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Little Men: Life at Plumfield With Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott

Part 4 out of 7

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carriage-house, which went briskly on in spite of the incessant
questions, advice, and meddling of the boys. Old Gibbs was nearly
driven wild with it all, but managed to do his work nevertheless;
and by Friday night the place was all in order roof mended, shelves
up, walls whitewashed, a great window cut at the back, which let
in a flood of sunshine, and gave them a fine view of the brook, the
meadows, and the distant hills; and over the great door, painted in
red letters, was "The Laurence Museum."

All Saturday morning the boys were planning how it should be
furnished with their spoils, and when Mr. Laurie arrived, bringing
an aquarium which Mrs. Amy said she was tired of, their rapture
was great.

The afternoon was spent in arranging things, and when the running
and lugging and hammering was over, the ladies were invited to
behold the institution.

It certainly was a pleasant place, airy, clean, and bright. A
hop-vine shook its green bells round the open window, the pretty
aquarium stood in the middle of the room, with some delicate
water plants rising above the water, and gold-fish showing their
brightness as they floated to and fro below. On either side of the
window were rows of shelves ready to receive the curiosities yet to
be found. Dan's tall cabinet stood before the great door which was
fastened up, while the small door was to be used. On the cabinet
stood a queer Indian idol, very ugly, but very interesting; old Mr.
Laurence sent it, as well as a fine Chinese junk in full sail, which
had a conspicuous place on the long table in the middle of the
room. Above, swinging in a loop, and looking as if she was alive,
hung Polly, who died at an advanced age, had been carefully
stuffed, and was no presented by Mrs. Jo. The walls were
decorated with all sorts of things. A snake's skin, a big wasp's nest,
a birch-bark canoe, a string of birds' eggs, wreaths of gray moss
from the South, and a bunch of cotton-pods. The dead bats had a
place, also a large turtle-shell, and an ostrich-egg proudly
presented by Demi, who volunteered to explain these rare
curiosities to guests whenever they liked. There were so many
stones that it was impossible to accept them all, so only a few of
the best were arranged among the shells on the shelves, the rest
were piled up in corners, to be examined by Dan at his leisure.

Every one was eager to give something, even Silas, who sent home
for a stuffed wild-cat killed in his youth. It was rather moth-eaten
and shabby, but on a high bracket and best side foremost the effect
was fine, for the yellow glass eyes glared, and the mouth snarled
so naturally, that Teddy shook in his little shoes at sight of it, when
he came bringing his most cherished treasure, one cocoon, to lay
upon the shrine of science.

"Isn't it beautiful? I'd no idea we had so many curious things. I
gave that; don't it look well? We might make a lot by charging
something for letting folks see it."

Jack added that last suggestion to the general chatter that went on
as the family viewed the room.

"This is a free museum and if there is any speculating on it I'll
paint out the name over the door," said Mr. Laurie, turning so
quickly that Jack wished he had held his tongue.

"Hear! hear!" cried Mr. Bhaer.

"Speech! speech!" added Mrs. Jo.

"Can't, I'm too bashful. You give them a lecture yourself you are
used to it," Mr. Laurie answered, retreating towards the window,
meaning to escape. But she held him fast, and said, laughing as she
looked at the dozen pairs of dirty hands about her,

"If I did lecture, it would on the chemical and cleansing properties
of soap. Come now, as the founder of the institution, you really
ought to give us a few moral remarks, and we will applaud
tremendously."

Seeing that there was no way of escaping, Mr. Laurie looked up at
Polly hanging overhead, seemed to find inspiration in the brilliant
old bird, and sitting down upon the table, said, in his pleasant way,

"There is one thing I'd like to suggest, boys, and that is, I want you
to get some good as well as much pleasure out of this. Just putting
curious or pretty things here won't do it; so suppose you read up
about them, so that when anybody asks questions you can answer
them, and understand the matter. I used to like these things myself,
and should enjoy hearing about them now, for I've forgotten all I
once knew. It wasn't much, was it, Jo? Here's Dan now, full of
stories about birds, and bugs, and so on; let him take care of the
museum, and once a week the rest of you take turns to read a
composition, or tell about some animal, mineral, or vegetable. We
should all like that, and I think it would put considerable useful
knowledge into our heads. What do you say, Professor?"

"I like it much, and will give the lads all the help I can. But they
will need books to read up these new subjects, and we have not
many, I fear," began Mr. Bhaer, looking much pleased, planning
many fine lectures on geology, which he liked. "We should have a
library for the special purpose."

"Is that a useful sort of book, Dan?" asked Mr. Laurie, pointing to
the volume that lay open by the cabinet.

"Oh, yes! it tells all I want to know about insects. I had it here to
see how to fix the butterflies right. I covered it, so it is not hurt;"
and Dan caught it up, fearing the lender might think him careless.

"Give it here a minute;" and, pulling out his pencil, Mr. Laurie
wrote Dan's name in it, saying, as he set the book up on one of the
corner shelves, where nothing stood but a stuffed bird without a
tail, "There, that is the beginning of the museum library. I'll hunt
up some more books, and Demi shall keep them in order. Where
are those jolly little books we used to read, Jo? 'Insect Architecture'
or some such name, all about ants having battles, and bees having
queens, and crickets eating holes in our clothes and stealing milk,
and larks of that sort."

"In the garret at home. I'll have them sent out, and we will plunge
into Natural History with a will," said Mrs. Jo, ready for any thing.

"Won't it be hard to write about such things?" asked Nat, who
hated compositions.

"At first, perhaps; but you will soon like it. If you think that hard,
how would you like to have this subject given to you, as it was to a
girl of thirteen: A conversation between Themistocles, Aristides,
and Pericles on the proposed appropriation of funds of the
confederacy of Delos for the ornamentation of Athens?" said Mrs.
Jo.

The boys groaned at the mere sound of the long names, and the
gentlemen laughed at the absurdity of the lesson.

"Did she write it?" asked Demi, in an awe-stricken tone.

"Yes, but you can imagine what a piece of work she make of it,
though she was rather a bright child."

"I'd like to have seen it," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Perhaps I can find it for you; I went to school with her," and Mrs.
Jo looked so wicked that every one knew who the little girl was.

Hearing of this fearful subject for a composition quite reconciled
the boys to the thought of writing about familiar things.
Wednesday afternoon was appointed for the lectures, as they
preferred to call them, for some chose to talk instead of write. Mr.
Bhaer promised a portfolio in which the written productions
should be kept, and Mrs. Bhaer said she would attend the course
with great pleasure.

Then the dirty-handed society went off the wash, followed by the
Professor, trying to calm the anxiety of Rob, who had been told by
Tommy that all water was full of invisible pollywogs.

"I like your plan very much, only don't be too generous, Teddy,"
said Mrs. Bhaer, when they were left alone. "You know most of
the boys have got to paddle their own canoes when they leave us,
and too much sitting in the lap of luxury will unfit them for it."

"I'll be moderate, but do let me amuse myself. I get desperately
tired of business sometimes, and nothing freshens me up like a
good frolic with your boys. I like that Dan very much, Jo. He isn't
demonstrative; but he has the eye of a hawk, and when you have
tamed him a little he will do you credit."

"I'm so glad you think so. Thank you very much for your kindness
to him, especially for this museum affair; it will keep him happy
while he is lame, give me a chance to soften and smooth this poor,
rough lad, and make him love us. What did inspire you with such a
beautiful, helpful idea, Teddy?" asked Mrs. Bhaer, glancing back
at the pleasant room, as she turned to leave it.

Laurie took both her hands in his, and answered, with a look that
made her eyes fill with happy tears,

"Dear Jo! I have known what it is to be a motherless boy, and I
never can forget how much you and yours have done for me all
these years."

CHAPTER XII HUCKLEBERRIES

There was a great clashing of tin pails, much running to and fro,
and frequent demands for something to eat, one August afternoon,
for the boys were going huckleberrying, and made as much stir
about it as if they were setting out to find the North West Passage.

"Now, my lads, get off as quietly as you can, for Rob is safely out
of the way, and won't see you," said Mrs. Bhaer, as she tied Daisy's
broad-brimmed hat, and settled the great blue pinafore in which
she had enveloped Nan.

But the plan did not succeed, for Rob had heard the bustle, decided
to go, and prepared himself, without a thought of disappointment.
The troop was just getting under way when the little man came
marching downstairs with his best hat on, a bright tin pail in his
hand, and a face beaming with satisfaction.

"Oh, dear! now we shall have a scene," sighed Mrs. Bhaer, who
found her eldest son very hard to manage at times.

"I'm all ready," said Rob, and took his place in the ranks with such
perfect unconsciousness of his mistake, that it really was very hard
to undeceive him.

"It's too far for you, my love; stay and take care of me, for I shall
be all alone," began his mother.

"You've got Teddy. I'm a big boy, so I can go; you said I might
when I was bigger, and I am now," persisted Rob, with a cloud
beginning to dim the brightness of his happy face.

"We are going up to the great pasture, and it's ever so far; we don't
want you tagging on," cried Jack, who did not admire the little
boys.

"I won't tag, I'll run and keep up. O Mamma! let me go! I want to
fill my new pail, and I'll bring 'em all to you. Please, please, I will
be good!" prayed Robby, looking up at his mother, so grieved and
disappointed that her heart began to fail her.

"But, my deary, you'll get so tired and hot you won't have a good
time. Wait till I go, and then we will stay all day, and pick as many
berries as you want."

"You never do go, you are so busy, and I'm tired of waiting. I'd
rather go and get the berries for you all myself. I love to pick 'em,
and I want to fill my new pail dreffly," sobbed Rob.

The pathetic sight of great tears tinkling into the dear new pail,
and threatening to fill it with salt water instead of huckleberries,
touched all the ladies present. His mother patted the weeper on his
back; Daisy offered to stay home with him; and Nan said, in her
decided way,

"Let him come; I'll take care of him."

"If Franz was going I wouldn't mind, for he is very careful; but he
is haying with the father, and I'm not sure about the rest of you,"
began Mrs. Bhaer.

"It's so far," put in Jack.

"I'd carry him if I was going wish I was," said Dan, with a sigh.

"Thank you, dear, but you must take care of your foot. I wish I
could go. Stop a minute, I think I can manage it after all;" and Mrs.
Bhaer ran out to the steps, waving her apron wildly.

Silas was just driving away in the hay-cart, but turned back, and
agreed at once, when Mrs. Jo proposed that he should take the
whole party to the pasture, and go for them at five o'clock.

"It will delay your work a little, but never mind; we will pay you in
huckleberry pies," said Mrs. Jo, knowing Silas's weak point.

His rough, brown face brightened up, and he said, with a cheery
"Haw! haw!" "Wal now, Mis' Bhaer, if you go to bribin' of me, I
shall give in right away."

"Now, boys, I have arranged it so that you can all go," said Mrs.
Bhaer, running back again, much relieved, for she loved to make
them happy, and always felt miserable when she had disturbed the
serenity of her little sons; for she believed that the small hopes and
plans and pleasures of children should be tenderly respected by
grown-up people, and never rudely thwarted or ridiculed.

"Can I go?" said Dan, delighted.

"I thought especially of you. Be careful, and never mind the
berries, but sit about and enjoy the lovely things which you know
how to find all about you," answered Mrs. Bhaer, who
remembered his kind offer to her boy.

"Me too! me too!" sung Rob, dancing with joy, and clapping his
precious pail and cover like castanets.

"Yes, and Daisy and Nan must take good care of you. Be at the
bars at five o'clock, and Silas will come for you all."

Robby cast himself upon his mother in a burst of gratitude,
promising to bring her every berry he picked, and not eat one.
Then they were all packed into the hay-cart, and went rattling
away, the brightest face among the dozen being that of Rob, as he
sat between his two temporary little mothers, beaming upon the
whole world, and waving his best hat; for his indulgent mamma
had not the heart to bereave him of it, since this was a gala-day to
him.

Such a happy afternoon as they had, in spite of the mishaps which
usually occur on such expeditions! Of course Tommy came to
grief, tumbled upon a hornet's nest and got stung; but being used to
woe, he bore the smart manfully, till Dan suggested the application
of damp earth, which much assuaged the pain. Daisy saw a snake,
and flying from it lost half her berries; but Demi helped her to fill
up again, and discussed reptiles most learnedly the while. Ned fell
out of a tree, and split his jacket down the back, but suffered no
other fracture. Emil and Jack established rival claims to a certain
thick patch, and while they were squabbling about it, Stuffy
quickly and quietly stripped the bushes and fled to the protection
of Dan, who was enjoying himself immensely. The crutch was no
longer necessary, and he was delighted to see how strong his foot
felt as he roamed about the great pasture, full of interesting rocks
and stumps, with familiar little creatures in the grass, and
well-known insects dancing in the air.

But of all the adventures that happened on this afternoon that
which befell Nan and Rob was the most exciting, and it long
remained one of the favorite histories of the household. Having
explored the country pretty generally, torn three rents in her frock,
and scratched her face in a barberry-bush, Nan began to pick the
berries that shone like big, black beads on the low, green bushes.
Her nimble fingers flew, but still her basket did not fill up as
rapidly as she desired, so she kept wandering here and there to
search for better places, instead of picking contentedly and steadily
as Daisy did. Rob followed Nan, for her energy suited him better
than his cousin's patience, and he too was anxious to have the
biggest and best berries for Marmar.

"I keep putting 'em in, but it don't fill up, and I'm so tired," said
Rob, pausing a moment to rest his short legs, and beginning to
think huckleberrying was not all his fancy painted it; for the sun
blazed, Nan skipped hither and thither like a grasshopper, and the
berries fell out of his pail almost as fast as he put them in, because,
in his struggles with the bushes, it was often upside-down.

"Last time we came they were ever so much thicker over that wall
great bouncers; and there is a cave there where the boys made a
fire. Let's go and fill our things quick, and then hide in the cave
and let the others find us," proposed Nan, thirsting for adventures.

Rob consented, and away they went, scrambling over the wall and
running down the sloping fields on the other side, till they were
hidden among the rocks and underbrush. The berries were thick,
and at last the pails were actually full. It was shady and cool down
there, and a little spring gave the thirsty children a refreshing drink
out of its mossy cup.

"Now we will go and rest in the cave, and eat our lunch," said Nan,
well satisfied with her success so far.

"Do you know the way?" asked Rob.

"'Course I do; I've been once, and I always remember. Didn't I go
and get my box all right?"

That convinced Rob, and he followed blindly as Nan led him over
stock and stone, and brought him, after much meandering, to a
small recess in the rock, where the blackened stones showed that
fires had been made.

"Now, isn't it nice?" asked Nan, as she took out a bit of
bread-and-butter, rather damaged by being mixed up with nails,
fishhooks, stones and other foreign substances, in the young lady's
pocket.

"Yes; do you think they will find us soon?" asked Rob, who found
the shadowy glen rather dull, and began to long for more society.

"No, I don't; because if I hear them, I shall hide, and have fun
making them find me."

"P'raps they won't come."

"Don't care; I can get home myself."

"Is it a great way?" asked Rob, looking at his little stubby boots,
scratched and wet with his long wandering.

"It's six miles, I guess." Nan's ideas of distance were vague, and her
faith in her own powers great.

"I think we better go now," suggested Rob, presently.

"I shan't till I have picked over my berries;" and Nan began what
seemed to Rob an endless task.

"Oh, dear! you said you'd take good care of me," he sighed, as the
sun seemed to drop behind the hill all of a sudden.

"Well I am taking good care of you as hard as I can. Don't be cross,
child; I'll go in a minute," said Nan, who considered five-year-old
Robby a mere infant compared to herself.

So little Rob sat looking anxiously about him, and waiting
patiently, for, spite of some misgivings, he felt great confidence in
Nan.

"I guess it's going to be night pretty soon," he observed, as if to
himself, as a mosquito bit him, and the frogs in a neighboring
marsh began to pipe up for the evening concert.

"My goodness me! so it is. Come right away this minute, or they
will be gone," cried Nan, looking up from her work, and suddenly
perceiving that the sun was down.

"I heard a horn about an hour ago; may be they were blowing for
us," said Rob, trudging after his guide as she scrambled up the
steep hill.

"Where was it?" asked Nan, stopping short.

"Over that way;" he pointed with a dirty little finger in an entirely
wrong direction.

"Let's go that way and meet them;" and Nan wheeled about, and
began to trot through the bushes, feeling a trifle anxious, for there
were so many cow-paths all about she could not remember which
way they came.

On they went over stock and stone again, pausing now and then to
listen for the horn, which did not blow any more, for it was only
the moo of a cow on her way home.

"I don't remember seeing that pile of stones do you?" asked Nan, as
she sat on a wall to rest a moment and take an observation.

"I don't remember any thing, but I want to go home," and Rob's
voice had a little tremble in it that made Nan put her arms round
him and lift him gently down, saying, in her most capable way,

"I'm going just as fast as I can, dear. Don't cry, and when we come
to the road, I'll carry you."

"Where is the road?" and Robby wiped his eyes to look for it.

"Over by that big tree. Don't you know that's the one Ned tumbled
out of?"

"So it is. May be they waited for us; I'd like to ride home wouldn't
you?" and Robby brightened up as he plodded along toward the
end of the great pasture.

"No, I'd rather walk," answered Nan, feeling quite sure that she
would be obliged to do so, and preparing her mind for it.

Another long trudge through the fast-deepening twilight and
another disappointment, for when they reached the tree, they found
to their dismay that it was not the one Ned climbed, and no road
anywhere appeared.

"Are we lost?" quavered Rob, clasping his pail in despair.

"Not much. I don't just see which way to go, and I guess we'd
better call."

So they both shouted till they were hoarse, yet nothing answered
but the frogs in full chorus.

"There is another tall tree over there, perhaps that's the one," said
Nan, whose heart sunk within her, though she still spoke bravely.

"I don't think I can go any more; my boots are so heavy I can't pull
'em;" and Robby sat down on a stone quite worn out.

"Then we must stay here all night. I don't care much, if snakes
don't come."

"I'm frightened of snakes. I can't stay all night. Oh, dear! I don't
like to be lost," and Rob puckered up his face to cry, when
suddenly a thought occurred to him, and he said, in a tone of
perfect confidence,

"Marmar will come and find me she always does; I ain't afraid
now."

"She won't know where we are."

"She didn't know I was shut up in the ice-house, but she found me.
I know she'll come," returned Robby, so trustfully, that Nan felt
relieved, and sat down by him, saying, with a remorseful sigh,

"I wish we hadn't run away."

"You made me; but I don't mind much Marmar will love me just
the same," answered Rob, clinging to his sheet-anchor when all
other hope was gone.

"I'm so hungry. Let's eat our berries," proposed Nan, after a pause,
during which Rob began to nod.

"So am I, but I can't eat mine, 'cause I told Marmar I'd keep them
all for her."

"You'll have to eat them if no one comes for us," said Nan, who
felt like contradicting every thing just then. "If we stay here a great
many days, we shall eat up all the berries in the field, and then we
shall starve," she added grimly.

"I shall eat sassafras. I know a big tree of it, and Dan told me how
squirrels dig up the roots and eat them, and I love to dig," returned
Rob, undaunted by the prospect of starvation.

"Yes; and we can catch frogs, and cook them. My father ate some
once, and he said they were nice," put in Nan, beginning to find a
spice of romance even in being lost in a huckleberry pasture.

"How could we cook frogs? we haven't got any fire."

"I don't know; next time I'll have matches in my pocket," said Nan,
rather depressed by this obstacle to the experiment in
frog-cookery.

"Couldn't we light a fire with a fire-fly?" asked Rob, hopefully, as
he watched them flitting to and fro like winged sparks.

"Let's try;" and several minutes were pleasantly spent in catching
the flies, and trying to make them kindle a green twig or two. "It's
a lie to call them fire -flies when there isn't a fire in them," Nan
said, throwing one unhappy insect away with scorn, though it
shone its best, and obligingly walked up and down the twigs to
please the innocent little experimenters.

"Marmar's a good while coming," said Rob, after another pause,
during which they watched the stars overhead, smelt the sweet fern
crushed under foot, and listened to the crickets' serenade.

"I don't see why God made any night; day is so much pleasanter,"
said Nan, thoughtfully.

"It's to sleep in," answered Rob, with a yawn.

"Then do go to sleep," said Nan, pettishly.

"I want my own bed. Oh, I wish I could see Teddy!" cried Rob,
painfully reminded of home by the soft chirp of birds safe in their
little nests.

"I don't believe your mother will ever find us," said Nan, who was
becoming desperate, for she hated patient waiting of any sort. "It's
so dark she won't see us."

"It was all black in the ice-house, and I was so scared I didn't call
her, but she saw me; and she will see me now, no matter how dark
it is," returned confiding Rob, standing up to peer into the gloom
for the help which never failed him.

"I see her! I see her!" he cried, and ran as fast as his tired legs
would take him toward a dark figure slowly approaching.
Suddenly he stopped, then turned about, and came stumbling back,
screaming in a great panic,

"No, it's a bear, a big black one!" and hid his face in Nan's skirts.

For a moment Nan quailed; ever her courage gave out at the
thought of a real bear, and she was about to turn and flee in great
disorder, when a mild "Moo!" changed her fear to merriment, as
she said, laughing,

"It's a cow, Robby! the nice, black cow we saw this afternoon."

The cow seemed to feel that it was not just the thing to meet two
little people in her pasture after dark, and the amiable beast paused
to inquire into the case. She let them stroke her, and stood
regarding them with her soft eyes so mildly, that Nan, who feared
no animal but a bear, was fired with a desire to milk her.

"Silas taught me how; and berries and milk would be so nice," she
said, emptying the contents of her pail into her hat, and boldly
beginning her new task, while Rob stood by and repeated, at her
command, the poem from Mother Goose:

"Cushy cow, bonny, let down your milk,

Let down your milk to me,

And I will give you a gown of silk,

A gown of silk and a silver tee."

But the immortal rhyme had little effect, for the benevolent cow
had already been milked, and had only half a gill to give the thirsty
children.

"Shoo! get away! you are an old cross patch," cried Nan,
ungratefully, as she gave up the attempt in despair; and poor Molly
walked on with a gentle gurgle of surprise and reproof.

"Each can have a sip, and then we must take a walk. We shall go
to sleep if we don't; and lost people mustn't sleep. Don't you know
how Hannah Lee in the pretty story slept under the snow and
died?"

"But there isn't any snow now, and it's nice and warm," said Rob,
who was not blessed with as lively a fancy as Nan.

"No matter, we will poke about a little, and call some more; and
then, if nobody comes, we will hide under the bushes, like
Hop-'o-my-thumb and his brothers."

It was a very short walk, however, for Rob was so sleepy he could
not get on, and tumbled down so often that Nan entirely lost
patience, being half distracted by the responsibility she had taken
upon herself.

"If you tumble down again, I'll shake you," she said, lifting the
poor little man up very kindly as she spoke, for Nan's bark was
much worse than her bite.

"Please don't. It's my boots they keep slipping so;" and Rob
manfully checked the sob just ready to break out, adding, with a
plaintive patience that touched Nan's heart, "If the skeeters didn't
bite me so, I could go to sleep till Marmar comes."

"Put your head on my lap, and I'll cover you up with my apron; I'm
not afraid of the night," said Nan, sitting down and trying to
persuade herself that she did not mind the shadow nor the
mysterious rustlings all about her.

"Wake me up when she comes," said rob, and was fast asleep in
five minutes with his head in Nan's lap under the pinafore.

The little girl sat for some fifteen minutes, staring about her with
anxious eyes, and feeling as if each second was an hour. Then a
pale light began to glimmer over the hill-top and she said to herself

"I guess the night is over and morning is coming. I'd like to see the
sun rise, so I'll watch, and when it comes up we can find our way
right home."

But before the moon's round face peeped above the hill to destroy
her hope, Nan had fallen asleep, leaning back in a little bower of
tall ferns, and was deep in a mid-summer night's dream of fire-flies
and blue aprons, mountains of huckleberries, and Robby wiping
away the tears of a black cow, who sobbed, "I want to go home! I
want to go home!"

While the children were sleeping, peacefully lulled by the drowsy
hum of many neighborly mosquitoes, the family at home were in a
great state of agitation. The hay-cart came at five, and all but Jack,
Emil, Nan, and Rob were at the bars ready for it. Franz drove
instead of Silas, and when the boys told him that the others were
going home through the wood, he said, looking ill-pleased, "They
ought to have left Rob to ride, he will be tired out by the long
walk."

"It's shorter that way, and they will carry him," said Stuffy, who
was in a hurry for his supper.

"You are sure Nan and Rob went with them?"

"Of course they did; I saw them getting over the wall, and sung out
that it was most five, and Jack called back that they were going the
other way," explained Tommy.

"Very well, pile in then," and away rattled the hay-cart with the
tired children and the full pails.

Mrs. Jo looked sober when she heard of the division of the party,
and sent Franz back with Toby to find and bring the little ones
home. Supper was over, and the family sitting about in the cool
hall as usual, when Franz came trotting back, hot, dusty, and
anxious.

"Have they come?" he called out when half-way up the avenue.

"No!" and Mrs. Jo flew out of her chair looking so alarmed that
every one jumped up and gathered round Franz.

"I can't find them anywhere," he began; but the words were hardly
spoken when a loud "Hullo!" startled them all, and the next minute
Jack and Emil came round the house.

"Where are Nan and Rob?" cried Mrs. Jo, clutching Emil in a way
that caused him to think his aunt had suddenly lost her wits.

"I don't know. They came home with the others, didn't they?" he
answered, quickly.

"No; George and Tommy said they went with you."

"Well, they didn't. Haven't seen them. We took a swim in the pond,
and came by the wood," said Jack, looking alarmed, as well he
might.

"Call Mr. Bhaer, get the lanterns, and tell Silas I want him."

That was all Mrs. Jo said, but they knew what she meant, and flew
to obey her orders. In ten minutes, Mr. Bhaer and Silas were off to
the wood, and Franz tearing down the road on old Andy to search
the great pasture. Mrs. Jo caught up some food from the table, a
little bottle of brandy from the medicine-closet, took a lantern, and
bidding Jack and Emil come with her, and the rest not stir, she
trotted away on Toby, never stopping for hat or shawl. She heard
some one running after her, but said not a word till, as she paused
to call and listen, the light of her lantern shone on Dan's face.

"You here! I told Jack to come," she said, half-inclined to send him
back, much as she needed help.

"I wouldn't let him; he and Emil hadn't had any supper, and I
wanted to come more than they did," he said, taking the lantern
from her and smiling up in her face with the steady look in his eyes
that made her feel as if, boy though he was, she had some one to
depend on.

Off she jumped, and ordered him on to Toby, in spite of his
pleading to walk; then they went on again along the dusty, solitary
road, stopping every now and then to call and hearken breathlessly
for little voices to reply.

When they came to the great pasture, other lights were already
flitting to and fro like will-o'-the-wisps, and Mr. Bhaer's voice was
heard shouting, "Nan! Rob! Rob! Nan!" in every part of the field.
Silas whistled and roared, Dan plunged here and there on Toby,
who seemed to understand the case, and went over the roughest
places with unusual docility. Often Mrs. Jo hushed them all,
saying, with a sob in her throat, "The noise may frighten them, let
me call; Robby will know my voice;" and then she would cry out
the beloved little name in every tone of tenderness, till the very
echoes whispered it softly, and the winds seemed to waft it
willingly; but still no answer came.

The sky was overcast now, and only brief glimpses of the moon
were seen, heat-lightening darted out of the dark clouds now and
then, and a faint far-off rumble as of thunder told that a
summer-storm was brewing.

"O my Robby! my Robby!" mourned poor Mrs. Jo, wandering up
and down like a pale ghost, while Dan kept beside her like a
faithful fire-fly. "What shall I say to Nan's father if she comes to
harm? Why did I ever trust my darling so far away? Fritz, do you
hear any thing?" and when a mournful, "No" came back, she wrung
her hands so despairingly that Dan sprung down from Toby's back,
tied the bridle to the bars, and said, in his decided way,

"They may have gone down the spring I'm going to look."

He was over the wall and away so fast that she could hardly follow
him; but when she reached the spot, he lowered the lantern and
showed her with joy the marks of little feet in the soft ground
about the spring. She fell down on her knees to examine the tracks,
and then sprung up, saying eagerly,

"Yes; that is the mark of my Robby's little boots! Come this way,
they must have gone on."

Such a weary search! But now some inexplicable instinct seemed
to lead the anxious mother, for presently Dan uttered a cry, and
caught up a little shining object lying in the path. It was the cover
of the new tin pail, dropped in the first alarm of being lost. Mrs. Jo
hugged and kissed it as if it were a living thing; and when Dan was
about to utter a glad shout to bring the others to the spot, she
stopped him, saying, as she hurried on, "No, let me find them; I let
Rob go, and I want to give him back to his father all myself."

A little farther on Nan's hat appeared, and after passing the place
more than once, they came at last upon the babes in the wood, both
sound asleep. Dan never forgot the little picture on which the light
of his lantern shone that night. He thought Mrs. Jo would cry out,
but she only whispered, "Hush!" as she softly lifted away the
apron, and saw the little ruddy face below. The berry-stained lips
were half-open as the breath came and went, the yellow hair lay
damp on the hot forehead, and both the chubby hands held fast the
little pail still full.

The sight of the childish harvest, treasured through all the troubles
of that night for her, seemed to touch Mrs. Jo to the heart, for
suddenly she gathered up her boy, and began to cry over him, so
tenderly, yet so heartily, that he woke up, and at first seemed
bewildered. Then he remembered, and hugged her close, saying
with a laugh of triumph,

"I knew you'd come! O Marmar! I did want you so!" For a moment
they kissed and clung to one another, quite forgetting all the world;
for no matter how lost and soiled and worn-out wandering sons
may be, mothers can forgive and forget every thing as they fold
them in their fostering arms. Happy the son whose faith in his
mother remains unchanged, and who, through all his wanderings,
has kept some filial token to repay her brave and tender love.

Dan meantime picked Nan out of her bush, and, with a gentleness
none but Teddy ever saw in him before, he soothed her first alarm
at the sudden waking, and wiped away her tears; for Nan also
began to cry for joy, it was so good to see a kind face and feel a
strong arm round her after what seemed to her ages of loneliness
and fear.

"My poor little girl, don't cry! You are all safe now, and no one
shall say a word of blame to-night," said Mrs. Jo, taking Nan into
her capacious embrace, and cuddling both children as a hen might
gather her lost chickens under her motherly wings.

"It was my fault; but I am sorry. I tried to take care of him, and I
covered him up and let him sleep, and didn't touch his berries,
though I was so hungry; and I never will do it again truly, never,
never," sobbed Nan, quite lost in a sea of penitence and
thankfulness.

"Call them now, and let us get home," said Mrs. Jo; and Dan,
getting upon the wall, sent a joyful word "Found!" ringing over the
field.

How the wandering lights came dancing from all sides, and
gathered round the little group among the sweet fern bushes! Such
a hugging, and kissing, and talking, and crying, as went on must
have amazed the glowworms, and evidently delighted the
mosquitoes, for they hummed frantically, while the little moths
came in flocks to the party, and the frogs croaked as if they could
not express their satisfaction loudly enough.

Then they set out for home, a queer party, for Franz rode on to tell
the news; Dan and Toby led the way; then came Nan in the strong
arms of Silas, who considered her "the smartest little baggage he
ever saw," and teased her all the way home about her pranks. Mrs.
Bhaer would let no one carry Rob but himself, and the little fellow,
refreshed by sleep, sat up, and chattered gayly, feeling himself a
hero, while his mother went beside him holding on to any pat of
his precious little body that came handy, and never tired of hearing
him say, "I knew Marmar would come," or seeing him lean down
to kiss her, and put a plump berry into her mouth, "'Cause he
picked 'em all for her."

The moon shone out just as they reached the avenue, and all the
boys came shouting to meet them, so the lost lambs were borne in
triumph and safety, and landed in the dining-room, where the
unromantic little things demanded supper instead of preferring
kisses and caresses. They were set down to bread and milk, while
the entire household stood round to gaze upon them. Nan soon
recovered her spirits, and recounted her perils with a relish now
that they were all over. Rob seemed absorbed in his food, but put
down his spoon all of a sudden, and set up a doleful roar.

"My precious, why do you cry?" asked his mother, who still hung
over him.

"I'm crying 'cause I was lost," bawled Rob, trying to squeeze out a
tear, and failing entirely.

"But you are found now. Nan says you didn't cry out in the field,
and I was glad you were such a brave boy."

"I was so busy being frightened I didn't have any time then. But I
want to cry now, 'cause I don't like to be lost," explained Rob,
struggling with sleep, emotion, and a mouthful of bread and milk.

The boys set up such a laugh at this funny way of making up for
lost time, that Rob stopped to look at them, and the merriment was
so infectious, that after a surprised stare he burst out into a merry,
"Ha, ha!" and beat his spoon upon the table as if he enjoyed the
joke immensely.

"It is ten o'clock; into bed, every man of you," said Mr. Bhaer,
looking at his watch.

"And, thank Heaven! there will be no empty ones to-night," added
Mrs. Bhaer, watching, with full eyes, Robby going up in his
father's arms, and Nan escorted by Daisy and Demi, who
considered her the most interesting heroine of their collection.

"Poor Aunt Jo is so tired she ought to be carried up herself," said
gentle Franz, putting his arm round her as she paused at the
stair-foot, looking quite exhausted by her fright and long walk.

"Let's make an arm-chair," proposed Tommy.

"No, thank you, my lads; but somebody may lend me a shoulder to
lean on," answered Mrs. Jo.

"Me! me!" and half-a-dozen jostled one another, all eager to be
chosen, for there was something in the pale motherly face that
touched the warm hearts under the round jackets.

Seeing that they considered it an honor, Mrs. Jo gave it to the one
who had earned it, and nobody grumbled when she put her arm on
Dan's broad shoulder, saying, with a look that made him color up
with pride and pleasure,

"He found the children; so I think he must help me up."

Dan felt richly rewarded for his evening's work, not only that he
was chosen from all the rest to go proudly up bearing the lamp, but
because Mrs. Jo said heartily, "Good-night, my boy! God bless
you!" as he left her at her door.

"I wish I was your boy," said Dan, who felt as if danger and trouble
had somehow brought him nearer than ever to her.

"You shall be my oldest son," and she sealed her promise with a
kiss that made Dan hers entirely.

Little Rob was all right next day, but Nan had a headache, and lay
on Mother Bhaer's sofa with cold-cream upon her scratched face.
Her remorse was quite gone, and she evidently thought being lost
rather a fine amusement. Mrs. Jo was not pleased with this state of
things, and had no desire to have her children led from the paths of
virtue, or her pupils lying round loose in huckleberry fields. So she
talked soberly to Nan, and tried to impress upon her mind the
difference between liberty and license, telling several tales to
enforce her lecture. She had not decided how to punish Nan, but
one of these stories suggested a way, and as Mrs. Jo liked odd
penalties, she tried it.

"All children run away," pleaded Nan, as if it was as natural and
necessary a thing as measles or hooping cough.

"Not all, and some who do run away don't get found again,"
answered Mrs. Jo.

"Didn't you do it yourself?" asked Nan, whose keen little eyes saw
some traces of a kindred spirit in the serious lady who was sewing
so morally before her.

Mrs. Jo laughed, and owned that she did.

"Tell about it," demanded Nan, feeling that she was getting the
upper hand in the discussion.

Mrs. Jo saw that, and sobered down at once, saying, with a
remorseful shake of the head,

"I did it a good many times, and led my poor mother rather a hard
life with my pranks, till she cured me."

"How?" and Nan sat up with a face full of interest.

"I had a new pair of shoes once, and wanted to show them; so,
though I was told not to leave the garden, I ran away and was
wandering about all day. It was in the city, and why I wasn't killed
I don't know. Such a time as I had. I frolicked in the park with
dogs, sailed boats in the Back Bay with strange boys, dined with a
little Irish beggar-girl on salt fish and potatoes, and was found at
last fast asleep on a door-step with my arms round a great dog. It
was late in the evening, and I was a dirty as a little pig, and the
new shoes were worn out I had travelled so far."

"How nice!" cried Nan, looking all ready to go and do it herself.

"It was not nice next day;" and Mrs. Jo tried to keep her eyes from
betraying how much she enjoyed the memory of her early capers.

"Did your mother whip you?" asked Nan, curiously.

"She never whipped me but once, and then she begged my pardon,
or I don't think I ever should have forgiven her, it hurt my feelings
so much."

"Why did she beg your pardon? my father don't."

"Because, when she had done it, I turned round and said, 'Well,
you are mad yourself, and ought to be whipped as much as me.'
She looked at me a minute, then her anger all died out, and she
said, as if ashamed, 'You are right, Jo, I am angry; and why should
I punish you for being in a passion when I set you such a bad
example? Forgive me, dear, and let us try to help one another in a
better way.' I never forgot it, and it did me more good than a dozen
rods."

Nan sat thoughtfully turning the little cold-cream jar for a minute,
and Mrs. Jo said nothing, but let that idea get well into the busy
little mind that was so quick to see and feel what went on about
her.

"I like that," said Nan, presently, and her face looked less elfish,
with its sharp eyes, inquisitive nose, and mischievous mouth.
"What did your mother do to you when you ran away that time?"

"She tied me to the bed-post with a long string, so that I could not
go out of the room, and there I stayed all day with the little
worn-out shoes hanging up before me to remind me of my fault."

"I should think that would cure anybody," cried Nan, who loved
her liberty above all things.

"It did cure me, and I think it will you, so I am going to try it," said
Mrs. Jo, suddenly taking a ball of strong twine out of a drawer in
her work-table.

Nan looked as if she was decidedly getting the worst of the
argument now, and sat feeling much crestfallen while Mrs. Jo tied
one end round her waist and the other to the arm of the sofa,
saying, as she finished,

"I don't like to tie you up like a naughty little dog, but if you don't
remember any better than a dog, I must treat you like one."

"I'd just as lief be tied up as not I like to play dog;" and Nan put on
a don't-care face, and began to growl and grovel on the floor.

Mrs. Jo took no notice, but leaving a book or two and a
handkerchief to hem, she went away, and left Miss Nan to her own
devices. This was not agreeable, and after sitting a moment she
tried to untie the cord. But it was fastened in the belt of her apron
behind, so she began on the knot at the other end. It soon came
loose, and, gathering it up, Nan was about to get out of the
window, when she heard Mrs. Jo say to somebody as she passed
through the hall,

"No, I don't think she will run away now; she is an honorable little
girl, and knows that I do it to help her."

In a minute, Nan whisked back, tied herself up, and began to sew
violently. Rob came in a moment after, and was so charmed with
the new punishment, that he got a jump-rope and tethered himself
to the other arm of the sofa in the most social manner.

"I got lost too, so I ought to be tied up as much as Nan," he
explained to his mother when she saw the new captive.

"I'm not sure that you don't deserve a little punishment, for you
knew it was wrong to go far away from the rest."

"Nan took me," began Rob, willing to enjoy the novel penalty, but
not willing to take the blame.

"You needn't have gone. You have got a conscience, though you
are a little boy, and you must learn to mind it."

"Well, my conscience didn't prick me a bit when she said 'Let's get
over the wall,' " answered Rob, quoting one of Demi's expressions.

"Did you stop to see if it did?"

"No."

"Then you cannot tell."

"I guess it's such a little conscience that it don't prick hard enough
for me to feel it," added Rob, after thinking the matter over for a
minute.

"We must sharpen it up. It's bad to have a dull conscience; so you
may stay here till dinner-time, and talk about it with Nan. I trust
you both not to untie yourselves till I say the word."

"No, we won't," said both, feeling a certain sense of virtue in
helping to punish themselves.

For an hour they were very good, then they grew tired of one room,
and longed to get out. Never had the hall seemed so inviting; even
the little bedroom acquired a sudden interest, and they would
gladly have gone in and played tent with the curtains of the best
bed. The open windows drove them wild because they could not
reach them; and the outer world seemed so beautiful, they
wondered how they ever found the heart to say it was dull. Nan
pined for a race round the lawn, and Rob remembered with dismay
that he had not fed his dog that morning, and wondered what poor
Pollux would do. They watched the clock, and Nan did some nice
calculations in minutes and seconds, while Rob learned to tell all
the hours between eight and one so well that he never forgot them.
It was maddening to smell the dinner, to know that there was to be
succotash and huckleberry pudding, and to feel that they would not
be on the spot to secure good helps of both. When Mary Ann
began to set the table, they nearly cut themselves in two trying to
see what meat there was to be; and Nan offered to help her make
the beds, if she would only see that she had "lots of sauce on her
pudding."

When the boys came bursting out of school, they found the
children tugging at their halters like a pair of restive little colts,
and were much edified, as well as amused, by the sequel to the
exciting adventures of the night.

"Untie me now, Marmar; my conscience will prick like a pin next
time, I know it will," said Rob, as the bell rang, and Teddy came to
look at him with sorrowful surprise.

"We shall see," answered his mother, setting him free. He took a
good run down the hall, back through the dining-room, and
brought up beside Nan, quite beaming with virtuous satisfaction.

"I'll bring her dinner to her, may I?" he asked, pitying his
fellow-captive.

"That's my kind little son! Yes, pull out the table, and get a chair;"
and Mrs. Jo hurried away to quell the ardor of the others, who
were always in a raging state of hunger at noon.

Nan ate alone, and spent a long afternoon attached to the sofa.
Mrs. Bhaer lengthened her bonds so that she could look out of the
window; and there she stood watching the boys play, and all the
little summer creatures enjoying their liberty. Daisy had a picnic
for the dolls on the lawn, so that Nan might see the fun if she could
not join in it. Tommy turned his best somersaults to console her;
Demi sat on the steps reading aloud to himself, which amused Nan
a good deal; and Dan brought a little tree-toad to show her as the
most delicate attention in his power.

But nothing atoned for the loss of freedom; and a few hours of
confinement taught Nan how precious it was. A good many
thoughts went through the little head that lay on the window-sill
during the last quiet hour when all the children went to the brook
to see Emil's new ship launched. She was to have christened it, and
had depended on smashing a tiny bottle of currant-wine over the
prow as it was named Josephine in honor of Mrs. Bhaer. Now she
had lost her chance, and Daisy wouldn't do it half so well. Tears
rose to her eyes as she remembered that it was all her own fault;
and she said aloud, addressing a fat bee who was rolling about in
the yellow heart of a rose just under the window,

"If you have run away, you'd better go right home, and tell your
mother you are sorry, and never do so any more."

"I am glad to hear you give him such good advice, and I think he
has taken it," said Mrs. Jo, smiling, as the bee spread his dusty
wings and flew away.

Nan brushed off a bright drop or two that shone on the
window-sill, and nestled against her friend as she took her on her
knee, adding kindly for she had seen the little drops, and knew
what they meant

"Do you think my mother's cure for running away a good one?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered Nan, quite subdued by her quiet day.

"I hope I shall not have to try it again."

"I guess not;" and Nan looked up with such an earnest little face
that Mrs. Jo felt satisfied, and said no more, for she liked to have
her penalties do their own work, and did not spoil the effect by too
much moralizing.

Here Rob appeared, bearing with infinite care what Asia called a
"sarcer pie," meaning one baked in a saucer.

"It's made out of some of my berries, and I'm going to give you half
at supper-time," he announced with a flourish.

"What makes you, when I'm so naughty?" asked Nan, meekly.

"Because we got lost together. You ain't going to be naughty again,
are you?"

"Never," said Nan, with great decision.

"Oh, goody! now let's go and get Mary Ann to cut this for us all
ready to eat; it's 'most tea time;" and Rob beckoned with the
delicious little pie.

Nan started to follow, then stopped, and said,

"I forgot, I can't go."

"Try and see," said Mrs. Bhaer, who had quietly untied the cord
sash while she had been talking.

Nan saw that she was free, and with one tempestuous kiss to Mrs.
Jo, she was off like a humming-bird, followed by Robby, dribbling
huckleberry juice as he ran.

CHAPTER XIII GOLDILOCKS

After the last excitement peace descended upon Plumfield and
reigned unbroken for several weeks, for the elder boys felt that the
loss of Nan and Rob lay at their door, and all became so paternal
in their care that they were rather wearying; while the little ones
listened to Nan's recital of her perils so many times, that they
regarded being lost as the greatest ill humanity was heir to, and
hardly dared to put their little noses outside the great gate lest
night should suddenly descend upon them, and ghostly black cows
come looming through the dusk.

"It is too good to last," said Mrs. Jo; for years of boy-culture had
taught her that such lulls were usually followed by outbreaks of
some sort, and when less wise women would have thought that the
boys had become confirmed saints, she prepared herself for a
sudden eruption of the domestic volcano.

One cause of this welcome calm was a visit from little Bess,
whose parents lent her for a week while they were away with
Grandpa Laurence, who was poorly. The boys regarded Goldilocks
as a mixture of child, angel, and fairy, for she was a lovely little
creature, and the golden hair which she inherited from her blonde
mamma enveloped her like a shining veil, behind which she
smiled upon her worshippers when gracious, and hid herself when
offended. Her father would not have it cut and it hung below her
waist, so soft and fine and bright, that Demi insisted that it was
silk spun from a cocoon. Every one praised the little Princess, but
it did not seem to do her harm, only to teach her that her presence
brought sunshine, her smiles made answering smiles on other
faces, and her baby griefs filled every heart with tenderest
sympathy.

Unconsciously, she did her young subjects more good than many a
real sovereign, for her rule was very gentle and her power was felt
rather than seen. Her natural refinement made her dainty in all
things, and had a good effect upon the careless lads about her. She
would let no one touch her roughly or with unclean hands, and
more soap was used during her visits than at any other time,
because the boys considered it the highest honor to be allowed to
carry her highness, and the deepest disgrace to be repulsed with
the disdainful command, "Do away, dirty boy!"

Lour voices displeased her and quarrelling frightened her; so
gentler tones came into the boyish voices as they addressed her,
and squabbles were promptly suppressed in her presence by
lookers-on if the principles could not restrain themselves. She
liked to be waited on, and the biggest boys did her little errands
without a murmur, while the small lads were her devoted slaves in
all things. They begged to be allowed to draw her carriage, bear
her berry-basket, or pass her plate at table. No service was too
humble, and Tommy and Ned came to blows before they could
decide which should have the honor of blacking her little boots.

Nan was especially benefited by a week in the society of a
well-bred lady, though such a very small one; for Bess would look
at her with a mixture of wonder and alarm in her great blue eyes
when the hoyden screamed and romped; and she shrunk from her
as if she thought her a sort of wild animal. Warm-hearted Nan felt
this very much. She said at first, "Pooh! I don't care!" But she did
care, and was so hurt when Bess said, "I love my tuzzin best, tause
she is twiet," that she shook poor Daisy till her teeth chattered in
her head, and then fled to the barn to cry dismally. In that general
refuge for perturbed spirits she found comfort and good counsel
from some source or other. Perhaps the swallows from their
mud-built nests overhead twittered her a little lecture on the beauty
of gentleness. However that might have been, she came out quite
subdued, and carefully searched the orchard for a certain kind of
early apple that Bess liked because it was sweet and small and
rosy. Armed with this peace-offering, she approached the little
Princess, and humbly presented it. To her great joy it was
graciously accepted, and when Daisy gave Nan a forgiving kiss,
Bess did likewise, as if she felt that she had been too severe, and
desired to apologize. After this they played pleasantly together,
and Nan enjoyed the royal favor for days. To be sure she felt a
little like a wild bird in a pretty cage at first, and occasionally had
to slip out to stretch her wings in a long flight, or to sing at the top
of her voice, where neither would disturb the plump turtle-dove
Daisy, nor the dainty golden canary Bess. But it did her good; for,
seeing how every one loved the little Princess for her small graces
and virtues, she began to imitate her, because Nan wanted much
love, and tried hard to win it.

Not a boy in the house but felt the pretty child's influence, and was
improved by it without exactly knowing how or why, for babies
can work miracles in the hearts that love them. Poor Billy found
infinite satisfaction in staring at her, and though she did not like it
she permitted without a frown, after she had been made to
understand that he was not quite like the others, and on that
account must be more kindly treated. Dick and Dolly
overwhelmed her with willow whistles, the only thing they knew
how to make, and she accepted but never used them. Rob served
her like a little lover, and Teddy followed her like a pet dog. Jack
she did not like, because he was afflicted with warts and had a
harsh voice. Stuffy displeased her because he did not eat tidily, and
George tried hard not to gobble, that he might not disgust the
dainty little lady opposite. Ned was banished from court in utter
disgrace when he was discovered tormenting some unhappy
field-mice. Goldilocks could never forget the sad spectacle, and
retired behind her veil when he approached, waving him away
with an imperious little hand, and crying, in a tone of mingled
grief and anger,

"No, I tarn't love him; he tut the poor mouses' little tails off, and
they queeked!"

Daisy promptly abdicated when Bess came, and took the humble
post of chief cook, while Nan was first maid of honor; Emil was
chancellor of the exchequer, and spent the public monies lavishly
in getting up spectacles that cost whole ninepences. Franz was
prime minister, and directed her affairs of state, planned royal
progresses through the kingdom, and kept foreign powers in order.
Demi was her philosopher, and fared much better than such
gentlemen usually do among crowned heads. Dan was her standing
army, and defended her territories gallantly; Tommy was court
fool, and Nat a tuneful Rizzio to this innocent little Mary.

Uncle Fritz and Aunt Jo enjoyed this peaceful episode, and looked
on at the pretty play in which the young folk unconsciously
imitated their elders, without adding the tragedy that is so apt to
spoil the dramas acted on the larger stage.

"They teach us quite as much as we teach them," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Bless the dears! they never guess how many hints they give us as
to the best way of managing them," answered Mrs. Jo.

"I think you were right about the good effect of having girls among
the boys. Nan has stirred up Daisy, and Bess is teaching the little
bears how to behave better than we can. If this reformation goes on
as it has begun, I shall soon feel like Dr. Blimber with his model
young gentlemen," said Professor, laughing, as he saw Tommy not
only remove his own hat, but knock off Ned's also, as they entered
the hall where the Princess was taking a ride on the rocking-horse,
attended by Rob and Teddy astride of chairs, and playing gallant
knights to the best of their ability.

"You will never be a Blimber, Fritz, you couldn't do it if you tried;
and our boys will never submit to the forcing process of that
famous hot-bed. No fear that they will be too elegant: American
boys like liberty too well. But good manners they cannot fail to
have, if we give them the kindly spirit that shines through the
simplest demeanor, making it courteous and cordial, like yours,
my dear old boy."

"Tut! tut! we will not compliment; for if I begin you will run away,
and I have a wish to enjoy this happy half hour to the end;" yet Mr.
Bhaer looked pleased with the compliment, for it was true, and
Mrs. Jo felt that she had received the best her husband could give
her, by saying that he found his truest rest and happiness in her
society.

"To return to the children: I have just had another proof of
Goldilocks' good influence," said Mrs. Jo, drawing her chair nearer
the sofa, where the Professor lay resting after a long day's work in
his various gardens. "Nan hates sewing, but for love of Bess has
been toiling half the afternoon over a remarkable bag in which to
present a dozen of our love-apples to her idol when she goes. I
praised her for it, and she said, in her quick way, 'I like to sew for
other people; it is stupid sewing for myself.' I took the hint, and
shall give her some little shirts and aprons for Mrs. Carney's
children. She is so generous, she will sew her fingers sore for
them, and I shall not have to make a task of it."

"But needlework is not a fashionable accomplishment, my dear."

"Sorry for it. My girls shall learn all I can teach them about it, even
if they give up the Latin, Algebra, and half-a-dozen ologies it is
considered necessary for girls to muddle their poor brains over
now-a-days. Amy means to make Bess an accomplished woman,
but the dear's mite of a forefinger has little pricks on it already,
and her mother has several specimens of needlework which she
values more than the clay bird without a bill, that filled Laurie
with such pride when Bess made it."

"I also have proof of the Princess's power," said Mrs. Bhaer, after
he had watched Mrs. Jo sew on a button with an air of scorn for
the whole system of fashionable education. "Jack is so unwilling to
be classed with Stuffy and Ned, as distasteful to Bess, that he came
to me a little while ago, and asked me to touch his warts with
caustic. I have often proposed it, and he never would consent; but
now he bore the smart manfully, and consoles his present
discomfort by hopes of future favor, when he can show her
fastidious ladyship a smooth hand."

Mrs. Bhaer laughed at the story, and just then Stuffy came in to ask
if he might give Goldilocks some of the bonbons his mother had
sent him.

"She is not allowed to eat sweeties; but if you like to give her the
pretty box with the pink sugar-rose in it, she would like it very
much," said Mrs. Jo, unwilling to spoil this unusual piece of
self-denial, for the "fat boy" seldom offered to share his
sugar-plums.

"Won't she eat it? I shouldn't like to make her sick," said Stuffy,
eyeing the delicate sweetmeat lovingly, yet putting it into the box.

"Oh, no, she won't touch it, if I tell her it is to look at, not to eat.
She will keep it for weeks, and never think of tasting it. Can you
do as much?"

"I should hope so! I'm ever so much older than she is," cried
Stuffy, indignantly.

"Well, suppose we try. Here, put your bonbons in this bag, and see
how long you can keep them. Let me count two hearts, four red
fishes, three barley-sugar horses, nine almonds, and a dozen
chocolate drops. Do you agree to that?" asked sly Mrs. Jo, popping
the sweeties into her little spool-bag.

"Yes," said Stuffy, with a sigh; and pocketing the forbidden fruit,
he went away to give Bess the present, that won a smile from her,
and permission to escort her round the garden.

"Poor Stuffy's heart has really got the better of his stomach at last,
and his efforts will be much encouraged by the rewards Bess gives
him," said Mrs. Jo.

"Happy is the man who can put temptation in his pocket and learn
self-denial from so sweet a little teacher!" added Mr. Bhaer, as the
children passed the window, Stuffy's fat face full of placid
satisfaction, and Goldilocks surveying her sugar-rose with polite
interest, though she would have preferred a real flower with a
"pitty smell."

When her father came to take her home, a universal wail arose,
and the parting gifts showered upon her increased her luggage to
such an extent that Mr. Laurie proposed having out the big wagon
to take it into town. Every one had given her something; and it was
found difficult to pack white mice, cake, a parcel of shells, apples,
a rabbit kicking violently in a bag, a large cabbage for his
refreshment, a bottle of minnows, and a mammoth bouquet. The
farewell scene was moving, for the Princess sat upon the
hall-table, surrounded by her subjects. She kissed her cousins, and
held out her hand to the other boys, who shook it gently with
various soft speeches, for they were taught not to be ashamed of
showing their emotions.

"Come again soon, little dear," whispered Dan, fastening his best
green-and-gold beetle in her hat.

"Don't forget me, Princess, whatever you do," said the engaging
Tommy, taking a last stroke of the pretty hair.

"I am coming to your house next week, and then I shall see you,
Bess," added Nat, as if he found consolation in the thought.

"Do shake hands now," cried Jack, offering a smooth paw.

"Here are two nice new ones to remember us by," said Dick and
Dolly, presenting fresh whistles, quite unconscious that seven old
ones had been privately deposited in the kitchen-stove.

"My little precious! I shall work you a book-mark right away, and
you must keep it always," said Nan, with a warm embrace.

But of all the farewells, poor Billy's was the most pathetic, for the
thought that she was really going became so unbearable that he
cast himself down before her, hugging her little blue boots and
blubbering despairingly, "Don't go away! oh, don't!" Goldilocks
was so touched by this burst of feeling, that she leaned over and
lifting the poor lad's head, said, in her soft, little voice,

"Don't cry, poor Billy! I will tiss you and tum adain soon."

This promise consoled Billy, and he fell back beaming with pride
at the unusual honor conferred upon him.

"Me too! me too!" clamored Dick and Dolly, feeling that their
devotion deserved some return. The others looked as if they would
like to join in the cry; and something in the kind, merry faces
about her moved the Princess to stretch out her arms and say, with
reckless condescension,

"I will tiss evvybody!"

Like a swarm of bees about a very sweet flower, the affectionate
lads surrounded their pretty playmate, and kissed her till she
looked like a little rose, not roughly, but so enthusiastically that
nothing but the crown of her hat was visible for a moment. Then
her father rescued her, and she drove away still smiling and
waving her hands, while the boys sat on the fence screaming like a
flock of guinea-fowls, "Come back! come back!" till she was out
of sight.

They all missed her, and each dimly felt that he was better for
having known a creature so lovely, delicate, and sweet; for little
Bess appealed to the chivalrous instinct in them as something to
love, admire, and protect with a tender sort of reverence. Many a
man remembers some pretty child who has made a place in his
heart and kept her memory alive by the simple magic of her
innocence; these little men were just learning to feel this power,
and to love it for its gentle influence, not ashamed to let the small
hand lead them, nor to own their loyalty to womankind, even in
the bud.

CHAPTER XIV DAMON AND PYTHIAS

Mrs. Bhaer was right; peace was only a temporary lull, a storm
was brewing, and two days after Bess left, a moral earthquake
shook Plumfield to its centre.

Tommy's hens were at the bottom of the trouble, for if they had not
persisted in laying so many eggs, he could not have sold them and
made such sums. Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a
useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can
without potatoes. Tommy certainly could not, for he spent his
income so recklessly, that Mr. Bhaer was obliged to insist on a
savings-bank, and presented him with a private one an imposing
tin edifice, with the name over the door, and a tall chimney, down
which the pennies were to go, there to rattle temptingly till leave
was given to open a sort of trap-door in the floor.

The house increased in weight so rapidly, that Tommy soon
became satisfied with his investment, and planned to buy
unheard-of treasures with his capital. He kept account of the sums
deposited, and was promised that he might break the bank as soon
as he had five dollars, on condition that he spent the money wisely.
Only one dollar was needed, and the day Mrs. Jo paid him for four
dozen eggs, he was so delighted, that he raced off to the barn to
display the bright quarters to Nat, who was also laying by money
for the long-desired violin.

"I wish I had 'em to put with my three dollars, then I'd soon get
enough to buy my fiddle," he said, looking wistfully at the money.

"P'raps I'll lend you some. I haven't decided yet what I'll do with
mine," said Tommy, tossing up his quarters and catching them as
they fell.

"Hi! boys! come down to the brook and see what a jolly great
snake Dan's got!" called a voice from behind the barn.

"Come on," said Tommy; and, laying his money inside the old
winnowing machine, away he ran, followed by Nat.

The snake was very interesting, and then a long chase after a lame
crow, and its capture, so absorbed Tommy's mind and time, that he
never thought of his money till he was safely in bed that night.

"Never mind, no one but Nat knows where it is," said the
easy-going lad, and fell asleep untroubled by any anxiety about his
property.

Next morning, just as the boys assembled for school, Tommy
rushed into the room breathlessly, demanding,

"I say, who has got my dollar?"

"What are you talking about?" asked Franz.

Tommy explained, and Nat corroborated his statement.

Every one else declared they knew nothing about it, and began to
look suspiciously at Nat, who got more and more alarmed and
confused with each denial.

"Somebody must have taken it," said Franz, as Tommy shook his
fist at the whole party, and wrathfully declared that

"By thunder turtles! if I get hold of the thief, I'll give him what he
won't forget in a hurry."

"Keep cool, Tom; we shall find him out; thieves always come to
grief," said Dan, as one who knew something of the matter.

"May be some tramp slept in the barn and took it," suggested Ned.

"No, Silas don't allow that; besides, a tramp wouldn't go looking in
that old machine for money," said Emil, with scorn.

"Wasn't it Silas himself?" said Jack.

"Well, I like that! Old Si is as honest as daylight. You wouldn't
catch him touching a penny of ours," said Tommy, handsomely
defending his chief admirer from suspicion.

"Whoever it was had better tell, and not wait to be found out," said
Demi, looking as if an awful misfortune had befallen the family.

"I know you think it's me," broke out Nat, red and excited.

"You are the only one who knew where it was," said Franz.

"I can't help it I didn't take it. I tell you I didn't I didn't!" cried Nat,
in a desperate sort of way.

"Gently, gently, my son! What is all this noise about?" and Mr.
Bhaer walked in among them.

Tommy repeated the story of his loss, and, as he listened, Mr.
Bhaer's face grew graver and graver; for, with all their faults and
follies, the lads till now had been honest.

"Take your seats," he said; and, when all were in their places, he
added slowly, as his eye went from face to face with a grieved
look, that was harder to bear than a storm of words,

"Now, boys, I shall ask each one of you a single question, and I
want an honest answer. I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or
surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a
conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the
wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can
forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can
deceit. Don't add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will
all try to help you make us forget and forgive."

He paused a moment, and one might have heard a pin drop, the
room was so still; then slowly and impressively he put the question
to each one, receiving the same answer in varying tones from all.
Every face was flushed and excited, so that Mr. Bhaer could not
take color as a witness, and some of the little boys were so
frightened that they stammered over the two short words as if
guilty, though it was evident that they could not be. When he came
to Nat, his voice softened, for the poor lad looked so wretched, Mr.
Bhaer felt for him. He believed him to be the culprit, and hoped to
save the boy from another lie, by winning him to tell the truth
without fear.

"Now, my son, give me an honest answer. Did you take the
money?"

"No, sir!" and Nat looked up at him imploringly.

As the words fell from his trembling lips, somebody hissed.

"Stop that!" cried Mr. Bhaer, with a sharp rap on his desk, as he
looked sternly toward the corner whence the sound came.

Ned, Jack, and Emil sat there, and the first two looked ashamed of
themselves, but Emil called out,

"It wasn't me, uncle! I'd be ashamed to hit a fellow when he is
down."

"Good for you!" cried Tommy, who was in a sad state of affliction
at the trouble his unlucky dollar had made.

"Silence!" commanded Mr. Bhaer; and when it came, he said
soberly,

"I am very sorry, Nat, but evidences are against you, and your old
fault makes us more ready to doubt you than we should be if we
could trust you as we do some of the boys, who never fib. But
mind, my child, I do not charge you with this theft; I shall not
punish you for it till I am perfectly sure, nor ask any thing more
about it. I shall leave it for you to settle with your own conscience.
If you are guilty, come to me at any hour of the day or night and
confess it, and I will forgive and help you to amend. If you are
innocent, the truth will appear sooner or later, and the instant it
does, I will be the first to beg your pardon for doubting you, and
will so gladly do my best to clear your character before us all."

"I didn't! I didn't!" sobbed Nat, with his head down upon his arms,
for he could not bear the look of distrust and dislike which he read
in the many eyes fixed on him.

"I hope not." Mr. Bhaer paused a minute, as if to give the culprit,
whoever he might be, one more chance. Nobody spoke, however,
and only sniffs of sympathy from some of the little fellows broke
the silence. Mr. Bhaer shook his head, and added, regretfully,

"There is nothing more to be done, then, and I have but one thing
to say: I shall not speak of this again, and I wish you all to follow
my example. I cannot expect you to feel as kindly toward any one
whom you suspect as before this happened, but I do expect and
desire that you will not torment the suspected person in any way,
he will have a hard enough time without that. Now go to your
lessons."

"Father Bhaer let Nat off too easy," muttered Ned to Emil, as they
got out their books.

"Hold your tongue," growled Emil, who felt that this event was a
blot upon the family honor.

Many of the boys agreed with Ned, but Mr. Bhaer was right,
nevertheless; and Nat would have been wiser to confess on the
spot and have the trouble over, for even the hardest whipping he
ever received from his father was far easier to bear than the cold
looks, the avoidance, and general suspicion that met him on all
sides. If ever a boy was sent to Coventry and kept there, it was
poor Nat; and he suffered a week of slow torture, though not a
hand was raised against him, and hardly a word said.

That was the worst of it; if they would only have talked it out, or
even have thrashed him all round, he could have stood it better
than the silent distrust that made very face so terrible to meet.
Even Mrs. Bhaer's showed traces of it, though her manner was
nearly as kind as ever; but the sorrowful anxious look in Father
Bhaer's eyes cut Nat to the heart, for he loved his teacher dearly,
and knew that he had disappointed all his hopes by this double sin.

Only one person in the house entirely believed in him, and stood
up for him stoutly against all the rest. This was Daisy. She could
not explain why she trusted him against all appearances, she only
felt that she could not doubt him, and her warm sympathy made
her strong to take his part. She would not hear a word against him
from any one, and actually slapped her beloved Demi when he
tried to convince her that it must have been Nat, because no one
else knew where the money was.

"Maybe the hens ate it; they are greedy old things," she said; and
when Demi laughed, she lost her temper, slapped the amazed boy,
and then burst out crying and ran away, still declaring, "He didn't!
he didn't! he didn't!"

Neither aunt nor uncle tried to shake the child's faith in her friend,
but only hoped her innocent instinct might prove sure, and loved
her all the better for it. Nat often said, after it was over, that he
couldn't have stood it, if it had not been for Daisy. When the others
shunned him, she clung to him closer than ever, and turned her
back on the rest. She did not sit on the stairs now when he solaced
himself with the old fiddle, but went in and sat beside him,
listening with a face so full of confidence and affection, that Nat
forgot disgrace for a time, and was happy. She asked him to help
her with her lessons, she cooked him marvelous messes in her
kitchen, which he ate manfully, no matter what they were, for
gratitude gave a sweet flavor to the most distasteful. She proposed
impossible games of cricket and ball, when she found that he
shrank from joining the other boys. She put little nosegays from
her garden on his desk, and tried in every way to show that she was
not a fair-weather friend, but faithful through evil as well as good
repute. Nan soon followed her example, in kindness at least;
curbed her sharp tongue, and kept her scornful little nose from any
demonstration of doubt or dislike, which was good of Madame
Giddy-gaddy, for she firmly believed that Nat took the money.

Most of the boys let him severely alone, but Dan, though he said
he despised him for being a coward, watched over him with a grim
sort of protection, and promptly cuffed any lad who dared to
molest his mate or make him afraid. His idea of friendship was as
high as Daisy's, and, in his own rough way, he lived up to it as
loyally.

Sitting by the brook one afternoon, absorbed in the study of the
domestic habits of water-spiders, he overheard a bit of
conversation on the other side of the wall. Ned, who was intensely
inquisitive, had been on tenterhooks to know certainly who was
the culprit; for of late one or two of the boys had begun to think
that they were wrong, Nat was so steadfast in his denials, and so
meek in his endurance of their neglect. This doubt had teased Ned
past bearing, and he had several times privately beset Nat with
questions, regardless of Mr. Bhaer's express command. Finding
Nat reading alone on the shady side of the wall, Ned could not
resist stopping for a nibble at the forbidden subject. He had
worried Nat for some ten minutes before Dan arrived, and the first
words the spider-student heard were these, in Nat's patient,
pleading voice,

"Don't, Ned! oh, don't! I can't tell you because I don't know, and it's
mean of you to keep nagging at me on the sly, when Father Bhaer
told you not to plague me. You wouldn't dare to if Dan was round."

"I ain't afraid of Dan; he's nothing but an old bully. Don't believe
but what he took Tom's money, and you know it, and won't tell.
Come, now!"

"He didn't, but, if he did, I would stand up for him, he has always
been so good to me," said Nat, so earnestly that Dan forgot his
spiders, and rose quickly to thank him, but Ned's next words
arrested him.

"I know Dan did it, and gave the money to you. Shouldn't wonder
if he got his living picking pockets before he came here, for
nobody knows any thing about him but you," said Ned, not
believing his own words, but hoping to get the truth out of Nat by
making him angry.

He succeeded in a part of his ungenerous wish, for Nat cried out,
fiercely,

"If you say that again I'll go and tell Mr. Bhaer all about it. I don't
want to tell tales, but, by George! I will, if you don't let Dan
alone."

"Then you'll be a sneak, as well as a liar and a thief," began Ned,
with a jeer, for Nat had borne insult to himself so meekly, the
other did not believe he would dare to face the master just to stand
up for Dan.

What he might have added I cannot tell, for the words were hardly
out of his mouth when a long arm from behind took him by the
collar, and, jerking him over the wall in a most promiscuous way,
landed him with a splash in the middle of the brook.

"Say that again and I'll duck you till you can't see!" cried Dan,
looking like a modern Colossus of Rhodes as he stood, with a foot
on either side of the narrow stream, glaring down at the
discomfited youth in the water.

"I was only in fun," said Ned.

"You are a sneak yourself to badger Nat round the corner. Let me
catch you at it again, and I'll souse you in the river next time. Get
up, and clear out!" thundered Dan, in a rage.

Ned fled, dripping, and his impromptu sitz-bath evidently did him
good, for he was very respectful to both the boys after that, and
seemed to have left his curiosity in the brook. As he vanished Dan
jumped over the wall, and found Nat lying, as if quite worn out
and bowed down with his troubles.

"He won't pester you again, I guess. If he does, just tell me, and I'll
see to him," said Dan, trying to cool down.

"I don't mind what he says about me so much, I've got used to it,"
answered Nat sadly; "but I hate to have him pitch into you."

"How do you know he isn't right?" asked Dan, turning his face
away.

"What, about the money?" cried Nat, looking up with a startled air.

"Yes."

"But I don't believe it! You don't care for money; all you want is
your old bugs and things," and Nat laughed, incredulously.

"I want a butterfly net as much as you want a fiddle; why shouldn't
I steal the money for it as much as you?" said Dan, still turning
away, and busily punching holes in the turf with his stick.

"I don't think you would. You like to fight and knock folks round
sometimes, but you don't lie, and I don't believe you'd steal," and
Nat shook his head decidedly.

"I've done both. I used to fib like fury; it's too much trouble now;
and I stole things to eat out of gardens when I ran away from Page,
so you see I am a bad lot," said Dan, speaking in the rough,
reckless way which he had been learning to drop lately.

"O Dan! don't say it's you! I'd rather have it any of the other boys,"
cried Nat, in such a distressed tone that Dan looked pleased, and
showed that he did, by turning round with a queer expression in his
face, though he only answered,

"I won't say any thing about it. But don't you fret, and we'll pull
through somehow, see if we don't."

Something in his face and manner gave Nat a new idea; and he
said, pressing his hands together, in the eagerness of his appeal,

"I think you know who did it. If you do, beg him to tell, Dan. It's so
hard to have 'em all hate me for nothing. I don't think I can bear it
much longer. If I had any place to go to, I'd run away, though I love
Plumfield dearly; but I'm not brave and big like you, so I must stay
and wait till some one shows them that I haven't lied."

As he spoke, Nat looked so broken and despairing, that Dan could
not bear it, and, muttered huskily,

"You won't wait long," and he walked rapidly away, and was seen
no more for hours.

"What is the matter with Dan?" asked the boys of one another
several times during the Sunday that followed a week which
seemed as if it would never end. Dan was often moody, but that
day he was so sober and silent that no one could get any thing out
of him. When they walked he strayed away from the rest, and
came home late. He took no part in the evening conversation, but
sat in the shadow, so busy with his own thoughts that he scarcely
seemed to hear what was going on. When Mrs. Jo showed him an
unusually good report in the Conscience Book, he looked at it
without a smile, and said, wistfully,

"You think I am getting on, don't you?"

"Excellently, Dan! and I am so pleased, because I always thought
you only needed a little help to make you a boy to be proud of."

He looked up at her with a strange expression in his black eyes an
expression of mingled pride and love and sorrow which she could
not understand then but remembered afterward.

"I'm afraid you'll be disappointed, but I do try," he said, shutting
the book with no sign of pleasure in the page that he usually liked
so much to read over and talk about.

"Are you sick, dear?" asked Mrs. Jo, with her hand on his shoulder.

"My foot aches a little; I guess I'll go to bed. Good-night, mother,"
he added, and held the hand against his cheek a minute, then went
away looking as if he had said good-bye to something dear.

"Poor Dan! he takes Nat's disgrace to heart sadly. He is a strange
boy; I wonder if I ever shall understand him thoroughly?" said Mrs.
Jo to herself, as she thought over Dan's late improvement with real
satisfaction, yet felt that there was more in the lad than she had at
first suspected.

One of things which cut Nat most deeply was an act of Tommy's,
for after his loss Tommy had said to him, kindly, but firmly,

"I don't wish to hurt you, Nat, but you see I can't afford to lose my
money, so I guess we won't be partners any longer;" and with that
Tommy rubbed out the sign, "T. Bangs & Co."

Nat had been very proud of the "Co.," and had hunted eggs
industriously, kept his accounts all straight, and had added a good
sum to his income from the sale of his share of stock in trade.

"O Tom! must you?" he said, feeling that his good name was gone
for ever in the business world if this was done.

"I must," returned Tommy, firmly. "Emil says that when one man
'bezzles (believe that's the word it means to take money and cut
away with it) the property of a firm, the other one sues him, or
pitches into him somehow, and won't have any thing more to do
with him. Now you have 'bezzled my property; I shan't sue you,
and I shan't pitch into you, but I must dissolve the partnership,
because I can't trust you, and I don't wish to fail."

"I can't make you believe me, and you won't take my money,
though I'd be thankful to give all my dollars if you'd only say you
don't think I took your money. Do let me hunt for you, I won't ask
any wages, but do it for nothing. I know all the places, and I like
it," pleaded Nat.

But Tommy shook his head, and his jolly round face looked
suspicious and hard as he said, shortly, "Can't do it; wish you didn't
know the places. Mind you don't go hunting on the sly, and
speculate in my eggs."

Poor Nat was so hurt that he could not get over it. He felt that he
had lost not only his partner and patron, but that he was bankrupt
in honor, and an outlaw from the business community. No one
trusted his word, written or spoken, in spite of his efforts to
redeem the past falsehood; the sign was down, the firm broken up,
and he a ruined man. The barn, which was the boys' Wall Street,
knew him no more. Cockletop and her sisters cackled for him in
vain, and really seemed to take his misfortune to heart, for eggs
were fewer, and some of the biddies retired in disgust to new nests,
which Tommy could not find.

"They trust me," said Nat, when he heard of it; and though the boys
shouted at the idea, Nat found comfort in it, for when one is down
in the world, the confidence of even a speckled hen is most
consoling.

Tommy took no new partner, however, for distrust had entered in,
and poisoned the peace of his once confiding soul. Ned offered to
join him, but he declined, saying, with a sense of justice that did
him honor,

"It might turn out that Nat didn't take my money, and then we
could be partners again. I don't think it will happen, but I will give
him a chance, and keep the place open a little longer."

Billy was the only person whom Bangs felt he could trust in his
shop, and Billy was trained to hunt eggs, and hand them over
unbroken, being quite satisfied with an apple or a sugar-plum for
wages. The morning after Dan's gloomy Sunday, Billy said to his
employer, as he displayed the results of a long hunt,

"Only two."

"It gets worse and worse; I never saw such provoking old hens,"
growled Tommy, thinking of the days when he often had six to
rejoice over. "Well, put 'em in my hat and give me a new bit of
chalk; I must mark 'em up, any way."

Billy mounted a peck-measure, and looked into the top of the
machine, where Tommy kept his writing materials.

"There's lots of money in here," said Billy.

"No, there isn't. Catch me leaving my cash round again," returned
Tommy.

"I see 'em one, four, eight, two dollars," persisted Billy, who had
not yet mastered the figures correctly.

"What a jack you are!" and Tommy hopped up to get the chalk for
himself, but nearly tumbled down again, for there actually were
four bright quarters in a row, with a bit of paper on them directed
to "Tom Bangs," that there might be no mistake.

"Thunder turtles!" cried Tommy, and seizing them he dashed into
the house, bawling wildly, "It's all right! Got my money! Where's
Nat?"

He was soon found, and his surprise and pleasure were so genuine
that few doubted his word when he now denied all knowledge of
the money.

"How could I put it back when I didn't take it? Do believe me now,
and be good to me again," he said, so imploringly, that Emil
slapped him on the back, and declared he would for one.

"So will I, and I'm jolly glad it's not you. But who the dickens is
it?" said Tommy, after shaking hands heartily with Nat.

"Never mind, as long as it's found," said Dan with his eyes fixed on
Nat's happy face.

"Well, I like that! I'm not going to have my things hooked, and
then brought back like the juggling man's tricks," cried Tommy,
looking at his money as if he suspected witchcraft.

"We'll find him out somehow, though he was sly enough to print
this so his writing wouldn't be known," said Franz, examining the
paper.

"Demi prints tip-top," put in Rob, who had not a very clear idea
what the fuss was all about.

"You can't make me believe it's him, not if you talk till you are
blue," said Tommy, and the others hooted at the mere idea; for the
little deacon, as they called him, was above suspicion.

Nat felt the difference in the way they spoke of Demi and himself,
and would have given all he had or ever hoped to have to be so
trusted; for he had learned how easy it is to lose the confidence of
others, how very, very hard to win it back, and truth became to him
a precious thing since he had suffered from neglecting it.

Mr. Bhaer was very glad one step had been taken in the right
direction, and waited hopefully for yet further revelations. They
came sooner than he expected, and in a way that surprised and
grieved him very much. As they sat at supper that night, a square
parcel was handed to Mrs. Bhaer from Mrs. Bates, a neighbor. A
note accompanied the parcel, and, while Mr. Bhaer read it, Demi
pulled off the wrapper, exclaiming, as he saw its contents,

"Why, it's the book Uncle Teddy gave Dan!"

"The devil!" broke from Dan, for he had not yet quite cured
himself of swearing, though he tried very hard.

Mr. Bhaer looked up quickly at the sound. Dan tried to meet his
eyes, but could not; his own fell, and he sat biting his lips, getting
redder and redder till he was the picture of shame.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Bhaer, anxiously.

"I should have preferred to talk about this in private, but Demi has
spoilt that plan, so I may as well have it out now," said Mr. Bhaer,
looking a little stern, as he always did when any meanness or
deceit came up for judgment.

"The note is from Mrs. Bates, and she says that her boy Jimmy told
her he bought this book of Dan last Saturday. She saw that it was
worth much more than a dollar, and thinking there was some
mistake, has sent it to me. Did you sell it, Dan?"

"Yes, sir," was the slow answer.

"Why?"

"Wanted money."

"For what?"

"To pay somebody."

"To whom did you owe it?"

"Tommy."

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