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

Part 6 out of 7

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she had a plan in her head which would cover the prize pumpkin
and its owner with glory.

Poor Billy had planted cucumbers, but unfortunately hoed them up
and left the pig-weed. This mistake grieved him very much for tem
minutes, then he forgot all about it, and sowed a handful of bright
buttons which he had collected, evidently thinking in his feeble
mind that they were money, and would come up and multiply, so
that he might make many quarters, as Tommy did. No one
disturbed him, and he did what he liked with his plot, which soon
looked as if a series of small earthquakes had stirred it up. When
the general harvest-day came, he would have had nothing but
stones and weeds to show, if kind old Asia had not hung
half-a-dozen oranges on the dead tree he stuck up in the middle.
Billy was delighted with his crop; and no one spoiled his pleasure
in the little miracle which pity wrought for him, by making
withered branches bear strange fruit.

Stuffy had various trials with his melons; for, being impatient to
taste them, he had a solitary revel before they were ripe, and made
himself so ill, that for a day or two it seemed doubtful if he would
ever eat any more. But he pulled through it, and served up his first
cantaloupe without tasting a mouthful himself. They were
excellent melons, for he had a warm slope for them, and they
ripened fast. The last and best were lingering on the vines, and
Stuffy had announced that he should sell them to a neighbor. This
disappointed the boys, who had hoped to eat the melons
themselves, and they expressed their displeasure in a new and
striking manner. Going one morning to gaze upon the three fine
watermelons which he had kept for the market, Stuffy was
horrified to find the word "PIG" cut in white letters on the green
rind, staring at him from every one. He was in a great rage, and
flew to Mrs. Jo for redress. She listened, condoled with him, and
then said,

"If you want to turn the laugh, I'll tell you how, but you must give
up the melons."

"Well, I will; for I can't thrash all the boys, but I'd like to give them
something to remember, the mean sneaks," growled Stuff, still in a
fume.

Now Mrs. Jo was pretty sure who had done the trick, for she had
seen three heads suspiciously near to one another in the
sofa-corner the evening before; and when these heads had nodded
with chuckles and whispers, this experienced woman knew
mischief was afoot. A moonlight night, a rustling in the old
cherry-tree near Emil's window, a cut on Tommy's finger, all
helped to confirm her suspicions; and having cooled Stuffy's wrath
a little, she bade him bring his maltreated melons to her room, and
say not a word to any one of what had happened. He did so, and
the three wags were amazed to find their joke so quietly taken. It
spoilt the fun, and the entire disappearance of the melons made
them uneasy. So did Stuffy's good-nature, for he looked more
placid and plump than ever, and surveyed them with an air of calm
pity that perplexed them very much.

At dinner-time they discovered why; for then Stuffy's vengeance
fell upon them, and the laugh was turned against them. When the
pudding was eaten, and the fruit was put on, Mary Ann
re-appeared in a high state of giggle, bearing a large watermelon;
Silas followed with another; and Dan brought up the rear with a
third. One was placed before each of the three guilty lads; and they
read on the smooth green skins this addition to their own work,
"With the compliments of the PIG." Every one else read it also,
and the whole table was in a roar, for the trick had been whispered
about; so every one understood the sequel. Emil, Ned, and Tommy
did not know where to look, and had not a word to say for
themselves; so they wisely joined in the laugh, cut up the melons,
and handed them round, saying, what all the rest agreed to, that
Stuffy had taken a wise and merry way to return good for evil.

Dan had no garden, for he was away or lame the greater part of the
summer; so he had helped Silas wherever he could, chopped wood
for Asia, and taken care of the lawn so well, that Mrs. Jo always
had smooth paths and nicely shaven turf before her door.

When the others got in their crops, he looked sorry that he had so
little to show; but as autumn went on, he bethought himself of a
woodland harvest which no one would dispute with him, and
which was peculiarly his own. Every Saturday he was away alone
to the forests, fields, and hills, and always came back loaded with
spoils; for he seemed to know the meadows where the best
flag-root grew, the thicket where the sassafras was spiciest, the
haunts where the squirrels went for nuts, the white oak whose bark
was most valuable, and the little gold-thread vine that Nursey liked
to cure the canker with. All sorts of splendid red and yellow leaves
did Dan bring home for Mrs. Jo to dress her parlor with,
graceful-seeded grasses, clematis tassels, downy, soft, yellow
wax-work berries, and mosses, red-brimmed, white, or emerald
green.

"I need not sigh for the woods now, because Dan brings the woods
to me," Mrs. Jo used to say, as she glorified the walls with yellow
maple boughs and scarlet woodbine wreaths, or filled her vases
with russet ferns, hemlock sprays full of delicate cones, and hardy
autumn flowers; for Dan's crop suited her well.

The great garret was full of the children's little stores and for a
time was one of the sights of the house. Daisy's flower seeds in
neat little paper bags, all labelled, lay in a drawer of a three-legged
table. Nan's herbs hung in bunches against the wall, filling the air
with their aromatic breath. Tommy had a basket of thistle-down
with the tiny seeds attached, for he meant to plant them next year,
if they did not all fly away before that time. Emil had bunches of
pop-corn hanging there to dry, and Demi laid up acorns and
different sorts of grain for the pets. But Dan's crop made the best
show, for fully one half of the floor was covered with the nuts he
brought. All kinds were there, for he ranged the woods for miles
round, climbed the tallest trees, and forced his way into the
thickest hedges for his plunder. Walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and
beechnuts lay in separate compartments, getting brown, and dry,
and sweet, ready for winter revels.

There was one butternut-tree on the place, and Rob and Teddy
called it theirs. It bore well this year, and the great dingy nuts came
dropping down to hide among the dead leaves, where the busy
squirrels found them better than the lazy Bhaers. Their father had
told them (the boys, not the squirrels) they should have the nuts if
they would pick them up, but no one was to help. It was easy work,
and Teddy liked it, only he soon got tired, and left his little basket
half full for another day. But the other day was slow to arrive, and,
meantime, the sly squirrels were hard at work, scampering up and
down the old elm-trees stowing the nuts away till their holes were
full, then all about the crotches of the boughs, to be removed at
their leisure. Their funny little ways amused the boys, till one day
Silas said,

"Hev you sold them nuts to the squirrels?"

"No," answered Rob, wondering what Silas meant.

"Wal, then, you'd better fly round, or them spry little fellers won't
leave you none."

"Oh, we can beat them when we begin. There are such lots of nuts
we shall have a plenty."

"There ain't many more to come down, and they have cleared the
ground pretty well, see if they hain't."

Robby ran to look, and was alarmed to find how few remained. He
called Teddy, and they worked hard all one afternoon, while the
squirrels sat on the fence and scolded.

"Now, Ted, we must keep watch, and pick up just as fast as they
fall, or we shan't have more than a bushel, and every one will
laugh at us if we don't."

"The naughty quillies tarn't have 'em. I'll pick fast and run and put
'em in the barn twick," said Teddy, frowning at little Frisky, who
chattered and whisked his tail indignantly.

That night a high wind blew down hundreds of nuts, and when
Mrs. Jo came to wake her little sons, she said, briskly,

"Come, my laddies, the squirrels are hard at it, and you will have
to work well to-day, or they will have every nut on the ground."

"No, they won't," and Robby tumbled up in a great hurry, gobbled
his breakfast, and rushed out to save his property.

Teddy went too, and worked like a little beaver, trotting to and fro
with full and empty baskets. Another bushel was soon put away in
the corn-barn, and they were scrambling among the leaves for
more nuts when the bell rang for school.

"O father! let me stay out and pick. Those horrid squirrels will
have my nuts if you don't. I'll do my lessons by and by," cried Rob,
running into the school-room, flushed and tousled by the fresh cold
wind and his eager work.

"If you had been up early and done a little every morning there
would be no hurry now. I told you that, Rob, and you never
minded. I cannot have the lessons neglected as the work has been.
The squirrels will get more than their share this year, and they
deserve it, for they have worked best. You may go an hour earlier,
but that is all," and Mr. Bhaer led Rob to his place where the little
man dashed at his books as if bent on making sure of the precious
hour promised him.

It was almost maddening to sit still and see the wind shaking down
the last nuts, and the lively thieves flying about, pausing now and
then to eat one in his face, and flirt their tails, as if they said,
saucily, "We'll have them in spite of you, lazy Rob." The only
thing that sustained the poor child in this trying moment was the
sight of Teddy working away all alone. It was really splendid the
pluck and perseverance of the little lad. He picked and picked till
his back ached; he trudged to and fro till his small legs were tired;
and he defied wind, weariness, and wicked "quillies," till his
mother left her work and did the carrying for him, full of
admiration for the kind little fellow who tried to help his brother.
When Rob was dismissed, he found Teddy reposing in the
bushel-basket quite used up, but unwilling to quit the field; for he
flapped his hat at the thieves with one grubby little hand, while he
refreshed himself with the big apple held in the other.

Rob fell to work and the ground was cleared before two o'clock,
the nuts safely in the corn-barn loft, and the weary workers exulted
in their success. But Frisky and his wife were not to be vanquished
so easily; and when Rob went up to look at his nuts a few days
later he was amazed to see how many had vanished. None of the
boys could have stolen them, because the door had been locked;
the doves could not have eaten them, and there were no rats about.
There was great lamentation among the young Bhaers till Dick
said

"I saw Frisky on the roof of the corn-barn, may be he took them."

"I know he did! I'll have a trap, and kill him dead," cried Rob,
disgusted with Frisky's grasping nature.

"Perhaps if you watch, you can find out where he puts them, and I
may be able to get them back for you," said Dan, who was much
amused by the fight between the boys and squirrels.

So Rob watched and saw Mr. and Mrs. Frisky drop from the
drooping elm boughs on to the roof of the corn-barn, dodge in at
one of the little doors, much to the disturbance of the doves, and
come out with a nut in each mouth. So laden they could not get
back the way they came, but ran down the low roof, along the wall,
and leaping off at a corner they vanished a minute and re-appeared
without their plunder. Rob ran to the place, and in a hollow under
the leaves he found a heap of the stolen property hidden away to
be carried off to the holes by and by.

"Oh, you little villains! I'll cheat you now, and not leave one," said
Rob. So he cleared the corner and the corn-barn, and put the
contested nuts in the garret, making sure that no broken
window-pane could anywhere let in the unprincipled squirrels.
They seemed to feel that the contest was over, and retired to their
hole, but now and then could not resist throwing down nut-shells
on Rob's head, and scolding violently as if they could not forgive
him nor forget that he had the best of the battle.

Father and Mother Bhaer's crop was of a different sort, and not so
easily described; but they were satisfied with it, felt that their
summer work had prospered well, and by and by had a harvest that
made them very happy.

CHAPTER XIX JOHN BROOKE

"Wake up, Demi, dear! I want you."

"Why, I've just gone to bed; it can't be morning yet;" and Demi
blinked like a little owl as he waked from his first sound sleep.

"It's only ten, but your father is ill, and we must go to him. O my
little John! my poor little John!" and Aunt Jo laid her head down
on the pillow with a sob that scared sleep from Demi's eyes and
filled his heart with fear and wonder; for he dimly felt why Aunt
Jo called him "John," and wept over him as if some loss had come
that left him poor. He clung to her without a word, and in a minute
she was quite steady again, and said, with a tender kiss as she saw
his troubled face,

"We are going to say good-by to him, my darling, and there is no
time to lose; so dress quickly and come to me in my room. I must
go to Daisy."

"Yes, I will;" and when Aunt Jo was gone, little Demi got up
quietly, dressed as if in a dream, and leaving Tommy fast asleep
went away through the silent house, feeling that something new
and sorrowful was going to happen something that set him apart
from the other boys for a time, and made the world seem as dark
and still and strange as those familiar rooms did in the night. A
carriage sent by Mr. Laurie stood before the door. Daisy was soon
ready, and the brother and sister held each other by the hand all the
way into town, as they drove swiftly and silently with aunt and
uncle through the shadowy roads to say good-by to father.

None of the boys but Franz and Emil knew what had happened,
and when they came down next morning, great was their
wonderment and discomfort, for the house seemed forlorn without
its master and mistress. Breakfast was a dismal meal with no
cheery Mrs. Jo behind the teapots; and when school-time came,
Father Bhaer's place was empty. They wandered about in a
disconsolate kind of way for an hour, waiting for news and hoping
it would be all right with Demi's father, for good John Brooke was
much beloved by the boys. Ten o'clock came, and no one arrived
to relieve their anxiety. They did not feel like playing, yet the time
dragged heavily, and they sat about listless and sober. All at once,
Franz got up, and said, in his persuasive way,

"Look here, boys! let's go into school and do our lessons just as if
Uncle was here. It will make the day go faster, and will please
him, I know."

"But who will hear us say them?" asked Jack.

"I will; I don't know much more than you do, but I'm the oldest
here, and I'll try to fill Uncle's place till he comes, if you don't
mind."

Something in the modest, serious way Franz said this impressed
the boys, for, though the poor lad's eyes were red with quiet crying
for Uncle John in that long sad night, there was a new manliness
about him, as if he had already begun to feel the cares and troubles
of life, and tried to take them bravely.

"I will, for one," and Emil went to his seat, remembering that
obedience to his superior officer is a seaman's first duty.

The others followed; Franz took his uncle's seat, and for an hour
order reigned. Lessons were learned and said, and Franz made a
patient, pleasant teacher, wisely omitting such lessons as he was
not equal to, and keeping order more by the unconscious dignity
that sorrow gave him than by any words of his own. The little boys
were reading when a step was heard in the hall, and every one
looked up to read the news in Mr. Bhaer's face as he came in. The
kind face told them instantly that Demi had no father now, for it
was worn and pale, and full of tender grief, which left him no
words with which to answer Rob, as he ran to him, saying,
reproachfully,

"What made you go and leave me in the night, papa?"

The memory of the other father who had left his children in the
night, never to return, made Mr. Bhaer hold his own boy close,
and, for a minute, hide his face in Robby's curly hair. Emil laid his
head down on his arms, Franz, went to put his hand on his uncle's
shoulder, his boyish face pale with sympathy and sorrow, and the
others sat so still that the soft rustle of the falling leaves outside
was distinctly heard.

Rob did not clearly understand what had happened, but he hated to
see papa unhappy, so he lifted up the bent head, and said, in his
chirpy little voice,

"Don't cry, mein Vater! we were all so good, we did our lessons,
without you, and Franz was the master."

Mr. Bhaer looked up then, tried to smile, and said in a grateful
tone that made the lads feel like saints, "I thank you very much, my
boys. It was a beautiful way to help and comfort me. I shall not
forget it, I assure you."

"Franz proposed it, and was a first-rate master, too," said Nat; and
the others gave a murmur of assent most gratifying to the young
dominie.

Mr. Bhaer put Rob down, and, standing up, put his arm round his
tall nephew's shoulder, as he said, with a look of genuine pleasure,

"This makes my hard day easier, and gives me confidence in you
all. I am needed there in town, and must leave you for some hours.
I thought to give you a holiday, or send some of you home, but if
you like to stay and go on as you have begun, I shall be glad and
proud of my good boys."

"We'll stay;" "We'd rather;" "Franz can see to us;" cried several,
delighted with the confidence shown in them.

"Isn't Marmar coming home?" asked Rob, wistfully; for home
without "Marmar" was the world without the sun to him.

"We shall both come to-night; but dear Aunt Meg needs Mother
more than you do now, and I know you like to lend her for a little
while."

"Well, I will; but Teddy's been crying for her, and he slapped
Nursey, and was dreadful naughty," answered Rob, as if the news
might bring mother home.

"Where is my little man?" asked Mr. Bhaer.

"Dan took him out, to keep him quiet. He's all right now," said
Franz, pointing to the window, through which they could see Dan
drawing baby in his little wagon, with the dogs frolicking about
him.

"I won't see him, it would only upset him again; but tell Dan I
leave Teddy in his care. You older boys I trust to manage
yourselves for a day. Franz will direct you, and Silas is here to over
see matters. So good-by till to-night."

"Just tell me a word about Uncle John," said Emil, detaining Mr.
Bhaer, as he was about hurrying away again.

"He was only ill a few hours, and died as he has lived, so
cheerfully, so peacefully, that it seems a sin to mar the beauty of it
with any violent or selfish grief. We were in time to say good-by:
and Daisy and Demi were in his arms as he fell asleep on Aunt
Meg's breast. No more now, I cannot bear it," and Mr. Bhaer went
hastily away quite bowed with grief, for in John Brooke he had lost
both friend and brother, and there was no one left to take his place.

All that day the house was very still; the small boys played quietly
in the nursery; the others, feeling as if Sunday had come in the
middle of the week, spent it in walking, sitting in the willow, or
among their pets, all talking much of "Uncle John," and feeling
that something gentle, just, and strong, had gone out of their little
world, leaving a sense of loss that deepened every hour. At dusk,
Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer came home alone, for Demi and Daisy were
their mother's best comfort now, and could not leave her. Poor
Mrs. Jo seemed quite spent, and evidently needed the same sort of
comfort, for her first words, as she came up the stairs, were,
"Where is my baby?"

"Here I is," answered a little voice, as Dan put Teddy into her
arms, adding, as she hugged him close, "My Danny tooked tare of
me all day, and I was dood."

Mrs. Jo turned to thank the faithful nurse, but Dan was waving off
the boys, who had gathered in the hall to meet her, and was saying,
in a low voice, "Keep back; she don't want to be bothered with us
now."

"No, don't keep back. I want you all. Come in and see me, my
boys. I've neglected you all day," and Mrs. Jo held out her hands to
them as they gathered round and escorted her into her own room,
saying little, but expressing much by affectionate looks and clumsy
little efforts to show their sorrow and sympathy.

"I am so tired, I will lie here and cuddle Teddy, and you shall bring
me in some tea," she said, trying to speak cheerfully for their
sakes.

A general stampede into the dining-room followed, and the
supper-table would have been ravaged if Mr. Bhaer had not
interfered. It was agreed that one squad should carry in the
mother's tea, and another bring it out. The four nearest and dearest
claimed the first honor, so Franz bore the teapot, Emil the bread,
Rob the milk, and Teddy insisted on carrying the sugar basin,
which was lighter by several lumps when it arrived than when it
started. Some women might have found it annoying at such a time
to have boys creaking in and out, upsetting cups and rattling
spoons in violent efforts to be quiet and helpful; but it suited Mrs.
Jo, because just then her heart was very tender; and remembering
that many of her boys were fatherless or motherless, she yearned
over them, and found comfort in their blundering affection. It was
the sort of food that did her more good than the very thick
bread-and-butter that they gave her, and the rough Commodore's
broken whisper,

"Bear up, Aunty, it's a hard blow; but we'll weather it somehow;"
cheered her more than the sloppy cup he brought her, full of tea as
bitter as if some salt tear of his own had dropped into it on the
way. When supper was over, a second deputation removed the
tray; and Dan said, holding out his arms for sleepy little Teddy,

"Let me put him to bed, you're so tired, Mother."

"Will you go with him, lovey?" asked Mrs. Jo of her small lord and
master, who lay on her arm among the sofa-pillows.

"Torse I will;" and he was proudly carried off by his faithful
bearer.

"I wish I could do something," said Nat, with a sigh, as Franz
leaned over the sofa, and softly stroked Aunt Jo's hot forehead.

"You can, dear. Go and get your violin, and play me the sweet
little airs Uncle Teddy sent you last. Music will comfort me better
than any thing else to-night."

Nat flew for his fiddle, and, sitting just outside her door, played as
he had never done before, for now his heart was in it, and seemed
to magnetize his fingers. The other lads sat quietly upon the steps,
keeping watch that no new-comer should disturb the house; Franz
lingered at his post; and so, soothed, served, and guarded by her
boys, poor Mrs. Jo slept at last, and forgot her sorrow for an hour.

Two quiet days, and on the third Mr. Bhaer came in just after
school, with a note in his hand, looking both moved and pleased.

"I want to read you something, boys," he said; and as they stood
round him he read this:

"DEAR BROTHER FRITZ, I hear that you do not mean to bring
your flock today, thinking that I may not like it. Please do. The
sight of his friends will help Demi through the hard hour, and I
want the boys to hear what father says of my John. It will do them
good, I know. If they would sing one of the sweet old hymns you
have taught them so well, I should like it better than any other
music, and feel that it was beautifully suited to the occasion.
Please ask them, with my love.

MEG."

"Will you go?" and Mr. Bhaer looked at the lads, who were greatly
touched by Mrs. Brooke's kind words and wishes.

"Yes," they answered, like one boy; and an hour later they went
away with Franz to bear their part in John Brooke's simple funeral.

The little house looked as quiet, sunny, and home-like as when
Meg entered it as a bride, ten years ago, only then it was early
summer, and rose blossomed everywhere; now it was early
autumn, and dead leaves rustled softly down, leaving the branches
bare. The bride was a widow now; but the same beautiful serenity
shone in her face, and the sweet resignation of a truly pious soul
made her presence a consolation to those who came to comfort
her.

"O Meg! how can you bear it so?" whispered Jo, as she met them
at the door with a smile of welcome, and no change in her gentle
manner, except more gentleness.

"Dear Jo, the love that has blest me for ten happy years supports
me still. It could not die, and John is more my own than ever,"
whispered Meg; and in her eyes the tender trust was so beautiful
and bright, that Jo believed her, and thanked God for the
immortality of love like hers.

They were all there father and mother, Uncle Teddy, and Aunt
Amy, old Mr. Laurence, white-haired and feeble now, Mr. and
Mrs. Bhaer, with their flock, and many friends, come to do honor
to the dead. One would have said that modest John Brooke, in his
busy, quiet, humble life, had had little time to make friends; but
now they seemed to start up everywhere, old and young, rich and
poor, high and low; for all unconsciously his influence had made
itself widely felt, his virtues were remembered, and his hidden
charities rose up to bless him. The group about his coffin was a far
more eloquent eulogy than any Mr. March could utter. There were
the rich men whom he had served faithfully for years; the poor old
women whom he cherished with his little store, in memory of his
mother; the wife to whom he had given such happiness that death
could not mar it utterly; the brothers and sisters in whose hearts he
had made a place for ever; the little son and daughter, who already
felt the loss of his strong arm and tender voice; the young children,
sobbing for their kindest playmate, and the tall lads, watching with
softened faces a scene which they never could forget. A very
simple service, and very short; for the fatherly voice that had
faltered in the marriage-sacrament now failed entirely as Mr.
March endeavored to pay his tribute of reverence and love to the
son whom he most honored. Nothing but the soft coo of Baby
Josy's voice up-stairs broke the long hush that followed the last
Amen, till, at a sign from Mr. Bhaer, the well-trained boyish
voices broke out in a hymn, so full of lofty cheer, that one by one
all joined in it, singing with full hearts, and finding their troubled
spirits lifted into peace on the wings of that brave, sweet psalm.

As Meg listened, she felt that she had done well; for not only did
the moment comfort her with the assurance that John's last lullaby
was sung by the young voices he loved so well, but in the faces of
the boys she saw that they had caught a glimpse of the beauty of
virtue in its most impressive form, and that the memory of the
good man lying dead before them would live long and helpfully in
their remembrance. Daisy's head lay in her lap, and Demi held her
hand, looking often at her, with eyes so like his father's, and a little
gesture that seemed to say, "Don't be troubled, mother; I am here;"
and all about her were friends to lean upon and love; so patient,
pious Meg put by her heavy grief, feeling that her best help would
be to live for others, as her John had done.

That evening, as the Plumfield boys sat on the steps, as usual, in
the mild September moonlight, they naturally fell to talking of the
event of the day.

Emil began by breaking out, in his impetuous way, "Uncle Fritz is
the wisest, and Uncle Laurie the jolliest, but Uncle John was the
best; and I'd rather be like him than any man I ever saw."

"So would I. Did you hear what those gentlemen said to Grandpa
to-day? I would like to have that said of me when I was dead;" and
Franz felt with regret that he had not appreciated Uncle John
enough.

"What did they say?" asked Jack, who had been much impressed
by the scenes of the day.

"Why, one of the partners of Mr. Laurence, where Uncle John has
been ever so long, was saying that he was conscientious almost to
a fault as a business man, and above reproach in all things.
Another gentleman said no money could repay the fidelity and
honesty with which Uncle John had served him, and then Grandpa
told them the best of all. Uncle John once had a place in the office
of a man who cheated, and when this man wanted uncle to help
him do it, uncle wouldn't, though he was offered a big salary. The
man was angry and said, 'You will never get on in business with
such strict principles;' and uncle answered back, 'I never will try to
get on without them,' and left the place for a much harder and
poorer one."

"Good!" cried several of the boys warmly, for they were in the
mood to understand and value the little story as never before.

"He wasn't rich, was he?" asked Jack.

"No."

"He never did any thing to make a stir in the world, did he?"

"No."

"He was only good?"

"That's all;" and Franz found himself wishing that Uncle John had
done something to boast of, for it was evident that Jack was
disappointed by his replies.

"Only good. That is all and every thing," said Mr. Bhaer, who had
overheard the last few words, and guessed what was going on the
minds of the lads.

"Let me tell you a little about John Brooke, and you will see why
men honor him, and why he was satisfied to be good rather than
rich or famous. He simply did his duty in all things, and did it so
cheerfully, so faithfully, that it kept him patient and brave, and
happy through poverty and loneliness and years of hard work. He
was a good son, and gave up his own plans to stay and live with his
mother while she needed him. He was a good friend, and taught
Laurie much beside his Greek and Latin, did it unconsciously,
perhaps, by showing him an example of an upright man. He was a
faithful servant, and made himself so valuable to those who
employed him that they will find it hard to fill his place. He was a
good husband and father, so tender, wise, and thoughtful, that
Laurie and I learned much of him, and only knew how well he
loved his family, when we discovered all he had done for them,
unsuspected and unassisted."

Mr. Bhaer stopped a minute, and the boys sat like statues in the
moonlight until he went on again, in a subdued, but earnest voice:
"As he lay dying, I said to him, 'Have no care for Meg and the little
ones; I will see that they never want.' Then he smiled and pressed
my hand, and answered, in his cheerful way, 'No need of that; I
have cared for them.' And so he had, for when we looked among
his papers, all was in order, not a debt remained; and safely put
away was enough to keep Meg comfortable and independent. Then
we knew why he had lived so plainly, denied himself so many
pleasures, except that of charity, and worked so hard that I fear he
shortened his good life. He never asked help for himself, though
often for others, but bore his own burden and worked out his own
task bravely and quietly. No one can say a word of complaint
against him, so just and generous and kind was he; and now, when
he is gone, all find so much to love and praise and honor, that I am
proud to have been his friend, and would rather leave my children
the legacy he leaves his than the largest fortune ever made. Yes!
Simple, generous goodness is the best capital to found the business
of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only
riches we can take out of this world with us. Remember that, my
boys; and if you want to earn respect and confidence and love
follow in the footsteps of John Brooke."

When Demi returned to school, after some weeks at home, he
seemed to have recovered from his loss with the blessed elasticity
of childhood, and so he had in a measure; but he did not forget, for
his was a nature into which things sank deeply, to be pondered
over, and absorbed into the soil where the small virtues were
growing fast. He played and studied, worked and sang, just as
before, and few suspected any change; but there was one and Aunt
Jo saw it for she watched over the boy with her whole heart, trying
to fill John's place in her poor way. He seldom spoke of his loss,
but Aunt Jo often heard a stifled sobbing in the little bed at night;
and when she went to comfort him, all his cry was, "I want my
father! oh, I want my father!" for the tie between the two had been
a very tender one, and the child's heart bled when it was broken.
But time was kind to him, and slowly he came to feel that father
was not lost, only invisible for a while, and sure to be found again,
well and strong and fond as ever, even though his little son should
see the purple asters blossom on his grave many, many times
before they met. To this belief Demi held fast, and in it found both
help and comfort, because it led him unconsciously through a
tender longing for the father whom he had seen to a childlike trust
in the Father whom he had not seen. Both were in heaven, and he
prayed to both, trying to be good for love of them.

The outward change corresponded to the inward, for in those few
weeks Demi seemed to have grown tall, and began to drop his
childish plays, not as if ashamed of them, as some boys do, but as
if he had outgrown them, and wanted something manlier. He took
to the hated arithmetic, and held on so steadily that his uncle was
charmed, though he could not understand the whim, until Demi
said,

"I am going to be a bookkeeper when I grow up, like papa, and I
must know about figures and things, else I can't have nice, neat
ledgers like his."

At another time he came to his aunt with a very serious face, and
said

"What can a small boy do to earn money?"

"Why do you ask, my deary?"

"My father told me to take care of mother and the little girls, and I
want to, but I don't know how to begin."

"He did not mean now, Demi, but by and by, when you are large."

"But I wish to begin now, if I can, because I think I ought to make
some money to buy things for the family. I am ten, and other boys
no bigger than I earn pennies sometimes."

"Well, then, suppose you rake up all the dead leaves and cover the
strawberry bed. I'll pay you a dollar for the job," said Aunt Jo.

"Isn't that a great deal? I could do it in one day. You must be fair,
and no pay too much, because I want to truly earn it."

"My little John, I will be fair, and not pay a penny too much. Don't
work too hard; and when that is done I will have something else
for you to do," said Mrs. Jo, much touched by his desire to help,
and his sense of justice, so like his scrupulous father.

When the leaves were done, many barrowloads of chips were
wheeled from the wood to the shed, and another dollar earned.
Then Demi helped cover the schoolbooks, working in the evenings
under Franz's direction, tugging patiently away at each book,
letting no one help, and receiving his wages with such satisfaction
that the dingy bills became quite glorified in his sight.

"Now, I have a dollar for each of them, and I should like to take
my money to mother all myself, so she can see that I have minded
my father."

So Demi made a duteous pilgrimage to his mother, who received
his little earnings as a treasure of great worth, and would have kept
it untouched, if Demi had not begged her to buy some useful thing
for herself and the women-children, whom he felt were left to his
care.

This made him very happy, and, though he often forgot his
responsibilities for a time, the desire to help was still there,
strengthening with his years. He always uttered the words "my
father" with an air of gentle pride, and often said, as if he claimed
a title full of honor, "Don't call me Demi any more. I am John
Brooke now." So, strengthened by a purpose and a hope, the little
lad of ten bravely began the world, and entered into his
inheritance, the memory of a wise and tender father, the legacy of
an honest name.

CHAPTER XX ROUND THE FIRE

With the October frosts came the cheery fires in the great
fireplaces; and Demi's dry pine-chips helped Dan's oak-knots to
blaze royally, and go roaring up the chimney with a jolly sound.
All were glad to gather round the hearth, as the evenings grew
longer, to play games, read, or lay plans for the winter. But the
favorite amusement was story-telling, and Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer
were expected to have a store of lively tales always on hand. Their
supply occasionally gave out, and then the boys were thrown upon
their own resources, which were not always successful.
Ghost-parties were the rage at one time; for the fun of the thing
consisted in putting out the lights, letting the fire die down, and
then sitting in the dark, and telling the most awful tales they could
invent. As this resulted in scares of all sorts among the boys,
Tommy's walking in his sleep on the shed roof, and a general state
of nervousness in the little ones, it was forbidden, and they fell
back on more harmless amusements.

One evening, when the small boys were snugly tucked in bed, and
the older lads were lounging about the school-room fire, trying to
decide what they should do, Demi suggested a new way of settling
the question.

Seizing the hearth-brush, he marched up and down the room,
saying, "Row, row, row;" and when the boys, laughing and
pushing, had got into line, he said, "Now, I'll give you two minutes
to think of a play." Franz was writing, and Emil reading the Life of
Lord Nelson, and neither joined the party, but the others thought
hard, and when the time was up were ready to reply.

"Now, Tom!" and the poker softly rapped him on the head.

"Blind-man's Buff."

"Jack!"

"Commerce; a good round game, and have cents for the pool."

"Uncle forbids our playing for money. Dan, what do you want?"

"Let's have a battle between the Greeks and Romans."

"Stuffy?"

"Roast apples, pop corn, and crack nuts."

"Good! good!" cried several; and when the vote was taken, Stuffy's
proposal carried the day.

Some went to the cellar for apples, some to the garret for nuts, and
others looked up the popper and the corn.

"We had better ask the girls to come in, hadn't we?" said Demi, in
a sudden fit of politeness.

"Daisy pricks chestnuts beautifully," put in Nat, who wanted his
little friend to share the fun.

"Nan pops corn tip-top, we must have her," added Tommy.

"Bring in your sweethearts then, we don't mind," said Jack, who
laughed at the innocent regard the little people had for one
another.

"You shan't call my sister a sweetheart; it is so silly!" cried Demi,
in a way that made Jack laugh.

"She is Nat's darling, isn't she, old chirper?"

"Yes, if Demi don't mind. I can't help being fond of her, she is so
good to me," answered Nat, with bashful earnestness, for Jack's
rough ways disturbed him.

"Nan is my sweetheart, and I shall marry her in about a year, so
don't you get in the way, any of you," said Tommy, stoutly; for he
and Nan had settled their future, child-fashion, and were to live in
the willow, lower down a basket for food, and do other charmingly
impossible things.

Demi was quenched by the decision of Bangs, who took him by
the arm and walked him off to get the ladies. Nan and Daisy were
sewing with Aunt Jo on certain small garments, for Mrs. Carney's
newest baby.

"Please, ma'am, could you lend us the girls for a little while? We'll
be very careful of them," said Tommy, winking one eye to express
apples, snapping his fingers to signify pop-corn, and gnashing his
teeth to convey the idea of nut-cracking.

The girls understood this pantomime at once, and began to pull of
their thimbles before Mrs. Jo could decide whether Tommy was
going into convulsions or was brewing some unusual piece of
mischief. Demi explained with elaboration, permission was readily
granted, and the boys departed with their prize.

"Don't you speak to Jack," whispered Tommy, as he and Nan
promenaded down the hall to get a fork to prick the apples.

"Why not?"

"He laughs at me, so I don't wish you to have any thing to do with
him."

"Shall, if I like," said Nan, promptly resenting this premature
assumption of authority on the part of her lord.

"Then I won't have you for my sweetheart."

"I don't care."

"Why, Nan, I thought you were fond of me!" and Tommy's voice
was full of tender reproach.

"If you mind Jack's laughing I don't care for you one bit."

"Then you may take back your old ring; I won't wear it any
longer;" and Tommy plucked off a horsehair pledge of affection
which Nan had given him in return for one made of a lobster's
feeler.

"I shall give it to Ned," was her cruel reply; for Ned liked Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy, and had turned her clothespins, boxes, and spools
enough to set up housekeeping with.

Tommy said, "Thunder turtles!" as the only vent equal to the
pent-up anguish of the moment, and, dropping Nan's arm, retired
in high dudgeon, leaving her to follow with the fork, a neglect
which naughty Nan punished by proceeding to prick his heart with
jealousy as if it were another sort of apple.

The hearth was swept, and the rosy Baldwins put down to roast. A
shovel was heated, and the chestnuts danced merrily upon it, while
the corn popped wildly in its wire prison. Dan cracked his best
walnuts, and every one chattered and laughed, while the rain beat
on the window-pane and the wind howled round the house.

"Why is Billy like this nut?" asked Emil, who was frequently
inspired with bad conundrums.

"Because he is cracked," answered Ned.

"That's not fair; you mustn't make fun of Billy, because he can't hit
back again. It's mean," cried Dan, smashing a nut wrathfully.

"To what family of insects does Blake belong?" asked peacemaker
Franz, seeing that Emil looked ashamed and Dan lowering.

"Gnats," answered Jack.

"Why is Daisy like a bee?" cried Nat, who had been wrapt in
thought for several minutes.

"Because she is queen of the hive," said Dan.

"No."

"Because she is sweet."

"Bees are not sweet."

"Give it up."

"Because she makes sweet things, is always busy, and likes
flowers," said Nat, piling up his boyish compliments till Daisy
blushed like a rosy clover.

"Why is Nan like a hornet?" demanded Tommy, glowering at her,
and adding, without giving any one time to answer, "Because she
isn't sweet, makes a great buzzing about nothing, and stings like
fury."

"Tommy's mad, and I'm glad," cried Ned, as Nan tossed her head
and answered quickly

"What thing in the china-closet is Tom like?"

"A pepper pot," answered Ned, giving Nan a nut meat with a
tantalizing laugh that made Tommy feel as if he would like to
bounce up like a hot chestnut and hit somebody.

Seeing that ill-humor was getting the better of the small supply of
wit in the company, Franz cast himself into the breach again.

"Let's make a law that the first person who comes into the room
shall tell us a story. No matter who it is, he must do it, and it will
be fun to see who comes first."

The others agreed, and did not have to wait long, for a heavy step
soon came clumping through the hall, and Silas appeared, bearing
an armful of wood. He was greeted by a general shout, and stood
staring about him with a bewildered grin on his big red face, till
Franz explained the joke.

"Sho! I can't tell a story," he said, putting down his load and
preparing to leave the room. But the boys fell upon him, forced
him into a seat, and held him there, laughing, and clamoring for
their story, till the good-natured giant was overpowered.

"I don't know but jest one story, and that's about a horse," he said,
much flattered by the reception he received.

"Tell it! tell it!" cried the boys.

"Wal," began Silas, tipping his chair back against the wall, and
putting his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, "I jined a
cavalry regiment durin' the war, and see a consid'able amount of
fightin'. My horse, Major, was a fust-rate animal, and I was as fond
on him as ef he'd ben a human critter. He warn't harnsome, but he
was the best-tempered, stiddyest, lovenest brute I ever see. I fust
battle we went into, he gave me a lesson that I didn't forgit in a
hurry, and I'll tell you how it was. It ain't no use tryin' to picter the
noise and hurry, and general horridness of a battle to you young
fellers, for I ain't no words to do it in; but I'm free to confess that I
got so sort of confused and upset at the fust on it, that I didn't know
what I was about. We was ordered to charge, and went ahead like
good ones, never stoppin' to pick up them that went down in the
scrimmage. I got a shot in the arm, and was pitched out of the
saddle don't know how, but there I was left behind with two or
three others, dead and wounded, for the rest went on, as I say. Wal,
I picked myself up and looked round for Major, feeling as ef I'd
had about enough for that spell. I didn't see him nowhere, and was
kinder walking back to camp, when I heard a whinny that sounded
nateral. I looked round, and there was Major stopping for me a
long way off, and lookin' as ef he didn't understand why I was
loiterin' behind. I whistled, and he trotted up to me as I'd trained
him to do. I mounted as well as I could with my left arm bleedin'
and was for going on to camp, for I declare I felt as sick and
wimbly as a woman; folks often do in their fust battle. But, no sir!
Major was the bravest of the two, and he wouldn't go, not a peg; he
jest rared up, and danced, and snorted, and acted as ef the smell of
powder and the noise had drove him half wild. I done my best, but
he wouldn't give in, so I did; and what do you think that plucky
brute done? He wheeled slap round, and galloped back like a
hurricane, right into the thickest of the scrimmage!"

"Good for him!" cried Dan excitedly, while the other boys forgot
apples and nuts in their interest.

"I wish I may die ef I warn't ashamed of myself," continued Silas,
warming up at the recollection of that day. "I was mad as a hornet,
and I forgot my waound, and jest pitched in, rampagin' raound like
fury till there come a shell into the midst of us, and in bustin'
knocked a lot of us flat. I didn't know nothin' for a spell, and when
I come-to, the fight was over just there, and I found myself layin'
by a wall of poor Major long-side wuss wounded than I was. My
leg was broke, and I had a ball in my shoulder, but he, poor old
feller! was all tore in the side with a piece of that blasted shell."

"O Silas! what did you do?" cried Nan, pressing close to him with
a face full of eager sympathy and interest.

"I dragged myself nigher, and tried to stop the bleedin' with sech
rags as I could tear off of me with one hand. But it warn't no use,
and he lay moanin' with horrid pain, and lookin' at me with them
lovin' eyes of his, till I thought I couldn't bear it. I give him all the
help I could, and when the sun got hotter and hotter, and he began
to lap out his tongue, I tried to get to a brook that was a good piece
away, but I couldn't do it, being stiff and faint, so I give it up and
fanned him with my hat. Now you listen to this, and when you hear
folks comin' down on the rebs, you jest remember what one on 'em
did, and give him credit of it. I poor feller in gray laid not fur off,
shot through the lungs and dyin' fast. I'd offered him my
handkerchief to keep the sun off his face, and he'd thanked me
kindly, for in sech times as that men don't stop to think on which
side they belong, but jest buckle-to and help one another. When he
see me mournin' over Major and tryin' to ease his pain, he looked
up with his face all damp and white with sufferin', and sez he,
'There's water in my canteen; take it, for it can't help me,' and he
flung it to me. I couldn't have took it ef I hadn't had a little brandy
in a pocket flask, and I made him drink it. It done him good, and I
felt as much set up as if I'd drunk it myself. It's surprisin' the good
sech little things do folks sometime;" and Silas paused as if he felt
again the comfort of that moment when he and his enemy forgot
their feud, and helped one another like brothers.

"Tell about Major," cried the boys, impatient for the catastrophe.

"I poured the water over his poor pantin' tongue, and ef ever a
dumb critter looked grateful, he did then. But it warn't of much
use, for the dreadful waound kep on tormentin' him, till I couldn't
bear it any longer. It was hard, but I done it in mercy, and I know
he forgive me."

"What did you do?" asked Emil, as Silas stopped abruptly with a
loud "hem," and a look in his rough face that made Daisy go and
stand by him with her little hand on his knee.

"I shot him."

Quite a thrill went through the listeners as Silas said that, for
Major seemed a hero in their eyes, and his tragic end roused all
their sympathy.

"Yes, I shot him, and put him out of his misery. I patted him fust,
and said, 'Good-by;' then I laid his head easy on the grass, give a
last look into his lovin' eyes, and sent a bullet through his head. He
hardly stirred, I aimed so true, and when I seen him quite still, with
no more moanin' and pain, I was glad, and yet wal, I don't know as
I need by ashamed on't I jest put my arms raound his neck and
boo-hooed like a great baby. Sho! I didn't know I was sech a fool;"
and Silas drew his sleeve across his eyes, as much touched by
Daisy's sob, as by the memory of faithful Major.

No one spoke for a minute, because the boys were as quick to feel
the pathos of the little story as tender-hearted Daisy, though they
did not show it by crying.

"I'd like a horse like that," said Dan, half-aloud.

"Did the rebel man die, too?" asked Nan, anxiously.

"Not then. We laid there all day, and at night some of our fellers
came to look after the missing ones. They nat'rally wanted to take
me fust, but I knew I could wait, and the rebel had but one chance,
maybe, so I made them carry him off right away. He had jest
strength enough to hold out his hand to me and say, 'Thanky,
comrade!' and them was the last words he spoke, for he died an
hour after he got to the hospital-tent."

"How glad you must have been that you were kind to him!" said
Demi, who was deeply impressed by this story.

"Wal, I did take comfort thinkin' of it, as I laid there alone for a
number of hours with my head on Major's neck, and see the moon
come up. I'd like to have buried the poor beast decent, but it warn't
possible; so I cut off a bit of his mane, and I've kep it ever sence.
Want to see it, sissy?"

"Oh, yes, please," answered Daisy, wiping away her tears to look.

Silas took out an old "wallet" as he called his pocket-book, and
produced from an inner fold a bit of brown paper, in which was a
rough lock of white horse-hair. The children looked at it silently,
as it lay in the broad palm, and no one found any thing to ridicule
in the love Silas bore his good horse Major.

"That is a sweet story, and I like it, though it did make me cry.
Thank you very much, Si," and Daisy helped him fold and put
away his little relic; while Nan stuffed a handful of pop-corn into
his pocket, and the boys loudly expressed their flattering opinions
of his story, feeling that there had been two heroes in it.

He departed, quite overcome by his honors, and the little
conspirators talked the tale over, while they waited for their next
victim. It was Mrs. Jo, who came in to measure Nan for some new
pinafores she was making for her. They let her get well in, and
then pounced upon her, telling her the law, and demanding the
story. Mrs. Jo was very much amused at the new trap, and
consented at once, for the sound of happy voices had been coming
across the hall so pleasantly that she quite longed to join them, and
forget her own anxious thoughts of Sister Meg.

"Am I the first mouse you have caught, you sly pussies-in-boots?"
she asked, as she was conducted to the big chair, supplied with
refreshments, and surrounded by a flock of merry-faced listeners.

They told her about Silas and his contribution, and she slapped her
forehead in despair, for she was quite at her wits' end, being called
upon so unexpectedly for a bran new tale.

"What shall I tell about?" she said.

"Boys," was the general answer.

"Have a party in it," said Daisy.

"And something good to eat," added Stuffy.

"That reminds me of a story, written years ago, by a dear old lady.
I used to be very fond of it, and I fancy you will like it, for it has
both boys, and 'something good to eat' in it."

"What is it called?" asked Demi.

"'The Suspected Boy.' "

Nat looked up from the nuts he was picking, and Mrs. Jo smiled at
him, guessing what was in his mind.

"Miss Crane kept a school for boys in a quiet little town, and a
very good school it was, of the old-fashioned sort. Six boys lived
in her house, and four or five more came in from the town. Among
those who lived with her was one named Lewis White. Lewis was
not a bad boy, but rather timid, and now and then he told a lie. One
day a neighbor sent Miss Crane a basket of gooseberries. There
were not enough to go round, so kind Miss Crane, who liked to
please her boys, went to work and made a dozen nice little
gooseberry tarts."

"I'd like to try gooseberry tarts. I wonder if she made them as I do
my raspberry ones," said Daisy, whose interest in cooking had
lately revived.

"Hush," said Nat, tucking a plump pop-corn into her mouth to
silence her, for he felt a particular interest in this tale, and thought
it opened well.

"When the tarts were done, Miss Crane put them away in the best
parlor closet, and said not a word about them, for she wanted to
surprise the boys at tea-time. When the minute came and all were
seated at table, she went to get her tarts, but came back looking
much troubled, for what do you think had happened?"

"Somebody had hooked them!" cried Ned.

"No, there they were, but some one had stolen all the fruit out of
them by lifting up the upper crust and then putting it down after
the gooseberry had been scraped out."

"What a mean trick!" and Nan looked at Tommy, as if to imply
that he would do the same.

"When she told the boys her plan and showed them the poor little
patties all robbed of their sweetness, the boys were much grieved
and disappointed, and all declared that they knew nothing about
the matter. 'Perhaps the rats did it,' said Lewis, who was among the
loudest to deny any knowledge of the tarts. 'No, rats would have
nibbled crust and all, and never lifted it up and scooped out the
fruit. Hands did that,' said Miss Crane, who was more troubled
about the lie that some one must have told than about her lost
patties. Well, they had supper and went to bed, but in the night
Miss Crane heard some one groaning, and going to see who it was
she found Lewis in great pain. He had evidently eaten something
that disagreed with him, and was so sick that Miss Crane was
alarmed, and was going to send for the doctor, when Lewis
moaned out, 'It's the gooseberries; I ate them, and I must tell before
I die,' for the thought of a doctor frightened him. 'If that is all, I'll
give you an emetic and you will soon get over it,' said Miss Crane.
So Lewis had a good dose, and by morning was quite comfortable.
'Oh, don't tell the boys; they will laugh at me so,' begged the
invalid. Kind Miss Crane promised not to, but Sally, the girl, told
the story, and poor Lewis had no peace for a long time. His mates
called him Old Gooseberry, and were never tired of asking him the
price of tarts."

"Served him right," said Emil.

"Badness always gets found out," added Demi, morally.

"No, it don't," muttered Jack, who was tending the apples with
great devotion, so that he might keep his back to the rest and
account for his red face.

"Is that all?" asked Dan.

"No, that is only the first part; the second part is more interesting.
Some time after this a peddler came by one day and stopped to
show his things to the boys, several of whom bought
pocket-combs, jew's-harps, and various trifles of that sort. Among
the knives was a little white-handled penknife that Lewis wanted
very much, but he had spent all his pocket-money, and no one had
any to lend him. He held the knife in his hand, admiring and
longing for it, till the man packed up his goods to go, then he
reluctantly laid it down, and the man went on his way. The next
day, however, the peddler returned to say that he could not find
that very knife, and thought he must have left it at Miss Crane's. It
was a very nice one with a pearl handle, and he could not afford to
lose it. Every one looked, and every one declared they knew
nothing about it. 'This young gentleman had it last, and seemed to
want it very much. Are you quite sure you put it back?' said the
man to Lewis, who was much troubled at the loss, and vowed over
and over again that he did return it. His denials seemed to do no
good, however, for every one was sure he had taken it, and after a
stormy scene Miss Crane paid for it, and the man went grumbling
away."

"Did Lewis have it?" cried Nat, much excited.

"You will see. Now poor Lewis had another trial to bear, for the
boys were constantly saying, 'Lend me your pearl-handled knife,
Gooseberry,' and things of that sort, till Lewis was so unhappy he
begged to be sent home. Miss Crane did her best to keep the boys
quiet, but it was hard work, for they would tease, and she could not
be with them all the time. That is one of the hardest things to teach
boys; they won't 'hit a fellow when he is down,' as they say, but
they will torment him in little ways till he would thank them to
fight it out all round."

"I know that," said Dan.

"So do I," added Nat, softly.

Jack said nothing, but he quite agreed; for he knew that the elder
boys despised him, and let him alone for that very reason.

"Do go on about poor Lewis, Aunt Jo. I don't believe he took the
knife, but I want to be sure," said Daisy, in great anxiety.

"Well, week after week went on and the matter was not cleared up.
The boys avoided Lewis, and he, poor fellow, was almost sick with
the trouble he had brought upon himself. He resolved never to tell
another lie, and tried so hard that Miss Crane pitied and helped
him, and really came at last to believe that he did not take the
knife. Two months after the peddler's first visit, he came again,
and the first thing he said was

"'Well, ma'am, I found that knife after all. It had slipped behind the
lining of my valise, and fell out the other day when I was putting in
a new stock of goods. I thought I'd call and let you know, as you
paid for it, and maybe would like it, so here it is.' "

"The boys had all gathered round, and at these words they felt
much ashamed, and begged Lewis' pardon so heartily that he could
not refuse to give it. Miss Crane presented the knife to him, and he
kept it many years to remind him of the fault that had brought him
so much trouble."

"I wonder why it is that things you eat on the sly hurt you, and
don't when you eat them at table," observed Stuffy, thoughtfully.

"Perhaps your conscience affects your stomach," said Mrs. Jo,
smiling at his speech.

"He is thinking of the cucumbers," said Ned, and a gale of
merriment followed the words, for Stuffy's last mishap had been a
funny one.

He ate two large cucumbers in private, felt very ill, and confided
his anguish to Ned, imploring him to do something. Ned
good-naturedly recommended a mustard plaster and a hot flat iron
to the feet; only in applying these remedies he reversed the order
of things, and put the plaster on the feet, the flat iron on the
stomach, and poor Stuffy was found in the barn with blistered
soles and a scorched jacket.

"Suppose you tell another story, that was such an interesting one,"
said Nat, as the laughter subsided.

Before Mrs. Jo could refuse these insatiable Oliver Twists, Rob
walked into the room trailing his little bed-cover after him, and
wearing an expression of great sweetness as he said, steering
straight to his mother as a sure haven of refuge,

"I heard a great noise, and I thought sumfin dreffle might have
happened, so I came to see."

"Did you think I would forget you, naughty boy?" asked his
mother, trying to look stern.

"No; but I thought you'd feel better to see me right here,"
responded the insinuating little party.

"I had much rather see you in bed, so march straight up again,
Robin."

"Everybody that comes in here has to tell a story, and you can't so
you'd better cut and run," said Emil.

"Yes, I can! I tell Teddy lots of ones, all about bears and moons,
and little flies that say things when they buzz," protested Rob,
bound to stay at any price.

"Tell one now, then, right away," said Dan, preparing to shoulder
and bear him off.

"Well, I will; let me fink a minute," and Rob climbed into his
mother's lap, where he was cuddled, with the remark

"It is a family failing, this getting out of bed at wrong times. Demi
used to do it; and as for me, I was hopping in and out all night
long. Meg used to think the house was on fire, and send me down
to see, and I used to stay and enjoy myself, as you mean to, my bad
son."

"I've finked now," observed Rob, quite at his ease, and eager to
win the entree into this delightful circle.

Every one looked and listened with faces full of suppressed
merriment as Rob, perched on his mother's knee and wrapped in
the gay coverlet, told the following brief but tragic tale with an
earnestness that made it very funny:

"Once a lady had a million children, and one nice little boy. She
went up-stairs and said, 'You mustn't go in the yard.' But he
wented, and fell into the pump, and was drowned dead."

"Is that all?" asked Franz, as Rob paused out of breath with this
startling beginning.

"No, there is another piece of it," and Rob knit his downy
eyebrows in the effort to evolve another inspiration.

"What did the lady do when he fell into the pump?" asked his
mother, to help him on.

"Oh, she pumped him up, and wrapped him in a newspaper, and
put him on a shelf to dry for seed."

A general explosion of laughter greeted this surprising conclusion,
and Mrs. Jo patted the curly head, as she said, solemnly,

"My son, you inherit your mother's gift of story-telling. Go where
glory waits thee."

"Now I can stay, can't I? Wasn't it a good story?" cried Rob, in high
feather at his superb success.

"You can stay till you have eaten these twelve pop-corns," said his
mother, expecting to see them vanish at one mouthful.

But Rob was a shrewd little man, and got the better of her by
eating them one by one very slowly, and enjoying every minute
with all his might.

"Hadn't you better tell the other story, while you wait for him?"
said Demi, anxious that no time should be lost.

"I really have nothing but a little tale about a wood-box," said Mrs.
Jo, seeing that Rob had still seven corns to eat.

"Is there a boy in it?"

"It is all boy."

"Is it true?" asked Demi.

"Every bit of it."

"Goody! tell on, please."

"James Snow and his mother lived in a little house, up in New
Hampshire. They were poor, and James had to work to help his
mother, but he loved books so well he hated work, and just wanted
to sit and study all day long."

"How could he! I hate books, and like work," said Dan, objecting
to James at the very outset.

"It takes all sorts of people to make a world; workers and students
both are needed, and there is room for all. But I think the workers
should study some, and the students should know how to work if
necessary," answered Mrs. Jo, looking from Dan to Demi with a
significant expression.

"I'm sure I do work," and Demi showed three small hard spots in
his little palm, with pride.

"And I'm sure I study," added Dan, nodding with a groan toward
the blackboard full of neat figures.

"See what James did. He did not mean to be selfish, but his mother
was proud of him, and let him do as he liked, working by herself
that he might have books and time to read them. One autumn
James wanted to go to school, and went to the minister to see if he
would help him, about decent clothes and books. Now the minister
had heard the gossip about James's idleness, and was not inclined
to do much for him, thinking that a boy who neglected his mother,
and let her slave for him, was not likely to do very well even at
school. But the good man felt more interested when he found how
earnest James was, and being rather an odd man, he made this
proposal to the boy, to try now sincere he was.

"'I will give you clothes and books on one condition, James.'

"'What is that, sir?' and the boy brightened up at once.

"'You are to keep your mother's wood-box full all winter long, and
do it yourself. If you fail, school stops.' James laughed at the queer
condition and readily agreed to it, thinking it a very easy one.

"He began school, and for a time got on capitally with the
wood-box, for it was autumn, and chips and brushwood were
plentiful. He ran out morning and evening and got a basket full, or
chopped up the cat sticks for the little cooking stove, and as his
mother was careful and saving, the task was not hard. But in
November the frost came, the days were dull and cold, and wood
went fast. His mother bought a load with her own earnings, but it
seemed to melt away, and was nearly gone, before James
remembered that he was to get the next. Mrs. Snow was feeble and
lame with rheumatism, and unable to work as she had done, so
James had to put down the books, and see what he could do.

"It was hard, for he was going on well, and so interested in his
lessons that he hated to stop except for food and sleep. But he
knew the minister would keep his word, and much against his will
James set about earning money in his spare hours, lest the
wood-box should get empty. He did all sorts of things, ran errands,
took care of a neighbor's cow, helped the old sexton dust and warm
the church on Sundays, and in these ways got enough to buy fuel in
small quantities. But it was hard work; the days were short, the
winter was bitterly cold, and precious time went fast, and the dear
books were so fascinating, that it was sad to leave them, for dull
duties that never seemed done.

"The minister watched him quietly, and seeing that he was in
earnest helped him without his knowledge. He met him often
driving the wood sleds from the forest, where the men were
chopping and as James plodded beside the slow oxen, he read or
studied, anxious to use every minute. 'The boy is worth helping,
this lesson will do him good, and when he has learned it, I will
give him an easier one,' said the minister to himself, and on
Christmas eve a splendid load of wood was quietly dropped at the
door of the little house, with a new saw and a bit of paper, saying
only

"'The Lord helps those who help themselves.'

"Poor James expected nothing, but when he woke on that cold
Christmas morning, he found a pair of warm mittens, knit by his
mother, with her stiff painful fingers. This gift pleased him very
much, but her kiss and tender look as she called him her 'good son,'
was better still. In trying to keep her warm, he had warmed his
own heart, you see, and in filling the wood-box he had also filled
those months with duties faithfully done. He began to see this, to
feel that there was something better than books, and to try to learn
the lessons God set him, as well as those his school-master gave.

"When he saw the great pile of oak and pine logs at his door, and
read the little paper, he knew who sent it, and understood the
minister's plan; thanked him for it, and fell to work with all his
might. Other boys frolicked that day, but James sawed wood, and I
think of all the lads in the town the happiest was the one in the
new mittens, who whistled like a blackbird as he filled his
mother's wood-box."

"That's a first rater!" cried Dan, who enjoyed a simple
matter-of-face story better than the finest fairy tale; "I like that
fellow after all."

"I could saw wood for you, Aunt Jo!" said Demi, feeling as if a
new means of earning money for his mother was suggested by the
story.

"Tell about a bad boy. I like them best," said Nan.

"You'd better tell about a naughty cross-patch of a girl," said
Tommy, whose evening had been spoilt by Nan's unkindness. It
made his apple taste bitter, his pop-corn was insipid, his nuts were
hard to crack, and the sight of Ned and Nan on one bench made
him feel his life a burden.

But there were no more stories from Mrs. Jo, for on looking down
at Rob he was discovered to be fast asleep with his last corn firmly
clasped in his chubby hand. Bundling him up in his coverlet, his
mother carried him away and tucked him up with no fear of his
popping out again.

"Now let's see who will come next," said Emil, setting the door
temptingly ajar.

Mary Ann passed first, and he called out to her, but Silas had
warned her, and she only laughed and hurried on in spite of their
enticements. Presently a door opened, and a strong voice was
heard humming in the hall

"Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten

Dass ich so traurig bin."

"It's Uncle Fritz; all laugh loud and he will be sure to come in,"
said Emil.

A wild burst of laughter followed, and in came Uncle Fritz, asking,
"What is the joke, my lads?"

"Caught! caught! you can't go out till you've told a story," cried the
boys, slamming the door.

"So! that is the joke then? Well, I have no wish to go, it is so
pleasant here, and I pay my forfeit at once," which he did by sitting
down and beginning instantly

"A long time ago your Grandfather, Demi, went to lecture in a
great town, hoping to get some money for a home for little orphans
that some good people were getting up. His lecture did well, and
he put a considerable sum of money in his pocket, feeling very
happy about it. As he was driving in a chaise to another town, he
came to a lonely bit of road, late in the afternoon, and was just
thinking what a good place it was for robbers when he saw a
bad-looking man come out of the woods in front of him and go
slowly along as if waiting till he came up. The thought of the
money made Grandfather rather anxious, and at first he had a mind
to turn round and drive away. But the horse was tired, and then he
did not like to suspect the man, so he kept on, and when he got
nearer and saw how poor and sick and ragged the stranger looked,
his heart reproached him, and stopping, he said in a kind voice

"'My friend, you look tired; let me give you a lift.' The man seemed
surprised, hesitated a minute, and then got in. He did not seem
inclined to talk, but Grandfather kept on in his wise, cheerful way,
speaking of what a hard year it had been, how much the poor had
suffered, and how difficult it was to get on sometimes. The man
slowly softened a little, and won by the kind chat, told his story.
How he had been sick, could get no work, had a family of children,
and was almost in despair. Grandfather was so full of pity that he
forgot his fear, and, asking the man his name, said he would try to
get him work in the next town, as he had friends there. Wishing to
get at pencil and paper to write down the address, Grandfather
took out his plump pocket-book, and the minute he did so, the
man's eye was on it. Then Grandfather remembered what was in it
and trembled for his money, but said quietly

"'Yes, I have a little sum here for some poor orphans. I wish it was
my own, I would so gladly give you some of it. I am not rich, but I
know many of the trials of the poor; this five dollars is mine, and I
want to give it to you for your children.'

"The hard, hungry look in the man's eyes changed to a grateful one
as he took the small sum, freely given, and left the orphans' money
untouched. He rode on with Grandfather till they approached the
town, then he asked to be set down. Grandpa shook hands with
him, and was about to drive on, when the man said, as if
something made him, 'I was desperate when we met, and I meant
to rob you, but you were so kind I couldn't do it. God bless you, sir,
for keeping me from it!' "

"Did Grandpa ever see him again?" asked Daisy, eagerly.

"No; but I believe the man found work, and did not try robbery any
more."

"That was a curious way to treat him; I'd have knocked him down,"
said Dan.

"Kindness is always better than force. Try it and see," answered
Mr. Bhaer, rising.

"Tell another, please," cried Daisy.

"You must, Aunt Jo did," added Demi.

"Then I certainly won't, but keep my others for next time. Too
many tales are as bad as too many bonbons. I have paid my forfeit
and I go," and Mr. Bhaer ran for his life, with the whole flock in
full pursuit. He had the start, however, and escaped safely into his
study, leaving the boys to go rioting back again.

They were so stirred up by the race that they could not settle to
their former quiet, and a lively game of Blindman's Buff followed,
in which Tommy showed that he had taken the moral of the last
story to heart, for, when he caught Nan, he whispered in her ear,
"I'm sorry I called you a cross-patch."

Nan was not to be outdone in kindness, so, when they played
"Button, button, who's got the button?" and it was her turn to go
round, she said, "Hold fast all I give you," with such a friendly
smile at Tommy, that he was not surprised to find the horse-hair
ring in his hand instead of the button. He only smiled back at her
then, but when they were going to bed, he offered Nan the best bite
of his last apple; she saw the ring on his stumpy little finger,
accepted the bite, and peace was declared. Both were ashamed of
the temporary coldness, neither was ashamed to say, "I was wrong,
forgive me," so the childish friendship remained unbroken, and the
home in the willow lasted long, a pleasant little castle in the air.

CHAPTER XXI THANKSGIVING

This yearly festival was always kept at Plumfield in the good
old-fashioned way, and nothing was allowed to interfere with it.
For days beforehand, the little girls helped Asia and Mrs. Jo in
store-room and kitchen, making pies and puddings, sorting fruit,
dusting dishes, and being very busy and immensely important. The
boys hovered on the outskirts of the forbidden ground, sniffing the
savory odors, peeping in at the mysterious performances, and
occasionally being permitted to taste some delicacy in the process
of preparation.

Something more than usual seemed to be on foot this year, for the
girls were as busy up-stairs as down, so were the boys in
school-room and barn, and a general air of bustle pervaded the
house. There was a great hunting up of old ribbons and finery,
much cutting and pasting of gold paper, and the most remarkable
quantity of straw, gray cotton, flannel, and big black beads, used
by Franz and Mrs. Jo. Ned hammered at strange machines in the
workshop, Demi and Tommy went about murmuring to themselves
as if learning something. A fearful racket was heard in Emil's room
at intervals, and peals of laughter from the nursery when Rob and
Teddy were sent for and hidden from sight whole hours at a time.
But the thing that puzzled Mr. Bhaer the most was what became of
Rob's big pumpkin. It had been borne in triumph to the kitchen,
where a dozen golden-tinted pies soon after appeared. It would not
have taken more than a quarter of the mammoth vegetable to make
them, yet where was the rest? It disappeared, and Rob never
seemed to care, only chuckled when it was mentioned, and told his
father, "To wait and see," for the fun of the whole thing was to
surprise Father Bhaer at the end, and not let him know a bit about
what was to happen.

He obediently shut eyes, ears, and mouth, and went about trying
not to see what was in plain sight, not to hear the tell-tale sounds
that filled the air, not to understand any of the perfectly transparent
mysteries going on all about him. Being a German, he loved these
simple domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart,
for they made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go
elsewhere for fun.

When at last the day came, the boys went off for a long walk, that
they might have good appetites for dinner; as if they ever needed
them! The girls remained at home to help set the table, and give
last touches to various affairs which filled their busy little souls
with anxiety. The school-room had been shut up since the night
before, and Mr. Bhaer was forbidden to enter it on pain of a
beating from Teddy, who guarded the door like a small dragon,
though he was dying to tell about it, and nothing but his father's
heroic self-denial in not listening, kept him from betraying a grand
secret.

"It's all done, and it's perfectly splendid," cried Nan, coming out at
last with an air of triumph.

"The you know goes beautifully, and Silas knows just what to do
now," added Daisy, skipping with delight at some unspeakable
success.

"I'm blest if it ain't the 'cutest thing I ever see, them critters in
particular," said Silas, who had been let into the secret, went off
laughing like a great boy.

"They are coming; I hear Emil roaring 'Land lubbers lying down
below,' so we must run and dress," cried Nan, and up-stairs they
scampered in a great hurry.

The boys came trooping home with appetites that would have
made the big turkey tremble, if it had not been past all fear. They
also retired to dress; and for half-an-hour there was a washing,
brushing, and prinking that would have done any tidy woman's
heart good to see. When the bell rang, a troop of fresh-faced lads
with shiny hair, clean collars, and Sunday jackets on, filed into the
dining-room, where Mrs. Jo, in her one black silk, with a knot of
her favorite white chrysanthemums in her bosom, sat at the head of
the table, "looking splendid," as the boys said, whenever she got
herself up. Daisy and Nan were as gay as a posy bed in their new
winter dresses, with bright sashes and hair ribbons. Teddy was
gorgeous to behold in a crimson merino blouse, and his best button
boots, which absorbed and distracted him as much as Mr. Toot's
wristbands did on one occasion.

As Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer glanced at each other down the long table,
with those rows of happy faces on either side, they had a little
thanksgiving all to themselves, and without a word, for one heart
said to the other,

"Our work has prospered, let us be grateful and go on."

The clatter of knives and forks prevented much conversation for a
few minutes, and Mary Ann with an amazing pink bow in her hair
"flew round" briskly, handing plates and ladling out gravy. Nearly
every one had contributed to the feast, so the dinner was a
peculiarly interesting ones to the eaters of it, who beguiled the
pauses by remarks on their own productions.

"If these are not good potatoes I never saw any," observed Jack, as
he received his fourth big mealy one.

"Some of my herbs are in the stuffing of the turkey, that's why it's
so nice," said Nan, taking a mouthful with intense satisfaction.

"My ducks are prime any way; Asia said she never cooked such fat
ones," added Tommy.

"Well, our carrots are beautiful, ain't they, and our parsnips will be
ever so good when we dig them," put in Dick, and Dolly
murmured his assent from behind the bone he was picking.

"I helped make the pies with my pumpkin," called out Robby, with
a laugh which he stopped by retiring into his mug.

"I picked some of the apples that the cider is made of," said Demi.

"I raked the cranberries for the sauce," cried Nat.

"I got the nuts," added Dan, and so it went on all round the table.

"Who made up Thanksgiving?" asked Rob, for being lately
promoted to jacket and trousers he felt a new and manly interest in
the institutions of his country.

"See who can answer that question," and Mr. Bhaer nodded to one
or two of his best history boys.

"I know," said Demi, "the Pilgrims made it."

"What for?" asked Rob, without waiting to learn who the Pilgrims
were.

"I forget," and Demi subsided.

"I believe it was because they were starved once, and so when they
had a good harvest, they said, 'We will thank God for it,' and they
had a day and called it Thanksgiving," said Dan, who liked the
story of the brave men who suffered so nobly for their faith.

"Good! I didn't think you would remember any thing but natural
history," and Mr. Bhaer tapped gently on the table as applause for
his pupil.

Dan looked pleased; and Mrs. Jo said to her son, "Now do you
understand about it, Robby?"

"No, I don't. I thought pil-grins were a sort of big bird that lived on
rocks, and I saw pictures of them in Demi's book."

"He means penguins. Oh, isn't he a little goosey!" and Demi laid
back in his chair and laughed aloud.

"Don't laugh at him, but tell him all about it if you can," said Mrs.
Bhaer, consoling Rob with more cranberry sauce for the general
smile that went round the table at his mistake.

"Well, I will;" and, after a pause to collect his ideas, Demi
delivered the following sketch of the Pilgrim Fathers, which would
have made even those grave gentlemen smile if they could have
heard it.

"You see, Rob, some of the people in England didn't like the king,
or something, so they got into ships and sailed away to this
country. It was all full of Indians, and bears, and wild creatures,
and they lived in forts, and had a dreadful time."

"The bears?" asked Robby, with interest.

"No; the Pilgrims, because the Indians troubled them. They hadn't
enough to eat, and they went to church with guns, and ever so
many died, and they got out of the ships on a rock, and it's called
Plymouth Rock, and Aunt Jo saw it and touched it. The Pilgrims
killed all the Indians, and got rich; and hung the witches, and were
very good; and some of the greatest great-grandpas came in the
ships. One was the Mayflower; and they made Thanksgiving, and
we have it always, and I like it. Some more turkey, please."

"I think Demi will be an historian, there is such order and
clearness in his account of events;" and Uncle Fritz's eyes laughed
at Aunt Jo, as he helped the descendant of the Pilgrims to his third
bit of turkey.

"I thought you must eat as much as ever you could on
Thanksgiving. But Franz says you mustn't even then;" and Stuffy
looked as if he had received bad news.

"Franz is right, so mind your knife and fork, and be moderate, or
else you won't be able to help in the surprise by and by," said Mrs.
Jo.

"I'll be careful; but everybody does eat lots, and I like it better than
being moderate," said Stuffy, who leaned to the popular belief that
Thanksgiving must be kept by coming as near apoplexy as
possible, and escaping with merely a fit of indigestion or a
headache.

"Now, my 'pilgrims' amuse yourselves quietly till tea-time, for you
will have enough excitement this evening," said Mrs. Jo, as they
rose from the table after a protracted sitting, finished by drinking
every one's health in cider.

"I think I will take the whole flock for a drive, it is so pleasant;
then you can rest, my dear, or you will be worn out this evening,"
added Mr. Bhaer; and as soon as coats and hats could be put on,
the great omnibus was packed full, and away they went for a long
gay drive, leaving Mrs. Jo to rest and finish sundry small affairs in
peace.

An early and light tea was followed by more brushing of hair and
washing of hands; then the flock waited impatiently for the
company to come. Only the family was expected; for these small
revels were strictly domestic, and such being the case, sorrow was
not allowed to sadden the present festival. All came; Mr. and Mrs.
March, with Aunt Meg, so sweet and lovely, in spite of her black
dress and the little widow's cap that encircled her tranquil face.
Uncle Teddy and Aunt Amy, with the Princess looking more
fairy-like than ever, in a sky-blue gown, and a great bouquet of
hot-house flowers, which she divided among the boys, sticking one
in each button-hole, making them feel peculiarly elegant and
festive. One strange face appeared, and Uncle Teddy led the
unknown gentleman up to the Bhaers, saying

"This is Mr. Hyde; he has been inquiring about Dan, and I ventured
to bring him to-night, that he might see how much the boy has
improved."

The Bhaers received him cordially, for Dan's sake, pleased that the
lad had been remembered. But, after a few minutes' chat, they
were glad to know Mr. Hyde for his own sake, so genial, simple,
and interesting was he. It was pleasant to see the boy's face light up
when he caught sight of his friend; pleasanter still to see Mr.
Hyde's surprise and satisfaction in Dan's improved manners and
appearance, and pleasantest of all to watch the two sit talking in a
corner, forgetting the differences of age, culture, and position, in
the one subject which interested both, as man and boy compared
notes, and told the story of their summer life.

"The performance must begin soon, or the actors will go to sleep,"
said Mrs. Jo, when the first greetings were over.

So every one went into the school-room, and took seats before a
curtain made of two bed-covers. The children had already
vanished; but stifled laughter, and funny little exclamations from
behind the curtain, betrayed their whereabouts. The entertainment
began with a spirited exhibition of gymnastics, led by Franz. The
six elder lads, in blue trousers and red shirts, made a fine display
of muscle with dumb-bells, clubs, and weights, keeping time to the
music of the piano, played by Mrs. Jo behind the scenes. Dan was
so energetic in this exercise, that there was some danger of his
knocking down his neighbors, like so many nine-pins, or sending
his bean-bags whizzing among the audience; for he was excited by
Mr. Hyde's presence, and a burning desire to do honor to his
teachers.

"A fine, strong lad. If I go on my trip to South America, in a year
or two, I shall be tempted to ask you to lend him to me, Mr.
Bhaer," said Mr. Hyde, whose interest in Dan was much increased
by the report he had just heard of him.

"You shall have him, and welcome, though we shall miss our
young Hercules very much. It would do him a world of good, and I
am sure he would serve his friend faithfully."

Dan heard both question and answer, and his heart leaped with joy
at the thought of travelling in a new country with Mr. Hyde, and
swelled with gratitude for the kindly commendation which
rewarded his efforts to be all these friends desired to see him.

After the gymnastics, Demi and Tommy spoke the old school
dialogue, "Money makes the mare go." Demi did very well, but
Tommy was capital as the old farmer; for he imitated Silas in a
way that convulsed the audience, and caused Silas himself to laugh
so hard that Asia had to slap him on the back, as they stood in the
hall enjoying the fun immensely.

Then Emil, who had got his breath by this time, gave them a
sea-song in costume, with a great deal about "stormy winds," "lee
shores," and a rousing chorus of "Luff, boys, luff," which made the
room ring; after which Ned performed a funny Chinese dance, and
hopped about like a large frog in a pagoda hat. As this was the only
public exhibition ever held at Plumfield, a few exercises in
lightning-arithmetic, spelling, and reading were given. Jack quite
amazed the public by his rapid calculations on the blackboard.
Tommy won in the spelling match, and Demi read a little French
fable so well that Uncle Teddy was charmed.

"Where are the other children?" asked every one as the curtain fell,
and none of the little ones appeared.

"Oh, that is the surprise. It's so lovely, I pity you because you don't
know it," said Demi, who had gone to get his mother's kiss, and
stayed by her to explain the mystery when it should be revealed.

Goldilocks had been carried off by Aunt Jo, to the great
amazement of her papa, who quite outdid Mr. Bhaer in acting
wonder, suspense, and wild impatience to know "what was going
to happen."

At last, after much rustling, hammering, and very audible
directions from the stage manager, the curtain rose to soft music,
and Bess was discovered sitting on a stool beside a brown paper
fire-place. A dearer little Cinderella was never seen; for the gray
gown was very ragged, the tiny shoes all worn, the face so pretty
under the bright hair, and the attitude so dejected, it brought tears,
as well as smiles, to the fond eyes looking at the baby actress. She
sat quite still, till a voice whispered, "Now!" then she sighed a
funny little sigh, and said, "Oh I wish I tood go to the ball!" so
naturally, that her father clapped frantically, and her mother called
out, "Little darling!" These highly improper expressions of feeling
caused Cinderella to forget herself, and shake her head at them,
saying, reprovingly, "You mustn't 'peak to me."

Silence instantly prevailed, and three taps were heard on the wall.
Cinderella looked alarmed, but before she could remember to say,
"What is dat?" the back of the brown paper fire-place opened like a
door, and, with some difficulty, the fairy godmother got herself
and her pointed hat through. It was Nan, in a red cloak, a cap, and
a wand, which she waved as she said decidedly,

"You shall go to the ball, my dear."

"Now you must pull and show my pretty dress," returned
Cinderella, tugging at her brown gown.

"No, no; you must say, 'How can I go in my rags?' " said the
godmother in her own voice.

"Oh yes, so I mus';" and the Princess said it, quite undisturbed by
her forgetfulness.

"I change your rags into a splendid dress, because you are good,"
said the godmother in her stage tones; and deliberately
unbuttoning the brown pinafore, she displayed a gorgeous sight.

The little Princess really was pretty enough to turn the heads of
any number of small princes, for her mamma had dressed her like
a tiny court lady, in a rosy silk train with satin under-skirt, and bits
of bouquets here and there, quite lovely to behold. The godmother
put a crown, with pink and white feathers drooping from it, on her
head, and gave her a pair of silver paper slippers, which she put
on, and then stood up, lifting her skirts to show them to the
audience, saying, with pride, "My dlass ones, ain't they pitty?"

She was so charmed with them, that she was with difficulty
recalled to her part, and made to say

"But I have no toach, Dodmother."

"Behold it!" and Nan waved her wand with such a flourish, that
she nearly knocked off the crown of the Princess.

Then appeared the grand triumph of the piece. First, a rope was
seen to flap on the floor, to tighten with a twitch as Emil's voice
was heard to say, "Heave, ahoy!" and Silas's gruff one to reply,
"Stiddy, now, stiddy!" A shout of laughter followed, for four large
gray rats appeared, rather shaky as to their legs, and queer as to
their tails, but quite fine about the head, where black beads shone
in the most lifelike manner. They drew, or were intended to appear
as if they did, a magnificent coach made of half the mammoth
pumpkin, mounted on the wheels of Teddy's wagon, painted
yellow to match the gay carriage. Perched on a seat in front sat a
jolly little coachman in a white cotton-wool wig, cocked hat,
scarlet breeches, and laced coat, who cracked a long whip and
jerked the red reins so energetically, that the gray steeds reared
finely. It was Teddy, and he beamed upon the company so affably
that they gave him a round all to himself; and Uncle Laurie said,
"If I could find as sober a coachman as that one, I would engage
him on the spot." The coach stopped, the godmother lifted in the
Princess, and she was trundled away in state, kissing her hand to
the public, with her glass shoes sticking up in front, and her pink
train sweeping the ground behind, for, elegant as the coach was, I
regret to say that her Highness was rather a tight fit.

The next scene was the ball, and here Nan and Daisy appeared as
gay as peacocks in all sorts of finery. Nan was especially good as
the proud sister, and crushed many imaginary ladies as she swept
about the palace-hall. The Prince, in solitary state upon a
somewhat unsteady throne, sat gazing about him from under an
imposing crown, as he played with his sword and admired the
rosettes in his shoes. When Cinderella came in he jumped up, and
exclaimed, with more warmth than elegance,

"My gracious! who is that?" and immediately led the lady out to
dance, while the sisters scowled and turned up their noses in the
corner.

The stately jig executed by the little couple was very pretty, for the
childish faces were so earnest, the costumes so gay, and the steps
so peculiar, that they looked like the dainty quaint figures painted
on a Watteau fan. The Princess's train was very much in her way,
and the sword of Prince Rob nearly tripped him up several times.
But they overcame these obstacles remarkably well, and finished
the dance with much grace and spirit, considering that neither
knew what the other was about.

"Drop your shoe," whispered Mrs. Jo's voice as the lady was about
to sit down.

"Oh, I fordot!" and, taking off one of the silvery slippers,
Cinderella planted it carefully in the middle of the stage, said to
Rob, "Now you must try and tatch me," and ran away, while the
Prince, picking up the shoe, obediently trotted after her.

The third scene, as everybody knows, is where the herald comes to
try on the shoe. Teddy, still in coachman's dress, came in blowing
a tin fish-horn melodiously, and the proud sisters each tried to put
on the slipper. Nan insisted on playing cut off her toe with a
carving-knife, and performed that operation so well that the herald
was alarmed, and begged her to be "welly keerful." Cinderella then
was called, and came in with the pinafore half on, slipped her foot
into the slipper, and announced, with satisfaction,

"I am the Pinsiss."

Daisy wept, and begged pardon; but Nan, who liked tragedy,
improved upon the story, and fell in a fainting-fit upon the floor,
where she remained comfortably enjoying the rest of the play. It
was not long, for the Prince ran in, dropped upon his knees, and
kissed the hand of Goldilocks with great ardor, while the herald
blew a blast that nearly deafened the audience. The curtain had no
chance to fall, for the Princess ran off the stage to her father,
crying, "Didn't I do well?" while the Prince and herald had a
fencing-match with the tin horn and wooden sword.

"It was beautiful!" said every one; and, when the raptures had a
little subsided, Nat came out with his violin in his hand.

"Hush! hush!" cried all the children, and silence followed, for
something in the boy's bashful manner and appealing eyes make
every one listen kindly.

The Bhaers thought he would play some of the old airs he knew so

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