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Title: Jo's Boys
Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Language: English
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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 "Jo's Boys" ***

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By Louisa M. Alcott

     Chapter 1    Ten Years Later
     Chapter 2    Parnassus
     Chapter 3    Jo’s Last Scrape
     Chapter 4    Dan
     Chapter 5    Vacation
     Chapter 6    Last Words
     Chapter 7    The Lion and the Lamb
     Chapter 8    Josie Plays Mermaid
     Chapter 9    The Worm Turns
     Chapter 10   Demi Settles
     Chapter 11   Emil’s Thanksgiving
     Chapter 12   Dan’s Christmas
     Chapter 13   Nat’s New Year
     Chapter 14   Plays at Plumfield
     Chapter 15   Waiting
     Chapter 16   In the Tennis-court
     Chapter 17   Among the Maids
     Chapter 18   Class Day
     Chapter 19   White Roses
     Chapter 20   Life for Life
     Chapter 21   Aslauga’s Knight
     Chapter 22   Positively Last Appearance


‘If anyone had told me what wonderful changes were to take place here in
ten years, I wouldn’t have believed it,’ said Mrs Jo to Mrs Meg, as they
sat on the piazza at Plumfield one summer day, looking about them with
faces full of pride and pleasure.

‘This is the sort of magic that money and kind hearts can work. I am
sure Mr Laurence could have no nobler monument than the college he so
generously endowed; and a home like this will keep Aunt March’s memory
green as long as it lasts,’ answered Mrs Meg, always glad to praise the

‘We used to believe in fairies, you remember, and plan what we’d ask
for if we could have three wishes. Doesn’t it seem as if mine had been
really granted at last? Money, fame, and plenty of the work I love,’
said Mrs Jo, carelessly rumpling up her hair as she clasped her hands
over her head just as she used to do when a girl.

‘I have had mine, and Amy is enjoying hers to her heart’s content. If
dear Marmee, John, and Beth were here, it would be quite perfect,’ added
Meg, with a tender quiver in her voice; for Marmee’s place was empty

Jo put her hand on her sister’s, and both sat silent for a little while,
surveying the pleasant scene before them with mingled sad and happy

It certainly did look as if magic had been at work, for quiet Plumfield
was transformed into a busy little world. The house seemed more
hospitable than ever, refreshed now with new paint, added wings,
well-kept lawn and garden, and a prosperous air it had not worn when
riotous boys swarmed everywhere and it was rather difficult for the
Bhaers to make both ends meet. On the hill, where kites used to be
flown, stood the fine college which Mr Laurence’s munificent legacy had
built. Busy students were going to and fro along the paths once trodden
by childish feet, and many young men and women were enjoying all the
advantages that wealth, wisdom, and benevolence could give them.

Just inside the gates of Plumfield a pretty brown cottage, very like
the Dovecote, nestled among the trees, and on the green slope westward
Laurie’s white-pillared mansion glittered in the sunshine; for when the
rapid growth of the city shut in the old house, spoilt Meg’s nest, and
dared to put a soap-factory under Mr Laurence’s indignant nose, our
friends emigrated to Plumfield, and the great changes began.

These were the pleasant ones; and the loss of the dear old people was
sweetened by the blessings they left behind; so all prospered now in the
little community, and Mr Bhaer as president, and Mr March as chaplain
of the college, saw their long-cherished dream beautifully realized. The
sisters divided the care of the young people among them, each taking
the part that suited her best. Meg was the motherly friend of the young
women, Jo the confidante and defender of all the youths, and Amy the
lady Bountiful who delicately smoothed the way for needy students, and
entertained them all so cordially that it was no wonder they named her
lovely home Mount Parnassus, so full was it of music, beauty, and the
culture hungry young hearts and fancies long for.

The original twelve boys had of course scattered far and wide during
these years, but all that lived still remembered old Plumfield, and came
wandering back from the four quarters of the earth to tell their various
experiences, laugh over the pleasures of the past, and face the duties
of the present with fresh courage; for such home-comings keep hearts
tender and hands helpful with the memories of young and happy days. A
few words will tell the history of each, and then we can go on with the
new chapter of their lives.

Franz was with a merchant kinsman in Hamburg, a man of twenty-six now,
and doing well. Emil was the jolliest tar that ever ‘sailed the ocean
blue’. His uncle sent him on a long voyage to disgust him with this
adventurous life; but he came home so delighted with it that it was
plain this was his profession, and the German kinsman gave him a good
chance in his ships; so the lad was happy. Dan was a wanderer still; for
after the geological researches in South America he tried sheep-farming
in Australia, and was now in California looking up mines. Nat was busy
with music at the Conservatory, preparing for a year or two in Germany
to finish him off. Tom was studying medicine and trying to like it.
Jack was in business with his father, bent on getting rich. Dolly was in
college with Stuffy and Ned reading law. Poor little Dick was dead, so
was Billy; and no one could mourn for them, since life would never be
happy, afflicted as they were in mind and body.

Rob and Teddy were called the ‘Lion and the Lamb’; for the latter was
as rampant as the king of beasts, and the former as gentle as any sheep
that ever baaed. Mrs Jo called him ‘my daughter’, and found him the
most dutiful of children, with plenty of manliness underlying the quiet
manners and tender nature. But in Ted she seemed to see all the faults,
whims, aspirations, and fun of her own youth in a new shape. With his
tawny locks always in wild confusion, his long legs and arms, loud
voice, and continual activity, Ted was a prominent figure at Plumfield.
He had his moods of gloom, and fell into the Slough of Despond about
once a week, to be hoisted out by patient Rob or his mother, who
understood when to let him alone and when to shake him up. He was her
pride and joy as well as torment, being a very bright lad for his age,
and so full of all sorts of budding talent, that her maternal mind was
much exercised as to what this remarkable boy would become.

Demi had gone through College with honour, and Mrs Meg had set her heart
on his being a minister--picturing in her fond fancy the first sermon
her dignified young parson would preach, as well as the long, useful,
and honoured life he was to lead. But John, as she called him now,
firmly declined the divinity school, saying he had had enough of books,
and needed to know more of men and the world, and caused the dear woman
much disappointment by deciding to try a journalist’s career. It was
a blow; but she knew that young minds cannot be driven, and that
experience is the best teacher; so she let him follow his own
inclinations, still hoping to see him in the pulpit. Aunt Jo raged when
she found that there was to be a reporter in the family, and called him
‘Jenkins’ on the spot. She liked his literary tendencies, but had reason
to detest official Paul Prys, as we shall see later. Demi knew his own
mind, however, and tranquilly carried out his plans, unmoved by the
tongues of the anxious mammas or the jokes of his mates. Uncle Teddy
encouraged him, and painted a splendid career, mentioning Dickens and
other celebrities who began as reporters and ended as famous novelists
or newspaper men.

The girls were all flourishing. Daisy, as sweet and domestic as ever,
was her mother’s comfort and companion. Josie at fourteen was a most
original young person, full of pranks and peculiarities, the latest of
which was a passion for the stage, which caused her quiet mother and
sister much anxiety as well as amusement. Bess had grown into a tall,
beautiful girl looking several years older than she was, with the same
graceful ways and dainty tastes which the little Princess had, and a
rich inheritance of both the father’s and mother’s gifts, fostered by
every aid love and money could give. But the pride of the community
was naughty Nan; for, like so many restless, wilful children, she
was growing into a woman full of the energy and promise that suddenly
blossoms when the ambitious seeker finds the work she is fitted to do
well. Nan began to study medicine at sixteen, and at twenty was getting
on bravely; for now, thanks to other intelligent women, colleges and
hospitals were open to her. She had never wavered in her purpose from
the childish days when she shocked Daisy in the old willow by saying: ‘I
don’t want any family to fuss over. I shall have an office, with bottles
and pestle things in it, and drive round and cure folks.’ The future
foretold by the little girl the young woman was rapidly bringing to
pass, and finding so much happiness in it that nothing could win her
from the chosen work. Several worthy young gentlemen had tried to make
her change her mind and choose, as Daisy did, ‘a nice little house and
family to take care of’. But Nan only laughed, and routed the lovers
by proposing to look at the tongue which spoke of adoration, or
professionally felt the pulse in the manly hand offered for her
acceptance. So all departed but one persistent youth, who was such a
devoted Traddles it was impossible to quench him.

This was Tom, who was as faithful to his child sweetheart as she to
her ‘pestle things’, and gave a proof of fidelity that touched her very
much. He studied medicine for her sake alone, having no taste for it,
and a decided fancy for a mercantile life. But Nan was firm, and
Tom stoutly kept on, devoutly hoping he might not kill many of his
fellow-beings when he came to practise. They were excellent friends,
however, and caused much amusement to their comrades, by the
vicissitudes of this merry love-chase.

Both were approaching Plumfield on the afternoon when Mrs Meg and Mrs
Jo were talking on the piazza. Not together; for Nan was walking briskly
along the pleasant road alone, thinking over a case that interested her,
and Tom was pegging on behind to overtake her, as if by accident, when
the suburbs of the city were past--a little way of his, which was part
of the joke.

Nan was a handsome girl, with a fresh colour, clear eye, quick smile,
and the self-poised look young women with a purpose always have. She was
simply and sensibly dressed, walked easily, and seemed full of vigour,
with her broad shoulders well back, arms swinging freely, and the
elasticity of youth and health in every motion. The few people she met
turned to look at her, as if it was a pleasant sight to see a hearty,
happy girl walking countryward that lovely day; and the red-faced young
man steaming along behind, hat off and every tight curl wagging with
impatience, evidently agreed with them.

Presently a mild ‘Hallo!’ was borne upon the breeze, and pausing, with
an effort to look surprised that was an utter failure, Nan said affably:

‘Oh, is that you, Tom?’

‘Looks like it. Thought you might be walking out today’; and Tom’s
jovial face beamed with pleasure.

‘You knew it. How is your throat?’ asked Nan in her professional tone,
which was always a quencher to undue raptures.

‘Throat? Oh, ah! yes, I remember. It is well. The effect of that
prescription was wonderful. I’ll never call homoeopathy a humbug again.’

‘You were the humbug this time, and so were the unmedicated pellets
I gave you. If sugar or milk can cure diphtheria in this remarkable
manner, I’ll make a note of it. O Tom, Tom, will you never be done
playing tricks?’

‘O Nan, Nan, will you never be done getting the better of me?’ And the
merry pair laughed at one another just as they did in the old times,
which always came back freshly when they went to Plumfield.

‘Well, I knew I shouldn’t see you for a week if I didn’t scare up some
excuse for a call at the office. You are so desperately busy all the
time I never get a word,’ explained Tom.

‘You ought to be busy too, and above such nonsense. Really, Tom, if you
don’t give your mind to your lectures, you’ll never get on,’ said Nan

‘I have quite enough of them as it is,’ answered Tom with an air of
disgust. ‘A fellow must lark a bit after dissecting corpuses all day.
I can’t stand it long at a time, though some people seem to enjoy it

‘Then why not leave it, and do what suits you better? I always thought
it a foolish thing, you know,’ said Nan, with a trace of anxiety in the
keen eyes that searched for signs of illness in a face as ruddy as a
Baldwin apple.

‘You know why I chose it, and why I shall stick to it if it kills me.
I may not look delicate, but I’ve a deep-seated heart complaint, and it
will carry me off sooner or later; for only one doctor in the world can
cure it, and she won’t.’

There was an air of pensive resignation about Tom that was both comic
and pathetic; for he was in earnest, and kept on giving hints of this
sort, without the least encouragement.

Nan frowned; but she was used to it, and knew how to treat him.

‘She is curing it in the best and only way; but a more refractory
patient never lived. Did you go to that ball, as I directed?’

‘I did.’

‘And devote yourself to pretty Miss West?’

‘Danced with her the whole evening.’

‘No impression made on that susceptible organ of yours?’

‘Not the slightest. I gaped in her face once, forgot to feed her, and
gave a sigh of relief when I handed her over to her mamma.’

‘Repeat the dose as often as possible, and note the symptoms. I predict
that you’ll “cry for it” by and by.’

‘Never! I’m sure it doesn’t suit my constitution.’

‘We shall see. Obey orders!’ sternly.

‘Yes, Doctor,’ meekly.

Silence reigned for a moment; then, as if the bone of contention was
forgotten in the pleasant recollections called up by familiar objects,
Nan said suddenly:

‘What fun we used to have in that wood! Do you remember how you tumbled
out of the big nut-tree and nearly broke your collar-bones?’

‘Don’t I! and how you steeped me in wormwood till I was a fine mahogany
colour, and Aunt Jo wailed over my spoilt jacket,’ laughed Tom, a boy
again in a minute.

‘And how you set the house afire?’

‘And you ran off for your band-box?’

‘Do you ever say “Thunder-turtles” now?’

‘Do people ever call you “Giddy-gaddy”?’

‘Daisy does. Dear thing, I haven’t seen her for a week.’

‘I saw Demi this morning, and he said she was keeping house for Mother

‘She always does when Aunt Jo gets into a vortex. Daisy is a model
housekeeper; and you couldn’t do better than make your bow to her, if
you can’t go to work and wait till you are grown up before you begin

‘Nat would break his fiddle over my head if I suggested such a thing.
No, thank you. Another name is engraved upon my heart as indelibly
as the blue anchor on my arm. “Hope” is my motto, and “No surrender”,
yours; see who will hold out longest.’

‘You silly boys think we must pair off as we did when children; but we
shall do nothing of the kind. How well Parnassus looks from here!’ said
Nan, abruptly changing the conversation again.

‘It is a fine house; but I love old Plum best. Wouldn’t Aunt March stare
if she could see the changes here?’ answered Tom, as they both paused at
the great gate to look at the pleasant landscape before them.

A sudden whoop startled them, as a long boy with a wild yellow head came
leaping over a hedge like a kangaroo, followed by a slender girl, who
stuck in the hawthorn, and sat there laughing like a witch. A pretty
little lass she was, with curly dark hair, bright eyes, and a very
expressive face. Her hat was at her back, and her skirts a good deal the
worse for the brooks she had crossed, the trees she had climbed, and the
last leap, which added several fine rents.

‘Take me down, Nan, please. Tom, hold Ted; he’s got my book, and I
will have it,’ called Josie from her perch, not at all daunted by the
appearance of her friends.

Tom promptly collared the thief, while Nan picked Josie from among the
thorns and set her on her feet without a word of reproof; for having
been a romp in her own girlhood, she was very indulgent to like tastes
in others. ‘What’s the matter, dear?’ she asked, pinning up the longest
rip, while Josie examined the scratches on her hands. ‘I was studying my
part in the willow, and Ted came slyly up and poked the book out of my
hands with his rod. It fell in the brook, and before I could scrabble
down he was off. You wretch, give it back this moment or I’ll box your
ears,’ cried Josie, laughing and scolding in the same breath.

Escaping from Tom, Ted struck a sentimental attitude, and with tender
glances at the wet, torn young person before him, delivered Claude
Melnotte’s famous speech in a lackadaisical way that was irresistibly
funny, ending with ‘Dost like the picture, love?’ as he made an object
of himself by tying his long legs in a knot and distorting his face

The sound of applause from the piazza put a stop to these antics, and
the young folks went up the avenue together very much in the old style
when Tom drove four in hand and Nan was the best horse in the team.
Rosy, breathless, and merry, they greeted the ladies and sat down on
the steps to rest, Aunt Meg sewing up her daughter’s rags while Mrs
Jo smoothed the Lion’s mane, and rescued the book. Daisy appeared in a
moment to greet her friend, and all began to talk.

‘Muffins for tea; better stay and eat ‘em; Daisy’s never fail,’ said Ted

‘He’s a judge; he ate nine last time. That’s why he’s so fat,’ added
Josie, with a withering glance at her cousin, who was as thin as a lath.

‘I must go and see Lucy Dove. She has a whitlow, and it’s time to lance
it. I’ll tea at college,’ answered Nan, feeling in her pocket to be sure
she had not forgotten her case of instruments.

‘Thanks, I’m going there also. Tom Merryweather has granulated lids,
and I promised to touch them up for him. Save a doctor’s fee and be good
practice for me. I’m clumsy with my thumbs,’ said Tom, bound to be near
his idol while he could.

‘Hush! Daisy doesn’t like to hear you saw-bones talk of your work.
Muffins suit us better’; and Ted grinned sweetly, with a view to future
favours in the eating line.

‘Any news of the Commodore?’ asked Tom.

‘He is on his way home, and Dan hopes to come soon. I long to see my
boys together, and have begged the wanderers to come to Thanksgiving, if
not before,’ answered Mrs Jo, beaming at the thought.

‘They’ll come, every man of them, if they can. Even Jack will risk
losing a dollar for the sake of one of our jolly old dinners,’ laughed

‘There’s the turkey fattening for the feast. I never chase him now, but
feed him well; and he’s “swellin’ wisibly”, bless his drumsticks!’ said
Ted, pointing out the doomed fowl proudly parading in a neighbouring

‘If Nat goes the last of the month we shall want a farewell frolic for
him. I suppose the dear old Chirper will come home a second Ole Bull,’
said Nan to her friend.

A pretty colour came into Daisy’s cheek, and the folds of muslin on her
breast rose and fell with a quick breath; but she answered placidly:
‘Uncle Laurie says he has real talent, and after the training he will
get abroad he can command a good living here, though he may never be

‘Young people seldom turn out as one predicts, so it is of little use
to expect anything,’ said Mrs Meg with a sigh. ‘If our children are good
and useful men and women, we should be satisfied; yet it’s very natural
to wish them to be brilliant and successful.’

‘They are like my chickens, mighty uncertain. Now, that fine-looking
cockerel of mine is the stupidest one of the lot, and the ugly,
long-legged chap is the king of the yard, he’s so smart; crows loud
enough to wake the Seven Sleepers; but the handsome one croaks, and is
no end of a coward. I get snubbed; but you wait till I grow up, and
then see’; and Ted looked so like his own long-legged pet that everyone
laughed at his modest prediction.

‘I want to see Dan settled somewhere. “A rolling stone gathers no moss”,
and at twenty-five he is still roaming about the world without a tie to
hold him, except this’; and Mrs Meg nodded towards her sister.

‘Dan will find his place at last, and experience is his best teacher.
He is rough still, but each time he comes home I see a change for the
better, and never lose my faith in him. He may never do anything great,
or get rich; but if the wild boy makes an honest man, I’m satisfied,’
said Mrs Jo, who always defended the black sheep of her flock.

‘That’s right, mother, stand by Dan! He’s worth a dozen Jacks and Neds
bragging about money and trying to be swells. You see if he doesn’t do
something to be proud of and take the wind out of their sails,’
added Ted, whose love for his ‘Danny’ was now strengthened by a boy’s
admiration for the bold, adventurous man.

‘Hope so, I’m sure. He’s just the fellow to do rash things and come
to glory--climbing the Matterhorn, taking a “header” into Niagara, or
finding a big nugget. That’s his way of sowing wild oats, and perhaps
it’s better than ours,’ said Tom thoughtfully; for he had gained a good
deal of experience in that sort of agriculture since he became a medical

‘Much better!’ said Mrs Jo emphatically. ‘I’d rather send my boys off
to see the world in that way than leave them alone in a city full of
temptations, with nothing to do but waste time, money, and health, as
so many are left. Dan has to work his way, and that teaches him courage,
patience, and self-reliance. I don’t worry about him as much as I do
about George and Dolly at college, no more fit than two babies to take
care of themselves.’

‘How about John? He’s knocking round town as a newspaper man, reporting
all sorts of things, from sermons to prize-fights,’ asked Tom, who
thought that sort of life would be much more to his own taste than
medical lectures and hospital wards.

‘Demi has three safeguards--good principles, refined tastes, and a wise
mother. He won’t come to harm, and these experiences will be useful to
him when he begins to write, as I’m sure he will in time,’ began Mrs
Jo in her prophetic tone; for she was anxious to have some of her geese
turn out swans.

‘Speak of Jenkins, and you’ll hear the rustling of his paper,’ cried
Tom, as a fresh-faced, brown-eyed young man came up the avenue, waving a
newspaper over his head.

‘Here’s your Evening Tattler! Latest Edition! Awful murder! Bank clerk
absconded! Powder-mill explosion, and great strike of the Latin School
boys!’ roared Ted, going to meet his cousin with the graceful gait of a
young giraffe.

‘The Commodore is in, and will cut his cable and run before the wind
as soon as he can get off,’ called Demi, with ‘a nice derangement of
nautical epitaphs’, as he came up smiling over his good news.

Everyone talked together for a moment, and the paper passed from hand to
hand that each eye might rest on the pleasant fact that the Brenda, from
Hamburg, was safe in port.

‘He’ll come lurching out by tomorrow with his usual collection of marine
monsters and lively yarns. I saw him, jolly and tarry and brown as a
coffee-berry. Had a good run, and hopes to be second mate, as the other
chap is laid up with a broken leg,’ added Demi.

‘Wish I had the setting of it,’ said Nan to herself, with a professional
twist of her hand.

‘How’s Franz?’ asked Mrs Jo.

‘He’s going to be married! There’s news for you. The first of the
flock, Aunty, so say good-bye to him. Her name is Ludmilla Heldegard
Blumenthal; good family, well-off, pretty, and of course an angel. The
dear old boy wants Uncle’s consent, and then he will settle down to be a
happy and an honest burgher. Long life to him!’

‘I’m glad to hear it. I do so like to settle my boys with a good wife
and a nice little home. Now, if all is right, I shall feel as if Franz
was off my mind,’ said Mrs Jo, folding her hands contentedly; for she
often felt like a distracted hen with a large brood of mixed chickens
and ducks upon her hands.

‘So do I,’ sighed Tom, with a sly glance at Nan. ‘That’s what a fellow
needs to keep him steady; and it’s the duty of nice girls to marry as
soon as possible, isn’t it, Demi?’

‘If there are enough nice fellows to go round. The female population
exceeds the male, you know, especially in New England; which accounts
for the high state of culture we are in, perhaps,’ answered John, who
was leaning over his mother’s chair, telling his day’s experiences in a

‘It is a merciful provision, my dears; for it takes three or four women
to get each man into, through, and out of the world. You are costly
creatures, boys; and it is well that mothers, sisters, wives, and
daughters love their duty and do it so well, or you would perish off the
face of the earth,’ said Mrs Jo solemnly, as she took up a basket filled
with dilapidated hose; for the good Professor was still hard on his
socks, and his sons resembled him in that respect.

‘Such being the case, there is plenty for the “superfluous women” to do,
in taking care of these helpless men and their families. I see that more
clearly every day, and am very glad and grateful that my profession will
make me a useful, happy, and independent spinster.’

Nan’s emphasis on the last word caused Tom to groan, and the rest to

‘I take great pride and solid satisfaction in you, Nan, and hope to
see you very successful; for we do need just such helpful women in the
world. I sometimes feel as if I’ve missed my vocation and ought to
have remained single; but my duty seemed to point this way, and I don’t
regret it,’ said Mrs Jo, folding a large and very ragged blue sock to
her bosom.

‘Neither do I. What should I ever have done without my dearest Mum?’
added Ted, with a filial hug which caused both to disappear behind the
newspaper in which he had been mercifully absorbed for a few minutes.

‘My darling boy, if you would wash your hands semi-occasionally, fond
caresses would be less disastrous to my collar. Never mind, my precious
touslehead, better grass stains and dirt than no cuddlings at all’; and
Mrs Jo emerged from that brief eclipse looking much refreshed, though
her back hair was caught in Ted’s buttons and her collar under one ear.

Here Josie, who had been studying her part at the other end of the
piazza, suddenly burst forth with a smothered shriek, and gave Juliet’s
speech in the tomb so effectively that the boys applauded, Daisy
shivered, and Nan murmured: ‘Too much cerebral excitement for one of her

‘I’m afraid you’ll have to make up your mind to it, Meg. That child is
a born actress. We never did anything so well, not even the Witch’s
Curse,’ said Mrs Jo, casting a bouquet of many-coloured socks at the
feet of her flushed and panting niece, when she fell gracefully upon the

‘It is a sort of judgement upon me for my passion for the stage when a
girl. Now I know how dear Marmee felt when I begged to be an actress. I
never can consent, and yet I may be obliged to give up my wishes, hopes,
and plans again.’

There was an accent of reproach in his mother’s voice, which made Demi
pick up his sister with a gentle shake, and the stern command to ‘drop
that nonsense in public’.

‘Drop me, Minion, or I’ll give you the Maniac Bride, with my best
Ha-ha!’ cried Josie, glaring at him like an offended kitten. Being set
on her feet, she made a splendid courtesy, and dramatically proclaiming,
‘Mrs Woffington’s carriage waits,’ swept down the steps and round the
corner, trailing Daisy’s scarlet shawl majestically behind her.

‘Isn’t she great fun? I couldn’t stop in this dull place if I hadn’t
that child to make it lively for me. If ever she turns prim, I’m off; so
mind how you nip her in the bud,’ said Teddy, frowning at Demi, who was
now writing out shorthand notes on the steps.

‘You two are a team, and it takes a strong hand to drive you, but I
rather like it. Josie ought to have been my child, and Rob yours, Meg.
Then your house would have been all peace and mine all Bedlam. Now I
must go and tell Laurie the news. Come with me, Meg, a little stroll
will do us good’; and sticking Ted’s straw hat on her head, Mrs Jo
walked off with her sister, leaving Daisy to attend to the muffins, Ted
to appease Josie, and Tom and Nan to give their respective patients a
very bad quarter of an hour.

Chapter 2. PARNASSUS

It was well named; and the Muses seemed to be at home that day, for as
the newcomers went up the slope appropriate sights and sounds greeted
them. Passing an open window, they looked in upon a library presided
over by Clio, Calliope, and Urania; Melpomene and Thalia were disporting
themselves in the hall, where some young people were dancing and
rehearsing a play; Erato was walking in the garden with her lover, and
in the music-room Phoebus himself was drilling a tuneful choir.

A mature Apollo was our old friend Laurie, but comely and genial as
ever; for time had ripened the freakish boy into a noble man. Care and
sorrow, as well as ease and happiness, had done much for him; and the
responsibility of carrying out his grandfather’s wishes had been a
duty most faithfully performed. Prosperity suits some people, and they
blossom best in a glow of sunshine; others need the shade, and are the
sweeter for a touch of frost. Laurie was one of the former sort, and
Amy was another; so life had been a kind of poem to them since they
married--not only harmonious and happy, but earnest, useful, and rich in
the beautiful benevolence which can do so much when wealth and wisdom go
hand in hand with charity. Their house was full of unostentatious beauty
and comfort, and here the art-loving host and hostess attracted and
entertained artists of all kinds. Laurie had music enough now, and was a
generous patron to the class he most liked to help. Amy had her proteges
among ambitious young painters and sculptors, and found her own art
double dear as her daughter grew old enough to share its labours and
delights with her; for she was one of those who prove that women can be
faithful wives and mothers without sacrificing the special gift bestowed
upon them for their own development and the good of others.

Her sisters knew where to find her, and Jo went at once to the studio,
where mother and daughter worked together. Bess was busy with the bust
of a little child, while her mother added the last touches to a fine
head of her husband. Time seemed to have stood still with Amy, for
happiness had kept her young and prosperity given her the culture she
needed. A stately, graceful woman, who showed how elegant simplicity
could be made by the taste with which she chose her dress and the grace
with which she wore it. As someone said: ‘I never know what Mrs Laurence
has on, but I always receive the impression that she is the best-dressed
lady in the room.’

It was evident that she adored her daughter, and well she might; for
the beauty she had longed for seemed, to her fond eyes at least, to
be impersonated in this younger self. Bess inherited her mother’s
Diana-like figure, blue eyes, fair skin, and golden hair, tied up in
the same classic knot of curls. Also--ah! never-ending source of joy to
Amy--she had her father’s handsome nose and mouth, cast in a feminine
mould. The severe simplicity of a long linen pinafore suited her;
and she worked away with the entire absorption of the true artist,
unconscious of the loving eyes upon her, till Aunt Jo came in exclaiming

‘My dear girls, stop your mud-pies and hear the news!’

Both artists dropped their tools and greeted the irrepressible woman
cordially, though genius had been burning splendidly and her coming
spoilt a precious hour. They were in the full tide of gossip when
Laurie, who had been summoned by Meg, arrived, and sitting down between
the sisters, with no barricade anywhere, listened with interest to the
news of Franz and Emil.

‘The epidemic has broke out, and now it will rage and ravage your flock.
Be prepared for every sort of romance and rashness for the next ten
years, Jo. Your boys are growing up and will plunge headlong into a sea
of worse scrapes than any you have had yet,’ said Laurie, enjoying her
look of mingled delight and despair.

‘I know it, and I hope I shall be able to pull them through and land
them safely; but it’s an awful responsibility, for they will come to me
and insist that I can make their poor little loves run smoothly. I
like it, though, and Meg is such a mush of sentiment she revels in the
prospect,’ answered Jo, feeling pretty easy about her own boys, whose
youth made them safe for the present.

‘I’m afraid she won’t revel when our Nat begins to buzz too near her
Daisy. Of course you see what all that means? As musical director I am
also his confidante, and would like to know what advice to give,’ said
Laurie soberly. ‘Hush! you forget that child,’ began Jo, nodding towards
Bess, who was at work again.

‘Bless you! she’s in Athens, and doesn’t hear a word. She ought to leave
off, though, and go out. My darling, put the baby to sleep, and go for
a run. Aunt Meg is in the parlour; go and show her the new pictures till
we come,’ added Laurie, looking at his tall girl as Pygmalion might have
looked at Galatea; for he considered her the finest statue in the house.

‘Yes, papa; but please tell me if it is good’; and Bess obediently put
down her tools, with a lingering glance at the bust.

‘My cherished daughter, truth compels me to confess that one cheek is
plumper than the other; and the curls upon its infant brow are rather
too much like horns for perfect grace; otherwise it rivals Raphael’s
Chanting Cherubs, and I’m proud of it.’

Laurie was laughing as he spoke; for these first attempts were so like
Amy’s early ones, it was impossible to regard them as soberly as the
enthusiastic mamma did.

‘You can’t see beauty in anything but music,’ answered Bess, shaking the
golden head that made the one bright spot in the cool north lights of
the great studio.

‘Well, I see beauty in you, dear. And if you are not art, what is? I
wish to put a little more nature into you, and get you away from this
cold clay and marble into the sunshine, to dance and laugh as the
others do. I want a flesh-and-blood girl, not a sweet statue in a grey
pinafore, who forgets everything but her work.’ As he spoke, two dusty
hands came round his neck, and Bess said earnestly, punctuating her
words with soft touches of her lips:

‘I never forget you, papa; but I do want to do something beautiful that
you may be proud of me by and by. Mamma often tells me to stop; but when
we get in here we forget there is any world outside, we are so busy and
so happy. Now I’ll go and run and sing, and be a girl to please you.’
And throwing away the apron, Bess vanished from the room, seeming to
take all the light with her.

‘I’m glad you said that. The dear child is too much absorbed in her
artistic dreams for one so young. It is my fault; but I sympathize so
deeply in it all, I forget to be wise,’ sighed Amy, carefully covering
the baby with a wet towel.

‘I think this power of living in our children is one of the sweetest
things in the world; but I try to remember what Marmee once said to
Meg--that fathers should have their share in the education of both girls
and boys; so I leave Ted to his father all I can, and Fritz lends me
Rob, whose quiet ways are as restful and good for me as Ted’s tempests
are for his father. Now I advise you, Amy, to let Bess drop the mud-pies
for a time, and take up music with Laurie; then she won’t be one-sided,
and he won’t be jealous.’

‘Hear, hear! A Daniel--a very Daniel!’ cried Laurie, well pleased. ‘I
thought you’d lend a hand, Jo, and say a word for me. I am a little
jealous of Amy, and want more of a share in my girl. Come, my lady, let
me have her this summer, and next year, when we go to Rome, I’ll give
her up to you and high art. Isn’t that a fair bargain?’

‘I agree; but in trying your hobby, nature, with music thrown in, don’t
forget that, though only fifteen, our Bess is older than most girls of
that age, and cannot be treated like a child. She is so very precious
to me, I feel as if I wanted to keep her always as pure and beautiful as
the marble she loves so well.’

Amy spoke regretfully as she looked about the lovely room where she had
spent so many happy hours with this dear child of hers.

‘“Turn and turn about is fair play”, as we used to say when we all
wanted to ride on Ellen Tree or wear the russet boots,’ said Jo briskly;
‘so you must share your girl between you, and see who will do the most
for her.’

‘We will,’ answered the fond parents, laughing at the recollections Jo’s
proverb brought up to them.

‘How I did use to enjoy bouncing on the limbs of that old apple-tree!
No real horse ever gave me half the pleasure or the exercise,’ said Amy,
looking out of the high window as if she saw the dear old orchard again
and the little girls at play there.

‘And what fun I had with those blessed boots!’ laughed Jo. ‘I’ve got the
relics now. The boys reduced them to rags; but I love them still, and
would enjoy a good theatrical stalk in them if it were possible.’

‘My fondest memories twine about the warming-pan and the sausage. What
larks we had! And how long ago it seems!’ said Laurie, staring at the
two women before him as if he found it hard to realize that they ever
had been little Amy and riotous Jo.

‘Don’t suggest that we are growing old, my Lord. We have only bloomed;
and a very nice bouquet we make with our buds about us,’ answered Mrs
Amy, shaking out the folds of her rosy muslin with much the air of
dainty satisfaction the girl used to show in a new dress.

‘Not to mention our thorns and dead leaves,’ added Jo, with a sigh; for
life had never been very easy to her, and even now she had her troubles
both within and without.

‘Come and have a dish of tea, old dear, and see what the young folks are
about. You are tired, and want to be “stayed with flagons and comforted
with apples”,’ said Laurie, offering an arm to each sister, and leading
them away to afternoon tea, which flowed as freely on Parnassus as the
nectar of old.

They found Meg in the summer-parlour, an airy and delightful room, full
now of afternoon sunshine and the rustle of trees; for the three long
windows opened on the garden. The great music-room was at one end,
and at the other, in a deep alcove hung with purple curtains, a little
household shrine had been made. Three portraits hung there, two marble
busts stood in the corners, and a couch, an oval table, with its urn
of flowers, were the only articles of furniture the nook contained. The
busts were John Brooke and Beth--Amy’s work--both excellent likenesses,
and both full of the placid beauty which always recalls the saying,
that ‘Clay represents life; plaster, death; marble, immortality’. On
the right, as became the founder of the house, hung the portrait of Mr
Laurence, with its expression of mingled pride and benevolence, as fresh
and attractive as when he caught the girl Jo admiring it. Opposite was
Aunt March--a legacy to Amy--in an imposing turban, immense sleeves, and
long mittens decorously crossed on the front of her plum-coloured satin
gown. Time had mellowed the severity of her aspect; and the fixed regard
of the handsome old gentleman opposite seemed to account for the amiable
simper on lips that had not uttered a sharp word for years.

In the place of honour, with the sunshine warm upon it, and a green
garland always round it, was Marmee’s beloved face, painted with
grateful skill by a great artist whom she had befriended when poor and
unknown. So beautifully lifelike was it that it seemed to smile down
upon her daughters, saying cheerfully:

‘Be happy; I am with you still.’

The three sisters stood a moment looking up at the beloved picture with
eyes full of tender reverence and the longing that never left them; for
this noble mother had been so much to them that no one could ever fill
her place. Only two years since she had gone away to live and love anew,
leaving such a sweet memory behind her that it was both an inspiration
and a comforter to all the household. They felt this as they drew closer
to one another, and Laurie put it into words as he said earnestly:

‘I can ask nothing better for my child than that she may be a woman like
our mother. Please God, she shall be, if I can do it; for I owe the best
I have to this dear saint.’

Just then a fresh voice began to sing ‘Ave Maria’ in the music-room, and
Bess unconsciously echoed her father’s prayer for her as she dutifully
obeyed his wishes. The soft sound of the air Marmee used to sing led the
listeners back into the world again from that momentary reaching after
the loved and lost, and they sat down together near the open windows
enjoying the music, while Laurie brought them tea, making the little
service pleasant by the tender care he gave to it.

Nat came in with Demi, soon followed by Ted and Josie, the Professor and
his faithful Rob, all anxious to hear more about ‘the boys’. The rattle
of cups and tongues grew brisk, and the setting sun saw a cheerful
company resting in the bright room after the varied labours of the day.

Professor Bhaer was grey now, but robust and genial as ever; for he had
the work he loved, and did it so heartily that the whole college felt
his beautiful influence. Rob was as much like him as it was possible for
a boy to be, and was already called the ‘young Professor’, he so adored
study and closely imitated his honoured father in all ways.

‘Well, heart’s dearest, we go to have our boys again, all two, and
may rejoice greatly,’ said Mr Bhaer, seating himself beside Jo with a
beaming face and a handshake of congratulation.

‘Oh, Fritz, I’m so delighted about Emil, and if you approve about Franz
also. Did you know Ludmilla? Is it a wise match?’ asked Mrs Jo, handing
him her cup of tea and drawing closer, as if she welcomed her refuge in
joy as well as sorrow.

‘It all goes well. I saw the Madchen when I went over to place Franz.
A child then, but most sweet and charming. Blumenthal is satisfied, I
think, and the boy will be happy. He is too German to be content away
from Vaterland, so we shall have him as a link between the new and the
old, and that pleases me much.’

‘And Emil, he is to be second mate next voyage; isn’t that fine? I’m so
happy that both your boys have done well; you gave up so much for them
and their mother. You make light of it, dear, but I never forget it,’
said Jo, with her hand in his as sentimentally as if she was a girl
again and her Fritz had come a-wooing.

He laughed his cheery laugh, and whispered behind her fan: ‘If I had not
come to America for the poor lads, I never should have found my Jo.
The hard times are very sweet now, and I bless Gott for all I seemed to
lose, because I gained the blessing of my life.’

‘Spooning! spooning! Here’s an awful flirtation on the sly,’ cried
Teddy, peering over the fan just at that interesting moment, much to his
mother’s confusion and his father’s amusement; for the Professor never
was ashamed of the fact that he still considered his wife the dearest
woman in the world. Rob promptly ejected his brother from one window,
to see him skip in at the other, while Mrs Jo shut her fan and held it
ready to rap her unruly boy’s knuckles if he came near her again.

Nat approached in answer to Mr Bhaer’s beckoning teaspoon, and stood
before them with a face full of the respectful affection he felt for the
excellent man who had done so much for him.

‘I have the letters ready for thee, my son. They are two old friends of
mine in Leipzig, who will befriend thee in that new life. It is well to
have them, for thou wilt be heartbroken with Heimweh at the first, Nat,
and need comforting,’ said the Professor, giving him several letters.

‘Thanks, sir. Yes, I expect to be pretty lonely till I get started, then
my music and the hope of getting on will cheer me up,’ answered Nat, who
both longed and dreaded to leave all these friends behind him and make
new ones.

He was a man now; but the blue eyes were as honest as ever, the mouth
still a little weak, in spite of the carefully cherished moustache
over it, and the broad forehead more plainly than ever betrayed the
music-loving nature of the youth. Modest, affectionate, and dutiful, Nat
was considered a pleasant though not a brilliant success by Mrs Jo. She
loved and trusted him, and was sure he would do his best, but did not
expect that he would be great in any way, unless the stimulus of foreign
training and self-dependence made him a better artist and a stronger man
than now seemed likely.

‘I’ve marked all your things--or rather, Daisy did--and as soon as your
books are collected, we can see about the packing,’ said Mrs Jo, who was
so used to fitting boys off for all quarters of the globe that a trip to
the North Pole would not have been too much for her.

Nat grew red at mention of that name--or was it the last glow of sunset
on his rather pale cheek?--and his heart beat happily at the thought of
the dear girl working Ns and Bs on his humble socks and handkerchiefs;
for Nat adored Daisy, and the cherished dream of his life was to earn
a place for himself as a musician and win this angel for his wife. This
hope did more for him than the Professor’s counsels, Mrs Jo’s care, or
Mr Laurie’s generous help. For her sake he worked, waited, and hoped,
finding courage and patience in the dream of that happy future when
Daisy should make a little home for him and he fiddle a fortune into her
lap. Mrs Jo knew this; and though he was not exactly the man she would
have chosen for her niece, she felt that Nat would always need just the
wise and loving care Daisy could give him, and that without it there was
danger of his being one of the amiable and aimless men who fail for
want of the right pilot to steer them safely through the world. Mrs Meg
decidedly frowned upon the poor boy’s love, and would not hear of giving
her dear girl to any but the best man to be found on the face of the
earth. She was very kind, but as firm as such gentle souls can be; and
Nat fled for comfort to Mrs Jo, who always espoused the interests of
her boys heartily. A new set of anxieties was beginning now that the
aforesaid boys were growing up, and she foresaw no end of worry as well
as amusement in the love-affairs already budding in her flock. Mrs Meg
was usually her best ally and adviser, for she loved romances as well
now as when a blooming girl herself. But in this case she hardened her
heart, and would not hear a word of entreaty. ‘Nat was not man enough,
never would be, no one knew his family, a musician’s life was a hard
one; Daisy was too young, five or six years hence when time had proved
both perhaps. Let us see what absence will do for him.’ And that was the
end of it, for when the maternal Pelican was roused she could be very
firm, though for her precious children she would have plucked her last
feather and given the last drop of her blood.

Mrs Jo was thinking of this as she looked at Nat while he talked
with her husband about Leipzig, and she resolved to have a clear
understanding with him before he went; for she was used to confidences,
and talked freely with her boys about the trials and temptations that
beset all lives in the beginning, and so often mar them, for want of the
right word at the right moment.

This is the first duty of parents, and no false delicacy should
keep them from the watchful care, the gentle warning, which makes
self-knowledge and self-control the compass and pilot of the young as
they leave the safe harbour of home.

‘Plato and his disciples approach,’ announced irreverent Teddy, as Mr
March came in with several young men and women about him; for the wise
old man was universally beloved, and ministered so beautifully to his
flock that many of them thanked him all their lives for the help given
to both hearts and souls.

Bess went to him at once; for since Marmee died, Grandpapa was her
special care, and it was sweet to see the golden head bend over the
silver one as she rolled out his easy-chair and waited on him with
tender alacrity.

‘Aesthetic tea always on tap here, sir; will you have a flowing bowl
or a bit of ambrosia?’ asked Laurie, who was wandering about with a
sugar-basin in one hand and a plate of cake in the other; for sweetening
cups and feeding the hungry was work he loved.

‘Neither, thanks; this child has taken care of me’; and Mr March turned
to Bess, who sat on one arm of his chair, holding a glass of fresh milk.

‘Long may she live to do it, sir, and I be here to see this pretty
contradiction of the song that “youth and age cannot live together”!’
answered Laurie, smiling at the pair. ‘“Crabbed age”, papa; that makes
all the difference in the world,’ said Bess quickly; for she loved
poetry, and read the best.

    ‘Wouldst thou see fresh roses grow
     In a reverend bed of snow?’

quoted Mr March, as Josie came and perched on the other arm, looking
like a very thorny little rose; for she had been having a hot discussion
with Ted, and had got the worst of it.

‘Grandpa, must women always obey men and say they are the wisest, just
because they are the strongest?’ she cried, looking fiercely at her
cousin, who came stalking up with a provoking smile on the boyish face
that was always very comical atop of that tall figure.

‘Well, my dear, that is the old-fashioned belief, and it will take some
time to change it. But I think the woman’s hour has struck; and it looks
to me as if the boys must do their best, for the girls are abreast
now, and may reach the goal first,’ answered Mr March, surveying with
paternal satisfaction the bright faces of the young women, who were
among the best students in the college.

‘The poor little Atalantas are sadly distracted and delayed by the
obstacles thrown in their way--not golden apples, by any means--but
I think they will stand a fair chance when they have learned to run
better,’ laughed Uncle Laurie, stroking Josie’s breezy hair, which stood
up like the fur of an angry kitten.

‘Whole barrels of apples won’t stop me when I start, and a dozen Teds
won’t trip me up, though they may try. I’ll show him that a woman can
act as well, if not better, than a man. It has been done, and will be
again; and I’ll never own that my brain isn’t as good as his, though it
may be smaller,’ cried the excited young person.

‘If you shake your head in that violent way you’ll addle what brains you
have got; and I’d take care of ‘em, if I were you,’ began teasing Ted.

‘What started this civil war?’ asked Grandpapa, with a gentle emphasis
on the adjective, which caused the combatants to calm their ardour a

‘Why, we were pegging away at the Iliad and came to where Zeus tells
Juno not to inquire into his plans or he’ll whip her, and Jo was
disgusted because Juno meekly hushed up. I said it was all right, and
agreed with the old fellow that women didn’t know much and ought to obey
men,’ explained Ted, to the great amusement of his hearers.

‘Goddesses may do as they like, but those Greek and Trojan women were
poor-spirited things if they minded men who couldn’t fight their own
battles and had to be hustled off by Pallas, and Venus, and Juno, when
they were going to get beaten. The idea of two armies stopping and
sitting down while a pair of heroes flung stones at one another! I don’t
think much of your old Homer. Give me Napoleon or Grant for my hero.’

Josie’s scorn was as funny as if a humming-bird scolded at an ostrich,
and everyone laughed as she sniffed at the immortal poet and criticized
the gods.

‘Napoleon’s Juno had a nice time; didn’t she? That’s just the way girls
argue--first one way and then the other,’ jeered Ted.

‘Like Johnson’s young lady, who was “not categorical, but all
wiggle-waggle”,’ added Uncle Laurie, enjoying the battle immensely.

‘I was only speaking of them as soldiers. But if you come to the woman
side of it, wasn’t Grant a kind husband and Mrs Grant a happy woman?
He didn’t threaten to whip her if she asked a natural question; and if
Napoleon did do wrong about Josephine, he could fight, and didn’t want
any Minerva to come fussing over him. They were a stupid set, from
dandified Paris to Achilles sulking in his ships, and I won’t change my
opinion for all the Hectors and Agamemnons in Greece,’ said Josie, still

‘You can fight like a Trojan, that’s evident; and we will be the two
obedient armies looking on while you and Ted have it out,’ began Uncle
Laurie, assuming the attitude of a warrior leaning on his spear.

‘I fear we must give it up, for Pallas is about to descend and carry off
our Hector,’ said Mr March, smiling, as Jo came to remind her son that
suppertime was near.

‘We will fight it out later when there are no goddesses to interfere,’
said Teddy, as he turned away with unusual alacrity, remembering the
treat in store.

‘Conquered by a muffin, by Jove!’ called Josie after him, exulting in an
opportunity to use the classical exclamation forbidden to her sex.

But Ted shot a Parthian arrow as he retired in good order by replying,
with a highly virtuous expression:

‘Obedience is a soldier’s first duty.’

Bent on her woman’s privilege of having the last word, Josie ran after
him, but never uttered the scathing speech upon her lips, for a very
brown young man in a blue suit came leaping up the steps with a cheery
‘Ahoy! ahoy! where is everybody?’

‘Emil! Emil!’ cried Josie, and in a moment Ted was upon him, and the
late enemies ended their fray in a joyful welcome to the newcomer.

Muffins were forgotten, and towing their cousin like two fussy little
tugs with a fine merchantman, the children returned to the parlour,
where Emil kissed all the women and shook hands with all the men except
his uncle; him he embraced in the good old German style, to the great
delight of the observers.

‘Didn’t think I could get off today, but found I could, and steered
straight for old Plum. Not a soul there, so I luffed and bore away for
Parnassus, and here is every man Jack of you. Bless your hearts, how
glad I am to see you all!’ exclaimed the sailor boy, beaming at them, as
he stood with his legs apart as if he still felt the rocking deck under
his feet.

‘You ought to “shiver your timbers”, not “bless our hearts”, Emil; it’s
not nautical at all. Oh, how nice and shippy and tarry you do smell!’
said Josie, sniffing at him with great enjoyment of the fresh sea odours
he brought with him. This was her favourite cousin, and she was his
pet; so she knew that the bulging pockets of the blue jacket contained
treasures for her at least.

‘Avast, my hearty, and let me take soundings before you dive,’ laughed
Emil, understanding her affectionate caresses, and holding her off with
one hand while with the other he rummaged out sundry foreign little
boxes and parcels marked with different names, and handed them round
with appropriate remarks, which caused much laughter; for Emil was a

‘There’s a hawser that will hold our little cock-boat still about five
minutes,’ he said, throwing a necklace of pretty pink coral over Josie’s
head; ‘and here’s something the mermaids sent to Undine,’ he added,
handing Bess a string of pearly shells on a silver chain.

I thought Daisy would like a fiddle, and Nat can find her a beau,’
continued the sailor, with a laugh, as he undid a dainty filigree brooch
in the shape of a violin.

‘I know she will, and I’ll take it to her,’ answered Nat, as he
vanished, glad of an errand, and sure that he could find Daisy though
Emil had missed her.

Emil chuckled, and handed out a quaintly carved bear whose head opened,
showing a capacious ink-stand. This he presented, with a scrape, to Aunt

‘Knowing your fondness for these fine animals, I brought this one to
your pen.’

‘Very good, Commodore! Try again,’ said Mrs Jo, much pleased with her
gift, which caused the Professor to prophesy ‘works of Shakespeare’ from
its depths, so great would be the inspiration of the beloved bruin.

‘As Aunt Meg will wear caps, in spite of her youth, I got Ludmilla to
get me some bits of lace. Hope you’ll like ‘em’; and out of a soft paper
came some filmy things, one of which soon lay like a net of snowflakes
on Mrs Meg’s pretty hair.

‘I couldn’t find anything swell enough for Aunt Amy, because she has
everything she wants, so I brought a little picture that always makes
me think of her when Bess was a baby’; and he handed her an oval ivory
locket, on which was painted a goldenhaired Madonna, with a rosy child
folded in her blue mantle.

‘How lovely!’ cried everyone; and Aunt Amy at once hung it about her
neck on the blue ribbon from Bess’s hair, charmed with her gift; for it
recalled the happiest year of her life.

‘Now, I flatter myself I’ve got just the thing for Nan, neat but not
gaudy, a sort of sign you see, and very appropriate for a doctor,’ said
Emil, proudly displaying a pair of lava earrings shaped like little

‘Horrid!’ And Bess, who hated ugly things, turned her eyes to her own
pretty shells.

‘She won’t wear earrings,’ said Josie.

‘Well, she’ll enjoy punching your ears then. She’s never so happy as
when she’s overhauling her fellow creatures and going for ‘em with a
knife,’ answered Emil, undisturbed. ‘I’ve got a lot of plunder for you
fellows in my chest, but I knew I should have no peace till my cargo for
the girls was unloaded. Now tell me all the news.’ And, seated on Amy’s
best marbletopped table, the sailor swung his legs and talked at the
rate of ten knots an hour, till Aunt Jo carried them all off to a grand
family tea in honour of the Commodore.


The March family had enjoyed a great many surprises in the course of
their varied career, but the greatest of all was when the Ugly Duckling
turned out to be, not a swan, but a golden goose, whose literary eggs
found such an unexpected market that in ten years Jo’s wildest and most
cherished dream actually came true. How or why it happened she never
clearly understood, but all of a sudden she found herself famous in a
small way, and, better still, with a snug little fortune in her pocket
to clear away the obstacles of the present and assure the future of her

It began during a bad year when everything went wrong at Plumfield;
times were hard, the school dwindled, Jo overworked herself and had a
long illness; Laurie and Amy were abroad, and the Bhaers too proud to
ask help even of those as near and dear as this generous pair. Confined
to her room, Jo got desperate over the state of affairs, till she fell
back upon the long-disused pen as the only thing she could do to help
fill up the gaps in the income. A book for girls being wanted by a
certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few
scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters, though boys
were more in her line, and with very slight hopes of success sent it out
to seek its fortune.

Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, laboured over
for years, and launched full of the high hopes and ambitious dreams of
youth, foundered on its voyage, though the wreck continued to float long
afterward, to the profit of the publisher at least. The hastily written
story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring,
sailed with a fair wind and a wise pilot at the helm into public favour,
and came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory.

A more astonished woman probably never existed than Josephine Bhaer when
her little ship came into port with flags flying, cannon that had been
silent before now booming gaily, and, better than all, many kind faces
rejoicing with her, many friendly hands grasping hers with cordial
congratulations. After that it was plain sailing, and she merely had
to load her ships and send them off on prosperous trips, to bring home
stores of comfort for all she loved and laboured for.

The fame she never did quite accept; for it takes very little fire to
make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory.
The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was
not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be. The tide
having turned continued to rise, and floated the family comfortably into
a snug harbour where the older members could rest secure from storms,
and whence the younger ones could launch their boats for the voyage of

All manner of happiness, peace, and plenty came in those years to bless
the patient waiters, hopeful workers, and devout believers in the wisdom
and justice of Him who sends disappointment, poverty, and sorrow to try
the love of human hearts and make success the sweeter when it comes.
The world saw the prosperity, and kind souls rejoiced over the improved
fortunes of the family; but the success Jo valued most, the happiness
that nothing could change or take away, few knew much about.

It was the power of making her mother’s last years happy and serene; to
see the burden of care laid down for ever, the weary hands at rest, the
dear face untroubled by any anxiety, and the tender heart free to pour
itself out in the wise charity which was its delight. As a girl, Jo’s
favourite plan had been a room where Marmee could sit in peace and enjoy
herself after her hard, heroic life. Now the dream had become a happy
fact, and Marmee sat in her pleasant chamber with every comfort and
luxury about her, loving daughters to wait on her as infirmities
increased, a faithful mate to lean upon, and grand-children to brighten
the twilight of life with their dutiful affection. A very precious time
to all, for she rejoiced as only mothers can in the good fortunes of
their children. She had lived to reap the harvest she sowed; had seen
prayers answered, hopes blossom, good gifts bear fruit, peace and
prosperity bless the home she had made; and then, like some brave,
patient angel, whose work was done, turned her face heavenward, glad to

This was the sweet and sacred side of the change; but it had its droll
and thorny one, as all things have in this curious world of ours. After
the first surprise, incredulity, and joy, which came to Jo, with the
ingratitude of human nature, she soon tired of renown, and began to
resent her loss of liberty. For suddenly the admiring public took
possession of her and all her affairs, past, present, and to come.
Strangers demanded to look at her, question, advise, warn, congratulate,
and drive her out of her wits by well-meant but very wearisome
attentions. If she declined to open her heart to them, they reproached
her; if she refused to endow her pet charities, relieve private wants,
or sympathize with every ill and trial known to humanity, she was called
hard-hearted, selfish, and haughty; if she found it impossible to answer
the piles of letters sent her, she was neglectful of her duty to
the admiring public; and if she preferred the privacy of home to the
pedestal upon which she was requested to pose, ‘the airs of literary
people’ were freely criticized.

She did her best for the children, they being the public for whom she
wrote, and laboured stoutly to supply the demand always in the mouths of
voracious youth--‘More stories; more right away!’ Her family objected to
this devotion at their expense, and her health suffered; but for a time
she gratefully offered herself up on the altar of juvenile literature,
feeling that she owed a good deal to the little friends in whose sight
she had found favour after twenty years of effort.

But a time came when her patience gave out; and wearying of being a
lion, she became a bear in nature as in name, and returning to her den,
growled awfully when ordered out. Her family enjoyed the fun, and had
small sympathy with her trials, but Jo came to consider it the worse
scrape of her life; for liberty had always been her dearest possession,
and it seemed to be fast going from her. Living in a lantern soon loses
its charm, and she was too old, too tired, and too busy to like it. She
felt that she had done all that could reasonably be required of her when
autographs, photographs, and autobiographical sketches had been sown
broadcast over the land; when artists had taken her home in all its
aspects, and reporters had taken her in the grim one she always
assumed on these trying occasions; when a series of enthusiastic
boarding-schools had ravaged her grounds for trophies, and a steady
stream of amiable pilgrims had worn her doorsteps with their respectful
feet; when servants left after a week’s trial of the bell that rang all
day; when her husband was forced to guard her at meals, and the boys
to cover her retreat out of back windows on certain occasions when
enterprising guests walked in unannounced at unfortunate moments.

A sketch of one day may perhaps explain the state of things, offer some
excuse for the unhappy woman, and give a hint to the autograph-fiend now
rampant in the land; for it is a true tale.

‘There ought to be a law to protect unfortunate authors,’ said Mrs Jo
one morning soon after Emil’s arrival, when the mail brought her an
unusually large and varied assortment of letters. ‘To me it is a more
vital subject than international copyright; for time is money, peace is
health, and I lose both with no return but less respect for my fellow
creatures and a wild desire to fly into the wilderness, since I cannot
shut my doors even in free America.’

‘Lion-hunters are awful when in search of their prey. If they could
change places for a while it would do them good; and they’d see what
bores they were when they “do themselves the honour of calling to
express their admiration of our charming work”,’ quoted Ted, with a bow
to his parent, now frowning over twelve requests for autographs.

‘I have made up my mind on one point,’ said Mrs Jo with great firmness.
‘I will not answer this kind of letter. I’ve sent at least six to this
boy, and he probably sells them. This girl writes from a seminary, and
if I send her one all the other girls will at once write for more. All
begin by saying they know they intrude, and that I am of course annoyed
by these requests; but they venture to ask because I like boys, or they
like the books, or it is only one. Emerson and Whittier put these things
in the wastepaper-basket; and though only a literary nursery-maid
who provides moral pap for the young, I will follow their illustrious
example; for I shall have no time to eat or sleep if I try to satisfy
these dear unreasonable children’; and Mrs Jo swept away the entire
batch with a sigh of relief.

‘I’ll open the others and let you eat your breakfast in peace, liebe
Mutter,’ said Rob, who often acted as her secretary. ‘Here’s one from
the South’; and breaking an imposing seal, he read:

‘MADAM, As it has pleased Heaven to bless your efforts with a large
fortune, I feel no hesitation in asking you to supply funds to purchase
a new communion-service for our church. To whatever denomination you
belong, you will of course respond with liberality to such a request,

‘Respectfully yours,


‘Send a civil refusal, dear. All I have to give must go to feed and
clothe the poor at my gates. That is my thank-offering for success. Go
on,’ answered his mother, with a grateful glance about her happy home.

‘A literary youth of eighteen proposes that you put your name to a novel
he has written; and after the first edition your name is to be taken off
and his put on. There’s a cool proposal for you. I guess you won’t agree
to that, in spite of your soft-heartedness towards most of the young

‘Couldn’t be done. Tell him so kindly, and don’t let him send the
manuscript. I have seven on hand now, and barely time to read my own,’
said Mrs Jo, pensively fishing a small letter out of the slop-bowl and
opening it with care, because the down-hill address suggested that a
child wrote it.

‘I will answer this myself. A little sick girl wants a book, and she
shall have it, but I can’t write sequels to all the rest to please her.
I should never come to an end if I tried to suit these voracious little
Oliver Twists, clamouring for more. What next, Robin?’

‘This is short and sweet.

‘DEAR MRS BHAER, I am now going to give you my opinion of your works.
I have read them all many times, and call them first-rate. Please go

‘Your admirer,


‘Now that is what I like. Billy is a man of sense and a critic worth
having, since he had read my works many times before expressing his
opinion. He asks for no answer, so send my thanks and regards.’

‘Here’s a lady in England with seven girls, and she wishes to know your
views upon education. Also what careers they shall follow the oldest
being twelve. Don’t wonder she’s worried,’ laughed Rob.

‘I’ll try to answer it. But as I have no girls, my opinion isn’t worth
much and will probably shock her, as I shall tell her to let them run
and play and build up good, stout bodies before she talks about careers.
They will soon show what they want, if they are let alone, and not all
run in the same mould.’

‘Here’s a fellow who wants to know what sort of a girl he shall marry,
and if you know of any like those in your stories.’

‘Give him Nan’s address, and see what he’ll get,’ proposed Ted,
privately resolving to do it himself if possible.

‘This is from a lady who wants you to adopt her child and lend her money
to study art abroad for a few years. Better take it, and try your hand
at a girl, mother.’

‘No, thank you, I will keep to my own line of business. What is that
blotted one? It looks rather awful, to judge by the ink,’ asked Mrs Jo,
who beguiled her daily task by trying to guess from the outside what
was inside her many letters. This proved to be a poem from an insane
admirer, to judge by its incoherent style.

         ‘TO J.M.B.

    ‘Oh, were I a heliotrope,
     I would play poet,
     And blow a breeze of fragrance
     To you; and none should know it.

    ‘Your form like the stately elm
     When Phoebus gilds the morning ray;
     Your cheeks like the ocean bed
     That blooms a rose in May.

    ‘Your words are wise and bright,
     I bequeath them to you a legacy given;
     And when your spirit takes its flight,
     May it bloom aflower in heaven.

    ‘My tongue in flattering language spoke,
     And sweeter silence never broke
     in busiest street or loneliest glen.
     I take you with the flashes of my pen.

    ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow;
     They toil not, yet are fair,
     Gems and flowers and Solomon’s seal.
     The geranium of the world is J. M. Bhaer.


While the boys shouted over this effusion--which is a true one--their
mother read several liberal offers from budding magazines for her to
edit them gratis; one long letter from a young girl inconsolable because
her favourite hero died, and ‘would dear Mrs Bhaer rewrite the tale, and
make it end good?’ another from an irate boy denied an autograph, who
darkly foretold financial ruin and loss of favour if she did not
send him and all other fellows who asked autographs, photographs, and
auto-biographical sketches; a minister wished to know her religion;
and an undecided maiden asked which of her two lovers she should marry.
These samples will suffice to show a few of the claims made on a busy
woman’s time, and make my readers pardon Mrs Jo if she did not carefully
reply to all.

‘That job is done. Now I will dust a bit, and then go to my work. I’m
all behind-hand, and serials can’t wait; so deny me to everybody, Mary.
I won’t see Queen Victoria if she comes today.’ And Mrs Bhaer threw down
her napkin as if defying all creation.

‘I hope the day will go well with thee, my dearest,’ answered her
husband, who had been busy with his own voluminous correspondence. ‘I
will dine at college with Professor Plock, who is to visit us today. The
Junglings can lunch on Parnassus; so thou shalt have a quiet time.’ And
smoothing the worried lines out of her forehead with his good-bye kiss,
the excellent man marched away, both pockets full of books, an old
umbrella in one hand, and a bag of stones for the geology class in the

‘If all literary women had such thoughtful angels for husbands, they
would live longer and write more. Perhaps that wouldn’t be a blessing to
the world though, as most of us write too much now,’ said Mrs Jo, waving
her feather duster to her spouse, who responded with flourishes of the
umbrella as he went down the avenue.

Rob started for school at the same time, looking so much like him with
his books and bag and square shoulders and steady air that his mother
laughed as she turned away, saying heartily: ‘Bless both my dear
professors, for better creatures never lived!’

Emil was already gone to his ship in the city; but Ted lingered to steal
the address he wanted, ravage the sugar-bowl, and talk with ‘Mum’;
for the two had great larks together. Mrs Jo always arranged her own
parlour, refilled her vases, and gave the little touches that left it
cool and neat for the day. Going to draw down the curtain, she beheld an
artist sketching on the lawn, and groaned as she hastily retired to the
back window to shake her duster.

At that moment the bell rang and the sound of wheels was heard in the

‘I’ll go; Mary lets ‘em in’; and Ted smoothed his hair as he made for
the hall.

‘Can’t see anyone. Give me a chance to fly upstairs,’ whispered Mrs Jo,
preparing to escape. But before she could do so, a man appeared at the
door with a card in his hand. Ted met him with a stern air, and his
mother dodged behind the window-curtains to bide her time for escape.

‘I am doing a series of articles for the Saturday Tattler, and I
called to see Mrs Bhaer the first of all,’ began the newcomer in the
insinuating tone of his tribe, while his quick eyes were taking in all
they could, experience having taught him to make the most of his time,
as his visits were usually short ones.

‘Mrs Bhaer never sees reporters, sir.’

‘But a few moments will be all I ask,’ said the man, edging his way
farther in.

‘You can’t see her, for she is out,’ replied Teddy, as a backward glance
showed him that his unhappy parent had vanished--through the window, he
supposed, as she sometimes did when hard bestead.

‘Very sorry. I’ll call again. Is this her study? Charming room!’ And the
intruder fell back on the parlour, bound to see something and bag a fact
if he died in the attempt. ‘It is not,’ said Teddy, gently but firmly
backing him down the hall, devoutly hoping that his mother had escaped
round the corner of the house.

‘If you could tell me Mrs Bhaer’s age and birthplace, date of marriage,
and number of children, I should be much obliged,’ continued the
unabashed visitor as he tripped over the door-mat.

‘She is about sixty, born in Nova Zembla, married just forty years ago
today, and has eleven daughters. Anything else, sir?’ And Ted’s sober
face was such a funny contrast to his ridiculous reply that the reporter
owned himself routed, and retired laughing just as a lady followed by
three beaming girls came up the steps.

‘We are all the way from Oshkosh, and couldn’t go home without seein’
dear Aunt Jo. My girls just admire her works, and lot on gettin’ a
sight of her. I know it’s early; but we are goin’ to see Holmes and
Longfeller, and the rest of the celebrities, so we ran out here fust
thing. Mrs Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee, of Oshkosh, tell her. We don’t
mind waitin’; we can look round a spell if she ain’t ready to see folks

All this was uttered with such rapidity that Ted could only stand
gazing at the buxom damsels, who fixed their six blue eyes upon him so
beseechingly that his native gallantry made it impossible to deny them a
civil reply at least.

‘Mrs Bhaer is not visible today--out just now, I believe; but you can
see the house and grounds if you like,’ he murmured, falling back as the
four pressed in gazing rapturously about them.

‘Oh, thank you! Sweet, pretty place I’m sure! That’s where she writes,
ain’t it? Do tell me if that’s her picture! Looks just as I imagined

With these remarks the ladies paused before a fine engraving of the Hon.
Mrs Norton, with a pen in her hand and a rapt expression of countenance,
likewise a diadem and pearl necklace.

Keeping his gravity with an effort, Teddy pointed to a very bad portrait
of Mrs Jo, which hung behind the door, and afforded her much amusement,
it was so dismal, in spite of a curious effect of light upon the end of
the nose and cheeks as red as the chair she sat in.

‘This was taken for my mother; but it is not very good,’ he said,
enjoying the struggles of the girls not to look dismayed at the sad
difference between the real and the ideal. The youngest, aged twelve,
could not conceal her disappointment, and turned away, feeling as so
many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary
men and women.

‘I thought she’d be about sixteen and have her hair braided in two
tails down her back. I don’t care about seeing her now,’ said the honest
child, walking off to the hall door, leaving her mother to apologize,
and her sisters to declare that the bad portrait was ‘perfectly lovely,
so speaking and poetic, you know, ‘specially about the brow’.

‘Come girls, we must be goin’, if we want to get through today. You
can leave your albums and have them sent when Mrs Bhaer has written a
sentiment in ‘em. We are a thousand times obliged. Give our best love
to your ma, and tell her we are so sorry not to see her.’ Just as
Mrs. Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee uttered the words her eye fell upon a
middle-aged woman in a large checked apron, with a handkerchief tied
over her head, busily dusting an end room which looked like a study.

‘One peep at her sanctum since she is out,’ cried the enthusiastic lady,
and swept across the hall with her flock before Teddy could warn his
mother, whose retreat had been cut off by the artist in front, the
reporter at the back of the house--for he hadn’t gone and the ladies in
the hall.

‘They’ve got her!’ thought Teddy, in comical dismay. ‘No use for her to
play housemaid since they’ve seen the portrait.’

Mrs Jo did her best, and being a good actress, would have escaped if the
fatal picture had not betrayed her. Mrs Parmalee paused at the desk, and
regardless of the meerschaum that lay there, the man’s slippers close
by, and a pile of letters directed to ‘Prof. F. Bhaer’, she clasped her
hands, exclaiming impressively: ‘Girls, this is the spot where she wrote
those sweet, those moral tales which have thrilled us to the soul! Could
I--ah, could I take one morsel of paper, an old pen, a postage stamp
even, as a memento of this gifted woman?’

‘Yes’m, help yourselves,’ replied the maid, moving away with a glance at
the boy, whose eyes were now full of merriment he could not suppress.

The oldest girl saw it, guessed the truth, and a quick look at the
woman in the apron confirmed her suspicion. Touching her mother, she
whispered: ‘Ma, it’s Mrs Bhaer herself. I know it is.’

‘No? yes? it is! Well, I do declare, how nice that is!’ And hastily
pursuing the unhappy woman, who was making for the door, Mrs Parmalee
cried eagerly:

‘Don’t mind us! I know you’re busy, but just let me take your hand and
then we’ll go.’

Giving herself up for lost, Mrs Jo turned and presented her hand like
a tea-tray, submitting to have it heartily shaken, as the matron said,
with somewhat alarming hospitality:

‘If ever you come to Oshkosh, your feet won’t be allowed to touch the
pavement; for you’ll be borne in the arms of the populace, we shall be
so dreadful glad to see you.’

Mentally resolving never to visit that effusive town, Jo responded
as cordially as she could; and having written her name in the albums,
provided each visitor with a memento, and kissed them all round, they at
last departed, to call on ‘Longfeller, Holmes, and the rest’--who were
all out, it is devoutly to be hoped.

‘You villain, why didn’t you give me a chance to whip away? Oh, my dear,
what fibs you told that man! I hope we shall be forgiven our sins in
this line, but I don’t know what is to become of us if we don’t dodge.
So many against one isn’t fair play.’ And Mrs Jo hung up her apron in
the hall closet, with a groan at the trials of her lot.

‘More people coming up the avenue! Better dodge while the coast is
clear! I’ll head them off!’ cried Teddy, looking back from the steps, as
he was departing to school.

Mrs Jo flew upstairs, and having locked her door, calmly viewed a young
ladies’ seminary camp on the lawn, and being denied the house, proceed
to enjoy themselves by picking the flowers, doing up their hair,
eating lunch, and freely expressing their opinion of the place and its
possessors before they went.

A few hours of quiet followed, and she was just settling down to a long
afternoon of hard work, when Rob came home to tell her that the Young
Men’s Christian Union would visit the college, and two or three of the
fellows whom she knew wanted to pay their respects to her on the way.

‘It is going to rain, so they won’t come, I dare say; but father thought
you’d like to be ready, in case they do call. You always see the boys,
you know, though you harden your heart to the poor girls,’ said Rob, who
had heard from his brother about the morning visitations.

‘Boys don’t gush, so I can stand it. The last time I let in a party of
girls one fell into my arms and said, “Darling, love me!” I wanted to
shake her,’ answered Mrs Jo, wiping her pen with energy.

‘You may be sure the fellows won’t do it, but they will want autographs,
so you’d better be prepared with a few dozen,’ said Rob, laying out a
quire of notepaper, being a hospitable youth and sympathizing with those
who admired his mother.

‘They can’t outdo the girls. At X College I really believe I wrote
three hundred during the day I was there, and I left a pile of cards and
albums on my table when I came away. It is one of the most absurd and
tiresome manias that ever afflicted the world.’

Nevertheless Mrs Jo wrote her name a dozen times, put on her black silk,
and resigned herself to the impending call, praying for rain, however,
as she returned to her work.

The shower came, and feeling quite secure, she rumpled up her hair, took
off her cuffs, and hurried to finish her chapter; for thirty pages a day
was her task, and she liked to have it well done before evening. Josie
had brought some flowers for the vases, and was just putting the last
touches when she saw several umbrellas bobbing down the hill.

‘They are coming, Aunty! I see uncle hurrying across the field to
receive them,’ she called at the stair-foot.

‘Keep an eye on them, and let me know when they enter the avenue.
It will take but a minute to tidy up and run down,’ answered Mrs Jo,
scribbling away for dear life, because serials wait for no man, not even
the whole Christian Union en masse.

‘There are more than two or three. I see half a dozen at least,’ called
sister Ann from the hall door. ‘No! a dozen, I do believe; Aunty, look
out; they are all coming! What shall we do?’ And Josie quailed at the
idea of facing the black throng rapidly approaching.

‘Mercy on us, there are hundreds! Run and put a tub in the back entry
for their umbrellas to drip into. Tell them to go down the hall and
leave them, and pile their hats on the table; the tree won’t hold them
all. No use to get mats; my poor carpets!’ And down went Mrs Jo to
prepare for the invasion, while Josie and the maids flew about dismayed
at the prospect of so many muddy boots.

On they came, a long line of umbrellas, with splashed legs and flushed
faces underneath; for the gentlemen had been having a good time all over
the town, undisturbed by the rain. Professor Bhaer met them at the gate,
and was making a little speech of welcome, when Mrs Jo, touched by their
bedraggled state, appeared at the door, beckoning them in. Leaving
their host to orate bareheaded in the wet, the young men hastened up the
steps, merry, warm, and eager, clutching off their hats as they came,
and struggling with their umbrellas, as the order was passed to march in
and stack arms.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, down the hall went seventy-five pairs of boots;
soon seventy-five umbrellas dripped sociably in the hospitable tub,
while their owners swarmed all over the lower part of the house; and
seventy-five hearty hands were shaken by the hostess without a murmur,
though some were wet, some very warm, and nearly all bore trophies of
the day’s ramble. One impetuous party flourished a small turtle as he
made his compliments; another had a load of sticks cut from noted
spots; and all begged for some memento of Plumfield. A pile of
cards mysteriously appeared on the table, with a written request for
autographs; and despite her morning vow, Mrs Jo wrote everyone, while
her husband and boys did the honours of the house.

Josie fled to the back parlour, but was discovered by exploring youths,
and mortally insulted by one of them, who innocently inquired if she was
Mrs Bhaer. The reception did not last long, and the end was better than
the beginning; for the rain ceased, and a rainbow shone beautifully
over them as the good fellows stood upon the lawn singing sweetly for a
farewell. A happy omen, that bow of promise arched over the young heads,
as if Heaven smiled upon their union, and showed them that above the
muddy earth and rainy skies the blessed sun still shone for all. Three
cheers, and then away they went, leaving a pleasant recollection of
their visit to amuse the family as they scraped the mud off the carpets
with shovels and emptied the tub half-full of water.

‘Nice, honest, hard-working fellows, and I don’t begrudge my half-hour
at all; but I must finish, so don’t let anyone disturb me till
tea-time,’ said Mrs Jo, leaving Mary to shut up the house; for papa and
the boys had gone off with the guests, and Josie had run home to tell
her mother about the fun at Aunt Jo’s.

Peace reigned for an hour, then the bell rang and Mary came giggling
up to say: ‘A queer kind of a lady wants to know if she can catch a
grasshopper in the garden.’

‘A what?’ cried Mrs Jo, dropping her pen with a blot; for of all the odd
requests ever made, this was the oddest.

‘A grasshopper, ma’am. I said you was busy, and asked what she wanted,
and says she: “I’ve got grasshoppers from the grounds of several famous
folks, and I want one from Plumfield to add to my collection.” Did you
ever?’ And Mary giggled again at the idea.

‘Tell her to take all there are and welcome. I shall be glad to get rid
of them; always bouncing in my face and getting in my dress,’ laughed
Mrs Jo.

Mary retired, to return in a moment nearly speechless with merriment.

‘She’s much obliged, ma’am, and she’d like an old gown or a pair
of stockings of yours to put in a rug she’s making. Got a vest of
Emerson’s, she says, and a pair of Mr. Holmes’s trousers, and a dress of
Mrs Stowe’s. She must be crazy!’

‘Give her that old red shawl, then I shall make a gay show among the
great ones in that astonishing rug. Yes, they are all lunatics, these
lion-hunters; but this seems to be a harmless maniac, for she doesn’t
take my time, and gives me a good laugh,’ said Mrs Jo, returning to her
work after a glance from the window, which showed her a tall, thin lady
in rusty black, skipping wildly to and fro on the lawn in pursuit of the
lively insect she wanted.

No more interruptions till the light began to fade, then Mary popped her
head in to say a gentleman wished to see Mrs Bhaer, and wouldn’t take no
for an answer.

‘He must. I shall not go down. This has been an awful day, and I won’t
be disturbed again,’ replied the harassed authoress, pausing in the
midst of the grand finale of her chapter.

‘I told him so, ma’am; but he walked right in as bold as brass. I guess
he’s another crazy one, and I declare I’m ‘most afraid of him, he’s
so big and black, and cool as cucumbers, though I will say he’s
good-looking,’ added Mary, with a simper; for the stranger had evidently
found favour in her sight despite his boldness.

‘My day has been ruined, and I will have this last half-hour to finish.
Tell him to go away; I won’t go down,’ cried Mrs Jo, fiercely.

Mary went; and listening, in spite of herself, her mistress heard first
a murmur of voices, then a cry from Mary, and remembering the ways of
reporters, also that her maid was both pretty and timid, Mrs Bhaer flung
down her pen and went to the rescue. Descending with her most majestic
air she demanded in an awe-inspiring voice, as she paused to survey the
somewhat brigandish intruder, who seemed to be storming the staircase
which Mary was gallantly defending:

‘Who is this person who insists on remaining when I have declined to see

‘I’m sure I don’t know, ma’am. He won’t give no name, and says you’ll
be sorry if you don’t see him,’ answered Mary, retiring flushed and
indignant from her post.

‘Won’t you be sorry?’ asked the stranger, looking up with a pair of
black eyes full of laughter, the flash of white teeth through a long
beard, and both hands out as he boldly approached the irate lady.

Mrs Jo gave one keen look, for the voice was familiar; then completed
Mary’s bewilderment by throwing both arms round the brigand’s neck,
exclaiming joyfully: ‘My dearest boy, where did you come from?’

‘California, on purpose to see you, Mother Bhaer. Now won’t you be sorry
if I go away?’ answered Dan, with a hearty kiss.

‘To think of my ordering you out of the house when I’ve been longing to
see you for a year,’ laughed Mrs Jo, and she went down to have a good
talk with her returned wanderer, who enjoyed the joke immensely.

Chapter 4. DAN

Mrs Jo often thought that Dan had Indian blood in him, not only because
of his love of a wild, wandering life, but his appearance; for as he
grew up, this became more striking. At twenty-five he was very tall,
with sinewy limbs, a keen, dark face, and the alert look of one whose
senses were all alive; rough in manner, full of energy, quick with word
and blow, eyes full of the old fire, always watchful as if used to keep
guard, and a general air of vigour and freshness very charming to
those who knew the dangers and delights of his adventurous life. He was
looking his best as he sat talking with ‘Mother Bhaer’, one strong brown
hand in hers, and a world of affection in his voice as he said:

‘Forget old friends! How could I forget the only home I ever knew? Why,
I was in such a hurry to come and tell my good luck that I didn’t stop
to fix up, you see; though I knew you’d think I looked more like a wild
buffalo than ever,’ with a shake of his shaggy black head, a tug at his
beard, and a laugh that made the room ring.

‘I like it; I always had a fancy for banditti--and you look just like
one. Mary, being a newcomer, was frightened at your looks and manners.
Josie won’t know you, but Ted will recognize his Danny in spite of the
big beard and flowing mane. They will all be here soon to welcome you;
so before they come tell me more about yourself. Why, Dan, dear! it’s
nearly two years since you were here! Has it gone well with you?’ asked
Mrs Jo, who had been listening with maternal interest to his account of
life in California, and the unexpected success of a small investment he
had made.

‘First-rate! I don’t care for the money, you know. I only want a trifle
to pay my way--rather earn as I go, and not be bothered with the care of
a lot. It’s the fun of the thing coming to me, and my being able to give
away, that I like. No use to lay up; I shan’t live to be old and need
it,--my sort never do,’ said Dan, looking as if his little fortune
rather oppressed him.

‘But if you marry and settle somewhere, as I hope you will, you must
have something to begin with, my son. So be prudent and invest your
money; don’t give it away, for rainy days come to all of us, and
dependence would be very hard for you to bear,’ answered Mrs Jo with a
sage air, though she liked to see that the money-making fever had not
seized her lucky boy yet.

Dan shook his head, and glanced about the room as if he already found it
rather confined and longed for all out-of-doors again.

‘Who would marry a jack-o’-lantern like me? Women like a steady-going
man; I shall never be that.’

‘My dear boy, when I was a girl I liked just such adventurous fellows
as you are. Anything fresh and daring, free and romantic, is always
attractive to us womenfolk. Don’t be discouraged; you’ll find an anchor
some day, and be content to take shorter voyages and bring home a good

‘What should you say if I brought you an Indian squaw some day?’ asked
Dan, with a glimmer of mischief in the eyes that rested on a marble bust
of Galatea gleaming white and lovely in the corner.

‘Welcome her heartily, if she was a good one. Is there a prospect of
it?’ and Mrs Jo peered at him with the interest which even literary
ladies take in love affairs.

‘Not at present, thank you. I’m too busy “to gallivant”, as Ted calls
it. How is the boy?’ asked Dan, skilfully turning the conversation, as
if he had had enough of sentiment.

Mrs Jo was off at once, and expatiated upon the talents and virtues
of her sons till they came bursting in and fell upon Dan like two
affectionate young bears, finding a vent for their joyful emotions in a
sort of friendly wrestling-match; in which both got worsted, of course,
for the hunter soon settled them. The Professor followed, and tongues
went like mill-clappers while Mary lighted up and cook devoted herself
to an unusually good supper, instinctively divining that this guest was
a welcome one.

After tea Dan was walking up and down the long rooms as he talked, with
occasional trips into the hall for a fresher breath of air, his lungs
seeming to need more than those of civilized people. In one of these
trips he saw a white figure framed in the dark doorway, and paused to
look at it. Bess paused also, not recognizing her old friend, and quite
unconscious of the pretty picture she made standing, tall and slender,
against the soft gloom of the summer night, with her golden hair like a
halo round her head, and the ends of a white shawl blown out like wings
by the cool wind sweeping through the hail. ‘Is it Dan?’ she asked,
coming in with a gracious smile and outstretched hand.

‘Looks like it; but I didn’t know you, Princess. I thought it was a
spirit,’ answered Dan, looking down at her with a curious softness and
wonder in his face.

‘I’ve grown very much, but two years have changed you entirely’; and
Bess looked up with girlish pleasure at the picturesque figure before
her--for it was a decided contrast to the well-dressed people about her.

Before they could say more, Josie rushed in, and, forgetfull of the
newly acquired dignity of her teens, let Dan catch her up and kiss her
like a child. Not till he set her down did he discover she also was
changed, and exclaimed in comic dismay:

‘Hallo! Why, you are growing up too! What am I going to do, with no
young one to play with? Here’s Ted going it like a beanstalk, and Bess a
young lady, and even you, my mustard-seed, letting down your frocks and
putting on airs.’

The girls laughed, and Josie blushed as she stared at the tall man,
conscious that she had leaped before she looked. They made a pretty
contrast, these two young cousins--one as fair as a lily, the other
a little wild rose. And Dan gave a nod of satisfaction as he surveyed
them; for he had seen many bonny girls in his travels, and was glad that
these old friends were blooming so beautifully.

‘Here! we can’t allow any monopoly of Dan!’ called Mrs Jo. ‘Bring him
back and keep an eye on him, or he will be slipping off for another
little run of a year or two before we have half seen him.’

Led by these agreeable captors, Dan returned to the parlour to receive a
scolding from Josie for getting ahead of all the other boys and looking
like a man first.

‘Emil is older; but he’s only a boy, and dances jigs and sings sailor
songs just as he used to. You look about thirty, and as big and black
as a villain in a play. Oh, I’ve got a splendid idea! You are just the
thing for Arbaces in The Last Days of Pompeii. We want to act it; have
the lion and the gladiators and the eruption. Tom and Ted are going to
shower bushels of ashes down and roll barrels of stones about. We wanted
a dark man for the Egyptian; and you will be gorgeous in red and white
shawls. Won’t he, Aunt Jo?’

This deluge of words made Dan clap his hands over his ears; and before
Mrs Bhaer could answer her impetuous niece the Laurences, with Meg and
her family, arrived, soon followed by Tom and Nan, and all sat down to
listen to Dan’s adventures--told in brief yet effective manner, as the
varying expressions of interest, wonder, merriment, and suspense painted
on the circle of faces round him plainly showed. The boys all wanted to
start at once for California and make fortunes; the girls could hardly
wait for the curious and pretty things he had picked up for them in his
travels; while the elders rejoiced heartily over the energy and good
prospects of their wild boy.

‘Of course you will want to go back for another stroke of luck; and I
hope you will have it. But speculation is a dangerous game, and you may
lose all you’ve won,’ said Mr Laurie, who had enjoyed the stirring tale
as much as any of the boys, and would have liked to rough it with Dan as
well as they.

‘I’ve had enough of it, for a while at least; too much like gambling.
The excitement is all I care for, and it isn’t good for me. I have a
notion to try farming out West. It’s grand on a large scale; and I feel
as if steady work would be rather jolly after loafing round so long. I
can make a beginning, and you can send me your black sheep to stock my
place with. I tried sheep-farming in Australia, and know something about
black ones, any way.’

A laugh chased away the sober look in Dan’s face as he ended; and those
who knew him best guessed that he had learned a lesson there in San
Francisco, and dared not try again.

‘That is a capital idea, Dan!’ cried Mrs Jo, seeing great hope in this
desire to fix himself somewhere and help others. ‘We shall know where
you are, and can go and see you, and not have half the world between us.
I’ll send my Ted for a visit. He’s such a restless spirit, it would
do him good. With you he would be safe while he worked off his surplus
energies and learned a wholesome business.’

‘I’ll use the “shubble and de hoe” like a good one, if I get a chance
out there; but the Speranza mines sound rather jollier,’ said Ted,
examining the samples of ore Dan had brought for the Professor.

‘You go and start a new town, and when we are ready to swarm we will
come out and settle there. You will want a newspaper very soon, and I
like the idea of running one myself much better than grinding away as
I do now,’ observed Demi, panting to distinguish himself in the
journalistic line.

‘We could easily plant a new college there. These sturdy Westerners are
hungry for learning, and very quick to see and choose the best,’ added
ever-young Mr March, beholding with his prophetic eye many duplicates of
their own flourishing establishment springing up in the wide West.

‘Go on, Dan. It is a fine plan, and we will back you up. I shouldn’t
mind investing in a few prairies and cowboys myself,’ said Mr Laurie,
always ready to help the lads to help themselves, both by his cheery
words and ever-open purse.

‘A little money sort of ballasts a fellow, and investing it in land
anchors him--for a while, at least. I’d like to see what I can do, but
I thought I’d consult you before I decided. Have my doubts about it
suiting me for many years; but I can cut loose when I’m tired,’ answered
Dan, both touched and pleased at the eager interest of these friends in
his plans.

‘I know you won’t like it. After having the whole world to roam over,
one farm will seem dreadfully small and stupid,’ said Josie, who much
preferred the romance of the wandering life which brought her thrilling
tales and pretty things at each return.

‘Is there any art out there?’ asked Bess, thinking what a good study in
black and white Dan would make as he stood talking, half turned from the

‘Plenty of nature, dear; and that is better. You will find splendid
animals to model, and scenery such as you never saw in Europe to paint.
Even prosaic pumpkins are grand out there. You can play Cinderella in
one of them, Josie, when you open your theatre in Dansville,’ said Mr
Laurie, anxious that no cold water should be thrown on the new plan.

Stage-struck Josie was caught at once, and being promised all the tragic
parts on the yet unbuilt stage, she felt a deep interest in the project
and begged Dan to lose no time in beginning his experiment. Bess also
confessed that studies from nature would be good for her, and wild
scenery improve her taste, which might grow over-nice if only the
delicate and beautiful were set before her.

‘I speak for the practice of the new town,’ said Nan, always eager
for fresh enterprises. ‘I shall be ready by the time you get well
started--towns grow so fast out there.’

‘Dan isn’t going to allow any woman under forty in his place. He doesn’t
like them, ‘specially young and pretty ones,’ put in Tom, who was raging
with jealousy, because he read admiration for Nan in Dan’s eyes.

‘That won’t affect me, because doctors are exceptions to all rules.
There won’t be much sickness in Dansville, everyone will lead such
active, wholesome lives, and only energetic young people will go there.
But accidents will be frequent, owing to wild cattle, fast riding,
Indian scrimmages, and the recklessness of Western life. That will just
suit me. I long for broken bones, surgery is so interesting and I get so
little here,’ answered Nan, yearning to put out her shingle and begin.

‘I’ll have you, Doctor, and be glad of such a good sample of what we can
do in the East. Peg away, and I’ll send for you as soon as I have a roof
to cover you. I’ll scalp a few red fellows or smash up a dozen or so of
cowboys for your special benefit,’ laughed Dan, well pleased with the
energy and fine physique which made Nan a conspicuous figure among other

‘Thanks. I’ll come. Would you just let me feel your arm? Splendid
biceps! Now, boys, see here: this is what I call muscle.’ And Nan
delivered a short lecture with Dan’s sinewy arm to illustrate it. Tom
retired to the alcove and glowered at the stars, while he swung his own
right arm with a vigour suggestive of knocking someone down.

‘Make Tom sexton; he’ll enjoy burying the patients Nan kills. He’s
trying to get up the glum expression proper to the business. Don’t
forget him, Dan,’ said Ted, directing attention to the blighted being in
the corner.

But Tom never sulked long, and came out from his brief eclipse with the
cheerful proposition:

‘Look here, we’ll get the city to ship out to Dansville all the cases of
yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera that arrive; then Nan will be happy
and her mistakes won’t matter much with emigrants and convicts.’

‘I should advise settling near Jacksonville, or some such city, that you
might enjoy the society of cultivated persons. The Plato Club is there,
and a most ardent thirst for philosophy. Everything from the East is
welcomed hospitably, and new enterprises would flourish in such kindly
soil,’ observed Mr March, mildly offering a suggestion, as he sat among
the elders enjoying the lively scene.

The idea of Dan studying Plato was very funny; but no one except naughty
Ted smiled, and Dan made haste to unfold another plan seething in that
active brain of his.

‘I’m not sure the farming will succeed, and have a strong leaning
towards my old friends the Montana Indians. They are a peaceful tribe,
and need help awfully; hundreds have died of starvation because they
don’t get their share. The Sioux are fighters, thirty thousand strong,
so Government fears ‘em, and gives ‘em all they want. I call that a
damned shame!’ Dan stopped short as the oath slipped out, but his eyes
flashed, and he went on quickly: ‘It is just that, and I won’t beg
pardon. If I’d had any money when I was there I’d have given every cent
to those poor devils, cheated out of everything, and waiting patiently,
after being driven from their own land to places where nothing will
grow. Now, honest agents could do much, and I’ve a feeling that I ought
to go and lend a hand. I know their lingo, and I like ‘em. I’ve got a
few thousands, and I ain’t sure I have any right to spend it on myself
and settle down to enjoy it. Hey?’

Dan looked very manly and earnest as he faced his friends, flushed and
excited by the energy of his words; and all felt that little thrill of
sympathy which links hearts together by the tie of pity for the wronged.

‘Do it, do it!’ cried Mrs Jo, fired at once; for misfortune was much
more interesting to her than good luck.

‘Do it, do it!’ echoed Ted, applauding as if at a play, ‘and take me
along to help. I’m just raging to get among those fine fellows and

‘Let us hear more and see if it is wise,’ said Mr Laurie, privately
resolving to people his as yet unbought prairies with Montana Indians,
and increase his donations to the society that sent missionaries to this
much wronged people.

Dan plunged at once into the history of what he saw among the Dakotas,
and other tribes in the Northwest, telling of their wrongs, patience,
and courage as if they were his brothers.

‘They called me Dan Fire Cloud, because my rifle was the best they ever
saw. And Black Hawk was as good a friend as a fellow would want; saved
my life more than once, and taught me just what will be useful if I go
back. They are down on their luck, now, and I’d like to pay my debts.’

By this time everyone was interested, and Dansville began to lose its
charm. But prudent Mr Bhaer suggested that one honest agent among many
could not do much, and noble as the effort would be, it was wiser to
think over the matter carefully, get influence and authority from the
right quarters, and meantime look at lands before deciding.

‘Well, I will. I’m going to take a run to Kansas and see how that
promises. Met a fellow in ‘Frisco who’d been there, and he spoke well
of it. The fact is, there’s so much to be done every where that I don’t
know where to catch on, and half wish I hadn’t any money,’ answered Dan,
knitting his brows in the perplexity all kind souls feel when anxious to
help at the great task of the world’s charity.

‘I’ll keep it for you till you decide. You are such an impetuous lad
you’ll give it to the first beggar that gets hold of you. I’ll turn it
over while you are prospecting, and hand it back when you are ready to
invest, shall I?’ asked Mr Laurie, who had learned wisdom since the days
of his own extravagant youth.

‘Thanky, sir, I’d be glad to get rid of it. You just hold on till I say
the word; and if anything happens to me this time, keep it to help some
other scamp as you helped me. This is my will, and you all witness it.
Now I feel better.’ And Dan squared his shoulders as if relieved of
a burden, after handing over the belt in which he carried his little

No one dreamed how much was to happen before Dan came to take his money
back, nor how nearly that act was his last will and testament; and while
Mr Laurie was explaining how he would invest it, a cheery voice was
heard singing:

    ‘Oh, Peggy was a jolly lass,
     Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!
     She never grudged her Jack a glass,
     Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!
     And when he sailed the raging main,
     She faithful was unto her swain,
     Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!’

Emil always announced his arrival in that fashion, and in a moment he
came hurrying in with Nat, who had been giving lessons in town all day.
It was good to see the latter beam at his friend as he nearly shook his
hand off; better still to see how Dan gratefully remembered all he owed
Nat, and tried to pay the debt in his rough way; and best of all to
hear the two travellers compare notes and reel off yarns to dazzle the
land-lubbers and home-keepers.

After this addition the house would not contain the gay youngsters, so
they migrated to the piazza and settled on the steps, like a flock of
night-loving birds. Mr March and the Professor retired to the study, Meg
and Amy went to look after the little refection of fruit and cake which
was to come, and Mrs Jo and Mr Laurie sat in the long window listening
to the chat that went on outside.

‘There they are, the flower of our flock!’ she said, pointing to the
group before them. ‘The others are dead or scattered, but these seven
boys and four girls are my especial comfort and pride. Counting Alice
Heath, my dozen is made up, and my hands are full trying to guide these
young lives as far as human skill can do it.’

‘When we remember how different they are, from what some of them came,
and the home influences about others, I think we may feel pretty well
satisfied so far,’ answered Mr Laurie soberly, as his eyes rested on
one bright head among the black and brown ones, for the young moon shone
alike on all.

‘I don’t worry about the girls; Meg sees to them, and is so wise and
patient and tender they can’t help doing well; but my boys are more care
every year, and seem to drift farther away from me each time they go,’
sighed Mrs Jo. ‘They will grow up, and I can only hold them by one
little thread, which may snap at any time, as it has with Jack and Ned.
Dolly and George still like to come back, and I can say my word to them;
and dear old Franz is too true ever to forget his own. But the three
who are soon going out into the world again I can’t help worrying about.
Emil’s good heart will keep him straight, I hope, and

    ‘“A sweet little cherub sits up aloft,
    To look out for the life of poor Jack.”’

Nat is to make his first flight, and he’s weak in spite of your
strengthening influence; and Dan is still untamed. I fear it will take
some hard lesson to do that.’

‘He’s a fine fellow, Jo, and I almost regret this farming project. A
little polish would make a gentleman of him, and who knows what he might
become here among us,’ answered Mr Laurie, leaning over Mrs Bhaer’s
chair, just as he used to do years ago when they had mischievous secrets

‘It wouldn’t be safe, Teddy. Work and the free life he loves will make a
good man of him, and that is better than any amount of polish, with
the dangers an easy life in a city would bring him. We can’t change his
nature--only help it to develop in the right direction. The old impulses
are there, and must be controlled, or he will go wrong. I see that; but
his love for us is a safeguard, and we must keep a hold on him till he
is older or has a stronger tie to help him.’

Mrs Jo spoke earnestly, for, knowing Dan better than anyone else, she
saw that her colt was not thoroughly broken yet, and feared while she
hoped, knowing that life would always be hard for one like him. She was
sure that before he went away again, in some quiet moment he would give
her a glimpse of his inner self, and then she could say the word of
warning or encouragement that he needed. So she bided her time, studying
him meanwhile, glad to see all that was promising, and quick to detect
the harm the world was doing him. She was very anxious to make a success
of her ‘firebrand’ because others predicted failure; but having learned
that people cannot be moulded like clay, she contented herself with the
hope that this neglected boy might become a good man, and asked no more.
Even that was much to expect, so full was he of wayward impulses, strong
passions, and the lawless nature born in him. Nothing held him but
the one affection of his life--the memory of Plumfield, the fear
of disappointing these faithful friends, the pride, stronger than
principle, that made him want to keep the regard of the mates who always
had admired and loved him in spite of all his faults.

‘Don’t fret, old dear; Emil is one of the happy-go-lucky sort who always
fall on their legs. I’ll see to Nat, and Dan is in a good way now. Let
him take a look at Kansas, and if the farm plan loses its charm, he
can fall back on poor Lo, and really do good out there. He’s unusually
fitted for that peculiar task and I hope he’ll decide to do it. Fighting
oppressors, and befriending the oppressed will keep those dangerous
energies of his busy, and the life will suit him better than sheep-folds
and wheat-fields.’

‘I hope so. What is that?’ and Mrs Jo leaned forward to listen, as
exclamations from Ted and Josie caught her ear.

‘A mustang! a real, live one; and we can ride it. Dan, you are a
first-class trump!’ cried the boy.

‘A whole Indian dress for me! Now I can play Namioka, if the boys act
Metamora,’ added Josie, clapping her hands.

‘A buffalo’s head for Bess! Good gracious, Dan, why did you bring such a
horrid thing as that to her?’ asked Nan.

‘Thought it would do her good to model something strong and natural.
She’ll never amount to anything if she keeps on making namby-pamby gods
and pet kittens,’ answered irreverent Dan, remembering that when he was
last here Bess was vibrating distractedly between a head of Apollo and
her Persian cat as models.

‘Thank you; I’ll try it, and if I fail we can put the buffalo up in the
hall to remind us of you,’ said Bess, indignant at the insult offered
the gods of her idolatry, but too well bred to show it except in her
voice, which was as sweet and as cold as ice-cream.

‘I suppose you won’t come out to see our new settlement when the rest
do? Too rough for you?’ asked Dan, trying to assume the deferential air
all the boys used when addressing their Princess.

‘I am going to Rome to study for years. All the beauty and art of the
world is there, and a lifetime isn’t long enough to enjoy it,’ answered

‘Rome is a mouldy old tomb compared to the “Garden of the gods” and my
magnificent Rockies. I don’t care a hang for art; nature is as much as I
can stand, and I guess I could show you things that would knock your old
masters higher than kites. Better come, and while Josie rides the horses
you can model ‘em. If a drove of a hundred or so of wild ones can’t show
you beauty, I’ll give up,’ cried Dan, waxing enthusiastic over the wild
grace and vigour which he could enjoy but had no power to describe.

‘I’ll come some day with papa, and see if they are better than the
horses of St Mark and those on Capitol Hill. Please don’t abuse my gods,
and I will try to like yours,’ said Bess, beginning to think the West
might be worth seeing, though no Raphael or Angelo had yet appeared

‘That’s a bargain! I do think people ought to see their own country
before they go scooting off to foreign parts, as if the new world wasn’t
worth discovering,’ began Dan, ready to bury the hatchet.

‘It has some advantages, but not all. The women of England can vote,
and we can’t. I’m ashamed of America that she isn’t ahead in all good
things,’ cried Nan, who held advanced views on all reforms, and was
anxious about her rights, having had to fight for some of them.

‘Oh, please don’t begin on that. People always quarrel over that
question, and call names, and never agree. Do let us be quiet and happy
tonight,’ pleaded Daisy, who hated discussion as much as Nan loved it.

‘You shall vote as much as you like in our new town, Nan; be mayor and
aldermen, and run the whole concern. It’s going to be as free as air,
or I can’t live in it,’ said Dan, adding, with a laugh, ‘I see Mrs
Giddygaddy and Mrs Shakespeare Smith don’t agree any better than they
used to.’

‘If everyone agreed, we should never get on. Daisy is a dear, but
inclined to be an old fogy; so I stir her up; and next fall she will go
and vote with me. Demi will escort us to do the one thing we are allowed
to do as yet.’

‘Will you take ‘em, Deacon?’ asked Dan, using the old name as if he
liked it. ‘It works capitally in Wyoming.’

‘I shall be proud to do it. Mother and the aunts go every year, and
Daisy will come with me. She is my better half still; and I don’t mean
to leave her behind in anything,’ said Demi, with an arm round his
sister of whom he was fonder than ever.

Dan looked at them wistfully, thinking how sweet it must be to have such
a tie; and his lonely youth seemed sadder than ever as he recalled its
struggles. A gusty sigh from Tom made sentiment impossible, as he said

‘I always wanted to be a twin. It’s so sociable and so cosy to have
someone glad to lean on a fellow and comfort him, if other girls are

As Tom’s unrequited passion was the standing joke of the family, this
allusion produced a laugh, which Nan increased by whipping out a bottle
of Nux, saying, with her professional air:

‘I knew you ate too much lobster for tea. Take four pellets, and your
dyspepsia will be all right. Tom always sighs and is silly when he’s

‘I’ll take ‘em. These are the only sweet things you ever give me.’ And
Tom gloomily crunched his dose.

‘“Who can minister to a mind diseased, or pluck out a rooted sorrow?”
 quoted Josie tragically from her perch on the railing.

‘Come with me, Tommy, and I’ll make a man of you. Drop your pills and
powders, and cavort round the world a spell, and you’ll soon forget
you’ve got a heart, or a stomach either,’ said Dan, offering his one
panacea for all ills.

‘Ship with me, Tom. A good fit of seasickness will set you up, and
a stiff north-easter blow your blue-devils away. Come along as
surgeon--easy berth, and no end of larks.’

    ‘“And if your Nancy frowns, my lad,
      And scorns a jacket blue,
      Just hoist your sails for other ports,
      And find a maid more true.”’

added Emil, who had a fragment of song to cheer every care and sorrow,
and freely offered them to his friends.

‘Perhaps I’ll think of it when I’ve got my diploma. I’m not going to
grind three mortal years and have nothing to show for it. Till then,--’

‘I’ll never desert Mrs Micawber,’ interrupted Teddy, with a gurgling
sob. Tom immediately rolled him off the step into the wet grass below;
and by the time this slight skirmish was over, the jingle of teaspoons
suggested refreshments of a more agreeable sort. In former times the
little girls waited on the boys, to save confusion; now the young men
flew to serve the ladies, young and old; and that slight fact showed
plainly how the tables were turned by time. And what a pleasant
arrangement it was! Even Josie sat still, and let Emil bring her
berries; enjoying her young lady-hood, till Ted stole her cake, when she
forgot manners, and chastised him with a rap on the knuckles. As guest
of honour, Dan was only allowed to wait on Bess, who still held the
highest place in this small world. Tom carefully selected the best of
everything for Nan, to be crushed by the remark:

‘I never eat at this hour; and you will have a nightmare if you do.’

So, dutifully curbing the pangs of hunger, he gave the plate to Daisy,
and chewed rose-leaves for his supper.

When a surprising quantity of wholesome nourishment had been consumed,
someone said, ‘Let’s sing!’ and a tuneful hour followed. Nat fiddled,
Demi piped, Dan strummed the old banjo, and Emil warbled a doleful
ballad about the wreck of the Bounding Betsey; then everybody joined
in the old songs till there was very decidedly ‘music in the air’; and
passers-by said, as they listened smiling: ‘Old Plum is gay tonight!’

When all had gone Dan lingered on the piazza, enjoying the balmy wind
that blew up from the hayfields, and brought the breath of flowers from
Parnassus; and as he leaned there romantically in the moonlight, Mrs Jo
came to shut the door.

‘Dreaming dreams, Dan?’ she asked, thinking the tender moment might have
come. Imagine the shock when, instead of some interesting confidence or
affectionate word, Dan swung round, saying bluntly:

‘I was wishing I could smoke.’

Mrs Jo laughed at the downfall of her hopes, and answered kindly:

‘You may, in your room; but don’t set the house afire.’

Perhaps Dan saw a little disappointment in her face, or the memory of
the sequel of that boyish frolic touched his heart; for he stooped and
kissed her, saying in a whisper: ‘Good night, mother.’ And Mrs Jo was
half satisfied.

Chapter 5. VACATION

Everyone was glad of a holiday next morning, and all lingered over the
breakfast-table, till Mrs Jo suddenly exclaimed:

‘Why, there’s a dog!’ And on the threshold of the door appeared a great
deer-hound, standing motionless, with his eyes fixed on Dan.

‘Hallo, old boy! Couldn’t you wait till I came for you? Have you cut
away on the sly? Own up now, and take your whipping like a man,’ said
Dan, rising to meet the dog, who reared on his hind legs to look his
master in the face and bark as if uttering an indignant denial of any

‘All right; Don never lies.’ And Dan gave the tall beast a hug, adding
as he glanced out of the window, where a man and horse were seen

‘I left my plunder at the hotel over night, not knowing how I should
find you. Come out and see Octoo, my mustang; she’s a beauty.’ And Dan
was off, with the family streaming after him, to welcome the newcomer.

They found her preparing to go up the steps in her eagerness to reach
her master, to the great dismay of the man, who was holding her back.

‘Let her come,’ called Dan; ‘she climbs like a cat and jumps like a
deer. Well, my girl, do you want a gallop?’ he asked, as the pretty
creature clattered up to him and whinnied with pleasure as he rubbed her
nose and slapped her glossy flank.

‘That’s what I call a horse worth having,’ said Ted, full of admiration
and delight; for he was to have the care of her during Dan’s absence.

‘What intelligent eyes! She looks as if she would speak,’ said Mrs Jo.

‘She talks like a human in her way. Very little that she don’t know.
Hey, old Lass?’ and Dan laid his cheek to hers as if the little black
mare was very dear to him.

‘What does “Octoo” mean?’ asked Rob.

‘Lightning; she deserves it, as you’ll see. Black Hawk gave her to me
for my rifle, and we’ve had high times together out yonder. She’s saved
my life more than once. Do you see that scar?’

Dan pointed to a small one, half hidden by the long mane; and standing
with his arm about Octoo’s neck, he told the story of it.

‘Black Hawk and I were after buffalo one time, but didn’t find ‘em as
soon as we expected; so our food gave out, and there we were a hundred
miles from Red Deer River, where our camp was. I thought we were done
for, but my brave pal says: “Now I’ll show you how we can live till
we find the herds.” We were unsaddling for the night by a little pond;
there wasn’t a living creature in sight anywhere, not even a bird, and
we could see for miles over the prairies. What do you think we did?’ And
Dan looked into the faces round him.

‘Ate worms like the Australian fellows,’ said Rob. ‘Boiled grass or
leaves,’ added Mrs Jo.

‘Perhaps filled the stomach with clay, as we read of savages doing?’
suggested Mr Bhaer.

‘Killed one of the horses,’ cried Ted, eager for bloodshed of some sort.

‘No; but we bled one of them. See, just here; filled a tin cup, put some
wild sage leaves in it, with water, and heated it over a fire of sticks.
It was good, and we slept well.’

‘I guess Octoo didn’t.’ And Josie patted the animal, with a face full of

‘Never minded it a bit. Black Hawk said we could live on the horses
several days and still travel before they felt it. But by another
morning we found the buffalo, and I shot the one whose head is in my
box, ready to hang up and scare brats into fits. He’s a fierce old
fellow, you bet.’

‘What is this strap for?’ asked Ted, who was busily examining the Indian
saddle, the single rein and snaffle, with lariat, and round the neck the
leather band he spoke of.

‘We hold on to that when we lie along the horse’s flank farthest from
the enemy, and fire under the neck as we gallop round and round. I’ll
show you.’ And springing into the saddle, Dan was off down the steps,
tearing over the lawn at a great pace, sometimes on Octoo’s back,
sometimes half hidden as he hung by stirrup and strap, and sometimes
off altogether, running beside her as she loped along, enjoying the
fun immensely; while Don raced after, in a canine rapture at being free
again and with his mates.

It was a fine sight--the three wild things at play, so full of vigour,
grace, and freedom, that for the moment the smooth lawn seemed a
prairie; and the spectators felt as if this glimpse of another life made
their own seem rather tame and colourless.

‘This is better than a circus!’ cried Mrs Jo, wishing she were a girl
again, that she might take a gallop on this chained lightning of a
horse. ‘I foresee that Nan will have her hands full setting bones, for
Ted will break every one of his trying to rival Dan.’

‘A few falls will not harm, and this new care and pleasure will be good
for him in all ways. But I fear Dan will never follow a plough after
riding a Pegasus like that,’ answered Mr Bhaer, as the black mare leaped
the gate and came flying up the avenue, to stop at a word and stand
quivering with excitement, while Dan swung himself off and looked up for

He received plenty of it, and seemed more pleased for his pet’s sake
than for his own. Ted clamoured for a lesson at once, and was soon at
ease in the queer saddle, finding Octoo gentle as a lamb, as he trotted
away to show off at college. Bess came hastening down the hill, having
seen the race from afar; and all collected on the piazza while Dan
‘yanked’ the cover off the big box the express had ‘dumped’ before the
door--to borrow his own words.

Dan usually travelled in light marching order, and hated to have more
luggage than he could carry in his well-worn valise. But now that he had
a little money of his own, he had cumbered himself with a collection of
trophies won by his bow and spear, and brought them home to bestow upon
his friends.

‘We shall be devoured with moths,’ thought Mrs Jo, as the shaggy head
appeared, followed by a wolf-skin rug for her feet, a bear-skin ditto
for the Professor’s study, and Indian garments bedecked with foxes’
tails for the boys.

All nice and warm for a July day, but received with delight
nevertheless. Ted and Josie immediately ‘dressed up’, learned the
war-whoop, and proceeded to astonish their friends by a series of
skirmishes about the house and grounds, with tomahawks and bows and
arrows, till weariness produced a lull.

Gay birds’ wings, plumy pampas grass, strings of wampum, and pretty work
in beads, bark, and feathers, pleased the girls. Minerals, arrow-heads,
and crude sketches interested the Professor; and when the box was empty,
Dan gave Mr Laurie, as his gift, several plaintive Indian songs written
on birch-bark.

‘We only want a tent over us to be quite perfect. I feel as if I ought
to give you parched corn and dried meat for dinner, my braves. Nobody
will want lamb and green peas after this splendid pow-wow,’ said Mrs Jo,
surveying the picturesque confusion of the long hall, where people lay
about on the rugs, all more or less bedecked with feathers, moccasins,
or beads.

‘Moose noses, buffalo tongues, bear steaks, and roasted marrow-bones
would be the thing, but I don’t mind a change; so bring on your baa-baa
and green meat,’ answered Dan from the box, where he sat in state like a
chief among his tribe, with the great hound at his feet.

The girls began to clear up, but made little headway; for everything
they touched had a story, and all were thrilling, comical, or wild; so
they found it hard to settle to their work, till Dan was carried off by
Mr Laurie.

This was the beginning of the summer holiday, and it was curious to see
what a pleasant little stir Dan’s and Emil’s coming made in the quiet
life of the studious community; for they seemed to bring a fresh breeze
with them that enlivened everyone. Many of the collegians remained
during vacation; and Plumfield and Parnassus did their best to make
these days pleasant for them, since most came from distant States, were
poor, and had few opportunities but this for culture or amusement. Emil
was hail-fellow-well-met with men and maids, and went rollicking
about in true sailor fashion; but Dan stood rather in awe of the ‘fair
girl-graduates’, and was silent when among them, eyeing them as an eagle
might a flock of doves. He got on better with the young men, and was
their hero at once. Their admiration for his manly accomplishments did
him good; because he felt his educational defects keenly, and often
wondered if he could find anything in books to satisfy him as thoroughly
as did the lessons he was learning from Nature’s splendidly illustrated
volume. In spite of his silence, the girls found out his good qualities,
and regarded ‘the Spaniard’, as they named him, with great favour;
for his black eyes were more eloquent than his tongue, and the kind
creatures tried to show their friendly interests in many charming ways.

He saw this, and endeavoured to be worthy of it--curbing his free
speech, toning down his rough manners, and watching the effect of all he
said and did, anxious to make a good impression. The social atmosphere
warmed his lonely heart, the culture excited him to do his best, and the
changes which had taken place during his absence, both in himself and
others, made the old home seem like a new world. After the life in
California, it was sweet and restful to be here, with these familiar
faces round him, helping him to forget much that he regretted, and to
resolve to deserve more entirely the confidence of these good fellows,
the respect of these innocent girls.

So there was riding, rowing, and picnicking by day, music, dancing, and
plays by night; and everyone said there had not been so gay a vacation
for years. Bess kept her promise, and let the dust gather on her beloved
clay while she went pleasuring with her mates or studied music with her
father, who rejoiced over the fresh roses in her cheeks and the laughter
which chased away the dreamy look she used to wear. Josie quarrelled
less with Ted; for Dan had a way of looking at her which quelled her
instantly, and had almost as good an effect upon her rebellious cousin.
But Octoo did even more for the lively youth, who found that her charms
entirely eclipsed those of the bicycle which had been his heart’s
delight before. Early and late he rode this untiring beast, and began
to gain flesh--to the great joy of his mother, who feared that her
beanstalk was growing too fast for health.

Demi, finding business dull, solaced his leisure by photographing
everybody he could induce to sit or stand to him, producing some
excellent pictures among many failures; for he had a pretty taste in
grouping, and endless patience. He might be said to view the world
through the lens of his camera, and seemed to enjoy himself very much
squinting at his fellow beings from under a bit of black cambric. Dan
was a treasure to him; for he took well, and willingly posed in his
Mexican costume, with horse and hound, and all wanted copies of these
effective photographs. Bess, also, was a favourite sitter; and Demi
received a prize at the Amateur Photographic Exhibition for one of his
cousin with all her hair about her face, which rose from the cloud of
white lace draping the shoulders. These were freely handed round by the
proud artist; and one copy had a tender little history yet to be told.

Nat was snatching every minute he could get with Daisy before the long
parting; and Mrs Meg relented somewhat, feeling sure that absence would
quite cure this unfortunate fancy. Daisy said little; but her gentle
face was sad when she was alone, and a few quiet tears dropped on the
handkerchiefs she marked so daintily with her own hair. She was sure Nat
would not forget her; and life looked rather forlorn without the
dear fellow who had been her friend since the days of patty-pans and
confidences in the willow-tree. She was an old-fashioned daughter,
dutiful and docile, with such love and reverence for her mother that her
will was law; and if love was forbidden, friendship must suffice. So she
kept her little sorrow to herself, smiled cheerfully at Nat, and made
his last days of home-life very happy with every comfort and pleasure
she could give, from sensible advice and sweet words to a well-filled
work-bag for his bachelor establishment and a box of goodies for the

Tom and Nan took all the time they could spare from their studies to
enjoy high jinks at Plumfield with their old friends; for Emil’s next
voyage was to be a long one, Nat’s absence was uncertain, and no one
ever knew when Dan would turn up again. They all seemed to feel that
life was beginning to grow serious; and even while they enjoyed those
lovely summer days together they were conscious that they were children
no longer, and often in the pauses of their fun talked soberly of their
plans and hopes, as if anxious to know and help one another before they
drifted farther apart on their different ways.

A few weeks were all they had; then the Brenda was ready, Nat was to
sail from New York, and Dan went along to see him off; for his own plans
fermented in his head, and he was eager to be up and doing. A farewell
dance was given on Parnassus in honour of the travellers, and all turned
out in their best array and gayest spirits. George and Dolly came with
the latest Harvard airs and graces, radiant to behold, in dress-suits
and ‘crushed hats’, as Josie called the especial pride and joy of their
boyish souls. Jack and Ned sent regrets and best wishes, and no one
mourned their absence; for they were among what Mrs Jo called her
failures. Poor Tom got into trouble, as usual, by deluging his head with
some highly scented preparation in the vain hope of making his tight
curls lie flat and smooth, as was the style. Unhappily, his rebellious
crop only kinked the closer, and the odour of many barbers’ shops clung
to him in spite of his frantic efforts to banish it. Nan wouldn’t allow
him near her, and flapped her fan vigorously whenever he was in sight;
which cut him to the heart, and made him feel like the Peri shut out
from Paradise. Of course his mates jeered at him, and nothing but the
unquenchable jollity of his nature kept him from despair.

Emil was resplendent in his new uniform, and danced with an abandon
which only sailors know. His pumps seemed to be everywhere, and his
partners soon lost breath trying to keep up with him; but the girls
all declared he steered like an angel, and in spite of his pace no
collisions took place; so he was happy, and found no lack of damsels to
ship with him.

Having no dress-suit, Dan had been coaxed to wear his Mexican costume,
and feeling at ease in the many-buttoned trousers, loose jacket, and gay
sash, flung his serape over his shoulder with a flourish and looked
his best, doing great execution with his long spurs, as he taught Josie
strange steps or rolled his black eyes admiringly after certain blonde
damsels whom he dared not address.

The mammas sat in the alcove, supplying pins, smiles, and kindly words
to all, especially the awkward youths new to such scenes, and the
bashful girls conscious of faded muslins and cleaned gloves. It was
pleasant to see stately Mrs Amy promenade on the arm of a tall country
boy, with thick boots and a big forehead, or Mrs Jo dance like a girl
with a shy fellow whose arms went like pump-handles, and whose face was
scarlet with confusion and pride at the honour of treading on the toes
of the president’s wife. Mrs Meg always had room on her sofa for two
or three girls, and Mr Laurie devoted himself to these plain, poorly
dressed damsels with a kindly grace that won their hearts and made them
happy. The good Professor circulated like refreshments, and his cheerful
face shone on all alike, while Mr March discussed Greek comedy in the
study with such serious gentlemen as never unbent their mighty minds to
frivolous joys.

The long music-room, parlour, hall, and piazza were full of white-gowned
maidens with attendant shadows; the air was full of lively voices,
and hearts and feet went lightly together as the home band played
vigorously, and the friendly moon did her best to add enchantment to the

‘Pin me up, Meg; that dear Dunbar boy has nearly rent me “in sunder”, as
Mr Peggotty would say. But didn’t he enjoy himself, bumping against his
fellow men and swinging me round like a mop. On these occasions I find
that I’m not as young as I was, nor as light of foot. In ten years more
we shall be meal-bags, sister; so be resigned.’ And Mrs Jo subsided into
a corner, much dishevelled by her benevolent exertions.

‘I know I shall be stout; but you won’t keep still long enough to get
much flesh on your bones, dear; and Amy will always keep her lovely
figure. She looks about eighteen tonight, in her white gown and roses,’
answered Meg, busily pinning up one sister’s torn frills, while her eyes
fondly followed the other’s graceful movements; for Meg still adored Amy
in the old fashion.

It was one of the family jokes that Jo was getting fat, and she kept it
up, though as yet she had only acquired a matronly outline, which was
very becoming. They were laughing over the impending double chins, when
Mr Laurie came off duty for a moment.

‘Repairing damages as usual, Jo? You never could take a little gentle
exercise without returning in rags. Come and have a quiet stroll with me
and cool off before supper. I’ve a series of pretty tableaux to show
you while Meg listens to the raptures of lisping Miss Carr, whom I made
happy by giving her Demi for a partner.’

As he spoke, Laurie led Jo to the music-room, nearly empty now after a
dance which sent the young people into garden and hall. Pausing before
the first of the four long windows that opened on a very wide piazza, he
pointed to a group outside, saying: ‘The name of this is “Jack Ashore”.’

A pair of long, blue legs, ending in very neat pumps, hung from the
veranda roof among the vines; and roses, gathered by unseen hands,
evidently appertaining to aforesaid legs, were being dropped into the
laps of several girls perched like a flock of white birds on the railing
below; while a manly voice ‘fell like a falling star’, as it sung this
pensive ditty to a most appreciative audience:

             MARY’S DREAM

    The moon had climbed the eastern hill
    Which rises o’er the sands of Dee,
    And from its highest summit shed
    A silver light on tower and tree,
    When Mary laid her down to sleep
    (Her thoughts on Sandy far at sea);
    When soft and low a voice was heard,
    Saying, ‘Mary, weep no more for me.’

    She from her pillow gently raised
    Her head, to see who there might be,
    And saw young Sandy, shivering stand
    With visage pale and hollow e’e.
    ‘Oh Mary dear, cold is my clay;
    It lies beneath the stormy sea;
    Far, far from thee, I sleep in death.
    Dear Mary, weep no more for me.

    ‘Three stormy nights and stormy days
    We tossed upon the raging main.
    And long we strove our bark to save;
    But all our striving was in vain.
    E’en then, when terror chilled my blood,
    My heart was filled with love of thee.
    The storm is past, and I’m at rest;
    So, Mary, weep no more for me.

    ‘Oh maiden dear, yourself prepare;
    We soon shall meet upon that shore
    Where love is free from doubt and care,
    And you and I shall part no more.’
    Loud crew the cock, the shadow fled;
    No more her Sandy did she see;
    But soft the passing spirit said,
    ‘Sweet Mary, weep no more for me.’

‘The constant jollity of that boy is worth a fortune to him. He’ll never
sink with such a buoyant spirit to keep him afloat through life,’ said
Mrs Jo, as the roses were tossed back with much applause when the song

‘Not he; and it’s a blessing to be grateful for, isn’t it? We moody
people know its worth. Glad you like my first tableau. Come and see
number two. Hope it isn’t spoilt; it was very pretty just now. This is
“Othello telling his adventures to Desdemona”.’

The second window framed a very picturesque group of three. Mr March in
an arm-chair, with Bess on a cushion at his feet, was listening to Dan,
who, leaning against a pillar, was talking with unusual animation. The
old man was in shadow, but little Desdemona was looking up with the
moonlight full upon her into young Othello’s face, quite absorbed in the
story he was telling so well. The gay drapery over Dan’s shoulder,
his dark colouring, and the gesture of his arm made the picture very
striking, and both spectators enjoyed it with silent pleasure, till Mrs
Jo said in a quick whisper:

‘I’m glad he’s going away. He’s too picturesque to have here among so
many romantic girls. Afraid his “grand, gloomy, and peculiar” style will
be too much for our simple maids.’

‘No danger; Dan is in the rough as yet, and always will be, I fancy;
though he is improving in many ways. How well Queenie looks in that soft

‘Dear little Goldilocks looks well everywhere.’ And with a backward
glance full of pride and fondness, Mrs Jo went on. But that scene
returned to her long afterward and her own prophetic words also.

Number three was a tragical tableau at first sight; and Mr Laurie
stifled a laugh as he whispered ‘The Wounded Knight’, pointing to Tom
with his head enveloped in a large handkerchief, as he knelt before Nan,
who was extracting a thorn or splinter from the palm of his hand
with great skill, to judge from the patient’s blissful expression of

‘Do I hurt you?’ she asked, turning the hand to the moonlight for a
better view.

‘Not a bit; dig away; I like it,’ answered Tom, regardless of his aching
knees and the damage done to his best trousers.

‘I won’t keep you long.’

‘Hours, if you please. Never so happy as here.’

Quite unmoved by this tender remark, Nan put on a pair of large,
round-eyed glasses, saying in a matter-of-fact tone: ‘Now I see it. Only
a splinter, and there it is.

‘My hand is bleeding; won’t you bind it up?’ asked Tom, wishing to
prolong the situation.

‘Nonsense; suck it. Only take care of it tomorrow if you dissect. Don’t
want any more blood-poisoning.’

‘That was the only time you were kind to me. Wish I’d lost my arm.’

‘I wish you’d lost your head; it smells more like turpentine and
kerosene than ever. Do take a run in the garden and air it.’

Fearing to betray themselves by laughter, the watchers went on, leaving
the Knight to rush away in despair, and the Lady to bury her nose in the
cup of a tall lily for refreshment.

‘Poor Tom, his fate is a hard one, and he’s wasting his time! Do advise
him to quit philandering and go to work, Jo.’

‘I have, Teddy, often; but it will take some great shock to make that
boy wise. I wait with interest to see what it will be. Bless me! what is
all this?’

She might well ask; for on a rustic stool stood Ted trying to pose on
one foot, with the other extended, and both hands waving in the air.
Josie, with several young mates, was watching his contortions with deep
interest as they talked about ‘little wings’, ‘gilded wire twisted’, and
a ‘cunning skull-cap’.

‘This might be called “Mercury Trying to Fly”,’ said Mr Laurie, as they
peeped through the lace curtains.

‘Bless the long legs of that boy! how does he expect to manage them?
They are planning for the Owlsdark Marbles, and a nice muddle they will
make of my gods and goddesses with no one to show them how,’ answered
Mrs Jo, enjoying this scene immensely. ‘Now, he’s got it!’ ‘That’s
perfectly splendid!’ ‘See how long you can keep so!’ cried the girls, as
Ted managed to maintain his equilibrium a moment by resting one toe
on the trellis. Unfortunately this brought all his weight on the other
foot; the straw seat of the stool gave way, and the flying Mercury
came down with a crash, amid shrieks of laughter from the girls. Being
accustomed to ground and lofty tumbling, he quickly recovered himself,
and hopped gaily about, with one leg through the stool as he improvised
a classic jig.

‘Thanks for four nice little pictures. You have given me an idea, and I
think some time we will get up regular tableaux of this sort and march
our company round a set of dissolving views. New and striking; I’ll
propose it to our manager and give you all the glory,’ said Mrs Jo, as
they strolled towards the room whence came the clash of glass and china,
and glimpses of agitated black coats.

Let us follow the example of our old friends and stroll about among the
young people, eavesdropping, so gathering up various little threads to
help in the weaving of the story. George and Dolly were at supper,
and having served the ladies in their care stood in a corner absorbing
nourishment of all kinds with a vain attempt to conceal hearty appetites
under an air of elegant indifference.

‘Good spread, this; Laurence does things in style. First-rate coffee,
but no wine, and that’s a mistake,’ said Stuffy, who still deserved his
name, and was a stout youth with a heavy eye and bilious complexion.

‘Bad for boys, he says. Jove! wish he could see us at some of our wines.
Don’t we just “splice the main brace” as Emil says,’ answered Dolly,
the dandy, carefully spreading a napkin over the glossy expanse of
shirt-front whereon a diamond stud shone like a lone star. His stutter
was nearly outgrown; but he, as well as George, spoke in the tone of
condescension, which, with the blase airs they assumed, made a very
funny contrast to their youthful faces and foolish remarks. Good-hearted
little fellows both, but top-heavy with the pride of being Sophs and the
freedom that college life gave them.

‘Little Jo is getting to be a deuced pretty girl, isn’t she?’ said
George, with a long sigh of satisfaction as his first mouthful of ice
went slowly down his throat.

‘H’m--well, fairish. The Princess is rather more to my taste. I like ‘em
blonde and queenly and elegant, don’t you know.’

‘Yes, Jo is too lively; might as well dance with a grasshopper.
I’ve tried her, and she’s one too many for me. Miss Perry is a nice,
easy-going girl. Got her for the german.’

‘You’ll never be a dancing man. Too lazy. Now I’ll undertake to steer
any girl and dance down any fellow you please. Dancing’s my forte.’ And
Dolly glanced from his trim feet to his flashing gem with the defiant
air of a young turkey-cock on parade.

‘Miss Grey is looking for you. Wants more grub. Just see if Miss
Nelson’s plate is empty, there’s a good fellow. Can’t eat ice in a
hurry.’ And George remained in his safe corner, while Dolly struggled
through the crowd to do his duty, coming back in a fume, with a splash
of salad dressing on his coat-cuff.

‘Confound these country chaps! they go blundering round like so many
dor-bugs, and make a deuce of a mess. Better stick to books and not try
to be society men. Can’t do it. Beastly stain. Give it a rub, and let me
bolt a mouthful, I’m starved. Never saw girls eat such a lot. It proves
that they ought not to study so much. Never liked co-ed,’ growled Dolly,
much ruffled in spirit.

‘So they do. ‘Tisn’t ladylike. Ought to be satisfied with an ice and
a bit of cake, and eat it prettily. Don’t like to see a girl feed. We
hard-working men need it, and, by Jove, I mean to get some more of that
meringue if it’s not all gone. Here, waiter! bring along that dish over
there, and be lively,’ commanded Stuffy, poking a young man in a rather
shabby dress-suit, who was passing with a tray of glasses.

His order was obeyed promptly; but George’s appetite was taken away
the next moment by Dolly’s exclaiming, as he looked up from his damaged
coat, with a scandalized face:

‘You’ve put your foot in it now, old boy! that’s Morton, Mr Bhaer’s
crack man. Knows everything, no end of a “dig”, and bound to carry off
all the honours. You won’t hear the last of it in a hurry.’ And Dolly
laughed so heartily that a spoonful of ice flew upon the head of a lady
sitting below him, and got him into a scrape also.

Leaving them to their despair, let us listen to the whispered chat of
two girls comfortably seated in a recess waiting till their escorts were

‘I do think the Laurences give lovely parties. Don’t you enjoy them?’
asked the younger, looking about her with the eager air of one unused to
this sort of pleasure.

‘Very much, only I never feel as if I was dressed right. My things
seemed elegant at home, and I thought I’d be over over-dressed if
anything; but I look countrified and dowdy here. No time or money to
change now, even if I knew how to do it,’ answered the other, glancing
anxiously at her bright pink silk grown, trimmed with cheap lace.

‘You must get Mrs Brooke to tell you how to fix your things. She was
very kind to me. I had a green silk, and it looked so cheap and horrid
by the side of the nice dresses here I felt regularly unhappy about it,
and asked her how much a dress like one Mrs Laurence had would cost.
That looked so simple and elegant I thought it wouldn’t be costly; but
it was India mull and Valenciennes lace, so, of course, I couldn’t have
it. Then Mrs Brooke said: “Get some muslin to cover the green silk, and
wear hops or some white flowers, instead of pink, in your hair, and you
will have a pretty suit.” Isn’t it lovely and becoming?’ And Miss Burton
surveyed herself with girlish satisfaction; for a little taste had
softened the harsh green, and hop-bells became her red hair better than

‘It’s sweet: I’ve been admiring it. I’ll do mine so and ask about my
purple one. Mrs Brooke has helped me to get rid of my headaches, and
Mary Clay’s dyspepsia is all gone since she gave up coffee and hot

‘Mrs Laurence advised me to walk and run and use the gymnasium to cure
my round shoulders and open my chest, and I’m a much better figure than
I was.’

‘Did you know that Mr Laurence pays all Amelia Merrill’s bills? Her
father failed, and she was heartbroken at having to leave college; but
that splendid man just stepped in and made it all right.’ ‘Yes, and
Professor Bhaer has several of the boys down at his house evenings to
help them along so they can keep up with the rest; and Mrs Bhaer took
care of Charles Mackey herself when he had a fever last year. I do think
they are the best and kindest people in the world.’

‘So do I, and my time here will be the happiest and most useful years of
my life.’

And both girls forgot their gowns and their suppers for a moment to look
with grateful, affectionate eyes at the friends who tried to care for
bodies and for souls as well as minds.

Now come to a lively party supping on the stairs, girls like foam at
the top, and a substratum of youths below, where the heaviest particles
always settle. Emil, who never sat if he could climb or perch, adorned
the newel-post; Tom, Nat, Demi, and Dan were camped on the steps, eating
busily, as their ladies were well served and they had earned a moment’s
rest, which they enjoyed with their eyes fixed on the pleasing prospect
above them.

‘I’m so sorry the boys are going. It will be dreadfully dull without
them. Now they have stopped teasing and are polite, I really enjoy
them,’ said Nan, who felt unusually gracious tonight as Tom’s mishap
kept him from annoying her.

‘So do I; and Bess was mourning about it today, though as a general
thing she doesn’t like boys unless they are models of elegance. She has
been doing Dan’s head, and it is not quite finished. I never saw her so
interested in any work, and it’s very well done. He is so striking and
big he always makes me think of the Dying Gladiator or some of those
antique creatures. There’s Bess now. Dear child, how sweet she looks
tonight!’ answered Daisy, waving her hand as the Princess went by with
Grandpa on her arm.

‘I never thought he would turn out so well. Don’t you remember how we
used to call him “the bad boy” and be sure he would become a pirate or
something awful because he glared at us and swore sometimes? Now he is
the handsomest of all the boys, and very entertaining with his stories
and plans. I like him very much; he’s so big and strong and independent.
I’m tired of mollycoddles and book-worms,’ said Nan in her decided way.

‘Not handsomer that Nat!’ cried loyal Daisy, contrasting two faces
below, one unusually gay, the other sentimentally sober even in the
act of munching cake. ‘I like Dan, and am glad he is doing well; but
he tires me, and I’m still a little afraid of him. Quiet people suit me

‘Life is a fight, and I like a good soldier. Boys take things too
easily, don’t see how serious it all is and go to work in earnest. Look
at that absurd Tom, wasting his time and making an object of himself
just because he can’t have what he wants, like a baby crying for the
moon. I’ve no patience with such nonsense,’ scolded Nan, looking down at
the jovial Thomas, who was playfully putting macaroons in Emil’s shoes,
and trying to beguile his exile as best he could.

‘Most girls would be touched by such fidelity. I think it’s beautiful,’
said Daisy behind her fan; for other girls sat just below.

‘You are a sentimental goose and not a judge. Nat will be twice the man
when he comes back after his trip. I wish Tom was going with him. My
idea is that if we girls have any influence we should use it for the
good of these boys, and not pamper them up, making slaves of ourselves
and tyrants of them. Let them prove what they can do and be before they
ask anything of us, and give us a chance to do the same. Then we know
where we are, and shall not make mistakes to mourn over all our lives.’

‘Hear, hear!’ cried Alice Heath, who was a girl after Nan’s own heart,
and had chosen a career, like a brave and sensible young woman. ‘Only
give us a chance, and have patience till we can do our best. Now we are
expected to be as wise as men who have had generations of all the help
there is, and we scarcely anything. Let us have equal opportunities, and
in a few generations we will see what the judgement is. I like justice,
and we get very little of it.’

‘Still shouting the battle-cry of freedom?’ asked Demi, peering through
the banisters at this moment. ‘Up with your flag! I’ll stand by and lend
a hand if you want it. With you and Nan to lead the van, I think you
won’t need much help.’

‘You are a great comfort, Demi, and I’ll call on you in all emergencies;
for you are an honest boy, and don’t forget that you owe much to your
mother and your sisters and your aunts,’ continued Nan. ‘I do like men
who come out frankly and own that they are not gods. How can we think
them so when such awful mistakes are being made all the time by these
great creatures? See them sick, as I do, then you know them.’

‘Don’t hit us when we are down; be merciful, and set us up to bless and
believe in you evermore,’ pleaded Demi from behind the bars.

‘We’ll be kind to you if you will be just to us. I don’t say generous,
only just. I went to a suffrage debate in the Legislature last winter;
and of all the feeble, vulgar twaddle I ever heard, that was the worst;
and those men were our representatives. I blushed for them, and the
wives and mothers. I want an intelligent man to represent me, if I can’t
do it myself, not a fool.’

‘Nan is on the stump. Now we shall catch it,’ cried Tom, putting up
an umbrella to shield his unhappy head; for Nan’s earnest voice was
audible, and her indignant eye happened to rest on him as she spoke.

‘Go on, go on! I’ll take notes, and put in “great applause” liberally,’
added Demi, producing his ball-book and pencil, with his Jenkins air.

Daisy pinched his nose through the bars, and the meeting was rather
tumultuous for a moment, for Emil called: ‘Avast, avast, here’s a squall
to wind’ard’; Tom applauded wildly; Dan looked up as if the prospect of
a fight, even with words, pleased him, and Nat went to support Demi,
as his position seemed to be a good one. At this crisis, when everyone
laughed and talked at once, Bess came floating through the upper hall
and looked down like an angel of peace upon the noisy group below, as
she asked, with wondering eyes and smiling lips:

‘What is it?’

‘An indignation meeting. Nan and Alice are on the rampage, and we are at
the bar to be tried for our lives. Will Your Highness preside and judge
between us?’ answered Demi, as a lull at once took place; for no one
rioted in the presence of the Princess.

‘I’m not wise enough. I’ll sit here and listen. Please go on.’ And Bess
took her place above them all as cool and calm as a little statue of
Justice, with fan and nosegay in place of sword and scales.

‘Now, ladies, free your minds, only spare us till morning; for we’ve
got a german to dance as soon as everyone is fed, and Parnassus expects
every man to do his duty. Mrs President Giddy-gaddy has the floor,’
said Demi, who liked this sort of fun better than the very mild sort of
flirtation which was allowed at Plumfield, for the simple reason that it
could not be entirely banished, and is a part of all education, co- or

‘I have only one thing to say, and it is this,’ began Nan soberly,
though her eyes sparkled with a mixture of fun and earnestness. ‘I want
to ask every boy of you what you really think on this subject. Dan and
Emil have seen the world and ought to know their own minds. Tom and Nat
have had five examples before them for years. Demi is ours and we are
proud of him. So is Rob. Ted is a weathercock, and Dolly and George,
of course, are fogies in spite of the Annex, and girls at Girton going
ahead of the men. Commodore, are you ready for the question?’

‘Ay, ay, skipper.’

‘Do you believe in Woman’s Suffrage?’

‘Bless your pretty figger head! I do, and I’ll ship a crew of girls any
time you say so. Aren’t they worse than a press-gang to carry a fellow
out of his moorings? Don’t we all need one as pilot to steer us safe to
port? and why shouldn’t they share our mess afloat and ashore since we
are sure to be wrecked without ‘em?’

‘Good for you, Emil! Nan will take you for first mate after that
handsome speech,’ said Demi, as the girls applauded, and Tom glowered.
‘Now, Dan, you love liberty so well yourself, are you willing we should
have it?’

‘All you can get, and I’ll fight any man who’s mean enough to say you
don’t deserve it.’

This brief and forcible reply delighted the energetic President, and she
beamed upon the member from California, as she said briskly:

‘Nat wouldn’t dare to say he was on the other side even if he were, but
I hope he has made up his mind to pipe for us, at least when we take the
field, and not be one of those who wait till the battle is won, and then
beat the drums and share the glory.’

Mrs Giddy-gaddy’s doubts were most effectually removed, and her sharp
speech regretted, as Nat looked up blushing, but with a new sort of
manliness in face and manner, saying, in a tone that touched them all:

‘I should be the most ungrateful fellow alive if I did not love,
honour, and serve women with all my heart and might, for to them I owe
everything I am or ever shall be.’

Daisy clapped her hands, and Bess threw her bouquet into Nat’s lap,
while the other girls waved their fans, well pleased; for real feeling
made his little speech eloquent.

‘Thomas B. Bangs, come into court, and tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth, if you can,’ commanded Nan, with a rap to
call the meeting to order.

Tom shut the umbrella, and standing up raised his hand, saying solemnly:

‘I believe in suffrage of all kinds. I adore all women, and will die for
them at any moment if it will help the cause.’

‘Living and working for it is harder, and therefore more honourable. Men
are always ready to die for us, but not to make our lives worth having.
Cheap sentiment and bad logic. You will pass, Tom, only don’t twaddle.
Now, having taken the sense of the meeting we will adjourn, as the hour
for festive gymnastics has arrived. I am glad to see that old Plum
has given six true men to the world, and hope they will continue to be
staunch to her and the principles she has taught them, wherever they may
go. Now, girls, don’t sit in draughts, and, boys, beware of ice-water
when you are warm.’

With this characteristic close Nan retired from office, and the girls
went to enjoy one of the few rights allowed them.

Chapter 6. LAST WORDS

The next day was Sunday, and a goodly troop of young and old set forth
to church.--some driving, some walking, all enjoying the lovely weather
and the happy quietude which comes to refresh us when the work and worry
of the week are over. Daisy had a headache; and Aunt Jo remained at home
to keep her company, knowing very well that the worst ache was in the
tender heart struggling dutifully against the love that grew stronger as
the parting drew nearer.

‘Daisy knows my wishes, and I trust her. You must keep an eye on Nat,
and let him clearly understand that there is to be no “lovering”, or
I shall forbid the letter-writing. I hate to seem cruel, but it is too
soon for my dear girl to bind herself in any way,’ said Mrs Meg, as she
rustled about in her best grey silk, while waiting for Demi, who always
escorted his pious mother to church as a peace-offering for crossing her
wishes in other things.

‘I will, dear; I’m lying in wait for all three boys today, like an old
spider; and I will have a good talk with each. They know I understand
them, and they always open their hearts sooner or later. You look like a
nice, plump little Quakeress, Meg; and no one will believe that big
boy is your son,’ added Mrs Jo, as Demi came in shining with Sunday
neatness, from his well-blacked boots to his smooth brown head.

‘You flatter me, to soften my heart toward your boy. I know your ways,
Jo, and I don’t give in. Be firm, and spare me a scene by and by. As for
John, as long as he is satisfied with his old mother, I don’t care what
people think,’ answered Mrs Meg, accepting with a smile the little posy
of sweet peas and mignonette Demi brought her.

Then, having buttoned her dove-coloured gloves with care, she took her
son’s arm and went proudly away to the carriage, where Amy and Bess
waited, while Jo called after them, just as Marmee used to do:

‘Girls, have you got nice pocket-handkerchiefs?’ They all smiled at
the familiar words, and three white banners waved as they drove away,
leaving the spider to watch for her first fly. She did not wait long.
Daisy was lying down with a wet cheek on the little hymnbook out of
which she and Nat used to sing together; so Mrs Jo strolled about
the lawn, looking very like a wandering mushroom with her large buff

Dan had gone for a ten-mile stroll; and Nat was supposed to have
accompanied him, but presently came sneaking back, unable to tear
himself away from the Dovecote or lose a moment of nearness to his idol
that last day. Mrs Jo saw him at once, and beckoned him to a rustic seat
under the old elm, where they could have their confidences undisturbed,
and both keep an eye on a certain white-curtained window, half hidden in

‘Nice and cool here. I’m not up to one of Dan’s tramps today--it’s so
warm, and he goes so like a steam-engine. He headed for the swamp where
his pet snakes used to live, and I begged to be excused,’ said Nat,
fanning himself with his straw hat, though the day was not oppressive.

‘I’m glad you did. Sit and rest with me, and have one of our good old
talks. We’ve both been so busy lately, I feel as if I didn’t half know
your plans; and I want to,’ answered Mrs Jo, feeling sure that though
they might start with Leipzig they would bring up at Plumfield.

‘You are very kind, and there’s nothing I’d like better. I don’t realize
I’m going so far--suppose I shan’t till I get afloat. It’s a splendid
start, and I don’t know how I can ever thank Mr Laurie for all he’s
done, or you either,’ added Nat, with a break in his voice; for he was a
tender-hearted fellow, and never forgot a kindness.

‘You can thank us beautifully by being and doing all we hope and expect
of you, my dear. In the new life you are going to there will be a
thousand trials and temptations, and only your own wit and wisdom to
rely on. That will be the time to test the principles we have tried
to give you, and see how firm they are. Of course, you will make
mistakes--we all do; but don’t let go of your conscience and drift along
blindly. Watch and pray, dear Nat; and while your hand gains skill, let
your head grow wiser, and keep your heart as innocent and warm as it is

‘I’ll try, Mother Bhaer, my very best to be a credit to you. I know I
shall improve in my music--can’t help it there; but I never shall be
very wise, I’m afraid. As for my heart, you know, I leave it behind me
in good keeping.’

As he spoke, Nat’s eyes were fixed on the window with a look of love and
longing that made his quiet face both manly and sad--plainly showing how
strong a hold this boyish affection had upon him.

‘I want to speak of that; and I know you will forgive what seems hard,
because I do most heartily sympathize with you,’ said Mrs Jo, glad to
have her say.

‘Yes, do talk about Daisy! I think of nothing but leaving and losing
her. I have no hope--I suppose it is too much to ask; only I can’t help
loving her, wherever I am!’ cried Nat, with a mixture of defiance and
despair in his face that rather startled Mrs Jo.

‘Listen to me and I’ll try to give you both comfort and good advice. We
all know that Daisy is fond of you, but her mother objects, and being a
good girl she tries to obey. Young people think they never can change,
but they do in the most wonderful manner, and very few die of broken
hearts.’ Mrs Jo smiled as she remembered another boy whom she had once
tried to comfort, and then went soberly on while Nat listened as if his
fate hung upon her lips.

‘One of two things will happen. You will find someone else to love,
or, better still, be so busy and happy in your music that you will be
willing to wait for time to settle the matter for you both. Daisy will
perhaps forget when you are gone, and be glad you are only friends. At
any rate it is much wiser to have no promises made; then both are free,
and in a year or two may meet to laugh over the little romance nipped in
the bud.’

‘Do you honestly think that?’ asked Nat, looking at her so keenly that
the truth had to come; for all his heart was in those frank blue eyes of

‘No, I don’t!’ answered Mrs Jo. ‘Then if you were in my place, what
would you do?’ he added, with a tone of command never heard in his
gentle voice before.

‘Bless me! the boy is in dead earnest, and I shall forget prudence
in sympathy I’m afraid,’ thought Mrs Jo, surprised and pleased by the
unexpected manliness Nat showed.

‘I’ll tell you what I should do. I’d say to myself:

“I’ll prove that my love is strong and faithful, and make Daisy’s
mother proud to give her to me by being not only a good musician but an
excellent man, and so command respect and confidence. This I will try
for; and if I fail, I shall be the better for the effort, and find
comfort in the thought that I did my best for her sake.”’

‘That is what I meant to do. But I wanted a word of hope to give me
courage,’ cried Nat, firing up as if the smouldering spark was set
ablaze by a breath of encouragement. ‘Other fellows, poorer and stupider
than I, have done great things and come to honour. Why may not I, though
I’m nothing now? I know Mrs Brooke remembers what I came from, but my
father was honest though everything went wrong; and I have nothing to
be ashamed of though I was a charity boy. I never will be ashamed of my
people or myself, and I’ll make other folks respect me if I can.’

‘Good! that’s the right spirit, Nat. Hold to it and make yourself a man.
No one will be quicker to see and admire the brave work than my sister
Meg. She does not despise your poverty or your past; but mothers are
very tender over their daughters, and we Marches, though we have been
poor, are, I confess, a little proud of our good family. We don’t care
for money; but a long line of virtuous ancestors is something to desire
and to be proud of.’

‘Well, the Blakes are a good lot. I looked ‘em up, and not one was
ever in prison, hanged, or disgraced in any way. We used to be rich and
honoured years ago, but we’ve died out and got poor, and father was a
street musician rather than beg; and I’ll be one again before I’ll do
the mean things some men do and pass muster.’

Nat was so excited that Mrs Jo indulged in a laugh to calm him, and both
went on more quietly.

‘I told my sister all that and it pleased her. I am sure if you do well
these next few years that she will relent and all be happily settled,
unless that wonderful change, which you don’t believe possible, should
occur. Now, cheer up; don’t be lackadaisical and blue. Say good-bye
cheerfully and bravely, show a manly front, and leave a pleasant memory
behind you. We all wish you well and hope much for you. Write to me
every week and I’ll send a good, gossipy answer. Be careful what you
write to Daisy; don’t gush or wail, for sister Meg will see the letters;
and you can help your cause very much by sending sensible, cheery
accounts of your life to us all.’

‘I will; I will; it looks brighter and better already, and I won’t lose
my one comfort by any fault of my own. Thank you so much, Mother Bhaer,
for taking my side. I felt so ungrateful and mean and crushed when I
thought you all considered me a sneak who had no business to love such
a precious girl as Daisy. No one said anything, but I knew how you felt,
and that Mr Laurie sent me off partly to get me out of the way. Oh dear,
life is pretty tough sometimes, isn’t it?’ And Nat took his head in both
hands as if it ached with the confusion of hopes and fears, passions and
plans that proved boyhood was past and manhood had begun.

‘Very tough, but it is that very struggle with obstacles which does us
good. Things have been made easy for you in many ways, but no one can do
everything. You must paddle your own canoe now, and learn to avoid the
rapids and steer straight to the port you want to reach. I don’t know
just what your temptations will be for you have no bad habits and seem
to love music so well, nothing can lure you from it. I only hope you
won’t work too hard.’

‘I feel as if I could work like a horse, I’m so eager to get on; but
I’ll take care. Can’t waste time being sick, and you’ve given me doses
enough to keep me all right, I guess.’ Nat laughed as he remembered
the book of directions Mrs Jo had written for him to consult on all

She immediately added some verbal ones on the subject of foreign messes,
and having mounted one of her pet hobbies, was in full gallop when Emil
was seen strolling about on the roof of the old house, that being his
favourite promenade; for there he could fancy himself walking the deck,
with only blue sky and fresh air about him.

‘I want a word with the Commodore, and up there we shall be nice and
quiet. Go and play to Daisy: it will put her to sleep and do you both
good. Sit in the porch, so I can keep an eye on you as I promised’; and
with a motherly pat on the shoulder Mrs Jo left Nat to his delightful
task and briskly ascended to the house-top, not up the trellis as of old
but by means of the stairs inside.

Emerging on the platform she found Emil cutting his initials afresh in
the wood-work and singing ‘Pull for the Shore’, like the tuneful mariner
he was.

‘Come aboard and make yourself at home, Aunty,’ he said, with a playful
salute. ‘I’m just leaving a P.P.C. in the old place, so when you fly up
here for refuge you’ll remember me.’

‘Ah, my dear, I’m not likely to forget you. It doesn’t need E. B. H. cut
on all the trees and railings to remind me of my sailor boy’; and Mrs Jo
took the seat nearest the blue figure astride the balustrade, not quite
sure how to begin the little sermon she wanted to preach.

‘Well, you don’t pipe your eye and look squally when I sheer off as you
used to, and that’s a comfort. I like to leave port in fair weather and
have a jolly send-off all round. Specially this time, for it will be a
year or more before we drop anchor here again,’ answered Emil, pushing
his cap back, and glancing about him as if he loved old Plum and would
be sorry never to see it any more.

‘You have salt water enough without my adding to it. I’m going to be
quite a Spartan mother, and send my sons to battle with no wailing, only
the command:

“With your shield or on it”,’ said Mrs Jo cheerfully, adding after a
pause: ‘I often wish I could go too, and some day I will, when you are
captain and have a ship of your own--as I’ve no doubt you will before
long, with Uncle Herman to push you on.’

‘When I do I’ll christen her the Jolly Jo and take you as first mate.
It would be regular larks to have you aboard, and I’d be a proud man to
carry you round the world you’ve wanted to see so long and never could,’
answered Emil, caught at once by this splendid vision.

‘I’ll make my first voyage with you and enjoy myself immensely in spite
of seasickness and all the stormy winds that blow. I’ve always thought
I’d like to see a wreck, a nice safe one with all saved after great
danger and heroic deeds, while we clung like Mr Pillicoddy to main-top
jibs and lee scuppers.’

‘No wrecks yet, ma’am, but we’ll try to accommodate customers. Captain
says I’m a lucky dog and bring fair weather, so we’ll save the dirty
weather for you if you want it,’ laughed Emil, digging at the ship in
full sail which he was adding to his design.

‘Thanks, I hope you will. This long voyage will give you new
experiences, and being an officer, you will have new duties and
responsibilities. Are you ready for them? You take everything so gaily,
I’ve been wondering if you realized that now you will have not only to
obey but to command also, and power is a dangerous thing. Be careful
that you don’t abuse it or let it make a tyrant of you.’

‘Right you are, ma’am. I’ve seen plenty of that, and have got my
bearings pretty well, I guess. I shan’t have very wide swing with Peters
over me, but I’ll see that the boys don’t get abused when he’s bowsed up
his jib. No right to speak before, but now I won’t stand it.’

‘That sounds mysteriously awful; could I ask what nautical torture
“bowsing jibs” is?’ asked Mrs Jo, in a tone of deep interest.

‘Getting drunk. Peters can hold more grog than any man I ever saw; he
keeps right side up, but is as savage as a norther, and makes things
lively all round. I’ve seen him knock a fellow down with a belaying pin,
and couldn’t lend a hand. Better luck now, I hope.’ And Emil frowned as
if he already trod the quarter-deck, lord of all he surveyed.

‘Don’t get into trouble, for even Uncle Herman’s favour won’t cover
insubordination, you know. You have proved yourself a good sailor; now
be a good officer, which is a harder thing, I fancy. It takes a fine
character to rule justly and kindly; you will have to put by your boyish
ways and remember your dignity. That will be excellent training for you,
Emil, and sober you down a bit. No more skylarking except here, so mind
your ways, and do honour to your buttons,’ said Mrs Jo, tapping one
of the very bright brass ones that ornamented the new suit Emil was so
proud of.

‘I’ll do my best. I know my time for skirmshander (chaff) is over, and
I must steer a straighter course; but don’t you fear, Jack ashore is a
very different craft from what he is with blue water under his keel. I
had a long talk with Uncle last night and got my orders; I won’t forget
‘em nor all I owe him. As for you, I’ll name my first ship as I say, and
have your bust for the figurehead, see if I don’t,’ and Emil gave his
aunt a hearty kiss to seal the vow, which proceeding much amused Nat,
playing softly in the porch of the Dovecote.

‘You do me proud, Captain. But, dear, I want to say one thing and then
I’m done; for you don’t need much advice of mine after my good man has
spoken. I read somewhere that every inch of rope used in the British
Navy has a strand of red in it, so that wherever a bit of it is found
it is known. That is the text of my little sermon to you. Virtue, which
means honour, honesty, courage, and all that makes character, is the
red thread that marks a good man wherever he is. Keep that always and
everywhere, so that even if wrecked by misfortune, that sign shall still
be found and recognized. Yours is a rough life, and your mates not all
we could wish, but you can be a gentleman in the true sense of the word;
and no matter what happens to your body, keep your soul clean, your
heart true to those who love you, and do your duty to the end.’

As she spoke Emil had risen and stood listening with his cap off and a
grave, bright look as if taking orders from a superior officer; when she
ended, he answered briefly, but heartily:

‘Please God, I will!’

‘That’s all; I have little fear for you, but one never knows when or how
the weak moment may come, and sometimes a chance word helps us, as so
many my dear mother spoke come back to me now for my own comfort and the
guidance of my boys,’ said Mrs Jo, rising; for the words had been said
and no more were needed.

‘I’ve stored ‘em up and know where to find ‘em when wanted. Often and
often in my watch I’ve seen old Plum, and heard you and Uncle talking
so plainly, I’d have sworn I was here. It is a rough life, Aunty, but
a wholesome one if a fellow loves it as I do, and has an anchor to
windward as I have. Don’t worry about me, and I’ll come home next year
with a chest of tea that will cheer your heart and give you ideas enough
for a dozen novels. Going below? All right, steady in the gangway! I’ll
be along by the time you’ve got out the cake-box. Last chance for a good
old lunch ashore.’

Mrs Jo descended laughing, and Emil finished his ship whistling
cheerfully, neither dreaming when and where this little chat on the
house-top would return to the memory of one of them.

Dan was harder to catch, and not until evening did a quiet moment come
in that busy family; when, while the rest were roaming about, Mrs Jo sat
down to read in the study, and presently Dan looked in at the window.

‘Come and rest after your long tramp; you must be tired,’ she called,
with an inviting nod towards the big sofa where so many boys had
reposed--as much as that active animal ever does.

‘Afraid I shall disturb you’; but Dan looked as if he wanted to stay his
restless feet somewhere.

‘Not a bit; I’m always ready to talk, shouldn’t be a woman if I were
not,’ laughed Mrs Jo, as Dan swung himself in and sat down with an air
of contentment very pleasant to see.

‘Last day is over, yet somehow I don’t seem to hanker to be off.
Generally, I’m rather anxious to cut loose after a short stop. Odd,
ain’t it?’ asked Dan, gravely picking grass and leaves out of his hair
and beard; for he had been lying on the grass, thinking many thoughts in
the quiet summer night.

‘Not at all; you are beginning to get civilized. It’s a good sign, and
I’m glad to see it,’ answered Mrs Jo promptly. ‘You’ve had your swing,
and want a change. Hope the farming will give it to you, though helping
the Indians pleases me more: it is so much better to work for others
than for one’s self alone.’

‘So ‘tis,’ assented Dan heartily. ‘I seem to want to root somewhere
and have folks of my own to take care of. Tired of my own company, I
suppose, now I’ve seen so much better. I’m a rough, ignorant lot, and
I’ve been thinking maybe I’ve missed it loafing round creation, instead
of going in for education as the other chaps did. Hey?’

He looked anxiously at Mrs Jo; and she tried to hide the surprise this
new outburst caused her; for till now Dan had scorned books and gloried
in his freedom.

‘No; I don’t think so in your case. So far I’m sure the free life was
best. Now that you are a man you can control that lawless nature better;
but as a boy only great activity and much adventure could keep you out
of mischief. Time is taming my colt, you see, and I shall yet be proud
of him, whether he makes a pack-horse of himself to carry help to the
starving or goes to ploughing as Pegasus did.’

Dan liked the comparison, and smiled as he lounged in the sofa-corner,
with the new thoughtfulness in his eyes.

‘Glad you think so. The fact is it’s going to take a heap of taming to
make me go well in harness anywhere. I want to, and I try now and then,
but always kick over the traces and run away. No lives lost yet; but I
shouldn’t wonder if there was some time, and a general smash-up.’

‘Why, Dan, did you have any dangerous adventures during this last
absence? I fancied so, but didn’t ask before, knowing you’d tell me if I
could help in any way. Can I?’ And Mrs Jo looked anxiously at him; for a
sudden lowering expression had come into his face, and he leaned forward
as if to hide it.

‘Nothing very bad; but ‘Frisco isn’t just a heaven on earth, you know,
and it’s harder to be a saint there than here,’ he answered slowly;
then, as if he had made up his mind to ‘’fess’, as the children used to
say, he sat up, and added rapidly, in a half-defiant, half-shamefaced
way, ‘I tried gambling, and it wasn’t good for me.’

‘Was that how you made your money?’

‘Not a penny of it! That’s all honest, if speculation isn’t a bigger
sort of gambling. I won a lot; but I lost or gave it away, and cut the
whole concern before it got the better of me.’

‘Thank heaven for that! Don’t try it again; it may have the terrible
fascination for you it has for so many. Keep to your mountains and
prairies, and shun cities, if these things tempt you, Dan. Better lose
your life than your soul, and one such passion leads to worse sins, as
you know better than I.’

Dan nodded, and seeing how troubled she was, said, in a lighter tone,
though still the shadow of that past experience remained:

‘Don’t be scared; I’m all right now; and a burnt dog dreads the fire. I
don’t drink, or do the things you dread; don’t care for ‘em; but I
get excited, and then this devilish temper of mine is more than I can
manage. Fighting a moose or a buffalo is all right; but when you pitch
into a man, no matter how great a scamp he is, you’ve got to look out.
I shall kill someone some day; that’s all I’m afraid of. I do hate a
sneak!’ And Dan brought his fist down on the table with a blow that made
the lamp totter and the books skip.

‘That always was your trial, Dan, and I can sympathize with you; for
I’ve been trying to govern my own temper all my life, and haven’t learnt
yet,’ said Mrs Jo, with a sigh. ‘For heaven’s sake, guard your demon
well, and don’t let a moment’s fury ruin all your life. As I said to
Nat, watch and pray, my dear boy. There is no other help or hope for
human weakness but God’s love and patience.’

Tears were in Mrs Jo’s eyes as she spoke; for she felt this deeply, and
knew how hard a task it is to rule these bosom sins of ours. Dan looked
touched, also uncomfortable, as he always did when religion of any sort
was mentioned, though he had a simple creed of his own, and tried to
live up to it in his blind way.

‘I don’t do much praying; don’t seem to come handy to me; but I can
watch like a redskin, only it’s easier to mount guard over a lurking
grizzly than my own cursed temper. It’s that I’m afraid of, if I settle
down. I can get on with wild beasts first-rate; but men rile me awfully,
and I can’t take it out in a free fight, as I can with a bear or a
wolf. Guess I’d better head for the Rockies, and stay there a spell
longer--till I’m tame enough for decent folks, if I ever am.’ And Dan
leaned his rough head on his hands in a despondent attitude.

‘Try my sort of help, and don’t give up. Read more, study a little, and
try to meet a better class of people, who won’t “rile”, but soothe and
strengthen you. We don’t make you savage, I’m sure; for you have been as
meek as a lamb, and made us very happy.’

‘Glad of it; but I’ve felt like a hawk in a hen-house all the same,
and wanted to pounce and tear more than once. Not so much as I used,
though,’ added Dan, after a short laugh at Mrs Jo’s surprised face.
‘I’ll try your plan, and keep good company this bout if I can; but a man
can’t pick and choose, knocking about as I do.’

‘Yes, you can this time; for you are going on a peaceful errand and can
keep clear of temptation if you try. Take some books and read; that’s
an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right
sort. Let me pick out some for you.’ And Mrs Jo made a bee-line to the
well-laden shelves, which were the joy of her heart and the comfort of
her life.

‘Give me travels and stories, please; don’t want any pious works, can’t
seem to relish ‘em, and won’t pretend I do,’ said Dan, following to look
over her head with small favour at the long lines of well-worn volumes.

Mrs Jo turned short round, and putting a hand on either broad shoulder,
looked him in the eye, saying soberly:

‘Now, Dan, see here; never sneer at good things or pretend to be worse
than you are. Don’t let false shame make you neglect the religion
without which no man can live. You needn’t talk about it if you don’t
like, but don’t shut your heart to it in whatever shape it comes. Nature
is your God now; she has done much for you; let her do more, and lead
you to know and love a wiser and more tender teacher, friend, and
comforter than she can ever be. That is your only hope; don’t throw it
away, and waste time; for sooner or later you will feel the need of Him,
and He will come to you and hold you up when all other help fails.’

Dan stood motionless, and let her read in his softened eyes the dumb
desire that lived in his heart, though he had no words to tell it,
and only permitted her to catch a glimpse of the divine spark which
smoulders or burns clearly in every human soul. He did not speak; and
glad to be spared some answer which should belie his real feelings, Mrs
Jo hastened to say, with her most motherly smile:

‘I saw in your room the little Bible I gave you long ago; it was well
worn outside, but fresh within, as if not much read. Will you promise me
to read a little once a week, dear, for my sake? Sunday is a quiet day
everywhere, and this book is never old nor out of place. Begin with the
stories you used to love when I told them to you boys. David was your
favourite, you remember? Read him again; he’ll suit you even better now,
and you’ll find his sins and repentance useful reading till you come to
the life and work of a diviner example than he. You will do it, for
love of mother Bhaer, who always loved her “firebrand” and hoped to save

‘I will,’ answered Dan, with a sudden brightening of face that was like
a sunburst through a cloud, full of promise though so short-lived and

Mrs Jo turned at once to the books and began to talk of them, knowing
well that Dan would not hear any more just then. He seemed relieved; for
it was always hard for him to show his inner self, and he took pride in
hiding it as an Indian does in concealing pain or fear.

‘Hallo, here’s old Sintram! I remember him; used to like him and his
tantrums, and read about ‘em to Ted. There he is riding ahead with Death
and the Devil alongside.’

As Dan looked at the little picture of the young man with horse and
hound going bravely up the rocky defile, accompanied by the companions
who ride beside most men through this world, a curious impulse made Mrs
Jo say quickly:

‘That’s you, Dan, just you at this time! Danger and sin are near you in
the life you lead; moods and passions torment you; the bad father left
you to fight alone, and the wild spirit drives you to wander up and down
the world looking for peace and self-control. Even the horse and hound
are there, your Octoo and Don, faithful friends, unscared by the strange
mates that go with you. You have not got the armour yet, but I’m trying
to show you where to find it. Remember the mother Sintram loved and
longed to find, and did find when his battle was bravely fought, his
reward well earned? You can recollect your mother; and I have always
felt that all the good qualities you possess come from her. Act out the
beautiful old story in this as in the other parts, and try to give her
back a son to be proud of.’

Quite carried away by the likeness of the quaint tale to Dan’s life and
needs, Mrs Jo went on pointing to the various pictures which illustrated
it, and when she looked up was surprised to see how struck and
interested he seemed to be. Like all people of his temperament he was
very impressionable, and his life among hunters and Indians had made him
superstitious; he believed in dreams, liked weird tales, and whatever
appealed to the eye or mind, vividly impressed him more than the wisest
words. The story of poor, tormented Sintram came back clearly as he
looked and listened, symbolizing his secret trials even more truly than
Mrs Jo knew; and just at that moment this had an effect upon him that
never was forgotten. But all he said was:

‘Small chance of that. I don’t take much stock in the idea of meeting
folks in heaven. Guess mother won’t remember the poor little brat she
left so long ago; why should she?’

‘Because true mothers never forget their children; and I know she was
one, from the fact that she ran away from the cruel husband, to save
her little son from bad influences. Had she lived, life would have been
happier for you, with this tender friend to help and comfort you. Never
forget that she risked everything for your sake, and don’t let it be in

Mrs Jo spoke very earnestly, knowing that this was the one sweet memory
of Dan’s early life, and glad to have recalled it at this moment; for
suddenly a great tear splashed down on the page where Sintram kneels
at his mother’s feet, wounded, but victorious over sin and death. She
looked up, well pleased to have touched Dan to the heart’s core, as that
drop proved; but a sweep of the arm brushed away the tell-tale, and his
beard hid the mate to it, as he shut the book, saying with a suppressed
quiver in his strong voice:

‘I’ll keep this, if nobody wants it. I’ll read it over, and maybe it
will do me good. I’d like to meet her anywhere, but don’t believe I ever

‘Keep it and welcome. My mother gave it to me; and when you read it try
to believe that neither of your mothers will ever forget you.’

Mrs Jo gave the book with a caress; and simply saying: ‘Thanks; good
night,’ Dan thrust it into his pocket, and walked straight away to the
river to recover from this unwonted mood of tenderness and confidence.

Next day the travellers were off. All were in good spirits, and a cloud
of handkerchiefs whitened the air as they drove away in the old bus,
waving their hats to everyone and kissing their hands, especially to
mother Bhaer, who said in her prophetic tone as she wiped her eyes, when
the familiar rumble died away:

‘I have a feeling that something is going to happen to some of them, and
they will never come back to me, or come back changed. Well, I can only
say, God be with my boys!’

And He was.


When the boys were gone a lull fell upon Plumfield, and the family
scattered to various places for brief outings, as August had come and
all felt the need of change. The Professor took Mrs Jo to the mountains.
The Laurences were at the seashore, and there Meg’s family and the Bhaer
boys took turns to visit, as someone must always be at home to keep
things in order.

Mrs Meg, with Daisy, was in office when the events occurred which we are
about to relate. Rob and Ted were just up from Rocky Nook, and Nan
was passing a week with her friend as the only relaxation she allowed
herself. Demi was off on a run with Tom, so Rob was man of the house,
with old Silas as general overseer. The sea air seemed to have gone to
Ted’s head, for he was unusually freakish, and led his gentle aunt and
poor Rob a life of it with his pranks. Octoo was worn out with the wild
rides he took, and Don openly rebelled when ordered to leap and show
off his accomplishments; while the girls at college were both amused and
worried by the ghosts who haunted the grounds at night, the unearthly
melodies that disturbed their studious hours, and the hairbreadth
escapes of this restless boy by flood and field and fire. Something
happened at length which effectually sobered Ted and made a lasting
impression on both the boys; for sudden danger and a haunting fear
turned the Lion into a lamb and the Lamb into a lion, as far as courage

On the first of September--the boys never forgot the date--after a
pleasant tramp and good luck with their fishing, the brothers were
lounging in the barn; for Daisy had company, and the lads kept out of
the way.

‘I tell you what it is, Bobby, that dog is sick. He won’t play, nor eat,
nor drink, and acts queerly. Dan will kill us if anything happens to
him,’ said Ted, looking at Don, who lay near his kennel resting a moment
after one of the restless wanderings which kept him vibrating between
the door of Dan’s room and the shady corner of the yard, where his
master had settled him with an old cap to guard till he came back.

‘It’s the hot weather, perhaps. But I sometimes think he’s pining for
Dan. Dogs do, you know, and the poor fellow has been low in his mind
ever since the boys went. Maybe something has happened to Dan. Don
howled last night and can’t rest. I’ve heard of such things,’ answered
Rob thoughtfully.

‘Pooh! he can’t know. He’s cross. I’ll stir him up and take him for a
run. Always makes me feel better. Hi, boy! wake up and be jolly’; and
Ted snapped his fingers at the dog, who only looked at him with grim

‘Better let him alone. If he isn’t right tomorrow, we’ll take him to Dr
Watkins and see what he says.’ And Rob went on watching the swallows as
he lay in the hay polishing up some Latin verses he had made.

The spirit of perversity entered into Ted, and merely because he was
told not to tease Don he went on doing it, pretending that it was for
the dog’s good. Don took no heed of his pats, commands, reproaches, or
insults, till Ted’s patience gave out; and seeing a convenient switch
near by he could not resist the temptation to conquer the great hound
by force, since gentleness failed to win obedience. He had the wisdom to
chain Don up first; for a blow from any hand but his master’s made him
savage, and Ted had more than once tried the experiment, as the dog
remembered. This indignity roused Don and he sat up with a growl. Rob
heard it, and seeing Ted raise the switch, ran to interfere, exclaiming:

‘Don’t touch him! Dan forbade it! Leave the poor thing in peace; I won’t
allow it.’

Rob seldom commanded, but when he did Master Ted had to give in. His
temper was up, and Rob’s masterful tone made it impossible to resist one
cut at the rebellious dog before he submitted. Only a single blow, but
it was a costly one; for as it fell, the dog sprang at Ted with a snarl,
and Rob, rushing between the two, felt the sharp teeth pierce his leg.
A word made Don let go and drop remorsefully at Rob’s feet, for he loved
him and was evidently sorry to have hurt his friend by mistake. With a
forgiving pat Rob left him, to limp to the barn followed by Ted, whose
wrath was changed to shame and sorrow when he saw the red drops on Rob’s
sock and the little wounds in his leg.

‘I’m awfully sorry. Why did you get in the way? Here, wash it up, and
I’ll get a rag to tie on it,’ he said quickly filling a sponge with
water and pulling out a very demoralized handkerchief. Rob usually made
light of his own mishaps and was over ready to forgive if others were to
blame; but now he sat quite still, looking at the purple marks with such
a strange expression on his white face that Ted was troubled, though he
added with a laugh: ‘Why, you’re not afraid of a little dig like that,
are you, Bobby?’

‘I am afraid of hydrophobia. But if Don is mad I’d rather be the one to
have it,’ answered Rob, with a smile and a shiver.

At that dreadful word Ted turned whiter than his brother, and,
dropping sponge and handkerchief, stared at him with a frightened face,
whispering in a tone of despair:

‘Oh, Rob, don’t say it! What shall we do, what shall we do?’

‘Call Nan; she will know. Don’t scare Aunty, or tell a soul but Nan;
she’s on the back piazza; get her out here as quick as you can. I’ll
wash it till she comes. Maybe it’s nothing; don’t look so staggered,
Ted. I only thought it might be, as Don is queer.’

Rob tried to speak bravely; but Ted’s long legs felt strangely weak as
he hurried away, and it was lucky he met no one, for his face would have
betrayed him. Nan was swinging luxuriously in a hammock, amusing herself
with a lively treatise on croup, when an agitated boy suddenly clutched
her, whispering, as he nearly pulled her overboard:

‘Come to Rob in the barn! Don’s mad and he’s bitten him, and we don’t
know what to do; it’s all my fault; no one must know. Oh, do be quick!’

Nan was on her feet at once, startled, but with her wits about her, and
both were off without more words as they dodged round the house where
unconscious Daisy chatted with her friends in the parlour and Aunt Meg
peacefully took her afternoon nap upstairs.

Rob was braced up, and was as calm and steady as ever when they found
him in the harness-room, whither he had wisely retired, to escape
observation. The story was soon told, and after a look at Don, now in
his kennel, sad and surly, Nan said slowly, with her eye on the full

‘Rob, there is one thing to do for the sake of safety, and it must
be done at once. We can’t wait to see if Don is--sick--or to go for a
doctor. I can do it, and I will; but it is very painful, and I hate to
hurt you, dear.’

A most unprofessional quiver got into Nan’s voice as she spoke, and her
keen eyes dimmed as she looked at the two anxious young faces turned so
confidingly to her for help.

‘I know, burn it; well, do it, please; I can bear it. But Ted better
go away,’ said Rob, with a firm setting of his lips, and a nod at his
afflicted brother.

‘I won’t stir; I can stand it if he can, only it ought to be me!’ cried
Ted, with a desperate effort not to cry, so full of grief and fear and
shame was he that it seemed as if he couldn’t bear it like a man.

‘He’d better stay and help; do him good,’ answered

Nan sternly, because, her heart was faint within her, knowing as she did
all that might be in store for both poor boys. ‘Keep quiet; I’ll be back
in a minute,’ she added, going towards the house, while her quick mind
hastily planned what was best to be done.

It was ironing day, and a hot fire still burned in the empty kitchen,
for the maids were upstairs resting. Nan put a slender poker to heat,
and as she sat waiting for it, covered her face with her hands, asking
help in this sudden need for strength, courage, and wisdom; for there
was no one else to call upon, and young as she was, she knew what was to
be done if she only had the nerve to do it. Any other patient would have
been calmly interesting, but dear, good Robin, his father’s pride, his
mother’s comfort, everyone’s favourite and friend, that he should be
in danger was very terrible; and a few hot tears dropped on the
well-scoured table as Nan tried to calm her trouble by remembering how
very likely it was to be all a mistake, a natural but vain alarm.

‘I must make light of it, or the boys will break down, and then there
will be a panic. Why afflict and frighten everyone when all is in doubt?
I won’t. I’ll take Rob to Dr Morrison at once, and have the dog man see
Don. Then, having done all we can, we will either laugh at our scare--if
it is one--or be ready for whatever comes. Now for my poor boy.’

Armed with the red-hot poker, a pitcher of ice-water, and several
handkerchiefs from the clotheshorse, Nan went back to the barn ready to
do her best in this her most serious ‘emergency case’. The boys sat like
statues, one of despair, the other of resignation; and it took all Nan’s
boasted nerve to do her work quickly and well.

‘Now, Rob, only a minute, then we are safe. Stand by, Ted; he may be a
bit faintish.’

Rob shut his eyes, clinched his hands, and sat like a hero. Ted knelt
beside him, white as a sheet, and as weak as a girl; for the pangs of
remorse were rending him, and his heart failed at the thought of all
this pain because of his wilfulness. It was all over in a moment, with
only one little groan; but when Nan looked to her assistant to hand the
water, poor Ted needed it the most, for he had fainted away, and lay on
the floor in a pathetic heap of arms and legs.

Rob laughed, and, cheered by that unexpected sound, Nan bound up the
wound with hands that never trembled, though great drops stood on her
forehead; and she shared the water with patient number one before she
turned to patient number two. Ted was much ashamed, and quite broken
in spirit, when he found how he had failed at the critical moment, and
begged them not to tell, as he really could not help it; then by way of
finishing his utter humiliation, a burst of hysterical tears disgraced
his manly soul, and did him a world of good.

‘Never mind, never mind, we are all right now, and no one need be the
wiser,’ said Nan briskly, as poor Ted hiccoughed on Rob’s shoulder,
laughing and crying in the most tempestuous manner, while his brother
soothed him, and the young doctor fanned both with Silas’s old straw

‘Now, boys, listen to me and remember what I say. We won’t alarm anyone
yet, for I’ve made up my mind our scare is all nonsense. Don was out
lapping the water as I came by, and I don’t believe he’s mad any more
than I am. Still, to ease our minds and compose our spirits, and get our
guilty faces out of sight for a while, I think we had better drive into
town to my old friend Dr Morrison, and let him just take a look at
my work, and give us some quieting little dose; for we are all rather
shaken by this flurry. Sit still, Rob; and Ted, you harness up while I
run and get my hat and tell Aunty to excuse me to Daisy. I don’t know
those Penniman girls, and she will be glad of our room at tea, and we’ll
have a cosy bite at my house, and come home as gay as larks.’

Nan talked on as a vent for the hidden emotions which professional pride
would not allow her to show, and the boys approved her plan at once; for
action is always easier than quiet waiting. Ted went staggering away to
wash his face at the pump, and rub some colour into his cheeks before
he harnessed the horse. Rob lay tranquilly on the hay, looking up at the
swallows again as he lived through some very memorable moments. Boy as
he was, the thought of death coming suddenly to him, and in this way,
might well make him sober; for it is a very solemn thing to be arrested
in the midst of busy life by the possibility of the great change. There
were no sins to be repented of, few faults, and many happy, dutiful
years to remember with infinite comfort. So Rob had no fears to daunt
him, no regrets to sadden, and best of all, a very strong and simple
piety to sustain and cheer him.

‘Mein Vater,’ was his first thought; for Rob was very near the
Professor’s heart, and the loss of his eldest would have been a bitter
blow. These words, whispered with a tremble of the lips that had been so
firm when the hot iron burned, recalled that other Father who is always
near, always tender and helpful; and, folding his hands, Rob said the
heartiest little prayer he ever prayed, there on the hay, to the soft
twitter of the brooding birds. It did him good; and wisely laying all
his fear and doubt and trouble in God’s hand, the boy felt ready for
whatever was to come, and from that hour kept steadily before him the
one duty that was plain--to be brave and cheerful, keep silent, and hope
for the best.

Nan stole her hat, and left a note on Daisy’s pincushion, saying she had
taken the boys to drive, and all would be out of the way till after tea.
Then she hurried back and found her patients much better, the one for
work, the other for rest. In they got, and, putting Rob on the back seat
with his leg up drove away, looking as gay and care-free as if nothing
had happened.

Dr Morrison made light of the affair, but told Nan she had done right;
and as the much-relieved lads went downstairs, he added in a whisper:
‘Send the dog off for a while, and keep your eye on the boy. Don’t let
him know it, and report to me if anything seems wrong. One never knows
in these cases. No harm to be careful.’

Nan nodded, and feeling much relieved now that the responsibility was
off her shoulders, took the lads to Dr Watkins, who promised to come out
later and examine Don. A merry tea at Nan’s house, which was kept open
for her all summer, did them good, and by the time they got home in the
cool of the evening no sign of the panic remained but Ted’s heavy eyes,
and a slight limp when Rob walked. As the guests were still chattering
on the front piazza they retired to the back, and Ted soothed his
remorseful soul by swinging Rob in the hammock, while Nan told stories
till the dog man arrived.

He said Don was a little under the weather, but no more mad than the
grey kitten that purred round his legs while the examination went on.

‘He wants his master, and feels the heat. Fed too well, perhaps. I’ll
keep him a few weeks and send him home all right,’ said Dr Watkins, as
Don laid his great head in his hand, and kept his intelligent eyes on
his face, evidently feeling that this man understood his trials, and
knew what to do for him.

So Don departed without a murmur, and our three conspirators took
counsel together how to spare the family all anxiety, and give Rob the
rest his leg demanded. Fortunately, he always spent many hours in his
little study, so he could lie on the sofa with a book in his hand
as long as he liked, without exciting any remark. Being of a quiet
temperament, he did not worry himself or Nan with useless fears, but
believed what was told him, and dismissing all dark possibilities, went
cheerfully on his way, soon recovering from the shock of what he called
‘our scare’.

But excitable Ted was harder to manage, and it took all Nan’s wit and
wisdom to keep him from betraying the secret; for it was best to say
nothing and spare all discussion of the subject for Rob’s sake. Ted’s
remorse preyed upon him, and having no ‘Mum’ to confide in, he was very
miserable. By day he devoted himself to Rob, waiting on him, talking to
him, gazing anxiously at him, and worrying the good fellow very much;
though he wouldn’t own it, since Ted found comfort in it. But at night,
when all was quiet, Ted’s lively imagination and heavy heart got the
better of him, and kept him awake, or set him walking in his sleep. Nan
had her eye on him, and more than once administered a little dose to
give him a rest, read to him, scolded him, and when she caught him
haunting the house in the watches of the night, threatened to lock him
up if he did not stay in his bed. This wore off after a while; but a
change came over the freakish boy, and everyone observed it, even before
his mother returned to ask what they had done to quench the Lion’s
spirits. He was gay, but not so heedless; and often when the old
wilfulness beset him, he would check it sharply, look at Rob, and give
up, or stalk away to have his sulk out alone. He no longer made fun of
his brother’s old-fashioned ways and bookish tastes, but treated him
with a new and very marked respect, which touched and pleased modest
Rob, and much amazed all observers. It seemed as if he felt that he owed
him reparation for the foolish act that might have cost him his life;
and love being stronger than will, Ted forgot his pride, and paid his
debt like an honest boy.

‘I don’t understand it,’ said Mrs Jo, after a week of home life, much
impressed by the good behaviour of her younger son. ‘Ted is such a
saint, I’m afraid we are going to lose him. Is it Meg’s sweet influence,
or Daisy’s fine cooking, or the pellets I catch Nan giving him on
the sly? Some witchcraft has been at work during my absence, and this
will-o’-the-wisp is so amiable, quiet, and obedient, I don’t know him.’

‘He is growing up, heart’s-dearest, and being a precocious plant, he
begins to bloom early. I also see a change in my Robchen. He is more
manly and serious than ever, and is seldom far from me, as if his
love for the old papa was growing with his growth. Our boys will often
surprise us in this way, Jo, and we can only rejoice over them and leave
them to become what Gott pleases.’

As the Professor spoke, his eyes rested proudly on the brothers, who
came walking up the steps together, Ted’s arm over Rob’s shoulder as
he listened attentively to some geological remarks Rob was making on a
stone he held. Usually, Ted made fun of such tastes, and loved to lay
boulders in the student’s path, put brickbats under his pillow, gravel
in his shoes, or send parcels of dirt by express to ‘Prof. R. M. Bhaer’.
Lately, he had treated Rob’s hobbies respectfully, and had begun to
appreciate the good qualities of this quiet brother whom he had always
loved but rather undervalued, till his courage under fire won Ted’s
admiration, and made it impossible to forget a fault, the consequences
of which might have been so terrible. The leg was still lame, though
doing well, and Ted was always offering an arm as support, gazing
anxiously at his brother, and trying to guess his wants; for regret was
still keen in Ted’s soul, and Rob’s forgiveness only made it deeper. A
fortunate slip on the stairs gave Rob an excuse for limping, and no one
but Nan and Ted saw the wound; so the secret was safe up to this time.

‘We are talking about you, my lads. Come in and tell us what good fairy
has been at work while we were gone. Or is it because absence sharpens
our eyes, that we find such pleasant changes when we come back?’ said
Mrs Jo, patting the sofa on either side, while the Professor forgot his
piles of letters to admire the pleasing prospect of his wife in a bower
of arms, as the boys sat down beside her, smiling affectionately, but
feeling a little guilty; for till now ‘Mum’ and ‘Vater’ knew every event
in their boyish lives.

‘Oh, it’s only because Bobby and I have been alone so much; we are sort
of twins. I stir him up a bit, and he steadies me a great deal. You and
father do the same, you know. Nice plan. I like it’; and Ted felt that
he had settled the matter capitally.

‘Mother won’t thank you for comparing yourself to her, Ted. I’m
flattered at being like father in any way. I try to be,’ answered Rob,
as they laughed at Ted’s compliment.

‘I do thank him, for it’s true; and if you, Robin, do half as much for
your brother as Papa has for me, your life won’t be a failure,’ said
Mrs Jo heartily. ‘I’m very glad to see you helping one another. It’s the
right way, and we can’t begin too soon to try to understand the needs,
virtues, and failings of those nearest us. Love should not make us blind
to faults, nor familiarity make us too ready to blame the shortcomings
we see. So work away, my sonnies, and give us more surprises of this
sort as often as you like.’

‘The liebe Mutter has said all. I too am well pleased at the friendly
brother-warmth I find. It is good for everyone; long may it last!’ and
Professor Bhaer nodded at the boys, who looked gratified, but rather at
a loss how to respond to these flattering remarks.

Rob wisely kept silent, fearing to say too much; but Ted burst out,
finding it impossible to help telling something:

‘The fact is I’ve been finding out what a brave good chap Bobby is, and
I’m trying to make up for all the bother I’ve been to him. I knew he
was awfully wise, but I thought him rather soft, because he liked books
better than larks, and was always fussing about his conscience. But I
begin to see that it isn’t the fellows who talk the loudest and show
off best that are the manliest. No, sir! quiet old Bob is a hero and a
trump, and I’m proud of him; so would you be if you knew all about it.’

Here a look from Rob brought Ted up with a round turn; he stopped short,
grew red, and clapped his hand on his mouth in dismay.

‘Well, are we not to “know all about it”?’ asked Mrs Jo quickly; for her
sharp eye saw signs of danger and her maternal heart felt that something
had come between her and her sons. ‘Boys,’ she went on solemnly, ‘I
suspect that the change we talk about is not altogether the effect of
growing up, as we say. It strikes me that Ted has been in mischief and
Rob has got him out of some scrape; hence the lovely mood of my bad boy
and the sober one of my conscientious son, who never hides anything from
his mother.’

Rob was as red as Ted now, but after a moment’s hesitation he looked up
and answered with an air of relief:

‘Yes, mother, that’s it; but it’s all over and no harm done, and I think
we’d better let it be, for a while at least. I did feel guilty to keep
anything from you, but now you know so much I shall not worry and you
needn’t either. Ted’s sorry, I don’t mind, and it has done us both

Mrs Jo looked at Ted, who winked hard but bore the look like a man;
then she turned to Rob, who smiled at her so cheerfully that she felt
reassured; but something in his face struck her, and she saw what it was
that made him seem older, graver, yet more lovable than ever. It was the
look pain of mind, as well as body, brings, and the patience of a sweet
submission to some inevitable trial. Like a flash she guessed that some
danger had been near her boy, and the glances she had caught between the
two lads and Nan confirmed her fears.

‘Rob, dear, you have been ill, hurt, or seriously troubled by Ted? Tell
me at once; I will not have any secrets now. Boys sometimes suffer all
their lives from neglected accidents or carelessness. Fritz, make them
speak out!’

Mr Bhaer put down his papers and came to stand before them, saying in a
tone that quieted Mrs Jo, and gave the boys courage:

‘My sons, give us the truth. We can bear it; do not hold it back to
spare us. Ted knows we forgive much because we love him, so be frank,
all two.’

Ted instantly dived among the sofa pillows and kept there, with only a
pair of scarlet ears visible, while Rob in a few words told the little
story, truthfully, but as gently as he could, hastening to add the
comfortable assurance that Don was not mad, the wound nearly well, and
no danger would ever come of it.

But Mrs Jo grew so pale he had to put his arms about her, and his father
turned and walked away, exclaiming: ‘Ach Himmel!’ in a tone of such
mingled pain, relief, and gratitude, that Ted pulled an extra pillow
over his head to smother the sound. They were all right in a minute;
but such news is always a shock, even if the peril is past, and Mrs Jo
hugged her boy close till his father came and took him away, saying with
a strong shake of both hands and a quiver in his voice:

‘To be in danger of one’s life tries a man’s mettle, and you bear it
well; but I cannot spare my good boy yet; thank Gott, we keep him safe!’

A smothered sound, between a choke and a groan, came from under the
pillows, and the writhing of Ted’s long legs so plainly expressed
despair that his mother relented towards him, and burrowing till she
found a tousled yellow head, pulled it out and smoothed it, exclaiming
with an irrepressible laugh, though her cheeks were wet with tears:

‘Come and be forgiven, poor sinner! I know you have suffered enough, and
I won’t say a word; only if harm had come to Rob you would have made
me more miserable than yourself. Oh, Teddy, Teddy, do try to cure that
wilful spirit of yours before it is too late!’

‘Oh, Mum, I do try! I never can forget this--I hope it’s cured me; if it
hasn’t, I am afraid I ain’t worth saving,’ answered Ted, pulling his own
hair as the only way of expressing his deep remorse.

‘Yes, you are, my dear; I felt just so at fifteen when Amy was nearly
drowned, and Marmee helped me as I’ll help you. Come to me, Teddy, when
the evil one gets hold of you, and together we’ll rout him. Ah, me! I’ve
had many a tussle with that old Apollyon, and often got worsted, but not
always. Come under my shield, and we’ll fight till we win.’

No one spoke for a minute as Ted and his mother laughed and cried in
one handkerchief, and Rob stood with his father’s arm round him so happy
that all was told and forgiven, though never to be forgotten; for
such experiences do one good, and knit hearts that love more closely

Presently Ted rose straight up and going to his father, said bravely and

‘I ought to be punished. Please do it; but first say you forgive me, as
Rob does.’

‘Always that, mein Sohn, seventy time seven, if needs be, else I am
not worthy the name you give me. The punishment has come; I can give no
greater. Let it not be in vain. It will not with the help of the mother
and the All Father. Room here for both, always!’

The good Professor opened his arms and embraced his boys like a true
German, not ashamed to express by gesture or by word the fatherly
emotions an American would have compressed into a slap on the shoulder
and a brief ‘All right’.

Mrs Jo sat and enjoyed the prospect like a romantic soul as she was, and
then they had a quiet talk together, saying freely all that was in their
hearts, and finding much comfort in the confidence which comes when love
casts out fear. It was agreed that nothing be said except to Nan,
who was to be thanked and rewarded for her courage, discretion, and

‘I always knew that girl had the making of a fine woman in her, and this
proves it. No panics and shrieks and faintings and fuss, but calm
sense and energetic skill. Dear child, what can I give or do to show my
gratitude?’ said Mrs Jo enthusiastically.

‘Make Tom clear out and leave her in peace,’ suggested Ted, almost
himself again, though a pensive haze still partially obscured his native

‘Yes, do! he frets her like a mosquito. She forbade him to come out here
while she stayed, and packed him off with Demi. I like old Tom, but he
is a regular noodle about Nan,’ added Rob, as he went away to help his
father with the accumulated letters.

‘I’ll do it!’ said Mrs Jo decidedly. ‘That girl’s career shall not be
hampered by a foolish boy’s fancy. In a moment of weariness she may give
in, and then it’s all over. Wiser women have done so and regretted it
all their lives. Nan shall earn her place first, and prove that she can
fill it; then she may marry if she likes, and can find a man worthy of

But Mrs Jo’s help was not needed; for love and gratitude can work
miracles, and when youth, beauty, accident, and photography are added,
success is sure; as was proved in the case of the unsuspecting but too
susceptible Thomas.


While the young Bhaers were having serious experiences at home, Josie
was enjoying herself immensely at Rocky Nook; for the Laurences knew how
to make summer idleness both charming and wholesome. Bess was very fond
of her little cousin; Mrs Amy felt that whether her niece was an actress
or not she must be a gentlewoman, and gave her the social training
which marks the well-bred woman everywhere; while Uncle Laurie was never
happier than when rowing, riding, playing, or lounging with two gay
girls beside him. Josie bloomed like a wild flower in this free life,
Bess grew rosy, brisk, and merry, and both were great favourites with
the neighbours, whose villas were by the shore or perched on the cliffs
along the pretty bay.

One crumpled rose-leaf disturbed Josie’s peace, one baffled wish filled
her with a longing which became a mania, and kept her as restless and
watchful as a detective with a case to ‘work up’. Miss Cameron, the
great actress, had hired one of the villas and retired thither to rest
and ‘create’ a new part for next season. She saw no one but a friend
or two, had a private beach, and was invisible except during her daily
drive, or when the opera-glasses of curious gazers were fixed on a
blue figure disporting itself in the sea. The Laurences knew her, but
respected her privacy, and after a call left her in peace till she
expressed a wish for society--a courtesy which she remembered and repaid
later, as we shall see.

But Josie was like a thirsty fly buzzing about a sealed honey-pot, for
this nearness to her idol was both delightful and maddening. She pined
to see, hear, talk with, and study this great and happy woman who could
thrill thousands by her art, and win friends by her virtue, benevolence,
and beauty. This was the sort of actress the girl meant to be, and few
could object if the gift was really hers; for the stage needs just such
women to purify and elevate the profession which should teach as well as
amuse. If kindly Miss Cameron had known what passionate love and longing
burned in the bosom of the little girl whom she idly observed skipping
over the rocks, splashing about the beach, or galloping past her gate on
a Shetland pony, she would have made her happy by a look or a word. But
being tired with her winter’s work and busy with her new part, the lady
took no more notice of this young neighbour than of the sea-gulls in the
bay or the daisies dancing in the fields. Nosegays left on her doorstep,
serenades under her garden-wall, and the fixed stare of admiring eyes
were such familiar things that she scarcely minded them; and Josie grew
desperate when all her little attempts failed.

‘I might climb that pine-tree and tumble off on her piazza roof, or get
Sheltie to throw me just at her gate and be taken in fainting. It’s no
use to try to drown myself when she is bathing. I can’t sink, and she’d
only send a man to pull me out. What can I do? I will see her and tell
her my hopes and make her say I can act some day. Mamma would believe
her; and if--oh, if she only would let me study with her, what perfect
joy that would be!’

Josie made these remarks one afternoon as she and Bess prepared for a
swim, a fishing party having prevented their morning bathe.

‘You must bide your time, dear, and not be so impatient. Papa promised
to give you a chance before the season is over, and he always manages
things nicely. That will be better than any queer prank of yours,’
answered Bess, tying her pretty hair in a white net to match her suit,
while Josie made a little lobster of herself in scarlet.

‘I hate to wait; but I suppose I must. Hope she will bathe this
afternoon, though it is low tide. She told Uncle she should have to go
in then because in the morning people stared so and went on her beach.
Come and have a good dive from the big rock. No one round but nurses and
babies, so we can romp and splash as much as we like.’

Away they went to have a fine time; for the little bay was free from
other bathers, and the babies greatly admired their aquatic gymnastics,
both being expert swimmers.

As they sat dripping on the big rock Josie suddenly gave a clutch that
nearly sent Bess overboard, as she cried excitedly:

‘There she is! Look! coming to bathe. How splendid! Oh, if she only
would drown a little and let me save her! or even get her toe nipped by
a crab; anything so I could go and speak!’

‘Don’t seem to look; she comes to be quiet and enjoy herself. Pretend
we don’t see her, that’s only civil,’ answered Bess, affecting to be
absorbed in a white-winged yacht going by.

‘Let’s carelessly float that way as if going for seaweed on the rocks.
She can’t mind if we are flat on our backs, with only our noses out.
Then when we can’t help seeing her, we’ll swim back as if anxious to
retire. That will impress her, and she may call to thank the very polite
young ladies who respect her wishes,’ proposed Josie, whose lively fancy
was always planning dramatic situations.

Just as they were going to slip from their rock, as if Fate relented at
last, Miss Cameron was seen to beckon wildly as she stood waist-deep in
the water, looking down. She called to her maid, who seemed searching
along the beach for something, and not finding what she sought, waved a
towel towards the girls as if summoning them to help her.

‘Run, fly! she wants us, she wants us!’ cried Josie, tumbling into the
water like a very energetic turtle, and swimming away in her best style
towards this long desired haven of joy. Bess followed more slowly, and
both came panting and smiling up to Miss Cameron, who never lifted her
eyes, but said in that wonderful voice of hers:

‘I’ve dropped a bracelet. I see it, but can’t get it. Will the little
boy find me a long stick? I’ll keep my eye on it, so the water shall not
wash it away.’

‘I’ll dive for it with pleasure; but I’m not a boy,’ answered Josie,
laughing as she shook the curly head which at a distance had deceived
the lady.

‘I beg your pardon. Dive away, child; the sand is covering it fast. I
value it very much. Never forgot to take it off before.’

‘I’ll get it!’ and down went Josie, to come up with a handful of
pebbles, but no bracelet.

‘It’s gone; never mind--my fault,’ said Miss Cameron, disappointed, but
amused at the girl’s dismay as she shook the water out of her eyes and
gasped bravely:

‘No, it isn’t. I’ll have it, if I stay down all night!’ and with one
long breath Josie dived again, leaving nothing but a pair of agitated
feet to be seen.

‘I’m afraid she will hurt herself,’ said Miss Cameron, looking at Bess,
whom she recognized by her likeness to her mother.

‘Oh, no; Josie is a little fish. She likes it’; and Bess smiled happily
at this wonderful granting of her cousin’s desire.

‘You are Mr Laurence’s daughter, I think? How d’ye do, dear? Tell papa
I’m coming to see him soon. Too tired before. Quite savage. Better now.
Ah! here’s our pearl of divers. What luck?’ she asked, as the heels went
down and a dripping head came up.

Josie could only choke and splutter at first, being half strangled;
but though her hands had failed again, her courage had not; and with a
resolute shake of her wet hair, a bright look at the tall lady, and a
series of puffs to fill her lungs, she said calmly:

‘“Never give up” is my motto. I’m going to get it, if I go to Liverpool
for it! Now, then!’ and down went the mermaid quite out of sight this
time, groping like a real lobster at the bottom of the sea.

‘Plucky little girl! I like that. Who is she?’ asked the lady, sitting
down on a half-covered stone to watch her diver, since the bracelet was
lost sight of.

Bess told her, adding, with the persuasive smile of her father: ‘Josie
longs to be an actress, and has waited for a month to see you. This is a
great happiness for her.’

‘Bless the child! why didn’t she come and call? I’d have let her in;
though usually I avoid stage-struck girls as I do reporters,’ laughed
Miss Cameron.

There was no time for more; a brown hand, grasping the bracelet, rose
out of the sea, followed by a purple face as Josie came up so blind and
dizzy she could only cling to Bess, half drowned but triumphant.

Miss Cameron drew her to the rock where she sat, and pushing the hair
out of her eyes, revived her with a hearty ‘Bravo! bravo!’ which assured
the girl that her first act was a hit. Josie had often imagined her
meeting with the great actress--the dignity and grace with which she
would enter and tell her ambitious hopes, the effective dress she would
wear, the witty things she would say, the deep impression her budding
genius would make. But never in her wildest moments had she imagined
an interview like this; scarlet, sandy, streaming, and speechless she
leaned against the illustrious shoulder, looking like a beautiful seal
as she blinked and wheezed till she could smile joyfully and exclaim

‘I did get it! I’m so glad!’

‘Now get your breath, my dear; then I shall be glad also. It was very
nice of you to take all that trouble for me. How shall I thank you?’
asked the lady, looking at her with the beautiful eyes that could say so
many things without words.

Josie clasped her hands with a wet spat which rather destroyed the
effect of the gesture, and answered in a beseeching tone that would have
softened a far harder heart than Miss Cameron’s:

‘Let me come and see you once--only once! I want you to tell me if I
can act; you will know. I’ll abide by what you say; and if you think
I can--by and by, when I’ve studied very hard--I shall be the happiest
girl in the world. May I?’

‘Yes; come tomorrow at eleven. We’ll have a good talk; you shall show me
what you can do, and I’ll give you my opinion. But you won’t like it.’

‘I will, no matter if you tell me I’m a fool. I want it settled; so
does mamma. I’ll take it bravely if you say no; and if you say yes, I’ll
never give up till I’ve done my best--as you did.’

‘Ah, my child, it’s a weary road, and there are plenty of thorns among
the roses when you’ve won them. I think you have the courage, and this
proves that you have perseverance. Perhaps you’ll do. Come, and we’ll

Miss Cameron touched the bracelet as she spoke, and smiled so kindly
that impetuous Josie wanted to kiss her; but wisely refrained, though
her eyes were wet with softer water than any in the sea as she thanked

‘We are keeping Miss Cameron from her bath, and the tide is going out.
Come, Josie,’ said thoughtful Bess, fearing to outstay their welcome.

‘Run over the beach and get warm. Thank you very much, little mermaid.
Tell papa to bring his daughter to see me any time. Good-bye’; and with
a wave of her hand the tragedy queen dismissed her court, but remained
on her weedy throne watching the two lithe figures race over the sand
with twinkling feet till they were out of sight. Then, as she calmly
bobbed up and down in the water, she said to herself: ‘The child has a
good stage face, vivid, mobile; fine eyes, abandon, pluck, will. Perhaps
she’ll do. Good stock--talent in the family. We shall see.’

Of course Josie never slept a wink, and was in a fever of joyful
excitement next day. Uncle Laurie enjoyed the episode very much,
and Aunt Amy looked out her most becoming white dress for the grand
occasion; Bess lent her most artistic hat, and Josie ranged the wood
and marsh for a bouquet of wild roses, sweet white azalea, ferns, and
graceful grasses, as the offering of a very grateful heart.

At ten she solemnly arrayed herself, and then sat looking at her neat
gloves and buckled shoes till it was time to go, growing pale and sober
with the thought that her fate was soon to be decided; for, like all
young people she was sure that her whole life could be settled by one
human creature, quite forgetting how wonderfully Providence trains us
by disappointment, surprises us with unexpected success, and turns our
seeming trials into blessings.

‘I will go alone: we shall be freer so. Oh, Bess, pray that she may tell
me rightly! So much depends on that! Don’t laugh, uncle! It is a very
serious moment for me. Miss Cameron knows that, and will tell you so.
Kiss me, Aunt Amy, since mamma isn’t here. If you say I look nice, I’m
quite satisfied. Good-bye.’ And with a wave of the hand as much like her
model’s as she could make it, Josie departed, looking very pretty and
feeling very tragical.

Sure now of admittance, she boldly rang at the door which excluded so
many, and being ushered into a shady parlour, feasted her eyes upon
several fine portraits of great actors while she waited. She had read
about most of them, and knew their trials and triumphs so well that she
soon forgot herself, and tried to imitate Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth,
looking up at the engraving as she held her nosegay like the candle in
the sleep-walking scene, and knit her youthful brows distressfully while
murmuring the speech of the haunted queen. So busy was she that Miss
Cameron watched her for several minutes unseen, then startled her by
suddenly sweeping in with the words upon her lips, the look upon her
face, which made that one of her greatest scenes.

‘I never can do it like that; but I’ll keep trying, if you say I may,’
cried Josie, forgetting her manners in the intense interest of the

‘Show me what you can do,’ answered the actress, wisely plunging into
the middle of things at once, well knowing that no common chat would
satisfy this very earnest little person.

‘First let me give you these. I thought you’d like wild things better
than hot-house flowers; and I loved to bring them, as I’d no other way
to thank you for your great kindness to me,’ said Josie, offering her
nosegay with a simple warmth that was very sweet.

‘I do love them best, and keep my room full of the posies some good
fairy hangs on my gate. Upon my word, I think I’ve found the fairy
out--these are so like,’ she added quickly, as her eye went from the
flowers in her hand to others that stood near by, arranged with the same

Josie’s blush and smile betrayed her before she said, with a look full
of girlish adoration and humility: ‘I couldn’t help it; I admire you so
much. I know it was a liberty; but as I couldn’t get in myself, I loved
to think my posies pleased you.’

Something about the child and her little offering touched the woman,
and, drawing Josie to her, she said, with no trace of actress in face or

‘They did please me, dear, and so do you. I’m tired of praise; and love
is very sweet, when it is simple and sincere like this.’

Josie remembered to have heard, among many other stories, that Miss
Cameron lost her lover years ago, and since had lived only for art.
Now she felt that this might have been true; and pity for the splendid,
lonely life made her face very eloquent, as well as grateful. Then, as
if anxious to forget the past, her new friend said, in the commanding
way that seemed natural to her:

‘Let me see what you can do. Juliet, of course. All begin with that.
Poor soul, how she is murdered!’

Now, Josie had intended to begin with Romeo’s much-enduring sweetheart,
and follow her up with Bianca, Pauline, and several of the favourite
idols of stage-struck girls; but being a shrewd little person, she
suddenly saw the wisdom of Uncle Laurie’s advice, and resolved to
follow it. So instead of the rant Miss Cameron expected, Josie gave poor
Ophelia’s mad scene, and gave it very well, having been trained by
the college professor of elocution and done it many times. She was too
young, of course, but the white gown, the loose hair, the real flowers
she scattered over the imaginary grave, added to the illusion; and she
sung the songs sweetly, dropped her pathetic curtsies, and vanished
behind the curtain that divided the rooms with a backward look that
surprised her critical auditor into a quick gesture of applause. Cheered
by that welcome sound, Josie ran back as a little hoyden in one of the
farces she had often acted, telling a story full of fun and naughtiness
at first, but ending with a sob of repentance and an earnest prayer for

‘Very good! Try again. Better than I expected,’ called the voice of the

Josie tried Portia’s speech, and recited very well, giving due emphasis
to each fine sentence. Then, unable to refrain from what she considered
her greatest effort, she burst into Juliet’s balcony scene, ending with
the poison and the tomb. She felt sure that she surpassed herself, and
waited for applause. A ringing laugh made her tingle with indignation
and disappointment, as she went to stand before Miss Cameron, saying in
a tone of polite surprise:

‘I have been told that I did it very well. I’m sorry you don’t think

‘My dear, it’s very bad. How can it help being so? What can a child like
you know of love and fear and death? Don’t try it yet. Leave tragedy
alone till you are ready for it.’

‘But you clapped Ophelia.’

‘Yes, that was very pretty. Any clever girl can do it effectively. But
the real meaning of Shakespeare is far above you yet, child. The comedy
bit was best. There you showed real talent. It was both comic and
pathetic. That’s art. Don’t lose it. The Portia was good declamation.
Go on with that sort of thing; it trains the voice--teaches shades of
expression. You’ve a good voice and natural grace--great helps both,
hard to acquire.’

‘Well, I’m glad I’ve got something,’ sighed Josie, sitting meekly on a
stool, much crestfallen, but not daunted yet, and bound to have her say

‘My dear little girl, I told you that you would not like what I should
say to you; yet I must be honest if I would really help you. I’ve had to
do it for many like you; and most of them have never forgiven me, though
my words have proved true, and they are what I advised them to be--good
wives and happy mothers in quiet homes. A few have kept on, and done
fairly well. One you will hear of soon, I think; for she has talent,
indomitable patience, and mind as well as beauty. You are too young
to show to which class you belong. Geniuses are very rare, and even at
fifteen seldom give much promise of future power.’

‘Oh, I don’t think I’m a genius!’ cried Josie, growing calm and sober as
she listened to the melodious voice and looked into the expressive face
that filled her with confidence, so strong, sincere, and kindly was it.
‘I only want to find out if I have talent enough to go on, and after
years of study to be able to act well in any of the good plays people
never tire of seeing. I don’t expect to be a Mrs Siddons or a Miss
Cameron, much as I long to be; but it does seem as if I had something
in me which can’t come out in any way but this. When I act I’m perfectly
happy. I seem to live, to be in my own world, and each new part is a new
friend. I love Shakespeare, and am never tired of his splendid people.
Of course, I don’t understand it all; but it’s like being alone at night
with the mountains and the stars, solemn and grand, and I try to imagine
how it will look when the sun comes up, and all is glorious and clear to
me. I can’t see, but I feel the beauty, and long to express it.’

As she spoke with the most perfect self-forgetfulness Josie was pale
with excitement, her eyes shone, her lips trembled, and all her little
soul seemed trying to put into words the emotions that filled it to
overflowing. Miss Cameron understood, felt that this was something
more than a girlish whim; and when she answered there was a new tone
of sympathy in her voice, a new interest in her face, though she wisely
refrained from saying all she thought, well knowing what splendid dreams
young people build upon a word, and how bitter is the pain when the
bright bubbles burst.

‘If you feel this, I can give you no better advice than to go on loving
and studying our great master,’ she said slowly; but Josie caught the
changed tone, and felt, with a thrill of joy, that her new friend was
speaking to her now as to a comrade. ‘It is an education in itself, and
a lifetime is not long enough to teach you all his secret. But there is
much to do before you can hope to echo his words. Have you the patience,
courage, strength, to begin at the beginning, and slowly, painfully, lay
the foundation for future work? Fame is a pearl many dive for and only
a few bring up. Even when they do, it is not perfect, and they sigh for
more, and lose better things in struggling for them.’

The last words seemed spoken more to herself than to her hearer, but
Josie answered quickly, with a smile and an expressive gesture:

‘I got the bracelet in spite of all the bitter water in my eyes.’

‘You did! I don’t forget it. A good omen. We will accept it.’

Miss Cameron answered the smile with one that was like sunshine to the
girl, and stretched her white hands as if taking some invisible gift.
Then added in a different tone, watching the effect of her words on the
expressive face before her:

‘Now you will be disappointed, for instead of telling you to come and
study with me, or go and act in some second-rate theatre at once, I
advise you to go back to school and finish your education. That is the
first step, for all accomplishments are needed, and a single talent
makes a very imperfect character. Cultivate mind and body, heart and
soul, and make yourself an intelligent, graceful, beautiful, and healthy
girl. Then, at eighteen or twenty, go into training and try your powers.
Better start for the battle with your arms in order, and save the hard
lesson which comes when we rush on too soon. Now and then genius carries
all before it, but not often. We have to climb slowly, with many slips
and falls. Can you wait as well as work?’

‘I will!’

‘We shall see. It would be pleasant to me to know that when I quit the
stage I leave behind me a well-trained, faithful, gifted comrade to
more than fill my place, and carry on what I have much at heart--the
purification of the stage. Perhaps you are she; but remember, mere
beauty and rich costumes do not make an actress, nor are the efforts of
a clever little girl to play great characters real art. It is all dazzle
and sham, and a disgrace and disappointment now. Why will the public be
satisfied with opera bouffe, or the trash called society plays when
a world of truth and beauty, poetry and pathos lies waiting to be
interpreted and enjoyed?’

Miss Cameron had forgotten to whom she spoke, and walked to and fro,
full of the noble regret all cultivated people feel at the low state of
the stage nowadays.

‘That’s what Uncle Laurie says; and he and Aunt Jo try to plan plays
about true and lovely things--simple domestic scenes that touch people’s
hearts, and make them laugh and cry and feel better. Uncle says that
sort is my style, and I must not think of tragedy. But it’s so much
nicer to sweep about in crowns and velvet trains than to wear everyday
clothes, and just be myself, though it is so easy.’

‘Yet that is high art, child, and what we need for a time till we are
ready for the masters. Cultivate that talent of yours. It is a special
gift, this power to bring tears and smiles, and a sweeter task to touch
the heart than to freeze the blood or fire the imagination. Tell your
uncle he is right, and ask your aunt to try a play for you. I’ll come
and see it when you are ready.’

‘Will you? Oh! will you? We are going to have some at Christmas, with a
nice part for me. A simple little thing, but I can do it, and should be
so proud, so happy to have you there.’

Josie rose as she spoke, for a glance at the clock showed her that her
call was a long one; and hard as it was to end this momentous interview,
she felt that she must go. Catching up her hat she went to Miss Cameron,
who stood looking at her so keenly that she felt as transparent as a
pane of glass, and coloured prettily as she looked up, saying, with a
grateful little tremor in her voice:

‘I can never thank you for this hour and all you have told me. I shall
do just what you advise, and mamma will be very glad to see me settled
at my books again. I can study now with all my heart, because it is to
help me on; and I won’t hope too much, but work and wait, and try to
please you, as the only way to pay my debt.’

‘That reminds me that I have not paid mine. Little friend, wear this
for my sake. It is fit for a mermaid, and will remind you of your first
dive. May the next bring up a better jewel, and leave no bitter water on
your lips!’

As she spoke, Miss Cameron took from the lace at her throat a pretty
pin of aquamarine, and fastened it like an order on Josie’s proud bosom;
then lifting the happy little face, she kissed it very tenderly, and
watched it go smiling away with eyes that seemed to see into a future
full of the trials and the triumphs which she knew so well.

Bess expected to see Josie come flying in, all raptures and excitement,
or drowned in tears of disappointment, but was surprised at the
expression of calm content and resolution which she wore. Pride and
satisfaction, and a new feeling of responsibility both sobered and
sustained her, and she felt that any amount of dry study and long
waiting would be bearable, if in the glorious future she could be
an honour to her profession and a comrade to the new friend whom she
already adored with girlish ardour.

She told her little story to a deeply interested audience, and all
felt that Miss Cameron’s advice was good. Mrs Amy was relieved at the
prospect of delay; for she did not want her niece to be an actress and
hoped the fancy would die out.

Uncle Laurie was full of charming plans and prophecies and wrote one
of his most delightful notes to thank their neighbour for her kindness;
while Bess, who loved art of all kinds, fully sympathized with her
cousin’s ambitious hopes, only wondering why she preferred to act out
her visions rather than embody them in marble.

That first interview was not the last; for Miss Cameron was really
interested, and had several memorable conversations with the Laurences,
while the girls sat by, drinking in every word with the delight all
artists feel in their own beautiful world, and learning to see how
sacred good gifts are, how powerful, and how faithfully they should be
used for high ends, each in its own place helping to educate, refine,
and refresh.

Josie wrote reams to her mother; and when the visit ended rejoiced her
heart by bringing her a somewhat changed little daughter, who fell to
work at the once-detested books with a patient energy which surprised
and pleased everyone. The right string had been touched, and even French
exercises and piano practice became endurable, since accomplishments
would be useful by and by; dress, manners, and habits were all
interesting now, because ‘mind and body, heart and soul, must be
cultivated’, and while training to become an ‘intelligent, graceful,
healthy girl’, little Josie was unconsciously fitting herself to play
her part well on whatever stage the great Manager might prepare for her.


Two very superior bicycles went twinkling up the road to Plumfield
one September afternoon, bearing two brown and dusty riders evidently
returning from a successful run, for though their legs might be a trifle
weary, their faces beamed as they surveyed the world from their lofty
perches with the air of calm content all wheelmen wear after they have
learned to ride; before that happy period anguish of mind and body is
the chief expression of the manly countenance.

‘Go ahead and report, Tom; I’m due here. See you later,’ said Demi,
swinging himself down at the door of the Dovecote.

‘Don’t peach, there’s a good fellow. Let me have it out with Mother
Bhaer first,’ returned Tom, wheeling in at the gate with a heavy sigh.

Demi laughed, and his comrade went slowly up the avenue, devoutly hoping
that the coast was clear; for he was the bearer of tidings which would,
he thought, convulse the entire family with astonishment and dismay.

To his great joy Mrs Jo was discovered alone in a grove of proof-sheets,
which she dropped, to greet the returning wanderer cordially. But after
the first glance she saw that something was the matter, recent events
having made her unusually sharp-eyed and suspicious.

‘What is it now, Tom?’ she asked, as he subsided into an easy-chair with
a curious expression of mingled fear, shame, amusement, and distress in
his brick-red countenance.

‘I’m in an awful scrape, ma’am.’

‘Of course; I’m always prepared for scrapes when you appear. What is
it? Run over some old lady who is going to law about it?’ asked Mrs Jo

‘Worse than that,’ groaned Tom.

‘Not poisoned some trusting soul who asked you to prescribe, I hope?’

‘Worse than that.’

‘You haven’t let Demi catch any horrid thing and left him behind, have

‘Worse even than that.’

‘I give it up. Tell me quick; I hate to wait for bad news.’

Having got his listener sufficiently excited, Tom launched his
thunderbolt in one brief sentence, and fell back to watch the effect.

‘I’m engaged!’

Mrs Jo’s proof-sheets flew wildly about as she clasped her hands,
exclaiming in dismay:

‘If Nan has yielded, I’ll never forgive her!’

‘She hasn’t; it’s another girl.’

Tom’s face was so funny as he said the words, that it was impossible
to help laughing; for he looked both sheepish and pleased, besides very
much perplexed and worried.

‘I’m glad, very glad indeed! Don’t care who it is; and I hope you’ll
be married soon. Now tell me all about it,’ commanded Mrs Jo, so much
relieved that she felt ready for anything.

‘What will Nan say?’ demanded Tom, rather taken aback at this view of
his predicament.

‘She will be rejoiced to get rid of the mosquito who has plagued her so
long. Don’t worry about Nan. Who is this “other girl”?’

‘Demi hasn’t written about her?’

‘Only something about your upsetting a Miss West down at Quitno; I
thought that was scrape enough.’

‘That was only the beginning of a series of scrapes. Just my luck! Of
course after sousing the poor girl I had to be attentive to her, hadn’t
I? Everyone seemed to think so, and I couldn’t get away, and so I was
lost before I knew it. It’s all Demi’s fault, he would stay there and
fuss with his old photos, because the views were good and all the girls
wanted to be taken. Look at these, will you, ma’am? That’s the way we
spent our time when we weren’t playing tennis’; and Tom pulled a
handful of pictures from his pocket, displaying several in which he was
conspicuous, either holding a sun-umbrella over a very pretty young lady
on the rocks, reposing at her feet in the grass, or perched on a piazza
railing with other couples in seaside costumes and effective attitudes.

‘This is she of course?’ asked Mrs Jo, pointing to the much-ruffled
damsel with the jaunty hat, coquettish shoes, and racquet in her hand.

‘That’s Dora. Isn’t she lovely?’ cried Tom, forgetting his tribulations
for a moment and speaking with lover-like ardour.

‘Very nice little person to look at. Hope she is not a Dickens Dora?
That curly crop looks like it.’

‘Not a bit; she’s very smart; can keep house, and sew, and do lots
of things, I assure you, ma’am. All the girls like her, and she’s
sweet-tempered and jolly, and sings like a bird, and dances beautifully,
and loves books. Thinks yours are splendid, and made me talk about you
no end.’

‘That last sentence is to flatter me and win my help to get you out of
the scrape. Tell me first how you got in’; and Mrs Jo settled herself to
listen with interest, never tired of boys’ affairs.

Tom gave his head a rousing rub all over to clear his wits, and plunged
into his story with a will.

‘Well, we’ve met her before, but I didn’t know she was there. Demi
wanted to see a fellow, so we went, and finding it nice and cool rested
over Sunday. Found some pleasant people and went out rowing; I had Dora,
and came to grief on a confounded rock. She could swim, no harm done,
only the scare and the spoilt gown. She took it well, and we got
friendly at once--couldn’t help it, scrambling into that beast of a boat
while the rest laughed at us. Of course we had to stay another day to
see that Dora was all right. Demi wanted to. Alice Heath is down there
and two other girls from our college, so we sort of lingered along,
and Demi kept taking pictures, and we danced, and got into a tennis
tournament; and that was as good exercise as wheeling, we thought. Fact
is, tennis is a dangerous game, ma’am. A great deal of courting goes
on in those courts, and we fellows find that sort of “serving” mighty
agreeable, don’t you know?’

‘Not much tennis in my day, but I understand perfectly,’ said Mrs Jo,
enjoying it all as much as Tom did.

‘Upon my word, I hadn’t the least idea of being serious,’ he continued
slowly, as if this part of his tale was hard to tell; ‘but everyone else
spooned, so I did. Dora seemed to like it and expect it, and of course
I was glad to be agreeable. She thought I amounted to something, though
Nan does not, and it was pleasant to be appreciated after years of
snubbing. Yes, it was right down jolly to have a sweet girl smile at you
all day, and blush prettily when you said a neat thing to her, and look
glad when you came, sorry when you left, and admire all you did, and
make you feel like a man and act your best. That’s the sort of treatment
a fellow enjoys and ought to get if he behaves himself; not frowns and
cold shoulders year in and year out, and made to look like a fool when
he means well, and is faithful, and has loved a girl ever since he was a
boy. No, by Jove, it’s not fair, and I won’t stand it!’

Tom waxed warm and eloquent as he thought over his wrongs, and bounced
up to march about the room, wagging his head and trying to feel
aggrieved as usual, but surprised to find that his heart did not ache a

‘I wouldn’t. Drop the old fancy, for it was nothing more, and take up
the new one, if it is genuine. But how came you to propose, Tom, as you
must have done to be engaged?’ asked Mrs Jo, impatient for the crisis of
the tale.

‘Oh, that was an accident. I didn’t mean it at all; the donkey did it,
and I couldn’t get out of the scrape without hurting Dora’s feelings,
you see,’ began Tom, seeing that the fatal moment had come.

‘So there were two donkeys in it, were there?’ said Mrs Jo, foreseeing
fun of some sort.

‘Don’t laugh! It sounds funny, I know; but it might have been awful,’
answered Tom darkly, though a twinkle of the eye showed that his love
trials did not quite blind him to the comic side of the adventure.

‘The girls admired our new wheels, and of course we liked to show off.
Took ‘em to ride, and had larks generally. Well, one day, Dora was
on behind, and we were going nicely along a good bit of road, when a
ridiculous old donkey got right across the way. I thought he’d move, but
he didn’t, so I gave him a kick; he kicked back, and over we went in a
heap, donkey and all. Such a mess! I thought only of Dora, and she had
hysterics; at least, she laughed till she cried, and that beast brayed,
and I lost my head. Any fellow would, with a poor girl gasping in the
road, and he wiping her tears and begging pardon, not knowing whether
her bones were broken or not. I called her my darling, and went on like
a fool in my flurry, till she grew calmer, and said, with such a look:
“I forgive you, Tom. Pick me up, and let us go on again.”

‘Wasn’t that sweet now, after I’d upset her for the second time? It
touched me to the heart; and I said I’d like to go on for ever with such
an angel to steer for, and--well I don’t know what I did say; but you
might have knocked me down with a feather when she put her arm round my
neck and whispered: “Tom, dear, with you I’m not afraid of any lions in
the path.” She might have said donkeys; but she was in earnest, and she
spared my feelings. Very nice of the dear girl; but there I am with two
sweethearts on my hands, and in a deuce of a scrape.’

Finding it impossible to contain herself another moment, Mrs Jo laughed
till the tears ran down her cheeks at this characteristic episode; and
after one reproachful look, which only added to her merriment, Tom burst
into a jolly roar that made the room ring.

‘Tommy Bangs! Tommy Bangs! who but you could ever get into such a
catastrophe?’ said Mrs Jo, when she recovered her breath.

‘Isn’t it a muddle all round, and won’t everyone chaff me to death about
it? I shall have to quit old Plum for a while,’ answered Tom, as he
mopped his face, trying to realize the full danger of his position.

‘No, indeed; I’ll stand by you, for I think it the best joke of the
season. But tell me how things ended. Is it really serious, or only a
summer flirtation? I don’t approve of them, but boys and girls will play
with edged tools and cut their fingers.’

‘Well, Dora considers herself engaged, and wrote to her people at once.
I couldn’t say a word when she took it all in solemn earnest and seemed
so happy. She’s only seventeen, never liked anyone before, and is sure
all will be all right; as her father knows mine, and we are both well
off. I was so staggered that I said:

‘“Why, you can’t love me really when we know so little of one another?”
 But she answered right out of her tender little heart: “Yes, I do,
dearly, Tom; you are so gay and kind and honest, I couldn’t help it.”
 Now, after that what could I do but go ahead and make her happy while I
stayed, and trust to luck to straighten the snarl out afterwards?’

‘A truly Tomian way of taking things easy. I hope you told your father
at once.’

‘Oh yes, I wrote off and broke it to him in three lines. I said: “Dear
Father, I’m engaged to Dora West, and I hope she will suit the family.
She suits me tip-top. Yours ever, Tom.” He was all right, never liked
Nan, you know; but Dora will suit him down to the ground.’ And Tom
looked entirely satisfied with his own tact and taste.

‘What did Demi say to this rapid and funny lovemaking? Wasn’t he
scandalized?’ asked Mrs Jo, trying not to laugh again as she thought of
the unromantic spectacle of donkey, bicycle, boy, and girl all in the
dust together.

‘Not a bit. He was immensely interested and very kind; talked to me like
a father; said it was a good thing to steady a fellow, only I must be
honest with her and myself and not trifle a moment. Demi is a regular
Solomon, especially when he is in the same boat,’ answered Tom, looking

‘You don’t mean--?’ gasped Mrs Jo, in sudden alarm at the bare idea of
more love-affairs just yet.

‘Yes, I do, please, ma’am; it’s a regular sell all the way through, and
I owe Demi one for taking me into temptation blindfold. He said he went
to Quitno to see Fred Wallace, but he never saw the fellow. How could
he, when Wallace was off in his yacht all the time we were there? Alice
was the real attraction, and I was left to my fate, while they were
maundering round with that old camera. There were three donkeys in
this affair, and I’m not the worst one, though I shall have to bear the
laugh. Demi will look innocent and sober, and no one will say a word to

‘The midsummer madness has broken out, and no one knows who will be
stricken next. Well, leave Demi to his mother, and let us see what you
are going to do, Tom.’

‘I don’t know exactly; it’s awkward to be in love with two girls at
once. What do you advise?’

‘A common-sense view of the case, by all means. Dora loves you and
thinks you love her. Nan does not care for you, and you only care for
her as a friend, though you have tried to do more. It is my opinion,
Tom, that you love Dora, or are on the way to it; for in all these
years I’ve never seen you look or speak about Nan as you do about Dora.
Opposition has made you obstinately cling to her till accident has shown
you a more attractive girl. Now, I think you had better take the old
love for a friend, the new one for a sweetheart, and in due time, if the
sentiment is genuine, marry her.’

If Mrs Jo had any doubts about the matter, Tom’s face would have proved
the truth of her opinion; for his eyes shone, his lips smiled, and in
spite of dust and sunburn a new expression of happiness quite glorified
him as he stood silent for a moment, trying to understand the beautiful
miracle which real love works when it comes to a young man’s heart.

‘The fact is I meant to make Nan jealous, for she knows Dora, and I was
sure would hear of our doings. I was tired of being walked on, and I
thought I’d try to break away and not be a bore and a laughing-stock any
more,’ he said slowly, as if it relieved him to pour out his doubts and
woes and hopes and joys to his old friend. ‘I was regularly astonished
to find it so easy and so pleasant. I didn’t mean to do any harm,
but drifted along beautifully, and told Demi to mention things in his
letters to Daisy, so Nan might know. Then I forgot Nan altogether, and
saw, heard, felt, cared for no one but Dora, till the donkey--bless his
old heart!--pitched her into my arms and I found she loved me. Upon my
soul, I don’t see why she should! I’m not half good enough.’

‘Every honest man feels that when an innocent girl puts her hand in his.
Make yourself worthy of her, for she isn’t an angel, but a woman with
faults of her own for you to bear, and forgive, and you must help one
another,’ said Mrs Jo, trying to realize that this sober youth was her
scapegrace Tommy.

‘What troubles me is that I didn’t mean it when I began, and was going
to use the dear girl as an instrument of torture for Nan. It wasn’t
right, and I don’t deserve to be so happy. If all my scrapes ended as
well as this, what a state of bliss I should be in!’ and Tom beamed
again at the rapturous prospect.

‘My dear boy, it is not a scrape, but a very sweet experience suddenly
dawning upon you,’ answered Mrs Jo, speaking very soberly; for she saw
he was in earnest. ‘Enjoy it wisely and be worthy of it, for it is a
serious thing to accept a girl’s love and trust, and let her look up to
you for tenderness and truth in return. Don’t let little Dora look in
vain, but be a man in all things for her sake, and make this affection a
blessing to you both.’

‘I’ll try. Yes, I do love her, only I can’t believe it just yet. Wish
you knew her. Dear little soul, I long to see her already! She cried
when we parted last night and I hated to go.’ Tom’s hand went to his
cheek as if he still felt the rosy little seal Dora had set upon his
promise not to forget her, and for the first time in his happy-go-lucky
life Tommy Bangs understood the difference between sentiment and
sentimentality. The feeling recalled Nan, for he had never known that
tender thrill when thinking of her, and the old friendship seemed rather
a prosaic affair beside this delightful mingling of romance, surprise,
love, and fun. ‘I declare, I feel as if a weight was off me, but
what the dickens will Nan say when she knows it!’ he exclaimed with a

‘Knows what?’ asked a clear voice that made both start and turn, for
there was Nan calmly surveying them from the doorway.

Anxious to put Tom out of suspense and see how Nan would take the news,
Mrs Jo answered quickly:

‘Tom’s engagement to Dora West.’

‘Really?’ and Nan looked so surprised that Mrs Jo was afraid she might
be fonder of her old playmate than she knew; but her next words set the
fear at rest, and made everything comfortable and merry at once.

‘I knew my prescription would work wonders if he only took it long
enough. Dear old Tom, I’m so glad. Bless you! bless you!’ And she shook
both his hands with hearty affection.

‘It was an accident, Nan. I didn’t mean to, but I’m always getting into
messes, and I couldn’t seem to get out of this any other way. Mother
Bhaer will tell you all about it. I must go and make myself tidy. Going
to tea with Demi. See you later.’

Stammering, blushing, and looking both sheepish and gratified, Tom
suddenly bolted, leaving the elder lady to enlighten the younger at
length, and have another laugh over this new sort of courtship, which
might well be called accidental. Nan was deeply interested, for she knew
Dora, thought her a nice little thing, and predicted that in time she
would make Tom an excellent wife, since she admired and ‘appreciated’
him so much.

‘I shall miss him of course, but it will be a relief to me and better
for him; dangling is so bad for a boy. Now he will go into business
with his father and do well, and everyone be happy. I shall give Dora an
elegant family medicine-chest for a wedding-present, and teach her how
to use it. Tom can’t be trusted, and is no more fit for the profession
than Silas.’

The latter part of this speech relieved Mrs Jo’s mind, for Nan had
looked about her as if she had lost something valuable when she began;
but the medicine-chest seemed to cheer her, and the thought of Tom in a
safe profession was evidently a great comfort.

‘The worm has turned at last, Nan, and your bond-man is free. Let him
go, and give your whole mind to your work; for you are fitted for
the profession, and will be an honour to it by and by,’ she said

‘I hope so. That reminds me--measles are in the village, and you had
better tell the girls not to call where there are children. It would
be bad to have a run of them just as term begins. Now I’m off to Daisy.
Wonder what she will say to Tom. Isn’t he great fun?’ And Nan departed,
laughing over the joke with such genuine satisfaction that it was
evident no sentimental regrets disturbed her ‘maiden meditation,

‘I shall have my eye on Demi, but won’t say a word. Meg likes to manage
her children in her own way, and a very good way it is. But the dear
Pelican will be somewhat ruffled if her boy has caught the epidemic
which seems to have broken out among us this summer.’

Mrs Jo did not mean the measles, but that more serious malady called
love, which is apt to ravage communities, spring and autumn, when winter
gaiety and summer idleness produce whole bouquets of engagements, and
set young people to pairing off like the birds. Franz began it, Nat was
a chronic and Tom a sudden case; Demi seemed to have the symptoms; and
worst of all, her own Ted had only the day before calmly said to her:
‘Mum, I think I should be happier if I had a sweetheart, like the other
boys.’ If her cherished son had asked her for dynamite to play with, she
would hardly have been more startled, or have more decidedly refused the
absurd request.

‘Well, Barry Morgan said I ought to have one and offered to pick me out
a nice one among our set. I asked Josie first, and she hooted at the
idea, so I thought I’d let Barry look round. You say it steadies a
fellow, and I want to be steady,’ explained Ted in a serious tone, which
would have convulsed his parent at any other time.

‘Good lack! What are we coming to in this fast age when babes and boys
make such demands and want to play with one of the most sacred things in
life?’ exclaimed Mrs Jo, and having in a few words set the matter in its
true light, sent her son away to wholesome baseball and Octoo for a safe

Now, here was Tom’s bomb-shell to explode in their midst, carrying
widespread destruction, perhaps; for though one swallow does not make a
summer, one engagement is apt to make several, and her boys were, most
of them, at the inflammable age when a spark ignites the flame, which
soon flickers and dies out, or burns warm and clear for life. Nothing
could be done about it but to help them make wise choices, and be worthy
of good mates. But of all the lessons Mrs Jo had tried to teach her
boys, this great one was the hardest; for love is apt to make lunatics
of even saints and sages, so young people cannot be expected to escape
the delusions, disappointments, and mistakes, as well as the delights,
of this sweet madness.

‘I suppose it is inevitable, since we live in America, so I won’t borrow
trouble, but hope that some of the new ideas of education will produce a
few hearty, happy, capable, and intelligent girls for my lads. Lucky for
me that I haven’t the whole twelve on my hands, I should lose my wits if
I had, for I foresee complications and troubles ahead worse than Tom’s
boats, bicycles, donkeys, and Doras,’ meditated Mrs Jo, as she went back
to her neglected proof-sheets.

Tom was quite satisfied with the tremendous effect his engagement
produced in the little community at Plumfield.

‘It was paralysing,’ as Demi said; and astonishment left most of Tom’s
mates little breath for chaff. That he, the faithful one, should turn
from the idol to strange goddesses, was a shock to the romantic and a
warning to the susceptible. It was comical to see the airs our Thomas
put on; for the most ludicrous parts of the affair were kindly buried in
oblivion by the few who knew them, and Tom burst forth as a full-blown
hero who had rescued the maiden from a watery grave, and won her
gratitude and love by his daring deed. Dora kept the secret, and enjoyed
the fun when she came to see Mother Bhaer and pay her respects to the
family generally. Everyone liked her at once, for she was a gay and
winning little soul; fresh, frank, and so happy, it was beautiful to see
her innocent pride in Tom, who was a new boy, or man rather; for with
this change in his life a great change took place in him. Jolly he would
always be, and impulsive, but he tried to become all that Dora believed
him, and his best side came uppermost for everyday wear. It was
surprising to see how many good traits Tom had; and his efforts to
preserve the manly dignity belonging to his proud position as an engaged
man was very comical. So was the entire change from his former abasement
and devotion to Nan to a somewhat lordly air with his little betrothed;
for Dora made an idol of him, and resented the idea of a fault or a flaw
in her Tom. This new state of things suited both, and the once blighted
being bloomed finely in the warm atmosphere of appreciation, love, and
confidence. He was very fond of the dear girl, but meant to be a slave
no longer, and enjoyed his freedom immensely, quite unconscious that the
great tyrant of the world had got hold of him for life.

To his father’s satisfaction he gave up his medical studies, and
prepared to go into business with the old gentleman, who was a
flourishing merchant, ready now to make the way smooth and smile upon
his marriage with Mr West’s well-endowed daughter. The only thorn in
Tom’s bed of roses was Nan’s placid interest in his affairs, and evident
relief at his disloyalty. He did not want her to suffer, but a decent
amount of regret at the loss of such a lover would have gratified him;
a slight melancholy, a word of reproach, a glance of envy as he passed
with adoring Dora on his arm, seemed but the fitting tribute to such
years of faithful service and sincere affection. But Nan regarded him
with a maternal sort of air that nettled him very much, and patted
Dora’s curly head with a worldlywise air worthy of the withered
spinster, Julia Mills, in David Copperfield.

It took some time to get the old and the new emotions comfortably
adjusted, but Mrs Jo helped him, and Mr Laurie gave him some wise advice
upon the astonishing gymnastic feats the human heart can perform, and
be all the better for it if it only held fast to the balancing-pole
of truth and common sense. At last our Tommy got his bearings, and as
autumn came on Plumfield saw but little of him; for his new lode star
was in the city, and business kept him hard at work. He was evidently
in his right place now, and soon throve finely, to his father’s great
contentment; for his jovial presence pervaded the once quiet office like
a gale of fresh wind, and his lively wits found managing men and
affairs much more congenial employment than studying disease, or playing
unseemly pranks with skeletons.

Here we will leave him for a time and turn to the more serious
adventures of his mates, though this engagement, so merrily made, was
the anchor which kept our mercurial Tom happy, and made a man of him.

Chapter 10. DEMI SETTLES

‘Mother, can I have a little serious conversation with you?’ asked Demi
one evening, as they sat together enjoying the first fire of the season,
while Daisy wrote letters upstairs and Josie was studying in the little
library close by.

‘Certainly, dear. No bad news, I hope?’ and Mrs Meg looked up from her
sewing with a mixture of pleasure and anxiety on her motherly face; for
she dearly loved a good talk with her son, and knew that he always had
something worth telling.

‘It will be good news for you, I think,’ answered Demi, smiling as he
threw away his paper and went to sit beside her on the little sofa which
just held two.

‘Let me hear it, then, at once.’

‘I know you don’t like the reporting, and will be glad to hear that I
have given it up.’

‘I am very glad! It is too uncertain a business, and there is no
prospect of getting on for a long time. I want you settled in some good
place where you can stay, and in time make money. I wish you liked a
profession; but as you don’t, any clean, well-established business will

‘What do you say to a railroad office?’

‘I don’t like it. A noisy, hurried kind of place, I know, with all sorts
of rough men about. I hope it isn’t that, dear?’

‘I could have it; but does book-keeping in a wholesale leather business
please you better?’

‘No; you’ll get round-shouldered writing at a tall desk; and they say,
once a book-keeper always a book-keeper.’

‘How does a travelling agent suit your views?’

‘Not at all; with all those dreadful accidents, and the exposure and bad
food as you go from place to place, you are sure to get killed or lose
your health.’

‘I could be private secretary to a literary man; but the salary is
small, and may end any time.’

‘That would be better, and more what I want. It isn’t that I object to
honest work of any kind; but I don’t want my son to spend his best years
grubbing for a little money in a dark office, or be knocked about in a
rough-and-tumble scramble to get on. I want to see you in some business
where your tastes and talents can be developed and made useful; where
you can go on rising, and in time put in your little fortune and be a
partner; so that your years of apprenticeship will not be wasted, but
fit you to take your place among the honourable men who make their
lives and work useful and respected. I talked it all over with your dear
father when you were a child; and if he had lived he would have shown
you what I mean, and helped you to be what he was.’

Mrs Meg wiped away a quiet tear as she spoke; for the memory of her
husband was a very tender one, and the education of his children had
been a sacred task to which she gave all her heart and life, and so
far she had done wonderfully well--as her good son and loving daughters
tried to prove. Demi’s arm was round her now, as he said, in a voice so
like his father’s that it was the sweetest music to her ear:

‘Mother dear, I think I have got just what you want for me; and it shall
not be my fault if I don’t become the man you hope to see me. Let me
tell you all about it. I didn’t say anything till it was sure because it
would only worry you; but Aunt Jo and I have been on the look-out for it
some time, and now it has come. You know her publisher, Mr Tiber, is one
of the most successful men in the business; also generous, kind, and
the soul of honour--as his treatment of Aunty proves. Well, I’ve rather
hankered for that place; for I love books, and as I can’t make them I’d
like to publish them. That needs some literary taste and judgement, it
brings you in contact with fine people, and is an education in itself.
Whenever I go into that large, handsome room to see Mr Tiber for Aunt
Jo, I always want to stay; for it’s lined with books and pictures,
famous men and women come and go, and Mr Tiber sits at his desk like
a sort of king, receiving his subjects; for the greatest authors are
humble to him, and wait his Yes or No with anxiety. Of course I’ve
nothing to do with all that, and may never have; but I like to see it,
and the atmosphere is so different from the dark offices and hurly-burly
of many other trades, where nothing but money is talked about, that it
seems another world, and I feel at home in it. Yes, I’d rather beat the
door-mats and make fires there than be head clerk in the great hide and
leather store at a big salary.’ Here Demi paused for breath; and Mrs
Meg, whose face had been growing brighter and brighter, exclaimed

‘Just what I should like! Have you got it? Oh, my dear boy! your fortune
is made if you go to that well-established and flourishing place, with
those good men to help you along!’

‘I think I have, but we mustn’t be too sure of anything yet. I may not
suit; I’m only on trial, and must begin at the beginning and work my way
up faithfully. Mr Tiber was very kind, and will push me on as fast as
is fair to the other fellows, and as I prove myself fit to go up. I’m to
begin the first of next month in the book-room, filling orders; and I
go round and get orders, and do various other things of the sort. I like
it. I am ready to do anything about books, if it’s only to dust them,’
laughed Demi, well pleased with his prospects, for, after trying various
things, he seemed at last to have found the sort of work he liked, and a
prospect that was very inviting to him.

‘You inherit that love of books from grandpa; he can’t live without
them. I’m glad of it. Tastes of that kind show a refined nature, and are
both a comfort and a help all one’s life. I am truly glad and grateful,
John, that at last you want to settle, and have got such an entirely
satisfactory place. Most boys begin much earlier; but I don’t believe
in sending them out to face the world so young, just when body and soul
need home care and watchfulness. Now you are a man, and must begin your
life for yourself. Do your best, and be as honest, useful, and happy as
your father, and I won’t care about making a fortune.’

‘I’ll try, mother. Couldn’t have a better chance; for Tiber & Co. treat
their people like gentlemen, and pay generously for faithful work.
Things are done in a businesslike way there, and that suits me. I hate
promises that are not kept, and shiftless or tyrannical ways anywhere.
Mr Tiber said: “This is only to teach you the ropes, Brooke; I shall
have other work for you by and by.” Aunty told him I had done book
notices, and had rather a fancy for literature; so though I can’t
produce any “works of Shakespeare”, as she says, I may get up some
little things later. If I don’t, I think it a very honourable and noble
profession to select and give good books to the world; and I’m satisfied
to be a humble helper in the work.’

‘I’m glad you feel so. It adds so much to one’s happiness to love the
task one does. I used to hate teaching; but housekeeping for my own
family was always sweet, though much harder in many ways. Isn’t Aunt Jo
pleased about all this?’ asked Mrs Meg, already seeing in her mind’s
eye a splendid sign with ‘Tiber, Brooke & Co.’ over the door of a famous
publishing house.

‘So pleased that I could hardly keep her from letting the cat out of the
bag too soon. I’ve had so many plans, and disappointed you so often, I
wanted to be very sure this time. I had to bribe Rob and Ted to keep her
at home tonight till I’d told my news, she was eager to rush down and
tell you herself. The castles that dear woman has built for me would
fill all Spain, and have kept us jolly while we waited to know our fate.
Mr Tiber doesn’t do things in a hurry; but when he makes up his mind,
you are all right; and I feel that I am fairly launched.’

‘Bless you, dear, I hope so! It is a happy day for me, because I’ve been
so anxious lest, with all my care, I have been too easy and indulgent,
and my boy, with his many good gifts, might fritter his time away in
harmless but unsatisfactory things. Now I am at ease about you. If
only Daisy can be happy, and Josie give up her dream, I shall be quite

Demi let his mother enjoy herself for a few minutes, while he smiled
over a certain little dream of his own, not ready yet for the telling;
then he said, in the paternal tone which he unconsciously used when
speaking of his sisters:

‘I’ll see to the girls; but I begin to think grandpa is right in
saying we must each be what God and nature makes us. We can’t change it
much--only help to develop the good and control the bad elements in us.
I have fumbled my way into my right place at last, I hope. Let Daisy be
happy in her way, since it is a good and womanly one. If Nat comes home
all right, I’d say: “Bless you, my children,” and give them a nest of
their own. Then you and I will help little Jo to find out if it is to be
“All the world’s a stage” or “Home, sweet home”, for her.’

‘I suppose we must, John; but I can’t help making plans, and hoping they
will come to pass. I see that Daisy is bound up in Nat; and if he is
worthy of her I shall let them be happy in their own way, as my parents
let me. But Josie will be a trial, I foresee; and much as I love the
stage, and always did, I don’t see how I can ever let my little girl be
an actress, though she certainly has great talent for it.’

‘Whose fault is that?’ asked Demi, smiling, as he remembered his
mother’s early triumphs and unquenchable interest in the dramatic
efforts of the young people round her.

‘Mine, I know. How could it be otherwise when I acted Babes in the Wood
with you and Daisy before you could speak, and taught Josie to declaim
Mother Goose in her cradle. Ah, me! the tastes of the mother come out in
her children, and she must atone for them by letting them have their own
way, I suppose.’ And Mrs Meg laughed, even while she shook her head over
the undeniable fact that the Marches were a theatrical family.

‘Why not have a great actress of our name, as well as an authoress, a
minister, and an eminent publisher? We don’t choose our talents, but we
needn’t hide them in a napkin because they are not just what we want. I
say, let Jo have her way, and do what she can. Here am I to take care of
her; and you can’t deny you’d enjoy fixing her furbelows, and seeing her
shine before the footlights, where you used to long to be. Come, mother,
better face the music and march gaily, since your wilful children will
“gang their ain gait”.’

‘I don’t see but I must, and “leave the consequences to the Lord”, as
Marmee used to say when she had to decide, and only saw a step of the
road. I should enjoy it immensely, if I could only feel that the life
would not hurt my girl, and leave her unsatisfied when it was too late
to change; for nothing is harder to give up than the excitements of that
profession. I know something of it; and if your blessed father had not
come along, I’m afraid I should have been an actress in spite of Aunt
March and all our honoured ancestors.’

‘Let Josie add new honour to the name, and work out the family talent
in its proper place. I’ll play dragon to her, and you play nurse, and
no harm can come to our little Juliet, no matter how many Romeos spoon
under her balcony. Really, ma’am, opposition comes badly from an old
lady who is going to wring the hearts of our audience in the heroine’s
part in Aunty’s play next Christmas. It’s the most pathetic thing I
ever saw, mother; and I’m sorry you didn’t become an actress, though we
should be nowhere if you had.’

Demi was on his legs now, with his back to the fire, in the lordly
attitude men like to assume when things go well with them, or they want
to lay down the law on any subject.

Mrs Meg actually blushed at her son’s hearty praise, and could not
deny that the sound of applause was as sweet now as when she played the
Witch’s Curse and The Moorish Maiden’s Vow long years ago.

‘It’s perfectly absurd for me to do it, but I couldn’t resist when Jo
and Laurie made the part for me, and you children were to act in it. The
minute I get on the old mother’s dress I forget myself and feel the same
thrill at the sound of the bell that I used to feel when we got up plays
in the garret. If Daisy would only take the daughter’s part it would
be so complete; for with you and Josie I am hardly acting, it is all so

‘Especially the hospital scene, where you find the wounded son. Why,
mother, do you know when we did that at last rehearsal my face was wet
with real tears as you cried over me. It will bring down the house; but
don’t forget to wipe ‘em off, or I shall sneeze,’ said Demi, laughing at
the recollection of his mother’s hit.

‘I won’t; but it almost broke my heart to see you so pale and dreadful.
I hope there will never be another war in my time, for I should have to
let you go; and I never want to live through the same experience we had
with father.’

‘Don’t you think Alice does the part better than Daisy would? Daisy
hasn’t a bit of the actress in her, and Alice puts life into the dullest
words she speaks. I think the Marquise is just perfect in our piece,’
said Demi, strolling about the room as if the warmth of the fire sent a
sudden colour to his face.

‘So do I. She is a dear girl, and I’m proud and fond of her. Where is
she tonight?’

‘Pegging away at her Greek, I suppose. She usually is in the evening.
More’s the pity,’ added Demi, in a low tone, as he stared intently at
the book-case, though he couldn’t read a title.

‘Now, there is a girl after my own heart. Pretty, well-bred,
well-educated, and yet domestic, a real companion as well as help-meet
for some good and intelligent man. I hope she will find one.’

‘So do I,’ muttered Demi.

Mrs Meg had taken up her work again, and was surveying a half-finished
buttonhole with so much interest that her son’s face escaped her eye. He
shed a beaming smile upon the rows of poets, as if even in their glass
prison they could sympathize and rejoice with him at the first rosy dawn
of the great passion which they knew so well. But Demi was a wise youth,
and never leaped before looking carefully. He hardly knew his own heart
yet, and was contented to wait till the sentiment, the fluttering of
those folded wings he began to feel, should escape from the chrysalis
and be ready to soar away in the sunshine to seek and claim its lovely
mate. He had said nothing; but the brown eyes were eloquent, and there
was an unconscious underplot to all the little plays he and Alice Heath
acted so well together. She was busy with her books, bound to graduate
with high honours, and he was trying to do the same in that larger
college open to all, and where each man has his own prize to win or
lose. Demi had nothing but himself to offer and, being a modest youth,
considered that a poor gift till he had proved his power to earn his
living, and the right to take a woman’s happiness into his keeping.

No one guessed that he had caught the fever except sharp-eyed Josie, and
she, having a wholesome fear of her brother--who could be rather awful
when she went too far--wisely contented herself with watching him like a
little cat, ready to pounce on the first visible sign of weakness. Demi
had taken to playing pensively upon his flute after he was in his
room for the night, making this melodious friend his confidante, and
breathing into it all the tender hopes and fears that filled his heart.
Mrs Meg, absorbed in domestic affairs, and Daisy, who cared for no music
but Nat’s violin, paid no heed to these chamber concerts, but Josie
always murmured to herself, with a naughty chuckle, ‘Dick Swiveller is
thinking of his Sophy Wackles,’ and bided her time to revenge certain
wrongs inflicted upon her by Demi, who always took Daisy’s side when she
tried to curb the spirits of her unruly little sister.

This evening she got her chance, and made the most of it. Mrs Meg was
just rounding off her buttonhole, and Demi still strolling restlessly
about the room, when a book was heard to slam in the study, followed by
an audible yawn and the appearance of the student looking as if sleep
and a desire for mischief were struggling which should be master.

‘I heard my name; have you been saying anything bad about me?’ she
demanded, perching on the arm of an easychair.

Her mother told the good news, over which Josie duly rejoiced, and Demi
received her congratulations with a benignant air which made her feel
that too much satisfaction was not good for him, and incited her to put
a thorn into his bed of roses at once.

‘I caught something about the play just now, and I want to tell you that
I’m going to introduce a song into my part to liven it up a bit. How
would this do?’ and seating herself at the piano she began to sing to
these words the air of ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’:

    ‘Sweetest of maidens, oh, how can I tell
     The love that transfigures the whole earth to me?
     The longing that causes my bosom to swell,
     When I dream of a life all devoted to thee?’

She got no further, for Demi, red with wrath, made a rush at her, and
the next moment a very agile young person was seen dodging round tables
and chairs with the future partner of Tiber & Co. in hot pursuit. ‘You
monkey, how dare you meddle with my papers?’ cried the irate poet,
making futile grabs at the saucy girl, who skipped to and fro, waving a
bit of paper tantalizingly before him.

‘Didn’t; found it in the big “Dic”. Serves you right if you leave your
rubbish about. Don’t you like my song? It’s very pretty.’

‘I’ll teach you one that you won’t like if you don’t give me my

‘Come and get it if you can’; and Josie vanished into the study to have
out her squabble in peace, for Mrs Meg was already saying:

‘Children, children! don’t quarrel.’

The paper was in the fire by the time Demi arrived and he at once calmed
down, seeing that the bone of contention was out of the way.

‘I’m glad it’s burnt; I don’t care for it, only some verse I was trying
to set to music for one of the girls. But I’ll trouble you to let my
papers alone, or I shall take back the advice I gave mother tonight
about allowing you to act as much as you like.’

Josie was sobered at once by this dire threat, and in her most wheedling
tone begged to know what he had said. By way of heaping coals of fire
on her head he told her, and this diplomatic performance secured him an
ally on the spot.

‘You dear old boy! I’ll never tease you again though you moon and spoon
both day and night. If you stand by me, I’ll stand by you and never say
a word. See here! I’ve got a note for you from Alice. Won’t that be a
peace-offering and soothe your little feelings?’

Demi’s eyes sparkled as Josie held up a paper cocked hat, but as he
knew what was probably in it, he took the wind out of Josie’s sails, and
filled her with blank astonishment by saying carelessly:

‘That’s nothing; it’s only to say whether she will go to the concert
with us tomorrow night. You can read it if you like.’

With the natural perversity of her sex Josie ceased to be curious the
moment she was told to read it, and meekly handed it over; but she
watched Demi as he calmly read the two lines it contained and then threw
it into the fire. ‘Why, Jack, I thought you’d treasure every scrap the
“sweetest maid” touched. Don’t you care for her?’

‘Very much; we all do; but “mooning and spooning”, as you elegantly
express it, is not in my line. My dear little girl, your plays make you
romantic, and because Alice and I act lovers sometimes you take it into
your silly head that we are really so. Don’t waste time hunting mares
nests, but attend to your own affairs and leave me to mine. I forgive
you, but don’t do it again; it’s bad taste, and tragedy queens don’t

The last cut finished Josie; she humbly begged pardon and went off to
bed, while Demi soon followed, feeling that he had not only settled
himself but his too inquisitive little sister also. But if he had seen
her face as she listened to the soft wailing of his flute he would not
have been so sure, for she looked as cunning as a magpie as she said,
with a scornful sniff: ‘Pooh, you can’t deceive me; I know Dick is
serenading Sophy Wackles.’


The Brenda was scudding along with all sail set to catch the rising
wind, and everyone on board was rejoicing, for the long voyage was
drawing towards an end.

‘Four weeks more, Mrs Hardy, and we’ll give you a cup of tea such as you
never had before,’ said second mate Hoffmann, as he paused beside two
ladies sitting in a sheltered corner of the deck.

‘I shall be glad to get it, and still gladder to put my feet on solid
ground,’ answered the elder lady, smiling; for our friend Emil was
a favourite, as well he might be, since he devoted himself to the
captain’s wife and daughter, who were the only passengers on board.

‘So shall I, even if I have to wear a pair of shoes like Chinese junks.
I’ve tramped up and down the deck so much, I shall be barefooted if
we don’t arrive soon,’ laughed Mary, the daughter, showing two shabby
little boots as she glanced up at the companion of these tramps,
remembering gratefully how pleasant he had made them.

‘Don’t think there are any small enough in China,’ answered Emil, with a
sailor’s ready gallantry, privately resolving to hunt up the handsomest
shoes he could find the moment he landed.

‘I don’t know what you would have done for exercise, dear, if Mr
Hoffmann had not made you walk every day. This lazy life is bad for
young people, though it suits an old body like me well enough in calm
weather. Is this likely to be a gale, think ye?’ added Mrs Hardy, with
an anxious glance at the west, where the sun was setting redly.

‘Only a capful of wind, ma’am, just enough to send us along lively,’
answered Emil, with a comprehensive glance aloft and alow.

‘Please sing, Mr Hoffmann, it’s so pleasant to have music at this
time. We shall miss it very much when we get ashore,’ said Mary, in
a persuasive tone which would have won melody from a shark, if such a
thing were possible.

Emil had often blessed his one accomplishment during these months, for
it cheered the long days, and made the twilight hour his happiest
time, wind and weather permitting. So now he gladly tuned his pipe, and
leaning on the taffrail near the girl, watched the brown locks blowing
in the wind as he sang her favourite song:

    ‘Give me freshening breeze, my boys,
     A white and swelling sail,
     A ship that cuts the dashing waves,
     And weathers every gale.
     What life is like a sailor’s life,
     So free, so bold, so brave?
     His home the ocean’s wide expanse,
     A coral bed his grave.’

Just as the last notes of the clear, strong voice died away, Mrs Hardy
suddenly exclaimed: ‘What’s that?’ Emil’s quick eye saw at once the
little puff of smoke coming up a hatchway where no smoke should be, and
his heart seemed to stand still for an instant as the dread word ‘Fire!’
flashed through his mind. Then he was quite steady, and strolled away
saying quietly:

‘Smoking not allowed there, I’ll go and stop it.’ But the instant he
was out of sight his face changed, and he leaped down the hatchway,
thinking, with a queer smile on his lips: ‘If we are afire, shouldn’t
wonder if I did make a coral bed my grave!’

He was gone a few minutes, and when he came up, half stifled with smoke,
he was as white as a very brown man could be, but calm and cool as he
went to report to the captain.

‘Fire in the hold, sir.’

‘Don’t frighten the women,’ was Captain Hardy’s first order; then both
be stirred themselves to discover how strong the treacherous enemy was,
and to rout it if possible.

The Brenda’s cargo was a very combustible one, and in spite of the
streams of water poured into the hold it was soon evident that the ship
was doomed. Smoke began to ooze up between the planks everywhere, and
the rising gale soon fanned the smouldering fire to flames that began
to break out here and there, telling the dreadful truth too plainly for
anyone to hide. Mrs Hardy and Mary bore the shock bravely when told to
be ready to quit the ship at a minute’s notice; the boats were hastily
prepared, and the men worked with a will to batten down every loophole
whence the fire might escape. Soon the poor Brenda was a floating
furnace, and the order to ‘Take to the boats!’ came for all. The women
first, of course, and it was fortunate that, being a merchantman, there
were no more passengers on board, so there was no panic, and one after
the other the boats pushed off. That in which the women were lingered
near, for the brave captain would be the last to leave his ship.

Emil stayed by him till ordered away, and reluctantly obeyed; but it was
well for him he went, for just as he had regained the boat, rocking far
below, half hidden by a cloud of smoke, a mast, undermined by the
fire now raging in the bowels of the ship, fell with a crash, knocking
Captain Hardy overboard. The boat soon reached him as he floated out
from the wreck, and Emil sprung into the sea to rescue him, for he was
wounded and senseless. This accident made it necessary for the young man
to take command, and he at once ordered the men to pull for their lives,
as an explosion might occur at any moment.

The other boats were out of danger and all lingered to watch the
splendid yet awesome spectacle of the burning ship alone on the wide
sea, reddening the night and casting a lurid glare upon the water, where
floated the frail boats filled with pale faces, all turned for a last
look at the fated Brenda, slowly settling to her watery grave. No one
saw the end, however, for the gale soon swept the watchers far away and
separated them, some never to meet again till the sea gives up its dead.

The boat whose fortunes we must follow was alone when dawn came up,
showing these survivors all the dangers of their situation. Food and
water had been put in, and such provision for comfort and safety as time
allowed; but it was evident that with a badly wounded man, two women,
and seven sailors, their supply would not last long, and help was sorely
needed. Their only hope was in meeting a ship, although the gale, which
had raged all night, had blown them out of their course. To this hope
all clung, and wiled away the weary hours, watching the horizon and
cheering one another with prophecies of speedy rescue.

Second mate Hoffmann was very brave and helpful, though his unexpected
responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders; for the captain’s state
seemed desperate, the poor wife’s grief wrung his heart, and the blind
confidence of the young girl in his power to save them made him feel
that no sign of doubt or fear must lessen it. The men did their part
readily now, but Emil knew that if starvation and despair made brutes of
them, his task might be a terrible one. So he clutched his courage with
both hands, kept up a manly front, and spoke so cheerily of their good
chances, that all instinctively turned to him for guidance and support.

The first day and night passed in comparative comfort, but when the
third came, things looked dark and hope began to fail. The wounded man
was delirious, the wife worn out with anxiety and suspense, the girl
weak for want of food, having put away half her biscuit for her mother,
and given her share of water to wet her father’s feverish lips. The
sailors ceased rowing and sat grimly waiting, openly reproaching their
leader for not following their advice, others demanding more food, all
waxing dangerous as privation and pain brought out the animal instincts
lurking in them. Emil did his best, but mortal man was helpless there,
and he could only turn his haggard face from the pitiless sky, that
dropped no rain for their thirst, to the boundless sea where no sail
appeared to gladden their longing eyes. All day he tried to cheer and
comfort them, while hunger gnawed, thirst parched, and growing fear lay
heavy at his heart. He told stories to the men, implored them to bear up
for the helpless women’s sake, and promised rewards if they would pull
while they had strength to regain the lost route, as nearly as he could
make it out, and increase their chance of rescue. He rigged an awning
of sailcloth over the suffering man and tended him like a son, comforted
the wife, and tried to make the pale girl forget herself, by singing
every song he knew or recounting his adventures by land and sea, till
she smiled and took heart; for all ended well.

The fourth day came and the supply of food and water was nearly gone.
Emil proposed to keep it for the sick man and the women, but two of the
men rebelled, demanding their share. Emil gave up his as an example, and
several of the good fellows followed it, with the quiet heroism which so
often crops up in rough but manly natures. This shamed the others,
and for another day an ominous peace reigned in that little world of
suffering and suspense. But during the night, while Emil, worn out with
fatigue, left the watch to the most trustworthy sailor, that he might
snatch an hour’s rest, these two men got at the stores and stole the
last of the bread and water, and the one bottle of brandy, which was
carefully hoarded to keep up their strength and make the brackish water
drinkable. Half mad with thirst, they drank greedily and by morning one
was in a stupor, from which he never woke; the other so crazed by
the strong stimulant, that when Emil tried to control him, he leaped
overboard and was lost. Horror-stricken by this terrible scene, the
other men were submissive henceforth, and the boat floated on and on
with its sad freight of suffering souls and bodies.

Another trial came to them that left all more despairing than before. A
sail appeared, and for a time a frenzy of joy prevailed, to be turned
to bitterest disappointment when it passed by, too far away to see
the signals waved to them or hear the frantic cries for help that rang
across the sea. Emil’s heart sank then, for the captain seemed dying,
and the women could not hold out much longer. He kept up till night
came; then in the darkness, broken only by the feeble murmuring of the
sick man, the whispered prayers of the poor wife, the ceaseless swash of
waves, Emil hid his face, and had an hour of silent agony that aged him
more than years of happy life could have done. It was not the physical
hardship that daunted him, though want and weakness tortured him; it was
his dreadful powerlessness to conquer the cruel fate that seemed hanging
over them. The men he cared little for, since these perils were but a
part of the life they chose; but the master he loved, the good woman who
had been so kind to him, the sweet girl whose winsome presence had made
the long voyage so pleasant for them all--if he could only save these
dear and innocent creatures from a cruel death, he felt that he could
willingly give his life for them.

As he sat there with his head in his hands, bowed down by the first
great trial of his young life, the starless sky overhead, the restless
sea beneath, and all around him suffering, for which he had no help, a
soft sound broke the silence, and he listened like one in a dream. It
was Mary singing to her mother, who lay sobbing in her arms, spent with
this long anguish. A very faint and broken voice it was, for the poor
girl’s lips were parched with thirst; but the loving heart turned
instinctively to the great Helper in this hour of despair, and He heard
her feeble cry. It was a sweet old hymn often sung at Plumfield; and as
he listened, all the happy past came back so clearly that Emil forgot
the bitter present, and was at home again. His talk on the housetop
with Aunt Jo seemed but yesterday, and, with a pang of self-reproach, he

‘The scarlet strand! I must remember it, and do my duty to the end.
Steer straight, old boy; and if you can’t come into port, go down with
all sail set.’

Then, as the soft voice crooned on to lull the weary woman to a
fitful sleep, Emil for a little while forgot his burden in a dream of
Plumfield. He saw them all, heard the familiar voices, felt the grip of
welcoming hands, and seemed to say to himself: ‘Well, they shall not be
ashamed of me if I never see them any more.’

A sudden shout startled him from that brief rest, and a drop on his
forehead told him that the blessed rain had come at last, bringing
salvation with it; for thirst is harder to bear than hunger, heat, or
cold. Welcomed by cries of joy, all lifted up their parched lips, held
out their hands, and spread their garments to catch the great drops that
soon came pouring down to cool the sick man’s fever, quench the agony of
thirst, and bring refreshment to every weary body in the boat. All night
it fell, all night the castaways revelled in the saving shower, and took
heart again, like dying plants revived by heaven’s dew. The clouds broke
away at dawn, and Emil sprung up, wonderfully braced and cheered by
those hours of silent gratitude for this answer to their cry for help.
But this was not all; as his eye swept the horizon, clear against the
rosy sky shone the white sails of a ship, so near that they could see
the pennon at her mast-head and black figures moving on the deck.

One cry broke from all those eager throats, and rang across the sea, as
every man waved hat or handkerchief and the women stretched imploring
hands towards this great white angel of deliverance coming down upon
them as if the fresh wind filled every sail to help her on.

No disappointment now; answering signals assured them of help; and in
the rapture of that moment the happy women fell on Emil’s neck,
giving him his reward in tears and blessings as their grateful hearts
overflowed. He always said that was the proudest moment of his life,
as he stood there holding Mary in his arms; for the brave girl, who had
kept up so long, broke down then, and clung to him half fainting; while
her mother busied herself about the invalid, who seemed to feel the
joyful stir, and gave an order, as if again on the deck of his lost

It was soon over; and then all were safely aboard the good Urania,
homeward bound. Emil saw his friends in tender hands, his men among
their mates, and told the story of the wreck before he thought of
himself. The savoury odour of the soup, carried by to the cabin for the
ladies, reminded him that he was starving, and a sudden stagger
betrayed his weakness. He was instantly borne away, to be half killed by
kindness, and being fed, clothed, and comforted, was left to rest. Just
as the surgeon left the state-room, he asked in his broken voice: ‘What
day is this? My head is so confused, I’ve lost my reckoning.’

‘Thanksgiving Day, man! And we’ll give you a regular New England dinner,
if you’ll eat it,’ answered the surgeon heartily.

But Emil was too spent to do anything, except lie still and give thanks,
more fervently and gratefully than ever before, for the blessed gift of
life, which was the sweeter for a sense of duty faithfully performed.


Where was Dan? In prison. Alas for Mrs Jo! how her heart would have
ached if she had known that while old Plum shone with Christmas cheer
her boy sat alone in his cell, trying to read the little book she
gave him, with eyes dimmed now and then by the hot tears no physical
suffering had ever wrung from him, and longing with a homesick heart for
all that he had lost.

Yes, Dan was in prison; but no cry for help from him as he faced the
terrible strait he was in with the dumb despair of an Indian at the
stake; for his own bosom sin had brought him there, and this was to
be the bitter lesson that tamed the lawless spirit and taught him

The story of his downfall is soon told; for it came, as so often
happens, just when he felt unusually full of high hopes, good
resolutions, and dreams of a better life. On his journey he met a
pleasant young fellow, and naturally felt an interest in him, as
Blair was on his way to join his elder brothers on a ranch in Kansas.
Card-playing was going on in the smoking-car, and the lad--for he was
barely twenty--tired with the long journey, beguiled the way with such
partners as appeared, being full of spirits, and a little intoxicated
with the freedom of the West. Dan, true to his promise, would not join,
but watched with intense interest the games that went on, and soon made
up his mind that two of the men were sharpers anxious to fleece the boy,
who had imprudently displayed a well-filled pocket-book. Dan always had
a soft spot in his heart for any younger, weaker creature whom he met,
and something about the lad reminded him of Teddy; so he kept an eye on
Blair, and warned him against his new friends.

Vainly, of course; for when all stopped overnight in one of the great
cities, Dan missed the boy from the hotel whither he had taken him
for safe-keeping; and learning who had come for him, went to find him,
calling himself a fool for his pains, yet unable to leave the confiding
boy to the dangers that surrounded him.

He found him gambling in a low place with the men, who were bound to
have his money; and by the look of relief on Blair’s anxious face when
he saw him Dan knew without words that things were going badly with him,
and he saw the peril too late.

‘I can’t come yet--I’ve lost; it’s not my money; I must get it back, or
I dare not face my brothers,’ whispered the poor lad, when Dan begged
him to get away without further loss. Shame and fear made him desperate;
and he played on, sure that he could recover the money confided to
his care. Seeing Dan’s resolute face, keen eye, and travelled air, the
sharpers were wary, played fair, and let the boy win a little; but they
had no mind to give up their prey, and finding that Dan stood sentinel
at the boy’s back, an ominous glance was exchanged between them, which

‘We must get this fellow out of the way.’

Dan saw it, and was on his guard; for he and Blair were strangers, evil
deeds are easily done in such places, and no tales told. But he would
not desert the boy, and still kept watch of every card till he plainly
detected false play, and boldly said so. High words passed, Dan’s
indignation overcame his prudence; and when the cheat refused to restore
his plunder with insulting words and drawn pistol, Dan’s hot temper
flashed out, and he knocked the man down with a blow that sent him
crashing head first against a stove, to roll senseless and bleeding to
the floor. A wild scene followed, but in the midst of it Dan whispered
to the boy: ‘Get away, and hold your tongue. Don’t mind me.’

Frightened and bewildered, Blair quitted the city at once, leaving Dan
to pass the night in the lock-up, and a few days later to stand in court
charged with manslaughter; for the man was dead. Dan had no friends, and
having once briefly told the story, held his peace, anxious to keep all
knowledge of this sad affair from those at home. He even concealed his
name--giving that of David Kent, as he had done several times before in
emergencies. It was all over very soon; but as there were extenuating
circumstances his sentence was a year in prison, with hard labour.

Dazed by the rapidity with which this horrible change in his life came
upon him, Dan did not fully realize it till the iron door clanged behind
him and he sat alone in a cell as narrow, cold, and silent as a tomb. He
knew that a word would bring Mr Laurie to help and comfort him; but he
could not bear to tell of this disgrace, or see the sorrow and the shame
it would cause the friends who hoped so much for him.

‘No,’ he said, clenching his fist, ‘I’ll let them think me dead first.
I shall be if I am kept here long’; and he sprang up to pace the stone
floor like a caged lion, with a turmoil of wrath and grief, rebellion
and remorse, seething in heart and brain, till he felt as if he should
go mad and beat upon the walls that shut him away from the liberty which
was his life. For days he suffered terribly, then worn out, sank into a
black melancholy sadder to see than his excitement.

The warden of this prison was a rough man who had won the ill will of
all by unnecessary harshness, but the chaplain was full of sympathy, and
did his hard duty faithfully and tenderly. He laboured with poor Dan,
but seemed to make no impression, and was forced to wait till work had
soothed the excited nerves and captivity tamed the proud spirit that
would suffer but not complain.

Dan was put in the brush-shop, and feeling that activity was his only
salvation, worked with a feverish energy that soon won the approval of
the master and the envy of less skilful mates. Day after day he sat in
his place, watched by an armed overseer, forbidden any but necessary
words, no intercourse with the men beside him, no change but from cell
to shop, no exercise but the dreary marches to and fro, each man’s hand
on the other’s shoulder keeping step with the dreary tramp so different
from the ringing tread of soldiers. Silent, gaunt, and grim, Dan did his
daily task, ate his bitter bread, and obeyed commands with a rebellious
flash of the eye, that made the warden say:

‘That’s a dangerous man. Watch him. He’ll break out some day.’

There were others more dangerous than he, because older in crime
and ready for any desperate outbreak to change the monotony of long
sentences. These men soon divined Dan’s mood, and in the mysterious way
convicts invent, managed to convey to him before a month was over
that plans were being made for a mutiny at the first opportunity.
Thanksgiving Day was one of the few chances for them to speak together
as they enjoyed an hour of freedom in the prison yard. Then all would
be settled and the rash attempt made if possible, probably to end in
bloodshed and defeat for most, but liberty for a few. Dan had already
planned his own escape and bided his time, growing more and more moody,
fierce, and rebellious, as loss of liberty wore upon soul and body; for
this sudden change from his free, healthy life to such a narrow, gloomy,
and miserable one, could not but have a terrible effect upon one of
Dan’s temperament and age.

He brooded over his ruined life, gave up all his happy hopes and plans,
felt that he could never face dear old Plumfield again, or touch those
friendly hands, with the stain of blood upon his own. He did not care
for the wretched man whom he had killed, for such a life was better
ended, he thought; but the disgrace of prison would never be wiped out
of his memory, though the cropped hair would grow again, the grey suit
easily be replaced, and the bolts and bars left far behind.

‘It’s all over with me; I’ve spoilt my life, now let it go. I’ll give up
the fight and get what pleasure I can anywhere, anyhow. They shall think
me dead and so still care for me, but never know what I am. Poor Mother
Bhaer! she tried to help me, but it’s no use; the firebrand can’t be

And dropping his head in his hands as he sat on his low bed, Dan would
mourn over all he had lost in tearless misery, till merciful sleep would
comfort him with dreams of the happy days when the boys played together,
or those still later and happier ones when all smiled on him, and
Plumfield seemed to have gained a new and curious charm.

There was one poor fellow in Dan’s shop whose fate was harder than his,
for his sentence expired in the spring, but there was little hope of his
living till that time; and the coldest-hearted man pitied poor Mason as
he sat coughing his life away in that close place and counting the weary
days yet to pass before he could see his wife and little child again.
There was some hope that he might be pardoned out, but he had no friends
to bestir themselves in the matter, and it was evident that the great
Judge’s pardon would soon end his patient pain for ever.

Dan pitied him more than he dared to show, and this one tender emotion
in that dark time was like the little flower that sprung up between the
stones of the prison yard and saved the captive from despair, in the
beautiful old story. Dan helped Mason with his work when he was too
feeble to finish his task, and the grateful look that thanked him was
a ray of sunshine to cheer his cell when he was alone. Mason envied the
splendid health of his neighbour, and mourned to see it wasting there.
He was a peaceful soul and tried, as far as a whispered word or warning
glance could do it, to deter Dan from joining the ‘bad lot’, as the
rebels were called. But having turned his face from the light, Dan found
the downward way easy, and took a grim satisfaction in the prospect of
a general outbreak during which he might revenge himself upon the
tyrannical warden, and strike a blow for his own liberty, feeling that
an hour of insurrection would be a welcome vent for the pent-up passions
that tormented him. He had tamed many a wild animal, but his own lawless
spirit was too much for him, till he found the curb that made him master
of himself.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, as he sat in chapel, Dan observed
several guests in the seats reserved for them, and looked anxiously
to see if any familiar face was there; for he had a mortal fear that
someone from home would suddenly confront him. No, all were strangers,
and he soon forgot them in listening to the chaplain’s cheerful words,
and the sad singing of many heavy hearts. People often spoke to the
convicts, so it caused no surprise when, on being invited to address
them, one of the ladies rose and said she would tell them a little
story; which announcement caused the younger listeners to pack up their
ears, and even the older ones to look interested; for any change in
their monotonous life was welcome.

The speaker was a middle-aged woman in black, with a sympathetic face,
eyes full of compassion, and a voice that seemed to warm the heart,
because of certain motherly tones in it. She reminded Dan of Mrs Jo, and
he listened intently to every word, feeling that each was meant for him,
because by chance, they came at the moment when he needed a softening
memory to break up the ice of despair which was blighting all the good
impulses of his nature.

It was a very simple little story, but it caught the men’s attention at
once, being about two soldiers in a hospital during the late war,
both badly wounded in the right arm, and both anxious to save these
breadwinners and go home unmaimed. One was patient, docile, and
cheerfully obeyed orders, even when told that the arm must go. He
submitted and after much suffering recovered, grateful for life, though
he could fight no more. The other rebelled, would listen to no advice,
and having delayed too long, died a lingering death, bitterly regretting
his folly when it was too late. ‘Now, as all stories should have a
little moral, let me tell you mine,’ added the lady, with a smile, as
she looked at the row of young men before her, sadly wondering what
brought them there.

‘This is a hospital for soldiers wounded in life’s battle; here are sick
souls, weak wills, insane passions, blind consciences, all the ills that
come from broken laws, bringing their inevitable pain and punishment
with them, There is hope and help for every one, for God’s mercy is
infinite and man’s charity is great; but penitence and submission must
come before the cure is possible. Pay the forfeit manfully, for it is
just; but from the suffering and shame wring new strength for a nobler
life. The scar will remain, but it is better for a man to lose both arms
than his soul; and these hard years, instead of being lost, may be made
the most precious of your lives, if they teach you to rule yourselves. O
friends, try to outlive the bitter past, to wash the sin away, and begin
anew. If not for your own sakes, for that of the dear mothers, wives,
and children, who wait and hope so patiently for you. Remember them,
and do not let them love and long in vain. And if there be any here
so forlorn that they have no friend to care for them, never forget the
Father whose arms are always open to receive, forgive, and comfort
His prodigal sons, even at the eleventh hour.’ There the little sermon
ended; but the preacher of it felt that her few hearty words had not
been uttered in vain, for one boy’s head was down, and several faces
wore the softened look which told that a tender memory was touched. Dan
was forced to set his lips to keep them steady, and drop his eyes to
hide the sudden dew that dimmed them when waiting, hoping friends were
spoken of. He was glad to be alone in his cell again, and sat thinking
deeply, instead of trying to forget himself in sleep. It seemed as if
those words were just what he needed to show him where he stood and how
fateful the next few days might be to him. Should he join the ‘bad lot’,
and perhaps add another crime to the one already committed, lengthen the
sentence already so terrible to bear, deliberately turn his back on all
that was good, and mar the future that might yet be redeemed? Or should
he, like the wiser man in the story, submit, bear the just punishment,
try to be better for it; and though the scar would remain, it might
serve as a reminder of a battle not wholly lost, since he had saved his
soul though innocence was gone? Then he would dare go home, perhaps,
confess, and find fresh strength in the pity and consolation of those
who never gave him up.

Good and evil fought for Dan that night as did the angel and the devil
for Sintram, and it was hard to tell whether lawless nature or loving
heart would conquer. Remorse and resentment, shame and sorrow, pride and
passion, made a battle-field of that narrow cell, and the poor fellow
felt as if he had fiercer enemies to fight now than any he had met in
all his wanderings. A little thing turned the scale, as it so often does
in these mysterious hearts of ours, and a touch of sympathy helped Dan
decide the course which would bless or ban his life.

In the dark hour before the dawn, as he lay wakeful on his bed, a ray
of light shone through the bars, the bolts turned softly, and a man came
in. It was the good chaplain, led by the same instinct that brings a
mother to her sick child’s pillow; for long experience as nurse of souls
had taught him to see the signs of hope in the hard faces about him,
and to know when the moment came for a helpful word and the cordial
of sincere prayer that brings such comfort and healing to tried and
troubled hearts. He had been to Dan before at unexpected hours, but
always found him sullen, indifferent, or rebellious, and had gone away
to patiently bide his time. Now it had come; a look of relief was in the
prisoner’s face as the light shone on it, and the sound of a human
voice was strangely comfortable after listening to the whispers of
the passions, doubts, and fears which had haunted the cell for hours,
dismaying Dan by their power, and showing him how much he needed help to
fight the good fight, since he had no armour of his own.

‘Kent, poor Mason has gone. He left a message for you, and I felt
impelled to come and give it now, because I think you were touched by
what we heard today, and in need of the help Mason tried to give you,’
said the chaplain, taking the one seat and fixing his kind eyes on the
grim figure in the bed.

‘Thank you, sir, I’d like to hear it,’ was all Dan’s answer; but he
forgot himself in pity for the poor fellow dead in prison, with no last
look at wife or child.

He went suddenly, but remembered you, and begged me to say these words:
“Tell him not to do it, but to hold on, do his best, and when his time
is out go right to Mary, and she’ll make him welcome for my sake. He’s
got no friends in these parts and will feel lonesome, but a woman’s
always safe and comfortable when a fellow’s down on his luck. Give him
my love and good-bye for he was kind to me, and God will bless him for
it.” Then he died quietly, and tomorrow will go home with God’s pardon,
since man’s came too late.’

Dan said nothing, but laid his arm across his face and lay quite still.
Seeing that the pathetic little message had done its work even better
than he hoped, the chaplain went on, unconscious how soothing his
paternal voice was to the poor prisoner who longed to ‘go home’, but
felt he had forfeited the right.

‘I hope you won’t disappoint this humble friend whose last thought was
for you. I know that there is trouble brewing, and fear that you may be
tempted to lend a hand on the wrong side. Don’t do it, for the plot will
not succeed--it never does--and it would be a pity to spoil your record
which is fair so far. Keep up your courage, my son, and go out at the
year’s end better, not worse, for this hard experience. Remember a
grateful woman waits to welcome and thank you if you have no friends of
your own; if you have, do your best for their sake, and let us ask God
to help you as He only can.’

Then waiting for no answer the good man prayed heartily, and Dan
listened as he never had before; for the lonely hour, the dying message,
the sudden uprising of his better self, made it seem as if some kind
angel had come to save and comfort him. After that night there was a
change in Dan, though no one knew it but the chaplain; for to all the
rest he was the same silent, stern, unsocial fellow as before, and
turning his back on the bad and the good alike, found his only pleasure
in the books his friend brought him. Slowly, as the steadfast drop wears
away the rock, the patient kindness of this man won Dan’s confidence,
and led by him he began to climb out of the Valley of Humiliation
towards the mountains, whence, through the clouds, one can catch
glimpses of the Celestial City whither all true pilgrims sooner or
later turn their wistful eyes and stumbling feet. There were many
back-slidings, many struggles with Giant Despair and fiery Apollyon,
many heavy hours when life did not seem worth living and Mason’s escape
the only hope. But through all, the grasp of a friendly hand, the sound
of a brother’s voice, the unquenchable desire to atone for the past by a
better future, and win the right to see home again, kept poor Dan to his
great task as the old year drew to its end, and the new waited to turn
another leaf in the book whose hardest lesson he was learning now.

At Christmas he yearned so for Plumfield that he devised a way to send a
word of greeting to cheer their anxious hearts, and comfort his own. He
wrote to Mary Mason, who lived in another State, asking her to mail the
letter he enclosed. In it he merely said he was well and busy, had given
up the farm, and had other plans which he would tell later; would not
be home before autumn probably, nor write often, but was all right, and
sent love and merry Christmas to everyone.

Then he took up his solitary life again, and tried to pay his forfeit

Chapter 13. NAT’S NEW YEAR

‘I don’t expect to hear from Emil yet, and Nat writes regularly, but
where is Dan? Only two or three postals since he went. Such an energetic
fellow as he is could buy up all the farms in Kansas by this time,’ said
Mrs Jo one morning when the mail came in and no card or envelope bore
Dan’s dashing hand.

‘He never writes often, you know, but does his work and then comes
home. Months and years seem to mean little to him, and he is probably
prospecting in the wilderness, forgetful of time,’ answered Mr Bhaer,
deep in one of Nat’s long letters from Leipzig.

‘But he promised he would let me know how he got on, and Dan keeps his
word if he can. I’m afraid something has happened to him’; and Mrs Jo
comforted herself by patting Don’s head, as he came at the sound of his
master’s name to look at her with eyes almost human in their wistful

‘Don’t worry, Mum dear, nothing ever happens to the old fellow. He’ll
turn up all right, and come stalking in some day with a gold-mine in one
pocket and a prairie in the other, as jolly as a grig,’ said Ted, who
was in no haste to deliver Octoo to her rightful owner.

‘Perhaps he has gone to Montana and given up the farm plan. He seemed to
like Indians best, I thought’; and Rob went to help his mother with her
pile of letters and his cheerful suggestions.

‘I hope so, it would suit him best. But I am sure he would have told us
his change of plan and sent for some money to work with. No, I feel in
my prophetic bones that something is wrong,’ said Mrs Jo, looking as
solemn as Fate in a breakfast-cap.

‘Then we shall hear; ill news always travels fast. Don’t borrow trouble,
Jo, but hear how well Nat is getting on. I’d no idea the boy would care
for anything but music. My good friend Baumgarten has launched him well,
and it will do him good if he lose not his head. A good lad, but new to
the world, and Leipzig is full of snares for the unwary. Gott be with

The Professor read Nat’s enthusiastic account of certain literary
and musical parties he had been to, the splendours of the opera, the
kindness of his new friends, the delight of studying under such a master
as Bergmann, his hopes of rapid gain, and his great gratitude to those
who had opened this enchanted world to him.

‘That, now, is satisfactory and comfortable. I felt that Nat had
unsuspected power in him before he went away; he was so manly and full
of excellent plans,’ said Mrs Jo, in a satisfied tone.

‘We shall see. He will doubtless get his lesson and be the better for
it. That comes to us all in our young days. I hope it will not be too
hard for our good Jungling,’ answered the Professor, with a wise smile,
remembering his own student life in Germany.

He was right; and Nat was already getting his lesson in life with a
rapidity which would have astonished his friends at home. The manliness
over which Mrs Jo rejoiced was developing in unexpected ways, and quiet
Nat had plunged into the more harmless dissipations of the gay city
with all the ardour of an inexperienced youth taking his first sip of
pleasure. The entire freedom and sense of independence was delicious,
for many benefits began to burden him, and he longed to stand on his
own legs and make his own way. No one knew his past here; and with a
well-stocked wardrobe, a handsome sum at his banker’s, and the best
teacher in Leipzig, he made his debut as a musical young gentleman,
presented by the much-respected Professor Bhaer and the wealthy Mr
Laurence, who had many friends glad to throw open their houses to
his protege. Thanks to these introductions, his fluent German, modest
manners, and undeniable talent, the stranger was cordially welcomed, and
launched at once into a circle which many an ambitious young man strove
in vain to enter.

All this rather turned Nat’s head; and as he sat in the brilliant
opera-house, chatted among the ladies at some select coffee-party, or
whisked an eminent professor’s amiable daughter down the room, trying to
imagine she was Daisy, he often asked himself if this gay fellow could
be the poor homeless little Street musician who once stood waiting in
the rain at the gates of Plumfield. His heart was true, his impulses
good, and his ambitions high; but the weak side of his nature came
uppermost here; vanity led him astray, pleasure intoxicated him, and for
a time he forgot everything but the delights of this new and charming
life. Without meaning to deceive, he allowed people to imagine him a
youth of good family and prospects; he boasted a little of Mr Laurie’s
wealth and influence, of Professor Bhaer’s eminence, and the flourishing
college at which he himself had been educated. Mrs Jo was introduced to
the sentimental Frauleins who read her books, and the charms and virtues
of his own dear Madchen confided to sympathetic mammas. All these boyish
boastings and innocent vanities were duly circulated among the
gossips, and his importance much increased thereby, to his surprise and
gratification, as well as some shame.

But they bore fruit that was bitter in the end; for, finding that he was
considered one of the upper class, it very soon became impossible
for him to live in the humble quarters he had chosen, or to lead the
studious, quiet life planned for him. He met other students, young
officers, and gay fellows of all sorts, and was flattered at being
welcomed among them; though it was a costly pleasure, and often left
a thorn of regret to vex his honest conscience. He was tempted to take
better rooms in a more fashionable street, leaving good Frau Tetzel to
lament his loss, and his artist neighbour, Fraulein Vogelstein, to shake
her grey ringlets and predict his return, a sadder and a wiser man.

The sum placed at his disposal for expenses and such simple pleasures
as his busy life could command seemed a fortune to Nat, though it was
smaller than generous Mr Laurie first proposed. Professor Bhaer wisely
counselled prudence, as Nat was unused to the care of money, and the
good man knew the temptations that a well-filled purse makes possible at
this pleasure-loving age. So Nat enjoyed his handsome little apartment
immensely, and insensibly let many unaccustomed luxuries creep in. He
loved his music and never missed a lesson; but the hours he should
have spent in patient practice were too often wasted at theatre, ball,
beer-garden, or club--doing no harm beyond that waste of precious time,
and money not his own; for he had no vices, and took his recreation like
a gentleman, so far. But slowly a change for the worse was beginning to
show itself, and he felt it. These first steps along the flowery road
were downward, not upward; and the constant sense of disloyalty which
soon began to haunt him made Nat feel, in the few quiet hours he gave
himself, that all was not well with him, spite of the happy whirl in
which he lived.

‘Another month, and then I will be steady,’ he said more than once,
trying to excuse the delay by the fact that all was new to him, that his
friends at home wished him to be happy, and that society was giving him
the polish he needed. But as each month slipped away it grew harder to
escape; he was inevitably drawn on, and it was so easy to drift with
the tide that he deferred the evil day as long as possible. Winter
festivities followed the more wholesome summer pleasures, and Nat found
them more costly; for the hospitable ladies expected some return from
the stranger; and carriages, bouquets, theatre tickets, and all the
little expenses a young man cannot escape at such times, told heavily
on the purse which seemed bottomless at first. Taking Mr Laurie for
his model, Nat became quite a gallant, and was universally liked; for
through all the newly acquired airs and graces the genuine honesty
and simplicity of his character plainly shone, winning confidence and
affection from all who knew him.

Among these was a certain amiable old lady with a musical
daughter--well-born but poor, and very anxious to marry the aforesaid
daughter to some wealthy man. Nat’s little fictions concerning his
prospects and friends charmed the gnadige Frau as much as his music and
devoted manners did the sentimental Minna. Their quiet parlour seemed
homelike and restful to Nat, when tired of gayer scenes; and the
motherly interest of the elder lady was sweet and comfortable to him;
while the tender blue eyes of the pretty girl were always so full of
welcome when he came, of regret when he left, and of admiration when
he played to her, that he found it impossible to keep away from this
attractive spot. He meant no harm, and feared no danger, having confided
to the Frau Mamma that he was betrothed; so he continued to call, little
dreaming what ambitious hopes the old lady cherished, nor the peril
there was in receiving the adoration of a romantic German girl, till it
was too late to spare her pain and himself great regret.

Of course some inkling of these new and agreeable experiences got into
the voluminous letters he never was too gay, too busy, or too tired
to write each week; and while Daisy rejoiced over his happiness and
success, and the boys laughed at the idea of ‘old Chirper coming out as
a society man’, the elders looked sober, and said among themselves:

‘He is going too fast; he must have a word of warning, or trouble may

But Mr Laurie said: ‘Oh, let him have his fling; he’s been dependent and
repressed long enough. He can’t go far with the money he has, and I’ve
no fear of his getting into debt. He’s too timid and too honest to be
reckless. It is his first taste of freedom; let him enjoy it, and he’ll
work the better by and by; I know--and I’m sure I’m right.’

So the warnings were very gentle, and the good people waited anxiously
to hear more of hard study, and less of ‘splendid times’. Daisy
sometimes wondered, with a pang of her faithful heart, if one of the
charming Minnas, Hildegardes, and Lottchens mentioned were not stealing
her Nat away from her; but she never asked, always wrote calmly and
cheerfully, and looked in vain for any hint of change in the letters
that were worn out with much reading.

Month after month slipped away, till the holidays came with gifts, good
wishes, and brilliant festivities. Nat expected to enjoy himself very
much, and did at first; for a German Christmas is a spectacle worth
seeing. But he paid dearly for the abandon with which he threw himself
into the gaieties of that memorable week; and on New Year’s Day the
reckoning came. It seemed as if some malicious fairy had prepared the
surprises that arrived, so unwelcome were they, so magical the change
they wrought, turning his happy world into a scene of desolation and
despair as suddenly as a transformation at the pantomime.

The first came in the morning when, duly armed with costly bouquets
and bon-bons, he went to thank Minna and her mother for the braces
embroidered with forget-me-nots and the silk socks knit by the old
lady’s nimble fingers, which he had found upon his table that day. The
Frau Mamma received him graciously; but when he asked for the daughter
the good lady frankly demanded what his intentions were, adding that
certain gossip which had reached her ear made it necessary for him
to declare himself or come no more, as Minna’s peace must not be

A more panic-stricken youth was seldom seen than Nat as he received this
unexpected demand. He saw too late that his American style of gallantry
had deceived the artless girl, and might be used with terrible effect
by the artful mother, if she chose to do it. Nothing but the truth could
save him, and he had the honour and honesty to tell it faithfully. A
sad scene followed; for Nat was obliged to strip off his fictitious
splendour, confess himself only a poor student, and humbly ask pardon
for the thoughtless freedom with which he had enjoyed their too
confiding hospitality. If he had any doubts of Frau Schomburg’s motives
and desires, they were speedily set at rest by the frankness with which
she showed her disappointment, the vigour with which she scolded him,
and the scorn with which she cast him off when her splendid castles in
the air collapsed.

The sincerity of Nat’s penitence softened her a little and she consented
to a farewell word with Minna, who had listened at the keyhole, and was
produced drenched in tears, to fall on Nat’s bosom, crying: ‘Ah, thou
dear one, never can I forget thee, though my heart is broken!’

This was worse than the scolding; for the stout lady also wept, and it
was only after much German gush and twaddle that he escaped, feeling
like another Werther; while the deserted Lotte consoled herself with the
bonbons, her mother with the more valuable gifts.

The second surprise arrived as he dined with Professor Baumgarten. His
appetite had been effectually taken away by the scene of the morning,
and his spirits received another damper when a fellow student cheerfully
informed him that he was about to go to America, and should make it his
agreeable duty to call on the ‘lieber Herr Professor Bhaer’, to tell
him how gaily his protege was disporting himself at Leipzig. Nat’s heart
died within him as he imagined the effect these glowing tales would have
at Plumfield--not that he had wilfully deceived them, but in his letters
many things were left untold; and when Carlsen added, with a friendly
wink, that he would merely hint at the coming betrothal of the fair
Minna and his ‘heart’s friend’, Nat found himself devoutly hoping that
this other inconvenient heart’s friend might go to the bottom of the sea
before he reached Plumfield to blast all his hopes by these tales of a
mis-spent winter. Collecting his wits, he cautioned Carlsen with what
he flattered himself was Mephistophelian art, and gave him such confused
directions that it would be a miracle if he ever found Professor Bhaer.
But the dinner was spoilt for Nat, and he got away as soon as possible,
to wander disconsolately about the streets, with no heart for the
theatre or the supper he was to share with some gay comrades afterwards.
He comforted himself a little by giving alms to sundry beggars, making
two children happy with gilded gingerbread, and drinking a lonely glass
of beer, in which he toasted his Daisy and wished himself a better year
than the last had been.

Going home at length, he found a third surprise awaiting him in the
shower of bills which had descended upon him like a snowstorm, burying
him in an avalanche of remorse, despair, and self-disgust. These bills
were so many and so large that he was startled and dismayed; for, as
Mr Bhaer wisely predicted, he knew little about the value of money.
It would take every dollar at the bankers to pay them all at once, and
leave him penniless for the next six months, unless he wrote home for
more. He would rather starve than do that; and his first impulse was to
seek help at the gaming-table, whither his new friends had often tempted
him. But he had promised Mr Bhaer to resist what then had seemed an
impossible temptation; and now he would not add another fault to the
list already so long. Borrow he would not, nor beg. What could he do?
For these appalling bills must be paid, and the lessons go on; or his
journey was an ignominious failure. But he must live meantime. And how?
Bowed down with remorse for the folly of these months, he saw too late
whither he was drifting, and for hours paced up and down his pretty
rooms, floundering in a Slough of Despond, with no helping hand to pull
him out--at least he thought so till letters were brought in, and among
fresh bills lay one well-worn envelope with an American stamp in the

Ah, how welcome it was! how eagerly he read the long pages full of
affectionate wishes from all at home! For everyone had sent a line, and
as each familiar name appeared, his eyes grew dimmer and dimmer till, as
he read the last--‘God bless my boy! Mother Bhaer’--he broke down; and
laying his head on his arms, blistered the paper with a rain of tears
that eased his heart and washed away the boyish sins that now lay so
heavy on his conscience.

‘Dear people, how they love and trust me! And how bitterly they would
be disappointed if they knew what a fool I’ve been! I’ll fiddle in the
streets again before I’ll ask for help from them!’ cried Nat, brushing
away the tears of which he was ashamed, although he felt the good they
had done.

Now he seemed to see more clearly what to do; for the helping hand had
been stretched across the sea, and Love, the dear Evangelist, had
lifted him out of the slough and shown him the narrow gate, beyond which
deliverance lay. When the letter had been reread, and one corner where
a daisy was painted, passionately kissed, Nat felt strong enough to face
the worst and conquer it. Every bill should be paid, every salable thing
of his own sold, these costly rooms given up; and once back with
thrifty Frau Tetzel, he would find work of some sort by which to support
himself, as many another student did. He must give up the new friends,
turn his back on the gay life, cease to be a butterfly, and take his
place among the grubs. It was the only honest thing to do, but very hard
for the poor fellow to crush his little vanities, renounce the delights
so dear to the young, own his folly, and step down from his pedestal to
be pitied, laughed at, and forgotten.

It took all Nat’s pride and courage to do this, for his was a sensitive
nature; esteem was very precious to him, failure very bitter, and
nothing but the inborn contempt for meanness and deceit kept him from
asking help or trying to hide his need by some dishonest device. As he
sat alone that night, Mr Bhaer’s words came back to him with curious
clearness, and he saw himself a boy again at Plumfield, punishing his
teacher as a lesson to himself, when timidity had made him lie.

‘He shall not suffer for me again, and I won’t be a sneak if I am a
fool. I’ll go and tell Professor Baumgarten all about it and ask his
advice. I’d rather face a loaded cannon; but it must be done. Then I’ll
sell out, pay my debts, and go back where I belong. Better be an honest
pauper than a jackdaw among peacocks’; and Nat smiled in the midst of
his trouble, as he looked about him at the little elegancies of his
room, remembering what he came from.

He kept his word manfully, and was much comforted to find that his
experience was an old story to the professor, who approved his plan,
thinking wisely that the discipline would be good for him, and was very
kind in offering help and promising to keep the secret of his folly from
his friend Bhaer till Nat had redeemed himself.

The first week of the new year was spent by our prodigal in carrying out
his plan with penitent dispatch, and his birthday found him alone in
the little room high up at Frau Tetzel’s, with nothing of his former
splendour, but sundry unsalable keepsakes from the buxom maidens, who
mourned his absence deeply. His male friends had ridiculed, pitied,
and soon left him alone, with one or two exceptions, who offered their
purses generously and promised to stand by him. He was lonely and
heavy-hearted, and sat brooding over his small fire as he remembered the
last New Year’s Day at Plumfield, when at this hour he was dancing with
his Daisy.

A tap at the door roused him, and with a careless ‘Herein’, he waited
to see who had climbed so far for his sake. It was the good Frau proudly
bearing a tray, on which stood a bottle of wine and an astonishing
cake bedecked with sugar-plums of every hue, and crowned with candles.
Fraulein Vogelstein followed, embracing a blooming rose-tree, above
which her grey curls waved and her friendly face beamed joyfully as she

‘Dear Herr Blak, we bring you greetings and a little gift or two in
honour of this ever-to-be-remembered day. Best wishes! and may the new
year bloom for you as beautifully as we your heart-warm friends desire.’

‘Yes, yes, in truth we do, dear Herr,’ added Frau Tetzel. ‘Eat of this
with-joy-made Kuchen, and drink to the health of the far-away beloved
ones in the good wine.’

Amused, yet touched by the kindness of the good souls, Nat thanked them
both, and made them stay to enjoy the humble feast with him. This they
gladly did, being motherly women full of pity for the dear youth, whose
straits they knew, and having substantial help to offer, as well as kind
words and creature comforts.

Frau Tetzel, with some hesitation, mentioned a friend of hers who,
forced by illness to leave his place in the orchestra of a second-rate
theatre, would gladly offer it to Nat, if he could accept so humble a
position. Blushing and toying with the roses like a shy girl, good old
Vogelstein asked if in his leisure moments he could give English lessons
in the young ladies’ school where she taught painting, adding that a
small but certain salary would be paid him.

Gratefully Nat accepted both offers, finding it less humiliating to be
helped by women than by friends of his own sex. This work would support
him in a frugal way, and certain musical drudgery promised by his master
assured his own teaching. Delighted with the success of their little
plot, these friendly neighbours left him with cheery words, warm
hand-grasps, and faces beaming with feminine satisfaction at the hearty
kiss Nat put on each faded cheek, as the only return he could make for
all their helpful kindness.

It was strange how much brighter the world looked after that; for hope
was a better cordial than the wine, and good resolutions bloomed as
freshly as the little rose-tree that filled the room with fragrance, as
Nat woke the echoes with the dear old airs, finding now as always his
best comforter in music, to whom henceforth he swore to be a more loyal


As it is as impossible for the humble historian of the March family to
write a story without theatricals in it as for our dear Miss Yonge to
get on with less than twelve or fourteen children in her interesting
tales, we will accept the fact, and at once cheer ourselves after
the last afflicting events, by proceeding to the Christmas plays at
Plumfield; for they influence the fate of several of our characters, and
cannot well be skipped.

When the college was built Mr Laurie added a charming little theatre
which not only served for plays, but declamations, lectures, and
concerts. The drop-curtain displayed Apollo with the Muses grouped about
him; and as a compliment to the donor of the hall the artist had given
the god a decided resemblance to our friend, which was considered
a superb joke by everyone else. Home talent furnished stars, stock
company, orchestra, and scene painter; and astonishing performances were
given on this pretty little stage.

Mrs Jo had been trying for some time to produce a play which should
be an improvement upon the adaptations from the French then in vogue,
curious mixtures of fine toilettes, false sentiment, and feeble wit,
with no touch of nature to redeem them. It was easy to plan plays full
of noble speeches and thrilling situations, but very hard to write them;
so she contented herself with a few scenes of humble life in which the
comic and pathetic were mingled; and as she fitted her characters to
her actors, she hoped the little venture would prove that truth and
simplicity had not entirely lost their power to charm. Mr Laurie helped
her, and they called themselves Beaumont and Fletcher, enjoying their
joint labour very much; for Beaumont’s knowledge of dramatic art was
of great use in curbing Fletcher’s too-aspiring pen, and they flattered
themselves that they had produced a neat and effective bit of work as an

All was ready now; and Christmas Day was much enlivened by last
rehearsals, the panics of timid actors, the scramble for forgotten
properties, and the decoration of the theatre. Evergreen and holly from
the woods, blooming plants from the hothouse on Parnassus, and flags of
all nations made it very gay that night in honour of the guests who were
coming, chief among them, Miss Cameron, who kept her promise
faithfully. The orchestra tuned their instruments with unusual care,
the scene-shifters set their stage with lavish elegance, the prompter
heroically took his seat in the stifling nook provided for him, and
the actors dressed with trembling hands that dropped the pins, and
perspiring brows whereon the powder wouldn’t stick. Beaumont and
Fletcher were everywhere, feeling that their literary reputation was
at stake; for sundry friendly critics were invited, and reporters, like
mosquitoes, cannot be excluded from any earthly scene, be it a great
man’s death-bed or a dime museum.

‘Has she come?’ was the question asked by every tongue behind the
curtain; and when Tom, who played an old man, endangered his respectable
legs among the footlights to peep, announced that he saw Miss Cameron’s
handsome head in the place of honour, a thrill pervaded the entire
company, and Josie declared with an excited gasp that she was going to
have stage fright for the first time in her life.

‘I’ll shake you if you do,’ said Mrs Jo, who was in such a wild state
of dishevelment with her varied labours that she might have gone on as
Madge Wildlife, without an additional rag or crazy elf-lock.

‘You’ll have time to get your wits together while we do our piece. We
are old stagers and calm as clocks,’ answered Demi, with a nod towards
Alice, ready in her pretty dress and all her properties at hand.

But both clocks were going rather faster than usual, as heightened
colour, brilliant eyes, and a certain flutter under the laces and velvet
coat betrayed. They were to open the entertainment with a gay little
piece which they had played before and did remarkably well. Alice was
a tall girl, with dark hair and eyes, and a face which intelligence,
health, and a happy heart made beautiful. She was looking her best now,
for the brocades, plumes, and powder of the Marquise became her stately
figure; and Demi in his court suit, with sword, three-cornered hat, and
white wig, made as gallant a Baron as one would wish to see. Josie was
the maid, and looked her part to the life, being as pretty, pert,
and inquisitive as any French soubrette. These three were all the
characters; and the success of the piece depended on the spirit and
skill with which the quickly changing moods of the quarrelsome lovers
were given, their witty speeches made to tell, and by-play suited to the
courtly period in which the scene was laid.

Few would have recognized sober John and studious Alice in the dashing
gentleman and coquettish lady, who kept the audience laughing at their
caprices; while they enjoyed the brilliant costumes, and admired the
ease and grace of the young actors. Josie was a prominent figure in the
plot, as she listened at keyholes, peeped into notes, and popped in and
out at all the most inopportune moments, with her nose in the air, her
hands in her apron-pockets, and curiosity pervading her little figure
from the topmost bow of her jaunty cap to the red heels of her slippers.
All went smoothly; and the capricious Marquise, after tormenting the
devoted Baron to her heart’s content, owned herself conquered in the war
of wits, and was just offering the hand he had fairly won, when a crash
startled them, and a heavily decorated side-scene swayed forward, ready
to fall upon Alice. Demi saw it and sprung before her to catch and hold
it up, standing like a modern Samson with the wall of a house on his
back. The danger was over in a moment, and he was about to utter his
last speech, when the excited young scene-shifter, who had flown up a
ladder to repair the damage, leaned over to whisper ‘All right’, and
release Demi from his spread-eagle attitude: as he did so, a hammer
slipped out of his pocket, to fall upon the upturned face below,
inflicting a smart blow and literally knocking the Baron’s part out of
his head.

‘A quick curtain,’ robbed the audience of a pretty little scene not down
on the bill; for the Marquise flew to staunch the blood with a cry of
alarm: ‘Oh! John, you are hurt! Lean on me’--which John gladly did for a
moment, being a trifle dazed yet quite able to enjoy the tender touch of
the hands busied about him and the anxiety of the face so near his own;
for both told him something which he would have considered cheaply won
by a rain of hammers and the fall of the whole college on his head.

Nan was on the spot in a moment with the case that never left her
pocket; and the wound was neatly plastered up by the time Mrs Jo
arrived, demanding tragically:

‘Is he too much hurt to go on again? If he is, my play is lost!’

‘I’m all the fitter for it, Aunty; for here’s a real instead of a
painted wound. I’ll be ready; don’t worry about me.’ And catching up
his wig, Demi was off, with only a very eloquent look of thanks to the
Marquise, who had spoilt her gloves for his sake, but did not seem to
mind it at all, though they reached above her elbows, and were most

‘How are your nerves, Fletcher?’ asked Mr Laurie as they stood together
during the breathless minute before the last bell rings.

‘About as calm as yours, Beaumont,’ answered Mrs Jo, gesticulating
wildly to Mrs Meg to set her cap straight.

‘Bear up, partner! I’ll stand by you whatever comes!’

‘I feel that it ought to go; for, though it’s a mere trifle, a good deal
of honest work and truth have gone into it. Doesn’t Meg look the picture
of a dear old country woman?’

She certainly did, as she sat in the farmhouse kitchen by a cheery fire,
rocking a cradle and darning stockings, as if she had done nothing else
all her life. Grey hair, skilfully drawn lines on the forehead, and a
plain gown, with cap, little shawl, and check apron, changed her into a
comfortable, motherly creature who found favour the moment the curtain
went up and discovered her rocking, darning, and crooning an old song.
In a short soliloquy about Sam, her boy, who wanted to enlist;
Dolly, her discontented little daughter, who longed for city ease and
pleasures; and poor ‘Elizy’, who had married badly, and came home to
die, bequeathing her baby to her mother, lest its bad father should
claim it, the little story was very simply opened, and made effective
by the real boiling of the kettle on the crane, the ticking of a tall
clock, and the appearance of a pair of blue worsted shoes which
waved fitfully in the air to the soft babble of a baby’s voice. Those
shapeless little shoes won the first applause; and Mr Laurie, forgetting
elegance in satisfaction, whispered to his coadjutor:

‘I thought the baby would fetch them!’

‘If the dear thing won’t squall in the wrong place, we are saved. But
it is risky. Be ready to catch it if all Meg’s cuddlings prove in vain,’
answered Mrs Jo, adding, with a clutch at Mr Laurie’s arm as a haggard
face appeared at the window:

‘Here’s Demi! I hope no one will recognize him when he comes on as the
son. I’ll never forgive you for not doing the villain yourself.’

‘Can’t run the thing and act too. He’s capitally made up, and likes a
bit of melodrama.’

‘This scene ought to have come later; but I wanted to show that the
mother was the heroine as soon as possible. I’m tired of love-sick girls
and runaway wives. We’ll prove that there’s romance in old women also.
Now he’s coming!’

And in slouched a degraded-looking man, shabby, unshaven, and evil-eyed,
trying to assume a masterful air as he dismayed the tranquil old woman
by demanding his child. A powerful scene followed; and Mrs Meg surprised
even those who knew her best by the homely dignity with which she at
first met the man she dreaded; then, as he brutally pressed his claim,
she pleaded with trembling voice and hands to keep the little creature
she had promised the dying mother to protect; and when he turned to
take it by force, quite a thrill went through the house as the old woman
sprung to snatch it from the cradle, and holding it close, defied him in
God’s name to tear it from that sacred refuge. It was really well done;
and the round of applause that greeted the fine tableau of the indignant
old woman, the rosy, blinking baby clinging to her neck, and the daunted
man who dared not execute his evil purpose with such a defender for
helpless innocence, told the excited authors that their first scene was
a hit.

The second was quieter, and introduced Josie as a bonny country lass
setting the supper-table in a bad humour. The pettish way in which she
slapped down the plates, hustled the cups, and cut the big brown loaf,
as she related her girlish trials and ambitions, was capital. Mrs Jo
kept her eye on Miss Cameron, and saw her nod approval several times at
some natural tone or gesture, some good bit of by-play or a quick change
of expression in the young face, which was as variable as an April day.
Her struggle with the toasting-fork made much merriment; so did her
contempt for the brown sugar, and the relish with which she sweetened
her irksome duties by eating it; and when she sat, like Cinderella, on
the hearth, tearfully watching the flames dance on the homely room, a
girlish voice was heard to exclaim impulsively:

‘Poor little thing! she ought to have some fun!’

The old woman enters; and mother and daughter have a pretty scene, in
which the latter coaxes and threatens, kisses and cries, till she wins
the reluctant consent of the former to visit a rich relation in the
city; and from being a little thunder-cloud Dolly becomes bewitchingly
gay and good, as soon as her wilful wish is granted. The poor old soul
has hardly recovered from this trial when the son enters, in army
blue, tells he has enlisted and must go. That is a hard blow; but the
patriotic mother bears it well, and not till the thoughtless young folks
have hastened away to tell their good news elsewhere does she break
down. Then the country kitchen becomes pathetic as the old mother sits
alone mourning over her children, till the grey head is hidden in the
hands as she kneels down by the cradle to weep and pray, with only Baby
to comfort her fond and faithful heart.

Sniffs were audible all through the latter part of this scene; and
when the curtain fell, people were so busy wiping their eyes that for
a moment they forgot to applaud. That silent moment was more flattering
than noise; and as Mrs Jo wiped the real tears off her sister’s
face, she said as solemnly as an unconscious dab of rouge on her nose

‘Meg, you have saved my play! Oh, why aren’t you a real actress, and I a
real playwright?’

‘Don’t gush now, dear, but help me dress Josie; she’s in such a quiver
of excitement, I can’t manage her, and this is her best scene, you

So it was; for her aunt had written it especially for her, and little Jo
was happy in a gorgeous dress, with a train long enough to satisfy her
wildest dreams. The rich relation’s parlour was in festival array, and
the country cousin sails in, looking back at her sweeping flounces with
such artless rapture that no one had the heart to laugh at the pretty
jay in borrowed plumes. She has confidences with herself in the mirror,
from which it is made evident that she had discovered all is not gold
that glitters, and has found greater temptations than those a girlish
love of pleasure, luxury, and flattery bring her. She is sought by a
rich lover; but her honest heart resists the allurements he offers,
and in its innocent perplexity wishes ‘mother’ was there to comfort and

A gay little dance, in which Dora, Nan, Bess, and several of the boys
took part, made a good background for the humble figure of the old woman
in her widow’s bonnet, rusty shawl, big umbrella, and basket. Her naive
astonishment, as she surveys the spectacle, feels the curtains, and
smooths her old gloves during the moment she remains unseen, was very
good; but Josie’s unaffected start when she sees her, and the cry:
‘Why, there’s mother!’ was such a hearty little bit of nature, it hardly
needed the impatient tripping over her train as she ran into the arms
that seemed now to be her nearest refuge.

The lover plays his part; and ripples of merriment greeted the old
woman’s searching questions and blunt answers during the interview which
shows the girl how shallow his love is, and how near she had been to
ruining her life as bitterly as poor ‘Elizy’ did. She gives her answer
frankly, and when they are alone, looks from her own bedizened self
to the shabby dress, work-worn hands, and tender face, crying with a
repentant sob and kiss: ‘Take me home, mother, and keep me safe. I’ve
had enough of this!’

‘That will do you good, Maria; don’t forget it,’ said one lady to her
daughter as the curtain went down; and the girl answered: ‘Well, I’m
sure I don’t see why it’s touching; but it is,’ as she spread her lace
handkerchief to dry.

Tom and Nan came out strong in the next scene; for it was a ward in
an army hospital, and surgeon and nurse went from bed to bed, feeling
pulses, administering doses, and hearing complaints with an energy and
gravity which convulsed the audience. The tragic element, never far from
the comic at such times and places, came in when, while they bandaged
an arm, the doctor told the nurse about an old woman who was searching
through the hospital for her son, after days and nights on battlefields,
through ambulances, and among scenes which would have killed most women.

‘She will be here directly, and I dread her coming, for I’m afraid the
poor lad who has just gone is her boy. I’d rather face a cannon than
these brave women, with their hope and courage and great sorrow,’ says
the surgeon.

‘Ah, these poor mothers break my heart!’ adds the nurse, wiping her eyes
on her big apron; and with the words Mrs Meg came in.

There was the same dress, the basket and umbrella, the rustic speech,
the simple manners; but all were made pathetic by the terrible
experience which had changed the tranquil old woman to that haggard
figure with wild eyes, dusty feet, trembling hands, and an expression of
mingled anguish, resolution, and despair which gave the homely figure
a tragic dignity and power that touched all hearts. A few broken words
told the story of her vain search, and then the sad quest began again.
People held their breath as, led by the nurse, she went from bed to
bed, showing in her face the alternations of hope, dread, and bitter
disappointment as each was passed. On a narrow cot was a long figure
covered with a sheet, and here she paused to lay one hand on her heart
and one on her eyes, as if to gather courage to look at the nameless
dead. Then she drew down the sheet, gave a long shivering sigh of
relief, saying softly:

‘Not my son, thank God! but some mother’s boy.’ And stooping down, she
kissed the cold forehead tenderly.

Somebody sobbed there, and Miss Cameron shook two tears out of her eyes,
anxious to lose no look or gesture as the poor soul, nearly spent with
the long strain, struggled on down the long line. But her search was
happily ended for, as if her voice had roused him from his feverish
sleep, a gaunt, wild-eyed man sat up in his bed, and stretching his arms
to her, cried in a voice that echoed through the room:

‘Mother, mother! I knew you’d come to me!’

She did go to him, with a cry of love and joy that thrilled every
listener, as she gathered him in her arms with the tears and prayers and
blessing such as only a fond and faithful old mother could give.

The last scene was a cheerful contrast to this; for the country kitchen
was bright with Christmas cheer, the wounded hero, with black patch and
crutches well displayed, sat by the fire in the old chair whose familiar
creak was soothing to his ear; pretty Dolly was stirring about, gaily
trimming dresser, settle, high chimney-piece, and old-fashioned cradle
with mistletoe and holly; while the mother rested beside her son, with
that blessed baby on her knee. Refreshed by a nap and nourishment, this
young actor now covered himself with glory by his ecstatic prancings,
incoherent remarks to the audience, and vain attempts to get to the
footlights, as he blinked approvingly at these brilliant toys. It was
good to see Mrs Meg pat him on the back, cuddle the fat legs out of
sight, and appease his vain longings with a lump of sugar, till Baby
embraced her with a grateful ardour that brought him a round of applause
all for his little self.

A sound of singing outside disturbs the happy family, and, after a carol
in the snowy moonlight, a flock of neighbours troop in with Christmas
gifts and greetings. Much by-play made this a lively picture; for Sam’s
sweetheart hovered round him with a tenderness the Marquise did not
show the Baron; and Dolly had a pretty bit under the mistletoe with her
rustic adorer, who looked so like Ham Peggotty in his cowhide boots,
rough jacket, and dark beard and wig, that no one would have recognized
Ted but for the long legs, which no extent of leather could disguise. It
ended with a homely feast, brought by the guests; and as they sat round
the table covered with doughnuts and cheese, pumpkin-pie, and other
delicacies, Sam rises on his crutches to propose the first toast, and
holding up his mug of cider, says, with a salute, and a choke in his
voice: ‘Mother, God bless her!’ All drink it standing, Dolly with her
arm round the old woman’s neck, as she hides her happy tears on her
daughter’s breast; while the irrepressible baby beat rapturously on the
table with a spoon, and crowed audibly as the curtain went down.

They had it up again in a jiffy to get a last look at the group about
that central figure, which was showered with bouquets, to the great
delight of the infant Roscius; till a fat rosebud hit him on the nose,
and produced the much-dreaded squall, which, fortunately, only added to
the fun at that moment.

‘Well, that will do for a beginning,’ said Beaumont, with a sigh of
relief, as the curtain descended for the last time, and the actors
scattered to dress for the closing piece.

‘As an experiment, it is a success. Now we can venture to begin our
great American drama,’ answered Mrs Jo, full of satisfaction and grand
ideas for the famous play--which, we may add, she did not write that
year, owing to various dramatic events in her own family.

The Owlsdark Marbles closed the entertainment, and, being something new,
proved amusing to this very indulgent audience. The gods and goddesses
on Parnassus were displayed in full conclave; and, thanks to Mrs Amy’s
skill in draping and posing, the white wigs and cotton-flannel robes
were classically correct and graceful, though sundry modern additions
somewhat marred the effect, while adding point to the showman’s learned
remarks. Mr Laurie was Professor Owlsdark in cap and gown; and, after
a high-flown introduction, he proceeded to exhibit and explain his
marbles. The first figure was a stately Minerva; but a second glance
produced a laugh, for the words ‘Women’s Rights’ adorned her shield, a
scroll bearing the motto ‘Vote early and often’ hung from the beak of
the owl perched on her lance, and a tiny pestle and mortar ornamented
her helmet. Attention was drawn to the firm mouth, the piercing eye, the
awe-inspiring brow, of the strong-minded woman of antiquity, and some
scathing remarks made upon the degeneracy of her modern sisters who
failed to do their duty. Mercury came next, and was very fine in his
airy attitude, though the winged legs quivered as if it was difficult to
keep the lively god in his place. His restless nature was dilated upon,
his mischievous freaks alluded to, and a very bad character given to
the immortal messenger-boy; which delighted his friends and caused
the marble nose of the victim to curl visibly with scorn when derisive
applause greeted a particularly hard hit. A charming little Hebe stood
next, pouring nectar from a silver teapot into a blue china tea-cup. She
also pointed a moral; for the Professor explained that the nectar of old
was the beverage which cheers but does not inebriate, and regretted that
the excessive devotion of American women to this classic brew proved so
harmful, owing to the great development of brain their culture produced.
A touch at modern servants, in contrast to this accomplished table-girl,
made the statue’s cheeks glow under the chalk, and brought her a hearty
round as the audience recognized Dolly and the smart soubrette.

Jove in all his majesty followed, as he and his wife occupied the
central pedestals in the half-circle of immortals. A splendid Jupiter,
with hair well set up off the fine brow, ambrosial beard, silver
thunderbolts in one hand, and a well-worn ferule in the other. A
large stuffed eagle from the museum stood at his feet; and the benign
expression of his august countenance showed that he was in a good
humour--as well he might be, for he was paid some handsome compliments
upon his wise rule, the peaceful state of his kingdom, and the brood
of all-accomplished Pallases that yearly issued from his mighty brain.
Cheers greeted this and other pleasant words, and caused the thunderer
to bow his thanks; for ‘Jove nods’, as everyone knows, and flattery wins
the heart of gods and men.

Mrs Juno, with her peacocks, darning-needle, pen, and cooking-spoon, did
not get off so easily; for the Professor was down on her with all manner
of mirth-provoking accusations, criticisms, and insults even. He alluded
to her domestic infelicity, her meddlesome disposition, sharp tongue,
bad temper, and jealousy, closing, however, with a tribute to her
skill in caring for the wounds and settling the quarrels of belligerent
heroes, as well as her love for youths in Olympus and on earth. Gales of
laughter greeted these hits, varied by hisses from some indignant boys,
who would not bear, even in joke, any disrespect to dear Mother Bhaer,
who, however, enjoyed it all immensely, as the twinkle in her eye and
the irrepressible pucker of her lips betrayed.

A jolly Bacchus astride of his cask took Vulcan’s place, and appeared to
be very comfortable with a beer-mug in one hand, a champagne bottle in
the other, and a garland of grapes on his curly head. He was the text
of a short temperance lecture, aimed directly at a row of smart young
gentlemen who lined the walls of the auditorium. George Cole was seen
to dodge behind a pillar at one point, Dolly nudged his neighbour at
another, and there was laughter all along the line as the Professor
glared at them through his big glasses, and dragged their bacchanalian
orgies to the light and held them up to scorn.

Seeing the execution he had done, the learned man turned to the lovely
Diana, who stood as white and still as the plaster stag beside her, with
sandals, bow, and crescent; quite perfect, and altogether the best piece
of statuary in the show. She was very tenderly treated by the paternal
critic who, merely alluding to her confirmed spinsterhood, fondness for
athletic sports, and oracular powers, gave a graceful little exposition
of true art and passed on to the last figure.

This was Apollo in full fig, his curls skilfully arranged to hide a
well-whitened patch over the eye, his handsome legs correctly poised,
and his gifted fingers about to draw divine music from the silvered
gridiron which was his lyre. His divine attributes were described, as
well as his little follies and failings, among which were his weakness
for photography and flute-playing, his attempts to run a newspaper, and
his fondness for the society of the Muses; which latter slap produced
giggles and blushes among the girl-graduates, and much mirth among the
stricken youths; for misery loves company, and after this they began to

Then, with a ridiculous conclusion, the Professor bowed his thanks;
and after several recalls the curtain fell, but not quickly enough to
conceal Mercury, wildly waving his liberated legs, Hebe dropping her
teapot, Bacchus taking a lovely roll on his barrel, and Mrs Juno rapping
the impertinent Owlsdark on the head with Jove’s ruler.

While the audience filed out to supper in the hall, the stage was a
scene of dire confusion as gods and goddesses, farmers and barons,
maids and carpenters, congratulated one another on the success of their
labours. Assuming various costumes, actors and actresses soon joined
their guests, to sip bounteous draughts of praise with their coffee, and
cool their modest blushes with ice-cream. Mrs Meg was a proud and happy
woman when Miss Cameron came to her as she sat by Josie, with Demi
serving both, and said, so cordially that it was impossible to doubt the
sincerity of her welcome words:

‘Mrs Brooke, I no longer wonder where your children get their talent.
I make my compliments to the Baron and next summer you must let me have
little “Dolly” as a pupil when we are at the beach.’

One can easily imagine how this offer was received, as well as the
friendly commendation bestowed by the same kind critic on the work of
Beaumont and Fletcher, who hastened to explain that this trifle was only
an attempt to make nature and art go hand in hand, with little help from
fine writing or imposing scenery. Everybody was in the happiest mood,
especially ‘little Dolly’, who danced like a will-o’-the-wisp with
light-footed Mercury and Apollo as he promenaded with the Marquise on
his arm, who seemed to have left her coquetry in the green room with her

When all was over, Mrs Juno said to Jove, to whose arm she clung as they
trudged home along the snowy paths: ‘Fritz dear, Christmas is a good
time for new resolutions, and I’ve made one never to be impatient or
fretful with my beloved husband again. I know I am, though you won’t own
it; but Laurie’s fun had some truth in it, and I felt hit in a tender
spot. Henceforth I am a model wife, else I don’t deserve the dearest,
best man ever born’; and being in a dramatic mood, Mrs Juno tenderly
embraced her excellent Jove in the moonlight, to the great amusement of
sundry lingerers behind them.

So all three plays might be considered successes, and that merry
Christmas night a memorable one in the March family; for Demi got an
unspoken question answered, Josie’s fondest wish was granted, and,
thanks to Professor Owlsdark’s jest, Mrs Jo made Professor Bhaer’s busy
life quite a bed of roses by the keeping of her resolution. A few days
later she had her reward for this burst of virtue in Dan’s letter, which
set her fears at rest and made her very happy, though she was unable to
tell him so, because he sent her no address.

Chapter 15. WAITING

‘My wife, I have bad news for thee,’ said Professor Bhaer, coming in one
day early in January.

‘Please tell it at once. I can’t bear to wait, Fritz,’ cried Mrs Jo,
dropping her work and standing up as if to take the shot bravely.

‘But we must wait and hope, heart’s-dearest. Come and let us bear it
together. Emil’s ship is lost, and as yet no news of him.’

It was well Mr Bhaer had taken his wife into his strong arms, for she
looked ready to drop, but bore up after a moment, and sitting by her
good man, heard all that there was to tell. Tidings had been sent to the
shipowners at Hamburg by some of the survivors, and telegraphed at once
by Franz to his uncle. As one boat-load was safe, there was hope that
others might also escape, though the gale had sent two to the bottom.
A swift-sailing steamer had brought these scanty news, and happier ones
might come at any hour; but kind Franz had not added that the sailors
reported the captain’s boat as undoubtedly wrecked by the falling mast,
since the smoke hid its escape, and the gale soon drove all far asunder.
But this sad rumour reached Plumfield in time; and deep was the mourning
for the happyhearted Commodore, never to come singing home again. Mrs
Jo refused to believe it, stoutly insisting that Emil would outlive
any storm and yet turn up safe and gay. It was well she clung to this
hopeful view, for poor Mr Bhaer was much afflicted by the loss of his
boy, because his sister’s sons had been his so long he scarcely knew a
different love for his very own. Now was a chance for Mrs Juno to keep
her word; and she did, speaking cheerily of Emil, even when hope waxed
faint and her heart was heavy. If anything could comfort the Bhaers for
the loss of one boy, it would have been the affection and sorrow shown
by all the rest. Franz kept the cable busy with his varying messages,
Nat sent loving letters from Leipzig, and Tom harassed the shipping
agents for news. Even busy Jack wrote them with unusual warmth; Dolly
and George came often, bearing the loveliest flowers and the
daintiest bon-bons to cheer Mrs Bhaer and sweeten Josie’s grief; while
good-hearted Ned travelled all the way from Chicago to press their hands
and say, with a tear in his eye: ‘I was so anxious to hear all about the
dear old boy, I couldn’t keep away.’

‘That’s right comfortable, and shows me that if I didn’t teach my boys
anything else, I did give them the brotherly love that will make them
stand by one another all their lives,’ said Mrs Jo, when he had gone.

Rob answered reams of sympathizing letters, which showed how many
friends they had; and the kindly praises of the lost man would have
made Emil a hero and a saint, had they all been true. The elders bore
it quietly, having learned submission in life’s hard school; but the
younger people rebelled; some hoped against hope and kept up, others
despaired at once, and little Josie, Emil’s pet cousin and playmate, was
so broken-hearted nothing could comfort her. Nan dosed in vain, Daisy’s
cheerful words went by like the wind, and Bess’s devices to amuse her
all failed utterly. To cry in mother’s arms and talk about the wreck,
which haunted her even in her sleep, was all she cared to do; and Mrs
Meg was getting anxious when Miss Cameron sent Josie a kind note bidding
her learn bravely her first lesson in real tragedy, and be like the
self-sacrificing heroines she loved to act. That did the little girl
good, and she made an effort in which Teddy and Octoo helped her much;
for the boy was deeply impressed by this sudden eclipse of the firefly
whose light and life all missed when they were gone, and lured her out
every day for long drives behind the black mare, who shook her silvery
bells till they made such merry music Josie could not help listening to
it, and whisked her over the snowy roads at a pace which set the blood
dancing in her veins and sent her home strengthened and comforted by
sunshine, fresh air, and congenial society--three aids young sufferers
seldom can resist.

As Emil was helping nurse Captain Hardy, safe and well, aboard the ship,
all this sorrow would seem wasted; but it was not, for it drew many
hearts more closely together by a common grief, taught some patience,
some sympathy, some regret for faults that lie heavy on the conscience
when the one sinned against is gone, and all of them the solemn lesson
to be ready when the summons comes. A hush lay over Plumfield for weeks,
and the studious faces on the hill reflected the sadness of those in the
valley. Sacred music sounded from Parnassus to comfort all who heard;
the brown cottage was beseiged with gifts for the little mourner, and
Emil’s flag hung at half-mast on the roof where he last sat with Mrs Jo.

So the weeks went heavily by till suddenly, like a thunderbolt out of a
clear sky, came the news, ‘All safe, letters on the way.’ Then up went
the flag, out rang the college bells, bang went Teddy’s long-unused
cannon, and a chorus of happy voices cried ‘Thank God’, as people went
about, laughing, crying, and embracing one another in a rapture of
delight. By and by the longed-for letters came, and all the story of the
wreck was told; briefly by Emil, eloquently by Mrs Hardy, gratefully by
the captain, while Mary added a few tender words that went straight to
their hearts and seemed the sweetest of all. Never were letters so read,
passed round, admired, and cried over as these; for Mrs Jo carried them
in her pocket when Mr Bhaer did not have them in his, and both took a
look at them when they said their prayers at night. Now the Professor
was heard humming like a big bee again as he went to his classes, and
the lines smoothed out of Mother Bhaer’s forehead, while she wrote this
real story to anxious friends and let her romances wait. Now messages
of congratulation flowed in, and beaming faces showed everywhere. Rob
amazed his parents by producing a poem which was remarkably good for one
of his years, and Demi set it to music that it might be sung when the
sailor boy returned. Teddy stood on his head literally, and tore about
the neighbourhood on Octoo, like a second Paul Revere--only his tidings
were good. But best of all, little Josie lifted up her head as the
snowdrops did, and began to bloom again, growing tall and quiet, with
the shadow of past sorrow to tone down her former vivacity and show
that she had learned a lesson in trying to act well her part on the real
stage, where all have to take their share in the great drama of life.

Now another sort of waiting began; for the travellers were on their way
to Hamburg, and would stay there awhile before coming home, as Uncle
Hermann owned the Brenda, and the captain must report to him. Emil must
remain to Franz’s wedding, deferred till now because of the season of
mourning, so happily ended. These plans were doubly welcome and pleasant
after the troublous times which went before, and no spring ever seemed
so beautiful as this one; for, as Teddy put it:

    ‘Now is the winter of our discontent
     Made glorious by these sons of Bhaer!’

Franz and Emil being regarded in the light of elder brothers by the real
‘sons of Bhaer’.

There was great scrubbing and dusting among the matrons as they set
their houses in order not only for Class Day, but to receive the bride
and groom, who were to come to them for the honeymoon trip. Great plans
were made, gifts prepared, and much joy felt at the prospect of seeing
Franz again; though Emil, who was to accompany them, would be the
greater hero. Little did the dear souls dream what a surprise was in
store for them, as they innocently laid their plans and wished all the
boys could be there to welcome home their eldest and their Casablanca.

While they wait and work so happily, let us see how our other absent
boys are faring as they too wait and work and hope for better days. Nat
was toiling steadily along the path he had wisely chosen, though it was
by no means strewn with flowers--quite thorny was it, in fact, and hard
to travel, after the taste of ease and pleasure he had got when nibbling
at forbidden fruit. But his crop of wild oats was a light one, and he
resolutely reaped what he had sowed, finding some good wheat among
the tares. He taught by day; he fiddled night after night in the dingy
little theatre, and he studied so diligently that his master was well
pleased, and kept him in mind as one to whom preferment was due, if any
chance occurred. Gay friends forgot him; but the old ones stood fast,
and cheered him up when Heimweh and weariness made him sad. As spring
came on things mended--expenses grew less, work pleasanter, and life
more bearable than when wintry storms beat on his thinly clad back, and
frost pinched the toes that patiently trudged in old boots. No debts
burdened him; the year of absence was nearly over; and if he chose to
stay, Herr Bergmann had hopes for him that would bring independence for
a time at least. So he walked under the lindens with a lighter heart,
and in the May evenings went about the city with a band of strolling
students, making music before houses where he used to sit as guest. No
one recognized him in the darkness, though old friends often listened
to the band; and once Minna threw him money, which he humbly received as
part of his penance, being morbid on the subject of his sins.

His reward came sooner than he expected, and was greater than he
deserved, he thought, though his heart leaped with joy when his master
one day informed him that he was chosen, with several other of his most
promising pupils, to join the musical society which was to take part in
the great festival in London the next July. Here was not only honour for
the violinist but happiness for the man, as it brought him nearer home,
and would open a chance of further promotion and profit in his chosen

‘Make thyself useful to Bachmeister there in London with thy English,
and if all goes well with him, he will be glad to take thee to America,
whither he goes in the early autumn for winter concerts. Thou hast done
well these last months, and I have hopes of thee.’

As the great Bergmann seldom praised his pupils, these words filled
Nat’s soul with pride and joy, and he worked yet more diligently than
before to fulfil his master’s prophecy. He thought the trip to England
happiness enough, but found room for more when, early in June, Franz
and Emil paid him a flying visit, bringing all sorts of good news, kind
wishes, and comfortable gifts for the lonely fellow, who could have
fallen on their necks and cried like a girl at seeing his old mates
again. How glad he was to be found in his little room busy at his proper
work, not living like an idle gentleman on borrowed money! How proud
he was to tell his plans, assure them that he had no debts, and receive
their praises for his improvement in music, their respect for his
economy and steadfastness in well-doing! How relieved when, having
honestly confessed his shortcomings, they only laughed, and owned that
they also had known like experiences, and were the wiser for them. He
was to go to the wedding late in June, and join his comrades in London.
As best man, he could not refuse the new suit Franz insisted on ordering
for him; and a cheque from home about that time made him feel like a
millionaire--and a happy one; for this was accompanied by such kind
letters full of delight in his success, he felt that he had earned it,
and waited for his joyful holiday with the impatience of a boy.

Dan meantime was also counting the weeks till August, when he would
be free. But neither marriage-bells nor festival music awaited him; no
friends would greet him as he left the prison; no hopeful prospect lay
before him; no happy home-going was to be his. Yet his success was far
greater than Nat’s, though only God and one good man saw it. It was
a hard-won battle; but he would never have to fight so terrible a
one again; for though enemies would still assail from within and from
without, he had found the little guide-book that Christian carried in
his bosom, and Love, Penitence, and Prayer, the three sweet sisters, had
given him the armour which would keep him safe. He had not learned to
wear it yet, and chafed against it, though he felt its value, thanks to
the faithful friend who had stood by him all that bitter year.

Soon he was to be free again, worn and scarred in the fray, but out
among men in the blessed sun and air. When he thought of it Dan felt as
if he could not wait, but must burst that narrow cell and fly away,
as the caddis-worms he used to watch by the brookside shed their stony
coffins, to climb the ferns and soar into the sky. Night after night he
lulled himself to sleep with planning how, when he had seen Mary Mason
according to his promise, he would steer straight for his old friends,
the Indians, and in the wilderness hide his disgrace and heal his
wounds. Working to save the many would atone for the sin of killing
one, he thought; and the old free life would keep him safe from the
temptations that beset him in cities.

‘By and by, when I’m all right again, and have something to tell that
I’m not ashamed of, I’ll go home,’ he said, with a quicker beat of the
impetuous heart that longed to be there so intensely, he found it as
hard to curb as one of his unbroken horses on the plains. ‘Not yet. I
must get over this first. They’d see and smell and feel the prison taint
on me, if I went now, and I couldn’t look them in the face and hide
the truth. I can’t lose Ted’s love, Mother Bhaer’s confidence, and the
respect of the girls, for they did respect my strength, anyway; but now
they wouldn’t touch me.’ And poor Dan looked with a shudder at the brown
fist he clenched involuntarily as he remembered what it had done since
a certain little white hand had laid in it confidingly. ‘I’ll make ‘em
proud of me yet; and no one shall ever know of this awful year. I can
wipe it out, and I will, so help me God!’ And the clenched hand was held
up as if to take a solemn oath that this lost year should yet be made
good, if resolution and repentance could work the miracle.


Athletic sports were in high favour at Plumfield; and the river where
the old punt used to wabble about with a cargo of small boys, or echo to
the shrill screams of little girls trying to get lilies, now was
alive with boats of all kinds, from the slender wherry to the trim
pleasure-craft, gay with cushions, awnings, and fluttering pennons.
Everyone rowed, and the girls as well as the youths had their races, and
developed their muscles in the most scientific manner. The large, level
meadow near the old willow was now the college playground, and here
baseball battles raged with fury, varied by football, leaping, and
kindred sports fitted to split the fingers, break the ribs, and strain
the backs of the too ambitious participants. The gentler pastimes of the
damsels were at a safe distance from this Champ de Mars; croquet mallets
clicked under the elms that fringed the field, rackets rose and fell
energetically in several tennis-courts, and gates of different heights
were handy to practise the graceful bound by which every girl expected
to save her life some day when the mad bull, which was always coming but
never seemed to arrive, should be bellowing at her heels.

One of these tennis grounds was called ‘Jo’s Court’, and here the little
lady ruled like a queen; for she was fond of the game, and being bent on
developing her small self to the highest degree of perfection, she was
to be found at every leisure moment with some victim hard at it. On a
certain pleasant Saturday afternoon she had been playing with Bess and
beating her; for, though more graceful, the Princess was less active
than her cousin, and cultivated her roses by quieter methods.

‘Oh dear! you are tired, and every blessed boy is at that stupid
baseball match. ‘What shall I do?’ sighed Josie, pushing back the great
red hat she wore, and gazing sadly round her for more worlds to conquer.

‘I’ll play presently, when I’m a little cooler. But it is dull work for
me, as I never win,’ answered Bess, fanning herself with a large leaf.

Josie was about to sit down beside her on the rustic seat and wait, when
her quick eye saw afar off two manly forms arrayed in white flannel;
their blue legs seemed bearing them towards the battle going on in the
distance; but they never reached the fray; for with a cry of joy,
Jo raced away to meet them, bent on securing this heaven-sent
reinforcement. Both paused as she came flying up, and both raised their
hats; but oh, the difference there was in the salutes! The stout youth
pulled his off lazily and put it on again at once, as if glad to get the
duty over; the slender being, with the crimson tie, lifted his with a
graceful bend, and held it aloft while he accosted the rosy, breathless
maid, thus permitting her to see his raven locks smoothly parted, with
one little curl upon the brow. Dolly prided himself upon that bow, and
practised it before his glass, but did not bestow it upon all alike,
regarding it as a work of art, fit only for the fairest and most
favoured of his female admirers; for he was a pretty youth, and fancied
himself an Adonis.

Eager Josie evidently did not appreciate the honour he did her, for with
a nod she begged them both to ‘come along and play tennis, not go and
get all hot and dirty with the boys’. These two adjectives won the day;
for Stuffy was already warmer than he liked to be, and Dolly had on
a new suit which he desired to keep immaculate as long as possible,
conscious that it was very becoming.

‘Charmed to oblige,’ answered the polite one, with another bend.

‘You play, I’ll rest,’ added the fat boy, yearning for repose and gentle
converse with the Princess in the cooling shade.

‘Well, you can comfort Bess, for I’ve beaten her all to bits and she
needs amusing. I know you’ve got something nice in your pocket, George;
give her some, and ‘Dolphus can have her racket. Now then, fly round’;
and driving her prey before her, Josie returned in triumph to the court.

Casting himself ponderously upon the bench, which creaked under his
weight, Stuffy--as we will continue to call him, though no one
else dared to use the old name now--promptly produced the box of
confectionery, without which he never travelled far, and regaled Bess
with candied violets and other dainties, while Dolly worked hard to hold
his own against a most accomplished antagonist. He would have beaten her
if an unlucky stumble, which produced an unsightly stain upon the knee
of those new shorts, had not distracted his mind and made him careless.
Much elated at her victory, Josie permitted him to rest, and offered
ironical consolation for the mishap which evidently weighed upon his

‘Don’t be an old Betty; it can be cleaned. You must have been a cat
in some former state, you are so troubled about dirt; or a tailor, and
lived for clothes.’

‘Come now, don’t hit a fellow when he is down,’ responded Dolly from
the grass where he and Stuffy now lay to make room for both girls on the
seat. One handkerchief was spread under him, and his elbow leaned upon
another, while his eyes were sadly fixed upon the green and brown spot
which afflicted him. ‘I like to be neat; don’t think it civil to cut
about in old shoes and grey flannel shirts before ladies. Our fellows
are gentlemen, and dress as such,’ he added, rather nettled at the
word ‘tailor’; for he owed one of those too attractive persons an
uncomfortably big bill.

‘So are ours; but good clothes alone don’t make a gentleman here. We
require a good deal more,’ flashed Josie, in arms at once to defend
her college. ‘You will hear of some of the men in “old boots and grey
flannel” when you and your fine gentlemen are twiddling your ties and
scenting your hair in obscurity. I like old boots and wear them, and I
hate dandies; don’t you, Bess?’

‘Not when they are kind to me, and belong to our old set,’ answered
Bess, with a nod of thanks to Dolly, who was carefully removing an
inquisitive caterpillar from one of her little russet shoes.

‘I like a lady who is always polite, and doesn’t snap a man’s head off
if he has a mind of his own; don’t you, George?’ asked Dolly, with his
best smile for Bess and a Harvard stare of disapprobation for Josie.

A tranquil snore was Stuffy’s sole reply, and a general laugh restored
peace for the moment. But Josie loved to harass the lords of creation
who asserted themselves too much, and bided her time for another attack
till she had secured more tennis. She got another game; for Dolly was
a sworn knight of dames, so he obeyed her call, leaving Bess to sketch
George as he lay upon his back, his stout legs crossed, and his round
red face partially eclipsed by his hat. Josie got beaten this time and
came back rather cross, so she woke the peaceful sleeper by tickling his
nose with a straw till he sneezed himself into a sitting posture, and
looked wrathfully about for ‘that confounded fly’.

‘Come, sit up and let us have a little elegant conversation; you
“howling swells” ought to improve our minds and manners, for we are
only poor “country girls in dowdy gowns and hats”,’ began the gad-fly,
opening the battle with a sly quotation from one of Dolly’s unfortunate
speeches about certain studious damsels who cared more for books than

‘I didn’t mean you! Your gowns are all right, and those hats the latest
thing out,’ began poor ‘Dolphus, convicting himself by the incautious

‘Caught you that time; I thought you fellows were all gentlemen, civil
as well as nice. But you are always sneering at girls who don’t dress
well and that is a very unmanly thing to do; my mother said so’; and
Josie felt that she had dealt a shrewd blow at the elegant youth who
bowed at many shrines if they were well-decorated ones.

‘Got you there, old boy, and she’s right. You never hear me talk about
clothes and such twaddle,’ said Stuffy, suppressing a yawn, and feeling
for another bon-bon wherewith to refresh himself.

‘You talk about eating, and that is even worse for a man. You will marry
a cook and keep a restaurant some day,’ laughed Josie, down on him at

This fearful prediction kept him silent for several moments; but Dolly
rallied, and wisely changing the subject, carried war into the enemy’s

‘As you wanted us to improve your manners, allow me to say that young
ladies in good society don’t make personal remarks or deliver lectures.
Little girls who are not out do it, and think it witty; but I assure you
it’s not good form.’

Josie paused a moment to recover from the shock of being called ‘a
little girl’, when all the honours of her fourteenth birthday were fresh
upon her; and Bess said, in the lofty tone which was infinitely more
crushing than Jo’s impertinence:

‘That is true; but we have lived all our lives with superior people, so
we have no society talk like your young ladies. We are so accustomed to
sensible conversation, and helping one another by telling our faults,
that we have no gossip to offer you.’

When the Princess reproved, the boys seldom resented it; so Dolly held
his peace, and Josie burst out, following her cousin’s lead, which she
thought a happy one:

‘Our boys like to have us talk with them, and take kindly any hints we
give. They don’t think they know everything and are quite perfect at
eighteen, as I’ve observed the Harvard men do, especially the very young

Josie took immense satisfaction in that return shot; and Dolly showed
that he was hit, by the nettled tone in which he answered, with a
supercilious glance at the hot, dusty, and noisy crowd on the baseball
ground: ‘The class of fellows you have here need all the polish and
culture you can give them; and I’m glad they get it. Our men are largely
from the best families all over the country, so we don’t need girls to
teach us anything.’

‘It’s a pity you don’t have more of such “fellows” as ours. They value
and use well what college gives them, and aren’t satisfied to slip
through, getting all the fun they can and shirking the work. Oh, I’ve
heard you “men” talk, and heard your fathers say they wish they hadn’t
wasted time and money just that you might say you’d been through
college. As for the girls, you’ll be much better off in all ways when
they do get in, and keep you lazy things up to the mark, as we do here.’

‘If you have such a poor opinion of us, why do you wear our colour?’
asked Dolly, painfully conscious that he was not improving the
advantages his Alma Mater offered him, but bound to defend her.

‘I don’t; my hat is scarlet, not crimson. Much you know about a colour,’
scoffed Josie.

‘I know that a cross cow would soon set you scampering, if you flaunted
that red tile under her nose,’ retorted Dolly.

‘I’m ready for her. Can your fine young ladies do this? or you either?’
and burning to display her latest accomplishment, Josie ran to the
nearest gate, put one hand on the top rail, and vaulted over as lightly
as a bird.

Bess shook her head, and Stuffy languidly applauded; but Dolly scorning
to be braved by a girl, took a flying leap and landed on his feet beside
Josie, saying calmly: ‘Can you do that?’

‘Not yet; but I will by and by.’

As his foe looked a little crestfallen, Dolly relented, and affably
added sundry feats of a like nature, quite unconscious that he had
fallen into a dreadful snare; for the dull red paint on the gate, not
being used to such vigorous handling, came off in streaks upon his
shoulders when he turned a backward swing and came up smiling, to be
rewarded with the aggravating remark:

‘If you want to know what crimson is, look at your back; it’s nicely
stamped on and won’t wash out, I think.’

‘The deuce it won’t!’ cried Dolly, trying to get an impossible view, and
giving it up in great disgust.

‘I guess we’d better be going, Dolf,’ said peaceable Stuffy, feeling
that it would be wise to retreat before another skirmish took place, as
his side seemed to be getting the worst of it.

‘Don’t hurry, I beg; stay and rest; you must need it after the
tremendous amount of brain work you’ve done this week. It is time for
our Greek. Come, Bess. Good afternoon, gentlemen.’ And, with a sweeping
courtesy, Josie led the way, with her hat belligerently cocked up, and
her racket borne like a triumphal banner over one shoulder; for having
had the last word, she felt that she could retire with the honours of

Dolly gave Bess his best bow, with the chill on; and Stuffy subsided
luxuriously, with his legs in the air, murmuring in a dreamy tone:

‘Little Jo is as cross as two sticks today. I’m going in for another
nap: too hot to play anything.’

‘So it is. Wonder if Spitfire was right about these beastly spots?’
And Dolly sat down to try dry cleansing with one of his handkerchiefs.
‘Asleep?’ he asked, after a few moments of this cheerful occupation,
fearing that his chum might be too comfortable when he was in a fume

‘No. I was thinking that Jo wasn’t far wrong about shirking. ‘Tis a
shame to get so little done, when we ought to be grinding like Morton
and Torry and that lot. I never wanted to go to college; but my governor
made me. Much good it will do either of us!’ answered Stuffy, with a
groan; for he hated work, and saw two more long years of it before him.

‘Gives a man prestige, you know. No need to dig. I mean to have a gay
old time, and be a “howling swell”, if I choose. Between you and me
though, it would be no end jolly to have the girls along. Study be
hanged! But if we’ve got to turn the grindstone, it would be mighty nice
to have some of the little dears to lend a hand. Wouldn’t it now?’

‘I’d like three this minute--one to fan me, one to kiss me, and one
to give me some iced lemonade!’ sighed Stuffy, with a yearning glance
towards the house, whence no succour appeared.

‘How would root-beer do?’ asked a voice behind them, which made Dolly
spring to his feet and Stuffy roll over like a startled porpoise.

Sitting on the stile that crossed the wall near by was Mrs Jo, with two
jugs slung over her shoulder by a strap, several tin mugs in her hand,
and an old-fashioned sun-bonnet on her head.

‘I knew the boys would be killing themselves with ice-water; so I
strolled down with some of my good, wholesome beer. They drank like
fishes. But Silas was with me; so my cruse still holds out. Have some?’

‘Yes, thanks, very much. Let us pour it.’ And Dolly held the cup while
Stuffy joyfully filled it; both very grateful, but rather afraid she had
heard what went before the wish she fulfilled.

She proved that she had by saying, as they stood drinking her health,
while she sat between them, looking like a middle-aged vivandiere, with
her jugs and mugs:

‘I was glad to hear you say you would like to have girls at your
college; but I hope you will learn to speak more respectfully of them
before they come; for that will be the first lesson they will teach

‘Really, ma’am, I was only joking,’ began Stuffy, gulping down his beer
in a hurry.

‘So was I. I’m sure I--I’m devoted to ‘em,’ stuttered Dolly,
panic-stricken; for he saw that he was in for a lecture of some sort.

‘Not in the right way. Frivolous girls may like to be called “little
dears” and things of that sort; but the girls who love study wish to be
treated like reasonable beings, not dolls to flirt with. Yes, I’m going
to preach; that’s my business; so stand up and take it like men.’

Mrs Jo laughed; but she was in earnest; for by various hints and signs
during the past winter she knew that the boys were beginning to ‘see
life’ in the way she especially disapproved. Both were far from home,
had money enough to waste, and were as inexperienced, curious, and
credulous as most lads of their age. Not fond of books, therefore
without the safeguard which keeps many studious fellows out of harm; one
self-indulgent, indolent, and so used to luxury that pampering of the
senses was an easy thing; the other vain, as all comely boys are, full
of conceit, and so eager to find favour in the eyes of his comrades
that he was ready for anything which would secure it. These traits and
foibles made both peculiarly liable to the temptations which assail
pleasure-loving and weak-willed boys. Mrs Jo knew them well, and had
dropped many a warning word since they went to college; but till lately
they seemed not to understand some of her friendly hints; now she was
sure they would, and meant to speak out: for long experience with boys
made her both bold and skilful in handling some of the dangers usually
left to silence, till it is too late for anything but pity and reproach.

‘I’m going to talk to you like a mother, because yours are far away; and
there are things that mothers can manage best, if they do their duty,’
she solemnly began from the depths of the sunbonnet.

‘Great Scott! We’re in for it now!’ thought Dolly, in secret dismay;
while Stuffy got the first blow by trying to sustain himself with
another mug of beer.

‘That won’t hurt you; but I must warn you about drinking other things,
George. Overeating is an old story; and a few more fits of illness will
teach you to be wise. But drinking is a more serious thing, and leads
to worse harm than any that can afflict your body alone. I hear you
talk about wines as if you knew them and cared more for them than a
boy should; and several times I’ve heard jokes that meant mischief. For
heaven’s sake, don’t begin to play with this dangerous taste “for fun”,
as you say, or because it’s the fashion, and the other fellows do. Stop
at once, and learn that temperance in all things is the only safe rule.’

‘Upon my honour, I only take wine and iron. I need a tonic, mother
says, to repair the waste of brain-tissue while I’m studying,’ protested
Stuffy, putting down the mug as if it burnt his fingers.

‘Good beef and oatmeal will repair your tissues much better than any
tonic of that sort. Work and plain fare are what you want; and I wish
I had you here for a few months out of harm’s way. I’d Banting you, and
fit you to run without puffing, and get on without four or five meals a
day. What an absurd hand that is for a man! You ought to be ashamed
of it!’ And Mrs Jo caught up the plump fist, with deep dimples at each
knuckle, which was fumbling distressfully at the buckle of the belt girt
about a waist far too large for a youth of his age.

‘I can’t help it--we all grow fat; it’s in the family,’ said Stuffy in

‘All the more reason you should live carefully. Do you want to die
early, or be an invalid all your life?’

‘No, ma’am!’

Stuffy looked so scared that Mrs Jo could not be hard upon his budding
sins, for they lay at his overindulgent mother’s door line in a great
measure; so she softened the tone of her voice, and added, with a little
slap on the fat hand, as she used to do when it was small enough to
pilfer lumps of sugar from her bowl:

‘Then be careful; for a man writes his character in his face; and you
don’t want gluttony and intemperance in yours, I know.’

‘I’m sure I don’t! Please make out a wholesome bill of fare, and I’ll
stick to it, if I can. I am getting stout, and I don’t like it; and my
liver’s torpid, and I have palpitations and headache. Overwork, mother
says; but it may be overeating.’ And Stuffy gave a sigh of mingled
regret for the good things he renounced, and relief as he finished
loosening his belt as soon as his hand was free.

‘I will; follow it, and in a year you’ll be a man and not a meal-bag.
Now, Dolly’; and Mrs Jo turned to the other culprit, who shook in his
shoes and wished he hadn’t come.

‘Are you studying French as industriously as you were last winter?’

‘No ma’am; I don’t care for it--that is, I, I’m busy with G-Greek just
now,’ answered Dolly, beginning bravely, quite in the dark as to what
that odd question meant till a sudden memory made him stutter and look
at his shoes with deep interest.

‘Oh, he doesn’t study it; only reads French novels and goes to the
theatre when the opera bouffe is here,’ said Stuffy, innocently
confirming Mrs Jo’s suspicions.

‘So I understood; and that is what I want to speak about. Ted had a
sudden desire to learn French in that way, from something you said,
Dolly; so I went myself, and was quite satisfied that it was no place
for a decent boy. Your men were out in full force; and I was glad to
see that some of the younger ones looked as ashamed as I felt. The older
fellows enjoyed it, and when we came out were waiting to take those
painted girls to supper. Did you ever go with them?’


‘Did you like it?’

‘No ‘m; I--I came away early,’ stammered Dolly, with a face as red as
his splendid tie.

‘I’m glad you have not lost the grace of blushing yet; but you will
soon, if you keep up this sort of study and forget to be ashamed. The
society of such women will unfit you for that of good ones, and lead you
into trouble and sin and shame. Oh, why don’t the city fathers stop that
evil thing, when they know the harm it does? It made my heart ache to
see those boys, who ought to be at home and in their beds, going off for
a night of riot which would help to ruin some of them for ever.’

The youths looked scared at Mrs Jo’s energetic protest against one of
the fashionable pleasures of the day, and waited in conscience-stricken
silence--Stuffy glad that he never went to those gay suppers, and
Dolly deeply grateful that he ‘came away early’. With a hand on either
shoulder, and all the terrors smoothed from her brow, Mrs Jo went on
in her most motherly tone, anxious to do for them what no other woman
would, and do it kindly:

‘My dear boys, if I didn’t love you, I would not say these things. I
know they are not pleasant; but my conscience won’t let me hold my peace
when a word may keep you from two of the great sins that curse the world
and send so many young men to destruction. You are just beginning to
feel the allurement of them, and soon it will be hard to turn away. Stop
now, I beg of you, and not only save yourselves but help others by
a brave example. Come to me if things worry you; don’t be afraid or
ashamed; I have heard many sadder confessions than any you are ever
likely to bring me, and been able to comfort many poor fellows, gone
wrong for want of a word in time. Do this, and you will be able to
kiss your mothers with clean lips, and by and by have the right to ask
innocent girls to love you.’

‘Yes’m, thank you. I suppose you’re right; but it’s pretty hard work
to toe the mark when ladies give you wine and gentlemen take their
daughters to see Aimee,’ said Dolly, foreseeing tribulations ahead
though he knew it was time to ‘pull up’.

‘So it is; but all the more honour to those who are brave and wise
enough to resist public opinion, and the easy-going morals of bad or
careless men and women. Think of the persons whom you respect most, and
in imitating them you will secure the respect of those who look up to
you. I’d rather my boys should be laughed at and cold-shouldered by a
hundred foolish fellows than lose what, once gone, no power can give
them back--innocence and self-respect. I don’t wonder you find it
“hard to toe the mark”, when books, pictures, ball-rooms, theatres, and
streets offer temptations; yet you can resist, if you try. Last winter
Mrs Brooke used to worry about John’s being out so late reporting; but
when she spoke to him about the things he must see and hear on his way
to and fro from the office at midnight, he said in his sober way, “I
know what you mean, mother; but no fellow need to go wrong unless he
wants to.”

‘That’s like the Deacon!’ exclaimed Stuffy, with an approving smile on
his fat face.

‘I’m glad you told me that. He’s right; and it’s because he doesn’t want
to go wrong we all respect him so,’ added Dolly, looking up now with
an expression which assured his Mentor that the right string had been
touched, and a spirit of emulation roused, more helpful, perhaps, than
any words of hers. Seeing this, she was satisfied, and said, as she
prepared to leave the bar before which her culprits had been tried and
found guilty, but recommended to mercy:

‘Then be to others what John is to you--a good example. Forgive me for
troubling you, my dear lads, and remember my little preachment. I think
it will do you good, though I may never know it. Chance words spoken
in kindness often help amazingly; and that’s what old people are here
for--else their experience is of little use. Now, come and find the
young folk. I hope I shall never have to shut the gates of Plumfield
upon you, as I have on some of your “gentlemen”. I mean to keep my
boys and girls safe if I can, and this a wholesome place where the good
old-fashioned virtues are lived and taught.’

Much impressed by that dire threat, Dolly helped her from her perch with
deep respect; and Stuffy relieved her of her empty jugs, solemnly vowing
to abstain from all fermented beverages except root-beer, as long
as feeble flesh could hold out. Of course they made light of ‘Mother
Bhaer’s lecture’ when they were alone--that was to be expected of ‘men
of our class’ but in their secret souls they thanked her for giving
their boyish consciences a jog, and more than once afterward had cause
to remember gratefully that half-hour in the tennis court.


Although this story is about Jo’s boys, her girls cannot be neglected,
because they held a high place in this little republic, and especial
care was taken to fit them to play their parts worthily in the great
republic which offered them wider opportunities and more serious duties.
To many the social influence was the better part of the training
they received; for education is not confined to books, and the finest
characters often graduate from no college, but make experience their
master, and life their book. Others cared only for the mental culture,
and were in danger of over-studying, under the delusion which pervades
New England that learning must be had at all costs, forgetting that
health and real wisdom are better. A third class of ambitious girls
hardly knew what they wanted, but were hungry for whatever could fit
them to face the world and earn a living, being driven by necessity,
the urgency of some half-conscious talent, or the restlessness of
strong young natures to break away from the narrow life which no longer

At Plumfield all found something to help them; for the growing
institution had not yet made its rules as fixed as the laws of the
Medes and Persians, and believed so heartily in the right of all
sexes, colours, creeds, and ranks to education, that there was room
for everyone who knocked, and a welcome to the shabby youths from up
country, the eager girls from the West, the awkward freedman or woman
from the South, or the well-born student whose poverty made this college
a possibility when other doors were barred. There still was prejudice,
ridicule, neglect in high places, and prophecies of failure to contend
against; but the Faculty was composed of cheerful, hopeful men and women
who had seen greater reforms spring from smaller roots, and after stormy
seasons blossom beautifully, to add prosperity and honour to the nation.
So they worked on steadily and bided their time, full of increasing
faith in their attempt as year after year their numbers grew, their
plans succeeded, and the sense of usefulness in this most vital of all
professions blessed them with its sweet rewards.

Among the various customs which had very naturally sprung up was one
especially useful and interesting to ‘the girls’, as the young women
liked to be called. It all grew out of the old sewing hour still kept up
by the three sisters long after the little work-boxes had expanded into
big baskets full of household mending. They were busy women, yet on
Saturdays they tried to meet in one of the three sewing-rooms; for
even classic Parnassus had its nook where Mrs Amy often sat among her
servants, teaching them to make and mend, thereby giving them a respect
for economy, since the rich lady did not scorn to darn her hose, and sew
on buttons. In these household retreats, with books and work, and their
daughters by them, they read and sewed and talked in the sweet privacy
that domestic women love, and can make so helpful by a wise mixture of
cooks and chemistry, table linen and theology, prosaic duties and good

Mrs Meg was the first to propose enlarging this little circle; for as
she went her motherly rounds among the young women she found a sad lack
of order, skill, and industry in this branch of education. Latin, Greek,
the higher mathematics, and science of all sorts prospered finely; but
the dust gathered on the work-baskets, frayed elbows went unheeded, and
some of the blue stockings sadly needed mending. Anxious lest the usual
sneer at learned women should apply to ‘our girls’, she gently lured two
or three of the most untidy to her house, and made the hour so pleasant,
the lesson so kindly, that they took the hint, were grateful for the
favour, and asked to come again. Others soon begged to make the detested
weekly duty lighter by joining the party, and soon it was a privilege
so much desired that the old museum was refitted with sewing-machines,
tables, rocking-chair, and a cheerful fireplace, so that, rain or shine,
the needles might go on undisturbed.

Here Mrs Meg was in her glory, and stood wielding her big shears like a
queen as she cut out white work, fitted dresses, and directed Daisy, her
special aide, about the trimming of hats, and completing the lace and
ribbon trifles which add grace to the simplest costume and save poor
or busy girls so much money and time. Mrs Amy contributed taste, and
decided the great question of colours and complexions; for few women,
even the most learned, are without that desire to look well which makes
many a plain face comely, as well as many a pretty one ugly for want of
skill and knowledge of the fitness of things. She also took her turn to
provide books for the readings, and as art was her forte she gave them
selections from Ruskin, Hamerton, and Mrs Jameson, who is never old.
Bess read these aloud as her contribution, and Josie took her turn at
the romances, poetry, and plays her uncles recommended. Mrs Jo gave
little lectures on health, religion, politics, and the various questions
in which all should be interested, with copious extracts from Miss
Cobbe’s Duties of Women, Miss Brackett’s Education of American Girls,
Mrs Duffy’s No Sex in Education, Mrs Woolson’s Dress Reform, and many of
the other excellent books wise women write for their sisters, now that
they are waking up and asking: ‘What shall we do?’

It was curious to see the prejudices melt away as ignorance was
enlightened, indifference change to interest, and intelligent minds
set thinking, while quick wits and lively tongues added spice to the
discussions which inevitably followed. So the feet that wore the neatly
mended hose carried wiser heads than before, the pretty gowns covered
hearts warmed with higher purposes, and the hands that dropped the
thimbles for pens, lexicons, and celestial globes, were better fitted
for life’s work, whether to rock cradles, tend the sick, or help on the
great work of the world.

One day a brisk discussion arose concerning careers for women. Mrs Jo
had read something on the subject and asked each of the dozen girls
sitting about the room, what she intended to do on leaving college.
The answers were as usual: ‘I shall teach, help mother, study medicine,
art,’ etc.; but nearly all ended with:

‘Till I marry.’

‘But if you don’t marry, what then?’ asked Mrs Jo, feeling like a girl
again as she listened to the answers, and watched the thoughtful, gay,
or eager faces.

‘Be old maids, I suppose. Horrid, but inevitable, since there are so
many superfluous women,’ answered a lively lass, too pretty to fear
single blessedness unless she chose it.

‘It is well to consider that fact, and fit yourselves to be useful, not
superfluous women. That class, by the way, is largely made up of widows,
I find; so don’t consider it a slur on maidenhood.’

‘That’s a comfort! Old maids aren’t sneered at half as much as they used
to be, since some of them have grown famous and proved that woman isn’t
a half but a whole human being, and can stand alone.’

‘Don’t like it all the same. We can’t all be like Miss Nightingale, Miss
Phelps, and the rest.’

So what can we do but sit in a corner and look on?’ asked a plain girl
with a dissatisfied expression.

‘Cultivate cheerfulness and content, if nothing else. But there are so
many little odd jobs waiting to be done that nobody need “sit idle and
look on”, unless she chooses,’ said Mrs Meg, with a smile, laying on the
girl’s head the new hat she had just trimmed.

‘Thank you very much. Yes, Mrs Brooke, I see; it’s a little job, but
it makes me neat and happy--and grateful,’ she added, looking up with
brighter eyes as she accepted the labour of love and the lesson as
sweetly as they were given.

‘One of the best and most beloved women I know has been doing odd jobs
for the Lord for years, and will keep at it till her dear hands are
folded in her coffin. All sorts of things she does--picks up neglected
children and puts them in safe homes, saves lost girls, nurses poor
women in trouble, sews, knits, trots, begs, works for the poor day after
day with no reward but the thanks of the needy, the love and honour
of the rich who make Saint Matilda their almoner. That’s a life worth
living; and I think that quiet little woman will get a higher seat in
Heaven than many of those of whom the world has heard.’

‘I know it’s lovely, Mrs Bhaer; but it’s dull for young folks. We do
want a little fun before we buckle to,’ said a Western girl with a
wide-awake face.

‘Have your fun, my dear; but if you must earn your bread, try to make it
sweet with cheerfulness, not bitter with the daily regret that it isn’t
cake. I used to think mine was a very hard fate because I had to amuse
a somewhat fretful old lady; but the books I read in that lonely library
have been of immense use to me since, and the dear old soul bequeathed
me Plumfield for my “cheerful service and affectionate care”. I didn’t
deserve it, but I did use to try to be jolly and kind, and get as
much honey out of duty as I could, thanks to my dear mother’s help and

‘Gracious! if I could earn a place like this, I’d sing all day and be an
angel; but you have to take your chance, and get nothing for your pains,
perhaps. I never do,’ said the Westerner, who had a hard time with small
means and large aspirations.

‘Don’t do it for the reward; but be sure it will come, though not in the
shape you expect. I worked hard for fame and money one winter; but I
got neither, and was much disappointed. A year afterwards I found I had
earned two prizes: skill with my pen, and Professor Bhaer.’

Mrs Jo’s laugh was echoed blithely by the girls, who liked to have these
conversations enlivened by illustrations from life.

‘You are a very lucky woman,’ began the discontented damsel, whose soul
soared above new hats, welcome as they were, but did not quite know
where to steer.

‘Yet her name used to be “Luckless Jo”, and she never had what she
wanted till she had given up hoping for it,’ said Mrs Meg.

‘I’ll give up hoping, then, right away, and see if my wishes will come.
I only want to help my folks, and get a good school.’

‘Take this proverb for your guide: “Get the distaff ready, and the Lord
will send the flax”,’ answered Mrs Jo.

‘We’d better all do that, if we are to be spinsters,’ said the pretty
one, adding gaily, ‘I think I should like it, on the whole--they are so
independent. My Aunt Jenny can do just what she likes, and ask no one’s
leave; but Ma has to consult Pa about everything. Yes, I’ll give you my
chance, Sally, and be a “superfluum”, as Mr Plock says.’

‘You’ll be one of the first to go into bondage, see if you aren’t. Much
obliged, all the same.’

‘Well, I’ll get my distaff ready, and take whatever flax the Fates
send--single, or double-twisted, as the powers please.’

‘That is the right spirit, Nelly. Keep it up, and see how happy life
will be with a brave heart, a willing hand, and plenty to do.’

‘No one objects to plenty of domestic work or fashionable pleasure, I
find; but the minute we begin to study, people tell us we can’t bear it,
and warn us to be very careful. I’ve tried the other things, and got so
tired I came to college; though my people predict nervous exhaustion and
an early death. Do you think there is any danger?’ asked a stately girl,
with an anxious glance at the blooming face reflected in the mirror

‘Are you stronger or weaker than when you came two years ago, Miss

‘Stronger in body, and much happier in mind. I think I was dying of
ennui; but the doctors called it inherited delicacy of constitution.
That is why mamma is so anxious, and I wish not to go too fast.’

‘Don’t worry, my dear; that active brain of yours was starving for good
food; it has plenty now, and plain living suits you better than luxury
and dissipation. It is all nonsense about girls not being able to study
as well as boys. Neither can bear cramming; but with proper care both
are better for it; so enjoy the life your instinct led you to, and we
will prove that wise headwork is a better cure for that sort of delicacy
than tonics, and novels on the sofa, where far too many of our girls
go to wreck nowadays. They burn the candle at both ends; and when they
break down they blame the books, not the balls.’

‘Dr Nan was telling me about a patient of hers who thought she had
heart-complaint, till Nan made her take off her corsets, stopped her
coffee and dancing all night, and made her eat, sleep, walk, and live
regularly for a time; and now she’s a brilliant cure. Common sense
versus custom, Nan said.’

‘I’ve had no headaches since I came here, and can do twice as much
studying as I did at home. It’s the air, I think, and the fun of going
ahead of the boys,’ said another girl, tapping her big forehead with
her thimble, as if the lively brain inside was in good working order and
enjoyed the daily gymnastics she gave it.

‘Quality, not quantity, wins the day, you know. Our brains may be
smaller, but I don’t see that they fall short of what is required of
them; and if I’m not mistaken, the largest-headed man in our class is
the dullest,’ said Nelly, with a solemn air which produced a gale of
merriment; for all knew that the young Goliath she mentioned had been
metaphorically slain by this quick-witted David on many a battle-field,
to the great disgust of himself and his mates.

‘Mrs Brooke, do I gauge on the right or the wrong side?’ asked the
best Greek scholar of her class, eyeing a black silk apron with a lost

‘The right, Miss Pierson; and leave a space between the tucks; it looks
prettier so.’

‘I’ll never make another; but it will save my dresses from ink-stains,
so I’m glad I’ve got it’; and the erudite Miss Pierson laboured on,
finding it a harder task than any Greek root she ever dug up.

‘We paper-stainers must learn how to make shields, or we are lost.
I’ll give you a pattern of the pinafore I used to wear in my
“blood-and-thunder days”, as we call them,’ said Mrs Jo, trying to
remember what became of the old tin-kitchen which used to hold her

‘Speaking of writers reminds me that my ambition is to be a George
Eliot, and thrill the world! It must be so splendid to know that one
has such power, and to hear people own that one possesses a “masculine
intellect”! I don’t care for most women’s novels, but hers are immense;
don’t you think so, Mrs Bhaer?’ asked the girl with the big forehead,
and torn braid on her skirt.

‘Yes; but they don’t thrill me as little Charlotte Bronte’s books do.
The brain is there, but the heart seems left out. I admire, but I don’t
love, George Eliot; and her life is far sadder to me than Miss Bronte’s,
because, in spite of the genius, love, and fame, she missed the light
without which no soul is truly great, good, or happy.’

‘Yes’m, I know; but still it’s so romantic and sort of new and
mysterious, and she was great in one sense. Her nerves and dyspepsia do
rather destroy the illusion; but I adore famous people and mean to go
and see all I can scare up in London some day.’

‘You will find some of the best of them busy about just the work I
recommend to you; and if you want to see a great lady, I’ll tell you
that Mrs Laurence means to bring one here today. Lady Abercrombie is
lunching with her, and after seeing the college is to call on us. She
especially wanted to see our sewing-school, as she is interested in
things of this sort, and gets them up at home.’

‘Bless me! I always imagined lords and ladies did nothing but ride round
in a coach and six, go to balls, and be presented to the Queen in cocked
hats, and trains and feathers,’ exclaimed an artless young person from
the wilds of Maine, whither an illustrated paper occasionally wandered.

‘Not at all; Lord Abercrombie is over here studying up our American
prison system, and my lady is busy with the schools--both very
high-born, but the simplest and most sensible people I’ve met this long
time. They are neither of them young nor handsome, and dress plainly;
so don’t expect anything splendid. Mr Laurence was telling me last night
about a friend of his who met my lord in the hall, and owing to a rough
greatcoat and a red face, mistook him for a coachman, and said: “Now,
my man, what do you want here?” Lord Abercrombie mildly mentioned who
he was, and that he had come to dinner. And the poor host was much
afflicted, saying afterward: “Why didn’t he wear his stars and garters?
then a fellow would know he was a lord.”’

The girls laughed again, and a general rustle betrayed that each was
prinking a bit before the titled guest arrived. Even Mrs Jo settled her
collar, and Mrs Meg felt if her cap was right, while Bess shook out
her curls and Josie boldly consulted the glass; for they were women, in
spite of philosophy and philanthropy.

‘Shall we all rise?’ asked one girl, deeply impressed by the impending

‘It would be courteous.’

‘Shall we shake hands?’

‘No, I’ll present you en masse, and your pleasant faces will be
introduction enough.’

‘I wish I’d worn my best dress. Ought to have told us,’ whispered Sally.

‘Won’t my folks be surprised when I tell them we have had a real lady to
call on us?’ said another.

‘Don’t look as if you’d never seen a gentlewoman before, Milly. We are
not all fresh from the wilderness,’ added the stately damsel who, having
Mayflower ancestors, felt that she was the equal of all the crowned
heads of Europe.

‘Hush, she’s coming! Oh, my heart, what a bonnet!’ cried the gay girl in
a stage whisper; and every eye was demurely fixed upon the busy hands as
the door opened to admit Mrs Laurence and her guest.

It was rather a shock to find, after the general introduction was over,
that this daughter of a hundred earls was a stout lady in a plain gown,
and a rather weather-beaten bonnet, with a bag of papers in one hand
and a note-book in the other. But the face was full of benevolence, the
sonorous voice very kind, the genial manners very winning, and about the
whole person an indescribable air of high breeding which made beauty of
no consequence, costume soon forgotten, and the moment memorable to the
keen-eyed girls whom nothing escaped.

A little chat about the rise, growth, and success of this particular
class, and then Mrs Jo led the conversation to the English lady’s
work, anxious to show her pupils how rank dignifies labour, and charity
blesses wealth.

It was good for these girls to hear of the evening-schools supported and
taught by women whom they knew and honoured; of Miss Cobbe’s eloquent
protest winning the protection of the law for abused wives; Mrs Butler
saving the lost; Mrs Taylor, who devoted one room in her historic house
to a library for the servants; Lord Shaftesbury, busy with his new
tenement-houses in the slums of London; of prison reforms; and all the
brave work being done in God’s name by the rich and great for the humble
and the poor. It impressed them more than many quiet home lectures would
have done, and roused an ambition to help when their time should come,
well knowing that even in glorious America there is still plenty to be
done before she is what she should be--truly just, and free, and great.
They were also quick to see that Lady Abercrombie treated all there as
her equals, from stately Mrs Laurence, to little Josie, taking notes
of everything and privately resolving to have some thick-soled English
boots as soon as possible. No one would have guessed that she had a
big house in London, a castle in Wales, and a grand country seat in
Scotland, as she spoke of Parnassus with admiration, Plumfield as a
‘dear old home’, and the college as an honour to all concerned in it.
At that, of course, every head went up a little, and when my lady left,
every hand was ready for the hearty shake the noble Englishwoman gave
them, with words they long remembered:

‘I am very pleased to see this much-neglected branch of a woman’s
education so well conducted here, and I have to thank my friend
Mrs Laurence for one of the most charming pictures I’ve seen in
America--Penelope among her maids.’

A group of smiling faces watched the stout boots trudge away, respectful
glances followed the shabby bonnet till it was out of sight, and the
girls felt a truer respect for their titled guest than if she had come
in the coach and six, with all her diamonds on.

‘I feel better about the “odd jobs” now. I only wish I could do them as
well as Lady Abercrombie does,’ said one.

‘I thanked my stars my buttonholes were nice, for she looked at them and
said: “Quite workmanlike, upon my word,” added another, feeling that her
gingham gown had come to honour.

‘Her manners were as sweet and kind as Mrs Brooke’s. Not a bit stiff or
condescending, as I expected. I see now what you meant, Mrs Bhaer, when
you said once that well-bred people were the same all the world over.’

Mrs Meg bowed her thanks for the compliment, and Mrs Bhaer said:

‘I know them when I see them, but never shall be a model of deportment
myself. I’m glad you enjoyed the little visit. Now, if you young people
don’t want England to get ahead of us in many ways, you must bestir
yourselves and keep abreast; for our sisters are in earnest, you see,
and don’t waste time worrying about their sphere, but make it wherever
duty calls them.’

‘We will do our best, ma’am,’ answered the girls heartily, and trooped
away with their work-baskets, feeling that though they might never be
Harriet Martineaus, Elizabeth Brownings, or George Eliots, they might
become noble, useful, and independent women, and earn for themselves
some sweet title from the grateful lips of the poor, better than any a
queen could bestow.

Chapter 18. CLASS DAY

The clerk of the weather evidently has a regard for young people, and
sends sunshine for class days as often as he can. An especially lovely
one shone over Plumfield as this interesting anniversary came round,
bringing the usual accompaniments of roses, strawberries, white-gowned
girls, beaming youths, proud friends, and stately dignitaries full of
well-earned satisfaction with the yearly harvest. As Laurence College
was a mixed one, the presence of young women as students gave to the
occasion a grace and animation entirely wanting where the picturesque
half of creation appear merely as spectators. The hands that turned the
pages of wise books also possessed the skill to decorate the hall with
flowers; eyes tired with study shone with hospitable warmth on the
assembling guests; and under the white muslins beat hearts as full of
ambition, hope, and courage as those agitating the broadcloth of the
ruling sex.

College Hill, Parnassus, and old Plum swarmed with cheery faces, as
guests, students, and professors hurried to and fro in the pleasant
excitement of arriving and receiving. Everyone was welcomed cordially,
whether he rolled up in a fine carriage, or trudged afoot to see the
good son or daughter come to honour on the happy day that rewarded
many a mutual sacrifice. Mr Laurie and his wife were on the reception
committee, and their lovely house was overflowing. Mrs Meg, with Daisy
and Jo as aides, was in demand among the girls, helping on belated
toilettes, giving an eye to spreads, and directing the decorations. Mrs
Jo had her hands full as President’s lady, and the mother of Ted; for it
took all the power and skill of that energetic woman to get her son into
his Sunday best.

Not that he objected to be well arrayed; far from it; he adored good
clothes, and owing to his great height already revelled in a dress-suit,
bequeathed him by a dandy friend. The effect was very funny; but he
would wear it in spite of the jeers of his mates, and sighed vainly for
a beaver, because his stern parent drew the line there. He pleaded that
English lads of ten wore them and were ‘no end nobby’; but his mother
only answered, with a consoling pat of the yellow mane:

‘My child, you are absurd enough now; if I let you add a tall hat,
Plumfield wouldn’t hold either of us, such would be the scorn and
derision of all beholders. Content yourself with looking like the ghost
of a waiter, and don’t ask for the most ridiculous head-gear in the
known world.’

Denied this noble badge of manhood, Ted soothed his wounded soul by
appearing in collars of an amazing height and stiffness, and ties which
were the wonder of all female eyes. This freak was a sort of vengeance
on his hard-hearted mother; for the collars drove the laundress to
despair, never being just right, and the ties required such art in
the tying that three women sometimes laboured long before--like Beau
Brummel--he turned from a heap of ‘failures’ with the welcome words:
‘That will do.’ Rob was devoted on these trying occasions, his own
toilet being distinguished only by its speed, simplicity, and neatness.
Ted was usually in a frenzy before he was suited, and roars, whistles,
commands, and groans were heard from the den wherein the Lion raged and
the Lamb patiently toiled. Mrs Jo bore it till boots were hurled and a
rain of hair-brushes set in, then, fearing for the safety of her eldest,
she would go to the rescue, and by a wise mixture of fun and authority
finally succeed in persuading Ted that he was ‘a thing of beauty’,
if not ‘a joy for ever’. At last he would stalk majestically forth,
imprisoned in collars compared to which those worn by Dickens’s
afflicted Biler were trifles not worth mentioning. The dresscoat was
a little loose in the shoulders, but allowed a noble expanse of glossy
bosom to be seen, and with a delicate handkerchief negligently drooping
at the proper angle, had a truly fine effect. Boots that shone,
and likewise pinched, appeared at one end of the ‘long, black
clothes-pin’--as Josie called him---and a youthful but solemn face at
the other, carried at an angle which, if long continued, would have
resulted in spinal curvature. Light gloves, a cane, and--oh, bitter drop
in the cup of joy!--an ignominious straw hat, not to mention a choice
floweret in the buttonhole, and a festoon of watchguard below, finished
off this impressive boy.

‘How’s that for style?’ he asked, appearing to his mother and cousins
whom he was to escort to the hall on this particular occasion.

A shout of laughter greeted him, followed by exclamations of horror;
for he had artfully added the little blond moustache he often wore when
acting. It was very becoming, and seemed the only balm to heal the wound
made by the loss of the beloved hat.

‘Take it off this moment, you audacious boy! What would your father say
to such a prank on this day when we must all behave our best?’ said Mrs
Jo, trying to frown, but privately thinking that among the many youths
about her none were so beautiful and original as her long son.

‘Let him wear it, Aunty; it’s so becoming. No one will ever guess he
isn’t eighteen at least,’ cried Josie, to whom disguise of any sort was
always charming.

‘Father won’t observe it; he’ll be absorbed in his big-wigs and the
girls. No matter if he does, he’ll enjoy the joke and introduce me as
his oldest son. Rob is nowhere when I’m in full fig’; and Ted took the
stage with a tragic stalk, like Hamlet in a tail-coat and choker.

‘My son, obey me!’ and when Mrs Jo spoke in that tone her word was
law. Later, however, the moustache appeared, and many strangers firmly
believed that there were three young Bhaers. So Ted found one ray of joy
to light his gloom.

Mr Bhaer was a proud and happy man when, at the appointed hour, he
looked down upon the parterre of youthful faces before him, thinking of
the ‘little gardens’ in which he had hopefully and faithfully sowed good
seed years ago, and from which this beautiful harvest seemed to have
sprung. Mr March’s fine old face shone with the serenest satisfaction,
for this was the dream of his life fulfilled after patient waiting; and
the love and reverence in the countenances of the eager young men and
women looking up at him plainly showed that the reward he coveted was
his in fullest measure. Laurie always effaced himself on these occasions
as much as courtesy would permit; for everyone spoke gratefully in ode,
poem, and oration of the founder of the college and noble dispenser of
his beneficence. The three sisters beamed with pride as they sat among
the ladies, enjoying, as only women can, the honour done the men
they loved; while ‘the original Plums’, as the younger ones called
themselves, regarded the whole affair as their work, receiving the
curious, admiring, or envious glances of strangers with a mixture of
dignity and delight rather comical to behold.

The music was excellent, and well it might be when Apollo waved the
baton. The poems were--as usual on such occasions--of varied excellence,
as the youthful speakers tried to put old truths into new words, and
made them forceful by the enthusiasm of their earnest faces and fresh
voices. It was beautiful to see the eager interest with which the girls
listened to some brilliant brother-student, and applauded him with a
rustle as of wind over a bed of flowers. It was still more significant
and pleasant to watch the young men’s faces when a slender white figure
stood out against the background of black-coated dignitaries, and with
cheeks that flushed and paled, and lips that trembled till earnest
purpose conquered maiden fear, spoke to them straight out of a woman’s
heart and brain concerning the hopes and doubts, the aspirations and
rewards all must know, desire, and labour for. This clear, sweet voice
seemed to reach and rouse all that was noblest in the souls of these
youths, and to set a seal upon the years of comradeship which made them
sacred and memorable for ever.

Alice Heath’s oration was unanimously pronounced the success of the day;
for without being flowery or sentimental, as is too apt to be the case
with these first efforts of youthful orators, it was earnest, sensible,
and so inspiring that she left the stage in a storm of applause, the
good fellows being as much fired by her stirring appeal to ‘march
shoulder to shoulder’, as if she had chanted the ‘Marseillaise’ then
and there. One young man was so excited that he nearly rushed out of his
seat to receive her as she hastened to hide herself among her mates, who
welcomed her with faces full of tender pride and tearful eye. A prudent
sister detained him, however, and in a moment he was able to listen with
composure to the President’s remarks.

They were worth listening to, for Mr Bhaer spoke like a father to the
children whom he was dismissing to the battle of life; and his tender,
wise, and helpful words lingered in their hearts long after the praise
was forgotten. Then came other exercises peculiar to Plumfield, and the
end. Why the roof did not fly off when the sturdy lungs of the excited
young men pealed out the closing hymn will for ever be a mystery; but
it remained firm, and only the fading garlands vibrated as the waves of
music rolled up and died away, leaving sweet echoes to haunt the place
for another year.

Dinners and spreads consumed the afternoon, and at sunset came a slight
lull as everyone sought some brief repose before the festivities of the
evening began. The President’s reception was one of the enjoyable things
in store, also dancing on Parnassus, and as much strolling, singing, and
flirting, as could be compressed into a few hours by youths and maidens
just out of school.

Carriages were rolling about, and gay groups on piazzas, lawns, and
window-seats idly speculated as to who the distinguished guests might
be. The appearance of a very dusty vehicle loaded with trunks at Mr
Bhaer’s hospitably open door caused much curious comment among the
loungers, especially as two rather foreign-looking gentlemen sprang out,
followed by two young ladies, all four being greeted with cries of joy
and much embracing by the Bhaers. Then they all disappeared into the
house, the luggage followed, and the watchers were left to wonder who
the mysterious strangers were, till a fair collegian declared that they
must be the Professor’s nephews, one of whom was expected on his wedding

She was right; Franz proudly presented his blonde and buxom bride, and
she was hardly kissed and blessed when Emil led up his bonny English
Mary, with the rapturous announcement:

‘Uncle, Aunt Jo, here’s another daughter! Have you room for my wife,

There could be no doubt of that; and Mary was with difficulty rescued
from the glad embraces of her new relatives, who, remembering all the
young pair had suffered together, felt that this was the natural and
happy ending of the long voyage so perilously begun.

‘But why not tell us, and let us be ready for two brides instead of
one?’ asked Mrs Jo, looking as usual rather demoralizing in a wrapper
and crimping-pins, having rushed down from her chamber, where she was
preparing for the labours of the evening.

‘Well, I remembered what a good joke you all considered Uncle Laurie’s
marriage, and I thought I’d give you another nice little surprise,’
laughed Emil. ‘I’m off duty, and it seemed best to take advantage of
wind and tide, and come along as convoy to the old boy here. We hoped to
get in last night, but couldn’t fetch it, so here we are in time for the
end of the jollification, anyway.’

‘Ah, my sons, it is too feeling-full to see you both so happy and again
in the old home. I haf no words to outpour my gratitude, and can
only ask of the dear Gott in Himmel to bless and keep you all,’ cried
Professor Bhaer, trying to gather all four into his arms at once, while
tears rolled down his cheeks, and his English failed him.

An April shower cleared the air and relieved the full hearts of the
happy family; then of course everyone began to talk--Franz and Ludmilla
in German with uncle, Emil and Mary with the aunts; and round this group
gathered the young folk, clamouring to hear all about the wreck, and the
rescue, and the homeward voyage. It was a very different story from the
written one; and as they listened to Emil’s graphic words, with Mary’s
soft voice breaking in now and then to add some fact that brought out
the courage, patience, and self-sacrifice he so lightly touched upon, it
became a solemn and pathetic thing to see and hear these happy creatures
tell of that great danger and deliverance.

‘I never hear the patter of rain now that I don’t want to say my
prayers; and as for women, I’d like to take my hat off to every one of
‘em, for they are braver than any man I ever saw,’ said Emil, with the
new gravity that was as becoming to him as the new gentleness with which
he treated everyone.

‘If women are brave, some men are as tender and self-sacrificing as
women. I know one who in the night slipped his share of food into a
girl’s pocket, though starving himself, and sat for hours rocking a sick
man in his arms that he might get a little sleep. No, love, I will tell,
and you must let me!’ cried Mary, holding in both her own the hand he
laid on her lips to silence her.

‘Only did my duty. If that torment had lasted much longer I might
have been as bad as poor Barry and the boatswain. Wasn’t that an awful
night?’ And Emil shuddered as he recalled it.

‘Don’t think of it, dear. Tell about the happy days on the Urania, when
papa grew better and we were all safe and homeward bound,’ said Mary,
with the trusting look and comforting touch which seemed to banish the
dark and recall the bright side of that terrible experience.

Emil cheered up at once, and sitting with his arm about his ‘dear lass’,
in true sailor fashion told the happy ending of the tale.

‘Such a jolly old time as we had at Hamburg! Uncle Hermann couldn’t do
enough for the captain, and while mamma took care of him, Mary looked
after me. I had to go into dock for repairs; fire hurt my eyes, and
watching for a sail and want of sleep made ‘em as hazy as a London fog.
She was pilot and brought me in all right, you see, only I couldn’t part
company, so she came aboard as first mate, and I’m bound straight for
glory now.’

‘Hush! that’s silly, dear,’ whispered Mary, trying in her turn to stop
him, with English shyness about tender topics. But he took the soft hand
in his, and proudly surveying the one ring it wore, went on with the air
of an admiral aboard his flagship.

‘The captain proposed waiting a spell; but I told him we weren’t like
to see any rougher weather than we’d pulled through together, and if we
didn’t know one another after such a year as this, we never should. I
was sure I shouldn’t be worth my pay without this hand on the wheel; so
I had my way, and my brave little woman has shipped for the long voyage.
God bless her!’

‘Shall you really sail with him?’ asked Daisy, admiring her courage, but
shrinking with cat-like horror from the water.

‘I’m not afraid,’ answered Mary, with a loyal smile. ‘I’ve proved my
captain in fair weather and in foul, and if he is ever wrecked again,
I’d rather be with him than waiting and watching ashore.’

‘A true woman, and a born sailor’s wife! You are a happy man, Emil, and
I’m sure this trip will be a prosperous one,’ cried Mrs Jo, delighted
with the briny flavour of this courtship. ‘Oh, my dear boy, I always
felt you’d come back, and when everyone else despaired I never gave up,
but insisted that you were clinging to the main-top jib somewhere on
that dreadful sea’; and Mrs Jo illustrated her faith by grasping Emil
with a truly Pillycoddian gesture.

‘Of course I was!’ answered Emil heartily; ‘and my “main-top jib” in
this case was the thought of what you and Uncle said to me. That kept
me up; and among the million thoughts that came to me during those
long nights none was clearer than the idea of the red strand, you
remember--English navy, and all that. I liked the notion, and resolved
that if a bit of my cable was left afloat, the red stripe should be

‘And it was, my dear, it was! Captain Hardy testifies to that, and here
is your reward’; and Mrs Jo kissed Mary with a maternal tenderness
which betrayed that she liked the English rose better than the blue-eyed
German Kornblumen, sweet and modest though it was.

Emil surveyed the little ceremony with complacency, saying, as he looked
about the room which he never thought to see again: ‘Odd, isn’t it,
how clearly trifles come back to one in times of danger? As we floated
there, half-starved, and in despair, I used to think I heard the bells
ringing here, and Ted tramping downstairs, and you calling, “Boys, boys,
it’s time to get up!” I actually smelt the coffee we used to have,
and one night I nearly cried when I woke from a dream of Asia’s ginger
cookies. I declare, it was one of the bitterest disappointments of my
life to face hunger with that spicy smell in my nostrils. If you’ve got
any, do give me one!’

A pitiful murmur broke from all the aunts and cousins, and Emil was at
once borne away to feast on the desired cookies, a supply always being
on hand. Mrs Jo and her sister joined the other group, glad to hear what
Franz was saying about Nat.

‘The minute I saw how thin and shabby he was, I knew that something was
wrong; but he made light of it, and was so happy over our visit and
news that I let him off with a brief confession, and went to Professor
Baumgarten and Bergmann. From them I learned the whole story of
his spending more money than he ought and trying to atone for it by
unnecessary work and sacrifice. Baumgarten thought it would do him good,
so kept his secret till I came. It did him good, and he’s paid his debts
and earned his bread by the sweat of his brow, like an honest fellow.’

‘I like that much in Nat. It is, as I said, a lesson, and he learns
it well. He proves himself a man, and has deserved the place Bergmann
offers him,’ said Mr Bhaer, looking well pleased as Franz added some
facts already recorded.

‘I told you, Meg, that he had good stuff in him, and love for Daisy
would keep him straight. Dear lad, I wish I had him here this moment!’
cried Mrs Jo, forgetting in delight the doubts and anxieties which had
troubled her for months past.

‘I am very glad, and suppose I shall give in as I always do, especially
now that the epidemic rages so among us. You and Emil have set all their
heads in a ferment, and Josie will be demanding a lover before I can
turn round,’ answered Mrs Meg, in a tone of despair.

But her sister saw that she was touched by Nat’s trials, and hastened
to add the triumphs, that the victory might be complete, for success is
always charming.

‘This offer of Herr Bergmann is a good one, isn’t it?’ she asked, though
Mr Laurie had already satisfied her on that point when Nat’s letter
brought the news.

‘Very fine in every way. Nat will get capital drill in Bachmeister’s
orchestra, see London in a delightful way, and if he suits come home
with them, well started among the violins. No great honour, but a sure
thing and a step up. I congratulated him, and he was very jolly over it,
saying, like the true lover he is: “Tell Daisy; be sure and tell her all
about it.” I’ll leave that to you, Aunt Meg, and you can also break it
gently to her that the old boy had a fine blond beard. Very becoming;
hides his weak mouth, and gives a noble air to his big eyes and
“Mendelssohnian brow”, as a gushing girl called it. Ludmilla has a photo
of it for you.’

This amused them; and they listened to many other interesting bits of
news which kind Franz, even in his own happiness, had not forgotten to
remember for his friend’s sake. He talked so well, and painted Nat’s
patient and pathetic shifts so vividly, that Mrs Meg was half won;
though if she had learned of the Minna episode and the fiddling in
beer-gardens and streets, she might not have relented so soon. She
stored up all she heard, however, and, womanlike, promised herself a
delicious talk with Daisy, in which she would allow herself to melt by
degrees, and perhaps change the doubtful ‘We shall see’ to a cordial ‘He
has done well; be happy, dear’.

In the midst of this agreeable chat the sudden striking of a clock
recalled Mrs Jo from romance to reality, and she exclaimed, with a
clutch at her crimping-pins:

‘My blessed people, you must eat and rest; and I must dress, or receive
in this disgraceful rig. Meg, will you take Ludmilla and Mary upstairs
and see to them? Franz knows the way to the dining-room. Fritz, come
with me and be made tidy, for what with heat and emotion, we are both
perfect wrecks.’

Chapter 19. WHITE ROSES

While the travellers refreshed, and Mrs President struggled into her
best gown, Josie ran into the garden to gather flowers for the brides.
The sudden arrival of these interesting beings had quite enchanted
the romantic girl, and her head was full of heroic rescues, tender
admiration, dramatic situations, and feminine wonder as to whether the
lovely creatures would wear their veils or not. She was standing before
a great bush of white roses, culling the most perfect for the bouquets
which she meant to tie with the ribbon festooned over her arm, and lay
on the toilette tables of the new cousins, as a delicate attention. A
step startled her, and looking up she saw her brother coming down the
path with folded arms, bent head, and the absent air of one absorbed in
deep thought.

‘Sophy Wackles,’ said the sharp child, with a superior smile, as
she sucked her thumb just pricked by a too eager pull at the thorny

‘What are you at here, Mischief?’ asked Demi, with an Irvingesque start,
as he felt rather than saw a disturbing influence in his day-dream.

‘Getting flowers for “our brides”. Don’t you wish you had one?’ answered
Josie, to whom the word ‘mischief’ suggested her favourite amusement.

‘A bride or a flower?’ asked Demi calmly, though he eyed the blooming
bush as if it had a sudden and unusual interest for him.

‘Both; you get the one, and I’ll give you the other.’

‘Wish I could!’ and Demi picked a little bud, with a sigh that went to
Josie’s warm heart.

‘Why don’t you, then? It’s lovely to see people so happy. Now’s a good
time to do it if you ever mean to. She will be going away for ever

‘Who?’ and Demi pulled a half-opened bud, with a sudden colour in his
own face; which sign of confusion delighted little Jo.

‘Don’t be a hypocrite. You know I mean Alice. Now, Jack, I’m fond
of you, and want to help; it’s so interesting--all these lovers and
weddings and things, and we ought to have our share. So you take my
advice and speak up like a man, and make sure of Alice before she goes.’

Demi laughed at the seriousness of the small girl’s advice; but he liked
it, and showed that it suited him by saying blandly, instead of snubbing
her as usual:

‘You are very kind, child. Since you are so wise, could you give me a
hint how I’d better ‘speak up’, as you elegantly express it?’

‘Oh, well, there are various ways, you know. In plays the lovers go down
on their knees; but that’s awkward when they have long legs. Ted never
does it well, though I drill him for hours. You could say, “Be mine,
be mine!” like the old man who threw cucumbers over the wall to Mrs
Nickleby, if you want to be gay and easy; or you could write a poetical
pop. You’ve tried it, I dare say.’

‘But seriously, Jo, I do love Alice, and I think she knows it. I want
to tell her so; but I lose my head when I try, and don’t care to make a
fool of myself. Thought you might suggest some pretty way; you read so
much poetry and are so romantic.’

Demi tried to express himself clearly, but forgot his dignity and his
usual reserve in the sweet perplexity of his love, and asked his little
sister to teach him how to put the question which a single word can
answer. The arrival of his happy cousins had scattered all his wise
plans and brave resolutions to wait still longer. The Christmas play
had given him courage to hope, and the oration today had filled him with
tender pride; but the sight of those blooming brides and beaming grooms
was too much for him, and he panted to secure his Alice without an
hour’s delay. Daisy was his confidante in all things but this; a
brotherly feeling of sympathy had kept him from telling her his hopes,
because her own were forbidden. His mother was rather jealous of any
girl he admired; but knowing that she liked Alice, he loved on and
enjoyed his secret alone, meaning soon to tell her all about it.

Now suddenly Josie and the rose-bush seemed to suggest a speedy end
to his tender perplexities; and he was moved to accept her aid as the
netted lion did that of the mouse.

‘I think I’ll write,’ he was slowly beginning, after a pause during
which both were trying to strike out a new and brilliant idea.

‘I’ve got it! perfectly lovely! just suit her, and you too, being a
poet!’ cried Josie, with a skip.

‘What is it? Don’t be ridiculous, please,’ begged the bashful lover,
eager, but afraid of this sharp-tongued bit of womanhood.

‘I read in one of Miss Edgeworth’s stories about a man who offers three
roses to his lady--a bud, a half-blown, and a full-blown rose. I don’t
remember which she took; but it’s a pretty way; and Alice knows about
it because she was there when we read it. Here are all kinds; you’ve got
the two buds, pick the sweetest rose you can find, and I’ll tie them up
and put them in her room. She is coming to dress with Daisy, so I can do
it nicely.’

Demi mused a moment with his eyes on the bridal bush, and a smile came
over his face so unlike any it had ever worn before, that Josie was
touched, and looked away as if she had no right to see the dawn of the
great passion which, while it lasts, makes a young man as happy as a

‘Do it,’ was all he said, and gathered a full-blown rose to finish his
floral love-message.

Charmed to have a finger in this romantic pie, Josie tied a graceful
bow of ribbon about the stems, and finished her last nosegay with much
content, while Demi wrote upon a card:

DEAR ALICE, You know what the flowers mean. Will you wear one, or all
tonight, and make me still prouder, fonder, and happier than I am?

Yours entirely,


Offering this to his sister, he said in a tone that made her feel the
deep importance of her mission:

‘I trust you, Jo. This means everything to me. No jokes, dear, if you
love me.’

Josie’s answer was a kiss that promised all things; and then she ran
away to do her ‘gentle spiriting’, like Ariel, leaving Demi to dream
among the roses like Ferdinand.

Mary and Ludmilla were charmed with their bouquets; and the giver had
the delight of putting some of the flowers into the dark hair and
the light as she played maid at the toilettes of ‘our brides’, which
consoled her for a disappointment in the matter of veils.

No one helped Alice dress; for Daisy was in the next room with her
mother; and not even their loving eyes saw the welcome which the little
posy received, nor the tears and smiles and blushes that came and went
as she read the note and pondered what answer she should give. There was
no doubt about the one she wished to give; but duty held her back; for
at home there was an invalid mother and an old father. She was needed
there, with all the help she could now bring by the acquirements four
years of faithful study had given her. Love looked very sweet, and a
home of her own with John a little heaven on earth; but not yet. And
she slowly laid away the full-blown rose as she sat before the mirror,
thinking over the great question of her life.

Was it wise and kind to ask him to wait, to bind him by any promise,
or even to put into words the love and honour she felt for him? No; it
would be more generous to make the sacrifice alone, and spare him the
pain of hope deferred. He was young; he would forget; and she would do
her duty better, perhaps, if no impatient lover waited for her. With
eyes that saw but dimly, and a hand that lingered on the stem he had
stripped of thorns, she laid the half-blown flower by the rose, and
asked herself if even the little bud might be worn. It looked very poor
and pale beside the others; yet being in the self-sacrificing mood which
real love brings, she felt that even a small hope was too much to give,
if she could not follow it up with more.

As she sat looking sadly down on the symbols of an affection that grew
dearer every moment, she listened half unconsciously to the murmur of
voices in the adjoining room. Open windows, thin partitions, and the
stillness of summer twilight made it impossible to help hearing, and in
a few moments more she could not refrain; for they were talking of John.

‘So nice of Ludmilla to bring us all bottles of real German cologne!
Just what we need after this tiring day! Be sure John has his! He likes
it so!’

‘Yes, mother. Did you see him jump up when Alice ended her oration?
He’d have gone to her if I hadn’t held him back. I don’t wonder he was
pleased and proud. I spoilt my gloves clapping, and quite forgot my
dislike of seeing women on platforms, she was so earnest and unconscious
and sweet after the first moment.’

‘Has he said anything to you, dear?’

‘No; and I guess why. The kind boy thinks it would make me unhappy. It
wouldn’t. But I know his ways; so I wait, and hope all will go well with

‘It must. No girl in her senses would refuse our John, though he isn’t
rich, and never will be. Daisy, I’ve been longing to tell you what he
did with his money. He told me last night, and I’ve had no time since to
tell you. He sent poor young Barton to the hospital, and kept him there
till his eyes were saved--a costly thing to do. But the man can work now
and care for his old parents. He was in despair, sick and poor, and too
proud to beg; and our dear boy found it out, and took every penny he
had, and never told even his mother till she made him.’

Alice did not hear what Daisy answered, for she was busy with her own
emotions--happy ones now, to judge from the smile that shone in her eyes
and the decided gesture with which she put the little bud in her bosom,
as if she said: ‘He deserves some reward for that good deed, and he
shall have it.’

Mrs Meg was speaking, and still of John, when she could hear again:

‘Some people would call it unwise and reckless, when John has so little;
but I think his first investment a safe and good one, for “he who giveth
to the poor lendeth to the Lord”; and I was so pleased and proud, I
wouldn’t spoil it by offering him a penny.’

‘It is his having nothing to offer that keeps him silent, I think. He
is so honest, he won’t ask till he has much to give. But he forgets that
love is everything. I know he’s rich in that; I see and feel it; and any
woman should be glad to get it.’

‘Right, dear. I felt just so, and was willing to work and wait with and
for my John.’

‘So she will be, and I hope they will find it out. But she is so dutiful
and good, I’m afraid she won’t let herself be happy. You would like it,

‘Heartily; for a better, nobler girl doesn’t live. She is all I want for
my son; and I don’t mean to lose the dear, brave creature if I can help
it. Her heart is big enough for both love and duty; and they can wait
more happily if they do it together--for wait they must, of course.’

‘I’m so glad his choice suits you, mother, and he is spared the saddest
sort of disappointment.’

Daisy’s voice broke there; and a sudden rustle, followed by a soft
murmur, seemed to tell that she was in her mother’s arms, seeking and
finding comfort there.

Alice heard no more, and shut her window with a guilty feeling but a
shining face; for the proverb about listeners failed here, and she had
learned more than she dared to hope. Things seemed to change suddenly;
she felt that her heart was large enough for both love and duty; she
knew now that she would be welcomed by mother and sister; and the memory
of Daisy’s less happy fate, Nat’s weary probation, the long delay,
and possible separation for ever--all came before her so vividly that
prudence seemed cruelty; self-sacrifice, sentimental folly; and anything
but the whole truth, disloyalty to her lover. As she thought thus,
the half-blown rose went to join the bud; and then, after a pause, she
slowly kissed the perfect rose, and added it to the tell-tale group,
saying to herself with a sort of sweet solemnity, as if the words were a

‘I’ll love and work and wait with and for my John.’

It was well for her that Demi was absent when she stole down to join the
guests who soon began to flow through the house in a steady stream.
The new brightness which touched her usually thoughtful face was easily
explained by the congratulations she received as orator, and the slight
agitation observable, when a fresh batch of gentlemen approached soon
passed, as none of them noticed the flowers she wore over a very happy
heart. Demi meantime was escorting certain venerable personages about
the college, and helping his grandfather entertain them with discussion
of the Socratic method of instruction, Pythagoras, Pestalozzi, Froebel,
and the rest, whom he devoutly wished at the bottom of the Red Sea, and
no wonder, for his head and his heart were full of love and roses, hopes
and fears. He piloted the ‘potent, grave, and reverend seigniors’ safely
down to Plumfield at last, and landed them before his uncle and aunt
Bhaer, who were receiving in state, the one full of genuine delight in
all men and things, the other suffering martyrdom with a smile, as she
stood shaking hand after hand, and affecting utter unconsciousness of
the sad fact that ponderous Professor Plock had camped upon the train of
her state and festival velvet gown.

With a long sigh of relief Demi glanced about him for the beloved girl.
Most persons would have looked some time before any particular angel
could be discovered among the white-robed throng in parlours, hall,
and study; but his eye went--like the needle to the pole--to the corner
where a smooth dark head, with its braided crown, rose like a queen’s,
he thought, above the crowd which surrounded her. Yes, she has a flower
at her throat; one, two, oh, blessed sight! he saw it all across the
room, and gave a rapturous sigh which caused Miss Perry’s frizzled crop
to wave with a sudden gust. He did not see the rose, for it was
hidden by a fold of lace; and it was well, perhaps, that bliss came by
instalments, or he might have electrified the assembled multitude by
flying to his idol, there being no Daisy to clutch him by the coat-tail.
A stout lady, thirsting for information, seized him at that thrilling
moment, and he was forced to point out celebrities with a saintly
patience which deserved a better reward than it received; for a certain
absence of mind and incoherence of speech at times caused the ungrateful
dowager to whisper to the first friend she met after he had escaped:

‘I saw no wine at any of the spreads; but it is plain that young Brooke
has had too much. Quite gentlemanly, but evidently a trifle intoxicated,
my dear.’

Ah, so he was! but with a diviner wine than any that ever sparkled at a
class-day lunch, though many collegians know the taste of it; and when
the old lady was disposed of, he gladly turned to find the young one,
bent on having a single word. He saw her standing by the piano now,
idly turning over music as she talked with several gentlemen. Hiding his
impatience under an air of scholastic repose, Demi hovered near, ready
to advance when the happy moment came, wondering meantime why elderly
persons persisted in absorbing young ones instead of sensibly sitting
in corners with their contemporaries. The elderly persons in question
retired at length, but only to be replaced by two impetuous youths who
begged Miss Heath to accompany them to Parnassus and join the dance.
Demi thirsted for their blood, but was appeased by hearing George and
Dolly say, as they lingered a moment after her refusal:

‘Really, you know, I’m quite converted to co-education and almost wish
I’d remained here. It gives a grace to study, a sort of relish even to
Greek to see charming girls at it,’ said Stuffy, who found the feast
of learning so dry, any sauce was welcome; and he felt as if he had
discovered a new one.

‘Yes, by Jove! we fellows will have to look out or you’ll carry off all
the honours. You were superb today, and held us all like magic, though
it was so hot there, I really think I couldn’t have stood it for anyone
else,’ added Dolly, labouring to be gallant and really offering a
touching proof of devotion; for the heat melted his collar, took the
curl out of his hair, and ruined his gloves.

‘There is room for all; and if you will leave us the books, we will
cheerfully yield the baseball, boating, dancing, and flirting, which
seem to be the branches you prefer,’ answered Alice sweetly.

‘Ah, now you are too hard upon us! We can’t grind all the time and you
ladies don’t seem to mind taking a turn at the two latter “branches” you
mention,’ returned Dolly, with a glance at George which plainly said, ‘I
had her there.’

‘Some of us do in our first years. Later we give up childish things, you
see. Don’t let me keep you from Parnassus’; and a smiling nod dismissed
them, smarting under the bitter consciousness of youth.

‘You got it there, Doll. Better not try to fence with these superior
girls. Sure to be routed, horse, foot, and dragoons,’ said Stuffy,
lumbering away, somewhat cross with too many spreads.

‘So deuced sarcastic! Don’t believe she’s much older than we are.
Girls grow up quicker, so she needn’t put on airs and talk like a
grandmother,’ muttered Dolly, feeling that he had sacrificed his kids
upon the altar of an ungrateful Pallas.

‘Come along and let’s find something to eat. I’m faint with so much
talking. Old Plock cornered me and made my head spin with Kant and Hegel
and that lot.’

‘I promised Dora West I’d give her a turn. Must look her up; she’s a
jolly little thing, and doesn’t bother about anything but keeping in

And arm in arm the boys strolled away, leaving Alice to read music as
diligently as if society had indeed no charms for her. As she bent to
turn a page, the eager young man behind the piano saw the rose and was
struck speechless with delight. A moment he gazed, then hastened to
seize the coveted place before a new detachment of bores arrived.

‘Alice, I can’t believe it--did you understand--how shall I ever thank
you?’ murmured Demi, bending as if he, too, read the song, not a note or
word of which did he see, however.

‘Hush! not now. I understood--I don’t deserve it--we are too young, we
must wait, but--I’m very proud and happy, John!’

What would have happened after that tender whisper I tremble to think,
if Tom Bangs had not come bustling up, with the cheerful remark:

‘Music? just the thing. People are thinning out, and we all want a
little refreshment. My brain fairly reels with the ‘ologies and ‘isms
I’ve heard discussed tonight. Yes, give us this; sweet thing! Scotch
songs are always charming.’

Demi glowered; but the obtuse boy never saw it, and Alice, feeling that
this would be a safe vent for sundry unruly emotions, sat down at once,
and sang the song which gave her answer better than she could have done:

                BIDE A WEE

    ‘The puir auld folk at home, ye mind,
    Are frail and failing sair;
    And weel I ken they’d miss me, lad,
    Gin I come hame nae mair.
    The grist is out, the times are hard,
    The kine are only three;
    I canna leave the auld folk now.
    We’d better bide a wee.

    ‘I fear me sair they’re failing baith;
    For when I sit apart,
    They talk o’ Heaven so earnestly,
    It well nigh breaks my heart.
    So, laddie, dinna urge me now,
    It surely winna be;
    I canna leave the auld folk yet.
    We’d better bide a wee.’

The room was very still before the first verse ended; and Alice skipped
the next, fearing she could not get through; for John’s eyes were on
her, showing that he knew she sang for him and let the plaintive little
ballad tell what her reply must be. He took it as she meant it, and
smiled at her so happily that her heart got the better of her voice, and
she rose abruptly, saying something about the heat.

‘Yes, you are tired; come out and rest, my dearest’; and with a
masterful air Demi took her into the starlight, leaving Tom to stare
after them winking as if a sky-rocket had suddenly gone off under his

‘Bless my soul! the Deacon really meant business last summer and never
told me. Won’t Dora laugh?’ And Tom departed in hot haste to impart and
exult over his discovery.

What was said in the garden was never exactly known; but the Brooke
family sat up very late that night, and any curious eye at the window
would have seen Demi receiving the homage of his womankind as he told
his little romance. Josie took great credit to herself in the matter,
insisting that she had made the match; Daisy was full of the sweetest
sympathy and joy, and Mrs Meg so happy that when Jo had gone to dream
of bridal veils, and Demi sat in his room blissfully playing the air of
‘Bide a Wee’, she had her talk about Nat, ending with her arms round her
dutiful daughter and these welcome words as her reward:

‘Wait till Nat comes home, and then my good girl shall wear white roses

Chapter 20. LIFE FOR LIFE

The summer days that followed were full of rest and pleasure for young
and old, as they did the honours of Plumfield to their happy guests.
While Franz and Emil were busy with the affairs of Uncle Hermann and
Captain Hardy, Mary and Ludmilla made friends everywhere; for, though
very unlike, both were excellent and charming girls. Mrs Meg and Daisy
found the German bride a Hausfrau after their own hearts, and had
delightful times learning new dishes, hearing about the semi-yearly
washes and the splendid linen-room at Hamburg, or discussing domestic
life in all its branches. Ludmilla not only taught, but learned, many
things, and went home with many new and useful ideas in her blonde head.

Mary had seen so much of the world that she was unusually lively for
an English girl; while her various accomplishments made her a most
agreeable companion. Much good sense gave her ballast; and the late
experiences of danger and happiness added a sweet gravity at times,
which contrasted well with her natural gaiety. Mrs Jo was quite
satisfied with Emil’s choice, and felt sure this true and tender pilot
would bring him safe to port through fair or stormy weather. She had
feared that Franz would settle down into a comfortable, moneymaking
burgher, and be content with that; but she soon saw that his love of
music and his placid Ludmilla put much poetry into his busy life, and
kept it from being too prosaic. So she felt at rest about these boys,
and enjoyed their visit with real, maternal satisfaction; parting with
them in September most regretfully, yet hopefully, as they sailed away
to the new life that lay before them.

Demi’s engagement was confided to the immediate family only, as both
were pronounced too young to do anything but love and wait. They were
so happy that time seemed to stand still for them, and after a blissful
week they parted bravely--Alice to home duties, with a hope that
sustained and cheered her through many trials; and John to his business,
full of a new ardour which made all things possible when such a reward
was offered.

Daisy rejoiced over them, and was never tired of hearing her brother’s
plans for the future. Her own hope soon made her what she used to be--a
cheery, busy creature, with a smile, kind word, and helping hand for
all; and as she went singing about the house again, her mother felt that
the right remedy for past sadness had been found. The dear Pelican still
had doubts and fears, but kept them wisely to herself, preparing sundry
searching tests to be applied when Nat came home, and keeping a sharp
eye on the letters from London; for some mysterious hint had flown
across the sea, and Daisy’s content seemed reflected in Nat’s present
cheerful state of mind.

Having passed through the Werther period, and tried a little Faust--of
which experience he spoke to his Marguerite as if it had included
an acquaintance with Mephistopheles, Blocksburg, and Auerbach’s
wine-cellar--he now felt that he was a Wilhelm Meister, serving his
apprenticeship to the great masters of life. As she knew the truth of
his small sins and honest repentance, Daisy only smiled at the mixture
of love and philosophy he sent her, knowing that it was impossible for a
young man to live in Germany without catching the German spirit.

‘His heart is all right; and his head will soon grow clear when he gets
out of the fog of tobacco, beer, and metaphysics he’s been living in.
England will wake up his common sense, and good salt air blow his little
follies all away,’ said Mrs Jo, much pleased with the good prospects
of her violinist--whose return was delayed till spring, to his private
regret, but professional advancement.

Josie had a month with Miss Cameron at the seaside, and threw herself
so heartily into the lesson given her that her energy, promise, and
patience laid the foundation of a friendship which was of infinite value
to her in the busy, brilliant years to come; for little Jo’s instincts
were right; and the dramatic talent of the Marches was to blossom by and
by into an actress, virtuous, and beloved.

Tom and his Dora were peacefully ambling altar-ward; for Bangs senior
was so afraid his son would change his mind again and try a third
profession, that he gladly consented to an early marriage, as a sort
of anchor to hold the mercurial Thomas fast. Aforesaid Thomas could not
complain of cold shoulders now; for Dora was a most devoted and adoring
little mate, and made life so pleasant to him that his gift for getting
into scrapes seemed lost, and he bade fair to become a thriving man,
with undeniable talent for the business he had chosen.

‘We shall be married in the autumn, and live with my father for a while.
The governor is getting on, you know, and my wife and I must look after
him. Later we shall have an establishment of our own,’ was a favourite
speech of his about this time, and usually received with smiles; for the
idea of Tommy Bangs at the head of an ‘establishment’ was irresistibly
funny to all who knew him.

Things were in this flourishing condition, and Mrs Jo was beginning to
think her trials were over for that year, when a new excitement came.
Several postal cards had arrived at long intervals from Dan, who gave
them ‘Care of M. Mason, etc.’, as his address. By this means he was
able to gratify his longing for home news, and to send brief messages to
quiet their surprise at his delay in settling. The last one, which came
in September, was dated ‘Montana’, and simply said:

Here at last, trying mining again; but not going to stay long. All sorts
of luck. Gave up the farm idea. Tell plans soon. Well, busy, and very
happy. D. K.

If they had known what the heavy dash under ‘happy’ meant, that postal
would have been a very eloquent bit of pasteboard; for Dan was free,
and had gone straight away to the liberty he panted for. Meeting an old
friend by accident, he obliged him at a pinch by acting as overseer
for a time, finding the society even of rough miners very sweet, and
something in the muscular work wonderfully pleasant, after being cooped
up in the brush-shop so long. He loved to take a pick and wrestle with
rock and earth till he was weary--which was very soon; for that year of
captivity had told upon his splendid physique. He longed to go home, but
waited week after week to get the prison taint off him and the haggard
look out of his face. Meanwhile he made friends of masters and men;
and as no one knew his story, he took his place again in the world
gratefully and gladly--with little pride now, and no plans but to do
some good somewhere, and efface the past.

Mrs Jo was having a grand clearing-out of her desk one October day,
while the rain poured outside, and peace reigned in her mansion. Coming
across the postals, she pondered over them, and then put them carefully
away in the drawer labelled ‘Boys’ Letters’, saying to herself, as she
bundled eleven requests for autographs into the waste-paper basket:

‘It is quite time for another card, unless he is coming to tell his
plans. I’m really curious to know what he has been about all this year,
and how he’s getting on now.’

That last wish was granted within an hour; for Ted came rushing in, with
a newspaper in one hand, a collapsed umbrella in the other, and a face
full of excitement, announcing, all in one breathless jumble:

‘Mine caved in--twenty men shut up--no way out--wives crying--water
rising--Dan knew the old shaft--risked his life--got ‘em out--most
killed--papers full of it--I knew he’d be a hero--hurray for old Dan!’

‘What? Where? When? Who? Stop roaring, and let me read!’ commanded his
mother, entirely bewildered.

Relinquishing the paper, Ted allowed her to read for herself, with
frequent interruptions from him--and Rob, who soon followed, eager
for the tale. It was nothing new; but courage and devotion always stir
generous hearts, and win admiration; so the account was both graphic and
enthusiastic; and the name of Daniel Kean, the brave man who saved the
lives of others at the risk of his own, was on many lips that day. Very
proud were the faces of these friends as they read how their Dan was
the only one who, in the first panic of the accident, remembered the old
shaft that led into the mine--walled up, but the only hope of escape,
if the men could be got out before the rising water drowned them; how he
was lowered down alone, telling the others to keep back till he saw if
it was safe; how he heard the poor fellows picking desperately for their
lives on the other side, and by knocks and calls guided them to the
right spot; then headed the rescue party, and working like a hero, got
the men out in time. On being drawn up last of all, the worn rope broke,
and he had a terrible fall, being much hurt, but was still alive. How
the grateful women kissed his blackened face and bloody hands, as the
men bore him away in triumph, and the owners of the mine promised a
handsome reward, if he lived to receive it!

‘He must live; he shall, and come home to be nursed as soon as he can
stir, if I go and bring him myself! I always knew he’d do something fine
and brave, if he didn’t get shot or hung for some wild prank instead,’
cried Mrs Jo, much excited.

‘Do go, and take me with you, Mum. I ought to be the one, Dan’s so fond
of me and I of him,’ began Ted, feeling that this would be an expedition
after his own heart.

Before his mother could reply, Mr Laurie came in, with almost as much
noise and flurry as Teddy the second, exclaiming as he waved the evening

‘Seen the news, Jo? What do you think? Shall I go off at once, and see
after that brave boy?’

‘I wish you would. But the thing may not be all true--rumour lies so.
Perhaps a few hours will bring an entirely new version of the story.’

‘I’ve telephoned to Demi for all he can find out; and if it’s true, I’ll
go at once. Should like the trip. If he’s able, I’ll bring him home; if
not, I’ll stay and see to him. He’ll pull through. Dan will never die of
a fall on his head. He’s got nine lives, and not lost half of them yet.’

‘If you go, uncle, mayn’t I go with you? I’m just spoiling for a
journey; and it would be such larks to go out there with you, and see
the mines and Dan, and hear all about it, and help. I can nurse. Can’t
I, Rob?’ cried Teddy, in his most wheedlesome tones.

‘Pretty well. But if mother can’t spare you, I’m ready if uncle needs
anyone,’ answered Rob, in his quiet way, looking much fitter for the
trip than excitable Ted.

‘I can’t spare either of you. My boys get into trouble, unless I keep
them close at home. I’ve no right to hold the others; but I won’t let
you out of my sight, or something will happen. Never saw such a year,
with wrecks and weddings and floods and engagements, and every sort of
catastrophe!’ exclaimed Mrs Jo.

‘If you deal in girls and boys, you must expect this sort of thing,
ma’am. The worst is over, I hope, till these lads begin to go off. Then
I’ll stand by you; for you’ll need every kind of support and comfort,
specially if Ted bolts early,’ laughed Mr Laurie, enjoying her

‘I don’t think anything can surprise me now; but I am anxious about
Dan, and feel that someone had better go to him. It’s a rough place out
there, and he may need careful nursing. Poor lad, he seems to get a good
many hard knocks! But perhaps he needs them as “a mellerin’ process”, as
Hannah used to say.’

‘We shall hear from Demi before long, and then I’ll be off.’ With which
cheerful promise Mr Laurie departed; and Ted, finding his mother firm,
soon followed, to coax his uncle to take him.

Further inquiry confirmed and added interest to the news. Mr Laurie was
off at once; and Ted went into town with him, still vainly imploring to
be taken to his Dan. He was absent all day; but his mother said, calmly:

‘Only a fit of the sulks because he is thwarted. He’s safe with Tom or
Demi, and will come home hungry and meek at night. I know him.’

But she soon found that she could still be surprised; for evening
brought no Ted, and no one had seen him. Mr Bhaer was just setting
off to find his lost son, when a telegram arrived, dated at one of the
way-stations on Mr Laurie’s route:

    Found Ted in the cars. Take him along. Write tomorrow.

        T.  LAURENCE

‘Ted bolted sooner than you expected, mother. Never mind--uncle will
take good care of him, and Dan be very glad to see him,’ said Rob, as
Mrs Jo sat, trying to realize that her youngest was actually on his way
to the wild West.

‘Disobedient boy! He shall be severely punished, if I ever get him
again. Laurie winked at this prank; I know he did. Just like him.
Won’t the two rascals have a splendid time? Wish I was with them! Don’t
believe that crazy boy took even a night-gown with him, or an overcoat.
Well, there will be two patients for us to nurse when they get back, if
they ever do. Those reckless express trains always go down precipices,
and burn up, or telescope. Oh! my Ted, my precious boy, how can I let
him go so far away from me?’

And mother-like, Mrs Jo forgot the threatened chastisement in tender
lamentations over the happy scapegrace, now whizzing across the
continent in high feather at the success of his first revolt. Mr Laurie
was much amused at his insisting that those words, ‘when Ted bolts’, put
the idea into his head; and therefore the responsibility rested upon his
shoulders. He assumed it kindly from the moment he came upon the runaway
asleep in a car, with no visible luggage but a bottle of wine for Dan
and a blacking-brush for himself; and as Mrs Jo suspected, the ‘two
rascals’ did have a splendid time. Penitent letters arrived in due
season, and the irate parents soon forgot to chide in their anxiety
about Dan, who was very ill, and did not know his friends for several
days. Then he began to mend; and everyone forgave the bad boy when he
proudly reported that the first conscious words Dan said were: ‘Hallo,
Ted!’ with a smile of pleasure at seeing a familiar face bent over him.

‘Glad he went, and I won’t scold any more. Now, what shall we put in the
box for Dan?’ And Mrs Jo worked off her impatience to get hold of the
invalid by sending comforts enough for a hospital.

Cheering accounts soon began to come, and at length Dan was pronounced
able to travel, but seemed in no haste to go home, though never tired of
hearing his nurses talk of it.

‘Dan is strangely altered,’ wrote Laurie to Jo; ‘not by this illness
alone, but by something which has evidently gone before. I don’t know
what, and leave you to ask; but from his ravings when delirious I fear
he has been in some serious trouble the past year. He seems ten years
older, but improved, quieter, and so grateful to us. It is pathetic to
see the hunger in his eyes as they rest on Ted, as if he couldn’t see
enough of him. He says Kansas was a failure, but can’t talk much; so I
bide my time. The people here love him very much, and he cares for that
sort of thing now; used to scorn any show of emotion, you know; now
he wants everyone to think well of him, and can’t do enough to win
affection and respect. I may be all wrong. You will soon find out. Ted
is in clover, and the trip has done him a world of good. Let me take him
to Europe when we go? Apron-strings don’t agree with him any better than
they did with me when I proposed to run away to Washington with you some
century ago. Aren’t you sorry you didn’t?’

This private letter set Mrs Jo’s lively fancy in a ferment, and she
imagined every known crime, affliction, and complication which could
possibly have befallen Dan. He was too feeble to be worried with
questions now, but she promised herself most interesting revelations
when she got him safe at home; for the ‘firebrand’ was her most
interesting boy. She begged him to come, and spent more time in
composing a letter that should bring him, than she did over the most
thrilling episodes in her ‘works’.

No one but Dan saw the letter; but it did bring him, and one November
day Mr Laurie helped a feeble man out of a carriage at the door of
Plumfield, and Mother Bhaer received the wanderer like a recovered son;
while Ted, in a disreputable-looking hat and an astonishing pair of
boots, performed a sort of war-dance round the interesting group.

‘Right upstairs and rest; I’m nurse now, and this ghost must eat before
he talks to anyone,’ commanded Mrs Jo, trying not to show how shocked
she was at this shorn and shaven, gaunt and pallid shadow of the
stalwart man she parted with.

He was quite content to obey, and lay on the long lounge in the room
prepared for him, looking about as tranquilly as a sick child restored
to its own nursery and mother’s arms, while his new nurse fed and
refreshed him, bravely controlling the questions that burned upon her
tongue. Being weak and weary, he soon fell asleep; and then she stole
away to enjoy the society of the ‘rascals’, whom she scolded and petted,
pumped and praised, to her heart’s content.

‘Jo, I think Dan has committed some crime and suffered for it,’ said Mr
Laurie, when Ted had departed to show his boots and tell glowing tales
of the dangers and delights of the miners’ life to his mates. ‘Some
terrible experience has come to the lad, and broken his spirit. He was
quite out of his head when we arrived, and I took the watching, so I
heard more of those sad wanderings than anyone else. He talked of the
“warden”, some trail, a dead man, and Blair and Mason, and would keep
offering me his hand, asking me if I would take it and forgive him.
Once, when he was very wild, I held his arms, and he quieted in a
moment, imploring me not to “put the handcuffs on”. I declare, it was
quite awful sometimes to hear him in the night talk of old Plum and you,
and beg to be let out and go home to die.’

‘He isn’t going to die, but live to repent of anything he may have done;
so don’t harrow me up with these dark hints, Teddy. I don’t care if he’s
broken the Ten Commandments, I’ll stand by him, and so will you, and
we’ll set him on his feet and make a good man of him yet. I know he’s
not spoilt, by the look in his poor face. Don’t say a word to anyone,
and I’ll have the truth before long,’ answered Mrs Jo, still loyal to
her bad boy, though much afflicted by what she had heard.

For some days Dan rested, and saw few people; then good care, cheerful
surroundings, and the comfort of being at home began to tell, and
he seemed more like himself, though still very silent as to his late
experiences, pleading the doctor’s orders not to talk much. Everyone
wanted to see him; but he shrank from any but old friends, and ‘wouldn’t
lionize worth a cent’, Ted said, much disappointed that he could not
show off his brave Dan.

‘Wasn’t a man there who wouldn’t have done the same, so why make a row
over me?’ asked the hero, feeling more ashamed than proud of the broken
arm, which looked so interesting in a sling.

‘But isn’t it pleasant to think that you saved twenty lives, Dan, and
gave husbands, sons, and fathers back to the women who loved them?’
asked Mrs Jo one evening as they were alone together after several
callers had been sent away.

‘Pleasant! it’s all that kept me alive, I do believe; yes, I’d rather
have done it than be made president or any other big bug in the world.
No one knows what a comfort it is to think I’ve saved twenty men to more
than pay for--’ There Dan stopped short, having evidently spoken out of
some strong emotion to which his hearer had no key.

‘I thought you’d feel so. It is a splendid thing to save life at the
risk of one’s own, as you did, and nearly lose it,’ began Mrs Jo,
wishing he had gone on with that impulsive speech which was so like his
old manner.

‘“He that loseth his life shall gain it”,’ muttered Dan, staring at the
cheerful fire which lighted the room, and shone on his thin face with a
ruddy glow.

Mrs Jo was so startled at hearing such words from his lips that she
exclaimed joyfully:

‘Then you did read the little book I gave you, and kept your promise?’

‘I read it a good deal after a while. I don’t know much yet, but I’m
ready to learn; and that’s something.’

‘It’s everything. Oh, my dear, tell me about it! I know something lies
heavy on your heart; let me help you bear it, and so make the burden

‘I know it would; I want to tell; but some things even you couldn’t
forgive; and if you let go of me, I’m afraid I can’t keep afloat.’

‘Mothers can forgive anything! Tell me all, and be sure that I will
never let you go, though the whole world should turn from you.’

Mrs Jo took one of the big wasted hands in both of hers and held it
fast, waiting silently till that sustaining touch warmed poor Dan’s
heart, and gave him courage to speak. Sitting in his old attitude, with
his head in his hands, he slowly told it all, never once looking up till
the last words left his lips.

‘Now you know; can you forgive a murderer, and keep a jail-bird in your

Her only answer was to put her arms about him, and lay the shorn head on
her breast, with eyes so full of tears they could but dimly see the hope
and fear that made his own so tragical.

That was better than any words; and poor Dan clung to her in speechless
gratitude, feeling the blessedness of mother love--that divine gift
which comforts, purifies, and strengthens all who seek it. Two or three
great, bitter drops were hidden in the little woollen shawl where Dan’s
cheek rested, and no one ever knew how soft and comfortable it felt to
him after the hard pillows he had known so long. Suffering of both mind
and body had broken will and pride, and the lifted burden brought such a
sense of relief that he paused a moment to enjoy it in dumb delight.

‘My poor boy, how you have suffered all this year, when we thought you
free as air! Why didn’t you tell us, Dan, and let us help you? Did you
doubt your friends?’ asked Mrs Jo, forgetting all other emotions in
sympathy, as she lifted up the hidden face, and looked reproachfully
into the great hollow eyes that met her own frankly now.

‘I was ashamed. I tried to bear it alone rather than shock and
disappoint you, as I know I have, though you try not to show it. Don’t
mind; I must get used to it’; and Dan’s eyes dropped again as if they
could not bear to see the trouble and dismay his confession painted on
his best friend’s face.

‘I am shocked and disappointed by the sin, but I am also very glad and
proud and grateful that my sinner has repented, atoned, and is ready to
profit by the bitter lesson. No one but Fritz and Laurie need ever know
the truth; we owe it to them, and they will feel as I do,’ answered Mrs
Jo, wisely thinking that entire frankness would be a better tonic than
too much sympathy.

‘No, they won’t; men never forgive like women. But it’s right. Please
tell ‘em for me, and get it over. Mr Laurence knows it, I guess. I
blabbed when my wits were gone; but he was very kind all the same. I can
bear their knowing; but oh, not Ted and the girls!’ Dan clutched her
arm with such an imploring face that she hastened to assure him no one
should know except the two old friends, and he calmed down as if ashamed
of his sudden panic.

‘It wasn’t murder, mind you, it was in self-defence; he drew first, and
I had to hit him. Didn’t mean to kill him; but it doesn’t worry me as
much as it ought, I’m afraid. I’ve more than paid for it, and such a
rascal is better out of the world than in it, showing boys the way to
hell. Yes, I know you think that’s awful in me; but I can’t help it. I
hate a scamp as I do a skulking coyote, and always want to get a shot at
‘em. Perhaps it would have been better if he had killed me; my life is

All the old prison gloom seemed to settle like a black cloud on Dan’s
face as he spoke, and Mrs Jo was frightened at the glimpse it gave her
of the fire through which he had passed to come out alive, but
scarred for life. Hoping to turn his mind to happier things, she said

‘No, it isn’t; you have learned to value it more and use it better
for this trial. It is not a lost year, but one that may prove the most
helpful of any you ever know. Try to think so, and begin again; we will
help, and have all the more confidence in you for this failure. We all
do the same and struggle on.’

‘I never can be what I was. I feel about sixty, and don’t care for
anything now I’ve got here. Let me stay till I’m on my legs, then I’ll
clear out and never trouble you any more,’ said Dan despondently.

‘You are weak and low in your mind; that will pass, and by and by you
will go to your missionary work among the Indians with all the old
energy and the new patience, self-control, and knowledge you have
gained. Tell me more about that good chaplain and Mary Mason and the
lady whose chance word helped you so much. I want to know all about the
trials of my poor boy.’

Won by her tender interest, Dan brightened up and talked on till he had
poured out all the story of that bitter year, and felt better for the
load he lifted off.

If he had known how it weighed upon his hearer’s heart, he would have
held his peace; but she hid her sorrow till she had sent him to bed,
comforted and calm; then she cried her heart out, to the great dismay
of Fritz and Laurie, till they heard the tale and could mourn with her;
after which they all cheered up and took counsel together how best to
help this worst of all the ‘catastrophes’ the year had brought them.


It was curious to see the change which came over Dan after that talk. A
weight seemed off his mind; and though the old impetuous spirit flashed
out at times, he seemed intent on trying to show his gratitude and love
and honour to these true friends by a new humility and confidence very
sweet to them, very helpful to him. After hearing the story from Mrs
Jo, the Professor and Mr Laurie made no allusion to it beyond the hearty
hand-grasp, the look of compassion, the brief word of good cheer in
which men convey sympathy, and a redoubled kindness which left no doubt
of pardon. Mr Laurie began at once to interest influential persons
in Dan’s mission, and set in motion the machinery which needs so much
oiling before anything can be done where Government is concerned.
Mr Bhaer, with the skill of a true teacher, gave Dan’s hungry mind
something to do, and helped him understand himself by carrying on the
good chaplain’s task so paternally that the poor fellow often said he
felt as if he had found a father. The boys took him to drive, and amused
him with their pranks and plans; while the women, old and young, nursed
and petted him till he felt like a sultan with a crowd of devoted
slaves, obedient to his lightest wish. A very little of this was enough
for Dan, who had a masculine horror of ‘molly-coddling’, and so brief an
acquaintance with illness that he rebelled against the doctor’s orders
to keep quiet; and it took all Mrs Jo’s authority and the girls’
ingenuity to keep him from leaving his sofa long before strained back
and wounded head were well. Daisy cooked for him; Nan attended to his
medicines; Josie read aloud to while away the long hours of inaction
that hung so heavily on his hands; while Bess brought all her
pictures and casts to amuse him, and, at his special desire, set up a
modelling-stand in his parlour and began to mould the buffalo head he
gave her. Those afternoons seemed the pleasantest part of his day; and
Mrs Jo, busy in her study close by, could see the friendly trio and
enjoy the pretty pictures they made. The girls were much flattered
by the success of their efforts, and exerted themselves to be very
entertaining, consulting Dan’s moods with the feminine tact most women
creatures learn before they are out of pinafores. When he was gay, the
room rang with laughter; when gloomy, they read or worked in respectful
silence till their sweet patience cheered him up again; and when in pain
they hovered over him like ‘a couple of angels’, as he said. He often
called Josie ‘little mother’, but Bess was always ‘Princess’; and his
manner to the two cousins was quite different. Josie sometimes fretted
him with her fussy ways, the long plays she liked to read, and the
maternal scoldings she administered when he broke the rules; for having
a lord of creation in her power was so delightful to her that she would
have ruled him with a rod of iron if he had submitted. To Bess, in her
gentler ministrations, he never showed either impatience or weariness,
but obeyed her least word, exerted himself to seem well in her presence,
and took such interest in her work that he lay looking at her with
unwearied eyes; while Josie read to him in her best style unheeded.

Mrs Jo observed this, and called them ‘Una and the Lion’, which suited
them very well, though the lion’s mane was shorn, and Una never tried to
bridle him. The elder ladies did their part in providing delicacies and
supplying all his wants; but Mrs Meg was busy at home, Mrs Amy preparing
for the trip to Europe in the spring, and Mrs Jo hovering on the brink
of a ‘vortex’--for the forthcoming book had been sadly delayed by
the late domestic events. As she sat at her desk, settling papers or
meditatively nibbling her pen while waiting for the divine afflatus to
descend upon her, she often forgot her fictitious heroes and heroines
in studying the live models before her, and thus by chance looks, words,
and gestures discovered a little romance unsuspected by anyone else.

The portiere between the rooms was usually drawn aside, giving a view of
the group in the large bay-window--Bess at one side, in her grey blouse,
busy with her tools; Josie at the other side with her book; and between,
on the long couch, propped with many cushions, lay Dan in a many-hued
eastern dressing-gown presented by Mr Laurie and worn to please
the girls, though the invalid much preferred an old jacket ‘with no
confounded tail to bother over’. He faced Mrs Jo’s room, but never
seemed to see her, for his eyes were on the slender figure before him,
with the pale winter sunshine touching her golden head, and the delicate
hands that shaped the clay so deftly. Josie was just visible, rocking
violently in a little chair at the head of the couch, and the steady
murmur of her girlish voice was usually the only sound that broke the
quiet of the room, unless a sudden discussion arose about the book or
the buffalo.

Something in the big eyes, bigger and blacker than ever in the thin
white face, fixed, so steadily on one object, had a sort of fascination
for Mrs Jo after a time, and she watched the changes in them curiously;
for Dan’s mind was evidently not on the story, and he often forgot to
laugh or exclaim at the comic or exciting crises. Sometimes they were
soft and wistful, and the watcher was very glad that neither damsel
caught that dangerous look for when they spoke it vanished; sometimes
it was full of eager fire, and the colour came and went rebelliously,
in spite of his attempt to hide it with an impatient gesture of hand or
head; but oftenest it was dark, and sad, and stern, as if those gloomy
eyes looked out of captivity at some forbidden light or joy. This
expression came so often that it worried Mrs Jo, and she longed to go
and ask him what bitter memory overshadowed those quiet hours. She knew
that his crime and its punishment must lie heavy on his mind; but youth,
and time, and new hopes would bring comfort, and help to wear away
the first sharpness of the prison brand. It lifted at other times, and
seemed almost forgotten when he joked with the boys, talked with old
friends, or enjoyed the first snows as he drove out every fair day. Why
should the shadow always fall so darkly on him in the society of these
innocent and friendly girls? They never seemed to see it, and if either
looked or spoke, a quick smile came like a sunburst through the clouds
to answer them. So Mrs Jo went on watching, wondering, and discovering,
till accident confirmed her fears.

Josie was called away one day, and Bess, tired of working, offered to
take her place if he cared for more reading.

‘I do; your reading suits me better than Jo’s. She goes so fast my
stupid head gets in a muddle and soon begins to ache. Don’t tell her;
she’s a dear little soul, and so good to sit here with a bear like me.’

The smile was ready as Bess went to the table for a new book, the last
story being finished.

‘You are not a bear, but very good and patient, we think. It is always
hard for a man to be shut up, mamma says, and must be terrible for you,
who have always been so free.’

If Bess had not been reading titles she would have seen Dan shrink as
if her last words hurt him. He made no answer; but other eyes saw and
understood why he looked as if he would have liked to spring up and rush
away for one of his long races up the hill, as he used to do when the
longing for liberty grew uncontrollable. Moved by a sudden impulse, Mrs
Jo caught up her work-basket and went to join her neighbours, feeling
that a non-conductor might be needed; for Dan looked like a thundercloud
full of electricity.

‘What shall we read, Aunty? Dan doesn’t seem to care. You know his
taste; tell me something quiet and pleasant and short. Josie will
be back soon,’ said Bess, still turning over the books piled on the

Before Mrs Jo could answer, Dan pulled a shabby little volume from under
his pillow, and handing it to her said: ‘Please read the third one; it’s
short and pretty--I’m fond of it.’ The book opened at the right place,
as if the third story had been often read, and Bess smiled as she saw
the name.

‘Why, Dan, I shouldn’t think you’d care for this romantic German tale.
There is fighting in it; but it is very sentimental, if I remember

‘I know it; but I’ve read so few stories, I like the simple ones best.
Had nothing else to read sometimes; I guess I know it all by heart, and
never seem to be tired of those fighting fellows, and the fiends and
angels and lovely ladies. You read “Aslauga’s Knight”, and see if you
don’t like it. Edwald was rather too soft for my fancy; but Froda was
first-rate and the spirit with the golden hair always reminded me of

As Dan spoke Mrs Jo settled herself where she could watch him in the
glass, and Bess took a large chair facing him, saying, as she put up her
hands to retie the ribbon that held the cluster of thick, soft curls at
the back of her head:

‘I hope Aslauga’s hair wasn’t as troublesome as mine, for it’s always
tumbling down. I’ll be ready in a minute.’

‘Don’t tie it up; please let it hang. I love to see it shine that way.
It will rest your head, and be just right for the story, Goldilocks,’
pleaded Dan, using the childish name and looking more like his boyish
self than he had done for many a day.

Bess laughed, shook down her pretty hair, and began to read, glad to
hide her face a little; for compliments made her shy, no matter who paid
them. Dan listened intently on; and Mrs Jo, with eyes that went often
from her needle to the glass, could see, without turning, how he
enjoyed every word as if it had more meaning for him than for the other
listeners. His face brightened wonderfully, and soon wore the look that
came when anything brave or beautiful inspired and touched his better
self. It was Fouque’s charming story of the knight Froda, and the fair
daughter of Sigurd, who was a sort of spirit, appearing to her lover in
hours of danger and trial, as well as triumph and joy, till she became
his guide and guard, inspiring him with courage, nobleness, and truth,
leading him to great deeds in the field, sacrifices for those he loved,
and victories over himself by the gleaming of her golden hair, which
shone on him in battle, dreams, and perils by day and night, till after
death he finds the lovely spirit waiting to receive and to reward him.

Of all the stories in the book this was the last one would have supposed
Dan would like best, and even Mrs Jo was surprised at his perceiving the
moral of the tale through the delicate imagery and romantic language by
which it was illustrated. But as she looked and listened she remembered
the streak of sentiment and refinement which lay concealed in Dan like
the gold vein in a rock, making him quick to feel and to enjoy fine
colour in a flower, grace in an animal, sweetness in women, heroism in
men, and all the tender ties that bind heart to heart; though he was
slow to show it, having no words to express the tastes and instincts
which he inherited from his mother. Suffering of soul and body had
tamed his stronger passions, and the atmosphere of love and pity now
surrounding him purified and warmed his heart till it began to hunger
for the food neglected or denied so long. This was plainly written in
his too expressive face, as, fancying it unseen, he let it tell the
longing after beauty, peace, and happiness embodied for him in the
innocent fair girl before him.

The conviction of this sad yet natural fact came to Mrs Jo with a pang,
for she felt how utterly hopeless such a longing was; since light and
darkness were not farther apart than snow-white Bess and sin-stained
Dan. No dream of such a thing disturbed the young girl, as her entire
unconsciousness plainly showed. But how long would it be before the
eloquent eyes betrayed the truth? And then what disappointment for
Dan, what dismay for Bess, who was as cool and high and pure as her own
marbles, and shunned all thought of love with maidenly reserve.

‘How hard everything is made for my poor boy! How can I spoil his little
dream, and take away the spirit of good he is beginning to love and long
for? When my own dear lads are safely settled I’ll never try another,
for these things are heart-breaking, and I can’t manage any more,’
thought Mrs Jo, as she put the lining into Teddy’s coat-sleeve upside
down, so perplexed and grieved was she at this new catastrophe.

The story was soon done, and as Bess shook back her hair, Dan asked as
eagerly as a boy:

‘Don’t you like it?’

‘Yes, it’s very pretty, and I see the meaning of it; but Undine was
always my favourite.’

‘Of course, that’s like you--lilies and pearls and souls and pure
water. Sintram used to be mine; but I took a fancy to this when I
was--ahem--rather down on my luck one time, and it did me good, it was
so cheerful and sort of spiritual in its meaning, you know.’

Bess opened her blue eyes in wonder at this fancy of Dan’s for anything
‘spiritual’; but she only nodded, saying: ‘Some of the little songs are
sweet and might be set to music.’

Dan laughed; ‘I used to sing the last one to a tune of my own sometimes
at sunset:

    ‘“Listening to celestial lays,
      Bending thy unclouded gaze
      On the pure and living light,
      Thou art blest, Aslauga’s Knight!”

‘And I was,’ he added, under his breath, as he glanced towards the
sunshine dancing on the wall.

‘This one suits you better now’; and glad to please him by her interest,
Bess read in her soft voice:

    ‘“Healfast, healfast, ye hero wounds;
      O knight, be quickly strong!
      Beloved strife
      For fame and life,
      Oh, tarry not too long!”’

‘I’m no hero, never can be, and “fame and life” can’t do much for me.
Never mind, read me that paper, please. This knock on the head has made
a regular fool of me.’

Dan’s voice was gentle; but the light was gone out of his face now, and
he moved restlessly as if the silken pillows were full of thorns. Seeing
that his mood had changed, Bess quietly put down the book, took up the
paper, and glanced along the columns for something to suit him.

‘You don’t care for the money market, I know, nor musical news. Here’s
a murder; you used to like those; shall I read it? One man kills


Only a word, but it gave Mrs Jo a thrill, and for a moment she dared not
glance at the tell-tale mirror. When she did Dan lay motionless with one
hand over his eyes, and Bess was happily reading the art news to ears
that never heard a word. Feeling like a thief who has stolen something
very precious, Mrs Jo slipped away to her study, and before long Bess
followed to report that Dan was fast asleep.

Sending her home, with the firm resolve to keep her there as much as
possible, Mother Bhaer had an hour of serious thought all alone in the
red sunset; and when a sound in the next room led her there, she found
that the feigned sleep had become real repose; for Dan lay breathing
heavily, with a scarlet spot on either cheek, and one hand clinched on
his broad breast. Yearning over him with a deeper pity than ever before,
she sat in the little chair beside him, trying to see her way out of
this tangle, till his hand slipped down, and in doing so snapped a cord
he wore about his neck and let a small case drop to the floor.

Mrs Jo picked it up, and as he did not wake, sat looking at it, idly
wondering what charm it held; for the case was of Indian workmanship and
the broken cord, of closely woven grass, sweet scented and pale yellow.

‘I won’t pry into any more of the poor fellow’s secrets. I’ll mend and
put it back, and never let him know I’ve seen his talisman.’

As she spoke she turned the little wallet to examine the fracture, and
a card fell into her lap. It was a photograph, cut to fit its covering,
and two words were written underneath the face, ‘My Aslauga’. For an
instant Mrs Jo fancied that it might be one of herself, for all the boys
had them; but as the thin paper fell away, she saw the picture Demi took
of Bess that happy summer day. There was no doubt now, and with a sigh
she put it back, and was about to slip it into Dan’s bosom so that not
even a stitch should betray her knowledge, when as she leaned towards
him, she saw that he was looking straight at her with an expression that
surprised her more than any of the strange ones she had ever seen in
that changeful face before.

‘Your hand slipped down; it fell; I was putting it back,’ explained Mrs
Jo, feeling like a naughty child caught in mischief.

‘You saw the picture?’


‘And know what a fool I am?’

‘Yes, Dan, and am so grieved--’

‘Don’t worry about me. I’m all right--glad you know, though I never
meant to tell you. Of course it is only a crazy fancy of mine, and
nothing can ever come of it. Never thought there would. Good Lord! what
could that little angel ever be to me but what she is--a sort of dream
of all that’s sweet and good?’

More afflicted by the quiet resignation of his look and tone than by
the most passionate ardour, Mrs Jo could only say, with a face full of

‘It is very hard, dear, but there is no other way to look at it. You are
wise and brave enough to see that, and to let the secret be ours alone.’

‘I swear I will! not a word nor a look if I can help it. No one guesses,
and if it troubles no one, is there any harm in my keeping this, and
taking comfort in the pretty fancy that kept me sane in that cursed

Dan’s face was eager now, and he hid away the little worn case as if
defying any hand to take it from him. Anxious to know everything before
giving counsel or comfort, Mrs Jo said quietly:

‘Keep it, and tell me all about the “fancy”. Since I have stumbled on
your secret, let me know how it came, and how I can help to make it
lighter to bear.’

‘You’ll laugh; but I don’t mind. You always did find out our secrets and
give us a lift. Well, I never cared much for books, you know; but down
yonder when the devil tormented me I had to do something or go stark
mad, so I read both the books you gave me. One was beyond me, till that
good old man showed me how to read it; but the other, this one, was a
comfort, I tell you. It amused me, and was as pretty as poetry. I liked
‘em all, and most wore out Sintram. See how used up he is! Then I came
to this, and it sort of fitted that other happy part of my life, last

Dan stopped a moment as the words lingered on his lips; then, with a
long breath, went on, as if it was hard to lay bare the foolish little
romance he had woven about a girl, a picture, and a child’s story there
in the darkness of the place which was as terrible to him as Dante’s
Inferno, till he found his Beatrice.

‘I couldn’t sleep, and had to think about something, so I used to fancy
I was Folko, and see the shining of Aslauga’s hair in the sunset on
the wall, the gum of the watchman’s lamp, and the light that came in at
dawn. My cell was high. I could see a bit of sky; sometimes there was
a star in it, and that was most as good as a face. I set great store by
that patch of blue, and when a white cloud went by, I thought it was the
prettiest thing in all this world. I guess I was pretty near a fool; but
those thoughts and things helped me through, so they are all solemn true
to me, and I can’t let them go. The dear shiny head, the white gown, the
eyes like stars, and sweet, calm ways that set her as high above me as
the moon in heaven. Don’t take it away! it’s only a fancy, but a man
must love something, and I’d better love a spirit like her than any of
the poor common girls who would care for me.’

The quiet despair in Dan’s voice pierced Mrs Jo to the heart; but there
was no hope and she gave none. Yet she felt that he was right, and that
his hapless affection might do more to uplift and purify him than any
other he might know. Few women would care to marry Dan now, except such
as would hinder, not help, him in the struggle which life would always
be to him; and it was better to go solitary to his grave than become
what she suspected his father had been--a handsome, unprincipled, and
dangerous man, with more than one broken heart to answer for.

‘Yes, Dan, it is wise to keep this innocent fancy, if it helps and
comforts you, till something more real and possible comes to make you
happier. I wish I could give you any hope; but we both know that the
dear child is the apple of her father’s eye, the pride of her mother’s
heart, and that the most perfect lover they can find will hardly seem to
them worthy of their precious daughter. Let her remain for you the high,
bright star that leads you up and makes you believe in heaven.’ Mrs Jo
broke down there; it seemed so cruel to destroy the faint hope Dan’s
eyes betrayed, that she could not moralize when she thought of his hard
life and lonely future. Perhaps it was the wisest thing she could have
done, for in her hearty sympathy he found comfort for his own loss, and
very soon was able to speak again in the manly tone of resignation
to the inevitable that showed how honest was his effort to give up
everything but the pale shadow of what, for another, might have been a
happy possibility.

They talked long and earnestly in the twilight; and this second secret
bound them closer than the first; for in it there was neither sin nor
shame--only the tender pain and patience which has made saints and
heroes of far worse men than our poor Dan. When at length they rose at
the summons of a bell, all the sunset glory had departed, and in the
wintry sky there hung one star, large, soft, and clear, above a snowy
world. Pausing at the window before she dropped the curtains, Mrs Jo
said cheerfully:

‘Come and see how beautiful the evening star is, since you love it so.’
And as he stood behind her, tall and pale, like the ghost of his former
self, she added softly: ‘And remember, dear, if the sweet girl is denied
you, the old friend is always here--to love and trust and pray for you.’

This time she was not disappointed; and had she asked any reward for
many anxieties and cares, she received it when Dan’s strong arm came
round her, as he said, in a voice which showed her that she had not
laboured in vain to pluck her firebrand from the burning:

‘I never can forget that; for she’s helped to save my soul, and make me
dare to look up there and say:

“God bless her!”’


‘Upon my word, I feel as if I lived in a powder-magazine, and don’t
know which barrel will explode next, and send me flying,’ said Mrs Jo
to herself next day, as she trudged up to Parnassus to suggest to her
sister that perhaps the most charming of the young nurses had better
return to her marble gods before she unconsciously added another wound
to those already won by the human hero. She told no secrets; but a hint
was sufficient; for Mrs Amy guarded her daughter as a pearl of great
price, and at once devised a very simple means of escape from danger.
Mr Laurie was going to Washington on Dan’s behalf, and was delighted to
take his family with him when the idea was carelessly suggested. So the
conspiracy succeeded finely; and Mrs Jo went home, feeling more like a
traitor than ever. She expected an explosion; but Dan took the news so
quietly, it was plain that he cherished no hope; and Mrs Amy was sure
her romantic sister had been mistaken. If she had seen Dan’s face when
Bess went to say good-bye, her maternal eye would have discovered far
more than the unconscious girl did. Mrs Jo trembled lest he should
betray himself; but he had learned self-control in a stern school, and
would have got through the hard moment bravely, only, when he took both
hands, saying heartily:

‘Good-bye, Princess. If we don’t meet again, remember your old friend
Dan sometimes,’ she, touched by his late danger and the wistful look he
wore, answered with unusual warmth: ‘How can I help it, when you make us
all so proud of you? God bless your mission, and bring you safely home
to us again!’

As she looked up at him with a face full of frank affection and sweet
regret, all that he was losing rose so vividly before him that Dan could
not resist the impulse to take the ‘dear goldy head’ between his hands
and kiss it, with a broken ‘Good-bye’; then hurried back to his room,
feeling as if it were the prison-cell again, with no glimpse of heaven’s
blue to comfort him.

This abrupt caress and departure rather startled Bess; for she felt with
a girl’s quick instinct that there was something in that kiss unknown
before, and looked after him with sudden colour in her cheeks and new
trouble in her eyes. Mrs Jo saw it, and fearing a very natural question
answered it before it was put.

‘Forgive him, Bess. He has had a great trouble, and it makes him tender
at parting with old friends; for you know he may never come back from
the wild world he is going to.’

‘You mean the fall and danger of death?’ asked Bess, innocently.

‘No, dear; a greater trouble than that. But I cannot tell you any
more--except that he has come through it bravely; so you may trust and
respect him, as I do.’

‘He has lost someone he loved. Poor Dan! We must be very kind to him.’

Bess did not ask the question, but seemed content with her solution of
the mystery--which was so true that Mrs Jo confirmed it by a nod, and
let her go away believing that some tender loss and sorrow wrought the
great change all saw in Dan, and made him so slow to speak concerning
the past year.

But Ted was less easily satisfied, and this unusual reticence goaded
him to desperation. His mother had warned him not to trouble Dan with
questions till he was quite well; but this prospect of approaching
departure made him resolve to have a full, clear, and satisfactory
account of the adventures which he felt sure must have been thrilling,
from stray words Dan let fall in his fever. So one day when the coast
was clear, Master Ted volunteered to amuse the invalid, and did so in
the following manner:

‘Look here, old boy, if you don’t want me to read, you’ve got to talk,
and tell me all about Kansas, and the farms, and that part. The Montana
business I know, but you seem to forget what went before. Brace up, and
let’s have it,’ he began, with an abruptness which roused Dan from a
brown study most effectually.

‘No, I don’t forget; it isn’t interesting to anyone but myself. I didn’t
see any farms--gave it up,’ he said slowly.


‘Other things to do.’


‘Well, brush-making for one thing.’

‘Don’t chaff a fellow. Tell true.’

‘I truly did.’

‘What for?’

‘To keep out of mischief, as much as anything.’

‘Well, of all the queer things--and you’ve done a lot--that’s the
queerest,’ cried Ted, taken aback at this disappointing discovery. But
he didn’t mean to give up yet, and began again.

‘What mischief, Dan?’

‘Never you mind. Boys shouldn’t bother.’

‘But I do want to know, awfully, because I’m your pal, and care for you
no end. Always did. Come, now, tell me a good yarn. I love scrapes. I’ll
be mum as an oyster if you don’t want it known.’

‘Will you?’ and Dan looked at him, wondering how the boyish face would
change if the truth were suddenly told him.

‘I’ll swear it on locked fists, if you like. I know it was jolly, and
I’m aching to hear.’

‘You are as curious as a girl. More than some--Josie and--and Bess never
asked a question.’

‘They don’t care about rows and things; they liked the mine business,
heroes, and that sort. So do I, and I’m as proud as Punch over it; but
I see by your eyes that there was something else before that, and I’m
bound to find out who Blair and Mason are, and who was hit and who ran
away, and all the rest of it.’

‘What!’ cried Dan, in a tone that made Ted jump.

‘Well, you used to mutter about ‘em in your sleep, and Uncle Laurie
wondered. So did I; but don’t mind, if you can’t remember, or would
rather not.’

‘What else did I say? Queer, what stuff a man will talk when his wits
are gone.’

‘That’s all I heard; but it seemed interesting, and I just mentioned it,
thinking it might refresh your memory a bit,’ said Teddy, very politely;
for Dan’s frown was heavy at that moment.

It cleared off at this reply, and after a look at the boy squirming with
suppressed impatience in his chair, Dan made up his mind to amuse him
with a game of cross-purposes and half-truths, hoping to quench his
curiosity, and so get peace.

‘Let me see; Blair was a lad I met in the cars, and Mason a poor fellow
who was in a--well, a sort of hospital where I happened to be. Blair ran
off to his brothers, and I suppose I might say Mason was hit, because he
died there. Does that suit you?’

‘No, it doesn’t. Why did Blair run? and who hit the other fellow? I’m
sure there was a fight somewhere, wasn’t there?’


‘I guess I know what it was about.’

‘The devil, you do! Let’s hear you guess. Must be amusing,’ said Dan,
affecting an ease he did not feel.

Charmed to be allowed to free his mind, Ted at once unfolded the boyish
solution of the mystery which he had been cherishing, for he felt that
there was one somewhere.

‘You needn’t say yes, if I guess right and you are under oath to keep
silent. I shall know by your face, and never tell. Now see if I’m not
right. Out there they have wild doings, and it’s my belief you were in
some of ‘em. I don’t mean robbing mails, and KluKluxing, and that sort
of thing; but defending the settlers, or hanging some scamp, or even
shooting a few, as a fellow must sometimes, in self-defence. Ah, ha!
I’ve hit it, I see. Needn’t speak; I know the flash of your old eye, and
the clench of your big fist.’ And Ted pranced with satisfaction.

‘Drive on, smart boy, and don’t lose the trail,’ said Dan, finding a
curious sense of comfort in some of these random words, and longing, but
not daring, to confirm the true ones. He might have confessed the crime,
but not the punishment that followed, the sense of its disgrace was
still so strong upon him.

‘I knew I should get it; can’t deceive me long,’ began Ted, with such an
air of pride Dan could not help a short laugh.

‘It’s a relief, isn’t it, to have it off your mind? Now, just confide in
me and it’s all safe, unless you’ve sworn not to tell.’

‘I have.’

‘Oh, well, then don’t’; and Ted’s face fell, but he was himself again
in a moment and said, with the air of a man of the world: ‘It’s all
right--I understand--honour binds--silence to death, etc. Glad you stood
by your mate in the hospital. How many did you kill?’

‘Only one.’

‘Bad lot, of course?’

‘A damned rascal.’

‘Well, don’t look so fierce; I’ve no objection. Wouldn’t mind popping
at some of those bloodthirsty blackguards myself. Had to dodge and keep
quiet after it, I suppose.’

‘Pretty quiet for a long spell.’

‘Got off all right in the end, and headed for your mines and did that
jolly brave thing. Now, I call that decidedly interesting and capital.
I’m glad to know it; but I won’t blab.’

‘Mind you don’t. Look here. Ted, if you’d killed a man, would it trouble
you--a bad one, I mean?’

The lad opened his mouth to say, ‘Not a bit,’ but checked that answer as
if something in Dan’s face made him change his mind. ‘Well, if it was my
duty in war or self-defence, I suppose I shouldn’t; but if I’d pitched
into him in a rage, I guess I should be very sorry. Shouldn’t wonder if
he sort of haunted me, and remorse gnawed me as it did Aram and those
fellows. You don’t mind, do you? It was a fair fight, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, I was in the right; but I wish I’d been out of it. Women don’t see
it that way, and look horrified at such things. Makes it hard; but it
don’t matter.’

‘Don’t tell ‘em; then they can’t worry,’ said Ted, with the nod of one
versed in the management of the sex.

‘Don’t intend to. Mind you keep your notions to yourself, for some of
‘em are wide of the mark. Now you may read if you like’; and there the
talk ended; but Ted took great comfort in it, and looked as wise as an
owl afterwards.

A few quiet weeks followed, during which Dan chafed at the delay; and
when at length word came that his credentials were ready, he was eager
to be off, to forget a vain love in hard work, and live for others,
since he might not for himself.

So one wild March morning our Sintram rode away, with horse and hound,
to face again the enemies who would have conquered him, but for Heaven’s
help and human pity.

‘Ah, me! it does seem as if life was made of partings, and they get
harder as we go on,’ sighed Mrs Jo, a week later, as she sat in the long
parlour at Parnassus one evening, whither the family had gone to welcome
the travellers back.

‘And meetings too, dear; for here we are, and Nat is on his way at last.
Look for the silver lining, as Marmee used to say, and be comforted,’
answered Mrs Amy, glad to be at home and find no wolves prowling near
her sheepfold.

‘I’ve been so worried lately, I can’t help croaking. I wonder what Dan
thought at not seeing you again? It was wise; but he would have enjoyed
another look at home faces before he went into the wilderness,’ said Mrs
Jo regretfully.

‘Much better so. We left notes and all we could think of that he might
need, and slipped away before he came. Bess really seemed relieved;
I’m sure I was’; and Mrs Amy smoothed an anxious line out of her white
forehead, as she smiled at her daughter, laughing happily among her

Mrs Jo shook her head as if the silver lining of that cloud was hard to
find; but she had no time to croak again, for just then Mr Laurie came
in looking well pleased at something.

‘A new picture has arrived; face towards the music-room, good people,
and tell me how you like it. I call it “Only a fiddler”, after
Andersen’s story. What name will you give it?’

As he spoke he threw open the wide doors, and just beyond they saw a
young man standing, with a beaming face, and a violin in his hand. There
was no doubt about the name to this picture, and with the cry ‘Nat!
Nat!’ there was a general uprising. But Daisy reached him first, and
seemed to have lost her usual composure somewhere on the way, for she
clung to him, sobbing with the shock of a surprise and joy too great for
her to bear quietly. Everything was settled by that tearful and tender
embrace, for, though Mrs Meg speedily detached her daughter, it was only
to take her place; while Demi shook Nat’s hand with brotherly warmth,
and Josie danced round them like Macbeth’s three witches in one,
chanting in her most tragic tones:

‘Chirper thou wast; second violin thou art; first thou shalt be. Hail,
all hail!’

This caused a laugh, and made things gay and comfortable at once. Then
the usual fire of questions and answers began, to be kept up briskly
while the boys admired Nat’s blond beard and foreign clothes, the girls
his improved appearance--for he was ruddy with good English beef
and beer, and fresh with the sea-breezes which had blown him swiftly
home--and the older folk rejoiced over his prospects. Of course all
wanted to hear him play; and when tongues tired, he gladly did his best
for them, surprising the most critical by his progress in music even
more than by the energy and self-possession which made a new man
of bashful Nat. By and by when the violin--that most human of all
instruments--had sung to them the loveliest songs without words, he
said, looking about him at these old friends with what Mr Bhaer called a
‘feeling-full’ expression of happiness and content:

‘Now let me play something that you will all remember though you won’t
love it as I do’; and standing in the attitude which Ole Bull has
immortalized, he played the street melody he gave them the first night
he came to Plumfield. They remembered it, and joined in the plaintive
chorus, which fitly expressed his own emotions:

    ‘Oh my heart is sad and weary
     Everywhere I roam,
     Longing for the old plantation
     And for the old folks at home.’

‘Now I feel better,’ said Mrs Jo, as they all trooped down the hill soon
after. ‘Some of our boys are failures, but I think this one is going to
be a success, and patient Daisy a happy girl at last. Nat is your work,
Fritz, and I congratulate you heartily.’

‘Ach, we can but sow the seed and trust that it falls on good ground.
I planted, perhaps, but you watched that the fowls of the air did not
devour it, and brother Laurie watered generously; so we will share the
harvest among us, and be glad even for a small one, heart’s-dearest.’

‘I thought the seed had fallen on very stony ground with my poor Dan;
but I shall not be surprised if he surpasses all the rest in the real
success of life, since there is more rejoicing over one repentant sinner
than many saints,’ answered Mrs Jo, still clinging fast to her black
sheep although a whole flock of white ones trotted happily before her.

It is a strong temptation to the weary historian to close the present
tale with an earthquake which should engulf Plumfield and its environs
so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no youthful Schliemann could
ever find a vestige of it. But as that somewhat melodramatic conclusion
might shock my gentle readers, I will refrain, and forestall the usual
question, ‘How did they end?’ by briefly stating that all the marriages
turned out well. The boys prospered in their various callings; so did
the girls, for Bess and Josie won honours in their artistic careers, and
in the course of time found worthy mates. Nan remained a busy, cheerful,
independent spinster, and dedicated her life to her suffering sisters
and their children, in which true woman’s work she found abiding
happiness. Dan never married, but lived, bravely and usefully, among his
chosen people till he was shot defending them, and at last lay quietly
asleep in the green wilderness he loved so well, with a lock of golden
hair upon his breast, and a smile on his face which seemed to say that
Aslauga’s Knight had fought his last fight and was at peace. Stuffy
became an alderman, and died suddenly of apoplexy after a public dinner.
Dolly was a society man of mark till he lost his money, when he found
congenial employment in a fashionable tailoring establishment. Demi
became a partner, and lived to see his name above the door, and Rob was
a professor at Laurence College; but Teddy eclipsed them all by becoming
an eloquent and famous clergyman, to the great delight of his astonished
mother. And now, having endeavoured to suit everyone by many weddings,
few deaths, and as much prosperity as the eternal fitness of things will
permit, let the music stop, the lights die out, and the curtain fall for
ever on the March family.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Jo's Boys" ***

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