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The Louisa Alcott Reader by Louisa M. Alcott

Part 3 out of 3

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"Never mind; I'm used to it. Pull me up, and I'll rest while we talk about
it," he said cheerily, as his mother helped him to the bed, where he
forgot his pain in thinking of the delights in store for him.

Next day, the flag was flying from the wall, and Fay early at the hole,
but no Johnny came; and when Nanna went to see what kept him, she returned
with the sad news that the poor boy was suffering much, and would not be
able to stir for some days.

"Let me go and see him," begged Fay, imploringly.

"Cara mia, it is no place for you. So dark, so damp, so poor, it is enough
to break the heart," said Nanna, decidedly.

"If papa was here, he would let me go. I shall not play; I shall sit here
and make some plans for my poor boy."

Nanna left her indignant little mistress, and went to cook a nice bowl of
soup for Johnny; while Fay concocted a fine plan, and, what was more
remarkable, carried it out.

For a week it rained, for a week Johnny lay in pain, and for a week Fay
worked quietly at her little easel in the corner of the studio, while her
father put the last touches to his fine picture, too busy to take much
notice of the child. On Saturday the sun shone, Johnny was better, and the
great picture was done. So were the small ones; for as her father sat
resting after his work, Fay went to him, with a tired but happy face, and,
putting several drawings into his hand, told her cherished plan.

"Papa, you said you would pay me a dollar for every good copy I made of
the cast you gave me. I tried very hard, and here are three. I want some
money very, very much. Could you pay for these?"

"They are excellent," said the artist, after carefully looking at them.
"You _have_ tried, my good child, and here are your well-earned
dollars. What do you want them for?"

"To help my boy. I want him to come in here and see the pictures, and let
Nanna teach him to plait baskets; and he can rest, and you will like him,
and he might get well if he had some money, and I have three quarters the
friends gave me instead of bonbons. Would that be enough to send poor
Giovanni into the country and have doctors?"

No wonder Fay's papa was bewildered by this queer jumble, because, being
absorbed in his work, he had never heard half the child had told him, and
had forgotten all about Johnny. Now he listened with half an ear, studying
the effect of sunshine upon his picture meantime, while Fay told him the
little story, and begged to know how much money it would take to make
Johnny's back well.

"Bless your sweet soul, my darling, it would need more than I can spare or
you earn in a year. By and by, when I am at leisure, we will see what can
be done," answered papa, smoking comfortably, as he lay on the sofa in the
large studio at the top of the house.

"You say that about a great many things, papa. 'By and by' won't be long
enough to do all you promise then. I like _now_ much better, and poor
Giovanni needs the country more than you need cigars or I new frocks,"
said Fay, stroking her father's tired forehead and looking at him with an
imploring face.

"My dear, I cannot give up my cigar, for in this soothing smoke I find
inspiration, and though you are a little angel, you must be clothed; so
wait a bit, and we will attend to the boy--later." He was going to say "by
and by" again, but paused just in time, with a laugh.

"Then _I_ shall take him to the country all myself. I cannot wait for
this hateful 'by and by.' I know how I shall do it, and at once. Now,
now!" cried Fay, losing patience; and with an indignant glance at the lazy
papa, who seemed going to sleep, she dashed out of the room, down many
stairs, through the kitchen, startling Nanna and scattering the salad as
if a whirlwind had gone by, and never paused for breath till she stood
before the garden wall with a little hatchet in her hand.

"This shall be the country for him till I get enough money to send him
away. I will show what _I_ can do. He pulled out two bricks. _I_
will beat down the wall, and he _shall_ come in at once," panted Fay;
and she gave a great blow at the bricks, bent on having her will without
delay,--for she was an impetuous little creature, full of love and pity
for the poor boy pining for the fresh air and sunshine, of which she had
so much.

Bang, bang, went the little hatchet, and down came one brick after
another, till the hole was large enough for Fay to thrust her head
through; and being breathless by that time, she paused to rest and take a
look at Johnny's court.

Meanwhile Nanna, having collected her lettuce leaves and her wits, went to
see what the child was about; and finding her at work like a little fury,
the old woman hurried up to tell "the Signor," Fay's papa, that his little
daughter was about to destroy the garden and bury herself under the ruins
of the wall. This report, delivered with groans and wringing of the hands,
roused the artist and sent him to the rescue, as he well knew that his
angel was a very energetic one, and capable of great destruction.

When he arrived, he beheld a cloud of dust, a pile of bricks among the
lilies, and the feet of his child sticking out of a large hole in the
wall, while her head and shoulders were on the other side. Much amused,
yet fearful that the stone coping might come down on her, he pulled her
back with the assurance that he would listen and help her now immediately,
if there was such need of haste.

But he grew sober when he saw Fay's face; for it was bathed in tears, her
hands were bleeding, and dust covered her from head to foot.

"My darling, what afflicts you? Tell papa, and he will do anything you

"No, you will forget, you will say 'Wait;' and now that I have seen it
all, I cannot stop till I get him out of that dreadful place. Look, look,
and see if it is not sad to live there all in pain and darkness, and so

As she spoke, Fay urged her father toward the hole; and to please her he
looked, seeing the dull court, the noisy street beyond, and close by the
low room, where Johnny's mother worked all day, while the poor boy's pale
face was dimly seen as he lay on his bed waiting for deliverance.

"Well, well, it _is_ a pitiful case; and easily mended, since Fay is
so eager about it. Hope the lad is all she says, and nothing catching
about his illness. Nanna can tell me."

Then he drew back his head, and leading Fay to the seat, took her on his
knee, all flushed, dirty, and tearful as she was, soothing her by saying

"Now let me hear all about it, and be sure I'll not forget. What shall I
do to please you, dear, before you pull down the house about my ears?"

Then Fay told her tale all over again; and being no longer busy, her
father found it very touching, with the dear, grimy little face looking
into his, and the wounded hands clasped beseechingly as she pleaded for
poor Johnny.

"God bless your tender heart, child; you shall have him in here to-morrow,
and we will see what can be done for those pathetic legs of his. But
listen, Fay, I have an easier way to do it than yours, and a grand
surprise for the boy. Time is short, but it can be done; and to show you
that I am in earnest, I will go this instant and begin the work. Come and
wash your face while I get on my boots, and then we will go together."

At these words Fay threw her arms about papa's neck and gave him many
grateful kisses, stopping in the midst to ask,--

"Truly, _now_?"

"See if it is not so." And putting her down, papa went off with great
strides, while she ran laughing after him, all her doubts set at rest by
this agreeable energy on his part.

If Johnny had not been asleep in the back room, he would have seen strange
and pleasant sights that afternoon and evening; for something went on in
the court that delighted his mother, amused the artist, and made Fay the
happiest child in Boston. No one was to tell till the next day, that
Johnny's surprise might be quite perfect, and Mrs. Morris sat up till
eleven to get his old clothes in order; for Fay's papa had been to see
her, and became interested in the boy, as no one could help being when
they saw his patient little face.

So hammers rang, trowels scraped, shovels dug, and wonderful changes were
made, while Fay danced about in the moonlight, like Puck intent upon some
pretty prank, and papa quoted _Snout_, [Footnote: A character in
Shakspeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream."] the tinker's parting words, as
appropriate to the hour,--

"Thus have I, wall, my part discharged so;
And, being done, thus wall away doth go."


A lovely Sunday morning dawned without a cloud; and even in the dingy
court the May sunshine shone warmly, and the spring breezes blew freshly
from green fields far away. Johnny begged to go out; and being much
better, his mother consented, helping him to dress with such a bright face
and eager hands that the boy said innocently,--

"How glad you are when I get over a bad turn! I don't know what you'd do
if I ever got well."

"My poor dear, I begin to think you _will_ pick up, now the good
weather has come and you have got a little friend to play with. God bless

Why his mother should suddenly hug him tight, and then brush his hair so
carefully, with tears in her eyes, he did not understand; but was in such
a hurry to get out, he could only give her a good kiss, and hobble away to
see how his gallery fared after the rain, and to take a joyful "peek" at
the enchanted garden.

Mrs. Morris kept close behind him, and it was well she did; for he nearly
tumbled down, so great was his surprise when he beheld the old familiar
wall after the good fairies Love and Pity had worked their pretty miracle
in the moonlight.

The ragged hole had changed to a little arched door, painted red. On
either side stood a green tub, with a tall oleander in full bloom; from
the arch above hung a great bunch of gay flowers; and before the threshold
lay a letter directed to "Signor Giovanni Morris," in a childish hand. As
soon as he recovered from the agreeable shock of this splendid
transformation scene, Johnny sank into his chair, where a soft cushion had
been placed, and read his note, with little sighs of rapture at the
charming prospect opening before him.

DEAR GIOVANNI,--Papa has made this nice gate, so you can come
in when you like and not be tired. We are to have two keys, and no one
else can open it. A little bell is to ring when we pull the cord, and
we can run and see what we want. The paint is wet. Papa did it,
and the men put up the door last night. I helped them, and did not go
in my bed till ten. It was very nice to do it so. I hope you will like
it. Come in as soon as you can; I am all ready.

Your friend,


"Mother, she must be a real fairy to do all that, mustn't she?" said
Johnny, leaning back to look at the dear door behind which lay such
happiness for him.

"Yes, my sonny, she is the right sort of good fairy, and I just wish I
could do her washing for love the rest of her blessed little life,"
answered Mrs. Morris, in a burst of grateful ardor.

"You shall! you shall! Do come in! I cannot wait another minute!" cried an
eager little voice as the red door flew open; and there stood Fay, looking
very like a happy elf in her fresh white frock, a wreath of spring flowers
on her pretty hair, and a tall green wand in her hand, while the brilliant
bird sat on her shoulder, and the little white dog danced about her feet.

"So she bids you to come in,
With a dimple in your chin,
Billy boy, Billy boy,"

sung the child, remembering how Johnny liked that song; and waving her
wand, she went slowly backward as the boy, with a shining face, passed
under the blooming arch into a new world, full of sunshine, liberty, and
sweet companionship.

Neither Johnny nor his mother ever forgot that happy day, for it was the
beginning of help and hope to both just when life seemed hardest and the
future looked darkest.

Papa kept out of sight, but enjoyed peeps at the little party as they sat
under the chestnuts, Nanna and Fay doing the honors of the garden to their
guests with Italian grace and skill, while the poor mother folded her
tired hands with unutterable content, and the boy looked like a happy soul
in heaven.

Sabbath silence, broken only by the chime of bells and the feet of church-
goers, brooded over the city; sunshine made golden shadows on the grass;
the sweet wind brought spring odors from the woods; and every flower
seemed to nod and beckon, as if welcoming the new playmate to their lovely

While the women talked together, Fay led Johnny up and down her little
world, showing all her favorite nooks, making him rest often on the seats
that stood all about, and amusing him immensely by relating the various
fanciful plays with which she beguiled her loneliness.

"Now we can have much nicer ones; for you will tell me yours, and we can
do great things," she said, when she had displayed her big rocking-horse,
her grotto full of ferns, her mimic sea, where a fleet of toy boats lay at
anchor in the basin of an old fountain, her fairy-land under the lilacs,
with paper elves sitting among the leaves, her swing, that tossed one high
up among the green boughs, and the basket of white kittens, where Topaz,
the yellow-eyed cat, now purred with maternal pride. Books were piled on
the rustic table, and all the pictures Fay thought worthy to be seen.

Here also appeared a nice lunch, before the visitors could remember it was
noon and tear themselves away. Such enchanted grapes and oranges Johnny
never ate before; such delightful little tarts and Italian messes of
various sorts; even the bread and butter seemed glorified because served
in a plate trimmed with leaves and cut in dainty bits. Coffee that
perfumed the air put heart into poor Mrs. Morris, who half starved herself
that the boy might be fed; and he drank milk till Nanna said, laughing, as
she refilled the pitcher,--

"He takes more than both the blessed lambs we used to feed for Saint Agnes
in the convent at home. And he is truly welcome, the dear child, to the
best we have; for he is as innocent and helpless as they."

"What does she mean?" whispered Johnny to Fay, rather abashed at having
forgotten his manners in the satisfaction which three mugfuls of good milk
had given him.

So, sitting in the big rustic chair beside him, Fay told the pretty story
of the lambs who are dedicated to Saint Agnes, with ribbons tied to their
snowy wool, and then raised with care till their fleeces are shorn to make
garments for the Pope. A fit tale for the day, the child thought, and went
on to tell about the wonders of Rome till Johnny's head was filled with a
splendid confusion of new ideas, in which Saint Peter's and apple-tarts,
holy lambs and red doors, ancient images and dear little girls, were
delightfully mixed. It all seemed like a fairy tale, and nothing was too
wonderful or lovely to happen on that memorable day.

So when Fay's papa at last appeared, finding it impossible to keep away
from the happy little party any longer, Johnny decided at once that the
handsome man in the velvet coat was the king of the enchanted land, and
gazed at him with reverence and awe. A most gracious king he proved to be;
for after talking pleasantly to Mrs. Morris, and joking Fay on storming
the walls, he proposed to carry Johnny off, and catching him up, strode
away with the astonished boy on his shoulder, while the little girl danced
before to open doors and clear the way.

Johnny thought he couldn't be surprised any more; but when he had mounted
many stairs and found himself in a great room with a glass roof, full of
rich curtains, strange armor, pretty things, and pictures everywhere, he
just sat in the big chair where he was placed, and stared in silent

"This is papa's studio, and that the famous picture, and here is where I
work; and isn't it pleasant? and aren't you glad to see it?" said Fay,
skipping about to do the honors of the place.

"I don't believe heaven is beautifuller," answered Johnny, in a low tone,
as his eyes went from the green tree-tops peeping in at the windows to the
great sunny picture of a Roman garden, with pretty children at play among
the crumbling statues and fountains.

"I'm glad you like it, for we mean to have you come here a great deal. I
sit to papa very often, and get _so_ tired; and you can talk to me,
and then you can see me draw and model in clay, and then we'll go in the
garden, and Nanna will show you how to make baskets, and _then_ we'll

Johnny nodded and beamed at this charming prospect, and for an hour
explored the mysteries of the studio, with Fay for a guide and papa for an
amused spectator. He liked the boy more and more, and was glad Fay had so
harmless a playmate to expend her energies and compassion upon. He
assented to every plan proposed, and really hoped to be able to help these
poor neighbors; for he had a kind heart, and loved his little daughter
even more than his art.

When at last Mrs. Morris found courage to call Johnny away, he went
without a word, and lay down in the dingy room, his face still shining
with the happy thoughts that filled his mind, hungry for just such
pleasures, and never fed before.

After that day everything went smoothly, and both children blossomed like
the flowers in that pleasant garden, where the magic of love and pity,
fresh air and sunshine, soon worked miracles. Fay learned patience and
gentleness from Johnny; he grew daily stronger on the better food Nanna
gave him, and the exercise he was tempted to take; and both spent very
happy days working and playing, sometimes under the trees, where the
pretty baskets were made, or in the studio, where both pairs of small
hands modelled graceful things in clay, or daubed amazing pictures with
the artist's old brushes and discarded canvases.

Mrs. Morris washed everything washable in the house, and did up Fay's
frocks so daintily that she looked more like an elf than ever when her
head shone out from the fluted frills, like the yellow middle of a daisy
with its white petals all spread.

As he watched the children playing together, the artist, having no great
work in hand, made several pretty sketches of them, and then had a fine
idea of painting the garden scene where Fay first talked to Johnny. It
pleased his fancy, and the little people sat for him nicely; so he made a
charming thing of it, putting in the cat, dog, bird, and toad as the
various characters in Shakspeare's lovely play, while the flowers were the
elves, peeping and listening in all manner of merry, pretty ways.

He called it "Little Pyramus and Thisbe," and it so pleased a certain rich
lady that she paid a large price for it; and then, discovering that it
told a true story, she generously added enough to send Johnny and his
mother to the country, when Fay and her father were ready to go.

But it was to a lovelier land than the boy had ever read of in his fairy
books, and to a happier life than mending shoes in the dingy court. In the
autumn they all sailed gayly away together, to live for years in sunny
Italy, where Johnny grew tall and strong, and learned to paint with a kind
master and a faithful young friend, who always rejoiced that she found and
delivered him, thanks to the wonderful hole in the wall.

[Illustration: She got too lazy to care for anything but sleeping and



"I won't be washed! I won't be washed!" screamed little Betty, kicking and
slapping the maid who undressed her one night.

"You'd better go and live with the pigs, dirty child," said Maria,
scrubbing away at two very grubby hands.

"I wish I could! I love to be dirty,--I _will_ be dirty!" roared
Betty, throwing the sponge out of the window and the soap under the table.

Maria could do nothing with her; so she bundled her into bed half wiped,
telling her to go to sleep right away.

"I won't! I'll go and live with Mrs. Gleason's pigs, and have nothing to
do but eat and sleep, and roll in the dirt, and never, never be washed any
more," said Betty to herself.

She lay thinking about it and blinking at the moon for a while; then she
got up very softly, and crept down the back stairs, through the garden, to
the sty where two nice little pigs were fast asleep among the straw in
their small house. They only grunted when Betty crept into a corner,
laughing at the fun it would be to play piggy and live here with no Maria
to wash her and no careful mamma to keep saying,--

"Put on a clean apron, dear!"

Next morning she was waked up by hearing Mrs. Gleason pour milk into the
trough. She lay very still till the woman was gone; then she crept out and
drank all she wanted, and took the best bits of cold potato and bread for
her breakfast, and the lazy pigs did not get up till she was done. While
they ate and rooted in the dirt, Betty slept as long as she liked, with no
school, no errands, no patchwork to do. She liked it, and kept hidden till
night; then she went home, and opened the little window in the store
closet, and got in and took as many good things to eat and carry away as
she liked. She had a fine walk in her nightgown, and saw the flowers
asleep, heard the little birds chirp in the nest, and watched the
fireflies and moths at their pretty play. No one saw her but the cats; and
they played with her, and hopped at her toes, in the moonlight, and had
great fun.

When she was tired she went to sleep with the pigs, and dozed all the next
day, only coming out to eat and drink when the milk was brought and the
cold bits; for Mrs. Gleason took good care of her pigs, and gave them
clean straw often, and kept them as nice as she could.

Betty lived in this queer way a long time, and soon looked more like a pig
than a little girl; for her nightgown got dirty, her hair was never
combed, her face was never washed, and she loved to dig in the mud till
her hands looked like paws. She never talked, but began to grunt as the
pigs did, and burrowed into the straw to sleep, and squealed when they
crowded her, and quarrelled over the food, eating with her nose in the
trough like a real pig. At first she used to play about at night, and
steal things to eat; and people set traps to catch the thief in their
gardens, and the cook in her own house scolded about the rats that carried
off the cake and pies out of her pantry. But by and by she got too lazy
and fat to care for anything but sleeping and eating, and never left the
sty. She went on her hands and knees now, and began to wonder if a little
tail wouldn't grow and her nose change to a snout.

All summer she played be a pig, and thought it good fun; but when the
autumn came it was cold, and she longed for her nice warm flannel
nightgown, and got tired of cold victuals, and began to wish she had a
fire to sit by and good buckwheat cakes to eat. She was ashamed to go
home, and wondered what she should do after this silly frolic. She asked
the pigs how they managed in winter; but they only grunted, and she could
not remember what became of them, for the sty was always empty in cold

One dreadful night she found out. She was smuggled down between the great
fat piggies to keep warm; but her toes were cold, and she was trying to
pull the straw over them when she heard Mr. Gleason say to his boy,--

"We must kill those pigs to-morrow. They are fat enough; so come and help
me sharpen the big knife."

"Oh, dear, what will become of _me_?" thought Betty, as she heard the
grindstone go round and round as the knife got sharper and sharper. "I
look so like a pig they will kill me too, and make me into sausages if I
don't run away. I'm tired of playing piggy, and I'd rather be washed a
hundred times a day than be put in a pork barrel."

So she lay trembling till morning; then she ran through the garden and
found the back door open. It was very early, and no one saw her, for the
cook was in the shed getting wood to make her fire; so Betty slipped
upstairs to the nursery and was going to whisk into bed, when she saw in
the glass an ugly black creature, all rags and dirt, with rumpled hair,
and a little round nose covered with mud.

"Can it be me?" she said. "How horrid I am!" And she could not spoil her
nice white bed, but hopped into the bathtub and had a good scrubbing. Next
she got a clean nightgown, and brushed her hair, and cut her long nails,
and looked like a tidy little girl again.

Then she lay down in her cosey crib with the pink cover and the lace
curtains, and fell fast asleep, glad to have clean sheets, soft blankets,
and her own little pillow once more.

* * * * *

"Come, darling, wake up and see the new frock I have got for you, and the
nice ruffled apron. It's Thanksgiving day, and all the cousins are coming
to dinner," said her mamma, with a soft kiss on the rosy cheek.

Betty started up, screaming,--

"Don't kill me! Oh, please don't! I'm not a truly pig, I'm a little girl;
and if you'll let me run home, I'll never fret when I'm washed again."

"What is the dear child afraid of?" said mamma, cuddling her close, and
laughing to see Betty stare wildly about for the fat pigs and the stuffy

She told her mother all about the queer time she had had, and was much
surprised to hear mamma say,--

"It was all a dream, dear; you have been safely asleep in your little bed
ever since you slapped poor Maria last night."

"Well, I'm glad I dreamed it, for it has made me love to be clean. Come,
Maria, soap and scrub as much as you like, I won't kick and scream ever
any more," cried Betty, skipping about, glad to be safe in her pleasant
home and no longer a dirty, lazy piggy girl.

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