Louisa May Alcott
Part 3 out of 6
cried Ted, with a desperate effort not to cry, so full of grief and
fear and shame was he that it seemed as if he couldn't bear it like a
'He'd better stay and help; do him good,' answered
Nan sternly, because, her heart was faint within her, knowing as she
did all that might be in store for both poor boys. 'Keep quiet; I'll
be back in a minute,' she added, going towards the house, while her
quick mind hastily planned what was best to be done.
It was ironing day, and a hot fire still burned in the empty kitchen,
for the maids were upstairs resting. Nan put a slender poker to heat,
and as she sat waiting for it, covered her face with her hands,
asking help in this sudden need for strength, courage, and wisdom;
for there was no one else to call upon, and young as she was, she
knew what was to be done if she only had the nerve to do it. Any
other patient would have been calmly interesting, but dear, good
Robin, his father's pride, his mother's comfort, everyone's favourite
and friend, that he should be in danger was very terrible; and a few
hot tears dropped on the well-scoured table as Nan tried to calm her
trouble by remembering how very likely it was to be all a mistake, a
natural but vain alarm.
'I must make light of it, or the boys will break down, and then there
will be a panic. Why afflict and frighten everyone when all is in
doubt? I won't. I'll take Rob to Dr Morrison at once, and have the
dog man see Don. Then, having done all we can, we will either laugh
at our scare--if it is one--or be ready for whatever comes. Now for
my poor boy.'
Armed with the red-hot poker, a pitcher of ice-water, and several
handkerchiefs from the clotheshorse, Nan went back to the barn ready
to do her best in this her most serious 'emergency case'. The boys
sat like statues, one of despair, the other of resignation; and it
took all Nan's boasted nerve to do her work quickly and well.
'Now, Rob, only a minute, then we are safe. Stand by, Ted; he may be
a bit faintish.'
Rob shut his eyes, clinched his hands, and sat like a hero. Ted knelt
beside him, white as a sheet, and as weak as a girl; for the pangs of
remorse were rending him, and his heart failed at the thought of all
this pain because of his wilfulness. It was all over in a moment,
with only one little groan; but when Nan looked to her assistant to
hand the water, poor Ted needed it the most, for he had fainted away,
and lay on the floor in a pathetic heap of arms and legs.
Rob laughed, and, cheered by that unexpected sound, Nan bound up the
wound with hands that never trembled, though great drops stood on her
forehead; and she shared the water with patient number one before she
turned to patient number two. Ted was much ashamed, and quite broken
in spirit, when he found how he had failed at the critical moment,
and begged them not to tell, as he really could not help it; then by
way of finishing his utter humiliation, a burst of hysterical tears
disgraced his manly soul, and did him a world of good.
'Never mind, never mind, we are all right now, and no one need be the
wiser,' said Nan briskly, as poor Ted hiccoughed on Rob's shoulder,
laughing and crying in the most tempestuous manner, while his brother
soothed him, and the young doctor fanned both with Silas's old straw
'Now, boys, listen to me and remember what I say. We won't alarm
anyone yet, for I've made up my mind our scare is all nonsense. Don
was out lapping the water as I came by, and I don't believe he's mad
any more than I am. Still, to ease our minds and compose our spirits,
and get our guilty faces out of sight for a while, I think we had
better drive into town to my old friend Dr Morrison, and let him just
take a look at my work, and give us some quieting little dose; for we
are all rather shaken by this flurry. Sit still, Rob; and Ted, you
harness up while I run and get my hat and tell Aunty to excuse me to
Daisy. I don't know those Penniman girls, and she will be glad of our
room at tea, and we'll have a cosy bite at my house, and come home as
gay as larks.'
Nan talked on as a vent for the hidden emotions which professional
pride would not allow her to show, and the boys approved her plan at
once; for action is always easier than quiet waiting. Ted went
staggering away to wash his face at the pump, and rub some colour
into his cheeks before he harnessed the horse. Rob lay tranquilly on
the hay, looking up at the swallows again as he lived through some
very memorable moments. Boy as he was, the thought of death coming
suddenly to him, and in this way, might well make him sober; for it
is a very solemn thing to be arrested in the midst of busy life by
the possibility of the great change. There were no sins to be
repented of, few faults, and many happy, dutiful years to remember
with infinite comfort. So Rob had no fears to daunt him, no regrets
to sadden, and best of all, a very strong and simple piety to sustain
and cheer him.
'Mein Vater,' was his first thought; for Rob was very near the
Professor's heart, and the loss of his eldest would have been a
bitter blow. These words, whispered with a tremble of the lips that
had been so firm when the hot iron burned, recalled that other Father
who is always near, always tender and helpful; and, folding his
hands, Rob said the heartiest little prayer he ever prayed, there on
the hay, to the soft twitter of the brooding birds. It did him good;
and wisely laying all his fear and doubt and trouble in God's hand,
the boy felt ready for whatever was to come, and from that hour kept
steadily before him the one duty that was plain--to be brave and
cheerful, keep silent, and hope for the best.
Nan stole her hat, and left a note on Daisy's pincushion, saying she
had taken the boys to drive, and all would be out of the way till
after tea. Then she hurried back and found her patients much better,
the one for work, the other for rest. In they got, and, putting Rob
on the back seat with his leg up drove away, looking as gay and
care-free as if nothing had happened.
Dr Morrison made light of the affair, but told Nan she had done
right; and as the much-relieved lads went downstairs, he added in a
whisper: 'Send the dog off for a while, and keep your eye on the boy.
Don't let him know it, and report to me if anything seems wrong. One
never knows in these cases. No harm to be careful.'
Nan nodded, and feeling much relieved now that the responsibility was
off her shoulders, took the lads to Dr Watkins, who promised to come
out later and examine Don. A merry tea at Nan's house, which was kept
open for her all summer, did them good, and by the time they got home
in the cool of the evening no sign of the panic remained but Ted's
heavy eyes, and a slight limp when Rob walked. As the guests were
still chattering on the front piazza they retired to the back, and
Ted soothed his remorseful soul by swinging Rob in the hammock, while
Nan told stories till the dog man arrived.
He said Don was a little under the weather, but no more mad than the
grey kitten that purred round his legs while the examination went on.
'He wants his master, and feels the heat. Fed too well, perhaps. I'll
keep him a few weeks and send him home all right,' said Dr Watkins,
as Don laid his great head in his hand, and kept his intelligent eyes
on his face, evidently feeling that this man understood his trials,
and knew what to do for him.
So Don departed without a murmur, and our three conspirators took
counsel together how to spare the family all anxiety, and give Rob
the rest his leg demanded. Fortunately, he always spent many hours in
his little study, so he could lie on the sofa with a book in his hand
as long as he liked, without exciting any remark. Being of a quiet
temperament, he did not worry himself or Nan with useless fears, but
believed what was told him, and dismissing all dark possibilities,
went cheerfully on his way, soon recovering from the shock of what he
called 'our scare'.
But excitable Ted was harder to manage, and it took all Nan's wit and
wisdom to keep him from betraying the secret; for it was best to say
nothing and spare all discussion of the subject for Rob's sake. Ted's
remorse preyed upon him, and having no 'Mum' to confide in, he was
very miserable. By day he devoted himself to Rob, waiting on him,
talking to him, gazing anxiously at him, and worrying the good fellow
very much; though he wouldn't own it, since Ted found comfort in it.
But at night, when all was quiet, Ted's lively imagination and heavy
heart got the better of him, and kept him awake, or set him walking
in his sleep. Nan had her eye on him, and more than once administered
a little dose to give him a rest, read to him, scolded him, and when
she caught him haunting the house in the watches of the night,
threatened to lock him up if he did not stay in his bed. This wore
off after a while; but a change came over the freakish boy, and
everyone observed it, even before his mother returned to ask what
they had done to quench the Lion's spirits. He was gay, but not so
heedless; and often when the old wilfulness beset him, he would check
it sharply, look at Rob, and give up, or stalk away to have his sulk
out alone. He no longer made fun of his brother's old-fashioned ways
and bookish tastes, but treated him with a new and very marked
respect, which touched and pleased modest Rob, and much amazed all
observers. It seemed as if he felt that he owed him reparation for
the foolish act that might have cost him his life; and love being
stronger than will, Ted forgot his pride, and paid his debt like an
'I don't understand it,' said Mrs Jo, after a week of home life, much
impressed by the good behaviour of her younger son. 'Ted is such a
saint, I'm afraid we are going to lose him. Is it Meg's sweet
influence, or Daisy's fine cooking, or the pellets I catch Nan giving
him on the sly? Some witchcraft has been at work during my absence,
and this will-o'-the-wisp is so amiable, quiet, and obedient, I don't
'He is growing up, heart's-dearest, and being a precocious plant, he
begins to bloom early. I also see a change in my Robchen. He is more
manly and serious than ever, and is seldom far from me, as if his
love for the old papa was growing with his growth. Our boys will
often surprise us in this way, Jo, and we can only rejoice over them
and leave them to become what Gott pleases.'
As the Professor spoke, his eyes rested proudly on the brothers, who
came walking up the steps together, Ted's arm over Rob's shoulder as
he listened attentively to some geological remarks Rob was making on
a stone he held. Usually, Ted made fun of such tastes, and loved to
lay boulders in the student's path, put brickbats under his pillow,
gravel in his shoes, or send parcels of dirt by express to 'Prof. R.
M. Bhaer'. Lately, he had treated Rob's hobbies respectfully, and had
begun to appreciate the good qualities of this quiet brother whom he
had always loved but rather undervalued, till his courage under fire
won Ted's admiration, and made it impossible to forget a fault, the
consequences of which might have been so terrible. The leg was still
lame, though doing well, and Ted was always offering an arm as
support, gazing anxiously at his brother, and trying to guess his
wants; for regret was still keen in Ted's soul, and Rob's forgiveness
only made it deeper. A fortunate slip on the stairs gave Rob an
excuse for limping, and no one but Nan and Ted saw the wound; so the
secret was safe up to this time.
'We are talking about you, my lads. Come in and tell us what good
fairy has been at work while we were gone. Or is it because absence
sharpens our eyes, that we find such pleasant changes when we come
back?' said Mrs Jo, patting the sofa on either side, while the
Professor forgot his piles of letters to admire the pleasing prospect
of his wife in a bower of arms, as the boys sat down beside her,
smiling affectionately, but feeling a little guilty; for till now
'Mum' and 'Vater' knew every event in their boyish lives.
'Oh, it's only because Bobby and I have been alone so much; we are
sort of twins. I stir him up a bit, and he steadies me a great deal.
You and father do the same, you know. Nice plan. I like it'; and Ted
felt that he had settled the matter capitally.
'Mother won't thank you for comparing yourself to her, Ted. I'm
flattered at being like father in any way. I try to be,' answered
Rob, as they laughed at Ted's compliment.
'I do thank him, for it's true; and if you, Robin, do half as much
for your brother as Papa has for me, your life won't be a failure,'
said Mrs Jo heartily. 'I'm very glad to see you helping one another.
It's the right way, and we can't begin too soon to try to understand
the needs, virtues, and failings of those nearest us. Love should not
make us blind to faults, nor familiarity make us too ready to blame
the shortcomings we see. So work away, my sonnies, and give us more
surprises of this sort as often as you like.'
'The liebe Mutter has said all. I too am well pleased at the friendly
brother-warmth I find. It is good for everyone; long may it last!'
and Professor Bhaer nodded at the boys, who looked gratified, but
rather at a loss how to respond to these flattering remarks.
Rob wisely kept silent, fearing to say too much; but Ted burst out,
finding it impossible to help telling something:
'The fact is I've been finding out what a brave good chap Bobby is,
and I'm trying to make up for all the bother I've been to him. I knew
he was awfully wise, but I thought him rather soft, because he liked
books better than larks, and was always fussing about his conscience.
But I begin to see that it isn't the fellows who talk the loudest and
show off best that are the manliest. No, sir! quiet old Bob is a hero
and a trump, and I'm proud of him; so would you be if you knew all
Here a look from Rob brought Ted up with a round turn; he stopped
short, grew red, and clapped his hand on his mouth in dismay.
'Well, are we not to "know all about it"?' asked Mrs Jo quickly; for
her sharp eye saw signs of danger and her maternal heart felt that
something had come between her and her sons. 'Boys,' she went on
solemnly, 'I suspect that the change we talk about is not altogether
the effect of growing up, as we say. It strikes me that Ted has been
in mischief and Rob has got him out of some scrape; hence the lovely
mood of my bad boy and the sober one of my conscientious son, who
never hides anything from his mother.'
Rob was as red as Ted now, but after a moment's hesitation he looked
up and answered with an air of relief:
'Yes, mother, that's it; but it's all over and no harm done, and I
think we'd better let it be, for a while at least. I did feel guilty
to keep anything from you, but now you know so much I shall not worry
and you needn't either. Ted's sorry, I don't mind, and it has done us
Mrs Jo looked at Ted, who winked hard but bore the look like a man;
then she turned to Rob, who smiled at her so cheerfully that she felt
reassured; but something in his face struck her, and she saw what it
was that made him seem older, graver, yet more lovable than ever. It
was the look pain of mind, as well as body, brings, and the patience
of a sweet submission to some inevitable trial. Like a flash she
guessed that some danger had been near her boy, and the glances she
had caught between the two lads and Nan confirmed her fears.
'Rob, dear, you have been ill, hurt, or seriously troubled by Ted?
Tell me at once; I will not have any secrets now. Boys sometimes
suffer all their lives from neglected accidents or carelessness.
Fritz, make them speak out!'
Mr Bhaer put down his papers and came to stand before them, saying in
a tone that quieted Mrs Jo, and gave the boys courage:
'My sons, give us the truth. We can bear it; do not hold it back to
spare us. Ted knows we forgive much because we love him, so be frank,
Ted instantly dived among the sofa pillows and kept there, with only
a pair of scarlet ears visible, while Rob in a few words told the
little story, truthfully, but as gently as he could, hastening to add
the comfortable assurance that Don was not mad, the wound nearly
well, and no danger would ever come of it.
But Mrs Jo grew so pale he had to put his arms about her, and his
father turned and walked away, exclaiming: 'Ach Himmel!' in a tone of
such mingled pain, relief, and gratitude, that Ted pulled an extra
pillow over his head to smother the sound. They were all right in a
minute; but such news is always a shock, even if the peril is past,
and Mrs Jo hugged her boy close till his father came and took him
away, saying with a strong shake of both hands and a quiver in his
'To be in danger of one's life tries a man's mettle, and you bear it
well; but I cannot spare my good boy yet; thank Gott, we keep him
A smothered sound, between a choke and a groan, came from under the
pillows, and the writhing of Ted's long legs so plainly expressed
despair that his mother relented towards him, and burrowing till she
found a tousled yellow head, pulled it out and smoothed it,
exclaiming with an irrepressible laugh, though her cheeks were wet
'Come and be forgiven, poor sinner! I know you have suffered enough,
and I won't say a word; only if harm had come to Rob you would have
made me more miserable than yourself. Oh, Teddy, Teddy, do try to
cure that wilful spirit of yours before it is too late!'
'Oh, Mum, I do try! I never can forget this--I hope it's cured me; if
it hasn't, I am afraid I ain't worth saving,' answered Ted, pulling
his own hair as the only way of expressing his deep remorse.
'Yes, you are, my dear; I felt just so at fifteen when Amy was nearly
drowned, and Marmee helped me as I'll help you. Come to me, Teddy,
when the evil one gets hold of you, and together we'll rout him. Ah,
me! I've had many a tussle with that old Apollyon, and often got
worsted, but not always. Come under my shield, and we'll fight till
No one spoke for a minute as Ted and his mother laughed and cried in
one handkerchief, and Rob stood with his father's arm round him so
happy that all was told and forgiven, though never to be forgotten;
for such experiences do one good, and knit hearts that love more
Presently Ted rose straight up and going to his father, said bravely
'I ought to be punished. Please do it; but first say you forgive me,
as Rob does.'
'Always that, mein Sohn, seventy time seven, if needs be, else I am
not worthy the name you give me. The punishment has come; I can give
no greater. Let it not be in vain. It will not with the help of the
mother and the All Father. Room here for both, always!'
The good Professor opened his arms and embraced his boys like a true
German, not ashamed to express by gesture or by word the fatherly
emotions an American would have compressed into a slap on the
shoulder and a brief 'All right'.
Mrs Jo sat and enjoyed the prospect like a romantic soul as she was,
and then they had a quiet talk together, saying freely all that was
in their hearts, and finding much comfort in the confidence which
comes when love casts out fear. It was agreed that nothing be said
except to Nan, who was to be thanked and rewarded for her courage,
discretion, and fidelity.
'I always knew that girl had the making of a fine woman in her, and
this proves it. No panics and shrieks and faintings and fuss, but
calm sense and energetic skill. Dear child, what can I give or do to
show my gratitude?' said Mrs Jo enthusiastically.
'Make Tom clear out and leave her in peace,' suggested Ted, almost
himself again, though a pensive haze still partially obscured his
'Yes, do! he frets her like a mosquito. She forbade him to come out
here while she stayed, and packed him off with Demi. I like old Tom,
but he is a regular noodle about Nan,' added Rob, as he went away to
help his father with the accumulated letters.
'I'll do it!' said Mrs Jo decidedly. 'That girl's career shall not be
hampered by a foolish boy's fancy. In a moment of weariness she may
give in, and then it's all over. Wiser women have done so and
regretted it all their lives. Nan shall earn her place first, and
prove that she can fill it; then she may marry if she likes, and can
find a man worthy of her.'
But Mrs Jo's help was not needed; for love and gratitude can work
miracles, and when youth, beauty, accident, and photography are
added, success is sure; as was proved in the case of the unsuspecting
but too susceptible Thomas.
JOSIE PLAYS MERMAID
While the young Bhaers were having serious experiences at home, Josie
was enjoying herself immensely at Rocky Nook; for the Laurences knew
how to make summer idleness both charming and wholesome. Bess was
very fond of her little cousin; Mrs Amy felt that whether her niece
was an actress or not she must be a gentlewoman, and gave her the
social training which marks the well-bred woman everywhere; while
Uncle Laurie was never happier than when rowing, riding, playing, or
lounging with two gay girls beside him. Josie bloomed like a wild
flower in this free life, Bess grew rosy, brisk, and merry, and both
were great favourites with the neighbours, whose villas were by the
shore or perched on the cliffs along the pretty bay.
One crumpled rose-leaf disturbed Josie's peace, one baffled wish
filled her with a longing which became a mania, and kept her as
restless and watchful as a detective with a case to 'work up'. Miss
Cameron, the great actress, had hired one of the villas and retired
thither to rest and 'create' a new part for next season. She saw no
one but a friend or two, had a private beach, and was invisible
except during her daily drive, or when the opera-glasses of curious
gazers were fixed on a blue figure disporting itself in the sea. The
Laurences knew her, but respected her privacy, and after a call left
her in peace till she expressed a wish for society--a courtesy which
she remembered and repaid later, as we shall see.
But Josie was like a thirsty fly buzzing about a sealed honey-pot,
for this nearness to her idol was both delightful and maddening. She
pined to see, hear, talk with, and study this great and happy woman
who could thrill thousands by her art, and win friends by her virtue,
benevolence, and beauty. This was the sort of actress the girl meant
to be, and few could object if the gift was really hers; for the
stage needs just such women to purify and elevate the profession
which should teach as well as amuse. If kindly Miss Cameron had known
what passionate love and longing burned in the bosom of the little
girl whom she idly observed skipping over the rocks, splashing about
the beach, or galloping past her gate on a Shetland pony, she would
have made her happy by a look or a word. But being tired with her
winter's work and busy with her new part, the lady took no more
notice of this young neighbour than of the sea-gulls in the bay or
the daisies dancing in the fields. Nosegays left on her doorstep,
serenades under her garden-wall, and the fixed stare of admiring eyes
were such familiar things that she scarcely minded them; and Josie
grew desperate when all her little attempts failed.
'I might climb that pine-tree and tumble off on her piazza roof, or
get Sheltie to throw me just at her gate and be taken in fainting.
It's no use to try to drown myself when she is bathing. I can't sink,
and she'd only send a man to pull me out. What can I do? I will see
her and tell her my hopes and make her say I can act some day. Mamma
would believe her; and if--oh, if she only would let me study with
her, what perfect joy that would be!'
Josie made these remarks one afternoon as she and Bess prepared for a
swim, a fishing party having prevented their morning bathe.
'You must bide your time, dear, and not be so impatient. Papa
promised to give you a chance before the season is over, and he
always manages things nicely. That will be better than any queer
prank of yours,' answered Bess, tying her pretty hair in a white net
to match her suit, while Josie made a little lobster of herself in
'I hate to wait; but I suppose I must. Hope she will bathe this
afternoon, though it is low tide. She told Uncle she should have to
go in then because in the morning people stared so and went on her
beach. Come and have a good dive from the big rock. No one round but
nurses and babies, so we can romp and splash as much as we like.'
Away they went to have a fine time; for the little bay was free from
other bathers, and the babies greatly admired their aquatic
gymnastics, both being expert swimmers.
As they sat dripping on the big rock Josie suddenly gave a clutch
that nearly sent Bess overboard, as she cried excitedly:
'There she is! Look! coming to bathe. How splendid! Oh, if she only
would drown a little and let me save her! or even get her toe nipped
by a crab; anything so I could go and speak!'
'Don't seem to look; she comes to be quiet and enjoy herself.
Pretend we don't see her, that's only civil,' answered Bess,
affecting to be absorbed in a white-winged yacht going by.
'Let's carelessly float that way as if going for seaweed on the
rocks. She can't mind if we are flat on our backs, with only our
noses out. Then when we can't help seeing her, we'll swim back as if
anxious to retire. That will impress her, and she may call to thank
the very polite young ladies who respect her wishes,' proposed Josie,
whose lively fancy was always planning dramatic situations.
Just as they were going to slip from their rock, as if Fate relented
at last, Miss Cameron was seen to beckon wildly as she stood
waist-deep in the water, looking down. She called to her maid, who
seemed searching along the beach for something, and not finding what
she sought, waved a towel towards the girls as if summoning them to
'Run, fly! she wants us, she wants us!' cried Josie, tumbling into
the water like a very energetic turtle, and swimming away in her best
style towards this long desired haven of joy. Bess followed more
slowly, and both came panting and smiling up to Miss Cameron, who
never lifted her eyes, but said in that wonderful voice of hers:
'I've dropped a bracelet. I see it, but can't get it. Will the little
boy find me a long stick? I'll keep my eye on it, so the water shall
not wash it away.'
'I'll dive for it with pleasure; but I'm not a boy,' answered Josie,
laughing as she shook the curly head which at a distance had deceived
'I beg your pardon. Dive away, child; the sand is covering it fast. I
value it very much. Never forgot to take it off before.'
'I'll get it!' and down went Josie, to come up with a handful of
pebbles, but no bracelet.
'It's gone; never mind--my fault,' said Miss Cameron, disappointed,
but amused at the girl's dismay as she shook the water out of her
eyes and gasped bravely:
'No, it isn't. I'll have it, if I stay down all night!' and with one
long breath Josie dived again, leaving nothing but a pair of agitated
feet to be seen.
'I'm afraid she will hurt herself,' said Miss Cameron, looking at
Bess, whom she recognized by her likeness to her mother.
'Oh, no; Josie is a little fish. She likes it'; and Bess smiled
happily at this wonderful granting of her cousin's desire.
'You are Mr Laurence's daughter, I think? How d'ye do, dear? Tell
papa I'm coming to see him soon. Too tired before. Quite savage.
Better now. Ah! here's our pearl of divers. What luck?' she asked, as
the heels went down and a dripping head came up.
Josie could only choke and splutter at first, being half strangled;
but though her hands had failed again, her courage had not; and with
a resolute shake of her wet hair, a bright look at the tall lady, and
a series of puffs to fill her lungs, she said calmly:
'"Never give up" is my motto. I'm going to get it, if I go to
Liverpool for it! Now, then!' and down went the mermaid quite out of
sight this time, groping like a real lobster at the bottom of the
'Plucky little girl! I like that. Who is she?' asked the lady,
sitting down on a half-covered stone to watch her diver, since the
bracelet was lost sight of.
Bess told her, adding, with the persuasive smile of her father:
'Josie longs to be an actress, and has waited for a month to see you.
This is a great happiness for her.'
'Bless the child! why didn't she come and call? I'd have let her in;
though usually I avoid stage-struck girls as I do reporters,' laughed
There was no time for more; a brown hand, grasping the bracelet, rose
out of the sea, followed by a purple face as Josie came up so blind
and dizzy she could only cling to Bess, half drowned but triumphant.
Miss Cameron drew her to the rock where she sat, and pushing the hair
out of her eyes, revived her with a hearty 'Bravo! bravo!' which
assured the girl that her first act was a hit. Josie had often
imagined her meeting with the great actress--the dignity and grace
with which she would enter and tell her ambitious hopes, the
effective dress she would wear, the witty things she would say, the
deep impression her budding genius would make. But never in her
wildest moments had she imagined an interview like this; scarlet,
sandy, streaming, and speechless she leaned against the illustrious
shoulder, looking like a beautiful seal as she blinked and wheezed
till she could smile joyfully and exclaim proudly:
'I did get it! I'm so glad!'
'Now get your breath, my dear; then I shall be glad also. It was very
nice of you to take all that trouble for me. How shall I thank you?'
asked the lady, looking at her with the beautiful eyes that could say
so many things without words.
Josie clasped her hands with a wet spat which rather destroyed the
effect of the gesture, and answered in a beseeching tone that would
have softened a far harder heart than Miss Cameron's:
'Let me come and see you once--only once! I want you to tell me if I
can act; you will know. I'll abide by what you say; and if you think
I can--by and by, when I've studied very hard--I shall be the
happiest girl in the world. May I?'
'Yes; come tomorrow at eleven. We'll have a good talk; you shall show
me what you can do, and I'll give you my opinion. But you won't like
'I will, no matter if you tell me I'm a fool. I want it settled; so
does mamma. I'll take it bravely if you say no; and if you say yes,
I'll never give up till I've done my best--as you did.'
'Ah, my child, it's a weary road, and there are plenty of thorns
among the roses when you've won them. I think you have the courage,
and this proves that you have perseverance. Perhaps you'll do. Come,
and we'll see.'
Miss Cameron touched the bracelet as she spoke, and smiled so kindly
that impetuous Josie wanted to kiss her; but wisely refrained, though
her eyes were wet with softer water than any in the sea as she
'We are keeping Miss Cameron from her bath, and the tide is going
out. Come, Josie,' said thoughtful Bess, fearing to outstay their
'Run over the beach and get warm. Thank you very much, little
mermaid. Tell papa to bring his daughter to see me any time.
Good-bye'; and with a wave of her hand the tragedy queen dismissed
her court, but remained on her weedy throne watching the two lithe
figures race over the sand with twinkling feet till they were out of
sight. Then, as she calmly bobbed up and down in the water, she said
to herself: 'The child has a good stage face, vivid, mobile; fine
eyes, abandon, pluck, will. Perhaps she'll do. Good stock--talent in
the family. We shall see.'
Of course Josie never slept a wink, and was in a fever of joyful
excitement next day. Uncle Laurie enjoyed the episode very much, and
Aunt Amy looked out her most becoming white dress for the grand
occasion; Bess lent her most artistic hat, and Josie ranged the wood
and marsh for a bouquet of wild roses, sweet white azalea, ferns, and
graceful grasses, as the offering of a very grateful heart.
At ten she solemnly arrayed herself, and then sat looking at her neat
gloves and buckled shoes till it was time to go, growing pale and
sober with the thought that her fate was soon to be decided; for,
like all young people she was sure that her whole life could be
settled by one human creature, quite forgetting how wonderfully
Providence trains us by disappointment, surprises us with unexpected
success, and turns our seeming trials into blessings.
'I will go alone: we shall be freer so. Oh, Bess, pray that she may
tell me rightly! So much depends on that! Don't laugh, uncle! It is a
very serious moment for me. Miss Cameron knows that, and will tell
you so. Kiss me, Aunt Amy, since mamma isn't here. If you say I look
nice, I'm quite satisfied. Good-bye.' And with a wave of the hand as
much like her model's as she could make it, Josie departed, looking
very pretty and feeling very tragical.
Sure now of admittance, she boldly rang at the door which excluded so
many, and being ushered into a shady parlour, feasted her eyes upon
several fine portraits of great actors while she waited. She had read
about most of them, and knew their trials and triumphs so well that
she soon forgot herself, and tried to imitate Mrs Siddons as Lady
Macbeth, looking up at the engraving as she held her nosegay like the
candle in the sleep-walking scene, and knit her youthful brows
distressfully while murmuring the speech of the haunted queen. So
busy was she that Miss Cameron watched her for several minutes
unseen, then startled her by suddenly sweeping in with the words upon
her lips, the look upon her face, which made that one of her greatest
'I never can do it like that; but I'll keep trying, if you say I
may,' cried Josie, forgetting her manners in the intense interest of
'Show me what you can do,' answered the actress, wisely plunging into
the middle of things at once, well knowing that no common chat would
satisfy this very earnest little person.
'First let me give you these. I thought you'd like wild things better
than hot-house flowers; and I loved to bring them, as I'd no other
way to thank you for your great kindness to me,' said Josie, offering
her nosegay with a simple warmth that was very sweet.
'I do love them best, and keep my room full of the posies some good
fairy hangs on my gate. Upon my word, I think I've found the fairy
out--these are so like,' she added quickly, as her eye went from the
flowers in her hand to others that stood near by, arranged with the
Josie's blush and smile betrayed her before she said, with a look
full of girlish adoration and humility: 'I couldn't help it; I admire
you so much. I know it was a liberty; but as I couldn't get in
myself, I loved to think my posies pleased you.'
Something about the child and her little offering touched the woman,
and, drawing Josie to her, she said, with no trace of actress in face
'They did please me, dear, and so do you. I'm tired of praise; and
love is very sweet, when it is simple and sincere like this.'
Josie remembered to have heard, among many other stories, that Miss
Cameron lost her lover years ago, and since had lived only for art.
Now she felt that this might have been true; and pity for the
splendid, lonely life made her face very eloquent, as well as
grateful. Then, as if anxious to forget the past, her new friend
said, in the commanding way that seemed natural to her:
'Let me see what you can do. Juliet, of course. All begin with that.
Poor soul, how she is murdered!'
Now, Josie had intended to begin with Romeo's much-enduring
sweetheart, and follow her up with Bianca, Pauline, and several of
the favourite idols of stage-struck girls; but being a shrewd little
person, she suddenly saw the wisdom of Uncle Laurie's advice, and
resolved to follow it. So instead of the rant Miss Cameron expected,
Josie gave poor Ophelia's mad scene, and gave it very well, having
been trained by the college professor of elocution and done it many
times. She was too young, of course, but the white gown, the loose
hair, the real flowers she scattered over the imaginary grave, added
to the illusion; and she sung the songs sweetly, dropped her pathetic
curtsies, and vanished behind the curtain that divided the rooms with
a backward look that surprised her critical auditor into a quick
gesture of applause. Cheered by that welcome sound, Josie ran back as
a little hoyden in one of the farces she had often acted, telling a
story full of fun and naughtiness at first, but ending with a sob of
repentance and an earnest prayer for pardon.
'Very good! Try again. Better than I expected,' called the voice of
Josie tried Portia's speech, and recited very well, giving due
emphasis to each fine sentence. Then, unable to refrain from what she
considered her greatest effort, she burst into Juliet's balcony
scene, ending with the poison and the tomb. She felt sure that she
surpassed herself, and waited for applause. A ringing laugh made her
tingle with indignation and disappointment, as she went to stand
before Miss Cameron, saying in a tone of polite surprise:
'I have been told that I did it very well. I'm sorry you don't think
'My dear, it's very bad. How can it help being so? What can a child
like you know of love and fear and death? Don't try it yet. Leave
tragedy alone till you are ready for it.'
'But you clapped Ophelia.'
'Yes, that was very pretty. Any clever girl can do it effectively.
But the real meaning of Shakespeare is far above you yet, child. The
comedy bit was best. There you showed real talent. It was both comic
and pathetic. That's art. Don't lose it. The Portia was good
declamation. Go on with that sort of thing; it trains the voice--
teaches shades of expression. You've a good voice and natural
grace--great helps both, hard to acquire.'
'Well, I'm glad I've got something,' sighed Josie, sitting meekly on
a stool, much crestfallen, but not daunted yet, and bound to have her
'My dear little girl, I told you that you would not like what I
should say to you; yet I must be honest if I would really help you.
I've had to do it for many like you; and most of them have never
forgiven me, though my words have proved true, and they are what I
advised them to be--good wives and happy mothers in quiet homes. A
few have kept on, and done fairly well. One you will hear of soon, I
think; for she has talent, indomitable patience, and mind as well as
beauty. You are too young to show to which class you belong. Geniuses
are very rare, and even at fifteen seldom give much promise of future
'Oh, I don't think I'm a genius!' cried Josie, growing calm and sober
as she listened to the melodious voice and looked into the expressive
face that filled her with confidence, so strong, sincere, and kindly
was it. 'I only want to find out if I have talent enough to go on,
and after years of study to be able to act well in any of the good
plays people never tire of seeing. I don't expect to be a Mrs Siddons
or a Miss Cameron, much as I long to be; but it does seem as if I had
something in me which can't come out in any way but this. When I act
I'm perfectly happy. I seem to live, to be in my own world, and each
new part is a new friend. I love Shakespeare, and am never tired of
his splendid people. Of course, I don't understand it all; but it's
like being alone at night with the mountains and the stars, solemn
and grand, and I try to imagine how it will look when the sun comes
up, and all is glorious and clear to me. I can't see, but I feel the
beauty, and long to express it.'
As she spoke with the most perfect self-forgetfulness Josie was pale
with excitement, her eyes shone, her lips trembled, and all her
little soul seemed trying to put into words the emotions that filled
it to overflowing. Miss Cameron understood, felt that this was
something more than a girlish whim; and when she answered there was a
new tone of sympathy in her voice, a new interest in her face, though
she wisely refrained from saying all she thought, well knowing what
splendid dreams young people build upon a word, and how bitter is the
pain when the bright bubbles burst.
'If you feel this, I can give you no better advice than to go on
loving and studying our great master,' she said slowly; but Josie
caught the changed tone, and felt, with a thrill of joy, that her new
friend was speaking to her now as to a comrade. 'It is an education
in itself, and a lifetime is not long enough to teach you all his
secret. But there is much to do before you can hope to echo his
words. Have you the patience, courage, strength, to begin at the
beginning, and slowly, painfully, lay the foundation for future work?
Fame is a pearl many dive for and only a few bring up. Even when they
do, it is not perfect, and they sigh for more, and lose better things
in struggling for them.'
The last words seemed spoken more to herself than to her hearer, but
Josie answered quickly, with a smile and an expressive gesture:
'I got the bracelet in spite of all the bitter water in my eyes.'
'You did! I don't forget it. A good omen. We will accept it.'
Miss Cameron answered the smile with one that was like sunshine to
the girl, and stretched her white hands as if taking some invisible
gift. Then added in a different tone, watching the effect of her
words on the expressive face before her:
'Now you will be disappointed, for instead of telling you to come and
study with me, or go and act in some second-rate theatre at once, I
advise you to go back to school and finish your education. That is
the first step, for all accomplishments are needed, and a single
talent makes a very imperfect character. Cultivate mind and body,
heart and soul, and make yourself an intelligent, graceful,
beautiful, and healthy girl. Then, at eighteen or twenty, go into
training and try your powers. Better start for the battle with your
arms in order, and save the hard lesson which comes when we rush on
too soon. Now and then genius carries all before it, but not often.
We have to climb slowly, with many slips and falls. Can you wait as
well as work?'
'We shall see. It would be pleasant to me to know that when I quit
the stage I leave behind me a well-trained, faithful, gifted comrade
to more than fill my place, and carry on what I have much at heart--
the purification of the stage. Perhaps you are she; but remember,
mere beauty and rich costumes do not make an actress, nor are the
efforts of a clever little girl to play great characters real art. It
is all dazzle and sham, and a disgrace and disappointment now. Why
will the public be satisfied with opera bouffe, or the trash called
society plays when a world of truth and beauty, poetry and pathos
lies waiting to be interpreted and enjoyed?'
Miss Cameron had forgotten to whom she spoke, and walked to and fro,
full of the noble regret all cultivated people feel at the low state
of the stage nowadays.
'That's what Uncle Laurie says; and he and Aunt Jo try to plan plays
about true and lovely things--simple domestic scenes that touch
people's hearts, and make them laugh and cry and feel better. Uncle
says that sort is my style, and I must not think of tragedy. But
it's so much nicer to sweep about in crowns and velvet trains than to
wear everyday clothes, and just be myself, though it is so easy.'
'Yet that is high art, child, and what we need for a time till we are
ready for the masters. Cultivate that talent of yours. It is a
special gift, this power to bring tears and smiles, and a sweeter
task to touch the heart than to freeze the blood or fire the
imagination. Tell your uncle he is right, and ask your aunt to try a
play for you. I'll come and see it when you are ready.'
'Will you? Oh! will you? We are going to have some at Christmas, with
a nice part for me. A simple little thing, but I can do it, and
should be so proud, so happy to have you there.'
Josie rose as she spoke, for a glance at the clock showed her that
her call was a long one; and hard as it was to end this momentous
interview, she felt that she must go. Catching up her hat she went to
Miss Cameron, who stood looking at her so keenly that she felt as
transparent as a pane of glass, and coloured prettily as she looked
up, saying, with a grateful little tremor in her voice:
'I can never thank you for this hour and all you have told me. I
shall do just what you advise, and mamma will be very glad to see me
settled at my books again. I can study now with all my heart, because
it is to help me on; and I won't hope too much, but work and wait,
and try to please you, as the only way to pay my debt.'
'That reminds me that I have not paid mine. Little friend, wear this
for my sake. It is fit for a mermaid, and will remind you of your
first dive. May the next bring up a better jewel, and leave no bitter
water on your lips!'
As she spoke, Miss Cameron took from the lace at her throat a pretty
pin of aquamarine, and fastened it like an order on Josie's proud
bosom; then lifting the happy little face, she kissed it very
tenderly, and watched it go smiling away with eyes that seemed to see
into a future full of the trials and the triumphs which she knew so
Bess expected to see Josie come flying in, all raptures and
excitement, or drowned in tears of disappointment, but was surprised
at the expression of calm content and resolution which she wore.
Pride and satisfaction, and a new feeling of responsibility both
sobered and sustained her, and she felt that any amount of dry study
and long waiting would be bearable, if in the glorious future she
could be an honour to her profession and a comrade to the new friend
whom she already adored with girlish ardour.
She told her little story to a deeply interested audience, and all
felt that Miss Cameron's advice was good. Mrs Amy was relieved at the
prospect of delay; for she did not want her niece to be an actress
and hoped the fancy would die out.
Uncle Laurie was full of charming plans and prophecies and wrote one
of his most delightful notes to thank their neighbour for her
kindness; while Bess, who loved art of all kinds, fully sympathized
with her cousin's ambitious hopes, only wondering why she preferred
to act out her visions rather than embody them in marble.
That first interview was not the last; for Miss Cameron was really
interested, and had several memorable conversations with the
Laurences, while the girls sat by, drinking in every word with the
delight all artists feel in their own beautiful world, and learning
to see how sacred good gifts are, how powerful, and how faithfully
they should be used for high ends, each in its own place helping to
educate, refine, and refresh.
Josie wrote reams to her mother; and when the visit ended rejoiced
her heart by bringing her a somewhat changed little daughter, who
fell to work at the once-detested books with a patient energy which
surprised and pleased everyone. The right string had been touched,
and even French exercises and piano practice became endurable, since
accomplishments would be useful by and by; dress, manners, and habits
were all interesting now, because 'mind and body, heart and soul,
must be cultivated', and while training to become an 'intelligent,
graceful, healthy girl', little Josie was unconsciously fitting
herself to play her part well on whatever stage the great Manager
might prepare for her.
THE WORM TURNS
Two very superior bicycles went twinkling up the road to Plumfield
one September afternoon, bearing two brown and dusty riders evidently
returning from a successful run, for though their legs might be a
trifle weary, their faces beamed as they surveyed the world from
their lofty perches with the air of calm content all wheelmen wear
after they have learned to ride; before that happy period anguish of
mind and body is the chief expression of the manly countenance.
'Go ahead and report, Tom; I'm due here. See you later,' said Demi,
swinging himself down at the door of the Dovecote.
'Don't peach, there's a good fellow. Let me have it out with Mother
Bhaer first,' returned Tom, wheeling in at the gate with a heavy
Demi laughed, and his comrade went slowly up the avenue, devoutly
hoping that the coast was clear; for he was the bearer of tidings
which would, he thought, convulse the entire family with astonishment
To his great joy Mrs Jo was discovered alone in a grove of
proof-sheets, which she dropped, to greet the returning wanderer
cordially. But after the first glance she saw that something was the
matter, recent events having made her unusually sharp-eyed and
'What is it now, Tom?' she asked, as he subsided into an easy-chair
with a curious expression of mingled fear, shame, amusement, and
distress in his brick-red countenance.
'I'm in an awful scrape, ma'am.'
'Of course; I'm always prepared for scrapes when you appear. What is
it? Run over some old lady who is going to law about it?' asked Mrs
'Worse than that,' groaned Tom.
'Not poisoned some trusting soul who asked you to prescribe, I hope?'
'Worse than that.'
'You haven't let Demi catch any horrid thing and left him behind,
'Worse even than that.'
'I give it up. Tell me quick; I hate to wait for bad news.'
Having got his listener sufficiently excited, Tom launched his
thunderbolt in one brief sentence, and fell back to watch the effect.
Mrs Jo's proof-sheets flew wildly about as she clasped her hands,
exclaiming in dismay:
'If Nan has yielded, I'll never forgive her!'
'She hasn't; it's another girl.'
Tom's face was so funny as he said the words, that it was impossible
to help laughing; for he looked both sheepish and pleased, besides
very much perplexed and worried.
'I'm glad, very glad indeed! Don't care who it is; and I hope you'll
be married soon. Now tell me all about it,' commanded Mrs Jo, so much
relieved that she felt ready for anything.
'What will Nan say?' demanded Tom, rather taken aback at this view of
'She will be rejoiced to get rid of the mosquito who has plagued her
so long. Don't worry about Nan. Who is this "other girl"?'
'Demi hasn't written about her?'
'Only something about your upsetting a Miss West down at Quitno; I
thought that was scrape enough.'
'That was only the beginning of a series of scrapes. Just my luck!
Of course after sousing the poor girl I had to be attentive to her,
hadn't I? Everyone seemed to think so, and I couldn't get away, and
so I was lost before I knew it. It's all Demi's fault, he would stay
there and fuss with his old photos, because the views were good and
all the girls wanted to be taken. Look at these, will you, ma'am?
That's the way we spent our time when we weren't playing tennis'; and
Tom pulled a handful of pictures from his pocket, displaying several
in which he was conspicuous, either holding a sun-umbrella over a
very pretty young lady on the rocks, reposing at her feet in the
grass, or perched on a piazza railing with other couples in seaside
costumes and effective attitudes.
'This is she of course?' asked Mrs Jo, pointing to the much-ruffled
damsel with the jaunty hat, coquettish shoes, and racquet in her
'That's Dora. Isn't she lovely?' cried Tom, forgetting his
tribulations for a moment and speaking with lover-like ardour.
'Very nice little person to look at. Hope she is not a Dickens Dora?
That curly crop looks like it.'
'Not a bit; she's very smart; can keep house, and sew, and do lots of
things, I assure you, ma'am. All the girls like her, and she's
sweet-tempered and jolly, and sings like a bird, and dances
beautifully, and loves books. Thinks yours are splendid, and made me
talk about you no end.'
'That last sentence is to flatter me and win my help to get you out
of the scrape. Tell me first how you got in'; and Mrs Jo settled
herself to listen with interest, never tired of boys' affairs.
Tom gave his head a rousing rub all over to clear his wits, and
plunged into his story with a will.
'Well, we've met her before, but I didn't know she was there. Demi
wanted to see a fellow, so we went, and finding it nice and cool
rested over Sunday. Found some pleasant people and went out rowing; I
had Dora, and came to grief on a confounded rock. She could swim, no
harm done, only the scare and the spoilt gown. She took it well, and
we got friendly at once--couldn't help it, scrambling into that beast
of a boat while the rest laughed at us. Of course we had to stay
another day to see that Dora was all right. Demi wanted to. Alice
Heath is down there and two other girls from our college, so we sort
of lingered along, and Demi kept taking pictures, and we danced, and
got into a tennis tournament; and that was as good exercise as
wheeling, we thought. Fact is, tennis is a dangerous game, ma'am. A
great deal of courting goes on in those courts, and we fellows find
that sort of "serving" mighty agreeable, don't you know?'
'Not much tennis in my day, but I understand perfectly,' said Mrs Jo,
enjoying it all as much as Tom did.
'Upon my word, I hadn't the least idea of being serious,' he
continued slowly, as if this part of his tale was hard to tell; 'but
everyone else spooned, so I did. Dora seemed to like it and expect
it, and of course I was glad to be agreeable. She thought I amounted
to something, though Nan does not, and it was pleasant to be
appreciated after years of snubbing. Yes, it was right down jolly to
have a sweet girl smile at you all day, and blush prettily when you
said a neat thing to her, and look glad when you came, sorry when you
left, and admire all you did, and make you feel like a man and act
your best. That's the sort of treatment a fellow enjoys and ought to
get if he behaves himself; not frowns and cold shoulders year in and
year out, and made to look like a fool when he means well, and is
faithful, and has loved a girl ever since he was a boy. No, by Jove,
it's not fair, and I won't stand it!'
Tom waxed warm and eloquent as he thought over his wrongs, and
bounced up to march about the room, wagging his head and trying to
feel aggrieved as usual, but surprised to find that his heart did not
ache a bit.
'I wouldn't. Drop the old fancy, for it was nothing more, and take up
the new one, if it is genuine. But how came you to propose, Tom, as
you must have done to be engaged?' asked Mrs Jo, impatient for the
crisis of the tale.
'Oh, that was an accident. I didn't mean it at all; the donkey did
it, and I couldn't get out of the scrape without hurting Dora's
feelings, you see,' began Tom, seeing that the fatal moment had come.
'So there were two donkeys in it, were there?' said Mrs Jo,
foreseeing fun of some sort.
'Don't laugh! It sounds funny, I know; but it might have been awful,'
answered Tom darkly, though a twinkle of the eye showed that his love
trials did not quite blind him to the comic side of the adventure.
'The girls admired our new wheels, and of course we liked to show
off. Took 'em to ride, and had larks generally. Well, one day, Dora
was on behind, and we were going nicely along a good bit of road,
when a ridiculous old donkey got right across the way. I thought he'd
move, but he didn't, so I gave him a kick; he kicked back, and over
we went in a heap, donkey and all. Such a mess! I thought only of
Dora, and she had hysterics; at least, she laughed till she cried,
and that beast brayed, and I lost my head. Any fellow would, with a
poor girl gasping in the road, and he wiping her tears and begging
pardon, not knowing whether her bones were broken or not. I called
her my darling, and went on like a fool in my flurry, till she grew
calmer, and said, with such a look: "I forgive you, Tom. Pick me up,
and let us go on again."
'Wasn't that sweet now, after I'd upset her for the second time? It
touched me to the heart; and I said I'd like to go on for ever with
such an angel to steer for, and--well I don't know what I did say;
but you might have knocked me down with a feather when she put her
arm round my neck and whispered: "Tom, dear, with you I'm not afraid
of any lions in the path." She might have said donkeys; but she was
in earnest, and she spared my feelings. Very nice of the dear girl;
but there I am with two sweethearts on my hands, and in a deuce of a
Finding it impossible to contain herself another moment, Mrs Jo
laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks at this characteristic
episode; and after one reproachful look, which only added to her
merriment, Tom burst into a jolly roar that made the room ring.
'Tommy Bangs! Tommy Bangs! who but you could ever get into such a
catastrophe?' said Mrs Jo, when she recovered her breath.
'Isn't it a muddle all round, and won't everyone chaff me to death
about it? I shall have to quit old Plum for a while,' answered Tom,
as he mopped his face, trying to realize the full danger of his
'No, indeed; I'll stand by you, for I think it the best joke of the
season. But tell me how things ended. Is it really serious, or only a
summer flirtation? I don't approve of them, but boys and girls will
play with edged tools and cut their fingers.'
'Well, Dora considers herself engaged, and wrote to her people at
once. I couldn't say a word when she took it all in solemn earnest
and seemed so happy. She's only seventeen, never liked anyone before,
and is sure all will be all right; as her father knows mine, and we
are both well off. I was so staggered that I said:
'"Why, you can't love me really when we know so little of one
another?" But she answered right out of her tender little heart:
"Yes, I do, dearly, Tom; you are so gay and kind and honest, I
couldn't help it." Now, after that what could I do but go ahead and
make her happy while I stayed, and trust to luck to straighten the
snarl out afterwards?'
'A truly Tomian way of taking things easy. I hope you told your
father at once.'
'Oh yes, I wrote off and broke it to him in three lines. I said:
"Dear Father, I'm engaged to Dora West, and I hope she will suit the
family. She suits me tip-top. Yours ever, Tom." He was all right,
never liked Nan, you know; but Dora will suit him down to the
ground.' And Tom looked entirely satisfied with his own tact and
'What did Demi say to this rapid and funny lovemaking? Wasn't he
scandalized?' asked Mrs Jo, trying not to laugh again as she thought
of the unromantic spectacle of donkey, bicycle, boy, and girl all in
the dust together.
'Not a bit. He was immensely interested and very kind; talked to me
like a father; said it was a good thing to steady a fellow, only I
must be honest with her and myself and not trifle a moment. Demi is a
regular Solomon, especially when he is in the same boat,' answered
Tom, looking wise.
'You don't mean--?' gasped Mrs Jo, in sudden alarm at the bare idea
of more love-affairs just yet.
'Yes, I do, please, ma'am; it's a regular sell all the way through,
and I owe Demi one for taking me into temptation blindfold. He said
he went to Quitno to see Fred Wallace, but he never saw the fellow.
How could he, when Wallace was off in his yacht all the time we were
there? Alice was the real attraction, and I was left to my fate,
while they were maundering round with that old camera. There were
three donkeys in this affair, and I'm not the worst one, though I
shall have to bear the laugh. Demi will look innocent and sober, and
no one will say a word to him.'
'The midsummer madness has broken out, and no one knows who will be
stricken next. Well, leave Demi to his mother, and let us see what
you are going to do, Tom.'
'I don't know exactly; it's awkward to be in love with two girls at
once. What do you advise?'
'A common-sense view of the case, by all means. Dora loves you and
thinks you love her. Nan does not care for you, and you only care for
her as a friend, though you have tried to do more. It is my opinion,
Tom, that you love Dora, or are on the way to it; for in all these
years I've never seen you look or speak about Nan as you do about
Dora. Opposition has made you obstinately cling to her till accident
has shown you a more attractive girl. Now, I think you had better
take the old love for a friend, the new one for a sweetheart, and in
due time, if the sentiment is genuine, marry her.'
If Mrs Jo had any doubts about the matter, Tom's face would have
proved the truth of her opinion; for his eyes shone, his lips smiled,
and in spite of dust and sunburn a new expression of happiness quite
glorified him as he stood silent for a moment, trying to understand
the beautiful miracle which real love works when it comes to a young
'The fact is I meant to make Nan jealous, for she knows Dora, and I
was sure would hear of our doings. I was tired of being walked on,
and I thought I'd try to break away and not be a bore and a
laughing-stock any more,' he said slowly, as if it relieved him to
pour out his doubts and woes and hopes and joys to his old friend.
'I was regularly astonished to find it so easy and so pleasant. I
didn't mean to do any harm, but drifted along beautifully, and told
Demi to mention things in his letters to Daisy, so Nan might know.
Then I forgot Nan altogether, and saw, heard, felt, cared for no one
but Dora, till the donkey--bless his old heart!--pitched her into my
arms and I found she loved me. Upon my soul, I don't see why she
should! I'm not half good enough.'
'Every honest man feels that when an innocent girl puts her hand in
his. Make yourself worthy of her, for she isn't an angel, but a woman
with faults of her own for you to bear, and forgive, and you must
help one another,' said Mrs Jo, trying to realize that this sober
youth was her scapegrace Tommy.
'What troubles me is that I didn't mean it when I began, and was
going to use the dear girl as an instrument of torture for Nan. It
wasn't right, and I don't deserve to be so happy. If all my scrapes
ended as well as this, what a state of bliss I should be in!' and Tom
beamed again at the rapturous prospect.
'My dear boy, it is not a scrape, but a very sweet experience
suddenly dawning upon you,' answered Mrs Jo, speaking very soberly;
for she saw he was in earnest. 'Enjoy it wisely and be worthy of it,
for it is a serious thing to accept a girl's love and trust, and let
her look up to you for tenderness and truth in return. Don't let
little Dora look in vain, but be a man in all things for her sake,
and make this affection a blessing to you both.'
'I'll try. Yes, I do love her, only I can't believe it just yet. Wish
you knew her. Dear little soul, I long to see her already! She cried
when we parted last night and I hated to go.' Tom's hand went to his
cheek as if he still felt the rosy little seal Dora had set upon his
promise not to forget her, and for the first time in his
happy-go-lucky life Tommy Bangs understood the difference between
sentiment and sentimentality. The feeling recalled Nan, for he had
never known that tender thrill when thinking of her, and the old
friendship seemed rather a prosaic affair beside this delightful
mingling of romance, surprise, love, and fun. 'I declare, I feel as
if a weight was off me, but what the dickens will Nan say when she
knows it!' he exclaimed with a chuckle.
'Knows what?' asked a clear voice that made both start and turn, for
there was Nan calmly surveying them from the doorway.
Anxious to put Tom out of suspense and see how Nan would take the
news, Mrs Jo answered quickly:
'Tom's engagement to Dora West.'
'Really?' and Nan looked so surprised that Mrs Jo was afraid she
might be fonder of her old playmate than she knew; but her next words
set the fear at rest, and made everything comfortable and merry at
'I knew my prescription would work wonders if he only took it long
enough. Dear old Tom, I'm so glad. Bless you! bless you!' And she
shook both his hands with hearty affection.
'It was an accident, Nan. I didn't mean to, but I'm always getting
into messes, and I couldn't seem to get out of this any other way.
Mother Bhaer will tell you all about it. I must go and make myself
tidy. Going to tea with Demi. See you later.'
Stammering, blushing, and looking both sheepish and gratified, Tom
suddenly bolted, leaving the elder lady to enlighten the younger at
length, and have another laugh over this new sort of courtship, which
might well be called accidental. Nan was deeply interested, for she
knew Dora, thought her a nice little thing, and predicted that in
time she would make Tom an excellent wife, since she admired and
'appreciated' him so much.
'I shall miss him of course, but it will be a relief to me and better
for him; dangling is so bad for a boy. Now he will go into business
with his father and do well, and everyone be happy. I shall give Dora
an elegant family medicine-chest for a wedding-present, and teach her
how to use it. Tom can't be trusted, and is no more fit for the
profession than Silas.'
The latter part of this speech relieved Mrs Jo's mind, for Nan had
looked about her as if she had lost something valuable when she
began; but the medicine-chest seemed to cheer her, and the thought of
Tom in a safe profession was evidently a great comfort.
'The worm has turned at last, Nan, and your bond-man is free. Let him
go, and give your whole mind to your work; for you are fitted for the
profession, and will be an honour to it by and by,' she said
'I hope so. That reminds me--measles are in the village, and you had
better tell the girls not to call where there are children. It would
be bad to have a run of them just as term begins. Now I'm off to
Daisy. Wonder what she will say to Tom. Isn't he great fun?' And Nan
departed, laughing over the joke with such genuine satisfaction that
it was evident no sentimental regrets disturbed her 'maiden
'I shall have my eye on Demi, but won't say a word. Meg likes to
manage her children in her own way, and a very good way it is. But
the dear Pelican will be somewhat ruffled if her boy has caught the
epidemic which seems to have broken out among us this summer.'
Mrs Jo did not mean the measles, but that more serious malady called
love, which is apt to ravage communities, spring and autumn, when
winter gaiety and summer idleness produce whole bouquets of
engagements, and set young people to pairing off like the birds.
Franz began it, Nat was a chronic and Tom a sudden case; Demi seemed
to have the symptoms; and worst of all, her own Ted had only the day
before calmly said to her: 'Mum, I think I should be happier if I had
a sweetheart, like the other boys.' If her cherished son had asked
her for dynamite to play with, she would hardly have been more
startled, or have more decidedly refused the absurd request.
'Well, Barry Morgan said I ought to have one and offered to pick me
out a nice one among our set. I asked Josie first, and she hooted at
the idea, so I thought I'd let Barry look round. You say it steadies
a fellow, and I want to be steady,' explained Ted in a serious tone,
which would have convulsed his parent at any other time.
'Good lack! What are we coming to in this fast age when babes and
boys make such demands and want to play with one of the most sacred
things in life?' exclaimed Mrs Jo, and having in a few words set the
matter in its true light, sent her son away to wholesome baseball and
Octoo for a safe sweetheart.
Now, here was Tom's bomb-shell to explode in their midst, carrying
widespread destruction, perhaps; for though one swallow does not make
a summer, one engagement is apt to make several, and her boys were,
most of them, at the inflammable age when a spark ignites the flame,
which soon flickers and dies out, or burns warm and clear for life.
Nothing could be done about it but to help them make wise choices,
and be worthy of good mates. But of all the lessons Mrs Jo had tried
to teach her boys, this great one was the hardest; for love is apt to
make lunatics of even saints and sages, so young people cannot be
expected to escape the delusions, disappointments, and mistakes, as
well as the delights, of this sweet madness.
'I suppose it is inevitable, since we live in America, so I won't
borrow trouble, but hope that some of the new ideas of education will
produce a few hearty, happy, capable, and intelligent girls for my
lads. Lucky for me that I haven't the whole twelve on my hands, I
should lose my wits if I had, for I foresee complications and
troubles ahead worse than Tom's boats, bicycles, donkeys, and Doras,'
meditated Mrs Jo, as she went back to her neglected proof-sheets.
Tom was quite satisfied with the tremendous effect his engagement
produced in the little community at Plumfield.
'It was paralysing,' as Demi said; and astonishment left most of
Tom's mates little breath for chaff. That he, the faithful one,
should turn from the idol to strange goddesses, was a shock to the
romantic and a warning to the susceptible. It was comical to see the
airs our Thomas put on; for the most ludicrous parts of the affair
were kindly buried in oblivion by the few who knew them, and Tom
burst forth as a full-blown hero who had rescued the maiden from a
watery grave, and won her gratitude and love by his daring deed.
Dora kept the secret, and enjoyed the fun when she came to see Mother
Bhaer and pay her respects to the family generally. Everyone liked
her at once, for she was a gay and winning little soul; fresh, frank,
and so happy, it was beautiful to see her innocent pride in Tom, who
was a new boy, or man rather; for with this change in his life a
great change took place in him. Jolly he would always be, and
impulsive, but he tried to become all that Dora believed him, and his
best side came uppermost for everyday wear. It was surprising to see
how many good traits Tom had; and his efforts to preserve the manly
dignity belonging to his proud position as an engaged man was very
comical. So was the entire change from his former abasement and
devotion to Nan to a somewhat lordly air with his little betrothed;
for Dora made an idol of him, and resented the idea of a fault or a
flaw in her Tom. This new state of things suited both, and the once
blighted being bloomed finely in the warm atmosphere of appreciation,
love, and confidence. He was very fond of the dear girl, but meant to
be a slave no longer, and enjoyed his freedom immensely, quite
unconscious that the great tyrant of the world had got hold of him
To his father's satisfaction he gave up his medical studies, and
prepared to go into business with the old gentleman, who was a
flourishing merchant, ready now to make the way smooth and smile upon
his marriage with Mr West's well-endowed daughter. The only thorn in
Tom's bed of roses was Nan's placid interest in his affairs, and
evident relief at his disloyalty. He did not want her to suffer, but
a decent amount of regret at the loss of such a lover would have
gratified him; a slight melancholy, a word of reproach, a glance of
envy as he passed with adoring Dora on his arm, seemed but the
fitting tribute to such years of faithful service and sincere
affection. But Nan regarded him with a maternal sort of air that
nettled him very much, and patted Dora's curly head with a
worldlywise air worthy of the withered spinster, Julia Mills, in
It took some time to get the old and the new emotions comfortably
adjusted, but Mrs Jo helped him, and Mr Laurie gave him some wise
advice upon the astonishing gymnastic feats the human heart can
perform, and be all the better for it if it only held fast to the
balancing-pole of truth and common sense. At last our Tommy got his
bearings, and as autumn came on Plumfield saw but little of him; for
his new lode star was in the city, and business kept him hard at
work. He was evidently in his right place now, and soon throve
finely, to his father's great contentment; for his jovial presence
pervaded the once quiet office like a gale of fresh wind, and his
lively wits found managing men and affairs much more congenial
employment than studying disease, or playing unseemly pranks with
Here we will leave him for a time and turn to the more serious
adventures of his mates, though this engagement, so merrily made, was
the anchor which kept our mercurial Tom happy, and made a man of him.
'Mother, can I have a little serious conversation with you?' asked
Demi one evening, as they sat together enjoying the first fire of the
season, while Daisy wrote letters upstairs and Josie was studying in
the little library close by.
'Certainly, dear. No bad news, I hope?' and Mrs Meg looked up from
her sewing with a mixture of pleasure and anxiety on her motherly
face; for she dearly loved a good talk with her son, and knew that he
always had something worth telling.
'It will be good news for you, I think,' answered Demi, smiling as he
threw away his paper and went to sit beside her on the little sofa
which just held two.
'Let me hear it, then, at once.'
'I know you don't like the reporting, and will be glad to hear that I
have given it up.'
'I am very glad! It is too uncertain a business, and there is no
prospect of getting on for a long time. I want you settled in some
good place where you can stay, and in time make money. I wish you
liked a profession; but as you don't, any clean, well-established
business will do.'
'What do you say to a railroad office?'
'I don't like it. A noisy, hurried kind of place, I know, with all
sorts of rough men about. I hope it isn't that, dear?'
'I could have it; but does book-keeping in a wholesale leather
business please you better?'
'No; you'll get round-shouldered writing at a tall desk; and they
say, once a book-keeper always a book-keeper.'
'How does a travelling agent suit your views?'
'Not at all; with all those dreadful accidents, and the exposure and
bad food as you go from place to place, you are sure to get killed or
lose your health.'
'I could be private secretary to a literary man; but the salary is
small, and may end any time.'
'That would be better, and more what I want. It isn't that I object
to honest work of any kind; but I don't want my son to spend his best
years grubbing for a little money in a dark office, or be knocked
about in a rough-and-tumble scramble to get on. I want to see you in
some business where your tastes and talents can be developed and made
useful; where you can go on rising, and in time put in your little
fortune and be a partner; so that your years of apprenticeship will
not be wasted, but fit you to take your place among the honourable
men who make their lives and work useful and respected. I talked it
all over with your dear father when you were a child; and if he had
lived he would have shown you what I mean, and helped you to be what
Mrs Meg wiped away a quiet tear as she spoke; for the memory of her
husband was a very tender one, and the education of his children had
been a sacred task to which she gave all her heart and life, and so
far she had done wonderfully well--as her good son and loving
daughters tried to prove. Demi's arm was round her now, as he said,
in a voice so like his father's that it was the sweetest music to her
'Mother dear, I think I have got just what you want for me; and it
shall not be my fault if I don't become the man you hope to see me.
Let me tell you all about it. I didn't say anything till it was sure
because it would only worry you; but Aunt Jo and I have been on the
look-out for it some time, and now it has come. You know her
publisher, Mr Tiber, is one of the most successful men in the
business; also generous, kind, and the soul of honour--as his
treatment of Aunty proves. Well, I've rather hankered for that place;
for I love books, and as I can't make them I'd like to publish them.
That needs some literary taste and judgement, it brings you in
contact with fine people, and is an education in itself. Whenever I
go into that large, handsome room to see Mr Tiber for Aunt Jo, I
always want to stay; for it's lined with books and pictures, famous
men and women come and go, and Mr Tiber sits at his desk like a sort
of king, receiving his subjects; for the greatest authors are humble
to him, and wait his Yes or No with anxiety. Of course I've nothing
to do with all that, and may never have; but I like to see it, and
the atmosphere is so different from the dark offices and hurly-burly
of many other trades, where nothing but money is talked about, that
it seems another world, and I feel at home in it. Yes, I'd rather
beat the door-mats and make fires there than be head clerk in the
great hide and leather store at a big salary.' Here Demi paused for
breath; and Mrs Meg, whose face had been growing brighter and
brighter, exclaimed eagerly:
'Just what I should like! Have you got it? Oh, my dear boy! your
fortune is made if you go to that well-established and flourishing
place, with those good men to help you along!'
'I think I have, but we mustn't be too sure of anything yet. I may
not suit; I'm only on trial, and must begin at the beginning and work
my way up faithfully. Mr Tiber was very kind, and will push me on as
fast as is fair to the other fellows, and as I prove myself fit to go
up. I'm to begin the first of next month in the book-room, filling
orders; and I go round and get orders, and do various other things of
the sort. I like it. I am ready to do anything about books, if it's
only to dust them,' laughed Demi, well pleased with his prospects,
for, after trying various things, he seemed at last to have found the
sort of work he liked, and a prospect that was very inviting to him.
'You inherit that love of books from grandpa; he can't live without
them. I'm glad of it. Tastes of that kind show a refined nature, and
are both a comfort and a help all one's life. I am truly glad and
grateful, John, that at last you want to settle, and have got such an
entirely satisfactory place. Most boys begin much earlier; but I
don't believe in sending them out to face the world so young, just
when body and soul need home care and watchfulness. Now you are a
man, and must begin your life for yourself. Do your best, and be as
honest, useful, and happy as your father, and I won't care about
making a fortune.'
'I'll try, mother. Couldn't have a better chance; for Tiber & Co.
treat their people like gentlemen, and pay generously for faithful
work. Things are done in a businesslike way there, and that suits me.
I hate promises that are not kept, and shiftless or tyrannical ways
anywhere. Mr Tiber said: "This is only to teach you the ropes,
Brooke; I shall have other work for you by and by." Aunty told him I
had done book notices, and had rather a fancy for literature; so
though I can't produce any "works of Shakespeare", as she says, I may
get up some little things later. If I don't, I think it a very
honourable and noble profession to select and give good books to the
world; and I'm satisfied to be a humble helper in the work.'
'I'm glad you feel so. It adds so much to one's happiness to love the
task one does. I used to hate teaching; but housekeeping for my own
family was always sweet, though much harder in many ways. Isn't Aunt
Jo pleased about all this?' asked Mrs Meg, already seeing in her
mind's eye a splendid sign with 'Tiber, Brooke & Co.' over the door
of a famous publishing house.
'So pleased that I could hardly keep her from letting the cat out of
the bag too soon. I've had so many plans, and disappointed you so
often, I wanted to be very sure this time. I had to bribe Rob and Ted
to keep her at home tonight till I'd told my news, she was eager to
rush down and tell you herself. The castles that dear woman has built
for me would fill all Spain, and have kept us jolly while we waited
to know our fate. Mr Tiber doesn't do things in a hurry; but when he
makes up his mind, you are all right; and I feel that I am fairly
'Bless you, dear, I hope so! It is a happy day for me, because I've
been so anxious lest, with all my care, I have been too easy and
indulgent, and my boy, with his many good gifts, might fritter his
time away in harmless but unsatisfactory things. Now I am at ease
about you. If only Daisy can be happy, and Josie give up her dream, I
shall be quite contented.'
Demi let his mother enjoy herself for a few minutes, while he smiled
over a certain little dream of his own, not ready yet for the
telling; then he said, in the paternal tone which he unconsciously
used when speaking of his sisters:
'I'll see to the girls; but I begin to think grandpa is right in
saying we must each be what God and nature makes us. We can't change
it much--only help to develop the good and control the bad elements
in us. I have fumbled my way into my right place at last, I hope. Let
Daisy be happy in her way, since it is a good and womanly one. If Nat
comes home all right, I'd say: "Bless you, my children," and give
them a nest of their own. Then you and I will help little Jo to find
out if it is to be "All the world's a stage" or "Home, sweet home",
'I suppose we must, John; but I can't help making plans, and hoping
they will come to pass. I see that Daisy is bound up in Nat; and if
he is worthy of her I shall let them be happy in their own way, as my
parents let me. But Josie will be a trial, I foresee; and much as I
love the stage, and always did, I don't see how I can ever let my
little girl be an actress, though she certainly has great talent for
'Whose fault is that?' asked Demi, smiling, as he remembered his
mother's early triumphs and unquenchable interest in the dramatic
efforts of the young people round her.
'Mine, I know. How could it be otherwise when I acted Babes in the
Wood with you and Daisy before you could speak, and taught Josie to
declaim Mother Goose in her cradle. Ah, me! the tastes of the mother
come out in her children, and she must atone for them by letting them
have their own way, I suppose.' And Mrs Meg laughed, even while she
shook her head over the undeniable fact that the Marches were a
'Why not have a great actress of our name, as well as an authoress, a
minister, and an eminent publisher? We don't choose our talents, but
we needn't hide them in a napkin because they are not just what we
want. I say, let Jo have her way, and do what she can. Here am I to
take care of her; and you can't deny you'd enjoy fixing her
furbelows, and seeing her shine before the footlights, where you used
to long to be. Come, mother, better face the music and march gaily,
since your wilful children will "gang their ain gait".'
'I don't see but I must, and "leave the consequences to the Lord", as
Marmee used to say when she had to decide, and only saw a step of the
road. I should enjoy it immensely, if I could only feel that the life
would not hurt my girl, and leave her unsatisfied when it was too
late to change; for nothing is harder to give up than the excitements
of that profession. I know something of it; and if your blessed
father had not come along, I'm afraid I should have been an actress
in spite of Aunt March and all our honoured ancestors.'
'Let Josie add new honour to the name, and work out the family talent
in its proper place. I'll play dragon to her, and you play nurse, and
no harm can come to our little Juliet, no matter how many Romeos
spoon under her balcony. Really, ma'am, opposition comes badly from
an old lady who is going to wring the hearts of our audience in the
heroine's part in Aunty's play next Christmas. It's the most
pathetic thing I ever saw, mother; and I'm sorry you didn't become an
actress, though we should be nowhere if you had.'
Demi was on his legs now, with his back to the fire, in the lordly
attitude men like to assume when things go well with them, or they
want to lay down the law on any subject.
Mrs Meg actually blushed at her son's hearty praise, and could not
deny that the sound of applause was as sweet now as when she played
the Witch's Curse and The Moorish Maiden's Vow long years ago.
'It's perfectly absurd for me to do it, but I couldn't resist when Jo
and Laurie made the part for me, and you children were to act in it.
The minute I get on the old mother's dress I forget myself and feel
the same thrill at the sound of the bell that I used to feel when we
got up plays in the garret. If Daisy would only take the daughter's
part it would be so complete; for with you and Josie I am hardly
acting, it is all so real.'
'Especially the hospital scene, where you find the wounded son. Why,
mother, do you know when we did that at last rehearsal my face was
wet with real tears as you cried over me. It will bring down the
house; but don't forget to wipe 'em off, or I shall sneeze,' said
Demi, laughing at the recollection of his mother's hit.
'I won't; but it almost broke my heart to see you so pale and
dreadful. I hope there will never he another war in my time, for I
should have to let you go; and I never want to live through the same
experience we had with father.'
'Don't you think Alice does the part better than Daisy would? Daisy
hasn't a bit of the actress in her, and Alice puts life into the
dullest words she speaks. I think the Marquise is just perfect in our
piece,' said Demi, strolling about the room as if the warmth of the
fire sent a sudden colour to his face.
'So do I. She is a dear girl, and I'm proud and fond of her. Where is
'Pegging away at her Greek, I suppose. She usually is in the evening.
More's the pity,' added Demi, in a low tone, as he stared intently at
the book-case, though he couldn't read a title.
'Now, there is a girl after my own heart. Pretty, well-bred,
well-educated, and yet domestic, a real companion as well as
help-meet for some good and intelligent man. I hope she will find
'So do I,' muttered Demi.
Mrs Meg had taken up her work again, and was surveying a
half-finished buttonhole with so much interest that her son's face
escaped her eye. He shed a beaming smile upon the rows of poets, as
if even in their glass prison they could sympathize and rejoice with
him at the first rosy dawn of the great passion which they knew so
well. But Demi was a wise youth, and never leaped before looking
carefully. He hardly knew his own heart yet, and was contented to
wait till the sentiment, the fluttering of those folded wings he
began to feel, should escape from the chrysalis and be ready to soar
away in the sunshine to seek and claim its lovely mate. He had said
nothing; but the brown eyes were eloquent, and there was an
unconscious underplot to all the little plays he and Alice Heath
acted so well together. She was busy with her books, bound to
graduate with high honours, and he was trying to do the same in that
larger college open to all, and where each man has his own prize to
win or lose. Demi had nothing but himself to offer and, being a
modest youth, considered that a poor gift till he had proved his
power to earn his living, and the right to take a woman's happiness
into his keeping.
No one guessed that he had caught the fever except sharp-eyed Josie,
and she, having a wholesome fear of her brother--who could be rather
awful when she went too far--wisely contented herself with watching
him like a little cat, ready to pounce on the first visible sign of
weakness. Demi had taken to playing pensively upon his flute after he
was in his room for the night, making this melodious friend his
confidante, and breathing into it all the tender hopes and fears that
filled his heart. Mrs Meg, absorbed in domestic affairs, and Daisy,
who cared for no music but Nat's violin, paid no heed to these
chamber concerts, but Josie always murmured to herself, with a
naughty chuckle, 'Dick Swiveller is thinking of his Sophy Wackles,'
and bided her time to revenge certain wrongs inflicted upon her by
Demi, who always took Daisy's side when she tried to curb the spirits
of her unruly little sister.
This evening she got her chance, and made the most of it. Mrs Meg was
just rounding off her buttonhole, and Demi still strolling restlessly
about the room, when a book was heard to slam in the study, followed
by an audible yawn and the appearance of the student looking as if
sleep and a desire for mischief were struggling which should be
'I heard my name; have you been saying anything bad about me?' she
demanded, perching on the arm of an easychair.
Her mother told the good news, over which Josie duly rejoiced, and
Demi received her congratulations with a benignant air which made her
feel that too much satisfaction was not good for him, and incited her
to put a thorn into his bed of roses at once.
'I caught something about the play just now, and I want to tell you
that I'm going to introduce a song into my part to liven it up a bit.
How would this do?' and seating herself at the piano she began to
sing to these words the air of 'Kathleen Mavourneen':
'Sweetest of maidens, oh, how can I tell
The love that transfigures the whole earth to me?
The longing that causes my bosom to swell,
When I dream of a life all devoted to thee?'
She got no further, for Demi, red with wrath, made a rush at her, and
the next moment a very agile young person was seen dodging round
tables and chairs with the future partner of Tiber & Co. in hot
pursuit. 'You monkey, how dare you meddle with my papers?' cried the
irate poet, making futile grabs at the saucy girl, who skipped to and
fro, waving a bit of paper tantalizingly before him.
'Didn't; found it in the big "Dic". Serves you right if you leave
your rubbish about. Don't you like my song? It's very pretty.'
'I'll teach you one that you won't like if you don't give me my
'Come and get it if you can'; and Josie vanished into the study to
have out her squabble in peace, for Mrs Meg was already saying:
'Children, children! don't quarrel.'
The paper was in the fire by the time Demi arrived and he at once
calmed down, seeing that the bone of contention was out of the way.
'I'm glad it's burnt; I don't care for it, only some verse I was
trying to set to music for one of the girls. But I'll trouble you to
let my papers alone, or I shall take back the advice I gave mother
tonight about allowing you to act as much as you like.'
Josie was sobered at once by this dire threat, and in her most
wheedling tone begged to know what he had said. By way of heaping
coals of fire on her head he told her, and this diplomatic
performance secured him an ally on the spot.
'You dear old boy! I'll never tease you again though you moon and
spoon both day and night. If you stand by me, I'll stand by you and
never say a word. See here! I've got a note for you from Alice.
Won't that be a peace-offering and soothe your little feelings?'
Demi's eyes sparkled as Josie held up a paper cocked hat, but as he
knew what was probably in it, he took the wind out of Josie's sails,
and filled her with blank astonishment by saying carelessly:
'That's nothing; it's only to say whether she will go to the concert
with us tomorrow night. You can read it if you like.'
With the natural perversity of her sex Josie ceased to be curious the
moment she was told to read it, and meekly handed it over; but she
watched Demi as he calmly read the two lines it contained and then
threw it into the fire. 'Why, Jack, I thought you'd treasure every
scrap the "sweetest maid" touched. Don't you care for her?'
'Very much; we all do; but "mooning and spooning", as you elegantly
express it, is not in my line. My dear little girl, your plays make
you romantic, and because Alice and I act lovers sometimes you take
it into your silly head that we are really so. Don't waste time
hunting mares nests, but attend to your own affairs and leave me to
mine. I forgive you, but don't do it again; it's bad taste, and
tragedy queens don't romp.'
The last cut finished Josie; she humbly begged pardon and went off to
bed, while Demi soon followed, feeling that he had not only settled
himself but his too inquisitive little sister also. But if he had
seen her face as she listened to the soft wailing of his flute he
would not have been so sure, for she looked as cunning as a magpie as
she said, with a scornful sniff: 'Pooh, you can't deceive me; I know
Dick is serenading Sophy Wackles.'
The Brenda was scudding along with all sail set to catch the rising
wind, and everyone on board was rejoicing, for the long voyage was
drawing towards an end.
'Four weeks more, Mrs Hardy, and we'll give you a cup of tea such as
you never had before,' said second mate Hoffmann, as he paused beside
two ladies sitting in a sheltered corner of the deck.
'I shall be glad to get it, and still gladder to put my feet on solid
ground,' answered the elder lady, smiling; for our friend Emil was a
favourite, as well he might be, since he devoted himself to the
captain's wife and daughter, who were the only passengers on board.
'So shall I, even if I have to wear a pair of shoes like Chinese
junks. I've tramped up and down the deck so much, I shall be
barefooted if we don't arrive soon,' laughed Mary, the daughter,
showing two shabby little boots as she glanced up at the companion of
these tramps, remembering gratefully how pleasant he had made them.
'Don't think there are any small enough in China,' answered Emil,
with a sailor's ready gallantry, privately resolving to hunt up the
handsomest shoes he could find the moment he landed.
'I don't know what you would have done for exercise, dear, if Mr
Hoffmann had not made you walk every day. This lazy life is bad for
young people, though it suits an old body like me well enough in calm
weather. Is this likely to be a gale, think ye?' added Mrs Hardy,
with an anxious glance at the west, where the sun was setting redly.
'Only a capful of wind, ma'am, just enough to send us along lively,'
answered Emil, with a comprehensive glance aloft and alow.
'Please sing, Mr Hoffmann, it's so pleasant to have music at this
time. We shall miss it very much when we get ashore,' said Mary, in a
persuasive tone which would have won melody from a shark, if such a
thing were possible.
Emil had often blessed his one accomplishment during these months,
for it cheered the long days, and made the twilight hour his happiest
time, wind and weather permitting. So now he gladly tuned his pipe,
and leaning on the taffrail near the girl, watched the brown locks
blowing in the wind as he sang her favourite song:
'Give me freshening breeze, my boys,
A white and swelling sail,
A ship that cuts the dashing waves,
And weathers every gale.
What life is like a sailor's life,
So free, so bold, so brave?
His home the ocean's wide expanse,
A coral bed his grave.'
Just as the last notes of the clear, strong voice died away, Mrs
Hardy suddenly exclaimed: 'What's that?' Emil's quick eye saw at once
the little puff of smoke coming up a hatchway where no smoke should
be, and his heart seemed to stand still for an instant as the dread
word 'Fire!' flashed through his mind. Then he was quite steady, and
strolled away saying quietly:
'Smoking not allowed there, I'll go and stop it.' But the instant he
was out of sight his face changed, and he leaped down the hatchway,
thinking, with a queer smile on his lips: 'If we are afire, shouldn't
wonder if I did make a coral bed my grave!'
He was gone a few minutes, and when he came up, half stifled with
smoke, he was as white as a very brown man could be, but calm and
cool as he went to report to the captain.
'Fire in the hold, sir.'
'Don't frighten the women,' was Captain Hardy's first order; then
both be stirred themselves to discover how strong the treacherous
enemy was, and to rout it if possible.
The Brenda's cargo was a very combustible one, and in spite of the
streams of water poured into the hold it was soon evident that the
ship was doomed. Smoke began to ooze up between the planks
everywhere, and the rising gale soon fanned the smouldering fire to
flames that began to break out here and there, telling the dreadful
truth too plainly for anyone to hide. Mrs Hardy and Mary bore the
shock bravely when told to be ready to quit the ship at a minute's
notice; the boats were hastily prepared, and the men worked with a
will to batten down every loophole whence the fire might escape. Soon
the poor Brenda was a floating furnace, and the order to 'Take to the
boats!' came for all. The women first, of course, and it was
fortunate that, being a merchantman, there were no more passengers on
board, so there was no panic, and one after the other the boats
pushed off. That in which the women were lingered near, for the brave
captain would be the last to leave his ship.
Emil stayed by him till ordered away, and reluctantly obeyed; but it
was well for him he went, for just as he had regained the boat,
rocking far below, half hidden by a cloud of smoke, a mast,
undermined by the fire now raging in the bowels of the ship, fell
with a crash, knocking Captain Hardy overboard. The boat soon reached
him as he floated out from the wreck, and Emil sprung into the sea to
rescue him, for he was wounded and senseless. This accident made it
necessary for the young man to take command, and he at once ordered
the men to pull for their lives, as an explosion might occur at any
The other boats were out of danger and all lingered to watch the
splendid yet awesome spectacle of the burning ship alone on the wide
sea, reddening the night and casting a lurid glare upon the water,
where floated the frail boats filled with pale faces, all turned for
a last look at the fated Brenda, slowly settling to her watery grave.
No one saw the end, however, for the gale soon swept the watchers far
away and separated them, some never to meet again till the sea gives
up its dead.
The boat whose fortunes we must follow was alone when dawn came up,
showing these survivors all the dangers of their situation. Food and
water had been put in, and such provision for comfort and safety as
time allowed; but it was evident that with a badly wounded man, two
women, and seven sailors, their supply would not last long, and help
was sorely needed. Their only hope was in meeting a ship, although
the gale, which had raged all night, had blown them out of their
course. To this hope all clung, and wiled away the weary hours,
watching the horizon and cheering one another with prophecies of
Second mate Hoffmann was very brave and helpful, though his
unexpected responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders; for the
captain's state seemed desperate, the poor wife's grief wrung his
heart, and the blind confidence of the young girl in his power to
save them made him feel that no sign of doubt or fear must lessen it.
The men did their part readily now, but Emil knew that if starvation
and despair made brutes of them, his task might be a terrible one. So
he clutched his courage with both handg, kept up a manly front, and
spoke so cheerily of their good chances, that all instinctively
turned to him for guidance and support.
The first day and night passed in comparative comfort, but when the
third came, things looked dark and hope began to fail. The wounded
man was delirious, the wife worn out with anxiety and suspense, the
girl weak for want of food, having put away half her biscuit for her
mother, and given her share of water to wet her father's feverish
lips. The sailors ceased rowing and sat grimly waiting, openly
reproaching their leader for not following their advice, others
demanding more food, all waxing dangerous as privation and pain
brought out the animal instincts lurking in them. Emil did his best,
but mortal man was helpless there, and he could only turn his haggard
face from the pitiless sky, that dropped no rain for their thirst, to
the boundless sea where no sail appeared to gladden their longing
eyes. All day he tried to cheer and comfort them, while hunger
gnawed, thirst parched, and growing fear lay heavy at his heart. He
told stories to the men, implored them to bear up for the helpless
women's sake, and promised rewards if they would pull while they had
strength to regain the lost route, as nearly as he could make it out,
and increase their chance of rescue. He rigged an awning of
sailcloth over the suffering man and tended him like a son, comforted
the wife, and tried to make the pale girl forget herself, by singing
every song he knew or recounting his adventures by land and sea, till
she smiled and took heart; for all ended well.
The fourth day came and the supply of food and water was nearly gone.
Emil proposed to keep it for the sick man and the women, but two of
the men rebelled, demanding their share. Emil gave up his as an
example, and several of the good fellows followed it, with the quiet
heroism which so often crops up in rough but manly natures. This
shamed the others, and for another day an ominous peace reigned in
that little world of suffering and suspense. But during the night,
while Emil, worn out with fatigue, left the watch to the most
trustworthy sailor, that he might snatch an hour's rest, these two
men got at the stores and stole the last of the bread and water, and
the one bottle of brandy, which was carefully hoarded to keep up
their strength and make the brackish water drinkable. Half mad with
thirst, they drank greedily and by morning one was in a stupor, from
which he never woke; the other so crazed by the strong stimulant,
that when Emil tried to control him, he leaped overboard and was
lost. Horror-stricken by this terrible scene, the other men were
submissive henceforth, and the boat floated on and on with its sad
freight of suffering souls and bodies.
Another trial came to them that left all more despairing than before.
A sail appeared, and for a time a frenzy of joy prevailed, to be
turned to bitterest disappointment when it passed by, too far away to
see the signals waved to them or hear the frantic cries for help that
rang across the sea. Emil's heart sank then, for the captain seemed
dying, and the women could not hold out much longer. He kept up till
night came; then in the darkness, broken only by the feeble murmuring
of the sick man, the whispered prayers of the poor wife, the
ceaseless swash of waves, Emil hid his face, and had an hour of
silent agony that aged him more than years of happy life could have
done. It was not the physical hardship that daunted him, though want
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