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of dandelions in his buttonhole, and Mrs. Jo carried the queer Japanese
umbrella in honor of the occasion.

The girls had little flutters of excitement all the way; and Teddy was
so charmed with the drive that he kept dropping his hat overboard, and
when it was taken from him he prepared to tumble out himself, evidently
feeling that it behooved him to do something for the amusement of the
party.

When they came to the hill "nothing was to be seen but the grass
blowing in the wind," as the fairy books say, and the children looked
disappointed. But Demi said, in his most impressive manner,

"Now, you all get out and stand still, and the surprise party with come
in;" with which remark he retired behind a rock, over which heads had
been bobbing at intervals for the last half-hour.

A short pause of intense suspense, and then Nat, Demi, and Tommy marched
forth, each bearing a new kite, which they presented to the three young
ladies. Shrieks of delight arose, but were silenced by the boys, who
said, with faces brimful of merriment, "That isn't all the surprise;"
and, running behind the rock, again emerged bearing a fourth kite of
superb size, on which was printed, in bright yellow letters, "For Mother
Bhaer."

"We thought you'd like one, too, because you were angry with us, and
took the girls' part," cried all three, shaking with laughter, for this
part of the affair evidently was a surprise to Mrs. Jo.

She clapped her hands, and joined in the laugh, looking thoroughly
tickled at the joke.

"Now, boys, that is regularly splendid! Who did think of it?" she asked,
receiving the monster kite with as much pleasure as the little girls did
theirs.

"Uncle Fritz proposed it when we planned to make the others; he said
you'd like it, so we made a bouncer," answered Demi, beaming with
satisfaction at the success of the plot.

"Uncle Fritz knows what I like. Yes, these are magnificent kites, and
we were wishing we had some the other day when you were flying yours,
weren't we, girls?"

"That's why we made them for you," cried Tommy, standing on his head as
the most appropriate way of expressing his emotions.

"Let us fly them," said energetic Nan.

"I don't know how," began Daisy.

"We'll show you, we want to!" cried all the boys in a burst of devotion,
as Demi took Daisy's, Tommy Nan's, and Nat, with difficulty, persuaded
Bess to let go her little blue one.

"Aunty, if you will wait a minute, we'll pitch yours for you," said
Demi, feeling that Mrs. Bhaer's favor must not be lost again by any
neglect of theirs.

"Bless your buttons, dear, I know all about it; and here is a boy who
will toss up for me," added Mrs. Jo, as the professor peeped over the
rock with a face full of fun.

He came out at once, tossed up the big kite, and Mrs. Jo ran off with it
in fine style, while the children stood and enjoyed the spectacle. One
by one all the kites went up, and floated far overhead like gay birds,
balancing themselves on the fresh breeze that blew steadily over the
hill. Such a merry time as they had! running and shouting, sending up
the kites or pulling them down, watching their antics in the air, and
feeling them tug at the string like live creatures trying to escape.
Nan was quite wild with the fun, Daisy thought the new play nearly as
interesting as dolls, and little Bess was so fond of her "boo tite,"
that she would only let it go on very short flights, preferring to
hold it in her lap and look at the remarkable pictures painted on it by
Tommy's dashing brush. Mrs. Jo enjoyed hers immensely, and it acted as
if it knew who owned it, for it came tumbling down head first when least
expected, caught on trees, nearly pitched into the river, and finally
darted away to such a height that it looked a mere speck among the
clouds.

By and by every one got tired, and fastening the kite-strings to trees
and fences, all sat down to rest, except Mr. Bhaer, who went off to look
at the cows, with Teddy on his shoulder.

"Did you ever have such a good time as this before?" asked Nat, as they
lay about on the grass, nibbling pennyroyal like a flock of sheep.

"Not since I last flew a kite, years ago, when I was a girl," answered
Mrs. Jo.

"I'd like to have known you when you were a girl, you must have been so
jolly," said Nat.

"I was a naughty little girl, I am sorry to say."

"I like naughty little girls," observed Tommy, looking at Nan, who made
a frightful grimace at him in return for the compliment.

"Why don't I remember you then, Aunty? Was I too young?" asked Demi.

"Rather, dear."

"I suppose my memory hadn't come then. Grandpa says that different parts
of the mind unfold as we grow up, and the memory part of my mind hadn't
unfolded when you were little, so I can't remember how you looked,"
explained Demi.

"Now, little Socrates, you had better keep that question for grandpa, it
is beyond me," said Aunt Jo, putting on the extinguisher.

"Well, I will, he knows about those things, and you don't," returned
Demi, feeling that on the whole kites were better adapted to the
comprehension of the present company.

"Tell about the last time you flew a kite," said Nat, for Mrs. Jo had
laughed as she spoke of it, and he thought it might be interesting.

"Oh, it was only rather funny, for I was a great girl of fifteen, and
was ashamed to be seen at such a play. So Uncle Teddy and I privately
made our kites, and stole away to fly them. We had a capital time, and
were resting as we are now, when suddenly we heard voices, and saw a
party of young ladies and gentlemen coming back from a picnic. Teddy did
not mind, though he was rather a large boy to be playing with a kite,
but I was in a great flurry, for I knew I should be sadly laughed at,
and never hear the last of it, because my wild ways amused the neighbors
as much as Nan's do us.

"'What shall I do?' I whispered to Teddy, as the voices drew nearer and
nearer.

"'I'll show you,' he said, and whipping out his knife he cut the
strings. Away flew the kites, and when the people came up we were
picking flowers as properly as you please. They never suspected us, and
we had a grand laugh over our narrow escape."

"Were the kites lost, Aunty?" asked Daisy.

"Quite lost, but I did not care, for I made up my mind that it would be
best to wait till I was an old lady before I played with kites again;
and you see I have waited," said Mrs. Jo, beginning to pull in the big
kite, for it was getting late.

"Must we go now?"

"I must, or you won't have any supper; and that sort of surprise party
would not suit you, I think, my chickens."

"Hasn't our party been a nice one?" asked Tommy, complacently.

"Splendid!" answered every one.

"Do you know why? It is because your guests have behaved themselves,
and tried to make everything go well. You understand what I mean, don't
you?"

"Yes'm," was all the boys said, but they stole a shamefaced look at one
another, as they meekly shouldered their kites and walked home, thinking
of another party where the guests had not behaved themselves, and things
had gone badly on account of it.



CHAPTER X. HOME AGAIN

July had come, and haying begun; the little gardens were doing finely
and the long summer days were full of pleasant hours. The house stood
open from morning till night, and the lads lived out of doors, except at
school time. The lessons were short, and there were many holidays, for
the Bhaers believed in cultivating healthy bodies by much exercise,
and our short summers are best used in out-of-door work. Such a rosy,
sunburnt, hearty set as the boys became; such appetites as they had;
such sturdy arms and legs, as outgrew jackets and trousers; such
laughing and racing all over the place; such antics in house and barn;
such adventures in the tramps over hill and dale; and such satisfaction
in the hearts of the worthy Bhaers, as they saw their flock prospering
in mind and body, I cannot begin to describe. Only one thing was needed
to make them quite happy, and it came when they least expected it.

One balmy night when the little lads were in bed, the elder ones bathing
down at the brook, and Mrs. Bhaer undressing Teddy in her parlor, he
suddenly cried out, "Oh, my Danny!" and pointed to the window, where the
moon shone brightly.

"No, lovey, he is not there, it was the pretty moon," said his mother.

"No, no, Danny at a window; Teddy saw him," persisted baby, much
excited.

"It might have been," and Mrs. Bhaer hurried to the window, hoping it
would prove true. But the face was gone, and nowhere appeared any signs
of a mortal boy; she called his name, ran to the front door with Teddy
in his little shirt, and made him call too, thinking the baby voice
might have more effect than her own. No one answered, nothing appeared,
and they went back much disappointed. Teddy would not be satisfied with
the moon, and after he was in his crib kept popping up his head to ask
if Danny was not "tummin' soon."

By and by he fell asleep, the lads trooped up to bed, the house grew
still, and nothing but the chirp of the crickets broke the soft silence
of the summer night. Mrs. Bhaer sat sewing, for the big basket was
always piled with socks, full of portentous holes, and thinking of the
lost boy. She had decided that baby had been mistaken, and did not even
disturb Mr. Bhaer by telling him of the child's fancy, for the poor
man got little time to himself till the boys were abed, and he was busy
writing letters. It was past ten when she rose to shut up the house. As
she paused a minute to enjoy the lovely scene from the steps, something
white caught her eye on one of the hay-cocks scattered over the lawn.
The children had been playing there all the afternoon, and, fancying
that Nan had left her hat as usual, Mrs. Bhaer went out to get it. But
as she approached, she saw that it was neither hat nor handkerchief, but
a shirt sleeve with a brown hand sticking out of it. She hurried round
the hay-cock, and there lay Dan, fast asleep.

Ragged, dirty, thin, and worn-out he looked; one foot was bare, the
other tied up in the old gingham jacket which he had taken from his own
back to use as a clumsy bandage for some hurt. He seemed to have hidden
himself behind the hay-cock, but in his sleep had thrown out the arm
that had betrayed him. He sighed and muttered as if his dreams disturbed
him, and once when he moved, he groaned as if in pain, but still slept
on quite spent with weariness.

"He must not lie here," said Mrs. Bhaer, and stooping over him she
gently called his name. He opened his eyes and looked at her, as if she
was a part of his dream, for he smiled and said drowsily, "Mother Bhaer,
I've come home."

The look, the words, touched her very much, and she put her hand under
his head to lift him up, saying in her cordial way,

"I thought you would, and I'm so glad to see you, Dan." He seemed to
wake thoroughly then, and started up looking about him as if he suddenly
remembered where he was, and doubted even that kind welcome. His face
changed, and he said in his old rough way,

"I was going off in the morning. I only stopped to peek in, as I went
by."

"But why not come in, Dan? Didn't you hear us call you? Teddy saw, and
cried for you."

"Didn't suppose you'd let me in," he said, fumbling with a little bundle
which he had taken up as if going immediately.

"Try and see," was all Mrs. Bhaer answered, holding out her hand and
pointing to the door, where the light shone hospitably.

With a long breath, as if a load was off his mind, Dan took up a stout
stick, and began to limp towards the house, but stopped suddenly, to say
inquiringly,

"Mr. Bhaer won't like it. I ran away from Page."

"He knows it, and was sorry, but it will make no difference. Are you
lame?" asked Mrs. Jo, as he limped on again.

"Getting over a wall a stone fell on my foot and smashed it. I don't
mind," and he did his best to hide the pain each step cost him.

Mrs. Bhaer helped him into her own room, and, once there, he dropped
into a chair, and laid his head back, white and faint with weariness and
suffering.

"My poor Dan! drink this, and then eat a little; you are at home now,
and Mother Bhaer will take good care of you."

He only looked up at her with eyes full of gratitude, as he drank the
wine she held to his lips, and then began slowly to eat the food she
brought him. Each mouthful seemed to put heart into him, and presently
he began to talk as if anxious to have her know all about him.

"Where have you been, Dan?" she asked, beginning to get out some
bandages.

"I ran off more'n a month ago. Page was good enough, but too strict. I
didn't like it, so I cut away down the river with a man who was going in
his boat. That's why they couldn't tell where I'd gone. When I left the
man, I worked for a couple of weeks with a farmer, but I thrashed his
boy, and then the old man thrashed me, and I ran off again and walked
here."

"All the way?"

"Yes, the man didn't pay me, and I wouldn't ask for it. Took it out in
beating the boy," and Dan laughed, yet looked ashamed, as he glanced at
his ragged clothes and dirty hands.

"How did you live? It was a long, long tramp for a boy like you."

"Oh, I got on well enough, till I hurt my foot. Folks gave me things to
eat, and I slept in barns and tramped by day. I got lost trying to make
a short cut, or I'd have been here sooner."

"But if you did not mean to come in and stay with us, what were you
going to do?"

"I thought I'd like to see Teddy again, and you; and then I was going
back to my old work in the city, only I was so tired I went to sleep on
the hay. I'd have been gone in the morning, if you hadn't found me."

"Are you sorry I did?" and Mrs. Jo looked at him with a half merry, half
reproachful look, as she knelt down to look at his wounded foot.

The color came up into Dan's face, and he kept his eyes fixed on his
plate, as he said very low, "No, ma'am, I'm glad, I wanted to stay, but
I was afraid you - "

He did not finish, for Mrs. Bhaer interrupted him by an exclamation of
pity, as she saw his foot, for it was seriously hurt.

"When did you do it?"

"Three days ago."

"And you have walked on it in this state?"

"I had a stick, and I washed it at every brook I came to, and one woman
gave me a rag to put on it."

"Mr. Bhaer must see and dress it at once," and Mrs. Jo hastened into the
next room, leaving the door ajar behind her, so that Dan heard all that
passed.

"Fritz, the boy has come back."

"Who? Dan?"

"Yes, Teddy saw him at the window, and he called to him, but he went
away and hid behind the hay-cocks on the lawn. I found him there just
now fast asleep, and half dead with weariness and pain. He ran away
from Page a month ago, and has been making his way to us ever since. He
pretends that he did not mean to let us see him, but go on to the city,
and his old work, after a look at us. It is evident, however, that the
hope of being taken in has led him here through every thing, and there
he is waiting to know if you will forgive and take him back."

"Did he say so?"

"His eyes did, and when I waked him, he said, like a lost child, 'Mother
Bhaer, I've come home.' I hadn't the heart to scold him, and just took
him in like a poor little black sheep come back to the fold. I may keep
him, Fritz?"

"Of course you may! This proves to me that we have a hold on the boy's
heart, and I would no more send him away now than I would my own Rob."

Dan heard a soft little sound, as if Mrs. Jo thanked her husband without
words, and, in the instant's silence that followed, two great tears that
had slowly gathered in the boy's eyes brimmed over and rolled down his
dusty cheeks. No one saw them, for he brushed them hastily away; but
in that little pause I think Dan's old distrust for these good people
vanished for ever, the soft spot in his heart was touched, and he felt
an impetuous desire to prove himself worthy of the love and pity that
was so patient and forgiving. He said nothing, he only wished the wish
with all his might, resolved to try in his blind boyish way, and
sealed his resolution with the tears which neither pain, fatigue, nor
loneliness could wring from him.

"Come and see his foot. I am afraid it is badly hurt, for he has kept
on three days through heat and dust, with nothing but water and an old
jacket to bind it up with. I tell you, Fritz, that boy is a brave lad,
and will make a fine man yet."

"I hope so, for your sake, enthusiastic woman, your faith deserves
success. Now, I will go and see your little Spartan. Where is he?"

"In my room; but, dear, you'll be very kind to him, no matter how
gruff he seems. I am sure that is the way to conquer him. He won't bear
sternness nor much restraint, but a soft word and infinite patience will
lead him as it used to lead me."

"As if you ever like this little rascal!" cried Mr. Bhaer, laughing, yet
half angry at the idea.

"I was in spirit, though I showed it in a different way. I seem to know
by instinct how he feels, to understand what will win and touch him, and
to sympathize with his temptations and faults. I am glad I do, for it
will help me to help him; and if I can make a good man of this wild boy,
it will be the best work of my life."

"God bless the work, and help the worker!"

Mr. Bhaer spoke now as earnestly as she had done, and both came in
together to find Dan's head down upon his arm, as if he was quite
overcome by sleep. But he looked up quickly, and tried to rise as Mr.
Bhaer said pleasantly,

"So you like Plumfield better than Page's farm. Well, let us see if we
can get on more comfortably this time than we did before."

"Thanky, sir," said Dan, trying not to be gruff, and finding it easier
than he expected.

"Now, the foot! Ach! this is not well. We must have Dr. Firth to-morrow.
Warm water, Jo, and old linen."

Mr. Bhaer bathed and bound up the wounded foot, while Mrs. Jo prepared
the only empty bed in the house. It was in the little guest-chamber
leading from the parlor, and often used when the lads were poorly, for
it saved Mrs. Jo from running up and down, and the invalids could see
what was going on. When it was ready, Mr. Bhaer took the boy in his
arms, and carried him in, helped him undress, laid him on the little
white bed, and left him with another hand-shake, and a fatherly
"Good-night, my son."

Dan dropped asleep at once, and slept heavily for several hours; then
his foot began to throb and ache, and he awoke to toss about uneasily,
trying not to groan lest any one should hear him, for he was a brave
lad, and did bear pain like "a little Spartan," as Mr. Bhaer called him.

Mrs. Jo had a way of flitting about the house at night, to shut the
windows if the wind grew chilly, to draw mosquito curtains over Teddy,
or look after Tommy, who occasionally walked in his sleep. The least
noise waked her, and as she often heard imaginary robbers, cats, and
conflagrations, the doors stood open all about, so her quick ear caught
the sound of Dan's little moans, and she was up in a minute. He was just
giving his hot pillow a despairing thump when a light came glimmering
through the hall, and Mrs. Jo crept in, looking like a droll ghost,
with her hair in a great knob on the top of her head, and a long gray
dressing-gown trailing behind her.

"Are you in pain, Dan?"

"It's pretty bad; but I didn't mean to wake you."

"I'm a sort of owl, always flying about at night. Yes, your foot is like
fire; the bandages must be wet again," and away flapped the maternal owl
for more cooling stuff, and a great mug of ice water.

"Oh, that's so nice!" sighed Dan, the wet bandages went on again, and a
long draught of water cooled his thirsty throat.

"There, now, sleep your best, and don't be frightened if you see me
again, for I'll slip down by and by, and give you another sprinkle."

As she spoke, Mrs. Jo stooped to turn the pillow and smooth the
bed-clothes, when, to her great surprise, Dan put his arm around her
neck, drew her face down to his, and kissed her, with a broken "Thank
you, ma'am," which said more than the most eloquent speech could have
done; for the hasty kiss, the muttered words, meant, "I'm sorry, I will
try." She understood it, accepted the unspoken confession, and did not
spoil it by any token of surprise. She only remembered that he had no
mother, kissed the brown cheek half hidden on the pillow, as if ashamed
of the little touch of tenderness, and left him, saying, what he long
remembered, "You are my boy now, and if you choose you can make me proud
and glad to say so."

Once again, just at dawn, she stole down to find him so fast asleep
that he did not wake, and showed no sign of consciousness as she wet his
foot, except that the lines of pain smoothed themselves away, and left
his face quite peaceful.

The day was Sunday, and the house so still that he never waked till near
noon, and, looking round him, saw an eager little face peering in at
the door. He held out his arms, and Teddy tore across the room to cast
himself bodily upon the bed, shouting, "My Danny's tum!" as he hugged
and wriggled with delight. Mrs. Bhaer appeared next, bringing breakfast,
and never seeming to see how shamefaced Dan looked at the memory of the
little scene last night. Teddy insisted on giving him his "betfus," and
fed him like a baby, which, as he was not very hungry, Dan enjoyed very
much.

Then came the doctor, and the poor Spartan had a bad time of it, for
some of the little bones in his foot were injured, and putting them to
rights was such a painful job, that Dan's lips were white, and great
drops stood on his forehead, though he never cried out, and only held
Mrs. Jo's hand so tight that it was red long afterwards.

"You must keep this boy quiet, for a week at least, and not let him put
his foot to the ground. By that time, I shall know whether he may hop a
little with a crutch, or stick to his bed for a while longer," said Dr.
Firth, putting up the shining instruments that Dan did not like to see.

"It will get well sometime, won't it?" he asked, looking alarmed at the
word "crutches."

"I hope so;" and with that the doctor departed, leaving Dan much
depressed; for the loss of a foot is a dreadful calamity to an active
boy.

"Don't be troubled, I am a famous nurse, and we will have you tramping
about as well as ever in a month," said Mrs. Jo, taking a hopeful view
of the case.

But the fear of being lame haunted Dan, and even Teddy's caresses did
not cheer him; so Mrs. Jo proposed that one or two of the boys should
come in and pay him a little visit, and asked whom he would like to see.

"Nat and Demi; I'd like my hat too, there's something in it I guess
they'd like to see. I suppose you threw away my bundle of plunder?" said
Dan, looking rather anxious as he put the question.

"No, I kept it, for I thought they must be treasures of some kind, you
took such care of them;" and Mrs. Jo brought him his old straw hat
stuck full of butterflies and beetles, and a handkerchief containing a
collection of odd things picked up on his way: birds' eggs, carefully
done up in moss, curious shells and stones, bits of fungus, and several
little crabs, in a state of great indignation at their imprisonment.

"Could I have something to put these fellers in? Mr. Hyde and I found
'em, and they are first-rate ones, so I'd like to keep and watch 'em;
can I?" asked Dan, forgetting his foot, and laughing to see the crabs go
sidling and backing over the bed.

"Of course you can; Polly's old cage will be just the thing. Don't let
them nip Teddy's toes while I get it;" and away went Mrs. Jo, leaving
Dan overjoyed to find that his treasures were not considered rubbish,
and thrown away.

Nat, Demi, and the cage arrived together, and the crabs were settled
in their new house, to the great delight of the boys, who, in the
excitement of the performance, forgot any awkwardness they might
otherwise have felt in greeting the runaway. To these admiring listeners
Dan related his adventures much more fully than he had done to the
Bhaers. Then he displayed his "plunder," and described each article so
well, that Mrs. Jo, who had retired to the next room to leave them
free, was surprised and interested, as well as amused, at their boyish
chatter.

"How much the lad knows of these things! how absorbed he is in them! and
what a mercy it is just now, for he cares so little for books, it would
be hard to amuse him while he is laid up; but the boys can supply him
with beetles and stones to any extent, and I am glad to find out this
taste of his; it is a good one, and may perhaps prove the making of him.


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