Louisa May Alcott.

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If he should turn out a great naturalist, and Nat a musician, I should
have cause to be proud of this year's work;" and Mrs. Jo sat smiling
over her book as she built castles in the air, just as she used to do
when a girl, only then they were for herself, and now they were for
other people, which is the reason perhaps that some of them came to
pass in reality for charity is an excellent foundation to build anything

Nat was most interested in the adventures, but Demi enjoyed the beetles
and butterflies immensely, drinking in the history of their changeful
little lives as if it were a new and lovely sort of fairy tale for, even
in his plain way, Dan told it well, and found great satisfaction in the
thought that here at least the small philosopher could learn of him. So
interested were they in the account of catching a musk rat, whose skin
was among the treasures, that Mr. Bhaer had to come himself to tell Nat
and Demi it was time for the walk. Dan looked so wistfully after them as
they ran off that Father Bhaer proposed carrying him to the sofa in the
parlor for a little change of air and scene.

When he was established, and the house quiet, Mrs. Jo, who sat near
by showing Teddy pictures, said, in an interested tone, as she nodded
towards the treasures still in Dan's hands,

"Where did you learn so much about these things?"

"I always liked 'em, but didn't know much till Mr. Hyde told me."

"Oh, he was a man who lived round in the woods studying these things I
don't know what you call him and wrote about frogs, and fishes, and so
on. He stayed at Page's, and used to want me to go and help him, and it
was great fun, 'cause he told me ever so much, and was uncommon jolly
and wise. Hope I'll see him again sometime."

"I hope you will," said Mrs. Jo, for Dan's face had brightened up, and
he was so interested in the matter that he forgot his usual taciturnity.

"Why, he could make birds come to him, and rabbits and squirrels didn't
mind him any more than if he was a tree. Did you ever tickle a lizard
with a straw?" asked Dan, eagerly.

"No, but I should like to try it."

"Well, I've done it, and it's so funny to see 'em turn over and stretch
out, they like it so much. Mr. Hyde used to do it; and he'd make snakes
listen to him while he whistled, and he knew just when certain flowers
would blow, and bees wouldn't sting him, and he'd tell the wonderfullest
things about fish and flies, and the Indians and the rocks."

"I think you were so fond of going with Mr. Hyde, you rather neglected
Mr. Page," said Mrs. Jo, slyly.

"Yes, I did; I hated to have to weed and hoe when I might be tramping
round with Mr. Hyde. Page thought such things silly, and called Mr. Hyde
crazy because he'd lay hours watching a trout or a bird."

"Suppose you say lie instead of lay, it is better grammar," said Mrs.
Jo, very gently; and then added, "Yes, Page is a thorough farmer, and
would not understand that a naturalist's work was just as interesting,
and perhaps just as important as his own. Now, Dan, if you really love
these things, as I think you do, and I am glad to see it, you shall have
time to study them and books to help you; but I want you to do something
besides, and to do it faithfully, else you will be sorry by and by, and
find that you have got to begin again."

"Yes, ma'am," said Dan, meekly, and looked a little scared by the
serious tone of the last remarks, for he hated books, yet had evidently
made up his mind to study anything she proposed.

"Do you see that cabinet with twelve drawers in it?" was the next very
unexpected question.

Dan did see two tall old-fashioned ones standing on either side of the
piano; he knew them well, and had often seen nice bits of string, nails,
brown paper, and such useful matters come out of the various drawers. He
nodded and smiled. Mrs. Jo went on,

"Well, don't you think those drawers would be good places to put your
eggs, and stones, and shells, and lichens?"

"Oh, splendid, but you wouldn't like my things 'clutterin' round,' as
Mr. Page used to say, would you?" cried Dan, sitting up to survey the
old piece of furniture with sparkling eyes.

"I like litter of that sort; and if I didn't, I should give you the
drawers, because I have a regard for children's little treasures, and
I think they should be treated respectfully. Now, I am going to make a
bargain with you, Dan, and I hope you will keep it honorably. Here are
twelve good-sized drawers, one for each month of the year, and they
shall be yours as fast as you earn them, by doing the little duties that
belong to you. I believe in rewards of a certain kind, especially for
young folks; they help us along, and though we may begin by being good
for the sake of the reward, if it is rightly used, we shall soon learn
to love goodness for itself."

"Do you have 'em?" asked Dan, looking as if this was new talk for him.

"Yes, indeed! I haven't learnt to get on without them yet. My rewards
are not drawers, or presents, or holidays, but they are things which I
like as much as you do the others. The good behavior and success of my
boys is one of the rewards I love best, and I work for it as I want you
to work for your cabinet. Do what you dislike, and do it well, and
you get two rewards, one, the prize you see and hold; the other, the
satisfaction of a duty cheerfully performed. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"We all need these little helps; so you shall try to do your lessons and
your work, play kindly with all the boys, and use your holidays well;
and if you bring me a good report, or if I see and know it without words
for I'm quick to spy out the good little efforts of my boys you shall
have a compartment in the drawer for your treasures. See, some are
already divided into four parts, and I will have the others made in
the same way, a place for each week; and when the drawer is filled
with curious and pretty things, I shall be as proud of it as you are;
prouder, I think for in the pebbles, mosses, and gay butterflies, I
shall see good resolutions carried out, conquered faults, and a promise
well kept. Shall we do this, Dan?"

The boys answered with one of the looks which said much, for it showed
that he felt and understood her wish and words, although he did not know
how to express his interest and gratitude for such care and kindness.
She understood the look, and seeing by the color that flushed up to his
forehead that he was touched, as she wished him to be, she said no more
about that side of the new plan, but pulled out the upper drawer, dusted
it, and set it on two chairs before the sofa, saying briskly,

"Now, let us begin at once by putting those nice beetles in a safe
place. These compartments will hold a good deal, you see. I'd pin the
butterflies and bugs round the sides; they will be quite safe there, and
leave room for the heavy things below. I'll give you some cotton wool,
and clean paper and pins, and you can get ready for the week's work."

"But I can't go out to find any new things," said Dan, looking piteously
at his foot.

"That's true; never mind, we'll let these treasures do for this week,
and I dare say the boys will bring you loads of things if you ask them."

"They don't know the right sort; besides, if I lay, no, lie here all the
time, I can't work and study, and earn my drawers."

"There are plenty of lessons you can learn lying there, and several
little jobs of work you can do for me."

"Can I?" and Dan looked both surprised and pleased.

"You can learn to be patient and cheerful in spite of pain and no play.
You can amuse Teddy for me, wind cotton, read to me when I sew, and do
many things without hurting your foot, which will make the days pass
quickly, and not be wasted ones."

Here Demi ran in with a great butterfly in one hand, and a very ugly
little toad in the other.

"See, Dan, I found them, and ran back to give them to you; aren't they
beautiful ones?" panted Demi, all out of breath.

Dan laughed at the toad, and said he had no place to put him, but the
butterfly was a beauty, and if Mrs. Jo would give him a big pin, he
would stick it right up in the drawer.

"I don't like to see the poor thing struggle on a pin; if it must be
killed, let us put it out of pain at once with a drop of camphor," said
Mrs. Jo, getting out the bottle.

"I know how to do it Mr. Hyde always killed 'em that way but I didn't
have any camphor, so I use a pin," and Dan gently poured a drop on the
insect's head, when the pale green wings fluttered an instant, and then
grew still.

This dainty little execution was hardly over when Teddy shouted from the
bedroom, "Oh, the little trabs are out, and the big one's eaten 'em
all up." Demi and his aunt ran to the rescue, and found Teddy dancing
excitedly in a chair, while two little crabs were scuttling about the
floor, having got through the wires of the cage. A third was clinging to
the top of the cage, evidently in terror of his life, for below appeared
a sad yet funny sight. The big crab had wedged himself into the little
recess where Polly's cup used to stand, and there he sat eating one of
his relations in the coolest way. All the claws of the poor victim were
pulled off, and he was turned upside down, his upper shell held in
one claw close under the mouth of the big crab like a dish, while he
leisurely ate out of it with the other claw, pausing now and then to
turn his queer bulging eyes from side to side, and to put out a slender
tongue and lick them in a way that made the children scream with
laughter. Mrs. Jo carried the cage in for Dan to see the sight, while
Demi caught and confined the wanderers under an inverted wash-bowl.

"I'll have to let these fellers go, for I can't keep 'em in the house,"
said Dan, with evident regret.

"I'll take care of them for you, if you will tell me how, and they can
live in my turtle-tank just as well as not," said Demi, who found them
more interesting even that his beloved slow turtles. So Dan gave him
directions about the wants and habits of the crabs, and Demi bore them
away to introduce them to their new home and neighbors. "What a good
boy he is!" said Dan, carefully settling the first butterfly, and
remembering that Demi had given up his walk to bring it to him.

"He ought to be, for a great deal has been done to make him so."

"He's had folks to tell him things, and to help him; I haven't," said
Dan, with a sigh, thinking of his neglected childhood, a thing he seldom
did, and feeling as if he had not had fair play somehow.

"I know it, dear, and for that reason I don't expect as much from you as
from Demi, though he is younger; you shall have all the help that we can
give you now, and I hope to teach you how to help yourself in the best
way. Have you forgotten what Father Bhaer told you when you were here
before, about wanting to be good, and asking God to help you?"

"No, ma'am," very low.

"Do you try that way still?"

"No, ma'am," lower still.

"Will you do it every night to please me?"

"Yes, ma'am," very soberly.

"I shall depend on it, and I think I shall know if you are faithful
to your promise, for these things always show to people who believe in
them, though not a word is said. Now here is a pleasant story about a
boy who hurt his foot worse than you did yours; read it, and see how
bravely he bore his troubles."

She put that charming little book, "The Crofton Boys," into his hands,
and left him for an hour, passing in and out from time to time that
he might not feel lonely. Dan did not love to read, but soon got so
interested that he was surprised when the boys came home. Daisy brought
him a nosegay of wild flowers, and Nan insisted on helping bring him his
supper, as he lay on the sofa with the door open into the dining-room,
so that he could see the lads at table, and they could nod socially to
him over their bread and butter.

Mr. Bhaer carried him away to his bed early, and Teddy came in his
night-gown to say good-night, for he went to his little nest with the

"I want to say my prayers to Danny; may I?" he asked; and when his
mother said, "Yes," the little fellow knelt down by Dan's bed, and
folding his chubby hands, said softly,

"Pease Dod bess everybody, and hep me to be dood."

Then he went away smiling with sleepy sweetness over his mother's

But after the evening talk was done, the evening song sung, and the
house grew still with beautiful Sunday silence, Dan lay in his pleasant
room wide awake, thinking new thoughts, feeling new hopes and desires
stirring in his boyish heart, for two good angels had entered in: love
and gratitude began the work which time and effort were to finish; and
with an earnest wish to keep his first promise, Dan folded his hands
together in the Darkness, and softly whispered Teddy's little prayer,

"Please God bless every one, and help me to be good."


For a week Dan only moved from bed to sofa; a long week and a hard one,
for the hurt foot was very painful at times, the quiet days were very
wearisome to the active lad, longing to be out enjoying the summer
weather, and especially difficult was it to be patient. But Dan did
his best, and every one helped him in their various ways; so the time
passed, and he was rewarded at last by hearing the doctor say, on
Saturday morning,

"This foot is doing better than I expected. Give the lad the crutch this
afternoon, and let him stump about the house a little."

"Hooray!" shouted Nat, and raced away to tell the other boys the good

Everybody was very glad, and after dinner the whole flock assembled to
behold Dan crutch himself up and down the hall a few times before he
settled in the porch to hold a sort of levee. He was much pleased at the
interest and good-will shown him, and brightened up more and more every
minute; for the boys came to pay their respects, the little girls fussed
about him with stools and cushions, and Teddy watched over him as if he
was a frail creature unable to do anything for himself. They were still
sitting and standing about the steps, when a carriage stopped at the
gate, a hat was waved from it, and with a shout of "Uncle Teddy! Uncle
Teddy!" Rob scampered down the avenue as fast as his short legs would
carry him. All he boys but Dan ran after him to see who should be
first to open the gate, and in a moment the carriage drove up with boys
swarming all over it, while Uncle Teddy sat laughing in the midst, with
his little daughter on his knee.

"Stop the triumphal car and let Jupiter descend," he said, and jumping
out ran up the steps to meet Mrs. Bhaer, who stood smiling and clapping
her hands like a girl.

"How goes it, Teddy?"

"All right, Jo."

Then they shook hands, and Mr. Laurie put Bess into her aunt's arms,
saying, as the child hugged her tight, "Goldilocks wanted to see you so
much that I ran away with her, for I was quite pining for a sight of you
myself. We want to play with your boys for an hour or so, and to see how
'the old woman who lived in a shoe, and had so many children she did not
know what to do,' is getting on."

"I'm so glad! Play away, and don't get into mischief," answered Mrs.
Jo, as the lads crowded round the pretty child, admiring her long golden
hair, dainty dress, and lofty ways, for the little "Princess," as they
called her, allowed no one to kiss her, but sat smiling down upon them,
and graciously patting their heads with her little, white hands. They
all adored her, especially Rob, who considered her a sort of doll,
and dared not touch her lest she should break, but worshipped her at a
respectful distance, made happy by an occasional mark of favor from her
little highness. As she immediately demanded to see Daisy's kitchen,
she was borne off by Mrs. Jo, with a train of small boys following. The
others, all but Nat and Demi, ran away to the menagerie and gardens
to have all in order; for Mr. Laurie always took a general survey, and
looked disappointed if things were not flourishing.

Standing on the steps, he turned to Dan, saying like an old
acquaintance, though he had only seen him once or twice before,

"How is the foot?"

"Better, sir."

"Rather tired of the house, aren't you?"

"Guess I am!" and Dan's eyes roved away to the green hills and woods
where he longed to be.

"Suppose we take a little turn before the others come back? That big,
easy carriage will be quite safe and comfortable, and a breath of fresh
air will do you good. Get a cushion and a shawl, Demi, and let's carry
Dan off."

The boys thought it a capital joke, and Dan looked delighted, but asked,
with an unexpected burst of virtue,

"Will Mrs. Bhaer like it?"

"Oh, yes; we settled all that a minute ago."

"You didn't say any thing about it, so I don't see how you could," said
Demi, inquisitively.

"We have a way of sending messages to one another, without any words. It
is a great improvement on the telegraph."

"I know it's eyes; I saw you lift your eyebrows, and nod toward the
carriage, and Mrs. Bhaer laughed and nodded back again," cried Nat, who
was quite at his ease with kind Mr. Laurie by this time.

"Right. Now them, come on," and in a minute Dan found himself settled in
the carriage, his foot on a cushion on the seat opposite, nicely
covered with a shawl, which fell down from the upper regions in a most
mysterious manner, just when they wanted it. Demi climbed up to the
box beside Peter, the black coachman. Nat sat next Dan in the place of
honor, while Uncle Teddy would sit opposite, to take care of the foot,
he said, but really that he might study the faces before him both so
happy, yet so different, for Dan's was square, and brown, and strong,
while Nat's was long, and fair, and rather weak, but very amiable with
its mild eyes and good forehead.

"By the way, I've got a book somewhere here that you may like to see,"
said the oldest boy of the party, diving under the seat and producing a
book which make Dan exclaim,

"Oh! by George, isn't that a stunner?" as he turned the leaves, and saw
fine plates of butterflies, and birds, and every sort of interesting
insect, colored like life. He was so charmed that he forgot his thanks,
but Mr. Laurie did not mind, and was quite satisfied to see the boy's
eager delight, and to hear this exclamations over certain old friends as
he came to them. Nat leaned on his shoulder to look, and Demi turned his
back to the horses, and let his feet dangle inside the carriage, so that
he might join in the conversation.

When they got among the beetles, Mr. Laurie took a curious little object
out of his vest-pocket, and laying it in the palm of his hand, said,

"There's a beetle that is thousands of years old;" and then, while the
lads examined the queer stone-bug, that looked so old and gray, he told
them how it came out of the wrappings of a mummy, after lying for ages
in a famous tomb. Finding them interested, he went on to tell about the
Egyptians, and the strange and splendid ruins they have left behind them
the Nile, and how he sailed up the mighty river, with the handsome dark
men to work his boat; how he shot alligators, saw wonderful beasts and
birds; and afterwards crossed the desert on a camel, who pitched him
about like a ship in a storm.

"Uncle Teddy tells stories 'most as well as Grandpa," said Demi,
approvingly, when the tale was done, and the boys' eyes asked for more.

"Thank you," said Mr. Laurie, quite soberly, for he considered Demi's
praise worth having, for children are good critics in such cases, and to
suit them is an accomplishment that any one may be proud of.

"Here's another trifle or two that I tucked into my pocket as I was
turning over my traps to see if I had any thing that would amuse Dan,"
and Uncle Teddy produced a fine arrow-head and a string of wampum.

"Oh! tell about the Indians," cried Demi, who was fond of playing

"Dan knows lots about them," added Nat.

"More than I do, I dare say. Tell us something," and Mr. Laurie looked
as interested as the other two.

"Mr. Hyde told me; he's been among 'em, and can talk their talk,
and likes 'em," began Dan, flattered by their attention, but rather
embarrassed by having a grown-up listener.

"What is wampum for?" asked curious Demi, from his perch.

The others asked questions likewise, and, before he knew it, Dan was
reeling off all Mr. Hyde had told him, as they sailed down the river
a few weeks before. Mr. Laurie listened well, but found the boy more
interesting than the Indians, for Mrs. Jo had told him about Dan, and
he rather took a fancy to the wild lad, who ran away as he himself
had often longed to do, and who was slowly getting tamed by pain and

"I've been thinking that it would be a good plan for you fellows to have
a museum of your own; a place in which to collect all the curious and
interesting things that you find, and make, and have given you. Mrs. Jo
is too kind to complain, but it is rather hard for her to have the house
littered up with all sorts of rattletraps, half-a-pint of dor-bugs in
one of her best vases, for instance, a couple of dead bats nailed up in
the back entry, wasps nests tumbling down on people's heads, and stones
lying round everywhere, enough to pave the avenue. There are not many
women who would stand that sort of thing, are there, now?"

As Mr. Laurie spoke with a merry look in his eyes, the boys laughed and
nudged one another, for it was evident that some one told tales out of
school, else how could he know of the existence of these inconvenient

"Where can we put them, then?" said Demi, crossing his legs and leaning
down to argue the question.

"In the old carriage-house."

"But it leaks, and there isn't any window, nor any place to put things,
and it's all dust and cobwebs," began Nat.

"Wait till Gibbs and I have touched it up a bit, and then see how
you like it. He is to come over on Monday to get it ready; then
next Saturday I shall come out, and we will fix it up, and make the
beginning, at least, of a fine little museum. Every one can bring
his things, and have a place for them; and Dan is to be the head man,
because he knows most about such matters, and it will be quiet, pleasant
work for him now that he can't knock about much."

"Won't that be jolly?" cried Nat, while Dan smiled all over his face and
had not a word to say, but hugged his book, and looked at Mr. Laurie
as if he thought him one of the greatest public benefactors that ever
blessed the world.

"Shall I go round again, sir?" asked Peter, as they came to the gate,
after two slow turns about the half-mile triangle.

"No, we must be prudent, else we can't come again. I must go over the
premises, take a look at the carriage-house, and have a little talk with
Mrs. Jo before I go;" and, having deposited Dan on his sofa to rest and
enjoy his book, Uncle Teddy went off to have a frolic with the lads who
were raging about the place in search of him. Leaving the little girls
to mess up-stairs, Mrs. Bhaer sat down by Dan, and listened to his eager
account of the drive till the flock returned, dusty, warm, and much
excited about the new museum, which every one considered the most
brilliant idea of the age.

"I always wanted to endow some sort of an institution, and I am going to
begin with this," said Mr. Laurie, sitting down on a stool at Mrs. Jo's

"You have endowed one already. What do you call this?" and Mrs. Jo
pointed to the happy-faced lads, who had camped upon the floor about

"I call it a very promising Bhaer-garden, and I'm proud to be a member
of it. Did you know I was the head boy in this school?" he asked,
turning to Dan, and changing the subject skilfully, for he hated to be
thanked for the generous things he did.

"I thought Franz was!" answered Dan, wondering what the man meant.

"Oh, dear no! I'm the first boy Mrs. Jo ever had to take care of, and I
was such a bad one that she isn't done with me yet, though she has been
working at me for years and years."

"How old she must be!" said Nat, innocently.

"She began early, you see. Poor thing! she was only fifteen when she
took me, and I led her such a life, it's a wonder she isn't wrinkled and
gray, and quite worn out," and Mr. Laurie looked up at her laughing.

"Don't Teddy; I won't have you abuse yourself so;" and Mrs. Jo stroked
the curly black head at her knee as affectionately as ever, for, in
spite of every thing Teddy was her boy still.

"If it hadn't been for you, there never would have been a Plumfield. It
was my success with you, sir, that gave me courage to try my pet plan.

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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 11 of 23)