Louisa May Alcott.

Little Men online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

So the boys may thank you for it, and name the new institution 'The
Laurence Museum,' in honor of its founder, won't we, boys?" she added,
looking very like the lively Jo of old times.

"We will! we will!" shouted the boys, throwing up their hats, for though
they had taken them off on entering the house, according to rule, they
had been in too much of a hurry to hang them up.

"I'm as hungry as a bear, can't I have a cookie?" asked Mr. Laurie, when
the shout subsided and he had expressed his thanks by a splendid bow.

"Trot out and ask Asia for the gingerbread-box, Demi. It isn't in order
to eat between meals, but, on this joyful occasion, we won't mind, and
have a cookie all round," said Mrs. Jo; and when the box came she
dealt them out with a liberal hand, every one munching away in a social

Suddenly, in the midst of a bite, Mr. Laurie cried out, "Bless my heart,
I forgot grandma's bundle!" and running out to the carriage, returned
with an interesting white parcel, which, being opened, disclosed a
choice collection of beasts, birds, and pretty things cut out of crisp
sugary cake, and baked a lovely brown.

"There's one for each, and a letter to tell which is whose. Grandma and
Hannah made them, and I tremble to think what would have happened to me
if I had forgotten to leave them."

Then, amid much laughing and fun, the cakes were distributed. A fish for
Dan, a fiddle for Nat, a book for Demi, a money for Tommy, a flower for
Daisy, a hoop for Nan, who had driven twice round the triangle without
stopping, a star for Emil, who put on airs because he studied astronomy,
and, best of all, an omnibus for Franz, whose great delight was to drive
the family bus. Stuffy got a fat pig, and the little folks had birds,
and cats, and rabbits, with black currant eyes.

"Now I must go. Where is my Goldilocks? Mamma will come flying out to
get her if I'm not back early," said Uncle Teddy, when the last crumb
had vanished, which it speedily did, you may be sure.

The young ladies had gone into the garden, and while they waited till
Franz looked them up, Jo and Laurie stood at the door talking together.

"How does little Giddy-gaddy come on?" he asked, for Nan's pranks amused
him very much, and he was never tired of teasing Jo about her.

"Nicely; she is getting quite mannerly, and begins to see the error of
her wild ways."

"Don't the boys encourage her in them?"

"Yes; but I keep talking, and lately she has improved much. You saw how
prettily she shook hands with you, and how gentle she was with Bess.
Daisy's example has its effect upon her, and I'm quite sure that a few
months will work wonders."

Here Mrs. Jo's remarks were cut short by the appearance of Nan tearing
round the corner at a break-neck pace, driving a mettlesome team of four
boys, and followed by Daisy trundling Bess in a wheelbarrow. Hat off,
hair flying, whip cracking, and barrow bumping, up they came in a cloud
of dust, looking as wild a set of little hoydens as one would wish to

"So, these are the model children, are they? It's lucky I didn't bring
Mrs. Curtis out to see your school for the cultivation of morals
and manners; she would never have recovered from the shock of this
spectacle," said Mr. Laurie, laughing at Mrs. Jo's premature rejoicing
over Nan's improvement.

"Laugh away; I'll succeed yet. As you used to say at College, quoting
some professor, 'Though the experiment has failed, the principle remains
the same,'" said Mrs. Bhaer, joining in the merriment.

"I'm afraid Nan's example is taking effect upon Daisy, instead of the
other way. Look at my little princess! she has utterly forgotten her
dignity, and is screaming like the rest. Young ladies, what does
this mean?" and Mr. Laurie rescued his small daughter from impending
destruction, for the four horses were champing their bits and curvetting
madly all about her, as she sat brandishing a great whip in both hands.

"We're having a race, and I beat," shouted Nan.

"I could have run faster, only I was afraid of spilling Bess," screamed

"Hi! go long!" cried the princess, giving such a flourish with her whip
that the horses ran away, and were seen no more.

"My precious child! come away from this ill-mannered crew before you are
quite spoilt. Good-by, Jo! Next time I come, I shall expect to find the
boys making patchwork."

"It wouldn't hurt them a bit. I don't give in, mind you; for my
experiments always fail a few times before they succeed. Love to Amy and
my blessed Marmee," called Mrs. Jo, as the carriage drove away; and the
last Mr. Laurie saw of her, she was consoling Daisy for her failure by a
ride in the wheelbarrow, and looking as if she liked it.

Great was the excitement all the week about the repairs in the
carriage-house, which went briskly on in spite of the incessant
questions, advice, and meddling of the boys. Old Gibbs was nearly driven
wild with it all, but managed to do his work nevertheless; and by
Friday night the place was all in order roof mended, shelves up, walls
whitewashed, a great window cut at the back, which let in a flood of
sunshine, and gave them a fine view of the brook, the meadows, and the
distant hills; and over the great door, painted in red letters, was "The
Laurence Museum."

All Saturday morning the boys were planning how it should be furnished
with their spoils, and when Mr. Laurie arrived, bringing an aquarium
which Mrs. Amy said she was tired of, their rapture was great.

The afternoon was spent in arranging things, and when the running and
lugging and hammering was over, the ladies were invited to behold the

It certainly was a pleasant place, airy, clean, and bright. A hop-vine
shook its green bells round the open window, the pretty aquarium stood
in the middle of the room, with some delicate water plants rising above
the water, and gold-fish showing their brightness as they floated to and
fro below. On either side of the window were rows of shelves ready to
receive the curiosities yet to be found. Dan's tall cabinet stood before
the great door which was fastened up, while the small door was to be
used. On the cabinet stood a queer Indian idol, very ugly, but very
interesting; old Mr. Laurence sent it, as well as a fine Chinese junk in
full sail, which had a conspicuous place on the long table in the middle
of the room. Above, swinging in a loop, and looking as if she was alive,
hung Polly, who died at an advanced age, had been carefully stuffed, and
was no presented by Mrs. Jo. The walls were decorated with all sorts of
things. A snake's skin, a big wasp's nest, a birch-bark canoe, a string
of birds' eggs, wreaths of gray moss from the South, and a bunch of
cotton-pods. The dead bats had a place, also a large turtle-shell, and
an ostrich-egg proudly presented by Demi, who volunteered to explain
these rare curiosities to guests whenever they liked. There were so many
stones that it was impossible to accept them all, so only a few of the
best were arranged among the shells on the shelves, the rest were piled
up in corners, to be examined by Dan at his leisure.

Every one was eager to give something, even Silas, who sent home for
a stuffed wild-cat killed in his youth. It was rather moth-eaten and
shabby, but on a high bracket and best side foremost the effect was
fine, for the yellow glass eyes glared, and the mouth snarled so
naturally, that Teddy shook in his little shoes at sight of it, when he
came bringing his most cherished treasure, one cocoon, to lay upon the
shrine of science.

"Isn't it beautiful? I'd no idea we had so many curious things. I gave
that; don't it look well? We might make a lot by charging something for
letting folks see it."

Jack added that last suggestion to the general chatter that went on as
the family viewed the room.

"This is a free museum and if there is any speculating on it I'll paint
out the name over the door," said Mr. Laurie, turning so quickly that
Jack wished he had held his tongue.

"Hear! hear!" cried Mr. Bhaer.

"Speech! speech!" added Mrs. Jo.

"Can't, I'm too bashful. You give them a lecture yourself you are used
to it," Mr. Laurie answered, retreating towards the window, meaning to
escape. But she held him fast, and said, laughing as she looked at the
dozen pairs of dirty hands about her,

"If I did lecture, it would on the chemical and cleansing properties of
soap. Come now, as the founder of the institution, you really ought to
give us a few moral remarks, and we will applaud tremendously."

Seeing that there was no way of escaping, Mr. Laurie looked up at Polly
hanging overhead, seemed to find inspiration in the brilliant old bird,
and sitting down upon the table, said, in his pleasant way,

"There is one thing I'd like to suggest, boys, and that is, I want you
to get some good as well as much pleasure out of this. Just putting
curious or pretty things here won't do it; so suppose you read up about
them, so that when anybody asks questions you can answer them, and
understand the matter. I used to like these things myself, and should
enjoy hearing about them now, for I've forgotten all I once knew. It
wasn't much, was it, Jo? Here's Dan now, full of stories about birds,
and bugs, and so on; let him take care of the museum, and once a week
the rest of you take turns to read a composition, or tell about some
animal, mineral, or vegetable. We should all like that, and I think it
would put considerable useful knowledge into our heads. What do you say,

"I like it much, and will give the lads all the help I can. But they
will need books to read up these new subjects, and we have not many,
I fear," began Mr. Bhaer, looking much pleased, planning many fine
lectures on geology, which he liked. "We should have a library for the
special purpose."

"Is that a useful sort of book, Dan?" asked Mr. Laurie, pointing to the
volume that lay open by the cabinet.

"Oh, yes! it tells all I want to know about insects. I had it here to
see how to fix the butterflies right. I covered it, so it is not hurt;"
and Dan caught it up, fearing the lender might think him careless.

"Give it here a minute;" and, pulling out his pencil, Mr. Laurie wrote
Dan's name in it, saying, as he set the book up on one of the corner
shelves, where nothing stood but a stuffed bird without a tail, "There,
that is the beginning of the museum library. I'll hunt up some more
books, and Demi shall keep them in order. Where are those jolly little
books we used to read, Jo? 'Insect Architecture' or some such name, all
about ants having battles, and bees having queens, and crickets eating
holes in our clothes and stealing milk, and larks of that sort."

"In the garret at home. I'll have them sent out, and we will plunge into
Natural History with a will," said Mrs. Jo, ready for any thing.

"Won't it be hard to write about such things?" asked Nat, who hated

"At first, perhaps; but you will soon like it. If you think that hard,
how would you like to have this subject given to you, as it was to a
girl of thirteen: A conversation between Themistocles, Aristides, and
Pericles on the proposed appropriation of funds of the confederacy of
Delos for the ornamentation of Athens?" said Mrs. Jo.

The boys groaned at the mere sound of the long names, and the gentlemen
laughed at the absurdity of the lesson.

"Did she write it?" asked Demi, in an awe-stricken tone.

"Yes, but you can imagine what a piece of work she make of it, though
she was rather a bright child."

"I'd like to have seen it," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Perhaps I can find it for you; I went to school with her," and Mrs. Jo
looked so wicked that every one knew who the little girl was.

Hearing of this fearful subject for a composition quite reconciled
the boys to the thought of writing about familiar things. Wednesday
afternoon was appointed for the lectures, as they preferred to call
them, for some chose to talk instead of write. Mr. Bhaer promised a
portfolio in which the written productions should be kept, and Mrs.
Bhaer said she would attend the course with great pleasure.

Then the dirty-handed society went off the wash, followed by the
Professor, trying to calm the anxiety of Rob, who had been told by Tommy
that all water was full of invisible pollywogs.

"I like your plan very much, only don't be too generous, Teddy," said
Mrs. Bhaer, when they were left alone. "You know most of the boys have
got to paddle their own canoes when they leave us, and too much sitting
in the lap of luxury will unfit them for it."

"I'll be moderate, but do let me amuse myself. I get desperately tired
of business sometimes, and nothing freshens me up like a good frolic
with your boys. I like that Dan very much, Jo. He isn't demonstrative;
but he has the eye of a hawk, and when you have tamed him a little he
will do you credit."

"I'm so glad you think so. Thank you very much for your kindness to him,
especially for this museum affair; it will keep him happy while he is
lame, give me a chance to soften and smooth this poor, rough lad, and
make him love us. What did inspire you with such a beautiful, helpful
idea, Teddy?" asked Mrs. Bhaer, glancing back at the pleasant room, as
she turned to leave it.

Laurie took both her hands in his, and answered, with a look that made
her eyes fill with happy tears,

"Dear Jo! I have known what it is to be a motherless boy, and I never
can forget how much you and yours have done for me all these years."


There was a great clashing of tin pails, much running to and fro, and
frequent demands for something to eat, one August afternoon, for the
boys were going huckleberrying, and made as much stir about it as if
they were setting out to find the North West Passage.

"Now, my lads, get off as quietly as you can, for Rob is safely out
of the way, and won't see you," said Mrs. Bhaer, as she tied Daisy's
broad-brimmed hat, and settled the great blue pinafore in which she had
enveloped Nan.

But the plan did not succeed, for Rob had heard the bustle, decided to
go, and prepared himself, without a thought of disappointment. The troop
was just getting under way when the little man came marching downstairs
with his best hat on, a bright tin pail in his hand, and a face beaming
with satisfaction.

"Oh, dear! now we shall have a scene," sighed Mrs. Bhaer, who found her
eldest son very hard to manage at times.

"I'm all ready," said Rob, and took his place in the ranks with such
perfect unconsciousness of his mistake, that it really was very hard to
undeceive him.

"It's too far for you, my love; stay and take care of me, for I shall be
all alone," began his mother.

"You've got Teddy. I'm a big boy, so I can go; you said I might when I
was bigger, and I am now," persisted Rob, with a cloud beginning to dim
the brightness of his happy face.

"We are going up to the great pasture, and it's ever so far; we don't
want you tagging on," cried Jack, who did not admire the little boys.

"I won't tag, I'll run and keep up. O Mamma! let me go! I want to fill
my new pail, and I'll bring 'em all to you. Please, please, I will
be good!" prayed Robby, looking up at his mother, so grieved and
disappointed that her heart began to fail her.

"But, my deary, you'll get so tired and hot you won't have a good time.
Wait till I go, and then we will stay all day, and pick as many berries
as you want."

"You never do go, you are so busy, and I'm tired of waiting. I'd rather
go and get the berries for you all myself. I love to pick 'em, and I
want to fill my new pail dreffly," sobbed Rob.

The pathetic sight of great tears tinkling into the dear new pail, and
threatening to fill it with salt water instead of huckleberries, touched
all the ladies present. His mother patted the weeper on his back; Daisy
offered to stay home with him; and Nan said, in her decided way,

"Let him come; I'll take care of him."

"If Franz was going I wouldn't mind, for he is very careful; but he is
haying with the father, and I'm not sure about the rest of you," began
Mrs. Bhaer.

"It's so far," put in Jack.

"I'd carry him if I was going wish I was," said Dan, with a sigh.

"Thank you, dear, but you must take care of your foot. I wish I could
go. Stop a minute, I think I can manage it after all;" and Mrs. Bhaer
ran out to the steps, waving her apron wildly.

Silas was just driving away in the hay-cart, but turned back, and agreed
at once, when Mrs. Jo proposed that he should take the whole party to
the pasture, and go for them at five o'clock.

"It will delay your work a little, but never mind; we will pay you in
huckleberry pies," said Mrs. Jo, knowing Silas's weak point.

His rough, brown face brightened up, and he said, with a cheery "Haw!
haw!" "Wal now, Mis' Bhaer, if you go to bribin' of me, I shall give in
right away."

"Now, boys, I have arranged it so that you can all go," said Mrs. Bhaer,
running back again, much relieved, for she loved to make them happy, and
always felt miserable when she had disturbed the serenity of her little
sons; for she believed that the small hopes and plans and pleasures
of children should be tenderly respected by grown-up people, and never
rudely thwarted or ridiculed.

"Can I go?" said Dan, delighted.

"I thought especially of you. Be careful, and never mind the berries,
but sit about and enjoy the lovely things which you know how to find all
about you," answered Mrs. Bhaer, who remembered his kind offer to her

"Me too! me too!" sung Rob, dancing with joy, and clapping his precious
pail and cover like castanets.

"Yes, and Daisy and Nan must take good care of you. Be at the bars at
five o'clock, and Silas will come for you all."

Robby cast himself upon his mother in a burst of gratitude, promising
to bring her every berry he picked, and not eat one. Then they were all
packed into the hay-cart, and went rattling away, the brightest face
among the dozen being that of Rob, as he sat between his two temporary
little mothers, beaming upon the whole world, and waving his best hat;
for his indulgent mamma had not the heart to bereave him of it, since
this was a gala-day to him.

Such a happy afternoon as they had, in spite of the mishaps which
usually occur on such expeditions! Of course Tommy came to grief,
tumbled upon a hornet's nest and got stung; but being used to woe, he
bore the smart manfully, till Dan suggested the application of damp
earth, which much assuaged the pain. Daisy saw a snake, and flying from
it lost half her berries; but Demi helped her to fill up again, and
discussed reptiles most learnedly the while. Ned fell out of a tree, and
split his jacket down the back, but suffered no other fracture. Emil and
Jack established rival claims to a certain thick patch, and while they
were squabbling about it, Stuffy quickly and quietly stripped the bushes
and fled to the protection of Dan, who was enjoying himself immensely.
The crutch was no longer necessary, and he was delighted to see how
strong his foot felt as he roamed about the great pasture, full of
interesting rocks and stumps, with familiar little creatures in the
grass, and well-known insects dancing in the air.

But of all the adventures that happened on this afternoon that which
befell Nan and Rob was the most exciting, and it long remained one of
the favorite histories of the household. Having explored the country
pretty generally, torn three rents in her frock, and scratched her face
in a barberry-bush, Nan began to pick the berries that shone like big,
black beads on the low, green bushes. Her nimble fingers flew, but
still her basket did not fill up as rapidly as she desired, so she kept
wandering here and there to search for better places, instead of picking
contentedly and steadily as Daisy did. Rob followed Nan, for her energy
suited him better than his cousin's patience, and he too was anxious to
have the biggest and best berries for Marmar.

"I keep putting 'em in, but it don't fill up, and I'm so tired," said
Rob, pausing a moment to rest his short legs, and beginning to think
huckleberrying was not all his fancy painted it; for the sun blazed, Nan
skipped hither and thither like a grasshopper, and the berries fell out
of his pail almost as fast as he put them in, because, in his struggles
with the bushes, it was often upside-down.

"Last time we came they were ever so much thicker over that wall great
bouncers; and there is a cave there where the boys made a fire. Let's go
and fill our things quick, and then hide in the cave and let the others
find us," proposed Nan, thirsting for adventures.

Rob consented, and away they went, scrambling over the wall and running
down the sloping fields on the other side, till they were hidden among
the rocks and underbrush. The berries were thick, and at last the pails
were actually full. It was shady and cool down there, and a little
spring gave the thirsty children a refreshing drink out of its mossy

"Now we will go and rest in the cave, and eat our lunch," said Nan, well
satisfied with her success so far.

"Do you know the way?" asked Rob.

"'Course I do; I've been once, and I always remember. Didn't I go and
get my box all right?"

That convinced Rob, and he followed blindly as Nan led him over stock
and stone, and brought him, after much meandering, to a small recess in
the rock, where the blackened stones showed that fires had been made.

"Now, isn't it nice?" asked Nan, as she took out a bit of
bread-and-butter, rather damaged by being mixed up with nails,
fishhooks, stones and other foreign substances, in the young lady's

"Yes; do you think they will find us soon?" asked Rob, who found the
shadowy glen rather dull, and began to long for more society.

"No, I don't; because if I hear them, I shall hide, and have fun making
them find me."

"P'raps they won't come."

"Don't care; I can get home myself."

"Is it a great way?" asked Rob, looking at his little stubby boots,
scratched and wet with his long wandering.

"It's six miles, I guess." Nan's ideas of distance were vague, and her
faith in her own powers great.

"I think we better go now," suggested Rob, presently.

"I shan't till I have picked over my berries;" and Nan began what seemed
to Rob an endless task.

"Oh, dear! you said you'd take good care of me," he sighed, as the sun
seemed to drop behind the hill all of a sudden.

"Well I am taking good care of you as hard as I can. Don't be cross,
child; I'll go in a minute," said Nan, who considered five-year-old
Robby a mere infant compared to herself.

So little Rob sat looking anxiously about him, and waiting patiently,
for, spite of some misgivings, he felt great confidence in Nan.

"I guess it's going to be night pretty soon," he observed, as if to
himself, as a mosquito bit him, and the frogs in a neighboring marsh
began to pipe up for the evening concert.

"My goodness me! so it is. Come right away this minute, or they will be
gone," cried Nan, looking up from her work, and suddenly perceiving that
the sun was down.

"I heard a horn about an hour ago; may be they were blowing for us,"
said Rob, trudging after his guide as she scrambled up the steep hill.

"Where was it?" asked Nan, stopping short.

"Over that way;" he pointed with a dirty little finger in an entirely
wrong direction.

"Let's go that way and meet them;" and Nan wheeled about, and began to
trot through the bushes, feeling a trifle anxious, for there were so
many cow-paths all about she could not remember which way they came.

On they went over stock and stone again, pausing now and then to listen
for the horn, which did not blow any more, for it was only the moo of a
cow on her way home.

"I don't remember seeing that pile of stones do you?" asked Nan, as she
sat on a wall to rest a moment and take an observation.

"I don't remember any thing, but I want to go home," and Rob's voice had
a little tremble in it that made Nan put her arms round him and lift him
gently down, saying, in her most capable way,

"I'm going just as fast as I can, dear. Don't cry, and when we come to
the road, I'll carry you."

"Where is the road?" and Robby wiped his eyes to look for it.

"Over by that big tree. Don't you know that's the one Ned tumbled out

"So it is. May be they waited for us; I'd like to ride home wouldn't
you?" and Robby brightened up as he plodded along toward the end of the
great pasture.

"No, I'd rather walk," answered Nan, feeling quite sure that she would
be obliged to do so, and preparing her mind for it.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 12 of 23)