Louisa May Alcott
Part 5 out of 6
his splendid tie.
'I'm glad you have not lost the grace of blushing yet; but you will
soon, if you keep up this sort of study and forget to be ashamed. The
society of such women will unfit you for that of good ones, and lead
you into trouble and sin and shame. Oh, why don't the city fathers
stop that evil thing, when they know the harm it does? It made my
heart ache to see those boys, who ought to be at home and in their
beds, going off for a night of riot which would help to ruin some of
them for ever.'
The youths looked scared at Mrs Jo's energetic protest against one of
the fashionable pleasures of the day, and waited in
conscience-stricken silence--Stuffy glad that he never went to those
gay suppers, and Dolly deeply grateful that he 'came away early'.
With a hand on either shoulder, and all the terrors smoothed from her
brow, Mrs Jo went on in her most motherly tone, anxious to do for
them what no other woman would, and do it kindly:
'My dear boys, if I didn't love you, I would not say these things. I
know they are not pleasant; but my conscience won't let me hold my
peace when a word may keep you from two of the great sins that curse
the world and send so many young men to destruction. You are just
beginning to feel the allurement of them, and soon it will be hard to
turn away. Stop now, I beg of you, and not only save yourselves but
help others by a brave example. Come to me if things worry you; don't
be afraid or ashamed; I have heard many sadder confessions than any
you are ever likely to bring me, and been able to comfort many poor
fellows, gone wrong for want of a word in time. Do this, and you will
be able to kiss your mothers with clean lips, and by and by have the
right to ask innocent girls to love you.'
'Yes'm, thank you. I suppose you're right; but it's pretty hard work
to toe the mark when ladies give you wine and gentlemen take their
daughters to see Aimee,' said Dolly, foreseeing tribulations ahead
though he knew it was time to 'pull up'.
'So it is; but all the more honour to those who are brave and wise
enough to resist public opinion, and the easy-going morals of bad or
careless men and women. Think of the persons whom you respect most,
and in imitating them you will secure the respect of those who look
up to you. I'd rather my boys should be laughed at and
cold-shouldered by a hundred foolish fellows than lose what, once
gone, no power can give them back--innocence and self-respect. I
don't wonder you find it "hard to toe the mark", when books,
pictures, ball-rooms, theatres, and streets offer temptations; yet
you can resist, if you try. Last winter Mrs Brooke used to worry
about John's being out so late reporting; but when she spoke to him
about the things he must see and hear on his way to and fro from the
office at midnight, he said in his sober way, "I know what you mean,
mother; but no fellow need to go wrong unless he wants to."
'That's like the Deacon!' exclaimed Stuffy, with an approving smile
on his fat face.
'I'm glad you told me that. He's right; and it's because he doesn't
want to go wrong we all respect him so,' added Dolly, looking up now
with an expression which assured his Mentor that the right string had
been touched, and a spirit of emulation roused, more helpful,
perhaps, than any words of hers. Seeing this, she was satisfied, and
said, as she prepared to leave the bar before which her culprits had
been tried and found guilty, but recommended to mercy:
'Then be to others what John is to you--a good example. Forgive me
for troubling you, my dear lads, and remember my little preachment. I
think it will do you good, though I may never know it. Chance words
spoken in kindness often help amazingly; and that's what old people
are here for--else their experience is of little use. Now, come and
find the young folk. I hope I shall never have to shut the gates of
Plumfield upon you, as I have on some of your "gentlemen". I mean to
keep my boys and girls safe if I can, and this a wholesome place
where the good old-fashioned virtues are lived and taught.'
Much impressed by that dire threat, Dolly helped her from her perch
with deep respect; and Stuffy relieved her of her empty jugs,
solemnly vowing to abstain from all fermented beverages except
root-beer, as long as feeble flesh could hold out. Of course they
made light of 'Mother Bhaer's lecture' when they were alone--that was
to be expected of 'men of our class' but in their secret souls they
thanked her for giving their boyish consciences a jog, and more than
once afterward had cause to remember gratefully that half-hour in the
AMONG THE MAIDS
Although this story is about Jo's boys, her girls cannot be
neglected, because they held a high place in this little republic,
and especial care was taken to fit them to play their parts worthily
in the great republic which offered them wider opportunities and more
serious duties. To many the social influence was the better part of
the training they received; for education is not confined to books,
and the finest characters often graduate from no college, but make
experience their master, and life their book. Others cared only for
the mental culture, and were in danger of over-studying, under the
delusion which pervades New England that learning must be had at all
costs, forgetting that health and real wisdom are better. A third
class of ambitious girls hardly knew what they wanted, but were
hungry for whatever could fit them to face the world and earn a
living, being driven by necessity, the urgency of some half-conscious
talent, or the restlessness of strong young natures to break away
from the narrow life which no longer satisfied.
At Plumfield all found something to help them; for the growing
institution had not yet made its rules as fixed as the laws of the
Medes and Persians, and believed so heartily in the right of all
sexes, colours, creeds, and ranks to education, that there was room
for everyone who knocked, and a welcome to the shabby youths from up
country, the eager girls from the West, the awkward freedman or woman
from the South, or the well-born student whose poverty made this
college a possibility when other doors were barred. There still was
prejudice, ridicule, neglect in high places, and prophecies of
failure to contend against; but the Faculty was composed of cheerful,
hopeful men and women who had seen greater reforms spring from
smaller roots, and after stormy seasons blossom beautifully, to add
prosperity and honour to the nation. So they worked on steadily and
bided their time, full of increasing faith in their attempt as year
after year their numbers grew, their plans succeeded, and the sense
of usefulness in this most vital of all professions blessed them with
its sweet rewards.
Among the various customs which had very naturally sprung up was one
especially useful and interesting to 'the girls', as the young women
liked to be called. It all grew out of the old sewing hour still kept
up by the three sisters long after the little work-boxes had expanded
into big baskets full of household mending. They were busy women, yet
on Saturdays they tried to meet in one of the three sewing-rooms; for
even classic Parnassus had its nook where Mrs Amy often sat among her
servants, teaching them to make and mend, thereby giving them a
respect for economy, since the rich lady did not scorn to darn her
hose, and sew on buttons. In these household retreats, with books and
work, and their daughters by them, they read and sewed and talked in
the sweet privacy that domestic women love, and can make so helpful
by a wise mixture of cooks and chemistry, table linen and theology,
prosaic duties and good poetry.
Mrs Meg was the first to propose enlarging this little circle; for as
she went her motherly rounds among the young women she found a sad
lack of order, skill, and industry in this branch of education.
Latin, Greek, the higher mathematics, and science of all sorts
prospered finely; but the dust gathered on the work-baskets, frayed
elbows went unheeded, and some of the blue stockings sadly needed
mending. Anxious lest the usual sneer at learned women should apply
to 'our girls', she gently lured two or three of the most untidy to
her house, and made the hour so pleasant, the lesson so kindly, that
they took the hint, were grateful for the favour, and asked to come
again. Others soon begged to make the detested weekly duty lighter by
joining the party, and soon it was a privilege so much desired that
the old museum was refitted with sewing-machines, tables,
rocking-chair, and a cheerful fireplace, so that, rain or shine, the
needles might go on undisturbed.
Here Mrs Meg was in her glory, and stood wielding her big shears like
a queen as she cut out white work, fitted dresses, and directed
Daisy, her special aide, about the trimming of hats, and completing
the lace and ribbon trifles which add grace to the simplest costume
and save poor or busy girls so much money and time. Mrs Amy
contributed taste, and decided the great question of colours and
complexions; for few women, even the most learned, are without that
desire to look well which makes many a plain face comely, as well as
many a pretty one ugly for want of skill and knowledge of the fitness
of things. She also took her turn to provide books for the readings,
and as art was her forte she gave them selections from Ruskin,
Hamerton, and Mrs Jameson, who is never old. Bess read these aloud as
her contribution, and Josie took her turn at the romances, poetry,
and plays her uncles recommended. Mrs Jo gave little lectures on
health, religion, politics, and the various questions in which all
should be interested, with copious extracts from Miss Cobbe's Duties
of Women, Miss Brackett's Education of American Girls, Mrs Duffy's No
Sex in Education, Mrs Woolson's Dress Reform, and many of the other
excellent books wise women write for their sisters, now that they are
waking up and asking: 'What shall we do?'
It was curious to see the prejudices melt away as ignorance was
enlightened, indifference change to interest, and intelligent minds
set thinking, while quick wits and lively tongues added spice to the
discussions which inevitably followed. So the feet that wore the
neatly mended hose carried wiser heads than before, the pretty gowns
covered hearts warmed with higher purposes, and the hands that
dropped the thimbles for pens, lexicons, and celestial globes, were
better fitted for life's work, whether to rock cradles, tend the
sick, or help on the great work of the world.
One day a brisk discussion arose concerning careers for women. Mrs
Jo had read something on the subject and asked each of the dozen
girls sitting about the room, what she intended to do on leaving
college. The answers were as usual: 'I shall teach, help mother,
study medicine, art,' etc.; but nearly all ended with:
'Till I marry.'
'But if you don't marry, what then?' asked Mrs Jo, feeling like a
girl again as she listened to the answers, and watched the
thoughtful, gay, or eager faces.
'Be old maids, I suppose. Horrid, but inevitable, since there are so
many superfluous women,' answered a lively lass, too pretty to fear
single blessedness unless she chose it.
'It is well to consider that fact, and fit yourselves to be useful,
not superfluous women. That class, by the way, is largely made up of
widows, I find; so don't consider it a slur on maidenhood.'
'That's a comfort! Old maids aren't sneered at half as much as they
used to be, since some of them have grown famous and proved that
woman isn't a half but a whole human being, and can stand alone.'
'Don't like it all the same. We can't all be like Miss Nightingale,
Miss Phelps, and the rest.'
So what can we do but sit in a corner and look on?' asked a plain
girl with a dissatisfied expression.
'Cultivate cheerfulness and content, if nothing else. But there are
so many little odd jobs waiting to be done that nobody need "sit idle
and look on", unless she chooses,' said Mrs Meg, with a smile, laying
on the girl's head the new hat she had just trimmed.
'Thank you very much. Yes, Mrs Brooke, I see; it's a little job, but
it makes me neat and happy--and grateful,' she added, looking up with
brighter eyes as she accepted the labour of love and the lesson as
sweetly as they were given.
'One of the best and most beloved women I know has been doing odd
jobs for the Lord for years, and will keep at it till her dear hands
are folded in her coffin. All sorts of things she does--picks up
neglected children and puts them in safe homes, saves lost girls,
nurses poor women in trouble, sews, knits, trots, begs, works for the
poor day after day with no reward but the thanks of the needy, the
love and honour of the rich who make Saint Matilda their almoner.
That's a life worth living; and I think that quiet little woman will
get a higher seat in Heaven than many of those of whom the world has
'I know it's lovely, Mrs Bhaer; but it's dull for young folks. We do
want a little fun before we buckle to,' said a Western girl with a
'Have your fun, my dear; but if you must earn your bread, try to make
it sweet with cheerfulness, not bitter with the daily regret that it
isn't cake. I used to think mine was a very hard fate because I had
to amuse a somewhat fretful old lady; but the books I read in that
lonely library have been of immense use to me since, and the dear old
soul bequeathed me Plumfield for my "cheerful service and
affectionate care". I didn't deserve it, but I did use to try to be
jolly and kind, and get as much honey out of duty as I could, thanks
to my dear mother's help and advice.'
'Gracious! if I could earn a place like this, I'd sing all day and be
an angel; but you have to take your chance, and get nothing for your
pains, perhaps. I never do,' said the Westerner, who had a hard time
with small means and large aspirations.
'Don't do it for the reward; but be sure it will come, though not in
the shape you expect. I worked hard for fame and money one winter;
but I got neither, and was much disappointed. A year afterwards I
found I had earned two prizes: skill with my pen, and Professor
Mrs Jo's laugh was echoed blithely by the girls, who liked to have
these conversations enlivened by illustrations from life.
'You are a very lucky woman,' began the discontented damsel, whose
soul soared above new hats, welcome as they were, but did not quite
know where to steer.
'Yet her name used to be "Luckless Jo", and she never had what she
wanted till she had given up hoping for it,' said Mrs Meg.
'I'll give up hoping, then, right away, and see if my wishes will
come. I only want to help my folks, and get a good school.'
'Take this proverb for your guide: "Get the distaff ready, and the
Lord will send the flax",' answered Mrs Jo.
'We'd better all do that, if we are to be spinsters,' said the pretty
one, adding gaily, 'I think I should like it, on the whole--they are
so independent. My Aunt Jenny can do just what she likes, and ask no
one's leave; but Ma has to consult Pa about everything. Yes, I'll
give you my chance, Sally, and be a "superfluum", as Mr Plock says.'
'You'll be one of the first to go into bondage, see if you aren't.
Much obliged, all the same.'
'Well, I'll get my distaff ready, and take whatever flax the Fates
send--single, or double-twisted, as the powers please.'
'That is the right spirit, Nelly. Keep it up, and see how happy life
will be with a brave heart, a willing hand, and plenty to do.'
'No one objects to plenty of domestic work or fashionable pleasure, I
find; but the minute we begin to study, people tell us we can't bear
it, and warn us to be very careful. I've tried the other things, and
got so tired I came to college; though my people predict nervous
exhaustion and an early death. Do you think there is any danger?'
asked a stately girl, with an anxious glance at the blooming face
reflected in the mirror opposite.
'Are you stronger or weaker than when you came two years ago, Miss
'Stronger in body, and much happier in mind. I think I was dying of
ennui; but the doctors called it inherited delicacy of constitution.
That is why mamma is so anxious, and I wish not to go too fast.'
'Don't worry, my dear; that active brain of yours was starving for
good food; it has plenty now, and plain living suits you better than
luxury and dissipation. It is all nonsense about girls not being able
to study as well as boys. Neither can bear cramming; but with proper
care both are better for it; so enjoy the life your instinct led you
to, and we will prove that wise headwork is a better cure for that
sort of delicacy than tonics, and novels on the sofa, where far too
many of our girls go to wreck nowadays. They burn the candle at both
ends; and when they break down they blame the books, not the balls.'
'Dr Nan was telling me about a patient of hers who thought she had
heart-complaint, till Nan made her take off her corsets, stopped her
coffee and dancing all night, and made her eat, sleep, walk, and live
regularly for a time; and now she's a brilliant cure. Common sense
versus custom, Nan said.'
'I've had no headaches since I came here, and can do twice as much
studying as I did at home. It's the air, I think, and the fun of
going ahead of the boys,' said another girl, tapping her big forehead
with her thimble, as if the lively brain inside was in good working
order and enjoyed the daily gymnastics she gave it.
'Quality, not quantity, wins the day, you know. Our brains may be
smaller, but I don't see that they fall short of what is required of
them; and if I'm not mistaken, the largest-headed man in our class is
the dullest,' said Nelly, with a solemn air which produced a gale of
merriment; for all knew that the young Goliath she mentioned had been
metaphorically slain by this quick-witted David on many a
battle-field, to the great disgust of himself and his mates.
'Mrs Brooke, do I gauge on the right or the wrong side?' asked the
best Greek scholar of her class, eyeing a black silk apron with a
'The right, Miss Pierson; and leave a space between the tucks; it
looks prettier so.'
'I'll never make another; but it will save my dresses from
ink-stains, so I'm glad I've got it'; and the erudite Miss Pierson
laboured on, finding it a harder task than any Greek root she ever
'We paper-stainers must learn how to make shields, or we are lost.
I'll give you a pattern of the pinafore I used to wear in my
"blood-and-thunder days", as we call them,' said Mrs Jo, trying to
remember what became of the old tin-kitchen which used to hold her
'Speaking of writers reminds me that my ambition is to be a George
Eliot, and thrill the world! It must be so splendid to know that one
has such power, and to hear people own that one possesses a
"masculine intellect"! I don't care for most women's novels, but hers
are immense; don't you think so, Mrs Bhaer?' asked the girl with the
big forehead, and torn braid on her skirt.
'Yes; but they don't thrill me as little Charlotte Bronte's books do.
The brain is there, but the heart seems left out. I admire, but I
don't love, George Eliot; and her life is far sadder to me than Miss
Bronte's, because, in spite of the genius, love, and fame, she missed
the light without which no soul is truly great, good, or happy.'
'Yes'm, I know; but still it's so romantic and sort of new and
mysterious, and she was great in one sense. Her nerves and dyspepsia
do rather destroy the illusion; but I adore famous people and mean to
go and see all I can scare up in London some day.'
'You will find some of the best of them busy about just the work I
recommend to you; and if you want to see a great lady, I'll tell you
that Mrs Laurence means to bring one here today. Lady Abercrombie is
lunching with her, and after seeing the college is to call on us. She
especially wanted to see our sewing-school, as she is interested in
things of this sort, and gets them up at home.'
'Bless me! I always imagined lords and ladies did nothing but ride
round in a coach and six, go to balls, and be presented to the Queen
in cocked hats, and trains and feathers,' exclaimed an artless young
person from the wilds of Maine, whither an illustrated paper
'Not at all; Lord Abercrombie is over here studying up our American
prison system, and my lady is busy with the schools-- both very
high-born, but the simplest and most sensible people I've met this
long time. They are neither of them young nor handsome, and dress
plainly; so don't expect anything splendid. Mr Laurence was telling
me last night about a friend of his who met my lord in the hall, and
owing to a rough greatcoat and a red face, mistook him for a
coachman, and said: "Now, my man, what do you want here?" Lord
Abercrombie mildly mentioned who he was, and that he had come to
dinner. And the poor host was much afflicted, saying afterward: "Why
didn't he wear his stars and garters? then a fellow would know he was
The girls laughed again, and a general rustle betrayed that each was
prinking a bit before the titled guest arrived. Even Mrs Jo settled
her collar, and Mrs Meg felt if her cap was right, while Bess shook
out her curls and Josie boldly consulted the glass; for they were
women, in spite of philosophy and philanthropy.
'Shall we all rise?' asked one girl, deeply impressed by the
'It would be courteous.'
'Shall we shake hands?'
'No, I'll present you en masse, and your pleasant faces will be
'I wish I'd worn my best dress. Ought to have told us,' whispered
'Won't my folks be surprised when I tell them we have had a real lady
to call on us?' said another.
'Don't look as if you'd never seen a gentlewoman before, Milly. We
are not all fresh from the wilderness,' added the stately damsel who,
having Mayflower ancestors, felt that she was the equal of all the
crowned heads of Europe.
'Hush, she's coming! Oh, my heart, what a bonnet!' cried the gay girl
in a stage whisper; and every eye was demurely fixed upon the busy
hands as the door opened to admit Mrs Laurence and her guest.
It was rather a shock to find, after the general introduction was
over, that this daughter of a hundred earls was a stout lady in a
plain gown, and a rather weather-beaten bonnet, with a bag of papers
in one hand and a note-book in the other. But the face was full of
benevolence, the sonorous voice very kind, the genial manners very
winning, and about the whole person an indescribable air of high
breeding which made beauty of no consequence, costume soon forgotten,
and the moment memorable to the keen-eyed girls whom nothing escaped.
A little chat about the rise, growth, and success of this particular
class, and then Mrs Jo led the conversation to the English lady's
work, anxious to show her pupils how rank dignifies labour, and
charity blesses wealth.
It was good for these girls to hear of the evening-schools supported
and taught by women whom they knew and honoured; of Miss Cobbe's
eloquent protest winning the protection of the law for abused wives;
Mrs Butler saving the lost; Mrs Taylor, who devoted one room in her
historic house to a library for the servants; Lord Shaftesbury, busy
with his new tenement-houses in the slums of London; of prison
reforms; and all the brave work being done in God's name by the rich
and great for the humble and the poor. It impressed them more than
many quiet home lectures would have done, and roused an ambition to
help when their time should come, well knowing that even in glorious
America there is still plenty to be done before she is what she
should be--truly just, and free, and great. They were also quick to
see that Lady Abercrombie treated all there as her equals, from
stately Mrs Laurence, to little Josie, taking notes of everything and
privately resolving to have some thick-soled English boots as soon as
possible. No one would have guessed that she had a big house in
London, a castle in Wales, and a grand country seat in Scotland, as
she spoke of Parnassus with admiration, Plumfield as a 'dear old
home', and the college as an honour to all concerned in it. At that,
of course, every head went up a little, and when my lady left, every
hand was ready for the hearty shake the noble Englishwoman gave them,
with words they long remembered:
'I am very pleased to see this much-neglected branch of a woman's
education so well conducted here, and I have to thank my friend Mrs
Laurence for one of the most charming pictures I've seen in
America--Penelope among her maids.'
A group of smiling faces watched the stout boots trudge away,
respectful glances followed the shabby bonnet till it was out of
sight, and the girls felt a truer respect for their titled guest than
if she had come in the coach and six, with all her diamonds on.
'I feel better about the "odd jobs" now. I only wish I could do them
as well as Lady Abercrombie does,' said one.
'I thanked my stars my buttonholes were nice, for she looked at them
and said: "Quite workmanlike, upon my word," added another, feeling
that her gingham gown had come to honour.
'Her manners were as sweet and kind as Mrs Brooke's. Not a bit stiff
or condescending, as I expected. I see now what you meant, Mrs Bhaer,
when you said once that well-bred people were the same all the world
Mrs Meg bowed her thanks for the compliment, and Mrs Bhaer said:
'I know them when I see them, but never shall be a model of
deportment myself. I'm glad you enjoyed the little visit. Now, if you
young people don't want England to get ahead of us in many ways, you
must bestir yourselves and keep abreast; for our sisters are in
earnest, you see, and don't waste time worrying about their sphere,
but make it wherever duty calls them.'
'We will do our best, ma'am,' answered the girls heartily, and
trooped away with their work-baskets, feeling that though they might
never be Harriet Martineaus, Elizabeth Brownings, or George Eliots,
they might become noble, useful, and independent women, and earn for
themselves some sweet title from the grateful lips of the poor,
better than any a queen could bestow.
The clerk of the weather evidently has a regard for young people, and
sends sunshine for class days as often as he can. An especially
lovely one shone over Plumfield as this interesting anniversary came
round, bringing the usual accompaniments of roses, strawberries,
white-gowned girls, beaming youths, proud friends, and stately
dignitaries full of well-earned satisfaction with the yearly harvest.
As Laurence College was a mixed one, the presence of young women as
students gave to the occasion a grace and animation entirely wanting
where the picturesque half of creation appear merely as spectators.
The hands that turned the pages of wise books also possessed the
skill to decorate the hall with flowers; eyes tired with study shone
with hospitable warmth on the assembling guests; and under the white
muslins beat hearts as full of ambition, hope, and courage as those
agitating the broadcloth of the ruling sex.
College Hill, Parnassus, and old Plum swarmed with cheery faces, as
guests, students, and professors hurried to and fro in the pleasant
excitement of arriving and receiving. Everyone was welcomed
cordially, whether he rolled up in a fine carriage, or trudged afoot
to see the good son or daughter come to honour on the happy day that
rewarded many a mutual sacrifice. Mr Laurie and his wife were on the
reception committee, and their lovely house was overflowing. Mrs Meg,
with Daisy and Jo as aides, was in demand among the girls, helping on
belated toilettes, giving an eye to spreads, and directing the
decorations. Mrs Jo had her hands full as President's lady, and the
mother of Ted; for it took all the power and skill of that energetic
woman to get her son into his Sunday best.
Not that he objected to be well arrayed; far from it; he adored good
clothes, and owing to his great height already revelled in a
dress-suit, bequeathed him by a dandy friend. The effect was very
funny; but he would wear it in spite of the jeers of his mates, and
sighed vainly for a beaver, because his stern parent drew the line
there. He pleaded that English lads of ten wore them and were 'no end
nobby'; but his mother only answered, with a consoling pat of the
'My child, you are absurd enough now; if I let you add a tall hat,
Plumfield wouldn't hold either of us, such would be the scorn and
derision of all beholders. Content yourself with looking like the
ghost of a waiter, and don't ask for the most ridiculous head-gear in
the known world.'
Denied this noble badge of manhood, Ted soothed his wounded soul by
appearing in collars of an amazing height and stiffness, and ties
which were the wonder of all female eyes. This freak was a sort of
vengeance on his hard-hearted mother; for the collars drove the
laundress to despair, never being just right, and the ties required
such art in the tying that three women sometimes laboured long
before--like Beau Brummel--he turned from a heap of 'failures' with
the welcome words: 'That will do.' Rob was devoted on these trying
occasions, his own toilet being distinguished only by its speed,
simplicity, and neatness. Ted was usually in a frenzy before he was
suited, and roars, whistles, commands, and groans were heard from the
den wherein the Lion raged and the Lamb patiently toiled. Mrs Jo bore
it till boots were hurled and a rain of hair-brushes set in, then,
fearing for the safety of her eldest, she would go to the rescue, and
by a wise mixture of fun and authority finally succeed in persuading
Ted that he was 'a thing of beauty', if not 'a joy for ever'. At last
he would stalk majestically forth, imprisoned in collars compared to
which those worn by Dickens's afflicted Biler were trifles not worth
mentioning. The dresscoat was a little loose in the shoulders, but
allowed a noble expanse of glossy bosom to be seen, and with a
delicate handkerchief negligently drooping at the proper angle, had a
truly fine effect. Boots that shone, and likewise pinched, appeared
at one end of the 'long, black clothes-pin'--as Josie called
him---and a youthful but solemn face at the other, carried at an
angle which, if long continued, would have resulted in spinal
curvature. Light gloves, a cane, and--oh, bitter drop in the cup of
joy!--an ignominious straw hat, not to mention a choice floweret in
the buttonhole, and a festoon of watchguard below, finished off this
'How's that for style?' he asked, appearing to his mother and cousins
whom he was to escort to the hall on this particular occasion.
A shout of laughter greeted him, followed by exclamations of horror;
for he had artfully added the little blond moustache he often wore
when acting. It was very becoming, and seemed the only balm to heal
the wound made by the loss of the beloved hat.
'Take it off this moment, you audacious boy! What would your father
say to such a prank on this day when we must all behave our best?'
said Mrs Jo, trying to frown, but privately thinking that among the
many youths about her none were so beautiful and original as her long
'Let him wear it, Aunty; it's so becoming. No one will ever guess he
isn't eighteen at least,' cried Josie, to whom disguise of any sort
was always charming.
'Father won't observe it; he'll be absorbed in his big-wigs and the
girls. No matter if he does, he'll enjoy the joke and introduce me as
his oldest son. Rob is nowhere when I'm in full fig'; and Ted took
the stage with a tragic stalk, like Hamlet in a tail-coat and choker.
'My son, obey me!' and when Mrs Jo spoke in that tone her word was
law. Later, however, the moustache appeared, and many strangers
firmly believed that there were three young Bhaers. So Ted found one
ray of joy to light his gloom.
Mr Bhaer was a proud and happy man when, at the appointed hour, he
looked down upon the parterre of youthful faces before him, thinking
of the 'little gardens' in which he had hopefully and faithfully
sowed good seed years ago, and from which this beautiful harvest
seemed to have sprung. Mr March's fine old face shone with the
serenest satisfaction, for this was the dream of his life fulfilled
after patient waiting; and the love and reverence in the countenances
of the eager young men and women looking up at him plainly showed
that the reward he coveted was his in fullest measure. Laurie always
effaced himself on these occasions as much as courtesy would permit;
for everyone spoke gratefully in ode, poem, and oration of the
founder of the college and noble dispenser of his beneficence. The
three sisters beamed with pride as they sat among the ladies,
enjoying, as only women can, the honour done the men they loved;
while 'the original Plums', as the younger ones called themselves,
regarded the whole affair as their work, receiving the curious,
admiring, or envious glances of strangers with a mixture of dignity
and delight rather comical to behold.
The music was excellent, and well it might be when Apollo waved the
baton. The poems were--as usual on such occasions--of varied
excellence, as the youthful speakers tried to put old truths into new
words, and made them forceful by the enthusiasm of their earnest
faces and fresh voices. It was beautiful to see the eager interest
with which the girls listened to some brilliant brother-student, and
applauded him with a rustle as of wind over a bed of flowers. It was
still more significant and pleasant to watch the young men's faces
when a slender white figure stood out against the background of
black-coated dignitaries, and with cheeks that flushed and paled, and
lips that trembled till earnest purpose conquered maiden fear, spoke
to them straight out of a woman's heart and brain concerning the
hopes and doubts, the aspirations and rewards all must know, desire,
and labour for. This clear, sweet voice seemed to reach and rouse all
that was noblest in the souls of these youths, and to set a seal upon
the years of comradeship which made them sacred and memorable for
Alice Heath's oration was unanimously pronounced the success of the
day; for without being flowery or sentimental, as is too apt to be
the case with these first efforts of youthful orators, it was
earnest, sensible, and so inspiring that she left the stage in a
storm of applause, the good fellows being as much fired by her
stirring appeal to 'march shoulder to shoulder', as if she had
chanted the 'Marseillaise' then and there. One young man was so
excited that he nearly rushed out of his seat to receive her as she
hastened to hide herself among her mates, who welcomed her with faces
full of tender pride and tearful eye. A prudent sister detained him,
however, and in a moment he was able to listen with composure to the
They were worth listening to, for Mr Bhaer spoke like a father to the
children whom he was dismissing to the battle of life; and his
tender, wise, and helpful words lingered in their hearts long after
the praise was forgotten. Then came other exercises peculiar to
Plumfield, and the end. Why the roof did not fly off when the sturdy
lungs of the excited young men pealed out the closing hymn will for
ever be a mystery; but it remained firm, and only the fading garlands
vibrated as the waves of music rolled up and died away, leaving sweet
echoes to haunt the place for another year.
Dinners and spreads consumed the afternoon, and at sunset came a
slight lull as everyone sought some brief repose before the
festivities of the evening began. The President's reception was one
of the enjoyable things in store, also dancing on Parnassus, and as
much strolling, singing, and flirting, as could be compressed into a
few hours by youths and maidens just out of school.
Carriages were rolling about, and gay groups on piazzas, lawns, and
window-seats idly speculated as to who the distinguished guests might
be. The appearance of a very dusty vehicle loaded with trunks at Mr
Bhaer's hospitably open door caused much curious comment among the
loungers, especially as two rather foreign-looking gentlemen sprang
out, followed by two young ladies, all four being greeted with cries
of joy and much embracing by the Bhaers. Then they all disappeared
into the house, the luggage followed, and the watchers were left to
wonder who the mysterious strangers were, till a fair collegian
declared that they must be the Professor's nephews, one of whom was
expected on his wedding journey.
She was right; Franz proudly presented his blonde and buxom bride,
and she was hardly kissed and blessed when Emil led up his bonny
English Mary, with the rapturous announcement:
'Uncle, Aunt Jo, here's another daughter! Have you room for my wife,
There could be no doubt of that; and Mary was with difficulty rescued
from the glad embraces of her new relatives, who, remembering all the
young pair had suffered together, felt that this was the natural and
happy ending of the long voyage so perilously begun.
'But why not tell us, and let us be ready for two brides instead of
one?' asked Mrs Jo, looking as usual rather demoralizing in a wrapper
and crimping-pins, having rushed down from her chamber, where she was
preparing for the labours of the evening.
'Well, I remembered what a good joke you all considered Uncle
Laurie's marriage, and I thought I'd give you another nice little
surprise,' laughed Emil. 'I'm off duty, and it seemed best to take
advantage of wind and tide, and come along as convoy to the old boy
here. We hoped to get in last night, but couldn't fetch it, so here
we are in time for the end of the jollification, anyway.'
'Ah, my sons, it is too feeling-full to see you both so happy and
again in the old home. I haf no words to outpour my gratitude, and
can only ask of the dear Gott in Himmel to bless and keep you all,'
cried Professor Bhaer, trying to gather all four into his arms at
once, while tears rolled down his cheeks, and his English failed him.
An April shower cleared the air and relieved the full hearts of the
happy family; then of course everyone began to talk--Franz and
Ludmilla in German with uncle, Emil and Mary with the aunts; and
round this group gathered the young folk, clamouring to hear all
about the wreck, and the rescue, and the homeward voyage. It was a
very different story from the written one; and as they listened to
Emil's graphic words, with Mary's soft voice breaking in now and then
to add some fact that brought out the courage, patience, and
self-sacrifice he so lightly touched upon, it became a solemn and
pathetic thing to see and hear these happy creatures tell of that
great danger and deliverance.
'I never hear the patter of rain now that I don't want to say my
prayers; and as for women, I'd like to take my hat off to every one
of 'em, for they are braver than any man I ever saw,' said Emil, with
the new gravity that was as becoming to him as the new gentleness
with which he treated everyone.
'If women are brave, some men are as tender and self-sacrificing as
women. I know one who in the night slipped his share of food into a
girl's pocket, though starving himself, and sat for hours rocking a
sick man in his arms that he might get a little sleep. No, love, I
will tell, and you must let me!' cried Mary, holding in both her own
the hand he laid on her lips to silence her.
'Only did my duty. If that torment had lasted much longer I might
have been as bad as poor Barry and the boatswain. Wasn't that an
awful night?' And Emil shuddered as he recalled it.
'Don't think of it, dear. Tell about the happy days on the Urania,
when papa grew better and we were all safe and homeward bound,' said
Mary, with the trusting look and comforting touch which seemed to
banish the dark and recall the bright side of that terrible
Emil cheered up at once, and sitting with his arm about his 'dear
lass', in true sailor fashion told the happy ending of the tale.
'Such a jolly old time as we had at Hamburg! Uncle Hermann couldn't
do enough for the captain, and while mamma took care of him, Mary
looked after me. I had to go into dock for repairs; fire hurt my
eyes, and watching for a sail and want of sleep made 'em as hazy as a
London fog. She was pilot and brought me in all right, you see, only
I couldn't part company, so she came aboard as first mate, and I'm
bound straight for glory now.'
'Hush! that's silly, dear,' whispered Mary, trying in her turn to
stop him, with English shyness about tender topics. But he took the
soft hand in his, and proudly surveying the one ring it wore, went on
with the air of an admiral aboard his flagship.
'The captain proposed waiting a spell; but I told him we weren't like
to see any rougher weather than we'd pulled through together, and if
we didn't know one another after such a year as this, we never
should. I was sure I shouldn't be worth my pay without this hand on
the wheel; so I had my way, and my brave little woman has shipped for
the long voyage. God bless her!'
'Shall you really sail with him?' asked Daisy, admiring her courage,
but shrinking with cat-like horror from the water.
'I'm not afraid,' answered Mary, with a loyal smile. 'I've proved my
captain in fair weather and in foul, and if he is ever wrecked again,
I'd rather be with him than waiting and watching ashore.'
'A true woman, and a born sailor's wife! You are a happy man, Emil,
and I'm sure this trip will be a prosperous one,' cried Mrs Jo,
delighted with the briny flavour of this courtship. 'Oh, my dear boy,
I always felt you'd come back, and when everyone else despaired I
never gave up, but insisted that you were clinging to the main-top
jib somewhere on that dreadful sea'; and Mrs Jo illustrated her faith
by grasping Emil with a truly Pillycoddian gesture.
'Of course I was!' answered Emil heartily; 'and my "main-top jib" in
this case was the thought of what you and Uncle said to me. That
kept me up; and among the million thoughts that came to me during
those long nights none was clearer than the idea of the red strand,
you remember--English navy, and all that. I liked the notion, and
resolved that if a bit of my cable was left afloat, the red stripe
should be there.'
'And it was, my dear, it was! Captain Hardy testifies to that, and
here is your reward'; and Mrs Jo kissed Mary with a maternal
tenderness which betrayed that she liked the English rose better than
the blue-eyed German Kornblumen, sweet and modest though it was.
Emil surveyed the little ceremony with complacency, saying, as he
looked about the room which he never thought to see again: 'Odd,
isn't it, how clearly trifles come back to one in times of danger? As
we floated there, half-starved, and in despair, I used to think I
heard the bells ringing here, and Ted tramping downstairs, and you
calling, "Boys, boys, it's time to get up!" I actually smelt the
coffee we used to have, and one night I nearly cried when I woke from
a dream of Asia's ginger cookies. I declare, it was one of the
bitterest disappointments of my life to face hunger with that spicy
smell in my nostrils. If you've got any, do give me one!'
A pitiful murmur broke from all the aunts and cousins, and Emil was
at once borne away to feast on the desired cookies, a supply always
being on hand. Mrs Jo and her sister joined the other group, glad to
hear what Franz was saying about Nat.
'The minute I saw how thin and shabby he was, I knew that something
was wrong; but he made light of it, and was so happy over our visit
and news that I let him off with a brief confession, and went to
Professor Baumgarten and Bergmann. From them I learned the whole
story of his spending more money than he ought and trying to atone
for it by unnecessary work and sacrifice. Baumgarten thought it
would do him good, so kept his secret till I came. It did him good,
and he's paid his debts and earned his bread by the sweat of his
brow, like an honest fellow.'
'I like that much in Nat. It is, as I said, a lesson, and he learns
it well. He proves himself a man, and has deserved the place Bergmann
offers him,' said Mr Bhaer, looking well pleased as Franz added some
facts already recorded.
'I told you, Meg, that he had good stuff in him, and love for Daisy
would keep him straight. Dear lad, I wish I had him here this
moment!' cried Mrs Jo, forgetting in delight the doubts and anxieties
which had troubled her for months past.
'I am very glad, and suppose I shall give in as I always do,
especially now that the epidemic rages so among us. You and Emil have
set all their heads in a ferment, and Josie will be demanding a lover
before I can turn round,' answered Mrs Meg, in a tone of despair.
But her sister saw that she was touched by Nat's trials, and hastened
to add the triumphs, that the victory might be complete, for success
is always charming.
'This offer of Herr Bergmann is a good one, isn't it?' she asked,
though Mr Laurie had already satisfied her on that point when Nat's
letter brought the news.
'Very fine in every way. Nat will get capital drill in Bachmeister's
orchestra, see London in a delightful way, and if he suits come home
with them, well started among the violins. No great honour, but a
sure thing and a step up. I congratulated him, and he was very jolly
over it, saying, like the true lover he is: "Tell Daisy; be sure and
tell her all about it." I'll leave that to you, Aunt Meg, and you can
also break it gently to her that the old boy had a fine blond beard.
Very becoming; hides his weak mouth, and gives a noble air to his big
eyes and "Mendelssohnian brow", as a gushing girl called it. Ludmilla
has a photo of it for you.'
This amused them; and they listened to many other interesting bits of
news which kind Franz, even in his own happiness, had not forgotten
to remember for his friend's sake. He talked so well, and painted
Nat's patient and pathetic shifts so vividly, that Mrs Meg was half
won; though if she had learned of the Minna episode and the fiddling
in beer-gardens and streets, she might not have relented so soon. She
stored up all she heard, however, and, womanlike, promised herself a
delicious talk with Daisy, in which she would allow herself to melt
by degrees, and perhaps change the doubtful 'We shall see' to a
cordial 'He has done well; be happy, dear'.
In the midst of this agreeable chat the sudden striking of a clock
recalled Mrs Jo from romance to reality, and she exclaimed, with a
clutch at her crimping-pins:
'My blessed people, you must eat and rest; and I must dress, or
receive in this disgraceful rig. Meg, will you take Ludmilla and Mary
upstairs and see to them? Franz knows the way to the dining-room.
Fritz, come with me and be made tidy, for what with heat and emotion,
we are both perfect wrecks.'
While the travellers refreshed, and Mrs President struggled into her
best gown, Josie ran into the garden to gather flowers for the
brides. The sudden arrival of these interesting beings had quite
enchanted the romantic girl, and her head was full of heroic rescues,
tender admiration, dramatic situations, and feminine wonder as to
whether the lovely creatures would wear their veils or not. She was
standing before a great bush of white roses, culling the most perfect
for the bouquets which she meant to tie with the ribbon festooned
over her arm, and lay on the toilette tables of the new cousins, as a
delicate attention. A step startled her, and looking up she saw her
brother coming down the path with folded arms, bent head, and the
absent air of one absorbed in deep thought.
'Sophy Wackles,' said the sharp child, with a superior smile, as she
sucked her thumb just pricked by a too eager pull at the thorny
'What are you at here, Mischief?' asked Demi, with an Irvingesque
start, as he felt rather than saw a disturbing influence in his
'Getting flowers for "our brides". Don't you wish you had one?'
answered Josie, to whom the word 'mischief' suggested her favourite
'A bride or a flower?' asked Demi calmly, though he eyed the blooming
bush as if it had a sudden and unusual interest for him.
'Both; you get the one, and I'll give you the other.'
'Wish I could!' and Demi picked a little bud, with a sigh that went
to Josie's warm heart.
'Why don't you, then? It's lovely to see people so happy. Now's a
good time to do it if you ever mean to. She will be going away for
'Who?' and Demi pulled a half-opened bud, with a sudden colour in his
own face; which sign of confusion delighted little Jo.
'Don't be a hypocrite. You know I mean Alice. Now, Jack, I'm fond of
you, and want to help; it's so interesting--all these lovers and
weddings and things, and we ought to have our share. So you take my
advice and speak up like a man, and make sure of Alice before she
Demi laughed at the seriousness of the small girl's advice; but he
liked it, and showed that it suited him by saying blandly, instead of
snubbing her as usual:
'You are very kind, child. Since you are so wise, could you give me a
hint how I'd better 'speak up', as you elegantly express it?'
'Oh, well, there are various ways, you know. In plays the lovers go
down on their knees; but that's awkward when they have long legs.
Ted never does it well, though I drill him for hours. You could say,
"Be mine, be mine!" like the old man who threw cucumbers over the
wall to Mrs Nickleby, if you want to be gay and easy; or you could
write a poetical pop. You've tried it, I dare say.'
'But seriously, Jo, I do love Alice, and I think she knows it. I want
to tell her so; but I lose my head when I try, and don't care to make
a fool of myself. Thought you might suggest some pretty way; you read
so much poetry and are so romantic.'
Demi tried to express himself clearly, but forgot his dignity and his
usual reserve in the sweet perplexity of his love, and asked his
little sister to teach him how to put the question which a single
word can answer. The arrival of his happy cousins had scattered all
his wise plans and brave resolutions to wait still longer. The
Christmas play had given him courage to hope, and the oration today
had filled him with tender pride; but the sight of those blooming
brides and beaming grooms was too much for him, and he panted to
secure his Alice without an hour's delay. Daisy was his confidante in
all things but this; a brotherly feeling of sympathy had kept him
from telling her his hopes, because her own were forbidden. His
mother was rather jealous of any girl he admired; but knowing that
she liked Alice, he loved on and enjoyed his secret alone, meaning
soon to tell her all about it.
Now suddenly Josie and the rose-bush seemed to suggest a speedy end
to his tender perplexities; and he was moved to accept her aid as the
netted lion did that of the mouse.
'I think I'll write,' he was slowly beginning, after a pause during
which both were trying to strike out a new and brilliant idea.
'I've got it! perfectly lovely! just suit her, and you too, being a
poet!' cried Josie, with a skip.
'What is it? Don't be ridiculous, please,' begged the bashful lover,
eager, but afraid of this sharp-tongued bit of womanhood.
'I read in one of Miss Edgeworth's stories about a man who offers
three roses to his lady--a bud, a half-blown, and a full-blown rose.
I don't remember which she took; but it's a pretty way; and Alice
knows about it because she was there when we read it. Here are all
kinds; you've got the two buds, pick the sweetest rose you can find,
and I'll tie them up and put them in her room. She is coming to dress
with Daisy, so I can do it nicely.'
Demi mused a moment with his eyes on the bridal bush, and a smile
came over his face so unlike any it had ever worn before, that Josie
was touched, and looked away as if she had no right to see the dawn
of the great passion which, while it lasts, makes a young man as
happy as a god.
'Do it,' was all he said, and gathered a full-blown rose to finish
his floral love-message.
Charmed to have a finger in this romantic pie, Josie tied a graceful
bow of ribbon about the stems, and finished her last nosegay with
much content, while Demi wrote upon a card:
DEAR ALICE, You know what the flowers mean. Will you wear
one, or all tonight, and make me still prouder, fonder, and
happier than I am?
Offering this to his sister, he said in a tone that made her feel the
deep importance of her mission:
'I trust you, Jo. This means everything to me. No jokes, dear, if you
Josie's answer was a kiss that promised all things; and then she ran
away to do her 'gentle spiriting', like Ariel, leaving Demi to dream
among the roses like Ferdinand.
Mary and Ludmilla were charmed with their bouquets; and the giver had
the delight of putting some of the flowers into the dark hair and the
light as she played maid at the toilettes of 'our brides', which
consoled her for a disappointment in the matter of veils.
No one helped Alice dress; for Daisy was in the next room with her
mother; and not even their loving eyes saw the welcome which the
little posy received, nor the tears and smiles and blushes that came
and went as she read the note and pondered what answer she should
give. There was no doubt about the one she wished to give; but duty
held her back; for at home there was an invalid mother and an old
father. She was needed there, with all the help she could now bring
by the acquirements four years of faithful study had given her. Love
looked very sweet, and a home of her own with John a little heaven on
earth; but not yet. And she slowly laid away the full-blown rose as
she sat before the mirror, thinking over the great question of her
Was it wise and kind to ask him to wait, to bind him by any promise,
or even to put into words the love and honour she felt for him? No;
it would be more generous to make the sacrifice alone, and spare him
the pain of hope deferred. He was young; he would forget; and she
would do her duty better, perhaps, if no impatient lover waited for
her. With eyes that saw but dimly, and a hand that lingered on the
stem he had stripped of thorns, she laid the half-blown flower by the
rose, and asked herself if even the little bud might be worn. It
looked very poor and pale beside the others; yet being in the
self-sacrificing mood which real love brings, she felt that even a
small hope was too much to give, if she could not follow it up with
As she sat looking sadly down on the symbols of an affection that
grew dearer every moment, she listened half unconsciously to the
murmur of voices in the adjoining room. Open windows, thin
partitions, and the stillness of summer twilight made it impossible
to help hearing, and in a few moments more she could not refrain; for
they were talking of John.
'So nice of Ludmilla to bring us all bottles of real German cologne!
Just what we need after this tiring day! Be sure John has his! He
likes it so!'
'Yes, mother. Did you see him jump up when Alice ended her oration?
He'd have gone to her if I hadn't held him back. I don't wonder he
was pleased and proud. I spoilt my gloves clapping, and quite forgot
my dislike of seeing women on platforms, she was so earnest and
unconscious and sweet after the first moment.'
'Has he said anything to you, dear?'
'No; and I guess why. The kind boy thinks it would make me unhappy.
It wouldn't. But I know his ways; so I wait, and hope all will go
well with him.'
'It must. No girl in her senses would refuse our John, though he
isn't rich, and never will be. Daisy, I've been longing to tell you
what he did with his money. He told me last night, and I've had no
time since to tell you. He sent poor young Barton to the hospital,
and kept him there till his eyes were saved--a costly thing to do.
But the man can work now and care for his old parents. He was in
despair, sick and poor, and too proud to beg; and our dear boy found
it out, and took every penny he had, and never told even his mother
till she made him.'
Alice did not hear what Daisy answered, for she was busy with her own
emotions--happy ones now, to judge from the smile that shone in her
eyes and the decided gesture with which she put the little bud in her
bosom, as if she said: 'He deserves some reward for that good deed,
and he shall have it.'
Mrs Meg was speaking, and still of John, when she could hear again:
'Some people would call it unwise and reckless, when John has so
little; but I think his first investment a safe and good one, for "he
who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord"; and I was so pleased and
proud, I wouldn't spoil it by offering him a penny.'
'It is his having nothing to offer that keeps him silent, I think. He
is so honest, he won't ask till he has much to give. But he forgets
that love is everything. I know he's rich in that; I see and feel it;
and any woman should be glad to get it.'
'Right, dear. I felt just so, and was willing to work and wait with
and for my John.'
'So she will be, and I hope they will find it out. But she is so
dutiful and good, I'm afraid she won't let herself be happy. You
would like it, mother?'
'Heartily; for a better, nobler girl doesn't live. She is all I want
for my son; and I don't mean to lose the dear, brave creature if I
can help it. Her heart is big enough for both love and duty; and they
can wait more happily if they do it together--for wait they must, of
'I'm so glad his choice suits you, mother, and he is spared the
saddest sort of disappointment.'
Daisy's voice broke there; and a sudden rustle, followed by a soft
murmur, seemed to tell that she was in her mother's arms, seeking and
finding comfort there.
Alice heard no more, and shut her window with a guilty feeling but a
shining face; for the proverb about listeners failed here, and she
had learned more than she dared to hope. Things seemed to change
suddenly; she felt that her heart was large enough for both love and
duty; she knew now that she would be welcomed by mother and sister;
and the memory of Daisy's less happy fate, Nat's weary probation, the
long delay, and possible separation for ever--all came before her so
vividly that prudence seemed cruelty; self-sacrifice, sentimental
folly; and anything but the whole truth, disloyalty to her lover. As
she thought thus, the half-blown rose went to join the bud; and then,
after a pause, she slowly kissed the perfect rose, and added it to
the tell-tale group, saying to herself with a sort of sweet
solemnity, as if the words were a vow:
'I'll love and work and wait with and for my John.'
It was well for her that Demi was absent when she stole down to join
the guests who soon began to flow through the house in a steady
stream. The new brightness which touched her usually thoughtful face
was easily explained by the congratulations she received as orator,
and the slight agitation observable, when a fresh batch of gentlemen
approached soon passed, as none of them noticed the flowers she wore
over a very happy heart. Demi meantime was escorting certain
venerable personages about the college, and helping his grandfather
entertain them with discussion of the Socratic method of instruction,
Pythagoras, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and the rest, whom he devoutly
wished at the bottom of the Red Sea, and no wonder, for his head and
his heart were full of love and roses, hopes and fears. He piloted
the 'potent, grave, and reverend seigniors' safely down to Plumfield
at last, and landed them before his uncle and aunt Bhaer, who were
receiving in state, the one full of genuine delight in all men and
things, the other suffering martyrdom with a smile, as she stood
shaking hand after hand, and affecting utter unconsciousness of the
sad fact that ponderous Professor Plock had camped upon the train of
her state and festival velvet gown.
With a long sigh of relief Demi glanced about him for the beloved
girl. Most persons would have looked some time before any particular
angel could be discovered among the white-robed throng in parlours,
hall, and study; but his eye went--like the needle to the pole--to
the corner where a smooth dark head, with its braided crown, rose
like a queen's, he thought, above the crowd which surrounded her.
Yes, she has a flower at her throat; one, two, oh, blessed sight! he
saw it all across the room, and gave a rapturous sigh which caused
Miss Perry's frizzled crop to wave with a sudden gust. He did not see
the rose, for it was hidden by a fold of lace; and it was well,
perhaps, that bliss came by instalments, or he might have electrified
the assembled multitude by flying to his idol, there being no Daisy
to clutch him by the coat-tail. A stout lady, thirsting for
information, seized him at that thrilling moment, and he was forced
to point out celebrities with a saintly patience which deserved a
better reward than it received; for a certain absence of mind and
incoherence of speech at times caused the ungrateful dowager to
whisper to the first friend she met after he had escaped:
'I saw no wine at any of the spreads; but it is plain that young
Brooke has had too much. Quite gentlemanly, but evidently a trifle
intoxicated, my dear.'
Ah, so he was! but with a diviner wine than any that ever sparkled at
a class-day lunch, though many collegians know the taste of it; and
when the old lady was disposed of, he gladly turned to find the young
one, bent on having a single word. He saw her standing by the piano
now, idly turning over music as she talked with several gentlemen.
Hiding his impatience under an air of scholastic repose, Demi hovered
near, ready to advance when the happy moment came, wondering meantime
why elderly persons persisted in absorbing young ones instead of
sensibly sitting in corners with their contemporaries. The elderly
persons in question retired at length, but only to be replaced by two
impetuous youths who begged Miss Heath to accompany them to Parnassus
and join the dance. Demi thirsted for their blood, but was appeased
by hearing George and Dolly say, as they lingered a moment after her
'Really, you know, I'm quite converted to co-education and almost
wish I'd remained here. It gives a grace to study, a sort of relish
even to Greek to see charming girls at it,' said Stuffy, who found
the feast of learning so dry, any sauce was welcome; and he felt as
if he had discovered a new one.
'Yes, by Jove! we fellows will have to look out or you'll carry off
all the honours. You were superb today, and held us all like magic,
though it was so hot there, I really think I couldn't have stood it
for anyone else,' added Dolly, labouring to be gallant and really
offering a touching proof of devotion; for the heat melted his
collar, took the curl out of his hair, and ruined his gloves.
'There is room for all; and if you will leave us the books, we will
cheerfully yield the baseball, boating, dancing, and flirting, which
seem to be the branches you prefer,' answered Alice sweetly.
'Ah, now you are too hard upon us! We can't grind all the time and
you ladies don't seem to mind taking a turn at the two latter
"branches" you mention,' returned Dolly, with a glance at George
which plainly said, 'I had her there.'
'Some of us do in our first years. Later we give up childish things,
you see. Don't let me keep you from Parnassus'; and a smiling nod
dismissed them, smarting under the bitter consciousness of youth.
'You got it there, Doll. Better not try to fence with these superior
girls. Sure to be routed, horse, foot, and dragoons,' said Stuffy,
lumbering away, somewhat cross with too many spreads.
'So deuced sarcastic! Don't believe she's much older than we are.
Girls grow up quicker, so she needn't put on airs and talk like a
grandmother,' muttered Dolly, feeling that he had sacrificed his kids
upon the altar of an ungrateful Pallas.
'Come along and let's find something to eat. I'm faint with so much
talking. Old Plock cornered me and made my head spin with Kant and
Hegel and that lot.'
'I promised Dora West I'd give her a turn. Must look her up; she's a
jolly little thing, and doesn't bother about anything but keeping in
And arm in arm the boys strolled away, leaving Alice to read music as
diligently as if society had indeed no charms for her. As she bent to
turn a page, the eager young man behind the piano saw the rose and
was struck speechless with delight. A moment he gazed, then hastened
to seize the coveted place before a new detachment of bores arrived.
'Alice, I can't believe it--did you understand--how shall I ever
thank you?' murmured Demi, bending as if he, too, read the song, not
a note or word of which did he see, however.
'Hush! not now. I understood--I don't deserve it--we are too young,
we must wait, but--I'm very proud and happy, John!'
What would have happened after that tender whisper I tremble to
think, if Tom Bangs had not come bustling up, with the cheerful
'Music? just the thing. People are thinning out, and we all want a
little refreshment. My brain fairly reels with the 'ologies and 'isms
I've heard discussed tonight. Yes, give us this; sweet thing! Scotch
songs are always charming.'
Demi glowered; but the obtuse boy never saw it, and Alice, feeling
that this would be a safe vent for sundry unruly emotions, sat down
at once, and sang the song which gave her answer better than she
could have done:
BIDE A WEE
'The puir auld folk at home, ye mind,
Are frail and failing sair;
And weel I ken they'd miss me, lad,
Gin I come hame nae mair.
The grist is out, the times are hard,
The kine are only three;
I canna leave the auld folk now.
We'd better bide a wee.
'I fear me sair they're failing baith;
For when I sit apart,
They talk o' Heaven so earnestly,
It well nigh breaks my heart.
So, laddie, dinna urge me now,
It surely winna be;
I canna leave the auld folk yet.
We'd better bide a wee.'
The room was very still before the first verse ended; and Alice
skipped the next, fearing she could not get through; for John's eyes
were on her, showing that he knew she sang for him and let the
plaintive little ballad tell what her reply must be. He took it as
she meant it, and smiled at her so happily that her heart got the
better of her voice, and she rose abruptly, saying something about
'Yes, you are tired; come out and rest, my dearest'; and with a
masterful air Demi took her into the starlight, leaving Tom to stare
after them winking as if a sky-rocket had suddenly gone off under his
'Bless my soul! the Deacon really meant business last summer and
never told me. Won't Dora laugh?' And Tom departed in hot haste to
impart and exult over his discovery.
What was said in the garden was never exactly known; but the Brooke
family sat up very late that night, and any curious eye at the window
would have seen Demi receiving the homage of his womankind as he told
his little romance. Josie took great credit to herself in the matter,
insisting that she had made the match; Daisy was full of the sweetest
sympathy and joy, and Mrs Meg so happy that when Jo had gone to dream
of bridal veils, and Demi sat in his room blissfully playing the air
of 'Bide a Wee', she had her talk about Nat, ending with her arms
round her dutiful daughter and these welcome words as her reward:
'Wait till Nat comes home, and then my good girl shall wear white
LIFE FOR LIFE
The summer days that followed were full of rest and pleasure for
young and old, as they did the honours of Plumfield to their happy
guests. While Franz and Emil were busy with the affairs of Uncle
Hermann and Captain Hardy, Mary and Ludmilla made friends everywhere;
for, though very unlike, both were excellent and charming girls. Mrs
Meg and Daisy found the German bride a Hausfrau after their own
hearts, and had delightful times learning new dishes, hearing about
the semi-yearly washes and the splendid linen-room at Hamburg, or
discussing domestic life in all its branches. Ludmilla not only
taught, but learned, many things, and went home with many new and
useful ideas in her blonde head.
Mary had seen so much of the world that she was unusually lively for
an English girl; while her various accomplishments made her a most
agreeable companion. Much good sense gave her ballast; and the late
experiences of danger and happiness added a sweet gravity at times,
which contrasted well with her natural gaiety. Mrs Jo was quite
satisfied with Emil's choice, and felt sure this true and tender
pilot would bring him safe to port through fair or stormy weather.
She had feared that Franz would settle down into a comfortable,
moneymaking burgher, and be content with that; but she soon saw that
his love of music and his placid Ludmilla put much poetry into his
busy life, and kept it from being too prosaic. So she felt at rest
about these boys, and enjoyed their visit with real, maternal
satisfaction; parting with them in September most regretfully, yet
hopefully, as they sailed away to the new life that lay before them.
Demi's engagement was confided to the immediate family only, as both
were pronounced too young to do anything but love and wait. They
were so happy that time seemed to stand still for them, and after a
blissful week they parted bravely--Alice to home duties, with a hope
that sustained and cheered her through many trials; and John to his
business, full of a new ardour which made all things possible when
such a reward was offered.
Daisy rejoiced over them, and was never tired of hearing her
brother's plans for the future. Her own hope soon made her what she
used to be--a cheery, busy creature, with a smile, kind word, and
helping hand for all; and as she went singing about the house again,
her mother felt that the right remedy for past sadness had been
found. The dear Pelican still had doubts and fears, but kept them
wisely to herself, preparing sundry searching tests to be applied
when Nat came home, and keeping a sharp eye on the letters from
London; for some mysterious hint had flown across the sea, and
Daisy's content seemed reflected in Nat's present cheerful state of
Having passed through the Werther period, and tried a little Faust--
of which experience he spoke to his Marguerite as if it had included
an acquaintance with Mephistopheles, Blocksburg, and Auerbach's
wine-cellar--he now felt that he was a Wilhelm Meister, serving his
apprenticeship to the great masters of life. As she knew the truth of
his small sins and honest repentance, Daisy only smiled at the
mixture of love and philosophy he sent her, knowing that it was
impossible for a young man to live in Germany without catching the
'His heart is all right; and his head will soon grow clear when he
gets out of the fog of tobacco, beer, and metaphysics he's been
living in. England will wake up his common sense, and good salt air
blow his little follies all away,' said Mrs Jo, much pleased with the
good prospects of her violinist--whose return was delayed till
spring, to his private regret, but professional advancement.
Josie had a month with Miss Cameron at the seaside, and threw herself
so heartily into the lesson given her that her energy, promise, and
patience laid the foundation of a friendship which was of infinite
value to her in the busy, brilliant years to come; for little Jo's
instincts were right; and the dramatic talent of the Marches was to
blossom by and by into an actress, virtuous, and beloved.
Tom and his Dora were peacefully ambling altar-ward; for Bangs senior
was so afraid his son would change his mind again and try a third
profession, that he gladly consented to an early marriage, as a sort
of anchor to hold the mercurial Thomas fast. Aforesaid Thomas could
not complain of cold shoulders now; for Dora was a most devoted and
adoring little mate, and made life so pleasant to him that his gift
for getting into scrapes seemed lost, and he bade fair to become a
thriving man, with undeniable talent for the business he had chosen.
'We shall be married in the autumn, and live with my father for a
while. The governor is getting on, you know, and my wife and I must
look after him. Later we shall have an establishment of our own,' was
a favourite speech of his about this time, and usually received with
smiles; for the idea of Tommy Bangs at the head of an 'establishment'
was irresistibly funny to all who knew him.
Things were in this flourishing condition, and Mrs Jo was beginning
to think her trials were over for that year, when a new excitement
came. Several postal cards had arrived at long intervals from Dan,
who gave them 'Care of M. Mason, etc.', as his address. By this
means he was able to gratify his longing for home news, and to send
brief messages to quiet their surprise at his delay in settling. The
last one, which came in September, was dated 'Montana', and simply
Here at last, trying mining again; but not going to stay long. All
sorts of luck. Gave up the farm idea. Tell plans soon. Well, busy,
and very happy. D. K.
If they had known what the heavy dash under 'happy' meant, that
postal would have been a very eloquent bit of pasteboard; for Dan was
free, and had gone straight away to the liberty he panted for.
Meeting an old friend by accident, he obliged him at a pinch by
acting as overseer for a time, finding the society even of rough
miners very sweet, and something in the muscular work wonderfully
pleasant, after being cooped up in the brush-shop so long. He loved
to take a pick and wrestle with rock and earth till he was
weary--which was very soon; for that year of captivity had told upon
his splendid physique. He longed to go home, but waited week after
week to get the prison taint off him and the haggard look out of his
face. Meanwhile he made friends of masters and men; and as no one
knew his story, he took his place again in the world gratefully and
gladly--with little pride now, and no plans but to do some good
somewhere, and efface the past.
Mrs Jo was having a grand clearing-out of her desk one October day,
while the rain poured outside, and peace reigned in her mansion.
Coming across the postals, she pondered over them, and then put them
carefully away in the drawer labelled 'Boys' Letters', saying to
herself, as she bundled eleven requests for autographs into the
'It is quite time for another card, unless he is coming to tell his
plans. I'm really curious to know what he has been about all this
year, and how he's getting on now.'
That last wish was granted within an hour; for Ted came rushing in,
with a newspaper in one hand, a collapsed umbrella in the other, and
a face full of excitement, announcing, all in one breathless jumble:
'Mine caved in--twenty men shut up--no way out--wives crying-- water
rising--Dan knew the old shaft--risked his life--got 'em out --most
killed--papers full of it--I knew he'd be a hero--hurray for old
'What? Where? When? Who? Stop roaring, and let me read!' commanded
his mother, entirely bewildered.
Relinquishing the paper, Ted allowed her to read for herself, with
frequent interruptions from him--and Rob, who soon followed, eager
for the tale. It was nothing new; but courage and devotion always
stir generous hearts, and win admiration; so the account was both
graphic and enthusiastic; and the name of Daniel Kean, the brave man
who saved the lives of others at the risk of his own, was on many
lips that day. Very proud were the faces of these friends as they
read how their Dan was the only one who, in the first panic of the
accident, remembered the old shaft that led into the mine--walled up,
but the only hope of escape, if the men could be got out before the
rising water drowned them; how he was lowered down alone, telling the
others to keep back till he saw if it was safe; how he heard the poor
fellows picking desperately for their lives on the other side, and by
knocks and calls guided them to the right spot; then headed the
rescue party, and working like a hero, got the men out in time. On
being drawn up last of all, the worn rope broke, and he had a
terrible fall, being much hurt, but was still alive. How the grateful
women kissed his blackened face and bloody hands, as the men bore him
away in triumph, and the owners of the mine promised a handsome
reward, if he lived to receive it!
'He must live; he shall, and come home to be nursed as soon as he can
stir, if I go and bring him myself! I always knew he'd do something
fine and brave, if he didn't get shot or hung for some wild prank
instead,' cried Mrs Jo, much excited.
'Do go, and take me with you, Mum. I ought to be the one, Dan's so
fond of me and I of him,' began Ted, feeling that this would be an
expedition after his own heart.
Before his mother could reply, Mr Laurie came in, with almost as much
noise and flurry as Teddy the second, exclaiming as he waved the
'Seen the news, Jo? What do you think? Shall I go off at once, and
see after that brave boy?'
'I wish you would. But the thing may not be all true--rumour lies so.
Perhaps a few hours will bring an entirely new version of the story.'
'I've telephoned to Demi for all he can find out; and if it's true,
I'll go at once. Should like the trip. If he's able, I'll bring him
home; if not, I'll stay and see to him. He'll pull through. Dan will
never die of a fall on his head. He's got nine lives, and not lost
half of them yet.'
'If you go, uncle, mayn't I go with you? I'm just spoiling for a
journey; and it would be such larks to go out there with you, and see
the mines and Dan, and hear all about it, and help. I can nurse.
Can't I, Rob?' cried Teddy, in his most wheedlesome tones.
'Pretty well. But if mother can't spare you, I'm ready if uncle needs
anyone,' answered Rob, in his quiet way, looking much fitter for the
trip than excitable Ted.
'I can't spare either of you. My boys get into trouble, unless I keep
them close at home. I've no right to hold the others; but I won't let
you out of my sight, or something will happen. Never saw such a year,
with wrecks and weddings and floods and engagements, and every sort
of catastrophe!' exclaimed Mrs Jo.
'If you deal in girls and boys, you must expect this sort of thing,
ma'am. The worst is over, I hope, till these lads begin to go off.
Then I'll stand by you; for you'll need every kind of support and
comfort, specially if Ted bolts early,' laughed Mr Laurie, enjoying
'I don't think anything can surprise me now; but I am anxious about
Dan, and feel that someone had better go to him. It's a rough place
out there, and he may need careful nursing. Poor lad, he seems to get
a good many hard knocks! But perhaps he needs them as "a mellerin'
process", as Hannah used to say.'
'We shall hear from Demi before long, and then I'll be off.' With
which cheerful promise Mr Laurie departed; and Ted, finding his
mother firm, soon followed, to coax his uncle to take him.
Further inquiry confirmed and added interest to the news. Mr Laurie
was off at once; and Ted went into town with him, still vainly
imploring to be taken to his Dan. He was absent all day; but his
mother said, calmly:
'Only a fit of the sulks because he is thwarted. He's safe with Tom
or Demi, and will come home hungry and meek at night. I know him.'
But she soon found that she could still be surprised; for evening
brought no Ted, and no one had seen him. Mr Bhaer was just setting
off to find his lost son, when a telegram arrived, dated at one of
the way-stations on Mr Laurie's route:
Found Ted in the cars. Take him along. Write tomorrow.
'Ted bolted sooner than you expected, mother. Never mind--uncle will
take good care of him, and Dan be very glad to see him,' said Rob, as
Mrs Jo sat, trying to realize that her youngest was actually on his
way to the wild West.
'Disobedient boy! He shall be severely punished, if I ever get him
again. Laurie winked at this prank; I know he did. Just like him.
Won't the two rascals have a splendid time? Wish I was with them!
Don't believe that crazy boy took even a night-gown with him, or an
overcoat. Well, there will be two patients for us to nurse when they
get back, if they ever do. Those reckless express trains always go
down precipices, and burn up, or telescope. Oh! my Ted, my precious
boy, how can I let him go so far away from me?'
And mother-like, Mrs Jo forgot the threatened chastisement in tender
lamentations over the happy scapegrace, now whizzing across the
continent in high feather at the success of his first revolt. Mr
Laurie was much amused at his insisting that those words, 'when Ted
bolts', put the idea into his head; and therefore the responsibility
rested upon his shoulders. He assumed it kindly from the moment he
came upon the runaway asleep in a car, with no visible luggage but a
bottle of wine for Dan and a blacking-brush for himself; and as Mrs
Jo suspected, the 'two rascals' did have a splendid time. Penitent
letters arrived in due season, and the irate parents soon forgot to
chide in their anxiety about Dan, who was very ill, and did not know
his friends for several days. Then he began to mend; and everyone
forgave the bad boy when he proudly reported that the first conscious
words Dan said were: 'Hallo, Ted!' with a smile of pleasure at seeing
a familiar face bent over him.
'Glad he went, and I won't scold any more. Now, what shall we put in
the box for Dan?' And Mrs Jo worked off her impatience to get hold of
the invalid by sending comforts enough for a hospital.
Cheering accounts soon began to come, and at length Dan was
pronounced able to travel, but seemed in no haste to go home, though
never tired of hearing his nurses talk of it.
'Dan is strangely altered,' wrote Laurie to Jo; 'not by this illness
alone, but by something which has evidently gone before. I don't know
what, and leave you to ask; but from his ravings when delirious I
fear he has been in some serious trouble the past year. He seems ten
years older, but improved, quieter, and so grateful to us. It is
pathetic to see the hunger in his eyes as they rest on Ted, as if he
couldn't see enough of him. He says Kansas was a failure, but can't
talk much; so I bide my time. The people here love him very much, and
he cares for that sort of thing now; used to scorn any show of
emotion, you know; now he wants everyone to think well of him, and
can't do enough to win affection and respect. I may be all wrong. You
will soon find out. Ted is in clover, and the trip has done him a
world of good. Let me take him to Europe when we go? Apron-strings
don't agree with him any better than they did with me when I proposed
to run away to Washington with you some century ago. Aren't you sorry
This private letter set Mrs Jo's lively fancy in a ferment, and she
imagined every known crime, affliction, and complication which could
possibly have befallen Dan. He was too feeble to be worried with
questions now, but she promised herself most interesting revelations
when she got him safe at home; for the 'firebrand' was her most
interesting boy. She begged him to come, and spent more time in
composing a letter that should bring him, than she did over the most
thrilling episodes in her 'works'.
No one but Dan saw the letter; but it did bring him, and one November
day Mr Laurie helped a feeble man out of a carriage at the door of
Plumfield, and Mother Bhaer received the wanderer like a recovered
son; while Ted, in a disreputable-looking hat and an astonishing pair
of boots, performed a sort of war-dance round the interesting group.
'Right upstairs and rest; I'm nurse now, and this ghost must eat
before he talks to anyone,' commanded Mrs Jo, trying not to show how
shocked she was at this shorn and shaven, gaunt and pallid shadow of
the stalwart man she parted with.
He was quite content to obey, and lay on the long lounge in the room
prepared for him, looking about as tranquilly as a sick child
restored to its own nursery and mother's arms, while his new nurse
fed and refreshed him, bravely controlling the questions that burned
upon her tongue. Being weak and weary, he soon fell asleep; and then
she stole away to enjoy the society of the 'rascals', whom she
scolded and petted, pumped and praised, to her heart's content.
'Jo, I think Dan has committed some crime and suffered for it,' said
Mr Laurie, when Ted had departed to show his boots and tell glowing
tales of the dangers and delights of the miners' life to his mates.
'Some terrible experience has come to the lad, and broken his spirit.
He was quite out of his head when we arrived, and I took the
watching, so I heard more of those sad wanderings than anyone else.
He talked of the "warden", some trail, a dead man, and Blair and
Mason, and would keep offering me his hand, asking me if I would take
it and forgive him. Once, when he was very wild, I held his arms, and
he quieted in a moment, imploring me not to "put the handcuffs on". I
declare, it was quite awful sometimes to hear him in the night talk
of old Plum and you, and beg to be let out and go home to die.'
'He isn't going to die, but live to repent of anything he may have
done; so don't harrow me up with these dark hints, Teddy. I don't
care if he's broken the Ten Commandments, I'll stand by him, and so
will you, and we'll set him on his feet and make a good man of him
yet. I know he's not spoilt, by the look in his poor face. Don't say
a word to anyone, and I'll have the truth before long,' answered Mrs
Jo, still loyal to her bad boy, though much afflicted by what she had
For some days Dan rested, and saw few people; then good care,
cheerful surroundings, and the comfort of being at home began to
tell, and he seemed more like himself, though still very silent as to
his late experiences, pleading the doctor's orders not to talk much.
Everyone wanted to see him; but he shrank from any but old friends,
and 'wouldn't lionize worth a cent', Ted said, much disappointed that
he could not show off his brave Dan.
'Wasn't a man there who wouldn't have done the same, so why make a
row over me?' asked the hero, feeling more ashamed than proud of the
broken arm, which looked so interesting in a sling.
'But isn't it pleasant to think that you saved twenty lives, Dan, and
gave husbands, sons, and fathers back to the women who loved them?'
asked Mrs Jo one evening as they were alone together after several
callers had been sent away.
'Pleasant! it's all that kept me alive, I do believe; yes, I'd rather
have done it than be made president or any other big bug in the
world. No one knows what a comfort it is to think I've saved twenty
men to more than pay for--' There Dan stopped short, having evidently
spoken out of some strong emotion to which his hearer had no key.
'I thought you'd feel so. It is a splendid thing to save life at the
risk of one's own, as you did, and nearly lose it,' began Mrs Jo,
wishing he had gone on with that impulsive speech which was so like
his old manner.
'"He that loseth his life shall gain it",' muttered Dan, staring at
the cheerful fire which lighted the room, and shone on his thin face
with a ruddy glow.
Mrs Jo was so startled at hearing such words from his lips that she
'Then you did read the little book I gave you, and kept your
'I read it a good deal after a while. I don't know much yet, but I'm
ready to learn; and that's something.'
'It's everything. Oh, my dear, tell me about it! I know something
lies heavy on your heart; let me help you bear it, and so make the
'I know it would; I want to tell; but some things even you couldn't
forgive; and if you let go of me, I'm afraid I can't keep afloat.'
'Mothers can forgive anything! Tell me all, and be sure that I will
never let you go, though the whole world should turn from you.'
Mrs Jo took one of the big wasted hands in both of hers and held it
fast, waiting silently till that sustaining touch warmed poor Dan's
heart, and gave him courage to speak. Sitting in his old attitude,
with his head in his hands, he slowly told it all, never once looking
up till the last words left his lips.
'Now you know; can you forgive a murderer, and keep a jail-bird in
Her only answer was to put her arms about him, and lay the shorn head
on her breast, with eyes so full of tears they could but dimly see
the hope and fear that made his own so tragical.
That was better than any words; and poor Dan clung to her in
speechless gratitude, feeling the blessedness of mother love--that
divine gift which comforts, purifies, and strengthens all who seek
it. Two or three great, bitter drops were hidden in the little
woollen shawl where Dan's cheek rested, and no one ever knew how soft
and comfortable it felt to him after the hard pillows he had known so
long. Suffering of both mind and body had broken will and pride, and
the lifted burden brought such a sense of relief that he paused a
moment to enjoy it in dumb delight.
'My poor boy, how you have suffered all this year, when we thought
you free as air! Why didn't you tell us, Dan, and let us help you?
Did you doubt your friends?' asked Mrs Jo, forgetting all other
emotions in sympathy, as she lifted up the hidden face, and looked
reproachfully into the great hollow eyes that met her own frankly
'I was ashamed. I tried to bear it alone rather than shock and
disappoint you, as I know I have, though you try not to show it.
Don't mind; I must get used to it'; and Dan's eyes dropped again as
if they could not bear to see the trouble and dismay his confession
painted on his best friend's face.
'I am shocked and disappointed by the sin, but I am also very glad
and proud and grateful that my sinner has repented, atoned, and is
ready to profit by the bitter lesson. No one but Fritz and Laurie
need ever know the truth; we owe it to them, and they will feel as I
do,' answered Mrs Jo, wisely thinking that entire frankness would be
a better tonic than too much sympathy.
'No, they won't; men never forgive like women. But it's right.
Please tell 'em for me, and get it over. Mr Laurence knows it, I
guess. I blabbed when my wits were gone; but he was very kind all the
same. I can bear their knowing; but oh, not Ted and the girls!' Dan
clutched her arm with such an imploring face that she hastened to
assure him no one should know except the two old friends, and he
calmed down as if ashamed of his sudden panic.
'It wasn't murder, mind you, it was in self-defence; he drew first,
and I had to hit him. Didn't mean to kill him; but it doesn't worry
me as much as it ought, I'm afraid. I've more than paid for it, and
such a rascal is better out of the world than in it, showing boys the
way to hell. Yes, I know you think that's awful in me; but I can't
help it. I hate a scamp as I do a skulking coyote, and always want to
get a shot at 'em. Perhaps it would have been better if he had killed
me; my life is spoilt.'
All the old prison gloom seemed to settle like a black cloud on Dan's
face as he spoke, and Mrs Jo was frightened at the glimpse it gave
her of the fire through which he had passed to come out alive, but
scarred for life. Hoping to turn his mind to happier things, she said
'No, it isn't; you have learned to value it more and use it better
for this trial. It is not a lost year, but one that may prove the
most helpful of any you ever know. Try to think so, and begin again;
we will help, and have all the more confidence in you for this
failure. We all do the same and struggle on.'
'I never can be what I was. I feel about sixty, and don't care for
anything now I've got here. Let me stay till I'm on my legs, then
I'll clear out and never trouble you any more,' said Dan
'You are weak and low in your mind; that will pass, and by and by you
will go to your missionary work among the Indians with all the old
energy and the new patience, self-control, and knowledge you have
gained. Tell me more about that good chaplain and Mary Mason and the
lady whose chance word helped you so much. I want to know all about
the trials of my poor boy.'
Won by her tender interest, Dan brightened up and talked on till he
had poured out all the story of that bitter year, and felt better for
the load he lifted off.
If he had known how it weighed upon his hearer's heart, he would have
held his peace; but she hid her sorrow till she had sent him to bed,
comforted and calm; then she cried her heart out, to the great dismay
of Fritz and Laurie, till they heard the tale and could mourn with
her; after which they all cheered up and took counsel together how
best to help this worst of all the 'catastrophes' the year had
It was curious to see the change which came over Dan after that talk.
A weight seemed off his mind; and though the old impetuous spirit
flashed out at times, he seemed intent on trying to show his
gratitude and love and honour to these true friends by a new humility
and confidence very sweet to them, very helpful to him. After
hearing the story from Mrs Jo, the Professor and Mr Laurie made no
allusion to it beyond the hearty hand-grasp, the look of compassion,
the brief word of good cheer in which men convey sympathy, and a
redoubled kindness which left no doubt of pardon. Mr Laurie began at
once to interest influential persons in Dan's mission, and set in
motion the machinery which needs so much oiling before anything can
be done where Government is concerned. Mr Bhaer, with the skill of a
true teacher, gave Dan's hungry mind something to do, and helped him
understand himself by carrying on the good chaplain's task so
paternally that the poor fellow often said he felt as if he had found
a father. The boys took him to drive, and amused him with their
pranks and plans; while the women, old and young, nursed and petted
him till he felt like a sultan with a crowd of devoted slaves,
obedient to his lightest wish. A very little of this was enough for
Dan, who had a masculine horror of 'molly-coddling', and so brief an
acquaintance with illness that he rebelled against the doctor's
orders to keep quiet; and it took all Mrs Jo's authority and the
girls' ingenuity to keep him from leaving his sofa long before
strained back and wounded head were well. Daisy cooked for him; Nan
attended to his medicines; Josie read aloud to while away the long
hours of inaction that hung so heavily on his hands; while Bess
brought all her pictures and casts to amuse him, and, at his special
desire, set up a modelling-stand in his parlour and began to mould
the buffalo head he gave her. Those afternoons seemed the pleasantest
part of his day; and Mrs Jo, busy in her study close by, could see
the friendly trio and enjoy the pretty pictures they made. The girls
were much flattered by the success of their efforts, and exerted
themselves to be very entertaining, consulting Dan's moods with the
feminine tact most women creatures learn before they are out of
pinafores. When he was gay, the room rang with laughter; when gloomy,
they read or worked in respectful silence till their sweet patience
cheered him up again; and when in pain they hovered over him like 'a
couple of angels', as he said. He often called Josie 'little mother',
but Bess was always 'Princess'; and his manner to the two cousins was
quite different. Josie sometimes fretted him with her fussy ways, the
long plays she liked to read, and the maternal scoldings she
administered when he broke the rules; for having a lord of creation
in her power was so delightful to her that she would have ruled him
with a rod of iron if he had submitted. To Bess, in her gentler
ministrations, he never showed either impatience or weariness, but
obeyed her least word, exerted himself to seem well in her presence,
and took such interest in her work that he lay looking at her with
unwearied eyes; while Josie read to him in her best style unheeded.
Mrs Jo observed this, and called them 'Una and the Lion', which
suited them very well, though the lion's mane was shorn, and Una
never tried to bridle him. The elder ladies did their part in
providing delicacies and supplying all his wants; but Mrs Meg was
busy at home, Mrs Amy preparing for the trip to Europe in the spring,
and Mrs Jo hovering on the brink of a 'vortex'--for the forthcoming
book had been sadly delayed by the late domestic events. As she sat
at her desk, settling papers or meditatively nibbling her pen while
waiting for the divine afflatus to descend upon her, she often forgot
her fictitious heroes and heroines in studying the live models before
her, and thus by chance looks, words, and gestures discovered a
little romance unsuspected by anyone else.
The portiere between the rooms was usually drawn aside, giving a view
of the group in the large bay-window--Bess at one side, in her grey
blouse, busy with her tools; Josie at the other side with her book;
and between, on the long couch, propped with many cushions, lay Dan
in a many-hued eastern dressing-gown presented by Mr Laurie and worn
to please the girls, though the invalid much preferred an old jacket
'with no confounded tail to bother over'. He faced Mrs Jo's room, but
never seemed to see her, for his eyes were on the slender figure
before him, with the pale winter sunshine touching her golden head,
and the delicate hands that shaped the clay so deftly. Josie was just
visible, rocking violently in a little chair at the head of the
couch, and the steady murmur of her girlish voice was usually the
only sound that broke the quiet of the room, unless a sudden
discussion arose about the book or the buffalo.
Something in the big eyes, bigger and blacker than ever in the thin
white face, fixed, so steadily on one object, had a sort of
fascination for Mrs Jo after a time, and she watched the changes in
them curiously; for Dan's mind was evidently not on the story, and he
often forgot to laugh or exclaim at the comic or exciting crises.
Sometimes they were soft and wistful, and the watcher was very glad
that neither damsel caught that dangerous look for when they spoke it
vanished; sometimes it was full of eager fire, and the colour came
and went rebelliously, in spite of his attempt to hide it with an
impatient gesture of hand or head; but oftenest it was dark, and sad,
and stern, as if those gloomy eyes looked out of captivity at some
forbidden light or joy. This expression came so often that it worried
Mrs Jo, and she longed to go and ask him what bitter memory
overshadowed those quiet hours. She knew that his crime and its
punishment must lie heavy on his mind; but youth, and time, and new
hopes would bring comfort, and help to wear away the first sharpness
of the prison brand. It lifted at other times, and seemed almost
forgotten when he joked with the boys, talked with old friends, or
enjoyed the first snows as he drove out every fair day. Why should
the shadow always fall so darkly on him in the society of these
innocent and friendly girls? They never seemed to see it, and if
either looked or spoke, a quick smile came like a sunburst through
the clouds to answer them. So Mrs Jo went on watching, wondering, and
discovering, till accident confirmed her fears.
Josie was called away one day, and Bess, tired of working, offered to
take her place if he cared for more reading.
'I do; your reading suits me better than Jo's. She goes so fast my
stupid head gets in a muddle and soon begins to ache. Don't tell her;
she's a dear little soul, and so good to sit here with a bear like
The smile was ready as Bess went to the table for a new book, the
last story being finished.
'You are not a bear, but very good and patient, we think. It is
always hard for a man to be shut up, mamma says, and must be terrible
for you, who have always been so free.'
If Bess had not been reading titles she would have seen Dan shrink as
if her last words hurt him. He made no answer; but other eyes saw and
understood why he looked as if he would have liked to spring up and
rush away for one of his long races up the hill, as he used to do
when the longing for liberty grew uncontrollable. Moved by a sudden
impulse, Mrs Jo caught up her work-basket and went to join her
neighbours, feeling that a non-conductor might be needed; for Dan
looked like a thundercloud full of electricity.
'What shall we read, Aunty? Dan doesn't seem to care. You know his
taste; tell me something quiet and pleasant and short. Josie will be
back soon,' said Bess, still turning over the books piled on the
Before Mrs Jo could answer, Dan pulled a shabby little volume from
under his pillow, and handing it to her said: 'Please read the third
one; it's short and pretty--I'm fond of it.' The book opened at the
right place, as if the third story had been often read, and Bess
smiled as she saw the name.
'Why, Dan, I shouldn't think you'd care for this romantic German
tale. There is fighting in it; but it is very sentimental, if I
'I know it; but I've read so few stories, I like the simple ones
best. Had nothing else to read sometimes; I guess I know it all by
heart, and never seem to be tired of those fighting fellows, and the
fiends and angels and lovely ladies. You read "Aslauga's Knight", and
see if you don't like it. Edwald was rather too soft for my fancy;
but Froda was first-rate and the spirit with the golden hair always
reminded me of you.'
As Dan spoke Mrs Jo settled herself where she could watch him in the
glass, and Bess took a large chair facing him, saying, as she put up
her hands to retie the ribbon that held the cluster of thick, soft
curls at the back of her head:
'I hope Aslauga's hair wasn't as troublesome as mine, for it's always
tumbling down. I'll be ready in a minute.'
'Don't tie it up; please let it hang. I love to see it shine that way.
It will rest your head, and be just right for the story, Goldilocks,'
pleaded Dan, using the childish name and looking more like his boyish
self than he had done for many a day.
Bess laughed, shook down her pretty hair, and began to read, glad to
hide her face a little; for compliments made her shy, no matter who
paid them. Dan listened intently on; and Mrs Jo, with eyes that went
often from her needle to the glass, could see, without turning, how
he enjoyed every word as if it had more meaning for him than for the
other listeners. His face brightened wonderfully, and soon wore the
look that came when anything brave or beautiful inspired and touched
his better self. It was Fouque's charming story of the knight Froda,
and the fair daughter of Sigurd, who was a sort of spirit, appearing
to her lover in hours of danger and trial, as well as triumph and
joy, till she became his guide and guard, inspiring him with courage,
nobleness, and truth, leading him to great deeds in the field,
sacrifices for those he loved, and victories over himself by the
gleaming of her golden hair, which shone on him in battle, dreams,
and perils by day and night, till after death he finds the lovely
spirit waiting to receive and to reward him.
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