“Never borrowed a cent of me in his life,” cried Tommy, looked scared, for he guessed what was coming now, and felt that on the whole he would have preferred witchcraft, for he admired Dan immensely.
“Perhaps he took it,” cried Ned, who owed Dan a grudge for the ducking, and, being a mortal boy, liked to pay it off.
“O Dan!” cried Nat, clasping his hands, regardless of the bread and butter in them.
“It is a hard thing to do, but I must have this settled, for I cannot have you watching each other like detectives, and the whole school disturbed in this way. did you put that dollar in the barn this morning?” asked Mr. Bhaer.
Dan looked him straight in the face, and answered steadily, “Yes, I did.”
A murmur went round the table, Tommy dropped his mug with a crash; Daisy cried out, “I knew it wasn’t Nat;” Nan began to cry, and Mrs. Jo left the room, looking so disappointed, sorry, and ashamed that Dan could not bear it. He hid his face in his hands a moment, then threw up his head, squared his shoulders as if settling some load upon them, and said, with the dogged look, and half-resolute, half-reckless tone he had used when he first came
“I did it; now you may do what you like to me, but I won’t say another word about it.”
“Not even that you are sorry?” asked Mr. Bhaer, troubled by the change in him.
“I ain’t sorry.”
“I’ll forgive him without asking,” said Tommy, feeling that it was harder somehow to see brave Dan disgraced than timid Nat.
“Don’t want to be forgiven,” returned Dan, gruffly.
“Perhaps you will when you have thought about it quietly by yourself, I won’t tell you now how surprised and disappointed I am, but by and by I will come up and talk to you in your room.”
“Won’t make any difference,” said Dan, trying to speak defiantly, but failing as he looked at Mr. Bhaer’s sorrowful face; and, taking his words for a dismissal, Dan left the room as if he found it impossible to stay.
It would have done him good if he had stayed; for the boys talked the matter over with such sincere regret, and pity, and wonder, it might have touched and won him to ask pardon. No one was glad to find that it was he, not even Nat; for, spite of all his faults, and they were many, every one liked Dan now, because under his rough exterior lay some of the manly virtues which we most admire and love. Mrs. Jo had been the chief prop, as well as cultivator, of Dan; and she took it sadly to heart that her last and most interesting boy had turned out so ill. The theft was bad, but the lying about it, and allowing another to suffer so much from an unjust suspicion was worse; and most discouraging of all was the attempt to restore the money in an underhand way, for it showed not only a want of courage, but a power of deceit that boded ill for the future. Still more trying was his steady refusal to talk of the matter, to ask pardon, or express any remorse. Days passed; and he went about his lessons and his work, silent, grim, and unrepentant. As if taking warning by their treatment of Nat, he asked no sympathy of any one, rejected the advances of the boys, and spent his leisure hours roaming about the fields and woods, trying to find playmates in the birds and beasts, and succeeding better than most boys would have done, because he knew and loved them so well.
“If this goes on much longer, I’m afraid he will run away again, for he is too young to stand a life like this,” said Mr. Bhaer, quite dejected at the failure of all his efforts.
“A little while ago I should have been quite sure that nothing would tempt him away, but now I am ready of any thing, he is so changed,” answered poor Mrs. Jo, who mourned over her boy and could not be comforted, because he shunned her more than any one else, and only looked at her with the half-fierce, half-imploring eyes of a wild animal caught in a trap, when she tried to talk to him alone.
Nat followed him about like a shadow, and Dan did not repulse him as rudely as he did others, but said, in his blunt way, “You are all right; don’t worry about me. I can stand it better than you did.”
“But I don’t like to have you all alone,” Nat would say, sorrowfully.
“I like it;” and Dan would tramp away, stifling a sigh sometimes, for he was lonely.
Passing through the birch grove one day, he came up on several of the boys, who were amusing themselves by climbing up the trees and swinging down again, as they slender elastic stems bent till their tops touched the ground. Dan paused a minute to watch the fun, without offering to join in it, and as he stood there Jack took his turn. He had unfortunately chosen too large a tree; for when he swung off, it only bent a little way, and left him hanging at a dangerous height.
“Go back; you can’t do it!” called Ned from below.
Jack tried, but the twigs slipped from his hands, and he could not get his legs round the trunk. He kicked, and squirmed, and clutched in vain, then gave it up, and hung breathless, saying helplessly,
“Catch me! help me! I must drop!”
“You’ll be killed if you do,” cried Ned, frightened out of his wits.
“Hold on!” shouted Dan; and up the tree he went, crashing his way along till he nearly reached Jack, whose face looked up at him, full of fear and hope.
“You’ll both come down,” said Ned, dancing with excitement on the slope underneath, while Nat held out his arms, in the wild hope of breaking the fall.
“That’s what I want; stand from under,” answered Dan, coolly; and, as he spoke, his added weight bent the tree many feet nearer the earth.
Jack dropped safely; but the birch, lightened of half its load, flew up again so suddenly, that Dan, in the act of swinging round to drop feet foremost, lost his hold and fell heavily.
“I’m not hurt, all right in a minute,” he said, sitting up, a little pale and dizzy, as the boys gathered round him, full of admiration and alarm.
“You’re a trump, Dan, and I’m ever so much obliged to you,” cried Jack, gratefully.
“It wasn’t any thing,” muttered Dan, rising slowly.
“I say it was, and I’ll shake hands with you, though you are ,” Ned checked the unlucky word on his tongue, and held out his hand, feeling that it was a handsome thing on his part.
“But I won’t shake hands with a sneak;” and Dan turned his back with a look of scorn, that caused Ned to remember the brook, and retire with undignified haste.
“Come home, old chap; I’ll give you a lift;” and Nat walked away with him leaving the others to talk over the feat together, to wonder when Dan would “come round,” and to wish one and all that Tommy’s “confounded money had been in Jericho before it made such a fuss.”
When Mr. Bhaer came into school next morning, he looked so happy, that the boys wondered what had happened to him, and really thought he had lost his mind when they saw him go straight to Dan, and, taking him by both hands, say all in one breath, as he shook them heartily,
“I know all about it, and I beg your pardon. It was like you to do it, and I love you for it, though it’s never right to tell lies, even for a friend.”
“What is it?” cried Nat, for Dan said not a word, only lifted up his head, as if a weight of some sort had fallen off his back.
“Dan did not take Tommy’s money;” and Mr. Bhaer quite shouted it, he was so glad.
“Who did?” cried the boys in a chorus.
Mr. Bhaer pointed to one empty seat, and every eye followed his finger, yet no one spoke for a minute, they were so surprised.
“Jack went home early this morning, but he left this behind him;” and in the silence Mr. Bhaer read the note which he had found tied to his door-handle when he rose.
“I took Tommy’s dollar. I was peeking in through a crack and saw him put it there. I was afraid to tell before, though I wanted to. I didn’t care so much about Nat, but Dan is a trump, and I can’t stand it any longer. I never spent the money; it’s under the carpet in my room, right behind the washstand. I’m awful sorry. I am going home, and don’t think I shall ever come back, so Dan may have my things.
It was not an elegant confession, being badly written, much blotted, and very short; but it was a precious paper to Dan; and, when Mr. Bhaer paused, the boy went to him, saying, in a rather broken voice, but with clear eyes, and the frank, respectful manner they had tried to teach him,
“I’ll say I’m sorry now, and ask you to forgive me, sir.”
“It was a kind lie, Dan, and I can’t help forgiving it; but you see it did no good,” said Mr. Bhaer, with a hand on either shoulder, and a face full of relief and affection.
“It kept the boys from plaguing Nat. That’s what I did it for. It made him right down miserable. I didn’t care so much,” explained Dan, as if glad to speak out after his hard silence.
“How could you do it? You are always so kind to me,” faltered Nat, feeling a strong desire to hug his friend and cry. Two girlish performances, which would have scandalized Dan to the last degree.
“It’s all right now, old fellow, so don’t be a fool,” he said, swallowing the lump in his throat, and laughing out as he had not done for weeks. “Does Mrs. Bhaer know?” he asked, eagerly.
“Yes; and she is so happy I don’t know what she will do to you,” began Mr. Bhaer, but got no farther, for here the boys came crowding about Dan in a tumult of pleasure and curiosity; but before he had answered more than a dozen questions, a voice cried out,
“Three cheers for Dan!” and there was Mrs. Jo in the doorway waving her dish-towel, and looking as if she wanted to dance a jig for joy, as she used to do when a girl.
“Now then,” cried Mr. Bhaer, and led off a rousing hurrah, which startled Asia in the kitchen, and made old Mr. Roberts shake his head as he drove by, saying,
“Schools are not what they were when I was young!”
Dan stood it pretty well for a minute, but the sight of Mrs. Jo’s delight upset him, and he suddenly bolted across the hall into the parlor, whither she instantly followed, and neither were seen for half an hour.
Mr. Bhaer found it very difficult to calm his excited flock; and, seeing that lessons were an impossibility for a time, he caught their attention by telling them the fine old story of the friends whose fidelity to one another has made their names immortal. The lads listened and remembered, for just then their hearts were touched by the loyalty of a humbler pair of friends. The lie was wrong, but the love that prompted it and the courage that bore in silence the disgrace which belonged to another, made Dan a hero in their eyes. Honesty and honor had a new meaning now; a good name was more precious than gold; for once lost money could not buy it back; and faith in one another made life smooth and happy as nothing else could do.
Tommy proudly restored the name of the firm; Nat was devoted to Dan; and all the boys tried to atone to both for former suspicion and neglect. Mrs. Jo rejoiced over her flock, and Mr. Bhaer was never tired of telling the story of his young Damon and Pythias.
CHAPTER XV IN THE WILLOW
The old tree saw and heard a good many little scenes and confidences that summer, because it became the favorite retreat of all the children, and the willow seemed to enjoy it, for a pleasant welcome always met them, and the quiet hours spent in its arms did them all good. It had a great deal of company one Saturday afternoon, and some little bird reported what went on there.
First came Nan and Daisy with their small tubs and bits of soap, for now and then they were seized with a tidy fit, and washed up all their dolls’ clothes in the brook. Asia would not have them “slopping round” in her kitchen, and the bath-room was forbidden since Nan forgot to turn off the water till it overflowed and came gently dripping down through the ceiling. Daisy went systematically to work, washing first the white and then the colored things, rinsing them nicely, and hanging them to dry on a cord fastened from one barberry-bush to another, and pinning them up with a set of tiny clothes-pins Ned had turned for her. But Nan put all her little things to soak in the same tub, and then forgot them while she collected thistledown to stuff a pillow for Semiramis, Queen of Babylon, as one doll was named. This took some time, and when Mrs. Giddy-gaddy came to take out her clothes, deep green stains appeared on every thing, for she had forgotten the green silk lining of a certain cape, and its color had soaked nicely into the pink and blue gowns, the little chemises, and even the best ruffled petticoat.
“Oh me! what a mess!” sighed Nan.
“Lay them on the grass to bleach,” said Daisy, with an air of experience.
“So I will, and we can sit up in the nest and watch that they don’t blow away.”
The Queen of Babylon’s wardrobe was spread forth upon the bank, and, turning up their tubs to dry, the little washerwomen climbed into the nest, and fell to talking, as ladies are apt to do in the pauses of domestic labor.
“I’m going to have a feather-bed to go with my new pillow,” said Mrs. Giddy-gaddy, as she transferred the thistledown from her pocket to her handkerchief, losing about half in the process.
“I wouldn’t; Aunt Jo says feather-beds aren’t healthy. I never let my children sleep on any thing but a mattress,” returned Mrs. Shakespeare Smith, decidedly.
“I don’t care; my children are so strong they often sleep on the floor, and don’t mind it,” (which was quite true). “I can’t afford nine mattresses, and I like to make beds myself.”
“Won’t Tommy charge for the feathers?”
“May be he will, but I shan’t pay him, and he won’t care,” returned Mrs. G., taking a base advantage of the well-known good nature of T. Bangs.
“I think the pink will fade out of that dress sooner than the green mark will,” observed Mrs. S., looking down from her perch, and changing the subject, for she and her gossip differed on many points, and Mrs. Smith was a discreet lady.
“Never mind; I’m tired of dolls, and I guess I shall put them all away and attend to my farm; I like it rather better than playing house,” said Mrs. G., unconsciously expressing the desire of many older ladies, who cannot dispose of their families so easily however.
“But you mustn’t leave them; they will die without their mother,” cried the tender Mrs. Smith.
“Let ’em die then; I’m tired of fussing over babies, and I’m going to play with the boys; they need me to see to ’em,” returned the strong-minded lady.
Daisy knew nothing about women’s rights; she quietly took all she wanted, and no one denied her claim, because she did not undertake what she could not carry out, but unconsciously used the all-powerful right of her own influence to win from others any privilege for which she had proved her fitness. Nan attempted all sorts of things, undaunted by direful failures, and clamored fiercely to be allowed to do every thing that the boys did. They laughed at her, hustled her out of the way, and protested against her meddling with their affairs. But she would not be quenched and she would be heard, for her will was strong, and she had the spirit of a rampant reformer. Mrs. Bhaer sympathized with her, but tired to curb her frantic desire for entire liberty, showing her that she must wait a little, learn self-control, and be ready to use her freedom before she asked for it. Nan had meek moments when she agreed to this, and the influences at work upon her were gradually taking effect. She no longer declared that she would be engine-driver or a blacksmith, but turned her mind to farming, and found in it a vent for the energy bottled up in her active little body. It did not quite satisfy her, however; for her sage and sweet marjoram were dumb things, and could not thank her for her care. She wanted something human to love, work for, and protect, and was never happier than when the little boys brought their cut fingers, bumped heads, or bruised joints for her to “mend-up.” Seeing this, Mrs. Jo proposed that she should learn how to do it nicely, and Nursey had an apt pupil in bandaging, plastering, and fomenting. The boys began to call her “Dr. Giddy-gaddy,” and she liked it so well that Mrs. Jo one day said to the Professor
“Fritz, I see what we can do for that child. She wants something to live for even now, and will be one of the sharp, strong, discontented women if she does not have it. Don’t let us snub her restless little nature, but do our best to give her the work she likes, and by and by persuade her father to let her study medicine. She will make a capital doctor, for she has courage, strong nerves, a tender heart, and an intense love and pity for the weak and suffering.”
Mr. Bhaer smiled at first, but agreed to try, and gave Nan an herb-garden, teaching her the various healing properties of the plants she tended, and letting her try their virtues on the children in the little illnesses they had from time to time. She learned fast, remembered well, and showed a sense and interest most encouraging to her Professor, who did not shut his door in her face because she was a little woman.
She was thinking of this, as she sat in the willow that day, and when Daisy said in her gentle way
“I love to keep house, and mean to have a nice one for Demi when we grow up and live together.”
Nan replied with decision
“Well, I haven’t got any brother, and I don’t want any house to fuss over. I shall have an office, with lots of bottles and drawers and pestle things in it, and I shall drive round in a horse and chaise and cure sick people. That will be such fun.”
“Ugh! how can you bear the bad-smelling stuff and the nasty little powders and castor-oil and senna and hive syrup?” cried Daisy, with a shudder.
“I shan’t have to take any, so I don’t care. Besides, they make people well, and I like to cure folks. Didn’t my sage-tea make Mother Bhaer’s headache go away, and my hops stop Ned’s toothache in five hours? So now!”
“Shall you put leeches on people, and cut off legs and pull out teeth?” asked Daisy, quaking at the thought.
“Yes, I shall do every thing; I don’t care if the people are all smashed up, I shall mend them. My grandpa was a doctor, and I saw him sew a great cut in a man’s cheek, and I held the sponge, and wasn’t frightened a bit, and Grandpa said I was a brave girl.”
“How could you? I’m sorry for sick people, and I like to nurse them, but it makes my legs shake so I have to run away. I’m not a brave girl,” sighed Daisy.
“Well, you can be my nurse, and cuddle my patients when I have given them the physic and cut off their legs,” said Nan, whose practice was evidently to be of the heroic kind.
“Ship ahoy! Where are you, Nan?” called a voice from below.
“Here we are.”
“Ay, ay!” said the voice, and Emil appeared holding one hand in the other, with his face puckered up as if in pain.
“Oh, what’s the matter?” cried Daisy, anxiously.
“A confounded splinter in my thumb. Can’t get it out. Take a pick at it, will you, Nanny?”
“It’s in very deep, and I haven’t any needle,” said Nan, examining a tarry thumb with interest.
“Take a pin,” said Emil, in a hurry.
“No, it’s too big and hasn’t got a sharp point.”
Here Daisy, who had dived into her pocket, presented a neat little housewife with four needles in it.
“You are the Posy who always has what we want,” said Emil; and Nan resolved to have a needle-book in her own pocket henceforth, for just such cases as this were always occurring in her practice.
Daisy covered her eyes, but Nan probed and picked with a steady hand, while Emil gave directions not down in any medical work or record.
“Starboard now! Steady, boys, steady! Try another tack. Heave ho! there she is!”
“Suck it,” ordered the Doctor, surveying the splinter with an experienced eye.
“Too dirty,” responded the patient, shaking his bleeding hand.
“Wait; I’ll tie it up if you have got a handkerchief.”
“Haven’t; take one of those rags down there.”
“Gracious! no, indeed; they are doll’s clothes,” cried Daisy, indignantly.
“Take one of mine; I’d like to have you,” said Nan; and swinging himself down, Emil caught up the first “rag” he saw. It happened to be the frilled skirt; but Nan tore it up without a murmur; and when the royal petticoat was turned into a neat little bandage, she dismissed her patient with the command
“Keep it wet, and let it alone; then it will heal right up, and not be sore.”
“What do you charge?” asked the Commodore, laughing.
“Nothing; I keep a ‘spensary; that is a place where poor people are doctored free gratis for nothing,” explained Nan, with an air.
“Thank you, Doctor Giddy-gaddy. I’ll always call you in when I come to grief;” and Emil departed, but looked back to say for one good turn deserves another “Your duds are blowing away, Doctor.”
Forgiving the disrespectful word, “duds,” the ladies hastily descended, and, gathering up their wash, retired to the house to fire up the little stove, and go to ironing.
A passing breath of air shook the old willow, as if it laughed softly at the childish chatter which went on in the nest, and it had hardly composed itself when another pair of birds alighted for a confidential twitter.
“Now, I’ll tell you the secret,” began Tommy, who was “swellin’ wisibly” with the importance of his news.
“Tell away,” answered Nat, wishing he had brought his fiddle, it was so shady and quiet here.
“Well, we fellows were talking over the late interesting case of circumstantial evidence,” said Tommy, quoting at random from a speech Franz had made at the club, “and I proposed giving Dan something to make up for our suspecting him, to show our respect, and so on, you know something handsome and useful, that he could keep always and be proud of. What do you think we chose?”
“A butterfly-net; he wants one ever so much,” said Nat, looking a little disappointed, for he meant to get it himself.
“No, sir; it’s to be a microscope, a real swell one, that we see what-do-you-call-’ems in water with, and stars, and ant-eggs, and all sorts of games, you know. Won’t it be a jolly good present?” said Tommy, rather confusing microscopes and telescopes in his remarks.
“Tip-top! I’m so glad! Won’t it cost a heap, though?” cried Nat, feeling that his friend was beginning to be appreciated.
“Of course it will; but we are all going to give something. I headed the paper with my five dollars; for if it is done at all, it must be done handsome.”
“What! all of it? I never did see such a generous chap as you are;” and Nat beamed upon him with sincere admiration.
“Well, you see, I’ve been so bothered with my property, that I’m tired of it, and don’t mean to save up any more, but give it away as I go along, and then nobody will envy me, or want to steal it, and I shan’t be suspecting folks and worrying about my old cash,” replied Tommy, on whom the cares and anxieties of a millionaire weighed heavily.
“Will Mr. Bhaer let you do it?”
“He thought it was a first-rate plan, and said that some of the best men he knew preferred to do good with their money instead of laying it up to be squabbled over when they died.”
“Your father is rich; does he do that way?”
“I’m not sure; he gives me all I want; I know that much. I’m going to talk to him about it when I go home. Anyhow, I shall set him a good example;” and Tommy was so serious, that Nat did not dare to laugh, but said, respectfully
“You will be able to do ever so much with your money, won’t you?”
“So Mr. Bhaer said, and he promised to advise me about useful ways of spending it. I’m going to begin with Dan; and next time I get a dollar or so, I shall do something for Dick, he’s such a good little chap, and only has a cent a week for pocket-money. He can’t earn much, you know; so I’m going to kind of see to him;” and good-hearted Tommy quite longed to begin.
“I think that’s a beautiful plan, and I’m not going to try to buy a fiddle any more; I’m going to get Dan his net all myself, and if there is any money left, I’ll do something to please poor Billy. He’s fond of me, and though he isn’t poor, he’d like some little thing from me, because I can make out what he wants better than the rest of you.” And Nat fell to wondering how much happiness could be got out of his precious three dollars.
“So I would. Now come and ask Mr. Bhaer if you can’t go in town with me on Monday afternoon, so you can get the net, while I get the microscope. Franz and Emil are going too, and we’ll have a jolly time larking round among the shops.”
The lads walked away arm-in-arm, discussing the new plans with droll importance, yet beginning already to feel the sweet satisfaction which comes to those who try, no matter how humbly, to be earthly providences to the poor and helpless, and gild their mite with the gold of charity before it is laid up where thieves cannot break through and steal.
“Come up and rest while we sort the leaves; it’s so cool and pleasant here,” said Demi, as he and Dan came sauntering home from a long walk in the woods.
“All right!” answered Dan, who was a boy of few words, and up they went.
“What makes birch leaves shake so much more than the others?” asked inquiring Demi, who was always sure of an answer from Dan.
“They are hung differently. Don’t you see the stem where it joins the leaf is sort of pinched one way, and where it joins the twig, it is pinched another. This makes it waggle with the least bit of wind, but the elm leaves hang straight, and keep stiller.”
“How curious! will this do so?” and Demi held up a sprig of acacia, which he had broken from a little tree on the lawn, because it was so pretty.
“No; that belongs to the sort that shuts up when you touch it. Draw your finger down the middle of the stem, and see if the leaves don’t curl up,” said Dan, who was examining a bit of mica.
Demi tried it, and presently the little leaves did fold together, till the spray showed a single instead of a double line of leaves.
“I like that; tell me about the others. What do these do?” asked Demi, taking up a new branch.
“Feed silk-worms; they live on mulberry leaves, till they begin to spin themselves up. I was in a silk-factory once, and there were rooms full of shelves all covered with leaves, and worms eating them so fast that it made a rustle. Sometimes they eat so much they die. Tell that to Stuffy,” and Dan laughed, as he took up another bit of rock with a lichen on it.
“I know one thing about this mullein leaf: the fairies use them for blankets,” said Demi, who had not quite given up his faith in the existence of the little folk in green.
“If I had a microscope, I’d show you something prettier than fairies,” said Dan, wondering if he should ever own that coveted treasure. “I knew an old woman who used mullein leaves for a night-cap because she had face-ache. She sewed them together, and wore it all the time.”
“How funny! was she your grandmother?”
“Never had any. She was a queer old woman, and lived alone in a little tumble-down house with nineteen cats. Folks called her a witch, but she wasn’t, though she looked like an old rag-bag. She was real kind to me when I lived in that place, and used to let me get warm at her fire when the folks at the poorhouse were hard on me.”
“Did you live in a poorhouse?”
“A little while. Never mind that I didn’t mean to speak of it;” and Dan stopped short in his unusual fit of communicativeness.
“Tell about the cats, please,” said Demi, feeling that he had asked an unpleasant question, and sorry for it.
“Nothing to tell; only she had a lot of ’em, and kept ’em in a barrel nights; and I used to go and tip over the barrel sometimes, and let ’em out all over the house, and then she’d scold, and chase ’em and put ’em in again, spitting and yowling like fury.”
“Was she good to them?” asked Demi, with a hearty child’s laugh, pleasant to hear.
“Guess she was. Poor old soul! she took in all the lost and sick cats in the town; and when anybody wanted one they went to Marm Webber, and she let ’em pick any kind and color they wanted, and only asked ninepence, she was glad to have her pussies get a good home.”
“I should like to see Marm Webber. Could I, if I went to that place?”
“She’s dead. All my folks are,” said Dan, briefly.
“I’m sorry;” and Demi sat silent a minute, wondering what subject would be safe to try next. He felt delicate about speaking of the departed lady, but was very curious about the cats, and could not resist asking softly
“Did she cure the sick ones?”
“Sometimes. One had a broken leg, and she tied it up to a stick, and it got well; and another had fits, and she doctored it with yarbs till it was cured. But some of ’em died, and she buried ’em; and when they couldn’t get well, she killed ’em easy.”
“How?” asked Demi, feeling that there was a peculiar charm about this old woman, and some sort of joke about the cats, because Dan was smiling to himself.
“A kind lady, who was fond of cats, told her how, and gave her some stuff, and sent all her own pussies to be killed that way. Marm used to put a sponge wet with ether, in the bottom of an old boot, then poke puss in head downwards. The ether put her to sleep in a jiffy, and she was drowned in warm water before she woke up.”
“I hope the cats didn’t feel it. I shall tell Daisy about that. You have known a great many interesting things, haven’t you?” asked Demi, and fell to meditating on the vast experience of a boy who had run away more than once, and taken care of himself in a big city.
“Wish I hadn’t sometimes.”
“Why? Don’t remembering them feel good?”
“It’s very singular how hard it is to manage your mind,” said Demi, clasping his hands round his knees, and looking up at the sky as if for information upon his favorite topic.
“Devilish hard no, I don’t mean that;” and Dan bit his lips, for the forbidden word slipped out in spite of him, and he wanted to be more careful with Demi than with any of the other boys.
“I’ll play I didn’t hear it,” said Demi; “and you won’t do it again, I’m sure.”
“Not if I can help it. That’s one of the things I don’t want to remember. I keep pegging away, but it don’t seem to do much good;” and Dan looked discouraged.
“Yes, it does. You don’t say half so many bad words as you used to; and Aunt Jo is pleased, because she said it was a hard habit to break up.”
“Did she?” and Dan cheered up a bit.
“You must put swearing away in your fault-drawer, and lock it up; that’s the way I do with my badness.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dan, looking as if he found Demi almost as amusing as a new sort of cockchafer or beetle.
“Well, it’s one of my private plays, and I’ll tell you, but I think you’ll laugh at it,” began Demi, glad to hold forth on this congenial subject. “I play that my mind is a round room, and my soul is a little sort of creature with wings that lives in it. The walls are full of shelves and drawers, and in them I keep my thoughts, and my goodness and badness, and all sorts of things. The goods I keep where I can see them, and the bads I lock up tight, but they get out, and I have to keep putting them in and squeezing them down, they are so strong. The thoughts I play with when I am alone or in bed, and I make up and do what I like with them. Every Sunday I put my room in order, and talk with the little spirit that lives there, and tell him what to do. He is very bad sometimes, and won’t mind me, and I have to scold him, and take him to Grandpa. He always makes him behave, and be sorry for his faults, because Grandpa likes this play, and gives me nice things to put in the drawers, and tells me how to shut up the naughties. Hadn’t you better try that way? It’s a very good one;” and Demi looked so earnest and full of faith, that Dan did not laugh at his quaint fancy, but said, soberly,
“I don’t think there is a lock strong enough to keep my badness shut up. Any way my room is in such a clutter I don’t know how to clear it up.”
“You keep your drawers in the cabinet all spandy nice; why can’t you do the others?”
“I ain’t used to it. Will you show me how?” and Dan looked as if inclined to try Demi’s childish way of keeping a soul in order.
“I’d love to, but I don’t know how, except to talk as Grandpa does. I can’t do it good like him, but I’ll try.”
“Don’t tell any one; only now and then we’ll come here and talk things over, and I’ll pay you for it by telling all I know about my sort of things. Will that do?” and Dan held out his big, rough hand.
Demi gave his smooth, little hand readily, and the league was made; for in the happy, peaceful world where the younger boy lived, lions and lambs played together, and little children innocently taught their elders.
“Hush!” said Dan, pointing toward the house, as Demi was about to indulge in another discourse on the best way of getting badness down, and keeping it down; and peeping from their perch, they saw Mrs. Jo strolling slowly along, reading as she went, while Teddy trotted behind her, dragging a little cart upside down.
“Wait till they see us,” whispered Demi, and both sat still as the pair came nearer, Mrs. Jo so absorbed in her book that she would have walked into the brook if Teddy had not stopped her by saying
“Marmar, I wanter fis.”
Mrs. Jo put down the charming book which she had been trying to read for a week, and looked about her for a fishing-pole, being used to making toys out of nothing. Before she had broken one from the hedge, a slender willow bough fell at her feet; and, looking up, she saw the boys laughing in the nest.
“Up! up!” cried Teddy, stretching his arms and flapping his skirts as if about to fly.
“I’ll come down and you come up. I must go to Daisy now;” and Demi departed to rehearse the tale of the nineteen cats, with the exciting boot-and-barrel episodes.
Teddy was speedily whisked up; and then Dan said, laughing, “Come, too; there’s plenty of room. I’ll lend you a hand.”
Mrs. Jo glanced over her shoulder, but no one was in sight; and rather liking the joke of the thing, she laughed back, saying, “Well, if you won’t mention it, I think I will;” and with two nimble steps was in the willow.
“I haven’t climbed a tree since I was married. I used to be very fond of it when I was a girl,” she said, looking well-pleased with her shady perch.
“Now, you read if you want to, and I’ll take care of Teddy,” proposed Dan, beginning to make a fishing-rod for impatient Baby.
“I don’t think I care about it now. What were you and Demi at up here?” asked Mrs. Jo, thinking, from the sober look on Dan’s face, that he had something on his mind.
“Oh! we were talking. I’d been telling him about leaves and things, and he was telling me some of his queer plays. Now, then, Major, fish away;” and Dan finished off his work by putting a big blue fly on the bent pin which hung at the end of the cord he had tied to the willow-rod.
Teddy leaned down from the tree, and was soon wrapt up in watching for the fish which he felt sure would come. Dan held him by his little petticoats, lest he should take a “header” into the brook, and Mrs. Jo soon won him to talk by doing so herself.
“I am so glad you told Demi about ‘leaves and things;’ it is just what he needs; and I wish you would teach him, and take him to walk with you.”
“I’d like to, he is so bright; but ”
“I didn’t think you’d trust me.”
“Well, Demi is so kind of precious, and so good, and I’m such a bad lot, I thought you’d keep him away from me.”
“But you are not a ‘bad lot,’ as you say; and I do trust you, Dan, entirely, because you honestly try to improve, and do better and better every week.”
“Really?” and Dan looked up at her with the cloud of despondency lifting from his face.
“Yes; don’t you feel it?”
“I hoped so, but I didn’t know.”
“I have been waiting and watching quietly, for I thought I’d give you a good trial first; and if you stood it, I would give you the best reward I had. You have stood it well; and now I’m going to trust not only Demi, but my own boy, to you, because you can teach them some things better than any of us.”
“Can I?” and Dan looked amazed at the idea.
“Demi has lived among older people so much that he needs just what you have knowledge of common things, strength, and courage. He thinks you are the bravest boy he ever saw, and admires your strong way of doing things. Then you know a great deal about natural objects, and can tell him more wonderful tales of birds, and bees, and leaves, and animals, than his story-books give him; and, being true, these stories will teach and do him good. Don’t you see now how much you can help him, and why I like to have him with you?”
“But I swear sometimes, and might tell him something wrong. I wouldn’t mean to, but it might slip out, just as ‘devil’ did a few minutes ago,” said Dan, anxious to do his duty, and let her know his shortcomings.
“I know you try not to say or do any thing to harm the little fellow, and here is where I think Demi will help you, because he is so innocent and wise in his small way, and has what I am trying to give you, dear, good principles. It is never too early to try and plant them in a child, and never too late to cultivate them in the most neglected person. You are only boys yet; you can teach one another. Demi will unconsciously strengthen your moral sense, you will strengthen his common sense, and I shall feel as if I had helped you both.”
Words could not express how pleased and touched Dan was by this confidence and praise. No one had ever trusted him before, no one had cared to find out and foster the good in him, and no one had suspected how much there was hidden away in the breast of the neglected boy, going fast to ruin, yet quick to feel and value sympathy and help. No honor that he might earn hereafter would ever be half so precious as the right to teach his few virtues and small store of learning to the child whom he most respected; and no more powerful restraint could have been imposed upon him than the innocent companion confided to his care. He found courage now to tell Mrs. Jo of the plan already made with Demi, and she was glad that the first step had been so naturally taken. Every thing seemed to be working well for Dan, and she rejoiced over him, because it had seemed a hard task, yet, working on with a firm belief in the possibility of reformation in far older and worse subjects than he, there had come this quick and hopeful change to encourage her. He felt that he had friends now and a place in the world, something to live and work for, and, though he said little, all that was best and bravest in a character made old by a hard experience responded to the love and faith bestowed on him, and Dan’s salvation was assured.
Their quiet talk was interrupted by a shout of delight from Teddy, who, to the surprise of every one, did actually catch a trout where no trout had been seen for years. He was so enchanted with his splendid success that he insisted on showing his prize to the family before Asia cooked it for supper; so the three descended and went happily away together, all satisfied with the work of that half hour.
Ned was the next visitor to the tree, but he only made a short stay, sitting there at his ease while Dick and Dolly caught a pailful of grasshoppers and crickets for him. He wanted to play a joke on Tommy, and intended to tuck up a few dozen of the lively creatures in his bed, so that when Bangs got in he would speedily tumble out again, and pass a portion of the night in chasing “hopper-grasses” round the room. The hunt was soon over, and having paid the hunters with a few peppermints apiece Ned retired to make Tommy’s bed.
For an hour the old willow sighed and sung to itself, talked with the brook, and watched the lengthening shadows as the sun went down. The first rosy color was touching its graceful branches when a boy came stealing up the avenue, across the lawn, and, spying Billy by the brook-side, went to him, saying, in a mysterious tone,
“Go and tell Mr. Bhaer I want to see him down here, please. Don’t let any one hear.”
Billy nodded and ran off, while the boy swung himself up into the tree, and sat there looking anxious, yet evidently feeling the charm of the place and hour. In five minutes, Mr. Bhaer appeared, and, stepping up on the fence, leaned into the nest, saying, kindly,
“I am glad to see you, Jack; but why not come in and meet us all at once?”
“I wanted to see you first, please, sir. Uncle made me come back. I know I don’t deserve any thing, but I hope the fellows won’t be hard upon me.”
Poor Jack did not get on very well, but it was evident that he was sorry and ashamed, and wanted to be received as easily as possible; for his Uncle had thrashed him well and scolded him soundly for following the example he himself set. Jack had begged not to be sent back, but the school was cheap, and Mr. Ford insisted, so the boy returned as quietly as possible, and took refuge behind Mr. Bhaer.
“I hope not, but I can’t answer for them, though I will see that they are not unjust. I think, as Dan and Nat have suffered so much, being innocent, you should suffer something, being guilty. Don’t you?” asked Mr. Bhaer, pitying Jack, yet feeling he deserved punishment for a fault which had so little excuse.
“I suppose so, but I sent Tommy’s money back, and I said I was sorry, isn’t that enough?” said Jack, rather sullenly; for the boy who could do so mean a thing was not brave enough to bear the consequences well.
“No; I think you should ask pardon of all three boys, openly and honestly. You cannot expect them to respect and trust you for a time, but you can live down this disgrace if you try, and I will help you. Stealing and lying are detestable sins, and I hope this will be a lesson to you. I am glad you are ashamed, it is a good sign; bear it patiently, and do your best to earn a better reputation.”
“I’ll have an auction, and sell off all my goods dirt cheap,” said Jack, showing his repentance in the most characteristic way.
“I think it would be better to give them away, and begin on a new foundation. Take ‘Honesty is the best policy’ for your motto, and live up to it in act, and word, and thought, and though you don’t make a cent of money this summer, you will be a rich boy in the autumn,” said Mr. Bhaer, earnestly.
It was hard, but Jack consented, for he really felt that cheating didn’t pay, and wanted to win back the friendship of the boys. His heart clung to his possessions, and he groaned inwardly at the thought of actually giving away certain precious things. Asking pardon publicly was easy compared to this; but then he began to discover that certain other things, invisible, but most valuable, were better property than knives, fish-hooks, or even money itself. So he decided to buy up a little integrity, even at a high price, and secure the respect of his playmates, though it was not a salable article.
“Well, I’ll do it,” he said, with a sudden air of resolution, which pleased Mr. Bhaer.
“Good! and I’ll stand by you. Now come and begin at once.”
And Father Bhaer led the bankrupt boy back into the little world, which received him coldly at first, but slowly warmed to him, when he showed that he had profited by the lesson, and was sincerely anxious to go into a better business with a new stock-in-trade.
CHAPTER XVI TAMING THE COLT
“What in the world is that boy doing?” said Mrs. Jo to herself, as she watched Dan running round the half-mile triangle as if for a wager. He was all alone, and seemed possessed by some strange desire to run himself into a fever, or break his neck; for, after several rounds, he tried leaping walls, and turning somersaults up the avenue, and finally dropped down on the grass before the door as if exhausted.
“Are you training for a race, Dan?” asked Mrs. Jo, from the window where she sat.
He looked up quickly, and stopped panting to answer, with a laugh,
“No; I’m only working off my steam.”
“Can’t you find a cooler way of doing it? You will be ill if you tear about so in such warm weather,” said Mrs. Jo, laughing also, as she threw him out a great palm-leaf fan.
“Can’t help it. I must run somewhere,” answered Dan, with such an odd expression in his restless eyes, that Mrs. Jo was troubled, and asked, quickly,
“Is Plumfield getting too narrow for you?”
“I wouldn’t mind if it was a little bigger. I like it though; only the fact is the devil gets into me sometimes, and then I do want to bolt.”
The words seemed to come against his will, for he looked sorry the minute they were spoken, and seemed to think he deserved a reproof for his ingratitude. But Mrs. Jo understood the feeling, and though sorry to see it, she could not blame the boy for confessing it. She looked at him anxiously, seeing how tall and strong he had grown, how full of energy his face was, with its eager eyes and resolute mouth; and remembering the utter freedom he had known for years before, she felt how even the gentle restraint of this home would weigh upon him at times when the old lawless spirit stirred in him. “Yes,” she said to herself, “my wild hawk needs a larger cage; and yet, if I let him go, I am afraid he will be lost. I must try and find some lure strong enough to keep him safe.”
“I know all about it,” she added, aloud. “It is not ‘the devil,’ as you call it, but the very natural desire of all young people for liberty. I used to feel just so, and once, I really did think for a minute that I would bolt.”
“Why didn’t you?” said Dan, coming to lean on the low window-ledge, with an evident desire to continue the subject.
“I knew it was foolish, and love for my mother kept me at home.”
“I haven’t got any mother,” began Dan.
“I thought you had now,” said Mrs. Jo, gently stroking the rough hair off his hot forehead.
“You are no end good to me, and I can’t ever thank you enough, but it just isn’t the same, is it?” and Dan looked up at her with a wistful, hungry look that went to her heart.
“No, dear, it is not the same, and never can be. I think an own mother would have been a great deal to you. But as that cannot be, you must try to let me fill her place. I fear I have not done all I ought, or you would not want to leave me,” she added, sorrowfully.
“Yes, you have!” cried Dan, eagerly. “I don’t want to go, and I won’t go, if I can help it; but every now and then I feel as if I must burst out somehow. I want to run straight ahead somewhere, to smash something, or pitch into somebody. Don’t know why, but I do, and that’s all about it.”
Dan laughed as he spoke, but he meant what he said, for he knit his black brows, and brought down his fist on the ledge with such force, that Mrs. Jo’s thimble flew off into the grass. He brought it back, and as she took it she held the big, brown hand a minute, saying, with a look that showed the words cost her something
“Well, Dan, run if you must, but don’t run very far; and come back to me soon, for I want you very much.”
He was rather taken aback by this unexpected permission to play truant, and somehow it seemed to lessen his desire to go. He did not understand why, but Mrs. Jo did, and, knowing the natural perversity of the human mind, counted on it to help her now. She felt instinctively that the more the boy was restrained the more he would fret against it; but leave him free, and the mere sense of liberty would content him, joined to the knowledge that his presence was dear to those whom he loved best. It was a little experiment, but it succeeded, for Dan stood silent a moment, unconsciously picking the fan to pieces and turning the matter over in his mind. He felt that she appealed to his heart and his honor, and owned that he understood it by saying presently, with a mixture of regret and resolution in his face,
“I won’t go yet awhile, and I’ll give you fair warning before I bolt. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
“Yes, we will let it stand so. Now, I want to see if I can’t find some way for you to work off your steam better than running about the place like a mad dog, spoiling my fans, or fighting with the boys. What can we invent?” and while Dan tried to repair the mischief he had done, Mrs. Jo racked her brain for some new device to keep her truant safe until he had learned to love his lessons better.
“How would you like to be my express-man?” she said, as a sudden thought popped into her head.
“Go into town, and do the errands?” asked Dan, looking interested at once.
“Yes; Franz is tired of it, Silas cannot be spared just now, and Mr. Bhaer has no time. Old Andy is a safe horse, you are a good driver, and know your way about the city as well as a postman. Suppose you try it, and see if it won’t do most as well to drive away two or three times a week as to run away once a month.”
“I’d like it ever so much, only I must go alone and do it all myself. I don’t want any of the other fellows bothering round,” said Dan, taking to the new idea so kindly that he began to put on business airs already.
“If Mr. Bhaer does not object you shall have it all your own way. I suppose Emil will growl, but he cannot be trusted with horses, and you can. By the way, to-morrow is market-day, and I must make out my list. You had better see that the wagon is in order, and tell Silas to have the fruit and vegetables ready for mother. You will have to be up early and get back in time for school, can you do that?”
“I’m always an early bird, so I don’t mind,” and Dan slung on his jacket with despatch.
“The early bird got the worm this time, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Jo, merrily.
“And a jolly good worm it is,” answered Dan, as he went laughing away to put a new lash to the whip, wash the wagon, and order Silas about with all the importance of a young express-man.
“Before he is tired of this I will find something else and have it ready when the next restless fit comes on,” said Mrs. Jo to herself, as she wrote her list with a deep sense of gratitude that all her boys were not Dans.
Mr. Bhaer did not entirely approve of the new plan, but agreed to give it a trial, which put Dan on his mettle, and caused him to give up certain wild plans of his own, in which the new lash and the long hill were to have borne a part. He was up and away very early the next morning, heroically resisting the temptation to race with the milkmen going into town. Once there, he did his errands carefully, to Mr. Bhaer’s surprise and Mrs. Jo’s great satisfaction. The Commodore did growl at Dan’s promotion, but was pacified by a superior padlock to his new boat-house, and the thought that seamen were meant for higher honors than driving market-wagons and doing family errands. So Dan filled his new office well and contentedly for weeks, and said no more about bolting. But one day Mr. Bhaer found him pummelling Jack, who was roaring for mercy under his knee.
“Why, Dan, I thought you had given up fighting,” he said, as he went to the rescue.
“We ain’t fighting, we are only wrestling,” answered Dan, leaving off reluctantly.
“It looks very much like it, and feels like it, hey, Jack?” said Mr. Bhaer, as the defeated gentleman got upon his legs with difficulty.
“Catch me wrestling with him again. He’s most knocked my head off,” snarled Jack, holding on to that portion of his frame as if it really was loose upon his shoulders.
“The fact is, we began in fun, but when I got him down I couldn’t help pounding him. Sorry I hurt you, old fellow,” explained Dan, looking rather ashamed of himself.
“I understand. The longing to pitch into somebody was so strong you couldn’t resist. You are a sort of Berserker, Dan, and something to tussle with is as necessary to you as music is to Nat,” said Mr. Bhaer, who knew all about the conversation between the boy and Mrs. Jo.
“Can’t help it. So if you don’t want to be pounded you’d better keep out of the way,” answered Dan, with a warning look in his black eyes that made Jack sheer off in haste.
“If you want something to wrestle with, I will give you a tougher specimen than Jack,” said Mr. Bhaer; and, leading the way to the wood-yard, he pointed out certain roots of trees that had been grubbed up in the spring, and had been lying there waiting to be split.
“There, when you feel inclined to maltreat the boys, just come and work off your energies here, and I’ll thank you for it.”
“So I will;” and, seizing the axe that lay near Dan hauled out a tough root, and went at it so vigorously, that the chips flew far and wide, and Mr. Bhaer fled for his life.
To his great amusement, Dan took him at his word, and was often seen wrestling with the ungainly knots, hat and jacket off, red face, and wrathful eyes; for he got into royal rages over some of his adversaries, and swore at them under his breath till he had conquered them, when he exulted, and marched off to the shed with an armful of gnarled oak-wood in triumph. He blistered his hands, tired his back, and dulled the axe, but it did him good, and he got more comfort out of the ugly roots than any one dreamed, for with each blow he worked off some of the pent-up power that would otherwise have been expended in some less harmless way.
“When this is gone I really don’t know what I shall do,” said Mrs. Jo to herself, for no inspiration came, and she was at the end of her resources.
But Dan found a new occupation for himself, and enjoyed it some time before any one discovered the cause of his contentment. A fine young horse of Mr. Laurie’s was kept at Plumfield that summer, running loose in a large pasture across the brook. The boys were all interested in the handsome, spirited creature, and for a time were fond of watching him gallop and frisk with his plumey tail flying, and his handsome head in the air. But they soon got tired of it, and left Prince Charlie to himself. All but Dan, he never tired of looking at the horse, and seldom failed to visit him each day with a lump of sugar, a bit of bread, or an apple to make him welcome. Charlie was grateful, accepted his friendship, and the two loved one another as if they felt some tie between them, inexplicable but strong. In whatever part of the wide field he might be, Charlie always came at full speed when Dan whistled at the bars, and the boy was never happier than when the beautiful, fleet creature put its head on his shoulder, looking up at him with fine eyes full of intelligent affection.
“We understand one another without any palaver, don’t we, old fellow?” Dan would say, proud of the horse’s confidence, and, so jealous of his regard, that he told no one how well the friendship prospered, and never asked anybody but Teddy to accompany him on these daily visits.
Mr. Laurie came now and then to see how Charlie got on, and spoke of having him broken to harness in the autumn.
“He won’t need much taming, he is such a gentle, fine-tempered brute. I shall come out and try him with a saddle myself some day,” he said, on one of these visits.
“He lets me put a halter on him, but I don’t believe he will bear a saddle even if you put it on,” answered Dan, who never failed to be present when Charlie and his master met.
“I shall coax him to bear it, and not mind a few tumbles at first. He has never been harshly treated, so, though he will be surprised at the new performance, I think he won’t be frightened, and his antics will do no harm.”
“I wonder what he would do,” said Dan to himself, as Mr. Laurie went away with the Professor, and Charlie returned to the bars, from which he had retired when the gentlemen came up.
A daring fancy to try the experiment took possession of the boy as he sat on the topmost rail with the glossy back temptingly near him. Never thinking of danger, he obeyed the impulse, and while Charlie unsuspectingly nibbled at the apple he held, Dan quickly and quietly took his seat. He did not keep it long, however, for with an astonished snort, Charlie reared straight up, and deposited Dan on the ground. The fall did not hurt him, for the turf was soft, and he jumped up, saying, with a laugh,
“I did it anyway! Come here, you rascal, and I’ll try it again.”
But Charlie declined to approach, and Dan left him resolving to succeed in the end; for a struggle like this suited him exactly. Next time he took a halter, and having got it on, he played with the horse for a while, leading him to and fro, and putting him through various antics till he was a little tired; then Dan sat on the wall and gave him bread, but watched his chance, and getting a good grip of the halter, slipped on to his back. Charlie tried the old trick, but Dan held on, having had practice with Toby, who occasionally had an obstinate fit, and tried to shake off his rider. Charlie was both amazed and indignant; and after prancing for a minute, set off at a gallop, and away went Dan heels over head. If he had not belonged to the class of boys who go through all sorts of dangers unscathed, he would have broken his neck; as it was, he got a heavy fall, and lay still collecting his wits, while Charlie tore round the field tossing his head with every sign of satisfaction at the discomfiture of his rider. Presently it seemed to occur to him that something was wrong with Dan, and, being of a magnanimous nature, he went to see what the matter was. Dan let him sniff about and perplex himself for a few minutes; then he looked up at him, saying, as decidedly as if the horse could understand,
“You think you have beaten, but you are mistaken, old boy; and I’ll ride you yet see if I don’t.”
He tried no more that day, but soon after attempted a new method of introducing Charlie to a burden. He strapped a folded blanket on his back, and then let him race, and rear, and roll, and fume as much as he liked. After a few fits of rebellion Charlie submitted, and in a few days permitted Dan to mount him, often stopped short to look round, as if he said, half patiently, half reproachfully, “I don’t understand it, but I suppose you mean no harm, so I permit the liberty.”
Dan patted and praised him, and took a short turn every day, getting frequent falls, but persisting in spite of them, and longing to try a saddle and bridle, but not daring to confess what he had done. He had his wish, however, for there had been a witness of his pranks who said a good word for him.
“Do you know what that chap has ben doin’ lately?” asked Silas of his master, one evening, as he received his orders for the next day.
“Which boy?” said Mr. Bhaer, with an air of resignation, expecting some sad revelation.
“Dan, he’s ben a breaking the colt, sir, and I wish I may die if he ain’t done it,” answered Silas, chuckling.
“How do you know?”
“Wal, I kinder keep an eye on the little fellers, and most gen’lly know what they’re up to; so when Dan kep going off to the paster, and coming home black and blue, I mistrusted that suthing was goin’ on. I didn’t say nothin’, but I crep up into the barn chamber, and from there I see him goin’ through all manner of games with Charlie. Blest if he warn’t throwed time and agin, and knocked round like a bag o’ meal. But the pluck of that boy did beat all, and he ‘peared to like it, and kep on as ef bound to beat.”
“But, Silas, you should have stopped it the boy might have been killed,” said Mr. Bhaer, wondering what freak his irrepressibles would take into their heads next.
“S’pose I oughter; but there warn’t no real danger, for Charlie ain’t no tricks, and is as pretty a tempered horse as ever I see. Fact was, I couldn’t bear to spile sport, for ef there’s any thing I do admire it’s grit, and Dan is chock full on ‘t. But now I know he’s hankerin’ after a saddle, and yet won’t take even the old one on the sly; so I just thought I’d up and tell, and may be you’d let him try what he can do. Mr. Laurie won’t mind, and Charlie’s all the better for ‘t.”
“We shall see;” and off went Mr. Bhaer to inquire into the matter.
Dan owned up at once, and proudly proved that Silas was right by showing off his power over Charlie; for by dint of much coaxing, many carrots, and infinite perseverance, he really had succeeded in riding the colt with a halter and blanket. Mr. Laurie was much amused, and well pleased with Dan’s courage and skill, and let him have a hand in all future performances; for he set about Charlie’s education at once, saying that he was not going to be outdone by a slip of a boy. Thanks to Dan, Charlie took kindly to the saddle and bridle when he had once reconciled himself to the indignity of the bit; and after Mr. Laurie had trained him a little, Dan was permitted to ride him, to the great envy and admiration of the other boys.
“Isn’t he handsome? and don’t he mind me like a lamb?” said Dan one day as he dismounted and stood with his arm round Charlie’s neck.
“Yes, and isn’t he a much more useful and agreeable animal than the wild colt who spent his days racing about the field, jumping fences, and running away now and then?” asked Mrs. Bhaer from the steps where she always appeared when Dan performed with Charlie.
“Of course he is. See he won’t run away now, even if I don’t hold him, and he comes to me the minute I whistle; I have tamed him well, haven’t I?” and Dan looked both proud and pleased, as well he might, for, in spite of their struggles together, Charlie loved him better than his master.
“I am taming a colt too, and I think I shall succeed as well as you if I am as patient and persevering,” said Mrs. Jo, smiling so significantly at him, that Dan understood and answered, laughing, yet in earnest,
“We won’t jump over the fence and run away, but stay and let them make a handsome, useful span of us, hey, Charlie?”
CHAPTER XVII COMPOSITION DAY
“Hurry up, boys, it’s three o’clock, and Uncle Fritz likes us to be punctual, you know,” said Franz one Wednesday afternoon as a bell rang, and a stream of literary-looking young gentlemen with books and paper in their hands were seen going toward the museum.
Tommy was in the school-room, bending over his desk, much bedaubed with ink, flushed with the ardor of inspiration, and in a great hurry as usual, for easy-going Bangs never was ready till the very last minute. As Franz passed the door looking up laggards, Tommy gave one last blot and flourish, and departed out the window, waving his paper to dry as he went. Nan followed, looking very important, with a large roll in her hand, and Demi escorted Daisy, both evidently brimful of some delightful secret.
The museum was all in order, and the sunshine among the hop-vines made pretty shadows on the floor as it peeped through the great window. On one side sat Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer, on the other was a little table on which the compositions were laid as soon as read, and in a large semicircle sat the children on camp-stools which occasionally shut up and let the sitter down, thus preventing any stiffness in the assembly. As it took too much time to have all read, they took turns, and on this Wednesday the younger pupils were the chief performers, while the elder ones listened with condescension and criticised freely.
“Ladies first; so Nan may begin,” said Mr. Bhaer, when the settling of stools and rustling of papers had subsided.
Nan took her place beside the little table, and, with a preliminary giggle, read the following interesting essay on
“The sponge, my friends, is a most useful and interesting plant. It grows on rocks under the water, and is a kind of sea-weed, I believe. People go and pick it and dry it and wash it, because little fish and insects live in the holes of the sponge; I found shells in my new one, and sand. Some are very fine and soft; babies are washed with them. The sponge has many uses. I will relate some of them, and I hope my friends will remember what I say. One use is to wash the face; I don’t like it myself, but I do it because I wish to be clean. Some people don’t, and they are dirty.” Here the eye of the reader rested sternly upon Dick and Dolly, who quailed under it, and instantly resolved to scrub themselves virtuously on all occasions. “Another use is to wake people up; I allude to boys par-tic -u-lar-ly.” Another pause after the long word to enjoy the smothered laugh that went round the room. “Some boys do not get up when called, and Mary Ann squeezes the water out of a wet sponge on their faces, and it makes them so mad they wake up.” Here the laugh broke out, and Emil said, as if he had been hit,
“Seems to me you are wandering from the subject.”
“No, I ain’t; we are to write about vegetables or animals, and I’m doing both: for boys are animals, aren’t they?” cried Nan; and, undaunted by the indignant “No!” shouted at her, she calmly proceeded,
“One more interesting thing is done with sponges, and this is when doctors put ether on it, and hold it to people’s noses when they have teeth out. I shall do this when I am bigger, and give ether to the sick, so they will go to sleep and not feel me cut off their legs and arms.”
“I know somebody who killed cats with it,” called out Demi, but was promptly crushed by Dan, who upset his camp-stool and put a hat over his face.
“I will not be interruckted,” said Nan, frowning upon the unseemly scrimmagers. Order was instantly restored, and the young lady closed her remarks as follows:
“My composition has three morals, my friends.” Somebody groaned, but no notice was taken of the insult. “First, is keep your faces clean second, get up early third, when the ether sponge is put over your nose, breathe hard and don’t kick, and your teeth will come out easy. I have no more to say.” And Miss Nan sat down amid tumultuous applause.
“That is a very remarkable composition; its tone is high, and there is a good deal of humor in it. Very well done, Nan. Now, Daisy,” and Mr. Bhaer smiled at one young lady as he beckoned the other.
Daisy colored prettily as she took her place, and said, in her modest little voice,
“I’m afraid you won’t like mine; it isn’t nice and funny like Nan’s. But I couldn’t do any better.”
“We always like yours, Posy,” said Uncle Fritz, and a gentle murmur from the boys seemed to confirm the remark. Thus encouraged, Daisy read her little paper, which was listened to with respectful attention.
“The cat is a sweet animal. I love them very much. They are clean and pretty, and catch rats and mice, and let you pet them, and are fond of you if you are kind. They are very wise, and can find their way anywhere. Little cats are called kittens, and are dear things. I have two, named Huz and Buz, and their mother is Topaz, because she has yellow eyes. Uncle told me a pretty story about a man named Ma-ho-met. He had a nice cat, and when she was asleep on his sleeve, and he wanted to go away, he cut off the sleeve so as not to wake her up. I think he was a kind man. Some cats catch fish.”
“So do I!” cried Teddy, jumping up eager to tell about his trout.
“Hush!” said his mother, setting him down again as quickly as possible, for orderly Daisy hated to be “interruckted,” as Nan expressed it.
“I read about one who used to do it very slyly. I tried to make Topaz, but she did not like the water, and scratched me. She does like tea, and when I play in my kitchen she pats the teapot with her paw, till I give her some. She is a fine cat, she eats apple-pudding and molasses. Most cats do not.”
“That’s a first-rater,” called out Nat, and Daisy retired, pleased with the praise of her friend.
“Demi looks so impatient we must have him up at once or he won’t hold out,” said Uncle Fritz, and Demi skipped up with alacrity.
“Mine is a poem!” he announced in a tone of triumph, and read his first effort in a loud and solemn voice:
“I write about the butterfly,
It is a pretty thing;
And flies about like the birds,
But it does not sing.
“First it is a little grub,
And then it is a nice yellow cocoon,
And then the butterfly
Eats its way out soon.
“They live on dew and honey,
They do not have any hive,
They do not sting like wasps, and bees, and hornets,
And to be as good as they are we should strive.
“I should like to be a beautiful butterfly,
All yellow, and blue, and green, and red;
But I should not like
To have Dan put camphor on my poor little head.”
This unusual burst of genius brought down the house, and Demi was obliged to read it again, a somewhat difficult task, as there was no punctuation whatever, and the little poet’s breath gave out before he got to the end of some of the long lines.
“He will be a Shakespeare yet,” said Aunt Jo, laughing as if she would die, for this poetic gem reminded her of one of her own, written at the age of ten, and beginning gloomily,
“I wish I had a quiet tomb,
Beside a little rill;
Where birds, and bees, and butterflies,
Would sing upon the hill.”
“Come on, Tommy. If there is as much ink inside your paper as there is outside, it will be a long composition,” said Mr. Bhaer, when Demi had been induced to tear himself from his poem and sit down.
“It isn’t a composition, it’s a letter. You see, I forgot all about its being my turn till after school, and then I didn’t know what to have, and there wasn’t time to read up; so I thought you wouldn’t mind my taking a letter that I wrote to my Grandma. It’s got something about birds in it, so I thought it would do.”
With this long excuse, Tommy plunged into a sea of ink and floundered through, pausing now and then to decipher one of his own flourishes.
“MY DEAR GRANDMA, I hope you are well. Uncle James sent me a pocket rifle. It is a beautiful little instrument of killing, shaped like this [Here Tommy displayed a remarkable sketch of what looked like an intricate pump, or the inside of a small steam-engine] 44 are the sights; 6 is a false stock that fits in at A; 3 is the trigger, and 2 is the cock. It loads at the breech, and fires with great force and straightness. I am going out shooting squirrels soon. I shot several fine birds for the museum. They had speckled breasts, and Dan liked them very much. He stuffed them tip-top, and they sit on the tree quite natural, only one looks a little tipsy. We had a Frenchman working here the other day, and Asia called his name so funnily that I will tell you about it. His name was Germain: first she called him Jerry, but we laughed at her, and she changed it to Jeremiah; but ridicule was the result, so it became Mr. Germany; but ridicule having been again resumed, it became Garrymon, which it has remained ever since. I do not write often, I am so busy; but I think of you often, and sympathize with you, and sincerely hope you get on as well as can be expected without me. Your affectionate grandson,
“THOMAS BUCKMINSTER BANGS.
“P.S. ? If you come across any postage-stamps, remember me.
“N.B. Love to all, and a great deal to Aunt Almira. Does she make any nice plum-cakes now?
“P.S. ? Mrs. Bhaer sends her respects.
“P.S. ? And so would Mr. B, if he knew I was in act to write.
“N.B. Father is going to give me a watch on my birthday. I am glad as at present I have no means of telling time, and am often late at school.
“P.S. ? I hope to see you soon. Don’t you wish to send for me?
T. B. B.”
As each postscript was received with a fresh laugh from the boys, by the time he came to the sixth and last, Tommy was so exhausted that he was glad to sit down and wipe his ruddy face.
“I hope the dear old lady will live through it,” said Mr. Bhaer, under cover of the noise.
“We won’t take any notice of the broad hint given in that last P.S. The letter will be quite as much as she can bear without a visit from Tommy,” answered Mrs. Jo, remembering that the old lady usually took to her bed after a visitation from her irrepressible grandson.
“Now, me,” said Teddy, who had learned a bit of poetry, and was so eager to say it that he had been bobbing up and down during the reading, and could no longer be restrained.
“I’m afraid he will forget it if he waits; and I have had a deal of trouble teaching him,” said his mother.
Teddy trotted to the rostrum, dropped a curtsey and nodded his head at the same time, as if anxious to suit every one; then, in his baby voice, and putting the emphasis on the wrong words, he said his verse all in one breath:
“Little drops of water,
Little drains of sand,
Mate a might okum (ocean),
And a peasant land.
“Little words of kindness,
Pokin evvy day,
Make a home a hebbin,
And hep us on a way.”
Clapping his hands at the end, he made another double salutation, and then ran to hide his head in his mother’s lap, quite overcome by the success of his “piece,” for the applause was tremendous.
Dick and Dolly did not write, but were encouraged to observe the habits of animals and insects, and report what they saw. Dick liked this, and always had a great deal to say; so, when his name was called, he marched up, and, looking at the audience with his bright confiding eyes, told his little story so earnestly that no one smiled at his crooked body, because the “straight soul” shone through it beautifully.
“I’ve been watching dragonflies, and I read about them in Dan’s book, and I’ll try and tell you what I remember. There’s lots of them flying round on the pond, all blue, with big eyes, and sort of lace wings, very pretty. I caught one, and looked at him, and I think he was the handsomest insect I ever saw. They catch littler creatures than they are to eat, and have a queer kind of hook thing that folds up when they ain’t hunting. It likes the sunshine, and dances round all day. Let me see! what else was there to tell about? Oh, I know! The eggs are laid in the water, and go down to the bottom, and are hatched in the mud. Little ugly things come out of ’em; I can’t say the name, but they are brown, and keep having new skins, and getting bigger and bigger. Only think! it takes them two years to be a dragonfly! Now this is the curiousest part of it, so you listen tight, for I don’t believe you know it. When it is ready it knows somehow, and the ugly, grubby thing climbs up out of the water on a flag or a bulrush, and bursts open its back.”
“Come, I don’t believe that,” said Tommy, who was not an observant boy, and really thought Dick was “making up.”
“It does burst open its back, don’t it?” and Dick appealed to Mr. Bhaer, who nodded a very decided affirmative, to the little speaker’s great satisfaction.
“Well, out comes the dragonfly, all whole, and he sits in the sun sort of coming alive, you know; and he gets strong, and then he spreads his pretty wings, and flies away up in the air, and never is a grub any more. That’s all I know; but I shall watch and try to see him do it, for I think it’s splendid to turn into a beautiful dragonfly, don’t you?”
Dick had told his story well, and, when he described the flight of the new-born insect, had waved his hands, and looked up as if he saw, and wanted to follow it. Something in his face suggested to the minds of the elder listeners the thought that some day little Dick would have his wish, and after years of helplessness and pain would climb up into the sun some happy day, and, leaving his poor little body behind him, find a new lovely shape in a fairer world than this. Mrs. Jo drew him to her side, and said, with a kiss on his thin cheek,
“That is a sweet little story, dear, and you remembered it wonderfully well. I shall write and tell your mother all about it;” and Dick sat on her knee, contentedly smiling at the praise, and resolving to watch well, and catch the dragonfly in the act of leaving its old body for the new, and see how he did it. Dolly had a few remarks to make upon the “Duck,” and made them in a sing-song tone, for he had learned it by heart, and thought it a great plague to do it at all.
“Wild ducks are hard to kill; men hide and shoot at them, and have tame ducks to quack and make the wild ones come where the men can fire at them. They have wooden ducks made too, and they sail round, and the wild ones come to see them; they are stupid, I think. Our ducks are very tame. They eat a great deal, and go poking round in the mud and water. They don’t take good care of their eggs, but them spoil, and ”
“Mine don’t!” cried Tommy.
“Well, some people’s do; Silas said so. Hens take good care of little ducks, only they don’t like to have them go in the water, and make a great fuss. But the little ones don’t care a bit. I like to eat ducks with stuffing in them and lots of apple-sauce.”
“I have something to say about owls,” began Nat, who had carefully prepared a paper upon this subject with some help from Dan.
“Owls have big heads, round eyes, hooked bills, and strong claws. Some are gray, some white, some black and yellowish. Their feathers are very soft, and stick out a great deal. They fly very quietly, and hunt bats, mice, little birds, and such things. They build nests in barns, hollow trees, and some take the nests of other birds. The great horned owl has two eggs bigger than a hen’s and reddish brown. The tawny owl has five eggs, white and smooth; and this is the kind that hoots at night. Another kind sounds like a child crying. They eat mice and bats whole, and the parts that they cannot digest they make into little balls and spit out.”
“My gracious! how funny!” Nan was heard to observe.
“They cannot see by day; and if they get out into the light, they go flapping round half blind, and the other birds chase and peck at them, as if they were making fun. The horned owl is very big, ‘most as big as the eagle. It eats rabbits, rats, snakes, and birds; and lives in rocks and old tumble-down houses. They have a good many cries, and scream like a person being choked, and say, ‘Waugh O! waugh O!’ and it scares people at night in the woods. The white owl lives by the sea, and in cold places, and looks something like a hawk. There is a kind of owl that makes holes to live in like moles. It is called the burrowing owl, and is very small. The barn-owl is the commonest kind; and I have watched one sitting in a hole in a tree, looking like a little gray cat, with one eye shut and the other open. He comes out at dusk, and sits round waiting for the bats. I caught one, and here he is.”
With that Nat suddenly produced from inside his jacket a little downy bird, who blinked and ruffled his feathers, looking very plump and sleepy and scared.
“Don’t touch him! He is going to show off,” said Nat, displaying his new pet with great pride. First he put a cocked hat on the bird’s head, and the boys laughed at the funny effect; then he added a pair of paper spectacles, and that gave the owl such a wise look that they shouted with merriment. The performance closed with making the bird angry, and seeing him cling to a handkerchief upside down, pecking and “clucking,” as Rob called it. He was allowed to fly after that, and settled himself on the bunch of pine-cones over the door, where he sat staring down at the company with an air of sleepy dignity that amused them very much.
“Have you anything for us, George?” asked Mr. Bhaer, when the room was still again.
“Well, I read and learned ever so much about moles, but I declare I’ve forgotten every bit of it, except that they dig holes to live in, that you catch them by pouring water down, and that they can’t possibly live without eating very often;” and Stuffy sat down, wishing he had not been too lazy to write out his valuable observations, for a general smile went round when he mentioned the last of the three facts which lingered in his memory.
“Then we are done for to-day,” began Mr. Bhaer, but Tommy called out in a great hurry,
“No we ain’t. Don’t you know? We must give the thing;” and he winked violently as he made an eye-glass of his fingers.
“Bless my heart, I forgot! Now is your time, Tom;” and Mr. Bhaer dropped into his seat again, while all the boys but Dan looked mightily tickled at something.
Nat, Tommy, and Demi left the room, and speedily returned with a little red morocco box set forth in state on Mrs. Jo’s best silver salver. Tommy bore it, and, still escorted by Nat and Demi, marched up to unsuspecting Dan, who stared at them as if he thought they were going to make fun of him. Tommy had prepared an elegant and impressive speech for the occasion, but when the minute came, it all went out of his head, and he just said, straight from his kindly boyish heart,
“Here, old fellow, we all wanted to give you something to kind of pay for what happened awhile ago, and to show how much we liked you for being such a trump. Please take it, and have a jolly good time with it.”
Dan was so surprised he could only get as red as the little box, and mutter, “Thanky, boys!” as he fumbled to open it. But when he saw what was inside, his face lighted up, and he seized the long desired treasure, saying so enthusiastically that every one was satisfied, though is language was anything but polished,
“What a stunner! I say, you fellows are regular bricks to give me this; it’s just what I wanted. Give us your paw, Tommy.”
Many paws were given, and heartily shaken, for the boys were charmed with Dan’s pleasure, and crowded round him to shake hands and expatiate on the beauties of their gift. In the midst of this pleasant chatter, Dan’s eye went to Mrs. Jo, who stood outside the group enjoying the scene with all her heart.
“No, I had nothing to do with it. The boys got it up all themselves,” she said, answering the grateful look that seemed to thank her for that happy moment. Dan smiled, and said, in a tone that only she could understand,
“It’s you all the same;” and making his way through the boys, he held out his hand first to her and then to the good Professor, who was beaming benevolently on his flock.
He thanked them both with the silent, hearty squeeze he gave the kind hands that had held him up, and led him into the safe refuge of a happy home. Not a word was spoken, but they felt all he would say, and little Teddy expressed his pleasure for them as he leaned from his father’s arm to hug the boy, and say, in his baby way,
“My dood Danny! everybody loves him now.”
“Come here, show off your spy-glass, Dan, and let us see some of your magnified pollywogs and annymalcumisms as you call ’em,” said Jack, who felt so uncomfortable during this scene that he would have slipped away if Emil had not kept him.
“So I will, take a squint at that and see what you think of it,” said Dan, glad to show off his precious microscope.
He held it over a beetle that happened to be lying on the table, and Jack bent down to take his squint, but looked up with an amazed face, saying,
“My eye! what nippers the old thing has got! I see now why it hurts so confoundedly when you grab a dorbug and he grabs back again.”
“He winked at me,” cried Nan, who had poked her head under Jack’s elbow and got the second peep.
Every one took a look, and then Dan showed them the lovely plumage on a moth’s wing, the four feathery corners to a hair, the veins on a leaf, hardly visible to the naked eye, but like a thick net through the wonderful little glass; the skin on their own fingers, looking like queer hills and valleys; a cobweb like a bit of coarse sewing silk, and the sting of a bee.
“It’s like the fairy spectacles in my story-book, only more curious,” said Demi, enchanted with the wonders he saw.
“Dan is a magician now, and he can show you many miracles going on all round you; for he has two things needful patience and a love of nature. We live in a beautiful and wonderful world, Demi, and the more you know about it the wiser and the better you will be. This little glass will give you a new set of teachers, and you may learn fine lessons from them if you will,” said Mr. Bhaer, glad to see how interested the boys were in the matter.
“Could I see anybody’s soul with this microscope if I looked hard?” asked Demi, who was much impressed with the power of the bit of glass.
“No, dear; it’s not powerful enough for that, and never can be made so. You must wait a long while before your eyes are clear enough to see the most invisible of God’s wonders. But looking at the lovely things you can see will help you to understand the lovelier things you can not see,” answered Uncle Fritz, with his hand on the boy’s head.
“Well, Daisy and I both think that if there are any angels, their wings look like that butterfly’s as we see it through the glass, only more soft and gold.”
“Believe it if you like, and keep your own little wings as bright and beautiful, only don’t fly away for a long time yet.”
“No, I won’t,” and Demi kept his word.
“Good-by, my boys; I must go now, but I leave you with our new Professor of Natural History;” and Mrs. Jo went away well pleased with that composition day.
CHAPTER XVIII CROPS
The gardens did well that summer, and in September the little crops were gathered in with much rejoicing. Jack and Ned joined their farms and raised potatoes, those being a good salable article. They got twelve bushels, counting little ones and all, and sold them to Mr. Bhaer at a fair price, for potatoes went fast in that house. Emil and Franz devoted themselves to corn, and had a jolly little husking in the barn, after which they took their corn to the mill, and came proudly home with meal enough to supply the family with hasty-pudding and Johnny-cake for a lone time. They would not take money for their crop; because, as Franz said, “We never can pay Uncle for all he has done for us if we raised corn for the rest of our days.”
Nat had beans in such abundance that he despaired of ever shelling them, till Mrs. Jo proposed a new way, which succeeded admirably. The dry pods were spread upon the barn-floor, Nat fiddled, and the boys danced quadrilles on them, till they were thrashed out with much merriment and very little labor.
Tommy’s six weeks’ beans were a failure; for a dry spell early in the season hurt them, because he gave them no water; and after that he was so sure that they could take care of themselves, he let the poor things struggle with bugs and weeds till they were exhausted and died a lingering death. So Tommy had to dig his farm over again, and plant peas. But they were late; the birds ate many; the bushes, not being firmly planted, blew down, and when the poor peas came at last, no one cared for them, as their day was over, and spring-lamb had grown into mutton. Tommy consoled himself with a charitable effort; for he transplanted all the thistles he could find, and tended them carefully for Toby, who was fond of the prickly delicacy, and had eaten all he could find on the place. The boys had great fun over Tom’s thistle bed; but he insisted that it was better to care for poor Toby than for himself, and declared that he would devote his entire farm next year to thistles, worms, and snails, that Demi’s turtles and Nat’s pet owl might have the food they loved, as well as the donkey. So like shiftless, kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky Tommy!
Demi had supplied his grandmother with lettuce all summer, and in the autumn sent his grandfather a basket of turnips, each one scrubbed up till it looked like a great white egg. His Grandma was fond of salad, and one of his Grandpa’s favorite quotations was
“Lucullus, whom frugality could charm,
Ate roasted turnips at the Sabine farm.”
Therefore these vegetable offerings to the dear domestic god and goddess were affectionate, appropriate, and classical.
Daisy had nothing but flowers in her little plot, and it bloomed all summer long with a succession of gay or fragrant posies. She was very fond of her garden, and delved away in it at all hours, watching over her roses, and pansies, sweet-peas, and mignonette, as faithfully and tenderly as she did over her dolls or her friends. Little nosegays were sent into town on all occasions, and certain vases about the house were her especial care. She had all sorts of pretty fancies about her flowers, and loved to tell the children the story of the pansy, and show them how the step-mother-leaf sat up in her green chair in purple and gold; how the two own children in gay yellow had each its little seat, while the step children, in dull colors, both sat on one small stool, and the poor little father in his red nightcap, was kept out of sight in the middle of the flower; that a monk’s dark face looked out of the monk’s-hood larkspur; that the flowers of the canary-vine were so like dainty birds fluttering their yellow wings, that one almost expected to see them fly away, and the snapdragons that went off like little pistol-shots when you cracked them. Splendid dollies did she make out of scarlet and white poppies, with ruffled robes tied round the waist with grass blade sashes, and astonishing hats of coreopsis on their green heads. Pea-pod boats, with rose-leaf sails, received these flower-people, and floated them about a placid pool in the most charming style; for finding that there were no elves, Daisy made her own, and loved the fanciful little friends who played their parts in her summer-life.
Nan went in for herbs, and had a fine display of useful plants, which she tended with steadily increasing interest and care. Very busy was she in September cutting, drying, and tying up her sweet harvest, and writing down in a little book how the different herbs are to be used. She had tried several experiments, and made several mistakes; so she wished to be particular lest she should give little Huz another fit by administering wormwood instead of catnip.
Dick, Dolly, and Rob each grubbed away on his small farm, and made more stir about it than all the rest put together. Parsnips and carrots were the crops of the two D.’s; and they longed for it to be late enough to pull up the precious vegetables. Dick did privately examine his carrots, and plant them again, feeling that Silas was right in saying it was too soon for them yet.
Rob’s crop was four small squashes and one immense pumpkin. It really was a “bouncer,” as every one said; and I assure you that two small persons could sit on it side by side. It seemed to have absorbed all the goodness of the little garden, and all the sunshine that shone down on it, and lay there a great round, golden ball, full of rich suggestions of pumpkin-pies for weeks to come. Robby was so proud of his mammoth vegetable that he took every one to see it, and, when frosts began to nip, covered it up each night with an old bedquilt, tucking it round as if the pumpkin was a well-beloved baby. The day it was gathered he would let no one touch it but himself, and nearly broke his back tugging it to the barn in his little wheelbarrow, with Dick and Dolly harnessed in front to give a heave up the path. His mother promised him that the Thanksgiving-pies should be made from it, and hinted vaguely that