Louisa May Alcott.

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Another long trudge through the fast-deepening twilight and another
disappointment, for when they reached the tree, they found to their
dismay that it was not the one Ned climbed, and no road anywhere

"Are we lost?" quavered Rob, clasping his pail in despair.

"Not much. I don't just see which way to go, and I guess we'd better

So they both shouted till they were hoarse, yet nothing answered but the
frogs in full chorus.

"There is another tall tree over there, perhaps that's the one," said
Nan, whose heart sunk within her, though she still spoke bravely.

"I don't think I can go any more; my boots are so heavy I can't pull
'em;" and Robby sat down on a stone quite worn out.

"Then we must stay here all night. I don't care much, if snakes don't

"I'm frightened of snakes. I can't stay all night. Oh, dear! I don't
like to be lost," and Rob puckered up his face to cry, when suddenly a
thought occurred to him, and he said, in a tone of perfect confidence,

"Marmar will come and find me she always does; I ain't afraid now."

"She won't know where we are."

"She didn't know I was shut up in the ice-house, but she found me.
I know she'll come," returned Robby, so trustfully, that Nan felt
relieved, and sat down by him, saying, with a remorseful sigh,

"I wish we hadn't run away."

"You made me; but I don't mind much Marmar will love me just the same,"
answered Rob, clinging to his sheet-anchor when all other hope was gone.

"I'm so hungry. Let's eat our berries," proposed Nan, after a pause,
during which Rob began to nod.

"So am I, but I can't eat mine, 'cause I told Marmar I'd keep them all
for her."

"You'll have to eat them if no one comes for us," said Nan, who felt
like contradicting every thing just then. "If we stay here a great many
days, we shall eat up all the berries in the field, and then we shall
starve," she added grimly.

"I shall eat sassafras. I know a big tree of it, and Dan told me how
squirrels dig up the roots and eat them, and I love to dig," returned
Rob, undaunted by the prospect of starvation.

"Yes; and we can catch frogs, and cook them. My father ate some once,
and he said they were nice," put in Nan, beginning to find a spice of
romance even in being lost in a huckleberry pasture.

"How could we cook frogs? we haven't got any fire."

"I don't know; next time I'll have matches in my pocket," said Nan,
rather depressed by this obstacle to the experiment in frog-cookery.

"Couldn't we light a fire with a fire-fly?" asked Rob, hopefully, as he
watched them flitting to and fro like winged sparks.

"Let's try;" and several minutes were pleasantly spent in catching the
flies, and trying to make them kindle a green twig or two. "It's a lie
to call them fire-flies when there isn't a fire in them," Nan said,
throwing one unhappy insect away with scorn, though it shone its best,
and obligingly walked up and down the twigs to please the innocent
little experimenters.

"Marmar's a good while coming," said Rob, after another pause, during
which they watched the stars overhead, smelt the sweet fern crushed
under foot, and listened to the crickets' serenade.

"I don't see why God made any night; day is so much pleasanter," said
Nan, thoughtfully.

"It's to sleep in," answered Rob, with a yawn.

"Then do go to sleep," said Nan, pettishly.

"I want my own bed. Oh, I wish I could see Teddy!" cried Rob, painfully
reminded of home by the soft chirp of birds safe in their little nests.

"I don't believe your mother will ever find us," said Nan, who was
becoming desperate, for she hated patient waiting of any sort. "It's so
dark she won't see us."

"It was all black in the ice-house, and I was so scared I didn't call
her, but she saw me; and she will see me now, no matter how dark it is,"
returned confiding Rob, standing up to peer into the gloom for the help
which never failed him.

"I see her! I see her!" he cried, and ran as fast as his tired legs
would take him toward a dark figure slowly approaching. Suddenly he
stopped, then turned about, and came stumbling back, screaming in a
great panic,

"No, it's a bear, a big black one!" and hid his face in Nan's skirts.

For a moment Nan quailed; ever her courage gave out at the thought of a
real bear, and she was about to turn and flee in great disorder, when a
mild "Moo!" changed her fear to merriment, as she said, laughing,

"It's a cow, Robby! the nice, black cow we saw this afternoon."

The cow seemed to feel that it was not just the thing to meet two
little people in her pasture after dark, and the amiable beast paused to
inquire into the case. She let them stroke her, and stood regarding them
with her soft eyes so mildly, that Nan, who feared no animal but a bear,
was fired with a desire to milk her.

"Silas taught me how; and berries and milk would be so nice," she said,
emptying the contents of her pail into her hat, and boldly beginning her
new task, while Rob stood by and repeated, at her command, the poem from
Mother Goose:

"Cushy cow, bonny, let down your milk,
Let down your milk to me,
And I will give you a gown of silk,
A gown of silk and a silver tee."

But the immortal rhyme had little effect, for the benevolent cow had
already been milked, and had only half a gill to give the thirsty

"Shoo! get away! you are an old cross patch," cried Nan, ungratefully,
as she gave up the attempt in despair; and poor Molly walked on with a
gentle gurgle of surprise and reproof.

"Each can have a sip, and then we must take a walk. We shall go to sleep
if we don't; and lost people mustn't sleep. Don't you know how Hannah
Lee in the pretty story slept under the snow and died?"

"But there isn't any snow now, and it's nice and warm," said Rob, who
was not blessed with as lively a fancy as Nan.

"No matter, we will poke about a little, and call some more; and then,
if nobody comes, we will hide under the bushes, like Hop-'o-my-thumb and
his brothers."

It was a very short walk, however, for Rob was so sleepy he could not
get on, and tumbled down so often that Nan entirely lost patience, being
half distracted by the responsibility she had taken upon herself.

"If you tumble down again, I'll shake you," she said, lifting the poor
little man up very kindly as she spoke, for Nan's bark was much worse
than her bite.

"Please don't. It's my boots they keep slipping so;" and Rob manfully
checked the sob just ready to break out, adding, with a plaintive
patience that touched Nan's heart, "If the skeeters didn't bite me so, I
could go to sleep till Marmar comes."

"Put your head on my lap, and I'll cover you up with my apron; I'm not
afraid of the night," said Nan, sitting down and trying to persuade
herself that she did not mind the shadow nor the mysterious rustlings
all about her.

"Wake me up when she comes," said rob, and was fast asleep in five
minutes with his head in Nan's lap under the pinafore.

The little girl sat for some fifteen minutes, staring about her with
anxious eyes, and feeling as if each second was an hour. Then a pale
light began to glimmer over the hill-top and she said to herself,

"I guess the night is over and morning is coming. I'd like to see the
sun rise, so I'll watch, and when it comes up we can find our way right

But before the moon's round face peeped above the hill to destroy her
hope, Nan had fallen asleep, leaning back in a little bower of tall
ferns, and was deep in a mid-summer night's dream of fire-flies and blue
aprons, mountains of huckleberries, and Robby wiping away the tears of a
black cow, who sobbed, "I want to go home! I want to go home!"

While the children were sleeping, peacefully lulled by the drowsy hum of
many neighborly mosquitoes, the family at home were in a great state of
agitation. The hay-cart came at five, and all but Jack, Emil, Nan, and
Rob were at the bars ready for it. Franz drove instead of Silas, and
when the boys told him that the others were going home through the wood,
he said, looking ill-pleased, "They ought to have left Rob to ride, he
will be tired out by the long walk."

"It's shorter that way, and they will carry him," said Stuffy, who was
in a hurry for his supper.

"You are sure Nan and Rob went with them?"

"Of course they did; I saw them getting over the wall, and sung out that
it was most five, and Jack called back that they were going the other
way," explained Tommy.

"Very well, pile in then," and away rattled the hay-cart with the tired
children and the full pails.

Mrs. Jo looked sober when she heard of the division of the party, and
sent Franz back with Toby to find and bring the little ones home. Supper
was over, and the family sitting about in the cool hall as usual, when
Franz came trotting back, hot, dusty, and anxious.

"Have they come?" he called out when half-way up the avenue.

"No!" and Mrs. Jo flew out of her chair looking so alarmed that every
one jumped up and gathered round Franz.

"I can't find them anywhere," he began; but the words were hardly spoken
when a loud "Hullo!" startled them all, and the next minute Jack and
Emil came round the house.

"Where are Nan and Rob?" cried Mrs. Jo, clutching Emil in a way that
caused him to think his aunt had suddenly lost her wits.

"I don't know. They came home with the others, didn't they?" he
answered, quickly.

"No; George and Tommy said they went with you."

"Well, they didn't. Haven't seen them. We took a swim in the pond, and
came by the wood," said Jack, looking alarmed, as well he might.

"Call Mr. Bhaer, get the lanterns, and tell Silas I want him."

That was all Mrs. Jo said, but they knew what she meant, and flew to
obey her orders. In ten minutes, Mr. Bhaer and Silas were off to the
wood, and Franz tearing down the road on old Andy to search the great
pasture. Mrs. Jo caught up some food from the table, a little bottle of
brandy from the medicine-closet, took a lantern, and bidding Jack and
Emil come with her, and the rest not stir, she trotted away on Toby,
never stopping for hat or shawl. She heard some one running after her,
but said not a word till, as she paused to call and listen, the light of
her lantern shone on Dan's face.

"You here! I told Jack to come," she said, half-inclined to send him
back, much as she needed help.

"I wouldn't let him; he and Emil hadn't had any supper, and I wanted
to come more than they did," he said, taking the lantern from her and
smiling up in her face with the steady look in his eyes that made her
feel as if, boy though he was, she had some one to depend on.

Off she jumped, and ordered him on to Toby, in spite of his pleading to
walk; then they went on again along the dusty, solitary road, stopping
every now and then to call and hearken breathlessly for little voices to

When they came to the great pasture, other lights were already flitting
to and fro like will-o'-the-wisps, and Mr. Bhaer's voice was heard
shouting, "Nan! Rob! Rob! Nan!" in every part of the field. Silas
whistled and roared, Dan plunged here and there on Toby, who seemed
to understand the case, and went over the roughest places with unusual
docility. Often Mrs. Jo hushed them all, saying, with a sob in her
throat, "The noise may frighten them, let me call; Robby will know my
voice;" and then she would cry out the beloved little name in every tone
of tenderness, till the very echoes whispered it softly, and the winds
seemed to waft it willingly; but still no answer came.

The sky was overcast now, and only brief glimpses of the moon were seen,
heat-lightening darted out of the dark clouds now and then, and a faint
far-off rumble as of thunder told that a summer-storm was brewing.

"O my Robby! my Robby!" mourned poor Mrs. Jo, wandering up and down like
a pale ghost, while Dan kept beside her like a faithful fire-fly. "What
shall I say to Nan's father if she comes to harm? Why did I ever trust
my darling so far away? Fritz, do you hear any thing?" and when a
mournful, "No" came back, she wrung her hands so despairingly that Dan
sprung down from Toby's back, tied the bridle to the bars, and said, in
his decided way,

"They may have gone down the spring I'm going to look."

He was over the wall and away so fast that she could hardly follow him;
but when she reached the spot, he lowered the lantern and showed her
with joy the marks of little feet in the soft ground about the spring.
She fell down on her knees to examine the tracks, and then sprung up,
saying eagerly,

"Yes; that is the mark of my Robby's little boots! Come this way, they
must have gone on."

Such a weary search! But now some inexplicable instinct seemed to lead
the anxious mother, for presently Dan uttered a cry, and caught up a
little shining object lying in the path. It was the cover of the new
tin pail, dropped in the first alarm of being lost. Mrs. Jo hugged and
kissed it as if it were a living thing; and when Dan was about to utter
a glad shout to bring the others to the spot, she stopped him, saying,
as she hurried on, "No, let me find them; I let Rob go, and I want to
give him back to his father all myself."

A little farther on Nan's hat appeared, and after passing the place
more than once, they came at last upon the babes in the wood, both sound
asleep. Dan never forgot the little picture on which the light of his
lantern shone that night. He thought Mrs. Jo would cry out, but she
only whispered, "Hush!" as she softly lifted away the apron, and saw the
little ruddy face below. The berry-stained lips were half-open as the
breath came and went, the yellow hair lay damp on the hot forehead, and
both the chubby hands held fast the little pail still full.

The sight of the childish harvest, treasured through all the troubles of
that night for her, seemed to touch Mrs. Jo to the heart, for suddenly
she gathered up her boy, and began to cry over him, so tenderly, yet
so heartily, that he woke up, and at first seemed bewildered. Then he
remembered, and hugged her close, saying with a laugh of triumph,

"I knew you'd come! O Marmar! I did want you so!" For a moment they
kissed and clung to one another, quite forgetting all the world; for no
matter how lost and soiled and worn-out wandering sons may be, mothers
can forgive and forget every thing as they fold them in their fostering
arms. Happy the son whose faith in his mother remains unchanged, and
who, through all his wanderings, has kept some filial token to repay her
brave and tender love.

Dan meantime picked Nan out of her bush, and, with a gentleness none but
Teddy ever saw in him before, he soothed her first alarm at the sudden
waking, and wiped away her tears; for Nan also began to cry for joy,
it was so good to see a kind face and feel a strong arm round her after
what seemed to her ages of loneliness and fear.

"My poor little girl, don't cry! You are all safe now, and no one
shall say a word of blame to-night," said Mrs. Jo, taking Nan into her
capacious embrace, and cuddling both children as a hen might gather her
lost chickens under her motherly wings.

"It was my fault; but I am sorry. I tried to take care of him, and I
covered him up and let him sleep, and didn't touch his berries, though I
was so hungry; and I never will do it again truly, never, never," sobbed
Nan, quite lost in a sea of penitence and thankfulness.

"Call them now, and let us get home," said Mrs. Jo; and Dan, getting
upon the wall, sent a joyful word "Found!" ringing over the field.

How the wandering lights came dancing from all sides, and gathered
round the little group among the sweet fern bushes! Such a hugging,
and kissing, and talking, and crying, as went on must have amazed the
glowworms, and evidently delighted the mosquitoes, for they hummed
frantically, while the little moths came in flocks to the party, and
the frogs croaked as if they could not express their satisfaction loudly

Then they set out for home, a queer party, for Franz rode on to tell
the news; Dan and Toby led the way; then came Nan in the strong arms of
Silas, who considered her "the smartest little baggage he ever saw," and
teased her all the way home about her pranks. Mrs. Bhaer would let no
one carry Rob but himself, and the little fellow, refreshed by sleep,
sat up, and chattered gayly, feeling himself a hero, while his mother
went beside him holding on to any pat of his precious little body that
came handy, and never tired of hearing him say, "I knew Marmar would
come," or seeing him lean down to kiss her, and put a plump berry into
her mouth, "'Cause he picked 'em all for her."

The moon shone out just as they reached the avenue, and all the boys
came shouting to meet them, so the lost lambs were borne in triumph
and safety, and landed in the dining-room, where the unromantic little
things demanded supper instead of preferring kisses and caresses. They
were set down to bread and milk, while the entire household stood round
to gaze upon them. Nan soon recovered her spirits, and recounted her
perils with a relish now that they were all over. Rob seemed absorbed in
his food, but put down his spoon all of a sudden, and set up a doleful

"My precious, why do you cry?" asked his mother, who still hung over

"I'm crying 'cause I was lost," bawled Rob, trying to squeeze out a
tear, and failing entirely.

"But you are found now. Nan says you didn't cry out in the field, and I
was glad you were such a brave boy."

"I was so busy being frightened I didn't have any time then. But I want
to cry now, 'cause I don't like to be lost," explained Rob, struggling
with sleep, emotion, and a mouthful of bread and milk.

The boys set up such a laugh at this funny way of making up for lost
time, that Rob stopped to look at them, and the merriment was so
infectious, that after a surprised stare he burst out into a merry,
"Ha, ha!" and beat his spoon upon the table as if he enjoyed the joke

"It is ten o'clock; into bed, every man of you," said Mr. Bhaer, looking
at his watch.

"And, thank Heaven! there will be no empty ones to-night," added Mrs.
Bhaer, watching, with full eyes, Robby going up in his father's
arms, and Nan escorted by Daisy and Demi, who considered her the most
interesting heroine of their collection.

"Poor Aunt Jo is so tired she ought to be carried up herself," said
gentle Franz, putting his arm round her as she paused at the stair-foot,
looking quite exhausted by her fright and long walk.

"Let's make an arm-chair," proposed Tommy.

"No, thank you, my lads; but somebody may lend me a shoulder to lean
on," answered Mrs. Jo.

"Me! me!" and half-a-dozen jostled one another, all eager to be chosen,
for there was something in the pale motherly face that touched the warm
hearts under the round jackets.

Seeing that they considered it an honor, Mrs. Jo gave it to the one who
had earned it, and nobody grumbled when she put her arm on Dan's broad
shoulder, saying, with a look that made him color up with pride and

"He found the children; so I think he must help me up."

Dan felt richly rewarded for his evening's work, not only that he was
chosen from all the rest to go proudly up bearing the lamp, but because
Mrs. Jo said heartily, "Good-night, my boy! God bless you!" as he left
her at her door.

"I wish I was your boy," said Dan, who felt as if danger and trouble had
somehow brought him nearer than ever to her.

"You shall be my oldest son," and she sealed her promise with a kiss
that made Dan hers entirely.

Little Rob was all right next day, but Nan had a headache, and lay on
Mother Bhaer's sofa with cold-cream upon her scratched face. Her remorse
was quite gone, and she evidently thought being lost rather a fine
amusement. Mrs. Jo was not pleased with this state of things, and had no
desire to have her children led from the paths of virtue, or her pupils
lying round loose in huckleberry fields. So she talked soberly to Nan,
and tried to impress upon her mind the difference between liberty and
license, telling several tales to enforce her lecture. She had not
decided how to punish Nan, but one of these stories suggested a way, and
as Mrs. Jo liked odd penalties, she tried it.

"All children run away," pleaded Nan, as if it was as natural and
necessary a thing as measles or hooping cough.

"Not all, and some who do run away don't get found again," answered Mrs.

"Didn't you do it yourself?" asked Nan, whose keen little eyes saw some
traces of a kindred spirit in the serious lady who was sewing so morally
before her.

Mrs. Jo laughed, and owned that she did.

"Tell about it," demanded Nan, feeling that she was getting the upper
hand in the discussion.

Mrs. Jo saw that, and sobered down at once, saying, with a remorseful
shake of the head,

"I did it a good many times, and led my poor mother rather a hard life
with my pranks, till she cured me."

"How?" and Nan sat up with a face full of interest.

"I had a new pair of shoes once, and wanted to show them; so, though I
was told not to leave the garden, I ran away and was wandering about all
day. It was in the city, and why I wasn't killed I don't know. Such a
time as I had. I frolicked in the park with dogs, sailed boats in the
Back Bay with strange boys, dined with a little Irish beggar-girl on
salt fish and potatoes, and was found at last fast asleep on a door-step
with my arms round a great dog. It was late in the evening, and I was a
dirty as a little pig, and the new shoes were worn out I had travelled
so far."

"How nice!" cried Nan, looking all ready to go and do it herself.

"It was not nice next day;" and Mrs. Jo tried to keep her eyes from
betraying how much she enjoyed the memory of her early capers.

"Did your mother whip you?" asked Nan, curiously.

"She never whipped me but once, and then she begged my pardon, or I
don't think I ever should have forgiven her, it hurt my feelings so

"Why did she beg your pardon? my father don't."

"Because, when she had done it, I turned round and said, 'Well, you are
mad yourself, and ought to be whipped as much as me.' She looked at me
a minute, then her anger all died out, and she said, as if ashamed, 'You
are right, Jo, I am angry; and why should I punish you for being in a
passion when I set you such a bad example? Forgive me, dear, and let us
try to help one another in a better way.' I never forgot it, and it did
me more good than a dozen rods."

Nan sat thoughtfully turning the little cold-cream jar for a minute, and
Mrs. Jo said nothing, but let that idea get well into the busy little
mind that was so quick to see and feel what went on about her.

"I like that," said Nan, presently, and her face looked less elfish,
with its sharp eyes, inquisitive nose, and mischievous mouth. "What did
your mother do to you when you ran away that time?"

"She tied me to the bed-post with a long string, so that I could not
go out of the room, and there I stayed all day with the little worn-out
shoes hanging up before me to remind me of my fault."

"I should think that would cure anybody," cried Nan, who loved her
liberty above all things.

"It did cure me, and I think it will you, so I am going to try it," said
Mrs. Jo, suddenly taking a ball of strong twine out of a drawer in her

Nan looked as if she was decidedly getting the worst of the argument
now, and sat feeling much crestfallen while Mrs. Jo tied one end round
her waist and the other to the arm of the sofa, saying, as she finished,

"I don't like to tie you up like a naughty little dog, but if you don't
remember any better than a dog, I must treat you like one."

"I'd just as lief be tied up as not I like to play dog;" and Nan put on
a don't-care face, and began to growl and grovel on the floor.

Mrs. Jo took no notice, but leaving a book or two and a handkerchief to
hem, she went away, and left Miss Nan to her own devices. This was not
agreeable, and after sitting a moment she tried to untie the cord. But
it was fastened in the belt of her apron behind, so she began on the
knot at the other end. It soon came loose, and, gathering it up, Nan was
about to get out of the window, when she heard Mrs. Jo say to somebody
as she passed through the hall,

"No, I don't think she will run away now; she is an honorable little
girl, and knows that I do it to help her."

In a minute, Nan whisked back, tied herself up, and began to sew
violently. Rob came in a moment after, and was so charmed with the new
punishment, that he got a jump-rope and tethered himself to the other

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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 13 of 23)