheating
didn’t pay, and wanted to win back the friendship of the boys. His
heart clung to his possessions, and he groaned inwardly at the thought
of actually giving away certain precious things. Asking pardon publicly
was easy compared to this; but then he began to discover that certain
other things, invisible, but most valuable, were better property than
knives, fish-hooks, or even money itself. So he decided to buy up a
little integrity, even at a high price, and secure the respect of his
playmates, though it was not a salable article.

“Well, I’ll do it,” he said, with a sudden air of resolution, which
pleased Mr. Bhaer.

“Good! and I’ll stand by you. Now come and begin at once.”

And Father Bhaer led the bankrupt boy back into the little world, which
received him coldly at first, but slowly warmed to him, when he showed
that he had profited by the lesson, and was sincerely anxious to go
into a better business with a new stock-in-trade.



CHAPTER XVI

TAMING THE COLT


“What in the world is that boy doing?” said Mrs. Jo to herself, as she
watched Dan running round the half-mile triangle as if for a wager.
He was all alone, and seemed possessed by some strange desire to run
himself into a fever, or break his neck; for, after several rounds, he
tried leaping walls, and turning somersaults up the avenue, and finally
dropped down on the grass before the door as if exhausted.

“Are you training for a race, Dan?” asked Mrs. Jo, from the window
where she sat.

He looked up quickly, and stopped panting to answer, with a laugh,--

“No; I’m only working off my steam.”

“Can’t you find a cooler way of doing it? You will be ill if you tear
about so in such warm weather,” said Mrs. Jo, laughing also, as she
threw him out a great palm-leaf fan.

“Can’t help it. I _must_ run somewhere,” answered Dan, with such an odd
expression in his restless eyes, that Mrs. Jo was troubled, and asked,
quickly,--

“Is Plumfield getting too narrow for you?”

“I wouldn’t mind if it was a little bigger. I like it though; only the
fact is the devil gets into me sometimes, and then I do want to bolt.”

The words seemed to come against his will, for he looked sorry the
minute they were spoken, and seemed to think he deserved a reproof for
his ingratitude. But Mrs. Jo understood the feeling, and though sorry
to see it, she could not blame the boy for confessing it. She looked
at him anxiously, seeing how tall and strong he had grown, how full
of energy his face was, with its eager eyes and resolute mouth; and
remembering the utter freedom he had known for years before, she felt
how even the gentle restraint of this home would weigh upon him at
times when the old lawless spirit stirred in him. “Yes,” she said to
herself, “my wild hawk needs a larger cage; and yet, if I let him go, I
am afraid he will be lost. I must try and find some lure strong enough
to keep him safe.”

“I know all about it,” she added, aloud. “It is not ‘the devil,’ as you
call it, but the very natural desire of all young people for liberty. I
used to feel just so, and once, I really did think for a minute that I
would bolt.”

“Why didn’t you?” said Dan, coming to lean on the low window-ledge,
with an evident desire to continue the subject.

“I knew it was foolish, and love for my mother kept me at home.”

“I haven’t got any mother,” began Dan.

“I thought you had _now_,” said Mrs. Jo, gently stroking the rough hair
off his hot forehead.

“You are no end good to me, and I can’t ever thank you enough, but it
isn’t just the same, is it?” and Dan looked up at her with a wistful,
hungry look that went to her heart.

“No, dear, it is not the same, and never can be. I think an own mother
would have been a great deal to you. But as that cannot be, you must
try to let me fill her place. I fear I have not done all I ought, or
you would not want to leave me,” she added, sorrowfully.

“Yes, you have!” cried Dan, eagerly. “I don’t want to go, and I won’t
go, if I can help it; but every now and then I feel as if I must
burst out somehow. I want to run straight ahead somewhere, to smash
something, or pitch into somebody. Don’t know why, but I do, and that’s
all about it.”

Dan laughed as he spoke, but he meant what he said, for he knit his
black brows, and brought down his fist on the ledge with such force,
that Mrs. Jo’s thimble flew off into the grass. He brought it back, and
as she took it she held the big, brown hand a minute, saying, with a
look that showed the words cost her something--

“Well, Dan, run if you must, but don’t run far; and come back to me
soon, for I want you very much.”

He was rather taken aback by this unexpected permission to play truant,
and somehow it seemed to lessen his desire to go. He did not understand
why, but Mrs. Jo did, and, knowing the natural perversity of the human
mind, counted on it to help her now. She felt instinctively that the
more the boy was restrained the more he would fret against it; but
leave him free, and the mere sense of liberty would content him, joined
to the knowledge that his presence was dear to those whom he loved
best. It was a little experiment, but it succeeded, for Dan stood
silent a moment, unconsciously picking the fan to pieces and turning
the matter over in his mind. He felt that she appealed to his heart and
his honor, and owned that he understood it by saying presently, with a
mixture of regret and resolution in his face,--

“I won’t go yet awhile, and I’ll give you warning before I bolt. That’s
fair, isn’t it?”

“Yes, we will let it stand so. Now, I want to see if I can’t find some
way for you to work off your steam better than running about the place
like a mad dog, spoiling my fans, or fighting with the boys. What can
we invent?” and while Dan tried to repair the mischief he had done,
Mrs. Jo racked her brain for some new device to keep her truant safe
until he had learned to love his lessons better.

“How would you like to be my express-man?” she said, as a sudden
thought popped into her head.

“Go into town, and do the errands?” asked Dan, looking interested at
once.

“Yes; Franz is tired of it, Silas cannot be spared just now, and Mr.
Bhaer has no time. Old Andy is a safe horse, you are a good driver, and
know your way about the city as well as a postman. Suppose you try it,
and see if it won’t do ’most as well to drive away two or three times a
week as to run away once a month.”

“I’d like it ever so much, only I must go alone and do it all myself. I
don’t want any of the other fellows bothering round,” said Dan, taking
to the new idea so kindly that he began to put on business airs already.

“If Mr. Bhaer does not object you shall have it all your own way. I
suppose Emil will growl, but he cannot be trusted with horses, and you
can. By the way, to-morrow is market-day, and I must make out my list.
You had better see that the wagon is in order, and tell Silas to have
the fruit and vegetables ready for mother. You will have to be up early
and get back in time for school, can you do that?”

“I’m always an early bird, so I don’t mind,” and Dan slung on his
jacket with despatch.

“The early bird got the worm this time, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Jo,
merrily.

“And a jolly good worm it is,” answered Dan, as he went laughing away
to put a new lash to the whip, wash the wagon, and order Silas about
with all the importance of a young express-man.

“Before he is tired of this I will find something else and have it
ready when the next restless fit comes on,” said Mrs. Jo to herself,
as she wrote her list with a deep sense of gratitude that all her boys
were not Dans.

Mr. Bhaer did not entirely approve of the new plan, but agreed to
give it a trial, which put Dan on his mettle, and caused him to give
up certain wild plans of his own, in which the new lash and the long
hill were to have borne a part. He was up and away very early the next
morning, heroically resisting the temptation to race with the milkmen
going into town. Once there, he did his errands carefully, and came
jogging home again in time for school, to Mr. Bhaer’s surprise and Mrs.
Jo’s great satisfaction. The Commodore did growl at Dan’s promotion,
but was pacified by a superior padlock to his new boat-house, and
the thought that seamen were meant for higher honors than driving
market-wagons and doing family errands. So Dan filled his new office
well and contentedly for weeks, and said no more about bolting. But
one day Mr. Bhaer found him pummelling Jack, who was roaring for mercy
under his knee.

“Why, Dan, I thought you had given up fighting,” he said, as he went to
the rescue.

“We ain’t fighting, we are only wrestling,” answered Dan, leaving off
reluctantly.

“It looks very much like it, and feels like it, hey, Jack?” said Mr.
Bhaer, as the defeated gentleman got upon his legs with difficulty.

“Catch me wrestling with him again. He’s ’most knocked my head off,”
snarled Jack, holding on to that portion of his frame as if it really
was loose upon his shoulders.

“The fact is, we began in fun, but when I got him down I couldn’t help
pounding him. Sorry I hurt you, old fellow,” explained Dan, looking
rather ashamed of himself.

“I understand. The longing to pitch into somebody was so strong you
couldn’t resist. You are a sort of Berserker, Dan, and something to
tussle with is as necessary to you as music is to Nat,” said Mr. Bhaer,
who knew all about the conversation between the boy and Mrs. Jo.

“Can’t help it. So if you don’t want to be pounded you’d better keep
out of the way,” answered Dan, with a warning look in his black eyes
that made Jack sheer off in haste.

“If you want something to wrestle with, I will give you a tougher
specimen than Jack,” said Mr. Bhaer; and, leading the way to the
wood-yard, he pointed out certain roots of trees that had been grubbed
up in the spring, and had been lying there waiting to be split.

“There, when you feel inclined to maltreat the boys, just come and work
off your energies here, and I’ll thank you for it.”

“So I will;” and, seizing the axe that lay near, Dan hauled out a tough
root, and went at it so vigorously, that the chips flew far and wide,
and Mr. Bhaer fled for his life.

To his great amusement, Dan took him at his word, and was often seen
wrestling with the ungainly knots, hat and jacket off, red face,
and wrathful eyes; for he got into royal rages over some of his
adversaries, and swore at them under his breath till he had conquered
them, when he exulted, and marched off to the shed with an armful of
gnarled oak-wood in triumph. He blistered his hands, tired his back,
and dulled the axe, but it did him good, and he got more comfort out of
the ugly roots than any one dreamed, for with each blow he worked off
some of the pent-up power that would otherwise have been expended in
some less harmless way.

“When this is gone I really don’t know what I _shall_ do,” said Mrs.
Jo to herself, for no inspiration came, and she was at the end of her
resources.

But Dan found a new occupation for himself, and enjoyed it some time
before any one discovered the cause of his contentment. A fine young
horse of Mr. Laurie’s was kept at Plumfield that summer, running loose
in a large pasture across the brook. The boys were all interested in
the handsome, spirited creature, and for a time were fond of watching
him gallop and frisk with his plumey tail flying, and his handsome head
in the air. But they soon got tired of it, and left Prince Charlie to
himself. All but Dan, _he_ never tired of looking at the horse, and
seldom failed to visit him each day with a lump of sugar, a bit of
bread, or an apple to make him welcome. Charlie was grateful, accepted
his friendship, and the two loved one another as if they felt some tie
between them, inexplicable but strong. In whatever part of the wide
field he might be, Charlie always came at full speed when Dan whistled
at the bars, and the boy was never happier than when the beautiful,
fleet creature put its head on his shoulder, looking up at him with
fine eyes full of intelligent affection.

“We understand one another without any palaver, don’t we, old fellow?”
Dan would say, proud of the horse’s confidence, and so jealous of his
regard, that he told no one how well the friendship prospered, and
never asked anybody but Teddy to accompany him on these daily visits.

Mr. Laurie came now and then to see how Charlie got on, and spoke of
having him broken to harness in the autumn.

“He won’t need much taming, he is such a gentle, fine-tempered brute. I
shall come out and try him with a saddle myself some day,” he said, on
one of these visits.

“He lets me put a halter on him, but I don’t believe he will bear a
saddle even if you put it on,” answered Dan, who never failed to be
present when Charlie and his master met.

“I shall coax him to bear it, and not mind a few tumbles at first. He
has never been harshly treated, so, though he will be surprised at the
new performances, I think he won’t be frightened, and his antics will
do no harm.”

“I wonder what he _would_ do,” said Dan to himself, as Mr. Laurie went
away with the Professor, and Charlie returned to the bars, from which
he had retired when the gentlemen came up.

A daring fancy to try the experiment took possession of the boy as
he sat on the topmost rail with the glossy back temptingly near him.
Never thinking of danger, he obeyed the impulse, and while Charlie
unsuspectingly nibbled at the apple he held, Dan quickly and quietly
took his seat. He did not keep it long, however, for with an astonished
snort, Charlie reared straight up, and deposited Dan on the ground. The
fall did not hurt him, for the turf was soft, and he jumped up, saying,
with a laugh,--

“I did it any way! Come here, you rascal, and I’ll try it again.”

But Charlie declined to approach, and Dan left him resolving to succeed
in the end; for a struggle like this suited him exactly. Next time he
took a halter, and having got it on, he played with the horse for a
while, leading him to and fro, and putting him through various antics
till he was a little tired; then Dan sat on the wall and gave him
bread, but watched his chance, and getting a good grip of the halter,
slipped on to his back. Charlie tried the old trick, but Dan held
on, having had practice with Toby, who occasionally had an obstinate
fit, and tried to shake off his rider. Charlie was both amazed and
indignant; and after prancing for a minute, set off at a gallop, and
away went Dan heels over head. If he had not belonged to the class
of boys who go through all sorts of dangers unscathed, he would
have broken his neck; as it was, he got a heavy fall, and lay still
collecting his wits, while Charlie tore round the field tossing his
head with every sign of satisfaction at the discomfiture of his rider.
Presently it seemed to occur to him that something was wrong with Dan,
and, being of a magnanimous nature, he went to see what the matter
was. Dan let him sniff about and perplex himself for a few minutes;
then he looked up at him, saying, as decidedly as if the horse could
understand,--

“You think you have beaten, but you are mistaken, old boy; and I’ll
ride you yet--see if I don’t.”

He tried no more that day, but soon after attempted a new method of
introducing Charlie to a burden. He strapped a folded blanket on his
back, and then let him race, and rear, and roll, and fume as much as he
liked. After a few fits of rebellion Charlie submitted, and in a few
days permitted Dan to mount him, often stopping short to look round, as
if he said, half patiently, half reproachfully, “I don’t understand
it, but I suppose you mean no harm, so I permit the liberty.”

Dan patted and praised him, and took a short turn every day, getting
frequent falls, but persisting in spite of them, and longing to try a
saddle and a bridle, but not daring to confess what he had done. He had
his wish, however, for there had been a witness of his pranks who said
a good word for him.

“Do you know what that chap has ben doin’ lately?” asked Silas of his
master, one evening, as he received his orders for the next day.

“Which boy?” said Mr. Bhaer, with an air of resignation, expecting some
sad revelation.

“Dan, he’s ben a breaking the colt, sir, and I wish I may die if he
ain’t done it,” answered Silas, chuckling.

“How do you know?”

“Wal, I kinder keep an eye on the little fellers, and ’most gen’lly know
what they’re up to; so when Dan kep going off to the paster, and coming
home black and blue, I mistrusted that _suthing_ was goin’ on. I didn’t
say nothin’, but I crep up into the barn chamber, and from there I see
him goin’ through all manner of games with Charlie. Blest if he warn’t
throwed time and agin, and knocked round like a bag o’ meal. But the
pluck of the boy did beat all, and he ’peared to like it, and kep on as
ef bound to beat.”

“But, Silas, you should have stopped it--the boy might have been
killed,” said Mr. Bhaer, wondering what freak his irrepressibles would
take into their heads next.

“S’pose I oughter; but there warn’t no real danger, for Charlie ain’t
no tricks, and is as pretty a tempered horse as ever I see. Fact was,
I couldn’t bear to spile sport, for ef there’s any thing I do admire
it’s grit, and Dan is chock full on ’t. But now I know he’s hankerin’
after a saddle, and yet won’t take even the old one on the sly; so I
just thought I’d up and tell, and may be you’d let him try what he can
do. Mr. Laurie won’t mind, and Charlie’s all the better for ’t.”

“We shall see;” and off went Mr. Bhaer to inquire into the matter.

Dan owned up at once, and proudly proved that Silas was right by
showing off his power over Charlie; for by dint of much coaxing, many
carrots, and infinite perseverance, he really had succeeded in riding
the colt with a halter and blanket. Mr. Laurie was much amused, and
well pleased with Dan’s courage and skill, and let him have a hand in
all future performances; for he set about Charlie’s education at once,
saying that he was not going to be outdone by a slip of a boy. Thanks
to Dan, Charlie took kindly to the saddle and bridle when he had once
reconciled himself to the indignity of the bit; and after Mr. Laurie
had trained him a little, Dan was permitted to ride him, to the great
envy and admiration of the other boys.

“Isn’t he handsome? and don’t he mind me like a lamb?” said Dan one day
as he dismounted and stood with his arm round Charlie’s neck.

“Yes, and isn’t he a much more useful and agreeable animal than the
wild colt who spent his days racing about the field, jumping fences,
and running away now and then?” asked Mrs. Bhaer from the steps where
she always appeared when Dan performed with Charlie.

“Of course he is. See he won’t run away now, even if I don’t hold
him, and he comes to me the minute I whistle; I have tamed him well,
haven’t I?” and Dan looked both proud and pleased, as well he might,
for, in spite of their struggles together, Charlie loved him better
than his master.

“I am taming a colt too, and I think I shall succeed as well as
you if I am as patient and persevering,” said Mrs. Jo, smiling so
significantly at him, that Dan understood and answered, laughing, yet
in earnest,--

“We won’t jump over the fence and run away, but stay and let them make
a handsome, useful span of us, hey, Charlie?”



CHAPTER XVII

COMPOSITION DAY


“Hurry up, boys, it’s three o’clock, and Uncle Fritz likes us to be
punctual, you know,” said Franz one Wednesday afternoon as a bell rang,
and a stream of literary-looking young gentlemen with books and paper
in their hands were seen going toward the museum.

Tommy was in the school-room, bending over his desk, much bedaubed with
ink, flushed with the ardor of inspiration, and in a great hurry as
usual, for easy-going Bangs never was ready till the very last minute.
As Franz passed the door looking up laggards, Tommy gave one last blot
and flourish, and departed out of the window waving his paper to dry
it as he went. Nan followed, looking very important, with a large roll
in her hand, and Demi escorted Daisy, both evidently brimful of some
delightful secret.

The museum was all in order, and the sunshine among the hop-vines made
pretty shadows on the floor as it peeped through the great window.
On one side sat Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer, on the other was a little table
on which the compositions were laid as soon as read, and in a large
semicircle sat the children on camp-stools which occasionally shut up
and let the sitter down, thus preventing any stiffness in the assembly.
As it took too much time to have all read, they took turns, and on
this Wednesday the younger pupils were the chief performers, while the
elder ones listened with condescension and criticised freely.

“Ladies first; so Nan may begin,” said Mr. Bhaer, when the settling of
stools and rustling of papers had subsided.

Nan took her place beside the little table, and, with a preliminary
giggle, read the following interesting essay on

“THE SPONGE.

“The sponge, my friends, is a most useful and interesting plant. It
grows on rocks under the water, and is a kind of sea-weed, I believe.
People go and pick it and dry it and wash it, because little fish and
insects live in the holes of the sponge; I found shells in my new one,
and sand. Some are very fine and soft; babies are washed with them. The
sponge has many uses. I will relate some of them, and I hope my friends
will remember what I say. One use is to wash the face; I don’t like it
myself, but I do it because I wish to be clean. Some people _don’t_,
and they are dirty.” Here the eye of the reader rested sternly upon
Dick and Dolly, who quailed under it, and instantly resolved to scrub
themselves virtuously on all occasions. “Another use is to wake people
up; I allude to _boys_ par-_tic_-u-lar-ly.” Another pause after the
long word to enjoy the smothered laugh that went round the room. “Some
boys do not get up when called, and Mary Ann squeezes the water out of
a wet sponge on their faces, and it makes them so mad they wake up.”
Here the laugh broke out, and Emil said, as if he had been hit,--

“Seems to me you are wandering from the subject.”

“No, I ain’t; we are to write about vegetables or animals, and I’m
doing both: for boys are animals, aren’t they?” cried Nan; and,
undaunted by the indignant “No!” shouted at her, she calmly proceeded,--

“One more interesting thing is done with sponges, and this is when
doctors put ether on it, and hold it to people’s noses when they have
teeth out. _I_ shall do this when I am bigger, and give ether to the
sick, so they will go to sleep and not feel me cut off their legs and
arms.”

“I know somebody who killed cats with it,” called out Demi, but was
promptly crushed by Dan, who upset his camp-stool and put a hat over
his face.

“I will _not_ be interruckted,” said Nan, frowning upon the unseemly
scrimmages. Order was instantly restored, and the young lady closed her
remarks as follows:--

“My composition has three morals, my friends.” Somebody groaned,
but no notice was taken of the insult. “First, is keep your faces
clean--second, get up early--third, when the ether sponge is put over
your nose, breathe hard and don’t kick, and your teeth will come out
easy. I have no more to say.” And Miss Nan sat down amid tumultuous
applause.

“That is a very remarkable composition; its tone is high, and there is
a good deal of humor in it. Very well done, Nan. Now, Daisy,” and Mr.
Bhaer smiled at one young lady as he beckoned to the other.

Daisy colored prettily as she took her place, and said, in her modest
little voice,--

“I’m afraid you won’t like mine; it isn’t nice and funny like Nan’s.
But I couldn’t do any better.”

“We always like yours, Posy,” said Uncle Fritz, and a gentle murmur
from the boys seemed to confirm the remark. Thus encouraged, Daisy
read her little paper, which was listened to with respectful attention.

“THE CAT.

“The cat is a sweet animal. I love them very much. They are clean and
pretty, and catch rats and mice, and let you pet them, and are fond
of you if you are kind. They are very wise, and can find their way
anywhere. Little cats are called kittens, and are dear things. I have
two, named Huz and Buz, and their mother is Topaz, because she has
yellow eyes. Uncle told me a pretty story about a man named Ma-ho-met.
He had a nice cat, and when she was asleep on his sleeve, and he wanted
to go away, he cut off the sleeve so as not to wake her up. I think he
was a kind man. Some cats catch fish.”

“So do I!” cried Teddy, jumping up eager to tell about his trout.

“Hush!” said his mother, setting him down again as quickly as possible,
for orderly Daisy hated to be “interruckted,” as Nan expressed it.

“I read about one who used to do it very slyly. I tried to make Topaz,
but she did not like the water, and scratched me. She does like tea,
and when I play in my kitchen she pats the teapot with her paw, till I
give her some. She is a fine cat, she eats apple-pudding and molasses.
Most cats do not.”

“That’s a first-rater,” called out Nat, and Daisy retired, pleased with
the praise of her friend.

“Demi looks so impatient we must have him up at once or he won’t hold
out,” said Uncle Fritz, and Demi skipped up with alacrity.

“Mine is a poem!” he announced in a tone of triumph, and read his first
effort in a loud and solemn voice:--

    “I write about the butterfly,
      It is a pretty thing;
    And flies about like the birds,
      But it does not sing.

    “First it is a little grub,
      And then it is a nice yellow cocoon,
    And then the butterfly
      Eats its way out soon.

    “They live on dew and honey,
      They do not have any hive,
    They do not sting like wasps, and bees, and hornets,
      And to be as good as they are we should strive.

    “I should like to be a beautiful butterfly,
      All yellow, and blue, and green, and red;
    But I should not like
      To have Dan put camphor on my poor little head.”

This unusual burst of genius brought down the house, and Demi was
obliged to read it again, a somewhat difficult task, as there was no
punctuation whatever, and the little poet’s breath gave out before he
got to the end of some of the long lines.

“He will be a Shakespeare yet,” said Aunt Jo, laughing as if she would
die, for this poetic gem reminded her of one of her own, written at the
age of ten, and beginning gloomily,--

    “I wish I had a quiet tomb,
      Beside a little rill;
    Where birds, and bees, and butterflies,
      Would sing upon the hill.”

“Come on, Tommy. If there is as much ink inside your paper as there is
outside, it will be a long composition,” said Mr. Bhaer, when Demi had
been induced to tear himself from his poem and sit down.

“It isn’t a composition, it’s a letter. You see, I forgot all about its
being my turn till after school, and then I didn’t know what to have,
and there wasn’t time to read up; so I thought you wouldn’t mind my
taking a letter that I wrote to my Grandma. It’s something about birds
in it, so I thought it would do.”

With this long excuse, Tommy plunged into a sea of ink and floundered
through, pausing now and then to decipher one of his own flourishes.

    “MY DEAR GRANDMA,--I hope you are well. Uncle James sent me a
    pocket rifle. It is a beautiful little instrument of killing,
    shaped like this--[Here Tommy displayed a remarkable sketch of
    what looked like an intricate pump, or the inside of a small
    steam-engine]--44 are the sights; 6 is a false stock that fits
    in at A; 3 is the trigger, and 2 is the cock. It loads at the
    breech, and fires with great force and straightness. I am going
    out shooting squirrels soon. I shot several fine birds for the
    museum. They had speckled breasts, and Dan liked them very
    much. He stuffed them tip-top, and they sit on the tree quite
    natural, only one looks a little tipsy. We had a Frenchman
    working here the other day, and Asia called his name so funnily
    that I will tell you about it. His name was Germain: first
    she called him Jerry, but we laughed at her, and she changed
    it to Jeremiah; but ridicule was the result, so it became Mr.
    Germany; but ridicule having been again resumed, it became
    Garrymon, which it has remained ever since. I do not write
    often, I am so busy; but I think of you often, and sympathize
    with you, and sincerely hope you get on as well as can be
    expected without me.--Your affectionate grandson,

                                         “THOMAS BUCKMINSTER BANGS.

    “_P.S._--If you come across any postage-stamps, remember me.

    “_N.B._--Love to all, and a great deal to Aunt Almira. Does she
    make any nice plum-cakes now?

    “_P.S._--Mrs. Bhaer sends her respects.

    “_P.S._--And so would Mr. B. if he knew I was in act to write.

    “_N.B._--Father is going to give me a watch on my birthday. I
    am glad, as at present I have no means of telling time, and am
    often late at school.

    “_P.S._--I hope to see you soon. Don’t you wish to send for me?

                                                         “T. B. B.”

As each postscript was received with a fresh laugh from the boys, by
the time he came to the sixth and last, Tommy was so exhausted that he
was glad to sit down and wipe his ruddy face.

“I hope the dear old lady will live through it,” said Mr. Bhaer, under
cover of the noise.

“We won’t take any notice of the broad hint given in that last _P. S._
The letter will be quite as much as she can bear without a visit from
Tommy,” answered Mrs. Jo, remembering that the old lady usually took to
her bed after a visitation from her irrepressible grandson.

“Now, me,” said Teddy, who had learned a bit of poetry, and was so
eager to say it that he had been bobbing up and down during the
reading, and could no longer be restrained.

“I’m afraid he will forget it if he waits; and I have had a deal of
trouble in teaching him,” said his mother.

Teddy trotted to the rostrum, dropped a curtsey and nodded his head
at the same time, as if anxious to suit every one; then, in his baby
voice, and putting the emphasis on the wrong words, he said his verse
all in one breath:--

    “Little drops _of_ water,
      Little drains of sand,
    Mate a mighty okum (ocean),
      _And_ a peasant land.
    Little worts _of_ kindness,
      Pokin evvy day,
    Make _a_ home a hebbin,
      And hep us _on_ a way.”

Clapping his hands at the end, he made another double salutation, and
then ran to hide his head in his mother’s lap, quite overcome by the
success of his “piece,” for the applause was tremendous.

Dick and Dolly did not write, but were encouraged to observe the habits
of animals and insects, and report what they saw. Dick liked this,
and always had a great deal to say; so, when his name was called, he
marched up, and, looking at the audience with his bright confiding
eyes, told his little story so earnestly that no one smiled at his
crooked body, because the “straight soul” shone through it beautifully.

“I’ve been watching dragonflies, and I read about them in Dan’s book,
and I’ll try and tell you what I remember. There’s lots of them flying
round on the pond, all blue, with big eyes, and a sort of lace wings,
very pretty. I caught one, and looked at him, and I think he was the
handsomest insect I ever saw. They catch littler creatures than they
are to eat, and have a queer kind of hook thing that folds up when they
ain’t hunting. It likes the sunshine, and dances round all day. Let me
see! what else was there to tell about? Oh, I know! The eggs are laid
in the water, and go down to the bottom, and are hatched in the mud.
Little ugly things come out of ’em; I can’t say the name, but they are
brown, and keep having new skins, and getting bigger and bigger. Only
think! it takes them two years to be a dragonfly! Now _this_ is the
curious_est_ part of it, so you listen tight, for I don’t believe you
know it. When it is ready it knows somehow, and the ugly, grubby thing
climbs up out of the water on a flag or a bulrush, and bursts open its
back.”

“Come, I don’t believe that,” said Tommy, who was not an observing
boy, and really thought Dick was “making up.”

“It does burst open its back, don’t it?” and Dick appealed to Mr.
Bhaer, who nodded a very decided affirmative, to the little speaker’s
great satisfaction.

“Well, out comes the dragonfly, all whole, and he sits in the sun--sort
of coming alive, you know; and he gets strong, and then he spreads his
pretty wings, and flies away up in the air, and never is a grub any
more. That’s all I know; but I shall watch and try and see him do it,
for I think it’s splendid to turn into a beautiful dragonfly, don’t
you?”

Dick had told his story well, and, when he described the flight of the
new-born insect, had waved his hands, and looked up as if he saw, and
wanted to follow it. Something in his face suggested to the minds of
the elder listeners the thought that some day little Dick would have
his wish, and after years of helplessness and pain would climb up into
the sun some happy day, and, leaving his poor little body behind him,
find a new and lovely shape in a fairer world than this. Mrs. Jo drew
him to her side, and said, with a kiss on his thin cheek,--

“That is a sweet little story, dear, and you remembered wonderfully
well. I shall write and tell your mother all about it;” and Dick sat
on her knee, contentedly smiling at the praise, and resolving to watch
well, and catch the dragonfly in the act of leaving its old body for
the new, and see how he did it. Dolly had a few remarks to make upon
the “Ducks,” and made them in a sing-song tone, for he had learned it
by heart, and thought it a great plague to do it at all.

“Wild ducks are hard to kill; men hide and shoot at them, and have tame
ducks to quack and make the wild ones come where the men can fire at
them. They have wooden ducks made too, and they sail round, and the
wild ones come to see them; they are stupid, I think. Our ducks are
very tame. They eat a great deal, and go poking round in the mud and
water. They don’t take good care of their eggs, but let them spoil,
and--”

“Mine don’t!” cried Tommy.

“Well, some people’s do; Silas said so. Hens take good care of little
ducks, only they don’t like to have them go in the water, and make a
great fuss. But the little ones don’t care a bit. I like to eat ducks
with stuffing in them, and lots of apple-sauce.”

“I have something to say about owls,” began Nat, who had carefully
prepared a paper upon this subject with some help from Dan.

“Owls have big heads, round eyes, hooked bills, and strong claws. Some
are gray, some white, some black and yellowish. Their feathers are very
soft, and stick out a great deal. They fly very quietly, and hunt bats,
mice, little birds, and such things. They build nests in barns, hollow
trees, and some take the nests of other birds. The great horned owl
has two eggs bigger than a hen’s, and reddish brown. The tawny owl has
five eggs, white and smooth; and this is the kind that hoots at night.
Another kind sounds like a child crying. They eat mice and bats whole,
and the parts that they cannot digest they make into little balls and
spit out.”

“My gracious! how funny!” Nan was heard to observe.

“They cannot see by day; and if they get but into the light, they go
flapping round half blind, and the other birds chase and peck at them
as if they were making fun. The horned owl is very big, ’most as big
as the eagle. It eats rabbits, rats, snakes, and birds; and lives in
rocks and old tumble-down houses. They have a good many cries, and
scream like a person being choked, and say, ‘Waugh O! waugh O!’ and it
scares people at night in the woods. The white owl lives by the sea,
and in cold places, and looks something like a hawk. There is a kind of
owl that makes holes to live in like moles. It is called the burrowing
owl, and is very small. The barn-owl is the commonest kind; and I have
watched one sitting in a hole in a tree, looking like a little gray
cat, with one eye shut and the other open. He comes out at dusk, and
sits round waiting for the bats. I caught one, and here he is.”

With that Nat suddenly produced from inside his jacket a little downy
bird, who blinked and ruffled up his feathers, looking very plump and
sleepy and scared.

“Don’t touch him! He is going to show off,” said Nat, displaying his
new pet with great pride. First he put a cocked hat on the bird’s head,
and the boys laughed at the funny effect; then he added a pair of paper
spectacles, and that gave the owl such a wise look that they shouted
with merriment. The performance closed with making the bird angry, and
seeing him cling to a handkerchief upside down, pecking and “clucking,”
as Rob called it. He was allowed to fly after that, and settled himself
on the bunch of pine-cones over the door, where he sat staring down at
the company with an air of sleepy dignity that amused them very much.

“Have you any thing for us, George?” asked Mr. Bhaer, when the room was
still again.

“Well, I read and learned ever so much about moles, but I declare I’ve
forgotten every bit of it, except that they dig holes to live in, that
you catch them by pouring water down, and that they can’t possibly live
without eating very often;” and Stuffy sat down, wishing he had not
been too lazy to write out his valuable observations, for a general
smile went round when he mentioned the last of the three facts which
lingered in his memory.

“Then we are done for to-day,” began Mr. Bhaer, but Tommy called out in
a great hurry,--

“No, we ain’t. Don’t you know? We must give the thing;” and he winked
violently as he made an eye-glass of his fingers.

“Bless my heart, I forgot! Now is your time, Tom;” and Mr. Bhaer
dropped into his seat again, while all the boys but Dan looked mightily
tickled at something.

Nat, Tommy, and Demi left the room, and speedily returned with a little
red morocco box set forth in state on Mrs. Jo’s best silver salver.
Tommy bore it, and, still escorted by Nat and Demi, marched up to
unsuspecting Dan, who stared at them as if he thought they were going
to make fun of him. Tommy had prepared an elegant and impressive speech
for the occasion, but when the minute came, it all went out of his
head, and he just said, straight from his kindly boyish heart,--

“Here, old fellow, we all wanted to give you something to kind of pay
for what happened awhile ago, and to show how much we liked you for
being such a trump. Please take it, and have a jolly good time with it.”

Dan was so surprised he could only get as red as the little box, and
mutter “Thanky, boys!” as he fumbled to open it. But when he saw what
was inside, his face lighted up, and he seized the long desired
treasure, saying, so enthusiastically that every one was satisfied,
though his language was anything but polished,--

“What a stunner! I say, you fellows are regular bricks to give me this;
it’s just what I wanted. Give us your paw, Tommy.”

Many paws were given, and heartily shaken, for the boys were charmed
with Dan’s pleasure, and crowded round him to shake hands and expatiate
on the beauties of their gift. In the midst of this pleasant chatter,
Dan’s eye went to Mrs. Jo, who stood outside the group enjoying the
scene with all her heart.

“No, I had nothing to do with it. The boys got it up all themselves,”
she said, answering the grateful look that seemed to thank her for
that happy moment. Dan smiled, and said, in a tone that only she could
understand,--

“It’s you all the same;” and making his way through the boys, he held
out his hand first to her and then to the good Professor, who was
beaming benevolently on his flock.

He thanked them both with the silent, hearty squeeze he gave the kind
hands that had held him up and led him into the safe refuge of a happy
home. Not a word was spoken, but they felt all he would say, and little
Teddy expressed their pleasure for them as he leaned from his father’s
arm to hug the boy, and say, in his baby way,--

“My dood Danny! everybody loves him now.”

“Come here, show off your spy-glass, Dan, and let us see some of your
magnified pollywogs and annymalcumisms as you call ’em,” said Jack, who
felt so uncomfortable during this scene that he would have slipped away
if Emil had not kept him.

“So I will, take a squint at that and see what you think of it,” said
Dan, glad to show off his precious microscope.

He held it over a beetle that happened to be lying on the table, and
Jack bent down to take his squint, but looked up with an amazed face,
saying,--

“My eye! what nippers the old thing has got! I see now why it hurts so
confoundedly when you grab a dor-bug and he grabs back again.”

“He winked at me,” cried Nan, who had poked her head under Jack’s elbow
and got the second peep.

Every one took a look, and then Dan showed them the lovely plumage on
a moth’s wing, the four feathery corners to a hair, the veins on a
leaf, hardly visible to the naked eye, but like a thick net through the
wonderful little glass; the skin on their own fingers, looking like
queer hills and valleys; a cobweb like a bit of coarse sewing silk, and
the sting of a bee.

“It’s like the fairy spectacles in my story-book, only more curious,”
said Demi, enchanted with the wonders he saw.

“Dan is a magician now, and he can show you many miracles going on
all round you; for he has two things needful--patience and a love of
nature. We live in a beautiful and wonderful world, Demi, and the
more you know about it the wiser and the better you will be. This
little glass will give you a new set of teachers, and you may learn
fine lessons from them if you will,” said Mr. Bhaer, glad to see how
interested the boys were in the matter.

“Could I see anybody’s soul with this microscope if I looked hard?”
asked Demi, who was much impressed with the power of the bit of glass.

“No, dear; it’s not powerful enough for that, and never can be made so.
You must wait a long while before your eyes are clear enough to see
the most invisible of God’s wonders. But looking at the lovely things
you can see will help you to understand the lovelier things you can
_not_ see,” answered Uncle Fritz, with his hand on the boy’s head.

“Well, Daisy and I both think that if there _are_ any angels, their
wings look like that butterfly’s as we see it through the glass, only
more soft and gold.”

“Believe it if you like, and keep your own little wings as bright and
beautiful, only don’t fly away for a long time yet.”

“No, I won’t,” and Demi kept his word.

“Good-by, my boys; I must go now, but I leave you with our new
Professor of Natural History;” and Mrs. Jo went away well pleased with
that composition day.



CHAPTER XVIII

CROPS


The gardens did well that summer, and in September the little crops
were gathered in with much rejoicing. Jack and Ned joined their farms
and raised potatoes, those being a good salable article. They got
twelve bushels, counting little ones and all, and sold them to Mr.
Bhaer at a fair price, for potatoes went fast in that house. Emil and
Franz devoted themselves to corn, and had a jolly little husking in the
barn, after which they took their corn to the mill, and came proudly
home with meal enough to supply the family with hasty-pudding and
Johnny-cake for a long time. They would not take money for their crop;
because, as Franz said, “We never can pay Uncle for all he has done for
us if we raised corn for the rest of our days.”

Nat had beans in such abundance that he despaired of ever shelling
them, till Mrs. Jo proposed a new way, which succeeded admirably.
The dry pods were spread upon the barn-floor, Nat fiddled, and the
boys danced quadrilles on them, till they were thrashed out with much
merriment and very little labor.

Tommy’s six weeks’ beans were a failure; for a dry spell early in the
season hurt them, because he gave them no water; and after that he
was so sure that they could take care of themselves, he let the poor
things struggle with bugs and weeds till they were exhausted, and died
a lingering death. So Tommy had to dig his farm over again, and plant
peas. But they were late; the birds ate many; the bushes, not being
firmly planted, blew down, and when the poor peas came at last, no
one cared for them, as their day was over, and spring-lamb had grown
into mutton. Tommy consoled himself with a charitable effort; for he
transplanted all the thistles he could find, and tended them carefully
for Toby, who was fond of the prickly delicacy, and had eaten all he
could find on the place. The boys had great fun over Tom’s thistle
bed; but he insisted that it was better to care for poor Toby than
for himself, and declared that he would devote his entire farm next
year to thistles, worms, and snails, that Demi’s turtles and Nat’s pet
owl might have the food they loved, as well as the donkey. So like
shiftless, kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky Tommy!

Demi had supplied his grandmother with lettuce all summer, and in the
autumn sent his grandfather a basket of turnips, each one scrubbed up
till it looked like a great white egg. His Grandma was fond of salad,
and one of his Grandpa’s favorite quotations was--

    “Lucullus, whom frugality could charm,
    Ate roasted turnips at the Sabine farm.”

Therefore these vegetable offerings to the dear domestic god and
goddess were affectionate, appropriate, and classical.

Daisy had nothing but flowers in her little plot, and it bloomed all
summer long with a succession of gay or fragrant posies. She was very
fond of her garden, and delved away in it at all hours, watching over
her roses, and pansies, sweet-peas, and mignonette, as faithfully and
tenderly as she did over her dolls or her friends. Little nosegays were
sent into town on all occasions, and certain vases about the house
were her especial care. She had all sorts of pretty fancies about her
flowers, and loved to tell the children the story of the pansy, and
show them how the stepmother-leaf sat up in her green chair in purple
and gold; how the two own children in gay yellow had each its little
seat, while the step children, in dull colors, both sat on one small
stool, and the poor little father, in his red night-cap, was kept out
of sight in the middle of the flower; that a monk’s dark face looked
out of the monk’s-hood larkspur; that the flowers of the canary-vine
were so like dainty birds fluttering their yellow wings, that one
almost expected to see them fly away, and the snapdragons that went
off like little pistol-shots when you cracked them. Splendid dollies
did she make out of scarlet and white poppies, with ruffled robes
tied round the waist with grass blade sashes, and astonishing hats of
coreopsis on their green heads. Pea-pod boats, with rose-leaf sails,
received these flower-people, and floated them about a placid pool in
the most charming style; for finding that there were no elves, Daisy
made her own, and loved the fanciful little friends who played their
parts in her summer-life.

Nan went in for herbs, and had a fine display of useful plants, which
she tended with steadily increasing interest and care. Very busy was
she in September cutting, drying, and tying up her sweet harvest, and
writing down in a little book how the different herbs are to be used.
She had tried several experiments, and made several mistakes; so she
wished to be particular lest she should give little Huz another fit by
administering wormwood instead of catnip.

Dick, Dolly, and Rob each grubbed away on his small farm, and made more
stir about it than all the rest put together. Parsnips and carrots
were the crops of the two D.’s; and they longed for it to be late
enough to pull up the precious vegetables. Dick did privately examine
his carrots, and plant them again, feeling that Silas was right in
saying it was too soon for them yet.

Rob’s crop was four small squashes and one immense pumpkin. It really
was a “bouncer,” as every one said; and I assure you that two small
persons could sit on it side by side. It seemed to have absorbed all
the goodness of the little garden, and all the sunshine that shone
down on it, and lay there a great round, golden ball, full of rich
suggestions of pumpkin-pies for weeks to come. Robby was so proud of
his mammoth vegetable that he took every one to see it, and, when
frosts began to nip, covered it up each night with an old bedquilt,
tucking it round as if the pumpkin was a well-beloved baby. The day it
was gathered he would let no one touch it but himself, and nearly broke
his back tugging it to the barn in his little wheelbarrow, with Dick
and Dolly harnessed in front to give a heave up the path. His mother
promised him that the Thanksgiving-pies should be made from it, and
hinted vaguely that she had a plan in her head which would cover the
prize pumpkin and its owner with glory.

Poor Billy had planted cucumbers, but unfortunately hoed them up and
left the pig-weed. This mistake grieved him very much for ten minutes,
then he forgot all about it, and sowed a handful of bright buttons
which he had collected, evidently thinking in his feeble mind that they
were money, and would come up and multiply, so that he might make many
quarters, as Tommy did. No one disturbed him, and he did what he liked
with his plot, which soon looked as if a series of small earthquakes
had stirred it up. When the general harvest-day came, he would have
had nothing but stones and weeds to show, if kind old Asia had not hung
half-a-dozen oranges on the dead tree he had stuck up in the middle.
Billy was delighted with his crop; and no one spoiled his pleasure
in the little miracle which pity wrought for him, by making withered
branches bear strange fruit.

Stuffy had various trials with his melons; for, being impatient to
taste them, he had a solitary revel before they were ripe, and made
himself so ill, that for a day or two it seemed doubtful if he would
ever eat any more. But he pulled through it, and served up his first
cantelope without tasting a mouthful himself. They were excellent
melons, for he had a warm slope for them, and they ripened fast. The
last and best were lingering on the vines, and Stuffy had announced
that he should sell them to a neighbor. This disappointed the boys,
who had hoped to eat the melons themselves, and they expressed their
displeasure in a new and striking manner. Going one morning to gaze
upon the three fine watermelons which he had kept for the market,
Stuffy was horrified to find the word “PIG” cut in white letters on the
green rind, staring at him from every one. He was in a great rage, and
flew to Mrs. Jo for redress. She listened, condoled with him, and then
said,--

“If you want to turn the laugh, I’ll tell you how, but you must give up
the melons.”

“Well, I will; for I can’t thrash all the boys, but I’d like to give
them something to remember, the mean sneaks,” growled Stuffy, still in
a fume.

Now Mrs. Jo was pretty sure who had done the trick, for she had seen
three heads suspiciously near to one another in the sofa-corner
the evening before; and when these heads had nodded with chuckles
and whispers, this experienced woman knew that mischief was afoot.
A moonlight night, a rustling in the old cherry-tree near Emil’s
window, a cut on Tommy’s finger, all helped to confirm her suspicions;
and having cooled Stuffy’s wrath a little, she bade him bring his
maltreated melons to her room, and say not a word to any one of what
had happened. He did so, and the three wags were amazed to find their
joke so quietly taken. It spoilt the fun, and the entire disappearance
of the melons made them uneasy. So did Stuffy’s good-nature, for he
looked more placid and plump than ever, and surveyed them with an air
of calm pity that perplexed them much.

At dinner-time they discovered why; for then Stuffy’s vengeance fell
upon them, and the laugh _was_ turned against them. When the pudding
was eaten, and the fruit was put on, Mary Ann re-appeared in a high
state of giggle, bearing a large watermelon; Silas followed with
another; and Dan brought up the rear with a third. One was placed
before each of the three guilty lads; and they read on the smooth green
skin this addition to their work, “With the compliments of the PIG.”
Every one else read it also, and the whole table was in a roar, for the
trick had been whispered about; so every one understood the sequel.
Emil, Ned, and Tommy did not know where to look, and had not a word
to say for themselves; so they wisely joined in the laugh, cut up the
melons, and handed them round, saying, what all the rest agreed to,
that Stuffy had taken a wise and merry way to return good for evil.

Dan had no garden, for he was away or lame the greater part of the
summer; so he had helped Silas wherever he could, chopped wood for
Asia, and taken care of the lawn so well, that Mrs. Jo always had
smooth paths and nicely shaven turf before her door.

When the others got in their crops, he looked sorry that he had so
little to show; but as autumn went on, he bethought of a woodland
harvest which no one would dispute with him, and which was peculiarly
his own. Every Saturday he was away alone to forests, fields, and
hills, and always came back loaded with spoils; for he seemed to know
the meadows where the best flag-root grew, the thicket where the
sassafras was spiciest, the haunts where the squirrels went for nuts,
the white oak whose bark was most valuable, and the little gold-thread
vine that Nursey liked to cure the canker with. All sorts of splendid
red and yellow leaves did Dan bring home for Mrs. Jo to dress her
parlor with,--graceful-seeded grasses, clematis tassels, downy, soft,
yellow wax-work berries, and mosses, red-brimmed, white, or emerald
green.

“I need not sigh for the woods now, because Dan brings the woods to
me,” Mrs. Jo used to say, as she glorified the walls with yellow maple
boughs and scarlet woodbine wreaths, or filled her vases with russet
fern, hemlock sprays full of delicate cones, and hardy autumn flowers;
for Dan’s crop suited her well.

The great garret was full of the children’s little stores, and for a
time was one of the sights of the house. Daisy’s flower seeds in neat
little paper bags, all labelled, lay in the drawer of a three-legged
table. Nan’s herbs hung in bunches against the wall, filling the air
with their aromatic breath. Tommy had a basket of thistledown with the
tiny seeds attached, for he meant to plant them next year, if they did
not all fly away before that time. Emil had bunches of pop-corn hanging
there to dry, and Demi laid up acorns and different sorts of grain for
the pets. But Dan’s crop made the best show, for fully one half of the
floor was covered with nuts he brought. All kinds were there, for he
ranged the woods for miles round, climbed the tallest trees, and forced
his way into the thickest hedges for his plunder. Walnuts, chestnuts,
hazelnuts, and beechnuts lay in separate compartments, getting brown,
and dry, and sweet, ready for winter revels.

There was one butternut-tree on the place, and Rob and Teddy called it
theirs. It bore well this year, and the great dingy nuts came dropping
down to hide among the dead leaves, where the busy squirrels found them
better than the lazy Bhaers. Their father had told them (the boys, not
the squirrels) they should have the nuts if they would pick them up,
but no one was to help. It was easy work, and Teddy liked it, only he
soon got tired, and left his little basket half full for another day.
But the other day was slow to arrive, and, meantime, the sly squirrels
were hard at work scampering up and down the old elm-trees stowing the
nuts away till their holes were full, then all about in the crotches
of the boughs, to be removed at their leisure. Their funny little ways
amused the boys, till one day Silas said,--

“Hev you sold them nuts to the squirrels?”

“No,” answered Rob, wondering what Silas meant.

“Wal, then, you’d better fly round, or them spry little fellers won’t
leave you none.”

“Oh, we can beat them when we begin. There are such lots of nuts we
shall have a plenty.”

“There ain’t many more to come down, and they have cleared the ground
pretty well, see if they hain’t.”

Robby ran to look, and was alarmed to find how few remained. He called
Teddy, and they worked hard all one afternoon, while the squirrels sat
on the fence and scolded.

“Now, Ted, we must keep watch, and pick up just as fast as they fall,
or we shan’t have more than a bushel, and every one will laugh at us if
we don’t.”

“The naughty quillies tarn’t have ’em. I’ll pick fast and run and put
’em in the barn twick,” said Teddy, frowning at little Frisky, who
chattered and whisked his tail indignantly.

That night a high wind blew down hundreds of nuts, and when Mrs. Jo
came to wake her little sons, she said, briskly,--

“Come, my laddies, the squirrels are hard at it, and you will have to
work well to-day, or they will have every nut on the ground.”

“No, they won’t,” and Robby tumbled up in a great hurry, gobbled his
breakfast, and rushed out to save his property.

Teddy went too, and worked like a little beaver, trotting to and fro
with full and empty baskets. Another bushel was soon put away in the
corn-barn, and they were scrambling among the leaves for more nuts when
the bell rang for school.

“O father! let me stay out and pick. Those horrid squirrels will have
my nuts if you don’t. I’ll do my lessons by and by,” cried Rob, running
into the school-room, flushed and tousled by the fresh cold wind and
his eager work.

“If you had been up early and done a little every morning there would
be no hurry now. I told you that, Rob, and you never minded. I cannot
have the lessons neglected as the work has been. The squirrels will get
more than their share this year, and they deserve it, for they have
worked best. You may go an hour earlier, but that is all,” and Mr.
Bhaer led Rob to his place, where the little man dashed at his books
as if bent on making sure of the precious hour promised him.

It was almost maddening to sit still and see the wind shaking down
the last nuts, and the lively thieves flying about, pausing now and
then to eat one in his face, and flirt their tails, as if they said,
saucily, “We’ll have them in spite of you, lazy Rob.” The only thing
that sustained the poor child in this trying moment was the sight of
Teddy working away all alone. It was really splendid the pluck and
perseverance of the little lad. He picked and picked till his back
ached; he trudged to and fro till his small legs were tired; and he
defied wind, weariness, and wicked “quillies,” till his mother left
her work and did the carrying for him, full of admiration for the kind
little fellow who tried to help his brother. When Rob was dismissed he
found Teddy reposing in the bushel-basket quite used up, but unwilling
to quit the field; for he flapped his hat at the thieves with one
grubby little hand, while he refreshed himself with the big apple held
in the other.

Rob fell to work and the ground was cleared before two o’clock, the
nuts safely in the corn-barn loft, and the weary workers exulted in
their success. But Frisky and his wife were not to be vanquished so
easily; and when Rob went up to look at his nuts a few days later he
was amazed to see how many had vanished. None of the boys could have
stolen them, because the door had been locked; the doves could not have
eaten them, and there were no rats about. There was great lamentation
among the young Bhaers till Dick said--

“I saw Frisky on the roof of the corn-barn, may be he took them.”

“I know he did! I’ll have a trap, and kill him dead,” cried Rob,
disgusted with Frisky’s grasping nature.

“Perhaps, if you watch, you can find out where he puts them, and I may
be able to get them back for you,” said Dan, who was much amused by the
fight between the boys and squirrels.

So Rob watched and saw Mr. and Mrs. Frisky drop from the drooping elm
boughs on to the roof of the corn-barn, dodge in at one of the little
doors, much to the disturbance of the doves, and come out with a nut
in each mouth. So laden they could not get back the way they came, but
ran down the low roof, along the wall, and leaping off at a corner they
vanished a minute and re-appeared without their plunder. Rob ran to
the place, and in a hollow under the leaves found a heap of the stolen
property hidden away to be carried off to the holes by and by.

“Oh, you little villains! I’ll cheat _you_ now, and not leave one,”
said Rob. So he cleared the corner and the corn-barn, and put the
contested nuts in the garret, making sure that no broken window-pane
could anywhere let in the unprincipled squirrels. They seemed to feel
that the contest was over, and retired to their hole, but now and then
could not resist throwing down nut-shells on Rob’s head, and scolding
violently as if they could not forgive him nor forget that he had the
best of the battle.

Father and Mother Bhaer’s crop was of a different sort, and not so
easily described; but they were satisfied with it, felt that their
summer work had prospered well, and by and by had a harvest that made
them very happy.



CHAPTER XIX

JOHN BROOKE


“Wake up, Demi, dear! I want you.”

“Why, I’ve just gone to bed; it can’t be morning yet;” and Demi blinked
like a little owl as he waked from his first sound sleep.

“It’s only ten, but your father is ill, and we must go to him. O my
little John! my poor little John!” and Aunt Jo laid her head down on
the pillow with a sob that scared sleep from Demi’s eyes and filled his
heart with fear and wonder; for he dimly felt why Aunt Jo called him
“John,” and wept over him as if some loss had come that left him poor.
He clung to her without a word, and in a minute she was quite steady
again, and said, with a tender kiss as she saw his troubled face,--

“We are going to say good-by to him, my darling, and there is no time
to lose; so dress quickly and come to me in my room. I must go to
Daisy.”

“Yes, I will;” and when Aunt Jo was gone, little Demi got up quietly,
dressed as if in a dream, and leaving Tommy fast asleep went away
through the silent house, feeling that something new and sorrowful was
going to happen--something that set him apart from the other boys for
a time, and made the world seem as dark and still and strange as those
familiar rooms did in the night. A carriage sent by Mr. Laurie stood
before the door. Daisy was soon ready, and the brother and sister held
each other by the hand all the way into town, as they drove swiftly
and silently with aunt and uncle through the shadowy roads to say
good-by to father.

None of the boys but Franz and Emil knew what had happened, and when
they came down next morning, great was their wonderment and discomfort,
for the house seemed forlorn without its master and mistress. Breakfast
was a dismal meal with no cheery Mrs. Jo behind the teapots; and when
school-time came, Father Bhaer’s place was empty. They wandered about
in a disconsolate kind of way for an hour, waiting for news and hoping
it would be all right with Demi’s father, for good John Brooke was much
beloved by the boys. Ten o’clock came, and no one arrived to relieve
their anxiety. They did not feel like playing, yet the time dragged
heavily, and they sat about listless and sober. All at once, Franz got
up, and said, in his persuasive way,--

“Look here, boys! let’s go into school and do our lessons just as if
Uncle was here. It will make the day go faster, and will please him, I
know.”

“But who will hear us say them?” asked Jack.

“I will; I don’t know much more than you do, but I’m the oldest here,
and I’ll try to fill Uncle’s place till he comes, if you don’t mind.”

Something in the modest, serious way Franz said this impressed the
boys, for, though the poor lad’s eyes were red with quiet crying for
Uncle John in that long sad night, there was a new manliness about him,
as if he had already begun to feel the cares and troubles of life, and
tried to take them bravely.

“I will, for one,” and Emil went to his seat, remembering that
obedience to his superior officer is a seaman’s first duty.

The others followed; Franz took his uncle’s seat, and for an hour
order reigned. Lessons were learned and said, and Franz made a patient,
pleasant teacher, wisely omitting such lessons as he was not equal to,
and keeping order more by the unconscious dignity that sorrow gave him
than by any words of his own. The little boys were reading when a step
was heard in the hall, and every one looked up to read the news in Mr.
Bhaer’s face as he came in. The kind face told them instantly that Demi
had no father now, for it was worn and pale, and full of tender grief,
which left him no words with which to answer Rob, as he ran to him
saying, reproachfully,--

“What made you go and leave me in the night, papa?”

The memory of the other father who had left his children in the night,
never to return, made Mr. Bhaer hold his own boy close, and, for a
minute, hide his face in Robby’s curly hair. Emil laid his head down
on his arms, Franz went to put his hand on his uncle’s shoulder, his
boyish face pale with sympathy and sorrow, and the others sat so still
that the soft rustle of the falling leaves outside was distinctly heard.

Rob did not clearly understand what had happened, but he hated to see
papa unhappy, so he lifted up the bent head, and said, in his chirpy
little voice,--

“Don’t cry, mein Vater! we are all so good, we did our lessons without
you, and Franz was the master.”

Mr. Bhaer looked up then, tried to smile, and said in a grateful tone
that made the lads feel like saints, “I thank you very much, my boys.
It was a beautiful way to help and comfort me. I shall not forget it, I
assure you.”

“Franz proposed it, and was a first-rate master, too,” said Nat;
and the others gave a murmur of assent most gratifying to the young
dominie.

Mr. Bhaer put Rob down, and, standing up, put his arm round his tall
nephew’s shoulder, as he said, with a look of genuine pleasure,--

“This makes my hard day easier, and gives me confidence in you all. I
am needed there in town, and must leave you for some hours. I thought
to give you a holiday, or send some of you home, but if you like to
stay and go on as you have begun, I shall be glad and proud of my good
boys.”

“We’ll stay;” “We’d rather;” “Franz can see to us;” cried several,
delighted with the confidence shown in them.

“Isn’t Marmar coming home?” asked Rob, wistfully; for home without
“Marmar” was the world without the sun to him.

“We shall both come to-night; but dear Aunt Meg needs Mother more than
you do now, and I know you like to lend her for a little while.”

“Well, I will; but Teddy’s been crying for her, and he slapped Nursey,
and was dreadful naughty,” answered Rob, as if the news might bring
mother home.

“Where is my little man?” asked Mr. Bhaer.

“Dan took him out, to keep him quiet. He’s all right now,” said Franz,
pointing to the window, through which they could see Dan drawing baby
in his little wagon, with the dogs frolicking about him.

“I won’t see him, it would only upset him again; but tell Dan I leave
Teddy in his care. You older boys I trust to manage yourselves for a
day. Franz will direct you, and Silas is here to oversee matters. So
good-by till to-night.”

“Just tell me a word about Uncle John,” said Emil, detaining Mr. Bhaer,
as he was about hurrying away again.

“He was only ill a few hours, and died as he has lived, so cheerfully,
so peacefully, that it seems a sin to mar the beauty of it with any
violent or selfish grief. We were in time to say good-by: and Daisy and
Demi were in his arms as he fell asleep on Aunt Meg’s breast. No more
now, I cannot bear it,” and Mr. Bhaer went hastily away quite bowed
with grief, for in John Brooke he had lost both friend and brother, and
there was no one left to take his place.

All that day the house was very still; the small boys played quietly in
the nursery; the others, feeling as if Sunday had come in the middle of
the week, spent it in walking, sitting in the willow, or among their
pets, all talking much of “Uncle John,” and feeling that something
gentle, just, and strong, had gone out of their little world, leaving
a sense of loss that deepened every hour. At dusk, Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer
came home alone, for Demi and Daisy were their mother’s best comfort
now, and could not leave her. Poor Mrs. Jo seemed quite spent, and
evidently needed the same sort of comfort, for her first words, as she
came up the stairs, were, “Where is my baby?”

“Here I is,” answered a little voice, as Dan put Teddy into her arms,
adding, as she hugged him close, “My Danny tooked tare of me all day,
and I was dood.”

Mrs. Jo turned to thank the faithful nurse, but Dan was waving off the
boys, who had gathered in the hall to meet her, and was saying, in a
low voice, “Keep back; she don’t want to be bothered with us now.”

“No, don’t keep back. I want you all. Come in and see me, my boys. I’ve
neglected you all day,” and Mrs. Jo held out her hands to them as they
gathered round and escorted her into her own room, saying little, but
expressing much by affectionate looks and clumsy little efforts to show
their sorrow and sympathy.

“I am so tired, I will lie here and cuddle Teddy, and you shall bring
me in some tea,” she said, trying to speak cheerfully for their sakes.

A general stampede into the dining-room followed, and the supper-table
would have been ravaged if Mr. Bhaer had not interfered. It was agreed
that one squad should carry in the mother’s tea, and another bring it
out. The four nearest and dearest claimed the first honor, so Franz
bore the teapot, Emil the bread, Rob the milk, and Teddy insisted on
carrying the sugar-basin, which was lighter by several lumps when it
arrived than when it started. Some women might have found it annoying
at such a time to have boys creaking in and out, upsetting cups and
rattling spoons in violent efforts to be quiet and helpful; but it
suited Mrs. Jo, because just then her heart was very tender; and
remembering that many of her boys were fatherless or motherless, she
yearned over them, and found comfort in their blundering affection.
It was the sort of food that did her more good than the very thick
bread-and-butter that they gave her, and the rough Commodore’s broken
whisper--

“Bear up, Aunty, it’s a hard blow; but we’ll weather it somehow,”
cheered her more than the sloppy cup he brought her, full of tea as
bitter as if some salt tear of his own had dropped into it on the way.
When supper was over, a second deputation removed the tray; and Dan
said, holding out his arms for sleepy little Teddy,--

“Let me put him to bed, you’re so tired, Mother.”

“Will you go with him, lovey?” asked Mrs. Jo of her small lord and
master, who lay on her arm among the sofa-pillows.

“Torse I will;” and he was proudly carried off by his faithful bearer.

“I wish _I_ could do something,” said Nat, with a sigh, as Franz leaned
over the sofa, and softly stroked Aunt Jo’s hot forehead.

“You can, dear. Go and get your violin, and play me the sweet little
airs Uncle Teddy sent you last. Music will comfort me better than any
thing else to-night.”

Nat flew for his fiddle, and, sitting just outside her door, played
as he had never done before, for now his heart was in it, and seemed
to magnetize his fingers. The other lads sat quietly upon the steps,
keeping watch that no new-comer should disturb the house; Franz
lingered at his post; and so, soothed, served, and guarded by her boys,
poor Mrs. Jo slept at last, and forgot her sorrow for an hour.

Two quiet days, and on the third Mr. Bhaer came in just after school,
with a note in his hand, looking both moved and pleased.

“I want to read you something, boys,” he said; and as they stood round
him he read this:--

    “DEAR BROTHER FRITZ,--I hear that you do not mean to bring your
    flock to-day, thinking that I may not like it. Please do. The
    sight of his friends will help Demi through the hard hour, and
    I want the boys to hear what father says of my John. It will
    do them good, I know. If they would sing one of the sweet old
    hymns you have taught them so well, I should like it better
    than any other music, and feel that it was beautifully suited
    to the occasion. Please ask them, with my love.

                                                             “MEG.”

“Will you go?” and Mr. Bhaer looked at the lads, who were greatly
touched by Mrs. Brooke’s kind words and wishes.

“Yes,” they answered, like one boy; and an hour later they went away
with Franz to bear their part in John Brooke’s simple funeral.

The little house looked as quiet, sunny, and home-like as when Meg
entered it a bride, ten years ago, only then it was early summer, and
roses blossomed everywhere; now it was early autumn, and dead leaves
rustled softly down, leaving the branches bare. The bride was a widow
now; but the same beautiful serenity shone in her face, and the sweet
resignation of a truly pious soul made her presence a consolation to
those who came to comfort her.

“O Meg! how _can_ you bear it so?” whispered Jo, as she met them at
the door with a smile of welcome, and no change in her gentle manner,
except more gentleness.

“Dear Jo, the love that has blest for ten happy years supports me
still. It could not die, and John is more my own than ever,” whispered
Meg; and in her eyes the tender trust was so beautiful and bright, that
Jo believed her, and thanked God for the immortality of love like hers.

They were all there--father and mother, Uncle Teddy, and Aunt Amy,
old Mr. Laurence, white-haired and feeble now, Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer,
with their flock, and many friends, come to do honor to the dead. One
would have said that modest John Brooke, in his busy, quiet, humble
life, had had little time to make friends; but now they seemed to
start up everywhere,--old and young, rich and poor, high and low;
for all unconsciously his influence had made itself widely felt, his
virtues were remembered, and his hidden charities rose up to bless
him. The group about his coffin was a far more eloquent eulogy than
any Mr. March could utter. There were the rich men whom he had served
faithfully for years; the poor old women whom he cherished with his
little store, in memory of his mother; the wife to whom he had given
such happiness that death could not mar it utterly; the brothers and
sisters in whose hearts he had made a place for ever; the little son
and daughter, who already felt the loss of his strong arm and tender
voice; the young children, sobbing for their kindest playmate, and the
tall lads, watching with softened faces a scene which they never could
forget. A very simple service, and very short; for the fatherly voice
that had faltered in the marriage-sacrament now failed entirely as Mr.
March endeavored to pay his tribute of reverence and love to the son
whom he most honored. Nothing but the soft coo of Baby Josy’s voice
up-stairs broke the long hush that followed the last Amen, till, at
a sign from Mr. Bhaer, the well-trained boyish voices broke out in a
hymn, so full of lofty cheer, that one by one all joined in it, singing
with full hearts, and finding their troubled spirits lifted into peace
on the wings of that brave, sweet psalm.

As Meg listened, she felt that she had done well; for not only did the
moment comfort her with the assurance that John’s last lullaby was sung
by the young voices he loved so well, but in the faces of the boys she
saw that they had caught a glimpse of the beauty of virtue in its most
impressive form, and that the memory of the good man lying dead before
them would live long and helpful in their remembrance. Daisy’s head lay
in her lap, and Demi held her hand, looking often at her, with eyes so
like his father’s, and a little gesture that seemed to say, “Don’t be
troubled, mother; I am here;” and all about her were friends to lean
upon and love; so patient, pious Meg put by her heavy grief, feeling
that her best help would be to live for others, as her John had done.

That evening, as the Plumfield boys sat on the steps, as usual, in the
mild September moonlight, they naturally fell to talking of the event
of the day.

Emil began by breaking out, in his impetuous way, “Uncle Fritz is the
wisest, and Uncle Laurie the jolliest, but Uncle John was the _best_;
and I’d rather be like him than any man I ever saw.”

“So would I. Did you hear what those gentlemen said to Grandpa to-day?
I would like to have that said to me when I was dead;” and Franz felt
with regret that he had not appreciated Uncle John enough.

“What did they say?” asked Jack, who had been much impressed by the
scenes of the day.

“Why, one of the partners of Mr. Laurence, where Uncle John has been
ever so long, was saying that he was conscientious almost to a fault
as a business man, and above reproach in all things. Another gentleman
said no money could repay the fidelity and honesty with which Uncle
John had served him, and then Grandpa told them the best of all. Uncle
John once had a place in the office of a man who cheated, and when
this man wanted uncle to help him do it, uncle wouldn’t, though he was
offered a big salary. The man was angry and said, ‘You will never get
on in business with such strict principles;’ and uncle answered back,
‘I _never_ will try to get on _without_ them,’ and left the place for a
much harder and poorer one.”

“Good!” cried several of the boys warmly, for they were in the mood to
understand and value the little story as never before.

“He wasn’t rich, was he?” asked Jack.

“No.”

“He never did any thing to make a stir in the world, did he?”

“No.”

“He was only good?”

“That’s all;” and Franz found himself wishing that Uncle John
_had_ done something to boast of, for it was evident that Jack was
disappointed by his replies.

“Only good. That is _all_ and every thing,” said Mr. Bhaer, who had
overheard the last few words, and guessed what was going on in the
minds of the lads.

“Let me tell you a little about John Brooke, and you will see why men
honor him, and why he was satisfied to be good rather than rich or
famous. He simply did his duty in all things, and did it so cheerfully,
so faithfully, that it kept him patient, brave, and happy through
poverty and loneliness and years of hard work. He was a good son, and
gave up his own plans to stay and live with his mother while she needed
him. He was a good friend, and taught Laurie much beside his Greek and
Latin, did it unconsciously, perhaps, by showing him an example of an
upright man. He was a faithful servant, and made himself so valuable to
those who employed him that they will find it hard to fill his place.
He was a good husband and father, so tender, wise, and thoughtful, that
Laurie and I learned much of him, and only knew how well he loved his
family, when we discovered all he had done for them, unsuspected and
unassisted.”

Mr. Bhaer stopped a minute, and the boys sat like statues in the
moonlight until he went on again, in a subdued, but earnest voice:
“As he lay dying, I said to him, ‘Have no care for Meg and the little
ones; I will see that they never want.’ Then he smiled and pressed my
hand, and answered, in his cheerful way, ‘No need of that; I have cared
for them.’ And so he had, for when we looked among his papers, all
was in order, not a debt remained; and safely put away was enough to
keep Meg comfortable and independent. Then we knew why he had lived so
plainly, denied himself so many pleasures, except that of charity, and
worked so hard that I fear he shortened his good life. He never asked
help for himself, though often for others, but bore his own burden and
worked out his own task bravely and quietly. No one can say a word of
complaint against him, so just and generous and kind was he; and now,
when he is gone, all find so much to love and praise and honor, that I
am proud to have been his friend, and would rather leave my children
the legacy he leaves his than the largest fortune ever made. Yes!
Simple, genuine goodness is the best capital to found the business of
this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only
riches we can take out of this world with us. Remember that, my boys;
and if you want to earn respect and confidence and love follow in the
footsteps of John Brooke.”

When Demi returned to school, after some weeks at home, he seemed to
have recovered from his loss with the blessed elasticity of childhood,
and so he had in a measure; but he did not forget, for his was a nature
into which things sank deeply, to be pondered over, and absorbed into
the soil where the small virtues were growing fast. He played and
studied, worked and sang, just as before, and few suspected any change;
but there was one--and Aunt Jo saw it--for she watched over the boy
with her whole heart, trying to fill John’s place in her poor way. He
seldom spoke of his loss, but Aunt Jo often heard a stifled sobbing in
the little bed at night; and when she went to comfort him, all his cry
was, “I want my father! oh, I want my father!”--for the tie between
the two had been a very tender one, and the child’s heart bled when
it was broken. But time was kind to him, and slowly he came to feel
that father was not lost, only invisible for a while, and sure to be
found again, well and strong and fond as ever, even though his little
son should see the purple asters blossom on his grave many, many times
before they met. To this belief Demi held fast, and in it found both
help and comfort, because it led him unconsciously through a tender
longing for the father whom he had seen to a childlike trust in the
Father whom he had not seen. Both were in heaven, and he prayed to
both, trying to be good for love of them.

The outward change corresponded to the inward, for in those few weeks
Demi seemed to have grown tall, and began to drop his childish plays,
not as if ashamed of them, as some boys do, but as if he had outgrown
them, and wanted something manlier. He took to the hated arithmetic,
and held on so steadily that his uncle was charmed, though he could not
understand the whim, until Demi said--

“I am going to be a bookkeeper when I grow up, like papa, and I must
know about figures and things, else I can’t have nice, neat ledgers
like his.”

At another time he came to his aunt with a very serious face, and said--

“What can a small boy do to earn money?”

“Why do you ask, my deary?”

“My father told me to take care of mother and the little girls, and I
want to, but I don’t know how to begin.”

“He did not mean now, Demi, but by and by, when you are large.”

“But I wish to begin _now_, if I can, because I think I ought to make
some money to buy things for the family. I am ten, and other boys no
bigger than I earn pennies sometimes.”

“Well, then, suppose you rake up all the dead leaves and cover the
strawberry bed. I’ll pay you a dollar for the job,” said Aunt Jo.

“Isn’t that a great deal? I could do it in one day. You must be fair,
and not pay too much, because I want to truly earn it.”

“My little John, I will be fair, and not pay a penny too much. Don’t
work too hard; and when that is done I will have something else for you
to do,” said Mrs. Jo, much touched by his desire to help, and his sense
of justice, so like his scrupulous father.

When the leaves were done, many barrow loads of chips were wheeled from
the wood to the shed, and another dollar earned. Then Demi helped cover
the school-books, working in the evenings, under Franz’s direction,
tugging patiently away at each book, letting no one help, and receiving
his wages with such satisfaction that the dingy bills became quite
glorified in his sight.

“Now, I have a dollar for each of them, and I should like to take
my money to mother all myself, so she can see that I have minded my
father.”

So Demi made a duteous pilgrimage to his mother, who received his
little earnings as a treasure of great worth, and would have kept it
untouched, if Demi had not begged her to buy some _useful_ thing for
herself and the women-children, whom he felt were left to his care.

This made him very happy, and, though he often forgot his
responsibilities for a time, the desire to help was still there,
strengthening with his years. He always uttered the words “my father”
with an air of gentle pride, and often said, as if he claimed a title
full of honor, “Don’t call me Demi any more. I am John Brooke now.” So,
strengthened by a purpose and a hope, the little lad of ten bravely
began the world, and entered into his inheritance,--the memory of a
wise and tender father, the legacy of an honest name.



CHAPTER XX

ROUND THE FIRE


With the October frosts came the cheery fires in the great fireplaces;
and Demi’s dry pine-chips helped Dan’s oak-knots to blaze royally, and
go roaring up the chimney with a jolly sound. All were glad to gather
round the hearth, as the evenings grew longer, to play games, read, or
lay plans for the winter. But the favorite amusement was story-telling,
and Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer were expected to have a store of lively tales
always on hand. Their supply occasionally gave out, and then the
boys were thrown upon their own resources, which were not always
successful. Ghost-parties were the rage at one time; for the fun of the
thing consisted in putting out the lights, letting the fire die down,
and then sitting in the dark, and telling the most awful tales they
could invent. As this resulted in scares of all sorts among the boys,
Tommy’s walking in his sleep on the shed roof, and a general state of
nervousness in the little ones, it was forbidden, and they fell back on
more harmless amusements.

One evening, when the small boys were snugly tucked in bed, and the
older lads were lounging about the school-room fire, trying to decide
what they should do, Demi suggested a new way of settling the question.

[Illustration: _All were glad to gather round the hearth, as the
evenings grew longer. Page 312._]

Seizing the hearth-brush, he marched up and down the room, saying,
“Row, row, row;” and when the boys, laughing and pushing, had got into
line, he said, “Now, I’ll give you two minutes to think of a play.”
Franz was writing, and Emil reading the Life of Lord Nelson, and
neither joined the party, but the others thought hard, and when the
time was up were ready to reply.

“Now, Tom!” and the poker softly rapped him on the head.

“Blind-man’s Buff.”

“Jack!”

“Commerce; a good round game, and have cents for the pool.”

“Uncle forbids our playing for money. Dan, what do you want?”

“Let’s have a battle between the Greeks and Romans.”

“Stuffy?”

“Roast apples, pop corn, and crack nuts.”

“Good! good!” cried several; and when the vote was taken, Stuffy’s
proposal carried the day.

Some went to the cellar for apples, some to the garret for nuts, and
others looked up the popper and the corn.

“We had better ask the girls to come in, hadn’t we?” said Demi, in a
sudden fit of politeness.

“Daisy pricks chestnuts beautifully,” put in Nat, who wanted his little
friend to share the fun.

“Nan pops corn tip-top, we must have her,” added Tommy.

“Bring in your sweethearts then, we don’t mind,” said Jack, who laughed
at the innocent regard the little people had for one another.

“You shan’t call my sister a sweetheart; it is so silly!” cried Demi,
in a way that made Jack laugh.

“She _is_ Nat’s darling, isn’t she, old chirper?”

“Yes, if Demi don’t mind. I can’t help being fond of her, she is so
good to me,” answered Nat, with bashful earnestness, for Jack’s rough
ways disturbed him.

“Nan is my sweetheart, and I shall marry her in about a year, so
don’t you get in the way, any of you,” said Tommy, stoutly; for he
and Nan had settled their future, child-fashion, and were to live in
the willow, lower down a basket for food, and do other charmingly
impossible things.

Demi was quenched by the decision of Bangs, who took him by the arm and
walked him off to get the ladies. Nan and Daisy were sewing with Aunt
Jo on certain small garments for Mrs. Carney’s newest baby.

“Please, ma’am, could you lend us the girls for a little while? we’ll
be very careful of them,” said Tommy, winking one eye to express
apples, snapping his fingers to signify pop-corn, and gnashing his
teeth to convey the idea of nut-cracking.

The girls understood this pantomime at once, and began to pull off
their thimbles before Mrs. Jo could decide whether Tommy was going
into convulsions or was brewing some unusual piece of mischief. Demi
explained with elaboration, permission was readily granted, and the
boys departed with their prize.

“Don’t you speak to Jack,” whispered Tommy, as he and Nan promenaded
down the hall to get a fork to prick the apples.

“Why not?”

“He laughs at me, so I don’t wish you to have any thing to do with him.”

“Shall, if I like,” said Nan, promptly resenting this premature
assumption of authority on the part of her lord.

“Then I won’t have you for my sweetheart.”

“I don’t care.”

“Why, Nan, I thought you were fond of me!” and Tommy’s voice was full
of tender reproach.

“If you mind Jack’s laughing I don’t care for you one bit.”

“Then you may take back your old ring; I won’t wear it any longer;” and
Tommy plucked off a horse-hair pledge of affection which Nan had given
him in return for one made of a lobster’s feeler.

“I shall give it to Ned,” was her cruel reply; for Ned liked Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy, and had turned her clothes-pins, boxes, and spools enough
to set up housekeeping with.

Tommy said, “Thunder-turtles!” as the only vent equal to the pent-up
anguish of the moment, and, dropping Nan’s arm, retired in high
dudgeon, leaving her to follow with the fork,--a neglect which naughty
Nan punished by proceeding to prick his heart with jealousy as if it
were another sort of apple.

The hearth was swept, and the rosy Baldwins put down to roast. A shovel
was heated, and the chestnuts danced merrily upon it, while the corn
popped wildly in its wire prison. Dan cracked his best walnuts, and
every one chattered and laughed, while the rain beat on the window-pane
and the wind howled round the house.

“Why is Billy like this nut?” asked Emil, who was frequently inspired
with bad conundrums.

“Because he is cracked,” answered Ned.

“That’s not fair; you mustn’t make fun of Billy, because he can’t hit
back again. It’s mean,” cried Dan, smashing a nut wrathfully.

“To what family of insects does Blake belong?” asked peacemaker Franz,
seeing that Emil looked ashamed and Dan lowering.

“Gnats,” answered Jack.

“Why is Daisy like a bee?” cried Nat, who had been wrapt in thought for
several minutes.

“Because she is queen of the hive,” said Dan.

“No.”

“Because she is sweet.”

“Bees are not sweet.”

“Give it up.”

“Because she makes sweet things, is always busy, and likes flowers,”
said Nat, piling up his boyish compliments till Daisy blushed like a
rosy clover.

“Why is Nan like a hornet?” demanded Tommy, glowering at her, and
adding, without giving any one time to answer, “Because she _isn’t_
sweet, makes a great buzzing about nothing, and stings like fury.”

“Tommy’s mad, and I’m glad,” cried Ned, as Nan tossed her head and
answered quickly--

“What thing in the china-closet is Tom like?”

“A pepper pot,” answered Ned, giving Nan a nut meat with a tantalizing
laugh that made Tommy feel as if he would like to bounce up like a hot
chestnut and hit somebody.

Seeing that ill-humor was getting the better of the small supply of wit
in the company, Franz cast himself into the breach again.

“Let’s make a law that the first person who comes into the room shall
tell us a story. No matter who it is, he must do it, and it will be fun
to see who comes first.”

The others agreed, and did not have to wait long, for a heavy step soon
came clumping through the hall, and Silas appeared, bearing an armful
of wood. He was greeted by a general shout, and stood staring about him
with a bewildered grin on his big red face, till Franz explained the
joke.

“Sho! I can’t tell a story,” he said, putting down his load and
preparing to leave the room. But the boys fell upon him, forced him
into a seat, and held him there, laughing and clamoring for their
story, till the good-natured giant was overpowered.

“I don’t know but jest one story, and that’s about a horse,” he said,
much flattered by the reception he received.

“Tell it! tell it!” cried the boys.

“Wal,” began Silas, tipping his chair back against the wall, and
putting his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, “I jined a
cavalry regiment durin’ the war, and see a consid’able amount of
fightin’. My horse, Major, was a fust-rate animal, and I was as fond on
him as ef he’d ben a human critter. He warn’t harnsome, but he was the
best-tempered, stiddyest, lovenest brute I ever see. The fust battle
we went into, he gave me a lesson that I didn’t forgit in a hurry, and
I’ll tell you how it was. It ain’t no use tryin’ to picter the noise
and hurry, and general horridness of a battle to you young fellers, for
I ain’t no words to do it in; but I’m free to confess that I got so
sort of confused and upset at the fust on it, that I didn’t know what
I was about. We was ordered to charge, and went ahead like good ones,
never stoppin’ to pick up them that went down in the scrimmage. I got a
shot in the arm, and was pitched out of the saddle--don’t know how, but
there I was left behind with two or three others, dead and wounded, for
the rest went on, as I say. Wal, I picked myself up and looked round
for Major, feeling as ef I’d had about enough for that spell. I didn’t
see him nowhere, and was kinder walking back to camp, when I heard
a whinny that sounded nateral. I looked round, and there was Major
stopping for me a long way off, and lookin’ as ef he didn’t understand
why I was loiterin’ behind. I whistled, and he trotted up to me as
I’d trained him to do. I mounted as well as I could with my left arm
bleedin’ and was for going on to camp, for I declare I felt as sick
and wimbly as a woman; folks often do in their fust battle. But, no,
sir! Major was the bravest of the two, and he wouldn’t go, not a peg;
he jest rared up, and danced, and snorted, and acted as ef the smell
of powder and the noise had drove him half wild. I done my best, but
he wouldn’t give in, so I did; and what do you think that plucky brute
done? He wheeled slap round, and galloped back like a hurricane, right
into the thickest of the scrimmage!”

“Good for him!” cried Dan excitedly, while the other boys forgot apples
and nuts in their interest.

“I wish I may die ef I warn’t ashamed of myself,” continued Silas,
warming up at the recollection of that day. “I was as mad as a hornet,
and I forgot my waound, and jest pitched in, rampagin’ raound like fury
till there come a shell into the midst of us, and in bustin’ knocked a
lot of us flat. I didn’t know nothin’ for a spell, and when I come-to,
the fight was over jest there, and I found myself layin’ by a wall with
poor Major long-side wuss wounded than I was. My leg was broke, and I
had a ball in my shoulder, but he, poor old feller! was all tore in the
side with a piece of that blasted shell.”

“O Silas! what did you do?” cried Nan, pressing close to him with a
face full of eager sympathy and interest.

“I dragged myself nigher, and tried to stop the bleedin’ with sech rags
as I could tear off of me with one hand. But it warn’t no use, and he
lay moanin’ with horrid pain, and lookin’ at me with them lovin’ eyes
of his, till I thought I couldn’t bear it. I give him all the help I
could, and when the sun got hotter and hotter, and he began to lap out
his tongue, I tried to get to a brook that was a good piece away, but I
couldn’t do it, being stiff and faint, so I give it up and fanned him
with my hat. Now you listen to this, and when you hear folks comin’
down on the rebs, you jest remember what one on ’em did, and give him
the credit of it. A poor feller in gray laid not fur off, shot through
the lungs, and dying fast. I’d offered him my handkerchief to keep the
sun off his face, and he’d thanked me kindly, for in sech times as that
men don’t stop to think on which side they belong, but jest buckle-to
and help one another. When he see me mournin’ over Major and tryin’
to ease his pain, he looked up with his face all damp and white with
sufferin’, and sez he, ‘There’s water in my canteen; take it, for it
can’t help me,’ and he flung it to me. I couldn’t have took it ef I
hadn’t had a little brandy in a pocket flask, and I made him drink it.
It done him good, and I felt as much set up as if I’d drunk it myself.
It’s surprisin’ the good sech little things do folks sometimes;” and
Silas paused as if he felt again the comfort of that moment when he and
his enemy forgot their feud, and helped one another like brothers.

“Tell about Major,” cried the boys, impatient for the catastrophe.

“I poured the water over his poor pantin’ tongue, and ef ever a dumb
critter looked grateful, he did then. But it warn’t of much use, for
the dreadful waound kep on tormentin’ him, till I couldn’t bear it any
longer. It was hard, but I done it in mercy, and I know he forgive me.”

“What did you do?” asked Emil, as Silas stopped abruptly with a loud
“hem,” and a look in his rough face that made Daisy go and stand by
him with her little hand on his knee.

“I shot him.”

Quite a thrill went through the listeners as Silas said that, for
Major seemed a hero in their eyes, and his tragic end roused all their
sympathy.

“Yes, I shot him, and put him out of his misery. I patted him fust,
and said, ‘Good-by;’ then I laid his head easy on the grass, give a
last look into his lovin’ eyes, and sent a bullet through his head. He
hardly stirred, I aimed so true, and when I see him quite still, with
no more moanin’ and pain, I was glad, and yet--wal, I don’t know as I
need be ashamed on’t--I jest put my arms raound his neck and boo-hooed
like a great baby. Sho! I didn’t know I was such a fool;” and Silas
drew his sleeve across his eyes, as much touched by Daisy’s sob, as by
the memory of faithful Major.

No one spoke for a minute, because the boys were as quick to feel the
pathos of the little story as tender-hearted Daisy, though they did not
show it by crying.

“I’d like a horse like that,” said Dan, half-aloud.

“Did the rebel man die too?” asked Nan, anxiously.

“Not then. We laid there all day, and at night some of our fellers came
to look after the missing ones. They nat’rally wanted to take me fust,
but I knew I could wait, and the rebel had but one chance, maybe, so I
made them carry him off right away. He had jest strength enough to hold
out his hand to me and say, ‘Thanky, comrade!’ and them was the last
words he spoke, for he died an hour after he got to the hospital-tent.”

“How glad you must have been that you were kind to him!” said Demi, who
was deeply impressed by this story.

“Wal, I did take comfort thinkin’ of it, as I laid there alone for a
number of hours with my head on Major’s neck, and see the moon come up.
I’d like to have buried the poor beast decent, but it warn’t possible;
so I cut off a bit of his mane, and I’ve kep it ever sence. Want to see
it, sissy?”

“Oh, yes, please,” answered Daisy, wiping away her tears to look.

Silas took out an old “wallet” as he called his pocket-book, and
produced from an inner fold a bit of brown paper, in which was a rough
lock of white horse-hair. The children looked at it silently, as it lay
in the broad palm, and no one found any thing to ridicule in the love
Silas bore his good horse Major.

“That is a sweet story, and I like it, though it did make me cry. Thank
you very much, Si,” and Daisy helped him fold and put away his little
relic; while Nan stuffed a handful of pop-corn into his pocket, and the
boys loudly expressed their flattering opinions of his story, feeling
that there had been two heroes in it.

He departed, quite overcome by his honors, and the little conspirators
talked the tale over, while they waited for their next victim. It was
Mrs. Jo, who came in to measure Nan for some new pinafores she was
making for her. They let her get well in, and then pounced upon her,
telling her the law, and demanding the story. Mrs. Jo was very much
amused at the new trap, and consented at once, for the sound of the
happy voices had been coming across the hall so pleasantly that she
quite longed to join them, and forget her own anxious thoughts of
Sister Meg.

“Am I the first mouse you have caught, you sly pussies-in-boots?”
she asked, as she was conducted to the big chair, supplied with
refreshments, and surrounded by a flock of merry-faced listeners.

They told her about Silas and his contribution, and she slapped her
forehead in despair, for she was quite at her wits’ end, being called
upon so unexpectedly for a bran new tale.

“What _shall_ I tell about?” she said.

“Boys,” was the general answer.

“Have a party in it,” said Daisy.

“And something good to eat,” added Stuffy.

“That reminds me of a story, written years ago, by a dear old lady. I
used to be very fond of it, and I fancy you will like it, for it has
both boys, and ‘something good to eat’ in it.”

“What is it called?” asked Demi.

“‘The Suspected Boy.’”

Nat looked up from the nuts he was picking, and Mrs. Jo smiled at him,
guessing what was in his mind.

“Miss Crane kept a school for boys in a quiet little town, and a very
good school it was, of the old-fashioned sort. Six boys lived in her
house, and four or five more came in from the town. Among those who
lived with her was one named Lewis White. Lewis was not a bad boy, but
rather timid, and now and then he told a lie. One day a neighbor sent
Miss Crane a basket of gooseberries. There were not enough to go round,
so kind Miss Crane, who liked to please her boys, went to work and made
a dozen nice little gooseberry tarts.”

“I’d like to try gooseberry tarts. I wonder if she made them as I do
my raspberry ones,” said Daisy, whose interest in cooking had lately
revived.

“Hush,” said Nat, tucking a plump pop-corn into her mouth to silence
her, for he felt a peculiar interest in this tale, and thought it
opened well.

“When the tarts were done, Miss Crane put them away in the best parlor
closet, and said not a word about them, for she wanted to surprise the
boys at tea-time. When the minute came and all were seated at table,
she went to get her tarts, but came back looking much troubled, for
what do you think had happened?”

“Somebody had hooked them!” cried Ned.

“No, there they were, but some one _had_ stolen all the fruit out of
them by lifting up the upper crust and then putting it down after the
gooseberry had been scraped out.”

“What a mean trick!” and Nan looked at Tommy, as if to imply that he
would do the same.

“When she told the boys her plan and showed them the poor little
patties all robbed of their sweetness, the boys were much grieved and
disappointed, and all declared that they knew nothing about the matter.
‘Perhaps the rats did it,’ said Lewis, who was among the loudest to
deny any knowledge of the tarts. ‘No, rats would have nibbled crust and
all, and never lifted it up and scooped out the fruit. Hands did that,’
said Miss Crane, who was more troubled about the lie that some one must
have told than about her lost patties. Well, they had supper and went
to bed, but in the night Miss Crane heard some one groaning, and going
to see who it was she found Lewis in great pain. He had evidently eaten
something that disagreed with him, and was so sick that Miss Crane was
alarmed, and was going to send for the doctor, when Lewis moaned out,
‘It’s the gooseberries; I ate them, and I _must_ tell before I die,’
for the thought of a doctor frightened him. ‘If that is all, I’ll
give you an emetic and you will soon get over it,’ said Miss Crane.
So Lewis had a good dose, and by morning was quite comfortable. ‘Oh,
don’t tell the boys; they will laugh at me so,’ begged the invalid.
Kind Miss Crane promised not to, but Sally, the girl, told the story,
and poor Lewis had no peace for a long time. His mates called him Old
Gooseberry, and were never tired of asking him the price of tarts.”

“Served him right,” said Emil.

“Badness always gets found out,” added Demi, morally.

“No, it don’t,” muttered Jack, who was tending the apples with great
devotion, so that he might keep his back to the rest and account for
his red face.

“Is that all?” asked Dan.

“No, that is only the first part; the second part is more interesting.
Some time after this a peddler came by one day and stopped to show his
things to the boys, several of whom bought pocket-combs, jew’s-harps,
and various trifles of that sort. Among the knives was a little
white-handled penknife that Lewis wanted very much, but he had spent
all his pocket-money, and no one had any to lend him. He held the knife
in his hand, admiring and longing for it, till the man packed up his
goods to go, then he reluctantly laid it down, and the man went on his
way. The next day, however, the peddler returned to say that he could
not find that very knife, and thought he must have left it at Miss
Crane’s. It was a very nice one with a pearl handle, and he could not
afford to lose it. Every one looked, and every one declared they knew
nothing about it. ‘This young gentleman had it last, and seemed to
want it very much. Are you quite sure you put it back?’ said the man
to Lewis, who was much troubled at the loss, and vowed over and over
again that he did return it. His denials seemed to do no good, however,
for every one was sure he had taken it, and after a stormy scene Miss
Crane paid for it, and the man went grumbling away.”

“Did Lewis have it?” cried Nat, much excited.

“You will see. Now poor Lewis had another trial to bear, for the boys
were constantly saying, ‘Lend me your pearl-handled knife, Gooseberry,’
and things of that sort, till Lewis was so unhappy he begged to be sent
home. Miss Crane did her best to keep the boys quiet, but it was hard
work, for they would tease, and she could not be with them all the
time. That is one of the hardest things to teach boys; they won’t ‘hit
a fellow when he is down,’ as they say, but they will torment him in
little ways till he would thank them to fight it out all round.”

“I know that,” said Dan.

“So do I,” added Nat, softly.

Jack said nothing, but he quite agreed; for he knew that the elder boys
despised him, and let him alone for that very reason.

“Do go on about poor Lewis, Aunt Jo. I don’t believe he took the knife,
but I want to be sure,” said Daisy, in great anxiety.

“Well, week after week went on and the matter was not cleared up. The
boys avoided Lewis, and he, poor fellow, was almost sick with the
trouble he had brought upon himself. He resolved never to tell another
lie, and tried so hard that Miss Crane pitied and helped him, and
really came at last to believe that he did not take the knife. Two
months after the peddler’s first visit, he came again, and the first
thing he said was--

“‘Well, ma’am, I found that knife after all. It had slipped behind the
lining of my valise, and fell out the other day when I was putting in a
new stock of goods. I thought I’d call and let you know, as you paid
for it, and maybe would like it, so here it is.’

“The boys had all gathered round, and at these words they felt much
ashamed, and begged Lewis’ pardon so heartily that he could not refuse
to give it. Miss Crane presented the knife to him, and he kept it many
years to remind him of the fault that had brought him so much trouble.”

“I wonder why it is that things you eat on the sly hurt you, and don’t
when you eat them at table,” observed Stuffy, thoughtfully.

“Perhaps your conscience affects your stomach,” said Mrs. Jo, smiling
at his speech.

“He is thinking of the cucumbers,” said Ned, and a gale of merriment
followed the words, for Stuffy’s last mishap had been a funny one.

He ate two large cucumbers in private, felt very ill, and confided
his anguish to Ned, imploring him to do something. Ned good-naturedly
recommended a mustard plaster and a hot flat iron to the feet; only in
applying these remedies he reversed the order of things, and put the
plaster on the feet, the flat iron on the stomach, and poor Stuffy was
found in the barn with blistered soles and a scorched jacket.

“Suppose you tell another story, that was such an interesting one,”
said Nat, as the laughter subsided.

Before Mrs. Jo could refuse these insatiable Oliver Twists, Rob walked
into the room trailing his little bed-cover after him, and wearing an
expression of great sweetness as he said, steering straight to his
mother as a sure haven of refuge,--

“I heard a great noise, and I thought sumfin dreffle might have
happened, so I came to see.”

“Did you think I would forget you, naughty boy?” asked his mother,
trying to look stern.

“No; but I thought you’d feel better to see me right here,” responded
the insinuating little party.

“I had much rather see you in bed, so march straight up again, Robin.”

“Everybody that comes in here has to tell a story, and you can’t, so
you’d better cut and run,” said Emil.

“Yes, I can! I tell Teddy lots of ones, all about bears and moons, and
little flies that say things when they buzz,” protested Rob, bound to
stay at any price.

“Tell one now, then, right away,” said Dan, preparing to shoulder and
bear him off.

“Well, I will; let me fink a minute,” and Rob climbed into his mother’s
lap, where he was cuddled, with the remark--

“It is a family failing, this getting out of bed at wrong times. Demi
used to do it; and as for me, I was hopping in and out all night long.
Meg used to think the house was on fire, and send me down to see, and I
used to stay and enjoy myself, as you mean to, my bad son.”

“I’ve finked now,” observed Rob, quite at his ease, and eager to win
the _entrée_ into this delightful circle.

Every one looked and listened with faces full of suppressed merriment
as Rob, perched on his mother’s knee and wrapped in the gay coverlet,
told the following brief but tragic tale with an earnestness that made
it very funny:--

“Once a lady had a million children, and one nice little boy. She went
up-stairs and said, ‘You mustn’t go in the yard.’ But he wented, and
fell into the pump, and was drowned dead.”

“Is that all?” asked Franz, as Rob paused out of breath with this
startling beginning.

“No, there is another piece of it,” and Rob knit his downy eyebrows in
the effort to evolve another inspiration.

“What did the lady do when he fell into the pump?” asked his mother, to
help him on.

“Oh, she pumped him up, and wrapped him in a newspaper, and put him on
a shelf to dry for seed.”

A general explosion of laughter greeted this surprising conclusion, and
Mrs. Jo patted the curly head, as she said, solemnly,--

“My son, you inherit your mother’s gift of story-telling. Go where
glory waits thee.”

“Now I can stay, can’t I? Wasn’t it a good story?” cried Rob, in high
feather at his superb success.

“You can stay till you have eaten these twelve pop-corns,” said his
mother, expecting to see them vanish at one mouthful.

But Rob was a shrewd little man, and got the better of her by eating
them one by one very slowly, and enjoying every minute with all his
might.

“Hadn’t you better tell the other story, while you wait for him?” said
Demi, anxious that no time should be lost.

“I really have nothing but a little tale about a wood-box,” said Mrs.
Jo, seeing that Rob had still seven corns to eat.

“Is there a boy in it?”

“It is all boy.”

“Is it true?” asked Demi.

“Every bit of it.”

“Goody! tell on, please.”

“James Snow and his mother lived in a little house, up in New
Hampshire. They were poor, and James had to work to help his mother,
but he loved books so well he hated work, and just wanted to sit and
study all day long.”

“How could he! I hate books, and like work,” said Dan, objecting to
James at the very outset.

“It takes all sorts of people to make a world; workers and students
both are needed, and there is room for all. But I think the workers
should study some, and the students should know how to work if
necessary,” answered Mrs. Jo, looking from Dan to Demi with a
significant expression.

“I’m sure I do work,” and Demi showed three small hard spots in his
little palm, with pride.

“And I’m sure I study,” added Dan, nodding with a groan toward the
blackboard full of neat figures.

“See what James did. He did not mean to be selfish, but his mother was
proud of him, and let him do as he liked, working away by herself that
he might have books and time to read them. One autumn James wanted to
go to school, and went to the minister to see if he would help him,
about decent clothes and books. Now the minister had heard the gossip
about James’s idleness, and was not inclined to do much for him,
thinking that a boy who neglected his mother, and let her slave for
him, was not likely to do very well even at school. But the good man
felt more interested when he found how earnest James was, and being
rather an odd man, he made this proposal to the boy, to try how sincere
he was.

“‘I will give you clothes and books on one condition, James.’

“‘What is that, sir?’ and the boy brightened up at once.

“‘You are to keep your mother’s wood-box full all winter long, and do
it yourself. If you fail, school stops.’ James laughed at the queer
condition and readily agreed to it, thinking it a very easy one.

“He began school, and for a time got on capitally with the wood-box,
for it was autumn, and chips and brush-wood were plentiful. He ran out
morning and evening and got a basket full, or chopped up the cat sticks
for the little cooking stove, and as his mother was careful and saving,
the task was not hard. But in November the frost came, the days were
dull and cold, and wood went fast. His mother bought a load with her
own earnings, but it seemed to melt away, and was nearly gone, before
James remembered that _he_ was to get the next. Mrs. Snow was feeble
and lame with rheumatism, and unable to work as she had done, so James
had to put down his books, and see what he could do.

“It was hard, for he was going on well, and so interested in his
lessons that he hated to stop except for food and sleep. But he knew
the minister would keep his word, and much against his will James
set about earning money in his spare hours, lest the wood-box should
get empty. He did all sorts of things, ran errands, took care of a
neighbor’s cow, helped the old sexton dust and warm the church on
Sundays, and in these ways got enough to buy fuel in small quantities.
But it was hard work; the days were short, the winter was bitterly
cold, the precious time went fast, and the dear books were so
fascinating, that it was sad to leave them, for dull duties that never
seemed done.

“The minister watched him quietly, and seeing that he was in earnest
helped him without his knowledge. He met him often driving the wood
sleds from the forest, where the men were chopping, and as James
plodded beside the slow oxen, he read or studied, anxious to use every
minute. ‘The boy is worth helping, this lesson will do him good, and
when he has learned it, I will give him an easier one,’ said the
minister to himself, and on Christmas eve a splendid load of wood was
quietly dropped at the door of the little house, with a new saw and a
bit of paper, saying only--

“‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’

“Poor James expected nothing, but when he woke on that cold Christmas
morning, he found a pair of warm mittens, knit by his mother, with her
stiff painful fingers. This gift pleased him very much, but her kiss
and tender look as she called him her ‘good son,’ was better still.
In trying to keep her warm, he had warmed his own heart, you see, and
in filling the wood-box he had also filled those months with duties
faithfully done. He began to see this, to feel that there was something
better than books, and to try to learn the lessons God set him, as well
as those his school-master gave.

“When he saw the great pile of oak and pine logs at his door, and read
the little paper, he knew who sent it, and understood the minister’s
plan; thanked him for it, and fell to work with all his might. Other
boys frolicked that day, but James sawed wood, and I think of all the
lads in the town the happiest was the one in the new mittens, who
whistled like a blackbird as he filled his mother’s wood-box.”

“That’s a first rater!” cried Dan, who enjoyed a simple matter-of-fact
story better than the finest fairy tale; “I like that fellow after all.”

“I could saw wood for you, Aunt Jo!” said Demi, feeling as if a new
means of earning money for his mother was suggested by the story.

“Tell about a bad boy. I like them best,” said Nan.

“You’d better tell about a naughty cross-patch of a girl,” said Tommy,
whose evening had been spoilt by Nan’s unkindness. It made his apple
taste bitter, his pop-corn was insipid, his nuts were hard to crack,
and the sight of Ned and Nan on one bench made him feel his life a
burden.

But there were no more stories from Mrs. Jo, for on looking down at Rob
he was discovered to be fast asleep with his last corn firmly clasped
in his chubby hand. Bundling him up in his coverlet, his mother carried
him away and tucked him up with no fear of his popping out again.

“Now let’s see who will come next,” said Emil, setting the door
temptingly ajar.

Mary Ann passed first, and he called out to her, but Silas had warned
her, and she only laughed and hurried on in spite of their enticements.
Presently a door opened, and a strong voice was heard humming in the
hall--

    “Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten
    Dass ich so traurig bin.”

“It’s Uncle Fritz; all laugh loud and he will be sure to come in,” said
Emil.

A wild burst of laughter followed, and in came Uncle Fritz, asking,
“What is the joke, my lads?”

“Caught! caught! you can’t go out till you’ve told a story,” cried the
boys, slamming the door.

“So! that is the joke then? Well, I have no wish to go, it is so
pleasant here, and I pay my forfeit at once,” which he did by sitting
down and beginning instantly--

“A long time ago your Grandfather, Demi, went to lecture in a great
town, hoping to get some money for a home for little orphans that
some good people were getting up. His lecture did well, and he put a
considerable sum of money in his pocket, feeling very happy about it.
As he was driving in a chaise to another town, he came to a lonely bit
of road, late in the afternoon, and was just thinking what a good place
it was for robbers when he saw a bad-looking man come out of the woods
in front of him and go slowly along as if waiting till he came up. The
thought of the money made Grandfather rather anxious, and at first he
had a mind to turn round and drive away. But the horse was tired, and
then he did not like to suspect the man, so he kept on, and when he got
nearer and saw how poor and sick and ragged the stranger looked, his
heart reproached him, and stopping, he said in his kind voice--

“‘My friend, you look tired; let me give you a lift.’ The man seemed
surprised, hesitated a minute, and then got in. He did not seem
inclined to talk, but Grandfather kept on in his wise, cheerful way,
speaking of what a hard year it had been, how much the poor had
suffered, and how difficult it was to get on sometimes. The man slowly
softened a little, and, won by the kind chat, told his story. How he
had been sick, could get no work, had a family of children, and was
almost in despair. Grandfather was so full of pity that he forgot his
fear, and, asking the man his name, said he would try and get him work
in the next town, as he had friends there. Wishing to get at pencil
and paper, to write down the address, Grandfather took out his plump
pocket-book, and the minute he did so, the man’s eye was on it. Then
Grandfather remembered what was in it and trembled for his money, but
said quietly--

“‘Yes, I have a little sum here for some poor orphans. I wish it was my
own, I would so gladly give you some of it. I am not rich, but I know
many of the trials of the poor; this five dollars is mine, and I want
to give it to you for your children.’

“The hard, hungry look in the man’s eyes changed to a grateful one
as he took the small sum, freely given, and left the orphans’ money
untouched. He rode on with Grandfather till they approached the town,
then he asked to be set down. Grandpa shook hands with him, and was
about to drive on, when the man said, as if something made him, ‘I was
desperate when we met, and I meant to rob you, but you were so kind I
couldn’t do it. God bless you, sir, for keeping me from it!’”

“Did Grandpa ever see him again?” asked Daisy, eagerly.

“No; but I believe the man found work, and did not try robbery any
more.”

“That was a curious way to treat him; I’d have knocked him down,” said
Dan.

“Kindness is always better than force. Try it and see,” answered Mr.
Bhaer, rising.

“Tell another, please,” cried Daisy.

“You must, Aunt Jo did,” added Demi.

“Then I certainly won’t, but keep my others for next time. Too many
tales are as bad as too many bonbons. I have paid my forfeit and I go,”
and Mr. Bhaer ran for his life, with the whole flock in full pursuit.
He had the start, however, and escaped safely into his study, leaving
the boys to go rioting back again.

They were so stirred up by the race that they could not settle to their
former quiet, and a lively game of Blind-man’s Buff followed, in which
Tommy showed that he had taken the moral of the last story to heart,
for, when he caught Nan, he whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry I called
you a cross-patch.”

Nan was not to be outdone in kindness, so, when they played “Button,
button, who’s got the button?” and it was her turn to go round, she
said, “Hold fast all I give you,” with such a friendly smile at Tommy,
that he was not surprised to find the horse-hair ring in his hand
instead of the button. He only smiled back at her then, but when they
were going to bed, he offered Nan the best bite of his last apple; she
saw the ring on his stumpy little finger, accepted the bite, and peace
was declared. Both were sorry for the temporary coldness, neither was
ashamed to say, “I was wrong, forgive me,” so the childish friendship
remained unbroken, and the home in the willow lasted long, a pleasant
little castle in the air.



CHAPTER XXI

THANKSGIVING


This yearly festival was always kept at Plumfield in the good
old-fashioned way, and nothing was allowed to interfere with it. For
days beforehand, the little girls helped Asia and Mrs. Jo in store-room
and kitchen, making pies and puddings, sorting fruit, dusting dishes,
and being very busy and immensely important. The boys hovered on the
outskirts of the forbidden ground, sniffing the savory odors, peeping
in at the mysterious performances, and occasionally being permitted to
taste some delicacy in the process of preparation.

Something more than usual seemed to be on foot this year, for the girls
were as busy up-stairs as down, so were the boys in school-room and
barn, and a general air of bustle pervaded the house. There was a great
hunting up of old ribbons and finery, much cutting and pasting of gold
paper, and the most remarkable quantity of straw, gray cotton, flannel,
and big black beads, used by Franz and Mrs. Jo. Ned hammered at
strange machines in the workshop, Demi and Tommy went about murmuring
to themselves as if learning something. A fearful racket was heard in
Emil’s room at intervals, and peals of laughter from the nursery when
Rob and Teddy were sent for and hidden from sight whole hours at a
time. But the thing that puzzled Mr. Bhaer the most was what became
of Rob’s big pumpkin. It had been borne in triumph to the kitchen,
where a dozen golden-tinted pies soon after appeared. It would not
have taken more than a quarter of the mammoth vegetable to make them,
yet where was the rest? It disappeared, and Rob never seemed to care,
only chuckled, when it was mentioned, and told his father, “To wait and
see,” for the fun of the whole thing was to surprise Father Bhaer at
the end, and not let him know a bit about what was to happen.

He obediently shut eyes, ears, and mouth, and went about trying not
to see what was in plain sight, not to hear the tell-tale sounds that
filled the air, not to understand any of the perfectly transparent
mysteries going on all about him. Being a German, he loved these simple
domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart, for they
made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go elsewhere for
fun.

When at last the day came, the boys went off for a long walk, that they
might have good appetites for dinner; as if they ever needed them! The
girls remained at home to help set the table, and give last touches to
various affairs which filled their busy little souls with anxiety. The
school-room had been shut up since the night before, and Mr. Bhaer was
forbidden to enter it on pain of a beating from Teddy, who guarded the
door like a small dragon, though he was dying to tell about it, and
nothing but his father’s heroic self-denial in not listening, kept him
from betraying the grand secret.

“It’s all done, and it’s perfectly splendid,” cried Nan, coming out at
last with an air of triumph.

“The----you know--goes beautifully, and Silas knows just what to do
now,” added Daisy, skipping with delight at some unspeakable success.

“I’m blest if it ain’t the ’cutest thing I ever see, them critters in
particular,” and Silas, who had been let into the secret, went off
laughing like a great boy.

“They are coming; I hear Emil roaring ‘Land lubbers lying down below,’
so we must run and dress,” cried Nan, and up-stairs they scampered in a
great hurry.

The boys came trooping home with appetites that would have made the big
turkey tremble, if it had not been past all fear. They also retired to
dress; and for half-an-hour there was a washing, brushing, and prinking
that would have done any tidy woman’s heart good to see. When the bell
rang, a troop of fresh-faced lads with shiny hair, clean collars, and
Sunday jackets on, filed into the dining-room, where Mrs. Jo, in her
one black silk, with a knot of her favorite white chrysanthemums in her
bosom, sat at the head of the table, “looking splendid,” as the boys
said, whenever she got herself up. Daisy and Nan were as gay as a posy
bed in their new winter dresses, with bright sashes and hair ribbons.
Teddy was gorgeous to behold in a crimson merino blouse, and his best
button boots, which absorbed and distracted him as much as Mr. Toot’s
wristbands did on one occasion.

As Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer glanced at each other down the long table,
with those rows of happy faces on either side, they had a little
thanksgiving, all to themselves, and without a word, for one heart said
to the other,--“Our work has prospered, let us be grateful and go on.”

The clatter of knives and forks prevented much conversation for a
few minutes, and Mary Ann with an amazing pink bow in her hair “flew
around” briskly, handing plates and ladling out gravy. Nearly every
one had contributed to the feast, so the dinner was a peculiarly
interesting one to the eaters of it, who beguiled the pauses by remarks
on their own productions.

“If these are not good potatoes I never saw any,” observed Jack, as he
received his fourth big mealy one.

“Some of my herbs are in the stuffing of the turkey, that’s why it’s so
nice,” said Nan, taking a mouthful with intense satisfaction.

“My ducks are prime any way; Asia said she never cooked such fat ones,”
added Tommy.

“Well, our carrots are beautiful, ain’t they, and our parsnips will be
ever so good when we dig them,” put in Dick, and Dolly murmured his
assent from behind the bone he was picking.

“I helped make the pies with my pumpkin,” called out Robby, with a
laugh which he stopped by retiring into his mug.

“I picked some of the apples that the cider is made of,” said Demi.

“I raked the cranberries for the sauce,” cried Nat.

“I got the nuts,” added Dan, and so it went on all round the table.

“Who made up Thanksgiving?” asked Rob, for being lately promoted
to jacket and trousers he felt a new and manly interest in the
institutions of his country.

“See who can answer that question,” and Mr. Bhaer nodded to one or two
of his best history boys.

“I know,” said Demi, “the Pilgrims made it.”

“What for?” asked Rob, without waiting to learn who the Pilgrims were.

“I forget,” and Demi subsided.

“I believe it was because they were not starved once, and so when they
had a good harvest, they said, ‘We will thank God for it,’ and they had
a day and called it Thanksgiving,” said Dan, who liked the story of the
brave men who suffered so nobly for their faith.

“Good! I didn’t think you would remember any thing but natural
history,” and Mr. Bhaer tapped gently on the table as applause for his
pupil.

Dan looked pleased; and Mrs. Jo said to her son, “Now do you understand
about it, Robby?”

“No, I don’t. I thought pil-grins were a sort of big bird that lived on
rocks, and I saw pictures of them in Demi’s book.”

“He means penguins. Oh, isn’t he a little goosey!” and Demi laid back
in his chair and laughed aloud.

“Don’t laugh at him, but tell him all about it if you can,” said Mrs.
Bhaer, consoling Rob with more cranberry sauce for the general smile
that went round the table at his mistake.

“Well, I will;” and, after a pause to collect his ideas, Demi delivered
the following sketch of the Pilgrim Fathers, which would have made even
those grave gentlemen smile if they could have heard it.

“You see, Rob, some of the people in England didn’t like the king, or
something, so they got into ships and sailed away to this country. It
was all full of Indians, and bears, and wild creatures, and they lived
in forts, and had a dreadful time.”

“The bears?” asked Robby, with interest.

“No; the Pilgrims, because the Indians troubled them. They hadn’t
enough to eat, and they went to church with guns, and ever so many
died, and they got out of the ships on a rock, and it’s called Plymouth
Rock, and Aunt Jo saw it and touched it. The Pilgrims killed all the
Indians, and got rich; and hung the witches, and were very good; and
some of my greatest great-grandpas came in the ships. One was the
Mayflower; and they made Thanksgiving, and we have it always, and I
like it. Some more turkey, please.”

“I think Demi will be an historian, there is such order and clearness
in his account of events;” and Uncle Fritz’s eyes laughed at Aunt Jo,
as he helped the descendant of the Pilgrims to his third bit of turkey.

“I thought you must eat as much as ever you could on Thanksgiving.
But Franz says you mustn’t even then;” and Stuffy looked as if he had
received bad news.

“Franz is right, so mind your knife and fork, and be moderate, or else
you won’t be able to help in the surprise by and by,” said Mrs. Jo.

“I’ll be careful; but everybody does eat lots, and I like it better
than being moderate,” said Stuffy, who leaned to the popular belief
that Thanksgiving must be kept by coming as near apoplexy as possible,
and escaping with merely a fit of indigestion or a headache.

“Now, my ‘pilgrims’, amuse yourselves quietly till tea-time, for you
will have enough excitement this evening,” said Mrs. Jo, as they rose
from the table after a protracted sitting, finished by drinking every
one’s health in cider.

“I think I will take the whole flock for a drive, it is so pleasant;
then you can rest, my dear, or you will be worn out this evening,”
added Mr. Bhaer; and as soon as coats and hats could be put on, the
great omnibus was packed full, and away they went for a long gay drive,
leaving Mrs. Jo to rest and finish sundry small affairs in peace.

An early and light tea was followed by more brushing of hair and
washing of hands; then the flock waited impatiently for the company
to come. Only the family was expected; for these small revels were
strictly domestic, and such being the case, sorrow was not allowed to
sadden the present festival. All came; Mr. and Mrs. March, with Aunt
Meg, so sweet and lovely, in spite of her black dress and the little
widow’s cap that encircled her tranquil face. Uncle Teddy and Aunt Amy,
with the Princess looking more fairy-like than ever, in a sky-blue
gown, and a great bouquet of hot-house flowers, which she divided among
the boys, sticking one in each buttonhole, making them feel peculiarly
elegant and festive. One strange face appeared, and Uncle Teddy led the
unknown gentleman up to the Bhaers, saying--

“This is Mr. Hyde; he has been inquiring about Dan, and I ventured to
bring him to-night, that he might see how much the boy has improved.”

The Bhaers received him cordially, for Dan’s sake, pleased that the lad
had been remembered. But, after a few minutes’ chat, they were glad
to know Mr. Hyde for his own sake, so genial, simple, and interesting
was he. It was pleasant to see the boy’s face light up when he caught
sight of his friend; pleasanter still to see Mr. Hyde’s surprise and
satisfaction in Dan’s improved manners and appearance, and pleasantest
of all to watch the two sit talking in a corner, forgetting the
differences of age, culture, and position, in the one subject which
interested both, as man and boy compared notes, and told the story of
their summer life.

“The performances must begin soon, or the actors will go to sleep,”
said Mrs. Jo, when the first greetings were over.

So every one went into the school-room, and took seats before a curtain
made of two big bed-covers. The children had already vanished; but
stifled laughter, and funny little exclamations from behind the
curtain, betrayed their whereabouts. The entertainment began with a
spirited exhibition of gymnastics, led by Franz. The six elder lads,
in blue trousers and red shirts, made a fine display of muscle with
dumb-bells, clubs, and weights, keeping time to the music of the
piano, played by Mrs. Jo behind the scenes. Dan was so energetic in
this exercise, that there was some danger of his knocking down his
neighbors, like so many nine-pins, or sending his bean-bags whizzing
among the audience; for he was excited by Mr. Hyde’s presence, and a
burning desire to do honor to his teachers.

“A fine, strong lad. If I go on my trip to South America, in a year or
two, I shall be tempted to ask you to lend him to me, Mr. Bhaer,” said
Mr. Hyde, whose interest in Dan was much increased by the report he had
just heard of him.

“You shall have him, and welcome, though we shall miss our young
Hercules very much. It would do him a world of good, and I am sure he
would serve his friend faithfully.”

Dan heard both question and answer, and his heart leaped with joy at
the thought of travelling in a new country with Mr. Hyde, and swelled
with gratitude for the kindly commendation which rewarded his efforts
to be all these friends desired to see him.

After the gymnastics, Demi and Tommy spoke the old school dialogue,
“Money makes the mare go.” Demi did very well, but Tommy was capital
as the old farmer; for he imitated Silas in a way that convulsed the
audience, and caused Silas himself to laugh so hard that Asia had
to slap him on the back, as they stood in the hall enjoying the fun
immensely.

Then Emil, who had got his breath by this time, gave them a sea-song
in costume, with a great deal about “stormy winds,” “lee shores,” and a
rousing chorus of “Luff, boys, luff,” which made the room ring; after
which Ned performed a funny Chinese dance, and hopped about like a
large frog in a pagoda hat. As this was the only public exhibition ever
had at Plumfield, a few exercises in lightning-arithmetic, spelling,
and reading were given. Jack quite amazed the public by his rapid
calculations on the blackboard. Tommy won in the spelling match, and
Demi read a little French fable so well that Uncle Teddy was charmed.

“Where are the other children?” asked every one as the curtain fell,
and none of the little ones appeared.

“Oh, that is the surprise. It’s so lovely, I pity you because you don’t
know it,” said Demi, who had gone to get his mother’s kiss, and stayed
by her to explain the mystery when it should be revealed.

Goldilocks had been carried off by Aunt Jo, to the great amazement of
her papa, who quite outdid Mr. Bhaer in acting wonder, suspense, and
wild impatience to know “what was going to happen.”

At last, after much rustling, hammering, and very audible directions
from the stage manager, the curtain rose to soft music, and Bess was
discovered sitting on a stool beside a brown paper fire-place. A dearer
little Cinderella was never seen; for the gray gown was very ragged,
the tiny shoes all worn, the face so pretty under the bright hair,
and the attitude so dejected, it brought tears, as well as smiles, to
the fond eyes looking at the baby actress. She sat quite still, till
a voice whispered, “Now!”--then she sighed a funny little sigh, and
said, “Oh, I wish I tood go to the ball!” so naturally, that her father
clapped frantically, and her mother called out, “Little darling!”
These highly improper expressions of feeling caused Cinderella to
forget herself, and shake her head at them, saying, reprovingly, “You
mustn’t ’peak to me.”

Silence instantly prevailed, and three taps were heard on the wall.
Cinderella looked alarmed, but before she could remember to say, “What
is dat?” the back of the brown paper fire-place opened like a door,
and, with some difficulty, the fairy godmother got herself and her
pointed hat through. It was Nan, in a red cloak, a cap, and a wand,
which she waved as she said decidedly,--

“You _shall_ go to the ball, my dear.”

“Now you must pull and show my pretty dress,” returned Cinderella,
tugging at her brown gown.

“No, no; you must say, ‘How can I go in my rags?’” said the godmother
in her own voice.

“Oh yes, so I mus;” and the Princess said it, quite undisturbed at her
forgetfulness.

“I change your rags into a splendid dress, because you are good,” said
the godmother in her stage tones; and deliberately unbuttoning the
brown pinafore, she displayed a gorgeous sight.

The little Princess really was pretty enough to turn the heads of any
number of small princes, for her mamma had dressed her like a tiny
court lady, in a rosy silk train with satin under-skirt, and bits of
bouquets here and there, quite lovely to behold. The godmother put a
crown, with pink and white feathers drooping from it, on her head, and
gave her a pair of silver paper slippers, which she put on, and then
stood up, lifting her skirts to show them to the audience, saying, with
pride, “My dlass ones, ain’t they pitty?”

She was so charmed with them, that she was with difficulty recalled to
her part, and made to say--

“But I have no toach, Dodmother.”

“Behold it!” and Nan waved her wand with such a flourish, that she
nearly knocked off the crown of the Princess.

Then appeared the grand triumph of the piece. First, a rope was seen
to flap on the floor, to tighten with a twitch as Emil’s voice was
heard to say, “Heave, ahoy!” and Silas’s gruff one to reply, “Stiddy,
now, stiddy!” A shout of laughter followed, for four large gray rats
appeared, rather shaky as to their legs and queer as to their tails,
but quite fine about the head, where black beads shone in the most
lifelike manner. They drew, or were intended to appear as if they did,
a magnificent coach made of half the mammoth pumpkin, mounted on the
wheels of Teddy’s wagon, painted yellow to match the gay carriage.
Perched on a seat in front sat a jolly little coachman in a white
cotton-wool wig, cocked hat, scarlet breeches, and laced coat, who
cracked a long whip and jerked the red reins so energetically, that
the gray steeds reared finely. It was Teddy, and he beamed upon the
company so affably that they gave him a round all to himself; and Uncle
Laurie said, “If I could find as sober a coachman as that one, I would
engage him on the spot.” The coach stopped, the godmother lifted in the
Princess, and she was trundled away in state, kissing her hand to the
public, with her glass shoes sticking up in front, and her pink train
sweeping the ground behind, for, elegant as the coach was, I regret to
say that her Highness was rather a tight fit.

The next scene was the ball, and here Nan and Daisy appeared as gay as
peacocks in all sorts of finery. Nan was especially good as the proud
sister, and crushed many imaginary ladies as she swept about the
palace-hall. The Prince, in solitary state upon a somewhat unsteady
throne, sat gazing about him from under an imposing crown, as he played
with his sword and admired the rosettes in his shoes. When Cinderella
came in he jumped up, and exclaimed, with more warmth than elegance,--

“My gracious! who is that?” and immediately led the lady out to dance,
while the sisters scowled and turned up their noses in the corner.

The stately jig executed by the little couple was very pretty, for the
childish faces were so earnest, the costumes so gay, and the steps
so peculiar, that they looked like the dainty quaint figures painted
on a Watteau fan. The Princess’s train was very much in her way, and
the sword of Prince Rob nearly tripped him up several times. But they
overcame these obstacles remarkably well, and finished the dance with
much grace and spirit, considering that neither knew what the other was
about.

“Drop your shoe,” whispered Mrs. Jo’s voice as the lady was about to
sit down.

“Oh, I fordot!” and, taking off one of the silvery slippers, Cinderella
planted it carefully in the middle of the stage, said to Rob, “Now you
must try and tatch me,” and ran away, while the Prince, picking up the
shoe, obediently trotted after her.

The third scene, as everybody knows, is where the herald comes to try
on the shoe. Teddy, still in coachman’s dress, came in blowing a tin
fish-horn melodiously, and the proud sisters each tried to put on the
slipper. Nan insisted on playing cut off her toe with a carving-knife,
and performed that operation so well that the herald was alarmed, and
begged to be “welly keerful.” Cinderella then was called, and came in
with the pinafore half on, slipped her foot into the slipper, and
announced, with satisfaction,--

“I am the Pinsiss.”

Daisy wept, and begged pardon; but Nan, who liked tragedy, improved
upon the story, and fell in a fainting-fit upon the floor, where she
remained comfortably enjoying the rest of the play. It was not long,
for the Prince ran in, dropped upon his knees, and kissed the hand
of Goldilocks with great ardor, while the herald blew a blast that
nearly deafened the audience. The curtain had no chance to fall, for
the Princess ran off the stage to her father, crying, “Didn’t I do it
well?” while the Prince and herald had a fencing-match with the tin
horn and wooden sword.

“It was beautiful!” said every one; and, when the raptures had a little
subsided, Nat came out with his violin in his hand.

“Hush! hush!” cried all the children, and silence followed, for
something in the boy’s bashful manner and appealing eyes made every one
listen kindly.

The Bhaers thought he would play some of the old airs he knew so well,
but, to their surprise, they heard a new and lovely melody, so softly,
sweetly played, that they could hardly believe it could be Nat. It was
one of those songs without words that touch the heart, and sing of all
tender home-like hopes and joys, soothing and cheering those who listen
to its simple music. Aunt Meg leaned her head on Demi’s shoulder,
Grandmother wiped her eyes, and Mrs. Jo looked up at Mr. Laurie,
saying, in a choky whisper,--

“You composed that.”

“I wanted your boy to do you honor, and thank you in his own way,”
answered Laurie, leaning down to answer her.

When Nat made his bow and was about to go, he was called back by many
hands, and had to play again. He did so with such a happy face, that
it was good to see him, for he did his best, and gave them the gay old
tunes that set the feet to dancing, and made quietude impossible.

“Clear the floor!” cried Emil; and in a minute the chairs were pushed
back, the older people put safely in corners, and the children gathered
on the stage.

“Show your manners!” called Emil; and the boys pranced up to the
ladies, old and young, with polite invitations to “tread the mazy,” as
dear Dick Swiveller has it. The small lads nearly came to blows for
the Princess, but she chose Dick, like a kind, little gentlewoman as
she was, and let him lead her proudly to her place. Mrs. Jo was not
allowed to decline; and Aunt Amy filled Dan with unspeakable delight by
refusing Franz and taking him. Of course Nan and Tommy, Nat and Daisy,
paired off, while Uncle Teddy went and got Asia, who was longing to
“jig it,” and felt much elated by the honor done her. Silas and Mary
Ann had a private dance in the hall; and for half-an-hour Plumfield was
at its merriest.

The party wound up with a grand promenade of all the young folks,
headed by the pumpkin-coach with the Princess and driver inside, and
the rats in a wildly frisky state.

While the children enjoyed this final frolic, the elders sat in the
parlor looking on as they talked together of the little people with the
interest of parents and friends.

“What are you thinking of, all by yourself, with such a happy face,
sister Jo?” asked Laurie, sitting down beside her on the sofa.

“My summer’s work, Teddy, and amusing myself by imagining the future
of my boys,” she answered, smiling, as she made room for him.

“They are all to be poets, painters, and statesmen, famous soldiers, or
at least merchant princes, I suppose.”

“No, I am not as aspiring as I once was, and I shall be satisfied if
they are honest men. But I will confess that I do expect a little glory
and a career for some of them. Demi is not a common child, and I think
he will blossom into something good and great in the best sense of the
word. The others will do well, I hope, especially my last two boys,
for, after hearing Nat play to-night, I really think he has genius.”

“Too soon to say; talent he certainly has, and there is no doubt that
the boy can soon earn his bread by the work he loves. Build him up for
another year or so, and then I will take him off your hands, and launch
him properly.”

“That is such a pleasant prospect for poor Nat, who came to me six
months ago so friendless and forlorn. Dan’s future is already plain to
me. Mr. Hyde will want him soon, and I mean to give him a brave and
faithful little servant. Dan is one who can serve well if the wages
are love and confidence, and he has the energy to carve out his own
future in his own way. Yes, I am very happy over our success with these
boys--one so weak, and one so wild; both so much better now, and so
full of promise.”

“What magic did you use, Jo?”

“I only loved them, and let them see it. Fritz did the rest.”

“Dear soul! you look as if ‘only loving’ had been rather hard work
sometimes,” said Laurie, stroking her thin cheek with a look of more
tender admiration than he had ever given her as a girl.

“I’m a faded old woman, but I’m a very happy one; so don’t pity me,
Teddy;” and she glanced about the room with eyes full of a sincere
content.

“Yes, your plan seems to work better and better every year,” he said,
with an emphatic nod of approval toward the cheery scene before him.

“How can it fail to work well when I have so much help from you all?”
answered Mrs. Jo, looking gratefully at her most generous patron.

“It is the best joke of the family, this school of yours and its
success. So unlike the future we planned for you, and yet so suited to
you after all. It was a regular inspiration, Jo,” said Laurie, dodging
her thanks as usual.

“Ah! but you laughed at it in the beginning, and still make all manner
of fun of me and my inspirations. Didn’t you predict that having
girls with the boys would prove a dead failure? Now see how well it
works;” and she pointed to the happy group of lads and lassies dancing,
singing, and chattering together with every sign of kindly good
fellowship.

“I give in, and when my Goldilocks is old enough I’ll send her to you.
Can I say more than that?”

“I shall be so proud to have your little treasure trusted to me. But
really, Teddy, the effect of these girls has been excellent. I know
you will laugh at me, but I don’t mind, I’m used to it; so I’ll tell
you that one of my favorite fancies is to look at my family as a small
world, to watch the progress of my little men, and, lately, to see how
well the influence of my little women works upon them. Daisy is the
domestic element, and they all feel the charm of her quiet, womanly
ways. Nan is the restless, energetic, strong-minded one; they admire
her courage, and give her a fair chance to work out her will, seeing
that she has sympathy as well as strength, and the power to do much in
their small world. Your Bess is the lady, full of natural refinement,
grace, and beauty. She polishes them unconsciously, and fills her place
as any lovely woman may, using her gentle influence to lift and hold
them above the coarse, rough things of life, and keep them gentlemen in
the best sense of the fine old word.”

“It is not always the ladies who do that best, Jo. It is sometimes the
strong brave woman who stirs up the boy and makes a man of him;” and
Laurie bowed to her with a significant laugh.

“No; I think the graceful woman, whom the boy you allude to married,
has done more for him than the wild Nan of his youth; or, better
still, the wise, motherly woman who watched over him, as Daisy watches
over Demi, did most to make him what he is;” and Jo turned toward her
mother, who sat a little apart with Meg, looking so full of the sweet
dignity and beauty of old age, that Laurie gave her a glance of filial
respect and love as he replied, in serious earnest,--

“All three did much for him, and I can understand how well these little
girls will help your lads.”

“Not more than the lads help them; it is mutual, I assure you. Nat
does much for Daisy with his music; Dan can manage Nan better than any
of us; and Demi teaches your Goldilocks so easily and well that Fritz
calls them Roger Ascham and Lady Jane Grey. Dear me! if men and women
would only trust, understand, and help one another as my children do,
what a capital place the world would be!” and Mrs. Jo’s eyes grew
absent, as if she was looking at a new and charming state of society in
which people lived as happily and innocently as her flock at Plumfield.

“You are doing your best to help on the good time, my dear. Continue
to believe in it, to work for it, and to prove its possibility by the
success of your small experiment,” said Mr. March, pausing as he passed
to say an encouraging word, for the good man never lost his faith in
humanity, and still hoped to see peace, good-will, and happiness reign
upon the earth.

“I am not so ambitious as that, father. I only want to give these
children a home in which they can be taught the few simple things which
will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight
their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God,
their fellow-creatures, and themselves; that is all I try for.”

“That is every thing. Give them these helps, then let them go to work
out their life as men and women; and whatever their success or failure
is, I think they will remember and bless your efforts, my good son and
daughter.”

The Professor had joined them, and as Mr. March spoke he gave a hand
to each, and left them with a look that was a blessing. As Jo and her
husband stood together for a moment talking quietly, and feeling that
their summer work had been well done if father approved, Mr. Laurie
slipped into the hall, said a word to the children, and all of a sudden
the whole flock pranced into the room, joined hands and danced about
Father and Mother Bhaer, singing blithely--

    “Summer days are over,
      Summer work is done;
    Harvests have been gathered
      Gayly one by one.
    Now the feast is eaten,
      Finished is the play;
    But one rite remains for
      Our Thanksgiving-day.

    “Best of all the harvest
      In the dear God’s sight,
    Are the happy children
      In the home to-night;
    And we come to offer
      Thanks where thanks are due,
    With grateful hearts and voices,
      Father, mother, unto you.”

With the last words the circle narrowed till the good Professor and his
wife were taken prisoner by many arms, and half hidden by the bouquet
of laughing young faces which surrounded them, proving that one plant
had taken root and blossomed beautifully in all the little gardens.
For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles
undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant
all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.

THE END

[Illustration: This is the ORCHARD HOUSE in Concord, Massachusetts, now
a museum visited every year by hundreds of people. Here lived the real
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott and her sisters, whose complete story
is told in the three books--LITTLE WOMEN, LITTLE MEN, and JO’S BOYS.]





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