Louisa May Alcott
Part 2 out of 6
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
'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
'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 light.
'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
'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 girls.
'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
'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
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
'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
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 fortune.
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
'"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 together.
'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
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,'
'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
'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
'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 pensively:
'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.
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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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 applause.
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
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
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 voyage.
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
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 scene.
'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
'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
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:
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 ended.
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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 roses.
'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
'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
'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
'Most girls would be touched by such fidelity. I think it's
beautiful,' said Daisy behind her fan; for other girls sat just
'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
'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
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
'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 otherwise.
'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
'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
'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
'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.
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 vines.
'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
'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
'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 now.'
'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 his.
'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 occasions.
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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 him?'
'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 rare.
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 vain.'
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
'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
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.
THE LION AND THE LAMB
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 went.
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
'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
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
'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
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
'I won't stir; I can stand it if he can, only it ought to be me!'
Back to Full Books