Louisa May Alcott
Part 4 out of 6
and weakness tortured him; it was his dreadful powerlessness to
conquer the cruel fate that seemed hanging over them. The men he
cared little for, since these perils were but a part of the life they
chose; but the master he loved, the good woman who had been so kind
to him, the sweet girl whose winsome presence had made the long
voyage so pleasant for them all--if he could only save these dear and
innocent creatures from a cruel death, he felt that he could
willingly give his life for them.
As he sat there with his head in his hands, bowed down by the first
great trial of his young life, the starless sky overhead, the
restless sea beneath, and all around him suffering, for which he had
no help, a soft sound broke the silence, and he listened like one in
a dream. It was Mary singing to her mother, who lay sobbing in her
arms, spent with this long anguish. A very faint and broken voice it
was, for the poor girl's lips were parched with thirst; but the
loving heart turned instinctively to the great Helper in this hour of
despair, and He heard her feeble cry. It was a sweet old hynm often
sung at Plumfield; and as he listened, all the happy past came back
so clearly that Emil forgot the bitter present, and was at home
again. His talk on the housetop with Aunt Jo seemed but yesterday,
and, with a pang of self-reproach, he thought:
'The scarlet strand! I must remember it, and do my duty to the end.
Steer straight, old boy; and if you can't come into port, go down
with all sail set.'
Then, as the soft voice crooned on to lull the weary woman to a
fitful sleep, Emil for a little while forgot his burden in a dream of
Plumfield. He saw them all, heard the familiar voices, felt the grip
of welcoming hands, and seemed to say to himself: 'Well, they shall
not be ashamed of me if I never see them any more.'
A sudden shout startled him from that brief rest, and a drop on his
forehead told him that the blessed rain had come at last, bringing
salvation with it; for thirst is harder to bear than hunger, heat, or
cold. Welcomed by cries of joy, all lifted up their parched lips,
held out their hands, and spread their garments to catch the great
drops that soon came pouring down to cool the sick man's fever,
quench the agony of thirst, and bring refreshment to every weary body
in the boat. All night it fell, all night the castaways revelled in
the saving shower, and took heart again, like dying plants revived by
heaven's dew. The clouds broke away at dawn, and Emil sprung up,
wonderfully braced and cheered by those hours of silent gratitude for
this answer to their cry for help. But this was not all; as his eye
swept the horizon, clear against the rosy sky shone the white sails
of a ship, so near that they could see the pennon at her mast-head
and black figures moving on the deck.
One cry broke from all those eager throats, and rang across the sea,
as every man waved hat or handkerchief and the women stretched
imploring hands towards this great white angel of deliverance coming
down upon them as if the fresh wind filled every sail to help her on.
No disappointment now; answering signals assured them of help; and in
the rapture of that moment the happy women fell on Emil's neck,
giving him his reward in tears and blessings as their grateful hearts
overflowed. He always said that was the proudest moment of his life,
as he stood there holding Mary in his arms; for the brave girl, who
had kept up so long, broke down then, and clung to him half fainting;
while her mother busied herself about the invalid, who seemed to feel
the joyful stir, and gave an order, as if again on the deck of his
It was soon over; and then all were safely aboard the good Urania,
homeward bound. Emil saw his friends in tender hands, his men among
their mates, and told the story of the wreck before he thought of
himself. The savoury odour of the soup, carried by to the cabin for
the ladies, reminded him that he was starving, and a sudden stagger
betrayed his weakness. He was instantly borne away, to be half killed
by kindness, and being fed, clothed, and comforted, was left to rest.
Just as the surgeon left the state-room, he asked in his broken
voice: 'What day is this? My head is so confused, I've lost my
'Thanksgiving Day, man! And we'll give you a regular New England
dinner, if you'll eat it,' answered the surgeon heartily.
But Emil was too spent to do anything, except lie still and give
thanks, more fervently and gratefully than ever before, for the
blessed gift of life, which was the sweeter for a sense of duty
Where was Dan? In prison. Alas for Mrs Jo! how her heart would have
ached if she had known that while old Plum shone with Christmas cheer
her boy sat alone in his cell, trying to read the little book she
gave him, with eyes dimmed now and then by the hot tears no physical
suffering had ever wrung from him, and longing with a homesick heart
for all that he had lost.
Yes, Dan was in prison; but no cry for help from him as he faced the
terrible strait he was in with the dumb despair of an Indian at the
stake; for his own bosom sin had brought him there, and this was to
be the bitter lesson that tamed the lawless spirit and taught him
The story of his downfall is soon told; for it came, as so often
happens, just when he felt unusually full of high hopes, good
resolutions, and dreams of a better life. On his journey he met a
pleasant young fellow, and naturally felt an interest in him, as
Blair was on his way to join his elder brothers on a ranch in Kansas.
Card-playing was going on in the smoking-car, and the lad--for he
was barely twenty--tired with the long journey, beguiled the way with
such partners as appeared, being full of spirits, and a little
intoxicated with the freedom of the West. Dan, true to his promise,
would not join, but watched with intense interest the games that went
on, and soon made up his mind that two of the men were sharpers
anxious to fleece the boy, who had imprudently displayed a
well-filled pocket-book. Dan always had a soft spot in his heart for
any younger, weaker creature whom he met, and something about the lad
reminded him of Teddy; so he kept an eye on Blair, and warned him
against his new friends.
Vainly, of course; for when all stopped overnight in one of the great
cities, Dan missed the boy from the hotel whither he had taken him
for safe-keeping; and learning who had come for him, went to find
him, calling himself a fool for his pains, yet unable to leave the
confiding boy to the dangers that surrounded him.
He found him gambling in a low place with the men, who were bound to
have his money; and by the look of relief on Blair's anxious face
when he saw him Dan knew without words that things were going badly
with him, and he saw the peril too late.
'I can't come yet--I've lost; it's not my money; I must get it back,
or I dare not face my brothers,' whispered the poor lad, when Dan
begged him to get away without further loss. Shame and fear made him
desperate; and he played on, sure that he could recover the money
confided to his care. Seeing Dan's resolute face, keen eye, and
travelled air, the sharpers were wary, played fair, and let the boy
win a little; but they had no mind to give up their prey, and finding
that Dan stood sentinel at the boy's back, an ominous glance was
exchanged between them, which meant:
'We must get this fellow out of the way.'
Dan saw it, and was on his guard; for he and Blair were strangers,
evil deeds are easily done in such places, and no tales told. But he
would not desert the boy, and still kept watch of every card till he
plainly detected false play, and boldly said so. High words passed,
Dan's indignation overcame his prudence; and when the cheat refused
to restore his plunder with insulting words and drawn pistol, Dan's
hot temper flashed out, and he knocked the man down with a blow that
sent him crashing head first against a stove, to roll senseless and
bleeding to the floor. A wild scene followed, but in the midst of it
Dan whispered to the boy: 'Get away, and hold your tongue. Don't mind
Frightened and bewildered, Blair quitted the city at once, leaving
Dan to pass the night in the lock-up, and a few days later to stand
in court charged with manslaughter; for the man was dead. Dan had no
friends, and having once briefly told the story, held his peace,
anxious to keep all knowledge of this sad affair from those at home.
He even concealed his name--giving that of David Kent, as he had done
several times before in emergencies. It was all over very soon; but
as there were extenuating circumstances his sentence was a year in
prison, with hard labour.
Dazed by the rapidity with which this horrible change in his life
came upon him, Dan did not fully realize it till the iron door
clanged behind him and he sat alone in a cell as narrow, cold, and
silent as a tomb. He knew that a word would bring Mr Laurie to help
and comfort him; but he could not bear to tell of this disgrace, or
see the sorrow and the shame it would cause the friends who hoped so
much for him.
'No,' he said, clenching his fist, 'I'll let them think me dead first.
I shall be if I am kept here long'; and he sprang up to pace the
stone floor like a caged lion, with a turmoil of wrath and grief,
rebellion and remorse, seething in heart and brain, till he felt as
if he should go mad and beat upon the walls that shut him away from
the liberty which was his life. For days he suffered terribly, then
worn out, sank into a black melancholy sadder to see than his
The warden of this prison was a rough man who had won the ill will of
all by unnecessary harshness, but the chaplain was full of sympathy,
and did his hard duty faithfully and tenderly. He laboured with poor
Dan, but seemed to make no impression, and was forced to wait till
work had soothed the excited nerves and captivity tamed the proud
spirit that would suffer but not complain.
Dan was put in the brush-shop, and feeling that activity was his only
salvation, worked with a feverish energy that soon won the approval
of the master and the envy of less skilful mates. Day after day he
sat in his place, watched by an armed overseer, forbidden any but
necessary words, no intercourse with the men beside him, no change
but from cell to shop, no exercise but the dreary marches to and fro,
each man's hand on the other's shoulder keeping step with the dreary
tramp so different from the ringing tread of soldiers. Silent, gaunt,
and grim, Dan did his daily task, ate his bitter bread, and obeyed
commands with a rebellious flash of the eye, that made the warden
'That's a dangerous man. Watch him. He'll break out some day.'
There were others more dangerous than he, because older in crime and
ready for any desperate outbreak to change the monotony of long
sentences. These men soon divined Dan's mood, and in the mysterious
way convicts invent, managed to convey to him before a month was over
that plans were being made for a mutiny at the first opportunity.
Thanksgiving Day was one of the few chances for them to speak
together as they enjoyed an hour of freedom in the prison yard. Then
all would be settled and the rash attempt made if possible, probably
to end in bloodshed and defeat for most, but liberty for a few. Dan
had already planned his own escape and bided his time, growing more
and more moody, fierce, and rebellious, as loss of liberty wore upon
soul and body; for this sudden change from his free, healthy life to
such a narrow, gloomy, and miserable one, could not but have a
terrible effect upon one of Dan's temperament and age.
He brooded over his ruined life, gave up all his happy hopes and
plans, felt that he could never face dear old Plumfield again, or
touch those friendly hands, with the stain of blood upon his own. He
did not care for the wretched man whom he had killed, for such a life
was better ended, he thought; but the disgrace of prison would never
be wiped out of his memory, though the cropped hair would grow again,
the grey suit easily be replaced, and the bolts and bars left far
'It's all over with me; I've spoilt my life, now let it go. I'll give
up the fight and get what pleasure I can anywhere, anyhow. They shall
think me dead and so still care for me, but never know what I am.
Poor Mother Bhaer! she tried to help me, but it's no use; the
firebrand can't be saved.'
And dropping his head in his hands as he sat on his low bed, Dan
would mourn over all he had lost in tearless misery, till merciful
sleep would comfort him with dreams of the happy days when the boys
played together, or those still later and happier ones when all
smiled on him, and Plumfield seemed to have gained a new and curious
There was one poor fellow in Dan's shop whose fate was harder than
his, for his sentence expired in the spring, but there was little
hope of his living till that time; and the coldest-hearted man pitied
poor Mason as he sat coughing his life away in that close place and
counting the weary days yet to pass before he could see his wife and
little child again. There was some hope that he might be pardoned
out, but he had no friends to bestir themselves in the matter, and it
was evident that the great Judge's pardon would soon end his patient
pain for ever.
Dan pitied him more than he dared to show, and this one tender
emotion in that dark time was like the little flower that sprung up
between the stones of the prison yard and saved the captive from
despair, in the beautiful old story. Dan helped Mason with his work
when he was too feeble to finish his task, and the grateful look that
thanked him was a ray of sunshine to cheer his cell when he was
alone. Mason envied the splendid health of his neighbour, and mourned
to see it wasting there. He was a peaceful soul and tried, as far as
a whispered word or warning glance could do it, to deter Dan from
joining the 'bad lot', as the rebels were called. But having turned
his face from the light, Dan found the downward way easy, and took a
grim satisfaction in the prospect of a general outbreak during which
he might revenge himself upon the tyrannical warden, and strike a
blow for his own liberty, feeling that an hour of insurrection would
be a welcome vent for the pent-up passions that tormented him. He had
tamed many a wild animal, but his own lawless spirit was too much for
him, till he found the curb that made him master of himself.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, as he sat in chapel, Dan observed
several guests in the seats reserved for them, and looked anxiously
to see if any familiar face was there; for he had a mortal fear that
someone from home would suddenly confront him. No, all were
strangers, and he soon forgot them in listening to the chaplain's
cheerful words, and the sad singing of many heavy hearts. People
often spoke to the convicts, so it caused no surprise when, on being
invited to address them, one of the ladies rose and said she would
tell them a little story; which announcement caused the younger
listeners to pack up their ears, and even the older ones to look
interested; for any change in their monotonous life was welcome.
The speaker was a middle-aged woman in black, with a sympathetic
face, eyes full of compassion, and a voice that seemed to warm the
heart, because of certain motherly tones in it. She reminded Dan of
Mrs Jo, and he listened intently to every word, feeling that each was
meant for him, because by chance, they came at the moment when he
needed a softening memory to break up the ice of despair which was
blighting all the good impulses of his nature.
It was a very simple little story, but it caught the men's attention
at once, being about two soldiers in a hospital during the late war,
both badly wounded in the right arm, and both anxious to save these
breadwinners and go home unmaimed. One was patient, docile, and
cheerfully obeyed orders, even when told that the arm must go. He
submitted and after much suffering recovered, grateful for life,
though he could fight no more. The other rebelled, would listen to no
advice, and having delayed too long, died a lingering death, bitterly
regretting his folly when it was too late. 'Now, as all stories
should have a little moral, let me tell you mine,' added the lady,
with a smile, as she looked at the row of young men before her, sadly
wondering what brought them there.
'This is a hospital for soldiers wounded in life's battle; here are
sick souls, weak wills, insane passions, blind consciences, all the
ills that come from broken laws, bringing their inevitable pain and
punishment with them, There is hope and help for every one, for God's
mercy is infinite and man's charity is great; but penitence and
submission must come before the cure is possible. Pay the forfeit
manfully, for it is just; but from the suffering and shame wring new
strength for a nobler life. The scar will remain, but it is better
for a man to lose both arms than his soul; and these hard years,
instead of being lost, may be made the most precious of your lives,
if they teach you to rule yourselves. O friends, try to outlive the
bitter past, to wash the sin away, and begin anew. If not for your
own sakes, for that of the dear mothers, wives, and children, who
wait and hope so patiently for you. Remember them, and do not let
them love and long in vain. And if there be any here so forlorn that
they have no friend to care for them, never forget the Father whose
arms are always open to receive, forgive, and comfort His prodigal
sons, even at the eleventh hour.' There the little sermon ended; but
the preacher of it felt that her few hearty words had not been
uttered in vain, for one boy's head was down, and several faces wore
the softened look which told that a tender memory was touched. Dan
was forced to set his lips to keep them steady, and drop his eyes to
hide the sudden dew that dimmed them when waiting, hoping friends
were spoken of. He was glad to be alone in his cell again, and sat
thinking deeply, instead of trying to forget himself in sleep. It
seemed as if those words were just what he needed to show him where
he stood and how fateful the next few days might be to him. Should he
join the 'bad lot', and perhaps add another crime to the one already
committed, lengthen the sentence already so terrible to bear,
deliberately turn his back on all that was good, and mar the future
that might yet be redeemed? Or should he, like the wiser man in the
story, submit, bear the just punishment, try to be better for it; and
though the scar would remain, it might serve as a reminder of a
battle not wholly lost, since he had saved his soul though innocence
was gone? Then he would dare go home, perhaps, confess, and find
fresh strength in the pity and consolation of those who never gave
Good and evil fought for Dan that night as did the angel and the
devil for Sintram, and it was hard to tell whether lawless nature or
loving heart would conquer. Remorse and resentment, shame and sorrow,
pride and passion, made a battle-field of that narrow cell, and the
poor fellow felt as if he had fiercer enemies to fight now than any
he had met in all his wanderings. A little thing turned the scale, as
it so often does in these mysterious hearts of ours, and a touch of
sympathy helped Dan decide the course which would bless or ban his
In the dark hour before the dawn, as he lay wakeful on his bed, a ray
of light shone through the bars, the bolts turned softly, and a man
came in. It was the good chaplain, led by the same instinct that
brings a mother to her sick child's pillow; for long experience as
nurse of souls had taught him to see the signs of hope in the hard
faces about him, and to know when the moment came for a helpful word
and the cordial of sincere prayer that brings such comfort and
healing to tried and troubled hearts. He had been to Dan before at
unexpected hours, but always found him sullen, indifferent, or
rebellious, and had gone away to patiently bide his time. Now it had
come; a look of relief was in the prisoner's face as the light shone
on it, and the sound of a human voice was strangely comfortable after
listening to the whispers of the passions, doubts, and fears which
had haunted the cell for hours, dismaying Dan by their power, and
showing him how much he needed help to fight the good fight, since he
had no armour of his own.
'Kent, poor Mason has gone. He left a message for you, and I felt
impelled to come and give it now, because I think you were touched by
what we heard today, and in need of the help Mason tried to give
you,' said the chaplain, taking the one seat and fixing his kind eyes
on the grim figure in the bed.
'Thank you, sir, I'd like to hear it,' was all Dan's answer; but he
forgot himself in pity for the poor fellow dead in prison, with no
last look at wife or child.
He went suddenly, but remembered you, and begged me to say these
words: "Tell him not to do it, but to hold on, do his best, and when
his time is out go right to Mary, and she'll make him welcome for my
sake. He's got no friends in these parts and will feel lonesome, but
a woman's always safe and comfortable when a fellow's down on his
luck. Give him my love and good-bye for he was kind to me, and God
will bless him for it." Then he died quietly, and tomorrow will go
home with God's pardon, since man's came too late.'
Dan said nothing, but laid his arm across his face and lay quite
still. Seeing that the pathetic little message had done its work even
better than he hoped, the chaplain went on, unconscious how soothing
his paternal voice was to the poor prisoner who longed to 'go home',
but felt he had forfeited the right.
'I hope you won't disappoint this humble friend whose last thought
was for you. I know that there is trouble brewing, and fear that you
may be tempted to lend a hand on the wrong side. Don't do it, for the
plot will not succeed--it never does--and it would be a pity to spoil
your record which is fair so far. Keep up your courage, my son, and
go out at the year's end better, not worse, for this hard experience.
Remember a grateful woman waits to welcome and thank you if you have
no friends of your own; if you have, do your best for their sake, and
let us ask God to help you as He only can.'
Then waiting for no answer the good man prayed heartily, and Dan
listened as he never had before; for the lonely hour, the dying
message, the sudden uprising of his better self, made it seem as if
some kind angel had come to save and comfort him. After that night
there was a change in Dan, though no one knew it but the chaplain;
for to all the rest he was the same silent, stern, unsocial fellow as
before, and turning his back on the bad and the good alike, found his
only pleasure in the books his friend brought him. Slowly, as the
steadfast drop wears away the rock, the patient kindness of this man
won Dan's confidence, and led by him he began to climb out of the
Valley of Humiliation towards the mountains, whence, through the
clouds, one can catch glimpses of the Celestial City whither all true
pilgrims sooner or later turn their wistful eyes and stumbling feet.
There were many back-slidings, many struggles with Giant Despair and
fiery Apollyon, many heavy hours when life did not seem worth living
and Mason's escape the only hope. But through all, the grasp of a
friendly hand, the sound of a brother's voice, the unquenchable
desire to atone for the past by a better future, and win the right to
see home again, kept poor Dan to his great task as the old year drew
to its end, and the new waited to turn another leaf in the book whose
hardest lesson he was learning now.
At Christmas he yearned so for Plumfield that he devised a way to
send a word of greeting to cheer their anxious hearts, and comfort
his own. He wrote to Mary Mason, who lived in another State, asking
her to mail the letter he enclosed. In it he merely said he was well
and busy, had given up the farm, and had other plans which he would
tell later; would not be home before autumn probably, nor write
often, but was all right, and sent love and merry Christmas to
Then he took up his solitary life again, and tried to pay his forfeit
NAT'S NEW YEAR
'I don't expect to hear from Emil yet, and Nat writes regularly, but
where is Dan? Only two or three postals since he went. Such an
energetic fellow as he is could buy up all the farms in Kansas by
this time,' said Mrs Jo one morning when the mail came in and no card
or envelope bore Dan's dashing hand.
'He never writes often, you know, but does his work and then comes
home. Months and years seem to mean little to him, and he is probably
prospecting in the wilderness, forgetful of time,' answered Mr Bhaer,
deep in one of Nat's long letters from Leipzig.
'But he promised he would let me know how he got on, and Dan keeps
his word if he can. I'm afraid something has happened to him'; and
Mrs Jo comforted herself by patting Don's head, as he came at the
sound of his master's name to look at her with eyes almost human in
their wistful intelligence.
'Don't worry, Mum dear, nothing ever happens to the old fellow.
He'll turn up all right, and come stalking in some day with a
gold-mine in one pocket and a prairie in the other, as jolly as a
grig,' said Ted, who was in no haste to deliver Octoo to her rightful
'Perhaps he has gone to Montana and given up the farm plan. He seemed
to like Indians best, I thought'; and Rob went to help his mother
with her pile of letters and his cheerful suggestions.
'I hope so, it would suit him best. But I am sure he would have told
us his change of plan and sent for some money to work with. No, I
feel in my prophetic bones that something is wrong,' said Mrs Jo,
looking as solemn as Fate in a breakfast-cap.
'Then we shall hear; ill news always travels fast. Don't borrow
trouble, Jo, but hear how well Nat is getting on. I'd no idea the boy
would care for anything but music. My good friend Baumgarten has
launched him well, and it will do him good if he lose not his head. A
good lad, but new to the world, and Leipzig is full of snares for the
unwary. Gott be with him!'
The Professor read Nat's enthusiastic account of certain literary and
musical parties he had been to, the splendours of the opera, the
kindness of his new friends, the delight of studying under such a
master as Bergmann, his hopes of rapid gain, and his great gratitude
to those who had opened this enchanted world to him.
'That, now, is satisfactory and comfortable. I felt that Nat had
unsuspected power in him before he went away; he was so manly and
full of excellent plans,' said Mrs Jo, in a satisfied tone.
'We shall see. He will doubtless get his lesson and be the better for
it. That comes to us all in our young days. I hope it will not be too
hard for our good Jungling,' answered the Professor, with a wise
smile, remembering his own student life in Germany.
He was right; and Nat was already getting his lesson in life with a
rapidity which would have astonished his friends at home. The
manliness over which Mrs Jo rejoiced was developing in unexpected
ways, and quiet Nat had plunged into the more harmless dissipations
of the gay city with all the ardour of an inexperienced youth taking
his first sip of pleasure. The entire freedom and sense of
independence was delicious, for many benefits began to burden him,
and he longed to stand on his own legs and make his own way. No one
knew his past here; and with a well-stocked wardrobe, a handsome sum
at his banker's, and the best teacher in Leipzig, he made his debut
as a musical young gentleman, presented by the much-respected
Professor Bhaer and the wealthy Mr Laurence, who had many friends
glad to throw open their houses to his protege. Thanks to these
introductions, his fluent German, modest manners, and undeniable
talent, the stranger was cordially welcomed, and launched at once
into a circle which many an ambitious young man strove in vain to
All this rather turned Nat's head; and as he sat in the brilliant
opera-house, chatted among the ladies at some select coffee-party, or
whisked an eminent professor's amiable daughter down the room, trying
to imagine she was Daisy, he often asked himself if this gay fellow
could be the poor homeless little Street musician who once stood
waiting in the rain at the gates of Plumfield. His heart was true,
his impulses good, and his ambitions high; but the weak side of his
nature came uppermost here; vanity led him astray, pleasure
intoxicated him, and for a time he forgot everything but the delights
of this new and charming life. Without meaning to deceive, he allowed
people to imagine him a youth of good family and prospects; he
boasted a little of Mr Laurie's wealth and influence, of Professor
Bhaer's eminence, and the flourishing college at which he himself had
been educated. Mrs Jo was introduced to the sentimental Frauleins who
read her books, and the charms and virtues of his own dear Madchen
confided to sympathetic mammas. All these boyish boastings and
innocent vanities were duly circulated among the gossips, and his
importance much increased thereby, to his surprise and gratification,
as well as some shame.
But they bore fruit that was bitter in the end; for, finding that he
was considered one of the upper class, it very soon became impossible
for him to live in the humble quarters he had chosen, or to lead the
studious, quiet life planned for him. He met other students, young
officers, and gay fellows of all sorts, and was flattered at being
welcomed among them; though it was a costly pleasure, and often left
a thorn of regret to vex his honest conscience. He was tempted to
take better rooms in a more fashionable street, leaving good Frau
Tetzel to lament his loss, and his artist neighbour, Fraulein
Vogelstein, to shake her grey ringlets and predict his return, a
sadder and a wiser man.
The sum placed at his disposal for expenses and such simple pleasures
as his busy life could command seemed a fortune to Nat, though it was
smaller than generous Mr Laurie first proposed. Professor Bhaer
wisely counselled prudence, as Nat was unused to the care of money,
and the good man knew the temptations that a well-filled purse makes
possible at this pleasure-loving age. So Nat enjoyed his handsome
little apartment immensely, and insensibly let many unaccustomed
luxuries creep in. He loved his music and never missed a lesson; but
the hours he should have spent in patient practice were too often
wasted at theatre, ball, beer-garden, or club--doing no harm beyond
that waste of precious time, and money not his own; for he had no
vices, and took his recreation like a gentleman, so far. But slowly a
change for the worse was beginning to show itself, and he felt it.
These first steps along the flowery road were downward, not upward;
and the constant sense of disloyalty which soon began to haunt him
made Nat feel, in the few quiet hours he gave himself, that all was
not well with him, spite of the happy whirl in which he lived.
'Another month, and then I will be steady,' he said more than once,
trying to excuse the delay by the fact that all was new to him, that
his friends at home wished him to be happy, and that society was
giving him the polish he needed. But as each month slipped away it
grew harder to escape; he was inevitably drawn on, and it was so easy
to drift with the tide that he deferred the evil day as long as
possible. Winter festivities followed the more wholesome summer
pleasures, and Nat found them more costly; for the hospitable ladies
expected some return from the stranger; and carriages, bouquets,
theatre tickets, and all the little expenses a young man cannot
escape at such times, told heavily on the purse which seemed
bottomless at first. Taking Mr Laurie for his model, Nat became quite
a gallant, and was universally liked; for through all the newly
acquired airs and graces the genuine honesty and simplicity of his
character plainly shone, winning confidence and affection from all
who knew him.
Among these was a certain amiable old lady with a musical
daughter--well-born but poor, and very anxious to marry the aforesaid
daughter to some wealthy man. Nat's little fictions concerning his
prospects and friends charmed the gnadige Frau as much as his music
and devoted manners did the sentimental Minna. Their quiet parlour
seemed homelike and restful to Nat, when tired of gayer scenes; and
the motherly interest of the elder lady was sweet and comfortable to
him; while the tender blue eyes of the pretty girl were always so
full of welcome when he came, of regret when he left, and of
admiration when he played to her, that he found it impossible to keep
away from this attractive spot. He meant no harm, and feared no
danger, having confided to the Frau Mamma that he was betrothed; so
he continued to call, little dreaming what ambitious hopes the old
lady cherished, nor the peril there was in receiving the adoration of
a romantic German girl, till it was too late to spare her pain and
himself great regret.
Of course some inkling of these new and agreeable experiences got
into the voluminous letters he never was too gay, too busy, or too
tired to write each week; and while Daisy rejoiced over his happiness
and success, and the boys laughed at the idea of 'old Chirper coming
out as a society man', the elders looked sober, and said among
'He is going too fast; he must have a word of warning, or trouble may
But Mr Laurie said: 'Oh, let him have his fling; he's been dependent
and repressed long enough. He can't go far with the money he has, and
I've no fear of his getting into debt. He's too timid and too honest
to be reckless. It is his first taste of freedom; let him enjoy it,
and he'll work the better by and by; I know--and I'm sure I'm right.'
So the warnings were very gentle, and the good people waited
anxiously to hear more of hard study, and less of 'splendid times'.
Daisy sometimes wondered, with a pang of her faithful heart, if one
of the charming Minnas, Hildegardes, and Lottchens mentioned were not
stealing her Nat away from her; but she never asked, always wrote
calmly and cheerfully, and looked in vain for any hint of change in
the letters that were worn out with much reading.
Month after month slipped away, till the holidays came with gifts,
good wishes, and brilliant festivities. Nat expected to enjoy himself
very much, and did at first; for a German Christmas is a spectacle
worth seeing. But he paid dearly for the abandon with which he threw
himself into the gaieties of that memorable week; and on New Year's
Day the reckoning came. It seemed as if some malicious fairy had
prepared the surprises that arrived, so unwelcome were they, so
magical the change they wrought, turning his happy world into a scene
of desolation and despair as suddenly as a transformation at the
The first came in the morning when, duly armed with costly bouquets
and bon-bons, he went to thank Minna and her mother for the braces
embroidered with forget-me-nots and the silk socks knit by the old
lady's nimble fingers, which he had found upon his table that day.
The Frau Mamma received him graciously; but when he asked for the
daughter the good lady frankly demanded what his intentions were,
adding that certain gossip which had reached her ear made it
necessary for him to declare himself or come no more, as Minna's
peace must not be compromised.
A more panic-stricken youth was seldom seen than Nat as he received
this unexpected demand. He saw too late that his American style of
gallantry had deceived the artless girl, and might be used with
terrible effect by the artful mother, if she chose to do it. Nothing
but the truth could save him, and he had the honour and honesty to
tell it faithfully. A sad scene followed; for Nat was obliged to
strip off his fictitious splendour, confess himself only a poor
student, and humbly ask pardon for the thoughtless freedom with which
he had enjoyed their too confiding hospitality. If he had any doubts
of Frau Schomburg's motives and desires, they were speedily set at
rest by the frankness with which she showed her disappointment, the
vigour with which she scolded him, and the scorn with which she cast
him off when her splendid castles in the air collapsed.
The sincerity of Nat's penitence softened her a little and she
consented to a farewell word with Minna, who had listened at the
keyhole, and was produced drenched in tears, to fall on Nat's bosom,
crying: 'Ah, thou dear one, never can I forget thee, though my heart
This was worse than the scolding; for the stout lady also wept, and
it was only after much German gush and twaddle that he escaped,
feeling like another Werther; while the deserted Lotte consoled
herself with the bonbons, her mother with the more valuable gifts.
The second surprise arrived as he dined with Professor Baumgarten.
His appetite had been effectually taken away by the scene of the
morning, and his spirits received another damper when a fellow
student cheerfully informed him that he was about to go to America,
and should make it his agreeable duty to call on the 'lieber Herr
Professor Bhaer', to tell him how gaily his protege was disporting
himself at Leipzig. Nat's heart died within him as he imagined the
effect these glowing tales would have at Plumfield--not that he had
wilfully deceived them, but in his letters many things were left
untold; and when Carlsen added, with a friendly wink, that he would
merely hint at the coming betrothal of the fair Minna and his
'heart's friend', Nat found himself devoutly hoping that this other
inconvenient heart's friend might go to the bottom of the sea before
he reached Plumfield to blast all his hopes by these tales of a
mis-spent winter. Collecting his wits, he cautioned Carlsen with what
he flattered himself was Mephistophelian art, and gave him such
confused directions that it would be a miracle if he ever found
Professor Bhaer. But the dinner was spoilt for Nat, and he got away
as soon as possible, to wander disconsolately about the streets, with
no heart for the theatre or the supper he was to share with some gay
comrades afterwards. He comforted himself a little by giving alms to
sundry beggars, making two children happy with gilded gingerbread,
and drinking a lonely glass of beer, in which he toasted his Daisy
and wished himself a better year than the last had been.
Going home at length, he found a third surprise awaiting him in the
shower of bills which had descended upon him like a snowstorm,
burying him in an avalanche of remorse, despair, and self-disgust.
These bills were so many and so large that he was startled and
dismayed; for, as Mr Bhaer wisely predicted, he knew little about the
value of money. It would take every dollar at the bankers to pay them
all at once, and leave him penniless for the next six months, unless
he wrote home for more. He would rather starve than do that; and his
first impulse was to seek help at the gaming-table, whither his new
friends had often tempted him. But he had promised Mr Bhaer to resist
what then had seemed an impossible temptation; and now he would not
add another fault to the list already so long. Borrow he would not,
nor beg. What could he do? For these appalling bills must be paid,
and the lessons go on; or his journey was an ignominious failure. But
he must live meantime. And how? Bowed down with remorse for the folly
of these months, he saw too late whither he was drifting, and for
hours paced up and down his pretty rooms, floundering in a Slough of
Despond, with no helping hand to pull him out--at least he thought so
till letters were brought in, and among fresh bills lay one well-worn
envelope with an American stamp in the corner.
Ah, how welcome it was! how eagerly he read the long pages full of
affectionate wishes from all at home! For everyone had sent a line,
and as each familiar name appeared, his eyes grew dimmer and dimmer
till, as he read the last--'God bless my boy! Mother Bhaer'--he broke
down; and laying his head on his arms, blistered the paper with a
rain of tears that eased his heart and washed away the boyish sins
that now lay so heavy on his conscience.
'Dear people, how they love and trust me! And how bitterly they would
be disappointed if they knew what a fool I've been! I'll fiddle in
the streets again before I'll ask for help from them!' cried Nat,
brushing away the tears of which he was ashamed, although he felt the
good they had done.
Now he seemed to see more clearly what to do; for the helping hand
had been stretched across the sea, and Love, the dear Evangelist, had
lifted him out of the slough and shown him the narrow gate, beyond
which deliverance lay. When the letter had been reread, and one
corner where a daisy was painted, passionately kissed, Nat felt
strong enough to face the worst and conquer it. Every bill should be
paid, every salable thing of his own sold, these costly rooms given
up; and once back with thrifty Frau Tetzel, he would find work of
some sort by which to support himself, as many another student did.
He must give up the new friends, turn his back on the gay life, cease
to be a butterfly, and take his place among the grubs. It was the
only honest thing to do, but very hard for the poor fellow to crush
his little vanities, renounce the delights so dear to the young, own
his folly, and step down from his pedestal to be pitied, laughed at,
It took all Nat's pride and courage to do this, for his was a
sensitive nature; esteem was very precious to him, failure very
bitter, and nothing but the inborn contempt for meanness and deceit
kept him from asking help or trying to hide his need by some
dishonest device. As he sat alone that night, Mr Bhaer's words came
back to him with curious clearness, and he saw himself a boy again at
Plumfield, punishing his teacher as a lesson to himself, when
timidity had made him lie.
'He shall not suffer for me again, and I won't be a sneak if I am a
fool. I'll go and tell Professor Baumgarten all about it and ask his
advice. I'd rather face a loaded cannon; but it must be done. Then
I'll sell out, pay my debts, and go back where I belong. Better be an
honest pauper than a jackdaw among peacocks'; and Nat smiled in the
midst of his trouble, as he looked about him at the little elegancies
of his room, remembering what he came from.
He kept his word manfully, and was much comforted to find that his
experience was an old story to the professor, who approved his plan,
thinking wisely that the discipline would be good for him, and was
very kind in offering help and promising to keep the secret of his
folly from his friend Bhaer till Nat had redeemed himself.
The first week of the new year was spent by our prodigal in carrying
out his plan with penitent dispatch, and his birthday found him alone
in the little room high up at Frau Tetzel's, with nothing of his
former splendour, but sundry unsalable keepsakes from the buxom
maidens, who mourned his absence deeply. His male friends had
ridiculed, pitied, and soon left him alone, with one or two
exceptions, who offered their purses generously and promised to stand
by him. He was lonely and heavy-hearted, and sat brooding over his
small fire as he remembered the last New Year's Day at Plumfield,
when at this hour he was dancing with his Daisy.
A tap at the door roused him, and with a careless 'Herein', he waited
to see who had climbed so far for his sake. It was the good Frau
proudly bearing a tray, on which stood a bottle of wine and an
astonishing cake bedecked with sugar-plums of every hue, and crowned
with candles. Fraulein Vogelstein followed, embracing a blooming
rose-tree, above which her grey curls waved and her friendly face
beamed joyfully as she cried:
'Dear Herr Blak, we bring you greetings and a little gift or two in
honour of this ever-to-be-remembered day. Best wishes! and may the
new year bloom for you as beautifully as we your heart-warm friends
'Yes, yes, in truth we do, dear Herr,' added Frau Tetzel. 'Eat of
this with-joy-made Kuchen, and drink to the health of the far-away
beloved ones in the good wine.'
Amused, yet touched by the kindness of the good souls, Nat thanked
them both, and made them stay to enjoy the humble feast with him.
This they gladly did, being motherly women full of pity for the dear
youth, whose straits they knew, and having substantial help to offer,
as well as kind words and creature comforts.
Frau Tetzel, with some hesitation, mentioned a friend of hers who,
forced by illness to leave his place in the orchestra of a
second-rate theatre, would gladly offer it to Nat, if he could accept
so humble a position. Blushing and toying with the roses like a shy
girl, good old Vogelstein asked if in his leisure moments he could
give English lessons in the young ladies' school where she taught
painting, adding that a small but certain salary would be paid him.
Gratefully Nat accepted both offers, finding it less humiliating to
be helped by women than by friends of his own sex. This work would
support him in a frugal way, and certain musical drudgery promised by
his master assured his own teaching. Delighted with the success of
their little plot, these friendly neighbours left him with cheery
words, warm hand-grasps, and faces beaming with feminine satisfaction
at the hearty kiss Nat put on each faded cheek, as the only return he
could make for all their helpful kindness.
It was strange how much brighter the world looked after that; for
hope was a better cordial than the wine, and good resolutions bloomed
as freshly as the little rose-tree that filled the room with
fragrance, as Nat woke the echoes with the dear old airs, finding now
as always his best comforter in music, to whom henceforth he swore to
be a more loyal subject.
PLAYS AT PLUMFIELD
As it is as impossible for the humble historian of the March family
to write a story without theatricals in it as for our dear Miss Yonge
to get on with less than twelve or fourteen children in her
interesting tales, we will accept the fact, and at once cheer
ourselves after the last afflicting events, by proceeding to the
Christmas plays at Plumfield; for they influence the fate of several
of our characters, and cannot well be skipped.
When the college was built Mr Laurie added a charming little theatre
which not only served for plays, but declamations, lectures, and
concerts. The drop-curtain displayed Apollo with the Muses grouped
about him; and as a compliment to the donor of the hall the artist
had given the god a decided resemblance to our friend, which was
considered a superb joke by everyone else. Home talent furnished
stars, stock company, orchestra, and scene painter; and astonishing
performances were given on this pretty little stage.
Mrs Jo had been trying for some time to produce a play which should
be an improvement upon the adaptations from the French then in vogue,
curious mixtures of fine toilettes, false sentiment, and feeble wit,
with no touch of nature to redeem them. It was easy to plan plays
full of noble speeches and thrilling situations, but very hard to
write them; so she contented herself with a few scenes of humble life
in which the comic and pathetic were mingled; and as she fitted her
characters to her actors, she hoped the little venture would prove
that truth and simplicity had not entirely lost their power to charm.
Mr Laurie helped her, and they called themselves Beaumont and
Fletcher, enjoying their joint labour very much; for Beaumont's
knowledge of dramatic art was of great use in curbing Fletcher's
too-aspiring pen, and they flattered themselves that they had
produced a neat and effective bit of work as an experiment.
All was ready now; and Christmas Day was much enlivened by last
rehearsals, the panics of timid actors, the scramble for forgotten
properties, and the decoration of the theatre. Evergreen and holly
from the woods, blooming plants from the hothouse on Parnassus, and
flags of all nations made it very gay that night in honour of the
guests who were coming, chief among them, Miss Cameron, who kept her
promise faithfully. The orchestra tuned their instruments with
unusual care, the scene-shifters set their stage with lavish
elegance, the prompter heroically took his seat in the stifling nook
provided for him, and the actors dressed with trembling hands that
dropped the pins, and perspiring brows whereon the powder wouldn't
stick. Beaumont and Fletcher were everywhere, feeling that their
literary reputation was at stake; for sundry friendly critics were
invited, and reporters, like mosquitoes, cannot be excluded from any
earthly scene, be it a great man's death-bed or a dime museum.
'Has she come?' was the question asked by every tongue behind the
curtain; and when Tom, who played an old man, endangered his
respectable legs among the footlights to peep, announced that he saw
Miss Cameron's handsome head in the place of honour, a thrill
pervaded the entire company, and Josie declared with an excited gasp
that she was going to have stage fright for the first time in her
'I'll shake you if you do,' said Mrs Jo, who was in such a wild state
of dishevelment with her varied labours that she might have gone on
as Madge Wildlife, without an additional rag or crazy elf-lock.
'You'll have time to get your wits together while we do our piece.
We are old stagers and calm as clocks,' answered Demi, with a nod
towards Alice, ready in her pretty dress and all her properties at
But both clocks were going rather faster than usual, as heightened
colour, brilliant eyes, and a certain flutter under the laces and
velvet coat betrayed. They were to open the entertainment with a gay
little piece which they had played before and did remarkably well.
Alice was a tall girl, with dark hair and eyes, and a face which
intelligence, health, and a happy heart made beautiful. She was
looking her best now, for the brocades, plumes, and powder of the
Marquise became her stately figure; and Demi in his court suit, with
sword, three-cornered hat, and white wig, made as gallant a Baron as
one would wish to see. Josie was the maid, and looked her part to the
life, being as pretty, pert, and inquisitive as any French soubrette.
These three were all the characters; and the success of the piece
depended on the spirit and skill with which the quickly changing
moods of the quarrelsome lovers were given, their witty speeches made
to tell, and by-play suited to the courtly period in which the scene
Few would have recognized sober John and studious Alice in the
dashing gentleman and coquettish lady, who kept the audience laughing
at their caprices; while they enjoyed the brilliant costumes, and
admired the ease and grace of the young actors. Josie was a
prominent figure in the plot, as she listened at keyholes, peeped
into notes, and popped in and out at all the most inopportune
moments, with her nose in the air, her hands in her apron-pockets,
and curiosity pervading her little figure from the topmost bow of her
jaunty cap to the red heels of her slippers. All went smoothly; and
the capricious Marquise, after tormenting the devoted Baron to her
heart's content, owned herself conquered in the war of wits, and was
just offering the hand he had fairly won, when a crash startled them,
and a heavily decorated side-scene swayed forward, ready to fall upon
Alice. Demi saw it and sprung before her to catch and hold it up,
standing like a modern Samson with the wall of a house on his back.
The danger was over in a moment, and he was about to utter his last
speech, when the excited young scene-shifter, who had flown up a
ladder to repair the damage, leaned over to whisper 'All right', and
release Demi from his spread-eagle attitude: as he did so, a hammer
slipped out of his pocket, to fall upon the upturned face below,
inflicting a smart blow and literally knocking the Baron's part out
of his head.
'A quick curtain,' robbed the audience of a pretty little scene not
down on the bill; for the Marquise flew to staunch the blood with a
cry of alarm: 'Oh! John, you are hurt! Lean on me'--which John gladly
did for a moment, being a trifle dazed yet quite able to enjoy the
tender touch of the hands busied about him and the anxiety of the
face so near his own; for both told him something which he would have
considered cheaply won by a rain of hammers and the fall of the whole
college on his head.
Nan was on the spot in a moment with the case that never left her
pocket; and the wound was neatly plastered up by the time Mrs Jo
arrived, demanding tragically:
'Is he too much hurt to go on again? If he is, my play is lost!'
'I'm all the fitter for it, Aunty; for here's a real instead of a
painted wound. I'll be ready; don't worry about me.' And catching up
his wig, Demi was off, with only a very eloquent look of thanks to
the Marquise, who had spoilt her gloves for his sake, but did not
seem to mind it at all, though they reached above her elbows, and
were most expensive.
'How are your nerves, Fletcher?' asked Mr Laurie as they stood
together during the breathless minute before the last bell rings.
'About as calm as yours, Beaumont,' answered Mrs Jo, gesticulating
wildly to Mrs Meg to set her cap straight.
'Bear up, partner! I'll stand by you whatever comes!'
'I feel that it ought to go; for, though it's a mere trifle, a good
deal of honest work and truth have gone into it. Doesn't Meg look the
picture of a dear old country woman?'
She certainly did, as she sat in the farmhouse kitchen by a cheery
fire, rocking a cradle and darning stockings, as if she had done
nothing else all her life. Grey hair, skilfully drawn lines on the
forehead, and a plain gown, with cap, little shawl, and check apron,
changed her into a comfortable, motherly creature who found favour
the moment the curtain went up and discovered her rocking, darning,
and crooning an old song. In a short soliloquy about Sam, her boy,
who wanted to enlist; Dolly, her discontented little daughter, who
longed for city ease and pleasures; and poor 'Elizy', who had married
badly, and came home to die, bequeathing her baby to her mother, lest
its bad father should claim it, the little story was very simply
opened, and made effective by the real boiling of the kettle on the
crane, the ticking of a tall clock, and the appearance of a pair of
blue worsted shoes which waved fitfully in the air to the soft babble
of a baby's voice. Those shapeless little shoes won the first
applause; and Mr Laurie, forgetting elegance in satisfaction,
whispered to his coadjutor:
'I thought the baby would fetch them!'
'If the dear thing won't squall in the wrong place, we are saved. But
it is risky. Be ready to catch it if all Meg's cuddlings prove in
vain,' answered Mrs Jo, adding, with a clutch at Mr Laurie's arm as a
haggard face appeared at the window:
'Here's Demi! I hope no one will recognize him when he comes on as
the son. I'll never forgive you for not doing the villain yourself.'
'Can't run the thing and act too. He's capitally made up, and likes a
bit of melodrama.'
'This scene ought to have come later; but I wanted to show that the
mother was the heroine as soon as possible. I'm tired of love-sick
girls and runaway wives. We'll prove that there's romance in old
women also. Now he's coming!'
And in slouched a degraded-looking man, shabby, unshaven, and
evil-eyed, trying to assume a masterful air as he dismayed the
tranquil old woman by demanding his child. A powerful scene followed;
and Mrs Meg surprised even those who knew her best by the homely
dignity with which she at first met the man she dreaded; then, as he
brutally pressed his claim, she pleaded with trembling voice and
hands to keep the little creature she had promised the dying mother
to protect; and when he turned to take it by force, quite a thrill
went through the house as the old woman sprung to snatch it from the
cradle, and holding it close, defied him in God's name to tear it
from that sacred refuge. It was really well done; and the round of
applause that greeted the fine tableau of the indignant old woman,
the rosy, blinking baby clinging to her neck, and the daunted man who
dared not execute his evil purpose with such a defender for helpless
innocence, told the excited authors that their first scene was a hit.
The second was quieter, and introduced Josie as a bonny country lass
setting the supper-table in a bad humour. The pettish way in which
she slapped down the plates, hustled the cups, and cut the big brown
loaf, as she related her girlish trials and ambitions, was capital.
Mrs Jo kept her eye on Miss Cameron, and saw her nod approval several
times at some natural tone or gesture, some good bit of by-play or a
quick change of expression in the young face, which was as variable
as an April day. Her struggle with the toasting-fork made much
merriment; so did her contempt for the brown sugar, and the relish
with which she sweetened her irksome duties by eating it; and when
she sat, like Cinderella, on the hearth, tearfully watching the
flames dance on the homely room, a girlish voice was heard to exclaim
'Poor little thing! she ought to have some fun!'
The old woman enters; and mother and daughter have a pretty scene, in
which the latter coaxes and threatens, kisses and cries, till she
wins the reluctant consent of the former to visit a rich relation in
the city; and from being a little thunder-cloud Dolly becomes
bewitchingly gay and good, as soon as her wilful wish is granted. The
poor old soul has hardly recovered from this trial when the son
enters, in army blue, tells he has enlisted and must go. That is a
hard blow; but the patriotic mother bears it well, and not till the
thoughtless young folks have hastened away to tell their good news
elsewhere does she break down. Then the country kitchen becomes
pathetic as the old mother sits alone mourning over her children,
till the grey head is hidden in the hands as she kneels down by the
cradle to weep and pray, with only Baby to comfort her fond and
Sniffs were audible all through the latter part of this scene; and
when the curtain fell, people were so busy wiping their eyes that for
a moment they forgot to applaud. That silent moment was more
flattering than noise; and as Mrs Jo wiped the real tears off her
sister's face, she said as solemnly as an unconscious dab of rouge on
her nose permitted:
'Meg, you have saved my play! Oh, why aren't you a real actress, and
I a real playwright?'
'Don't gush now, dear, but help me dress Josie; she's in such a
quiver of excitement, I can't manage her, and this is her best scene,
So it was; for her aunt had written it especially for her, and little
Jo was happy in a gorgeous dress, with a train long enough to satisfy
her wildest dreams. The rich relation's parlour was in festival
array, and the country cousin sails in, looking back at her sweeping
flounces with such artless rapture that no one had the heart to laugh
at the pretty jay in borrowed plumes. She has confidences with
herself in the mirror, from which it is made evident that she had
discovered all is not gold that glitters, and has found greater
temptations than those a girlish love of pleasure, luxury, and
flattery bring her. She is sought by a rich lover; but her honest
heart resists the allurements he offers, and in its innocent
perplexity wishes 'mother' was there to comfort and counsel.
A gay little dance, in which Dora, Nan, Bess, and several of the boys
took part, made a good background for the humble figure of the old
woman in her widow's bonnet, rusty shawl, big umbrella, and basket.
Her naive astonishment, as she surveys the spectacle, feels the
curtains, and smooths her old gloves during the moment she remains
unseen, was very good; but Josie's unaffected start when she sees
her, and the cry: 'Why, there's mother!' was such a hearty little bit
of nature, it hardly needed the impatient tripping over her train as
she ran into the arms that seemed now to be her nearest refuge.
The lover plays his part; and ripples of merriment greeted the old
woman's searching questions and blunt answers during the interview
which shows the girl how shallow his love is, and how near she had
been to ruining her life as bitterly as poor 'Elizy' did. She gives
her answer frankly, and when they are alone, looks from her own
bedizened self to the shabby dress, work-worn hands, and tender face,
crying with a repentant sob and kiss: 'Take me home, mother, and keep
me safe. I've had enough of this!'
'That will do you good, Maria; don't forget it,' said one lady to her
daughter as the curtain went down; and the girl answered: 'Well, I'm
sure I don't see why it's touching; but it is,' as she spread her
lace handkerchief to dry.
Tom and Nan came out strong in the next scene; for it was a ward in
an army hospital, and surgeon and nurse went from bed to bed, feeling
pulses, administering doses, and hearing complaints with an energy
and gravity which convulsed the audience. The tragic element, never
far from the comic at such times and places, came in when, while they
bandaged an arm, the doctor told the nurse about an old woman who was
searching through the hospital for her son, after days and nights on
battlefields, through ambulances, and among scenes which would have
killed most women.
'She will be here directly, and I dread her coming, for I'm afraid
the poor lad who has just gone is her boy. I'd rather face a cannon
than these brave women, with their hope and courage and great
sorrow,' says the surgeon.
'Ah, these poor mothers break my heart!' adds the nurse, wiping her
eyes on her big apron; and with the words Mrs Meg came in.
There was the same dress, the basket and umbrella, the rustic speech,
the simple manners; but all were made pathetic by the terrible
experience which had changed the tranquil old woman to that haggard
figure with wild eyes, dusty feet, trembling hands, and an expression
of mingled anguish, resolution, and despair which gave the homely
figure a tragic dignity and power that touched all hearts. A few
broken words told the story of her vain search, and then the sad
quest began again. People held their breath as, led by the nurse, she
went from bed to bed, showing in her face the alternations of hope,
dread, and bitter disappointment as each was passed. On a narrow cot
was a long figure covered with a sheet, and here she paused to lay
one hand on her heart and one on her eyes, as if to gather courage to
look at the nameless dead. Then she drew down the sheet, gave a long
shivering sigh of relief, saying softly:
'Not my son, thank God! but some mother's boy.' And stooping down,
she kissed the cold forehead tenderly.
Somebody sobbed there, and Miss Cameron shook two tears out of her
eyes, anxious to lose no look or gesture as the poor soul, nearly
spent with the long strain, struggled on down the long line. But her
search was happily ended for, as if her voice had roused him from his
feverish sleep, a gaunt, wild-eyed man sat up in his bed, and
stretching his arms to her, cried in a voice that echoed through the
'Mother, mother! I knew you'd come to me!'
She did go to him, with a cry of love and joy that thrilled every
listener, as she gathered him in her arms with the tears and prayers
and blessing such as only a fond and faithful old mother could give.
The last scene was a cheerful contrast to this; for the country
kitchen was bright with Christmas cheer, the wounded hero, with black
patch and crutches well displayed, sat by the fire in the old chair
whose familiar creak was soothing to his ear; pretty Dolly was
stirring about, gaily trimming dresser, settle, high chimney-piece,
and old-fashioned cradle with mistletoe and holly; while the mother
rested beside her son, with that blessed baby on her knee. Refreshed
by a nap and nourishment, this young actor now covered himself with
glory by his ecstatic prancings, incoherent remarks to the audience,
and vain attempts to get to the footlights, as he blinked approvingly
at these brilliant toys. It was good to see Mrs Meg pat him on the
back, cuddle the fat legs out of sight, and appease his vain longings
with a lump of sugar, till Baby embraced her with a grateful ardour
that brought him a round of applause all for his little self.
A sound of singing outside disturbs the happy family, and, after a
carol in the snowy moonlight, a flock of neighbours troop in with
Christmas gifts and greetings. Much by-play made this a lively
picture; for Sam's sweetheart hovered round him with a tenderness the
Marquise did not show the Baron; and Dolly had a pretty bit under the
mistletoe with her rustic adorer, who looked so like Ham Peggotty in
his cowhide boots, rough jacket, and dark beard and wig, that no one
would have recognized Ted but for the long legs, which no extent of
leather could disguise. It ended with a homely feast, brought by the
guests; and as they sat round the table covered with doughnuts and
cheese, pumpkin-pie, and other delicacies, Sam rises on his crutches
to propose the first toast, and holding up his mug of cider, says,
with a salute, and a choke in his voice: 'Mother, God bless her!' All
drink it standing, Dolly with her arm round the old woman's neck, as
she hides her happy tears on her daughter's breast; while the
irrepressible baby beat rapturously on the table with a spoon, and
crowed audibly as the curtain went down.
They had it up again in a jiffy to get a last look at the group about
that central figure, which was showered with bouquets, to the great
delight of the infant Roscius; till a fat rosebud hit him on the
nose, and produced the much-dreaded squall, which, fortunately, only
added to the fun at that moment.
'Well, that will do for a beginning,' said Beaumont, with a sigh of
relief, as the curtain descended for the last time, and the actors
scattered to dress for the closing piece.
'As an experiment, it is a success. Now we can venture to begin our
great American drama,' answered Mrs Jo, full of satisfaction and
grand ideas for the famous play--which, we may add, she did not write
that year, owing to various dramatic events in her own family.
The Owlsdark Marbles closed the entertainment, and, being something
new, proved amusing to this very indulgent audience. The gods and
goddesses on Parnassus were displayed in full conclave; and, thanks
to Mrs Amy's skill in draping and posing, the white wigs and
cotton-flannel robes were classically correct and graceful, though
sundry modern additions somewhat marred the effect, while adding
point to the showman's learned remarks. Mr Laurie was Professor
Owlsdark in cap and gown; and, after a high-flown introduction, he
proceeded to exhibit and explain his marbles. The first figure was a
stately Minerva; but a second glance produced a laugh, for the words
'Women's Rights' adorned her shield, a scroll bearing the motto 'Vote
early and often' hung from the beak of the owl perched on her lance,
and a tiny pestle and mortar ornamented her helmet. Attention was
drawn to the firm mouth, the piercing eye, the awe-inspiring brow, of
the strong-minded woman of antiquity, and some scathing remarks made
upon the degeneracy of her modern sisters who failed to do their
duty. Mercury came next, and was very fine in his airy attitude,
though the winged legs quivered as if it was difficult to keep the
lively god in his place. His restless nature was dilated upon, his
mischievous freaks alluded to, and a very bad character given to the
immortal messenger-boy; which delighted his friends and caused the
marble nose of the victim to curl visibly with scorn when derisive
applause greeted a particularly hard hit. A charming little Hebe
stood next, pouring nectar from a silver teapot into a blue china
tea-cup. She also pointed a moral; for the Professor explained that
the nectar of old was the beverage which cheers but does not
inebriate, and regretted that the excessive devotion of American
women to this classic brew proved so harmful, owing to the great
development of brain their culture produced. A touch at modern
servants, in contrast to this accomplished table-girl, made the
statue's cheeks glow under the chalk, and brought her a hearty round
as the audience recognized Dolly and the smart soubrette.
Jove in all his majesty followed, as he and his wife occupied the
central pedestals in the half-circle of immortals. A splendid
Jupiter, with hair well set up off the fine brow, ambrosial beard,
silver thunderbolts in one hand, and a well-worn ferule in the other.
A large stuffed eagle from the museum stood at his feet; and the
benign expression of his august countenance showed that he was in a
good humour--as well he might be, for he was paid some handsome
compliments upon his wise rule, the peaceful state of his kingdom,
and the brood of all-accomplished Pallases that yearly issued from
his mighty brain. Cheers greeted this and other pleasant words, and
caused the thunderer to bow his thanks; for 'Jove nods', as everyone
knows, and flattery wins the heart of gods and men.
Mrs Juno, with her peacocks, darning-needle, pen, and cooking-spoon,
did not get off so easily; for the Professor was down on her with all
manner of mirth-provoking accusations, criticisms, and insults even.
He alluded to her domestic infelicity, her meddlesome disposition,
sharp tongue, bad temper, and jealousy, closing, however, with a
tribute to her skill in caring for the wounds and settling the
quarrels of belligerent heroes, as well as her love for youths in
Olympus and on earth. Gales of laughter greeted these hits, varied by
hisses from some indignant boys, who would not bear, even in joke,
any disrespect to dear Mother Bhaer, who, however, enjoyed it all
immensely, as the twinkle in her eye and the irrepressible pucker of
her lips betrayed.
A jolly Bacchus astride of his cask took Vulcan's place, and appeared
to be very comfortable with a beer-mug in one hand, a champagne
bottle in the other, and a garland of grapes on his curly head. He
was the text of a short temperance lecture, aimed directly at a row
of smart young gentlemen who lined the walls of the auditorium.
George Cole was seen to dodge behind a pillar at one point, Dolly
nudged his neighbour at another, and there was laughter all along the
line as the Professor glared at them through his big glasses, and
dragged their bacchanalian orgies to the light and held them up to
Seeing the execution he had done, the learned man turned to the
lovely Diana, who stood as white and still as the plaster stag beside
her, with sandals, bow, and crescent; quite perfect, and altogether
the best piece of statuary in the show. She was very tenderly treated
by the paternal critic who, merely alluding to her confirmed
spinsterhood, fondness for athletic sports, and oracular powers, gave
a graceful little exposition of true art and passed on to the last
This was Apollo in full fig, his curls skilfully arranged to hide a
well-whitened patch over the eye, his handsome legs correctly poised,
and his gifted fingers about to draw divine music from the silvered
gridiron which was his lyre. His divine attributes were described, as
well as his little follies and failings, among which were his
weakness for photography and flute-playing, his attempts to run a
newspaper, and his fondness for the society of the Muses; which
latter slap produced giggles and blushes among the girl-graduates,
and much mirth among the stricken youths; for misery loves company,
and after this they began to rally.
Then, with a ridiculous conclusion, the Professor bowed his thanks;
and after several recalls the curtain fell, but not quickly enough to
conceal Mercury, wildly waving his liberated legs, Hebe dropping her
teapot, Bacchus taking a lovely roll on his barrel, and Mrs Juno
rapping the impertinent Owlsdark on the head with Jove's ruler.
While the audience filed out to supper in the hall, the stage was a
scene of dire confusion as gods and goddesses, farmers and barons,
maids and carpenters, congratulated one another on the success of
their labours. Assuming various costumes, actors and actresses soon
joined their guests, to sip bounteous draughts of praise with their
coffee, and cool their modest blushes with ice-cream. Mrs Meg was a
proud and happy woman when Miss Cameron came to her as she sat by
Josie, with Demi serving both, and said, so cordially that it was
impossible to doubt the sincerity of her welcome words:
'Mrs Brooke, I no longer wonder where your children get their talent.
I make my compliments to the Baron and next summer you must let me
have little "Dolly" as a pupil when we are at the beach.'
One can easily imagine how this offer was received, as well as the
friendly commendation bestowed by the same kind critic on the work of
Beaumont and Fletcher, who hastened to explain that this trifle was
only an attempt to make nature and art go hand in hand, with little
help from fine writing or imposing scenery. Everybody was in the
happiest mood, especially 'little Dolly', who danced like a
will-o'-the-wisp with light-footed Mercury and Apollo as he
promenaded with the Marquise on his arm, who seemed to have left her
coquetry in the green room with her rouge.
When all was over, Mrs Juno said to Jove, to whose arm she clung as
they trudged home along the snowy paths: 'Fritz dear, Christmas is a
good time for new resolutions, and I've made one never to be
impatient or fretful with my beloved husband again. I know I am,
though you won't own it; but Laurie's fun had some truth in it, and I
felt hit in a tender spot. Henceforth I am a model wife, else I don't
deserve the dearest, best man ever born'; and being in a dramatic
mood, Mrs Juno tenderly embraced her excellent Jove in the moonlight,
to the great amusement of sundry lingerers behind them.
So all three plays might be considered successes, and that merry
Christmas night a memorable one in the March family; for Demi got an
unspoken question answered, Josie's fondest wish was granted, and,
thanks to Professor Owlsdark's jest, Mrs Jo made Professor Bhaer's
busy life quite a bed of roses by the keeping of her resolution. A
few days later she had her reward for this burst of virtue in Dan's
letter, which set her fears at rest and made her very happy, though
she was unable to tell him so, because he sent her no address.
'My wife, I have bad news for thee,' said Professor Bhaer, coming in
one day early in January.
'Please tell it at once. I can't bear to wait, Fritz,' cried Mrs Jo,
dropping her work and standing up as if to take the shot bravely.
'But we must wait and hope, heart's-dearest. Come and let us bear it
together. Emil's ship is lost, and as yet no news of him.'
It was well Mr Bhaer had taken his wife into his strong arms, for she
looked ready to drop, but bore up after a moment, and sitting by her
good man, heard all that there was to tell. Tidings had been sent to
the shipowners at Hamburg by some of the survivors, and telegraphed
at once by Franz to his uncle. As one boat-load was safe, there was
hope that others might also escape, though the gale had sent two to
the bottom. A swift-sailing steamer had brought these scanty news,
and happier ones might come at any hour; but kind Franz had not added
that the sailors reported the captain's boat as undoubtedly wrecked
by the falling mast, since the smoke hid its escape, and the gale
soon drove all far asunder. But this sad rumour reached Plumfield in
time; and deep was the mourning for the happyhearted Commodore, never
to come singing home again. Mrs Jo refused to believe it, stoutly
insisting that Emil would outlive any storm and yet turn up safe and
gay. It was well she clung to this hopeful view, for poor Mr Bhaer
was much afflicted by the loss of his boy, because his sister's sons
had been his so long he scarcely knew a different love for his very
own. Now was a chance for Mrs Juno to keep her word; and she did,
speaking cheerily of Emil, even when hope waxed faint and her heart
was heavy. If anything could comfort the Bhaers for the loss of one
boy, it would have been the affection and sorrow shown by all the
rest. Franz kept the cable busy with his varying messages, Nat sent
loving letters from Leipzig, and Tom harassed the shipping agents for
news. Even busy Jack wrote them with unusual warmth; Dolly and George
came often, bearing the loveliest flowers and the daintiest bon-bons
to cheer Mrs Bhaer and sweeten Josie's grief; while good-hearted Ned
travelled all the way from Chicago to press their hands and say, with
a tear in his eye: 'I was so anxious to hear all about the dear old
boy, I couldn't keep away.'
'That's right comfortable, and shows me that if I didn't teach my
boys anything else, I did give them the brotherly love that will make
them stand by one another all their lives,' said Mrs Jo, when he had
Rob answered reams of sympathizing letters, which showed how many
friends they had; and the kindly praises of the lost man would have
made Emil a hero and a saint, had they all been true. The elders
bore it quietly, having learned submission in life's hard school; but
the younger people rebelled; some hoped against hope and kept up,
others despaired at once, and little Josie, Emil's pet cousin and
playmate, was so broken-hearted nothing could comfort her. Nan dosed
in vain, Daisy's cheerful words went by like the wind, and Bess's
devices to amuse her all failed utterly. To cry in mother's arms and
talk about the wreck, which haunted her even in her sleep, was all
she cared to do; and Mrs Meg was getting anxious when Miss Cameron
sent Josie a kind note bidding her learn bravely her first lesson in
real tragedy, and be like the self-sacrificing heroines she loved to
act. That did the little girl good, and she made an effort in which
Teddy and Octoo helped her much; for the boy was deeply impressed by
this sudden eclipse of the firefly whose light and life all missed
when they were gone, and lured her out every day for long drives
behind the black mare, who shook her silvery bells till they made
such merry music Josie could not help listening to it, and whisked
her over the snowy roads at a pace which set the blood dancing in her
veins and sent her home strengthened and comforted by sunshine, fresh
air, and congenial society--three aids young sufferers seldom can
As Emil was helping nurse Captain Hardy, safe and well, aboard the
ship, all this sorrow would seem wasted; but it was not, for it drew
many hearts more closely together by a common grief, taught some
patience, some sympathy, some regret for faults that lie heavy on the
conscience when the one sinned against is gone, and all of them the
solemn lesson to be ready when the summons comes. A hush lay over
Plumfield for weeks, and the studious faces on the hill reflected the
sadness of those in the valley. Sacred music sounded from Parnassus
to comfort all who heard; the brown cottage was beseiged with gifts
for the little mourner, and Emil's flag hung at half-mast on the roof
where he last sat with Mrs Jo.
So the weeks went heavily by till suddenly, like a thunderbolt out of
a clear sky, came the news, 'All safe, letters on the way.' Then up
went the flag, out rang the college bells, bang went Teddy's
long-unused cannon, and a chorus of happy voices cried 'Thank God',
as people went about, laughing, crying, and embracing one another in
a rapture of delight. By and by the longed-for letters came, and all
the story of the wreck was told; briefly by Emil, eloquently by Mrs
Hardy, gratefully by the captain, while Mary added a few tender words
that went straight to their hearts and seemed the sweetest of all.
Never were letters so read, passed round, admired, and cried over as
these; for Mrs Jo carried them in her pocket when Mr Bhaer did not
have them in his, and both took a look at them when they said their
prayers at night. Now the Professor was heard humming like a big bee
again as he went to his classes, and the lines smoothed out of Mother
Bhaer's forehead, while she wrote this real story to anxious friends
and let her romances wait. Now messages of congratulation flowed in,
and beaming faces showed everywhere. Rob amazed his parents by
producing a poem which was remarkably good for one of his years, and
Demi set it to music that it might be sung when the sailor boy
returned. Teddy stood on his head literally, and tore about the
neighbourhood on Octoo, like a second Paul Revere--only his tidings
were good. But best of all, little Josie lifted up her head as the
snowdrops did, and began to bloom again, growing tall and quiet, with
the shadow of past sorrow to tone down her former vivacity and show
that she had learned a lesson in trying to act well her part on the
real stage, where all have to take their share in the great drama of
Now another sort of waiting began; for the travellers were on their
way to Hamburg, and would stay there awhile before coming home, as
Uncle Hermann owned the Brenda, and the captain must report to him.
Emil must remain to Franz's wedding, deferred till now because of the
season of mourning, so happily ended. These plans were doubly welcome
and pleasant after the troublous times which went before, and no
spring ever seemed so beautiful as this one; for, as Teddy put it:
'Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by these sons of Bhaer!'
Franz and Emil being regarded in the light of elder brothers by the
real 'sons of Bhaer'.
There was great scrubbing and dusting among the matrons as they set
their houses in order not only for Class Day, but to receive the
bride and groom, who were to come to them for the honeymoon trip.
Great plans were made, gifts prepared, and much joy felt at the
prospect of seeing Franz again; though Emil, who was to accompany
them, would be the greater hero. Little did the dear souls dream what
a surprise was in store for them, as they innocently laid their plans
and wished all the boys could be there to welcome home their eldest
and their Casablanca.
While they wait and work so happily, let us see how our other absent
boys are faring as they too wait and work and hope for better days.
Nat was toiling steadily along the path he had wisely chosen, though
it was by no means strewn with flowers--quite thorny was it, in fact,
and hard to travel, after the taste of ease and pleasure he had got
when nibbling at forbidden fruit. But his crop of wild oats was a
light one, and he resolutely reaped what he had sowed, finding some
good wheat among the tares. He taught by day; he fiddled night after
night in the dingy little theatre, and he studied so diligently that
his master was well pleased, and kept him in mind as one to whom
preferment was due, if any chance occurred. Gay friends forgot him;
but the old ones stood fast, and cheered him up when Heimweh and
weariness made him sad. As spring came on things mended--expenses
grew less, work pleasanter, and life more bearable than when wintry
storms beat on his thinly clad back, and frost pinched the toes that
patiently trudged in old boots. No debts burdened him; the year of
absence was nearly over; and if he chose to stay, Herr Bergmann had
hopes for him that would bring independence for a time at least. So
he walked under the lindens with a lighter heart, and in the May
evenings went about the city with a band of strolling students,
making music before houses where he used to sit as guest. No one
recognized him in the darkness, though old friends often listened to
the band; and once Minna threw him money, which he humbly received as
part of his penance, being morbid on the subject of his sins.
His reward came sooner than he expected, and was greater than he
deserved, he thought, though his heart leaped with joy when his
master one day informed him that he was chosen, with several other of
his most promising pupils, to join the musical society which was to
take part in the great festival in London the next July. Here was
not only honour for the violinist but happiness for the man, as it
brought him nearer home, and would open a chance of further promotion
and profit in his chosen profession.
'Make thyself useful to Bachmeister there in London with thy English,
and if all goes well with him, he will be glad to take thee to
America, whither he goes in the early autumn for winter concerts.
Thou hast done well these last months, and I have hopes of thee.'
As the great Bergmann seldom praised his pupils, these words filled
Nat's soul with pride and joy, and he worked yet more diligently than
before to fulfil his master's prophecy. He thought the trip to
England happiness enough, but found room for more when, early in
June, Franz and Emil paid him a flying visit, bringing all sorts of
good news, kind wishes, and comfortable gifts for the lonely fellow,
who could have fallen on their necks and cried like a girl at seeing
his old mates again. How glad he was to be found in his little room
busy at his proper work, not living like an idle gentleman on
borrowed money! How proud he was to tell his plans, assure them that
he had no debts, and receive their praises for his improvement in
music, their respect for his economy and steadfastness in well-doing!
How relieved when, having honestly confessed his shortcomings, they
only laughed, and owned that they also had known like experiences,
and were the wiser for them. He was to go to the wedding late in
June, and join his comrades in London. As best man, he could not
refuse the new suit Franz insisted on ordering for him; and a cheque
from home about that time made him feel like a millionaire--and a
happy one; for this was accompanied by such kind letters full of
delight in his success, he felt that he had earned it, and waited for
his joyful holiday with the impatience of a boy.
Dan meantime was also counting the weeks till August, when he would
be free. But neither marriage-bells nor festival music awaited him;
no friends would greet him as he left the prison; no hopeful prospect
lay before him; no happy home-going was to be his. Yet his success
was far greater than Nat's, though only God and one good man saw it.
It was a hard-won battle; but he would never have to fight so
terrible a one again; for though enemies would still assail from
within and from without, he had found the little guide-book that
Christian carried in his bosom, and Love, Penitence, and Prayer, the
three sweet sisters, had given him the armour which would keep him
safe. He had not learned to wear it yet, and chafed against it,
though he felt its value, thanks to the faithful friend who had stood
by him all that bitter year.
Soon he was to be free again, worn and scarred in the fray, but out
among men in the blessed sun and air. When he thought of it Dan felt
as if he could not wait, but must burst that narrow cell and fly
away, as the caddis-worms he used to watch by the brookside shed
their stony coffins, to climb the ferns and soar into the sky. Night
after night he lulled himself to sleep with planning how, when he had
seen Mary Mason according to his promise, he would steer straight for
his old friends, the Indians, and in the wilderness hide his disgrace
and heal his wounds. Working to save the many would atone for the sin
of killing one, he thought; and the old free life would keep him safe
from the temptations that beset him in cities.
'By and by, when I'm all right again, and have something to tell that
I'm not ashamed of, I'll go home,' he said, with a quicker beat of
the impetuous heart that longed to be there so intensely, he found it
as hard to curb as one of his unbroken horses on the plains. 'Not
yet. I must get over this first. They'd see and smell and feel the
prison taint on me, if I went now, and I couldn't look them in the
face and hide the truth. I can't lose Ted's love, Mother Bhaer's
confidence, and the respect of the girls, for they did respect my
strength, anyway; but now they wouldn't touch me.' And poor Dan
looked with a shudder at the brown fist he clenched involuntarily as
he remembered what it had done since a certain little white hand had
laid in it confidingly. 'I'll make 'em proud of me yet; and no one
shall ever know of this awful year. I can wipe it out, and I will, so
help me God!' And the clenched hand was held up as if to take a
solemn oath that this lost year should yet be made good, if
resolution and repentance could work the miracle.
IN THE TENNIS-COURT
Athletic sports were in high favour at Plumfield; and the river where
the old punt used to wabble about with a cargo of small boys, or echo
to the shrill screams of little girls trying to get lilies, now was
alive with boats of all kinds, from the slender wherry to the trim
pleasure-craft, gay with cushions, awnings, and fluttering pennons.
Everyone rowed, and the girls as well as the youths had their races,
and developed their muscles in the most scientific manner. The large,
level meadow near the old willow was now the college playground, and
here baseball battles raged with fury, varied by football, leaping,
and kindred sports fitted to split the fingers, break the ribs, and
strain the backs of the too ambitious participants. The gentler
pastimes of the damsels were at a safe distance from this Champ de
Mars; croquet mallets clicked under the elms that fringed the field,
rackets rose and fell energetically in several tennis-courts, and
gates of different heights were handy to practise the graceful bound
by which every girl expected to save her life some day when the mad
bull, which was always coming but never seemed to arrive, should be
bellowing at her heels.
One of these tennis grounds was called 'Jo's Court', and here the
little lady ruled like a queen; for she was fond of the game, and
being bent on developing her small self to the highest degree of
perfection, she was to be found at every leisure moment with some
victim hard at it. On a certain pleasant Saturday afternoon she had
been playing with Bess and beating her; for, though more graceful,
the Princess was less active than her cousin, and cultivated her
roses by quieter methods.
'Oh dear! you are tired, and every blessed boy is at that stupid
baseball match. 'What shall I do?' sighed Josie, pushing back the
great red hat she wore, and gazing sadly round her for more worlds to
'I'll play presently, when I'm a little cooler. But it is dull work
for me, as I never win,' answered Bess, fanning herself with a large
Josie was about to sit down beside her on the rustic seat and wait,
when her quick eye saw afar off two manly forms arrayed in white
flannel; their blue legs seemed bearing them towards the battle going
on in the distance; but they never reached the fray; for with a cry
of joy, Jo raced away to meet them, bent on securing this heaven-sent
reinforcement. Both paused as she came flying up, and both raised
their hats; but oh, the difference there was in the salutes! The
stout youth pulled his off lazily and put it on again at once, as if
glad to get the duty over; the slender being, with the crimson tie,
lifted his with a graceful bend, and held it aloft while he accosted
the rosy, breathless maid, thus permitting her to see his raven locks
smoothly parted, with one little curl upon the brow. Dolly prided
himself upon that bow, and practised it before his glass, but did not
bestow it upon all alike, regarding it as a work of art, fit only for
the fairest and most favoured of his female admirers; for he was a
pretty youth, and fancied himself an Adonis.
Eager Josie evidently did not appreciate the honour he did her, for
with a nod she begged them both to 'come along and play tennis, not
go and get all hot and dirty with the boys'. These two adjectives won
the day; for Stuffy was already warmer than he liked to be, and Dolly
had on a new suit which he desired to keep immaculate as long as
possible, conscious that it was very becoming.
'Charmed to oblige,' answered the polite one, with another bend.
'You play, I'll rest,' added the fat boy, yearning for repose and
gentle converse with the Princess in the cooling shade.
'Well, you can comfort Bess, for I've beaten her all to bits and she
needs amusing. I know you've got something nice in your pocket,
George; give her some, and 'Dolphus can have her racket. Now then,
fly round'; and driving her prey before her, Josie returned in
triumph to the court.
Casting himself ponderously upon the bench, which creaked under his
weight, Stuffy--as we will continue to call him, though no one else
dared to use the old name now--promptly produced the box of
confectionery, without which he never travelled far, and regaled Bess
with candied violets and other dainties, while Dolly worked hard to
hold his own against a most accomplished antagonist. He would have
beaten her if an unlucky stumble, which produced an unsightly stain
upon the knee of those new shorts, had not distracted his mind and
made him careless. Much elated at her victory, Josie permitted him to
rest, and offered ironical consolation for the mishap which evidently
weighed upon his mind.
'Don't be an old Betty; it can be cleaned. You must have been a cat
in some former state, you are so troubled about dirt; or a tailor,
and lived for clothes.'
'Come now, don't hit a fellow when he is down,' responded Dolly from
the grass where he and Stuffy now lay to make room for both girls on
the seat. One handkerchief was spread under him, and his elbow leaned
upon another, while his eyes were sadly fixed upon the green and
brown spot which afflicted him. 'I like to be neat; don't think it
civil to cut about in old shoes and grey flannel shirts before
ladies. Our fellows are gentlemen, and dress as such,' he added,
rather nettled at the word 'tailor'; for he owed one of those too
attractive persons an uncomfortably big bill.
'So are ours; but good clothes alone don't make a gentleman here. We
require a good deal more,' flashed Josie, in arms at once to defend
her college. 'You will hear of some of the men in "old boots and grey
flannel" when you and your fine gentlemen are twiddling your ties and
scenting your hair in obscurity. I like old boots and wear them, and
I hate dandies; don't you, Bess?'
'Not when they are kind to me, and belong to our old set,' answered
Bess, with a nod of thanks to Dolly, who was carefully removing an
inquisitive caterpillar from one of her little russet shoes.
'I like a lady who is always polite, and doesn't snap a man's head
off if he has a mind of his own; don't you, George?' asked Dolly,
with his best smile for Bess and a Harvard stare of disapprobation
A tranquil snore was Stuffy's sole reply, and a general laugh
restored peace for the moment. But Josie loved to harass the lords of
creation who asserted themselves too much, and bided her time for
another attack till she had secured more tennis. She got another
game; for Dolly was a sworn knight of dames, so he obeyed her call,
leaving Bess to sketch George as he lay upon his back, his stout legs
crossed, and his round red face partially eclipsed by his hat. Josie
got beaten this time and came back rather cross, so she woke the
peaceful sleeper by tickling his nose with a straw till he sneezed
himself into a sitting posture, and looked wrathfully about for 'that
'Come, sit up and let us have a little elegant conversation; you
"howling swells" ought to improve our minds and manners, for we are
only poor "country girls in dowdy gowns and hats",' began the
gad-fly, opening the battle with a sly quotation from one of Dolly's
unfortunate speeches about certain studious damsels who cared more
for books than finery.
'I didn't mean you! Your gowns are all right, and those hats the
latest thing out,' began poor 'Dolphus, convicting himself by the
'Caught you that time; I thought you fellows were all gentlemen,
civil as well as nice. But you are always sneering at girls who don't
dress well and that is a very unmanly thing to do; my mother said
so'; and Josie felt that she had dealt a shrewd blow at the elegant
youth who bowed at many shrines if they were well-decorated ones.
'Got you there, old boy, and she's right. You never hear me talk
about clothes and such twaddle,' said Stuffy, suppressing a yawn, and
feeling for another bon-bon wherewith to refresh himself.
'You talk about eating, and that is even worse for a man. You will
marry a cook and keep a restaurant some day,' laughed Josie, down on
him at once.
This fearful prediction kept him silent for several moments; but
Dolly rallied, and wisely changing the subject, carried war into the
'As you wanted us to improve your manners, allow me to say that young
ladies in good society don't make personal remarks or deliver
lectures. Little girls who are not out do it, and think it witty; but
I assure you it's not good form.'
Josie paused a moment to recover from the shock of being called 'a
little girl', when all the honours of her fourteenth birthday were
fresh upon her; and Bess said, in the lofty tone which was infinitely
more crushing than Jo's impertinence:
'That is true; but we have lived all our lives with superior people,
so we have no society talk like your young ladies. We are so
accustomed to sensible conversation, and helping one another by
telling our faults, that we have no gossip to offer you.'
When the Princess reproved, the boys seldom resented it; so Dolly
held his peace, and Josie burst out, following her cousin's lead,
which she thought a happy one:
'Our boys like to have us talk with them, and take kindly any hints
we give. They don't think they know everything and are quite perfect
at eighteen, as I've observed the Harvard men do, especially the very
Josie took immense satisfaction in that return shot; and Dolly showed
that he was hit, by the nettled tone in which he answered, with a
supercilious glance at the hot, dusty, and noisy crowd on the
baseball ground: 'The class of fellows you have here need all the
polish and culture you can give them; and I'm glad they get it. Our
men are largely from the best families all over the country, so we
don't need girls to teach us anything.'
'It's a pity you don't have more of such "fellows" as ours. They
value and use well what college gives them, and aren't satisfied to
slip through, getting all the fun they can and shirking the work. Oh,
I've heard you "men" talk, and heard your fathers say they wish they
hadn't wasted time and money just that you might say you'd been
through college. As for the girls, you'll be much better off in all
ways when they do get in, and keep you lazy things up to the mark, as
we do here.'
'If you have such a poor opinion of us, why do you wear our colour?'
asked Dolly, painfully conscious that he was not improving the
advantages his Alma Mater offered him, but bound to defend her.
'I don't; my hat is scarlet, not crimson. Much you know about a
colour,' scoffed Josie.
'I know that a cross cow would soon set you scampering, if you
flaunted that red tile under her nose,' retorted Dolly.
'I'm ready for her. Can your fine young ladies do this? or you
either?' and burning to display her latest accomplishment, Josie ran
to the nearest gate, put one hand on the top rail, and vaulted over
as lightly as a bird.
Bess shook her head, and Stuffy languidly applauded; but Dolly
scorning to be braved by a girl, took a flying leap and landed on his
feet beside Josie, saying calmly: 'Can you do that?'
'Not yet; but I will by and by.'
As his foe looked a little crestfallen, Dolly relented, and affably
added sundry feats of a like nature, quite unconscious that he had
fallen into a dreadful snare; for the dull red paint on the gate, not
being used to such vigorous handling, came off in streaks upon his
shoulders when he turned a backward swing and came up smiling, to be
rewarded with the aggravating remark:
'If you want to know what crimson is, look at your back; it's nicely
stamped on and won't wash out, I think.'
'The deuce it won't!' cried Dolly, trying to get an impossible view,
and giving it up in great disgust.
'I guess we'd better be going, Dolf,' said peaceable Stuffy, feeling
that it would be wise to retreat before another skirmish took place,
as his side seemed to be getting the worst of it.
'Don't hurry, I beg; stay and rest; you must need it after the
tremendous amount of brain work you've done this week. It is time for
our Greek. Come, Bess. Good afternoon, gentlemen.' And, with a
sweeping courtesy, Josie led the way, with her hat belligerently
cocked up, and her racket borne like a triumphal banner over one
shoulder; for having had the last word, she felt that she could
retire with the honours of war.
Dolly gave Bess his best bow, with the chill on; and Stuffy subsided
luxuriously, with his legs in the air, murmuring in a dreamy tone:
'Little Jo is as cross as two sticks today. I'm going in for another
nap: too hot to play anything.'
'So it is. Wonder if Spitfire was right about these beastly spots?'
And Dolly sat down to try dry cleansing with one of his
handkerchiefs. 'Asleep?' he asked, after a few moments of this
cheerful occupation, fearing that his chum might be too comfortable
when he was in a fume himself.
'No. I was thinking that Jo wasn't far wrong about shirking. 'Tis a
shame to get so little done, when we ought to be grinding like Morton
and Torry and that lot. I never wanted to go to college; but my
governor made me. Much good it will do either of us!' answered
Stuffy, with a groan; for he hated work, and saw two more long years
of it before him.
'Gives a man prestige, you know. No need to dig. I mean to have a gay
old time, and be a "howling swell", if I choose. Between you and me
though, it would be no end jolly to have the girls along. Study be
hanged! But if we've got to turn the grindstone, it would be mighty
nice to have some of the little dears to lend a hand. Wouldn't it
'I'd like three this minute--one to fan me, one to kiss me, and one
to give me some iced lemonade!' sighed Stuffy, with a yearning glance
towards the house, whence no succour appeared.
'How would root-beer do?' asked a voice behind them, which made Dolly
spring to his feet and Stuffy roll over like a startled porpoise.
Sitting on the stile that crossed the wall near by was Mrs Jo, with
two jugs slung over her shoulder by a strap, several tin mugs in her
hand, and an old-fashioned sun-bonnet on her head.
'I knew the boys would be killing themselves with ice-water; so I
strolled down with some of my good, wholesome beer. They drank like
fishes. But Silas was with me; so my cruse still holds out. Have
'Yes, thanks, very much. Let us pour it.' And Dolly held the cup
while Stuffy joyfully filled it; both very grateful, but rather
afraid she had heard what went before the wish she fulfilled.
She proved that she had by saying, as they stood drinking her health,
while she sat between them, looking like a middle-aged vivandiere,
with her jugs and mugs:
'I was glad to hear you say you would like to have girls at your
college; but I hope you will learn to speak more respectfully of them
before they come; for that will be the first lesson they will teach
'Really, ma'am, I was only joking,' began Stuffy, gulping down his
beer in a hurry.
'So was I. I'm sure I--I'm devoted to 'em,' stuttered Dolly,
panic-stricken; for he saw that he was in for a lecture of some sort.
'Not in the right way. Frivolous girls may like to be called "little
dears" and things of that sort; but the girls who love study wish to
be treated like reasonable beings, not dolls to flirt with. Yes, I'm
going to preach; that's my business; so stand up and take it like
Mrs Jo laughed; but she was in earnest; for by various hints and
signs during the past winter she knew that the boys were beginning to
'see life' in the way she especially disapproved. Both were far from
home, had money enough to waste, and were as inexperienced, curious,
and credulous as most lads of their age. Not fond of books, therefore
without the safeguard which keeps many studious fellows out of harm;
one self-indulgent, indolent, and so used to luxury that pampering of
the senses was an easy thing; the other vain, as all comely boys are,
full of conceit, and so eager to find favour in the eyes of his
comrades that he was ready for anything which would secure it. These
traits and foibles made both peculiarly liable to the temptations
which assail pleasure-loving and weak-willed boys. Mrs Jo knew them
well, and had dropped many a warning word since they went to college;
but till lately they seemed not to understand some of her friendly
hints; now she was sure they would, and meant to speak out: for long
experience with boys made her both bold and skilful in handling some
of the dangers usually left to silence, till it is too late for
anything but pity and reproach.
'I'm going to talk to you like a mother, because yours are far away;
and there are things that mothers can manage best, if they do their
duty,' she solemnly began from the depths of the sunbonnet.
'Great Scott! We're in for it now!' thought Dolly, in secret dismay;
while Stuffy got the first blow by trying to sustain himself with
another mug of beer.
'That won't hurt you; but I must warn you about drinking other
things, George. Overeating is an old story; and a few more fits of
illness will teach you to be wise. But drinking is a more serious
thing, and leads to worse harm than any that can afflict your body
alone. I hear you talk about wines as if you knew them and cared more
for them than a boy should; and several times I've heard jokes that
meant mischief. For heaven's sake, don't begin to play with this
dangerous taste "for fun", as you say, or because it's the fashion,
and the other fellows do. Stop at once, and learn that temperance in
all things is the only safe rule.'
'Upon my honour, I only take wine and iron. I need a tonic, mother
says, to repair the waste of brain-tissue while I'm studying,'
protested Stuffy, putting down the mug as if it burnt his fingers.
'Good beef and oatmeal will repair your tissues much better than any
tonic of that sort. Work and plain fare are what you want; and I wish
I had you here for a few months out of harm's way. I'd Banting you,
and fit you to run without puffing, and get on without four or five
meals a day. What an absurd hand that is for a man! You ought to be
ashamed of it!' And Mrs Jo caught up the plump fist, with deep
dimples at each knuckle, which was fumbling distressfully at the
buckle of the belt girt about a waist far too large for a youth of
'I can't help it--we all grow fat; it's in the family,' said Stuffy
'All the more reason you should live carefully. Do you want to die
early, or be an invalid all your life?'
Stuffy looked so scared that Mrs Jo could not be hard upon his
budding sins, for they lay at his overindulgent mother's door line in
a great measure; so she softened the tone of her voice, and added,
with a little slap on the fat hand, as she used to do when it was
small enough to pilfer lumps of sugar from her bowl:
'Then be careful; for a man writes his character in his face; and you
don't want gluttony and intemperance in yours, I know.'
'I'm sure I don't! Please make out a wholesome bill of fare, and I'll
stick to it, if I can. I am getting stout, and I don't like it; and
my liver's torpid, and I have palpitations and headache. Overwork,
mother says; but it may be overeating.' And Stuffy gave a sigh of
mingled regret for the good things he renounced, and relief as he
finished loosening his belt as soon as his hand was free.
'I will; follow it, and in a year you'll be a man and not a meal-bag.
Now, Dolly'; and Mrs Jo turned to the other culprit, who shook in his
shoes and wished he hadn't come.
'Are you studying French as industriously as you were last winter?'
'No ma'am; I don't care for it--that is, I, I'm busy with G-Greek
just now,' answered Dolly, beginning bravely, quite in the dark as to
what that odd question meant till a sudden memory made him stutter
and look at his shoes with deep interest.
'Oh, he doesn't study it; only reads French novels and goes to the
theatre when the opera bouffe is here,' said Stuffy, innocently
confirming Mrs Jo's suspicions.
'So I understood; and that is what I want to speak about. Ted had a
sudden desire to learn French in that way, from something you said,
Dolly; so I went myself, and was quite satisfied that it was no place
for a decent boy. Your men were out in full force; and I was glad to
see that some of the younger ones looked as ashamed as I felt. The
older fellows enjoyed it, and when we came out were waiting to take
those painted girls to supper. Did you ever go with them?'
'Did you like it?'
'No 'm; I--I came away early,' stammered Dolly, with a face as red as
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