Louisa May Alcott.

Little Men online

. (page 14 of 23)
Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 14 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


arm of the sofa in the most social manner.

"I got lost too, so I ought to be tied up as much as Nan," he explained
to his mother when she saw the new captive.

"I'm not sure that you don't deserve a little punishment, for you knew
it was wrong to go far away from the rest."

"Nan took me," began Rob, willing to enjoy the novel penalty, but not
willing to take the blame.

"You needn't have gone. You have got a conscience, though you are a
little boy, and you must learn to mind it."

"Well, my conscience didn't prick me a bit when she said 'Let's get over
the wall,'" answered Rob, quoting one of Demi's expressions.

"Did you stop to see if it did?"

"No."

"Then you cannot tell."

"I guess it's such a little conscience that it don't prick hard enough
for me to feel it," added Rob, after thinking the matter over for a
minute.

"We must sharpen it up. It's bad to have a dull conscience; so you may
stay here till dinner-time, and talk about it with Nan. I trust you both
not to untie yourselves till I say the word."

"No, we won't," said both, feeling a certain sense of virtue in helping
to punish themselves.

For an hour they were very good, then they grew tired of one room,
and longed to get out. Never had the hall seemed so inviting; even the
little bedroom acquired a sudden interest, and they would gladly have
gone in and played tent with the curtains of the best bed. The open
windows drove them wild because they could not reach them; and the outer
world seemed so beautiful, they wondered how they ever found the
heart to say it was dull. Nan pined for a race round the lawn, and Rob
remembered with dismay that he had not fed his dog that morning, and
wondered what poor Pollux would do. They watched the clock, and Nan did
some nice calculations in minutes and seconds, while Rob learned to tell
all the hours between eight and one so well that he never forgot them.
It was maddening to smell the dinner, to know that there was to be
succotash and huckleberry pudding, and to feel that they would not be
on the spot to secure good helps of both. When Mary Ann began to set the
table, they nearly cut themselves in two trying to see what meat there
was to be; and Nan offered to help her make the beds, if she would only
see that she had "lots of sauce on her pudding."

When the boys came bursting out of school, they found the children
tugging at their halters like a pair of restive little colts, and
were much edified, as well as amused, by the sequel to the exciting
adventures of the night.

"Untie me now, Marmar; my conscience will prick like a pin next time, I
know it will," said Rob, as the bell rang, and Teddy came to look at him
with sorrowful surprise.

"We shall see," answered his mother, setting him free. He took a good
run down the hall, back through the dining-room, and brought up beside
Nan, quite beaming with virtuous satisfaction.

"I'll bring her dinner to her, may I?" he asked, pitying his
fellow-captive.

"That's my kind little son! Yes, pull out the table, and get a chair;"
and Mrs. Jo hurried away to quell the ardor of the others, who were
always in a raging state of hunger at noon.

Nan ate alone, and spent a long afternoon attached to the sofa. Mrs.
Bhaer lengthened her bonds so that she could look out of the window;
and there she stood watching the boys play, and all the little summer
creatures enjoying their liberty. Daisy had a picnic for the dolls on
the lawn, so that Nan might see the fun if she could not join in it.
Tommy turned his best somersaults to console her; Demi sat on the steps
reading aloud to himself, which amused Nan a good deal; and Dan brought
a little tree-toad to show her as the most delicate attention in his
power.

But nothing atoned for the loss of freedom; and a few hours of
confinement taught Nan how precious it was. A good many thoughts went
through the little head that lay on the window-sill during the last
quiet hour when all the children went to the brook to see Emil's new
ship launched. She was to have christened it, and had depended on
smashing a tiny bottle of currant-wine over the prow as it was named
Josephine in honor of Mrs. Bhaer. Now she had lost her chance, and Daisy
wouldn't do it half so well. Tears rose to her eyes as she remembered
that it was all her own fault; and she said aloud, addressing a fat
bee who was rolling about in the yellow heart of a rose just under the
window,

"If you have run away, you'd better go right home, and tell your mother
you are sorry, and never do so any more."

"I am glad to hear you give him such good advice, and I think he has
taken it," said Mrs. Jo, smiling, as the bee spread his dusty wings and
flew away.

Nan brushed off a bright drop or two that shone on the window-sill, and
nestled against her friend as she took her on her knee, adding kindly
for she had seen the little drops, and knew what they meant,

"Do you think my mother's cure for running away a good one?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered Nan, quite subdued by her quiet day.

"I hope I shall not have to try it again."

"I guess not;" and Nan looked up with such an earnest little face that
Mrs. Jo felt satisfied, and said no more, for she liked to have her
penalties do their own work, and did not spoil the effect by too much
moralizing.

Here Rob appeared, bearing with infinite care what Asia called a "sarcer
pie," meaning one baked in a saucer.

"It's made out of some of my berries, and I'm going to give you half at
supper-time," he announced with a flourish.

"What makes you, when I'm so naughty?" asked Nan, meekly.

"Because we got lost together. You ain't going to be naughty again, are
you?"

"Never," said Nan, with great decision.

"Oh, goody! now let's go and get Mary Ann to cut this for us all ready
to eat; it's 'most tea time;" and Rob beckoned with the delicious little
pie.

Nan started to follow, then stopped, and said,

"I forgot, I can't go."

"Try and see," said Mrs. Bhaer, who had quietly untied the cord sash
while she had been talking.

Nan saw that she was free, and with one tempestuous kiss to Mrs. Jo, she
was off like a humming-bird, followed by Robby, dribbling huckleberry
juice as he ran.



CHAPTER XIII. GOLDILOCKS

After the last excitement peace descended upon Plumfield and reigned
unbroken for several weeks, for the elder boys felt that the loss of Nan
and Rob lay at their door, and all became so paternal in their care
that they were rather wearying; while the little ones listened to Nan's
recital of her perils so many times, that they regarded being lost as
the greatest ill humanity was heir to, and hardly dared to put their
little noses outside the great gate lest night should suddenly descend
upon them, and ghostly black cows come looming through the dusk.

"It is too good to last," said Mrs. Jo; for years of boy-culture had
taught her that such lulls were usually followed by outbreaks of some
sort, and when less wise women would have thought that the boys had
become confirmed saints, she prepared herself for a sudden eruption of
the domestic volcano.

One cause of this welcome calm was a visit from little Bess, whose
parents lent her for a week while they were away with Grandpa Laurence,
who was poorly. The boys regarded Goldilocks as a mixture of child,
angel, and fairy, for she was a lovely little creature, and the golden
hair which she inherited from her blonde mamma enveloped her like
a shining veil, behind which she smiled upon her worshippers when
gracious, and hid herself when offended. Her father would not have it
cut and it hung below her waist, so soft and fine and bright, that Demi
insisted that it was silk spun from a cocoon. Every one praised the
little Princess, but it did not seem to do her harm, only to teach her
that her presence brought sunshine, her smiles made answering smiles
on other faces, and her baby griefs filled every heart with tenderest
sympathy.

Unconsciously, she did her young subjects more good than many a real
sovereign, for her rule was very gentle and her power was felt rather
than seen. Her natural refinement made her dainty in all things, and
had a good effect upon the careless lads about her. She would let no one
touch her roughly or with unclean hands, and more soap was used during
her visits than at any other time, because the boys considered it the
highest honor to be allowed to carry her highness, and the deepest
disgrace to be repulsed with the disdainful command, "Do away, dirty
boy!"

Lour voices displeased her and quarrelling frightened her; so gentler
tones came into the boyish voices as they addressed her, and squabbles
were promptly suppressed in her presence by lookers-on if the principles
could not restrain themselves. She liked to be waited on, and the
biggest boys did her little errands without a murmur, while the small
lads were her devoted slaves in all things. They begged to be allowed to
draw her carriage, bear her berry-basket, or pass her plate at table.
No service was too humble, and Tommy and Ned came to blows before they
could decide which should have the honor of blacking her little boots.

Nan was especially benefited by a week in the society of a well-bred
lady, though such a very small one; for Bess would look at her with
a mixture of wonder and alarm in her great blue eyes when the hoyden
screamed and romped; and she shrunk from her as if she thought her a
sort of wild animal. Warm-hearted Nan felt this very much. She said at
first, "Pooh! I don't care!" But she did care, and was so hurt when Bess
said, "I love my tuzzin best, tause she is twiet," that she shook poor
Daisy till her teeth chattered in her head, and then fled to the barn
to cry dismally. In that general refuge for perturbed spirits she found
comfort and good counsel from some source or other. Perhaps the swallows
from their mud-built nests overhead twittered her a little lecture on
the beauty of gentleness. However that might have been, she came out
quite subdued, and carefully searched the orchard for a certain kind
of early apple that Bess liked because it was sweet and small and rosy.
Armed with this peace-offering, she approached the little Princess, and
humbly presented it. To her great joy it was graciously accepted, and
when Daisy gave Nan a forgiving kiss, Bess did likewise, as if she felt
that she had been too severe, and desired to apologize. After this they
played pleasantly together, and Nan enjoyed the royal favor for days.
To be sure she felt a little like a wild bird in a pretty cage at first,
and occasionally had to slip out to stretch her wings in a long flight,
or to sing at the top of her voice, where neither would disturb the
plump turtle-dove Daisy, nor the dainty golden canary Bess. But it did
her good; for, seeing how every one loved the little Princess for her
small graces and virtues, she began to imitate her, because Nan wanted
much love, and tried hard to win it.

Not a boy in the house but felt the pretty child's influence, and was
improved by it without exactly knowing how or why, for babies can
work miracles in the hearts that love them. Poor Billy found infinite
satisfaction in staring at her, and though she did not like it she
permitted without a frown, after she had been made to understand that he
was not quite like the others, and on that account must be more kindly
treated. Dick and Dolly overwhelmed her with willow whistles, the only
thing they knew how to make, and she accepted but never used them. Rob
served her like a little lover, and Teddy followed her like a pet dog.
Jack she did not like, because he was afflicted with warts and had a
harsh voice. Stuffy displeased her because he did not eat tidily, and
George tried hard not to gobble, that he might not disgust the dainty
little lady opposite. Ned was banished from court in utter disgrace when
he was discovered tormenting some unhappy field-mice. Goldilocks could
never forget the sad spectacle, and retired behind her veil when he
approached, waving him away with an imperious little hand, and crying,
in a tone of mingled grief and anger,

"No, I tarn't love him; he tut the poor mouses' little tails off, and
they queeked!"

Daisy promptly abdicated when Bess came, and took the humble post of
chief cook, while Nan was first maid of honor; Emil was chancellor
of the exchequer, and spent the public monies lavishly in getting up
spectacles that cost whole ninepences. Franz was prime minister, and
directed her affairs of state, planned royal progresses through the
kingdom, and kept foreign powers in order. Demi was her philosopher, and
fared much better than such gentlemen usually do among crowned heads.
Dan was her standing army, and defended her territories gallantly; Tommy
was court fool, and Nat a tuneful Rizzio to this innocent little Mary.

Uncle Fritz and Aunt Jo enjoyed this peaceful episode, and looked on
at the pretty play in which the young folk unconsciously imitated their
elders, without adding the tragedy that is so apt to spoil the dramas
acted on the larger stage.

"They teach us quite as much as we teach them," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Bless the dears! they never guess how many hints they give us as to the
best way of managing them," answered Mrs. Jo.

"I think you were right about the good effect of having girls among the
boys. Nan has stirred up Daisy, and Bess is teaching the little bears
how to behave better than we can. If this reformation goes on as it
has begun, I shall soon feel like Dr. Blimber with his model young
gentlemen," said Professor, laughing, as he saw Tommy not only remove
his own hat, but knock off Ned's also, as they entered the hall where
the Princess was taking a ride on the rocking-horse, attended by Rob
and Teddy astride of chairs, and playing gallant knights to the best of
their ability.

"You will never be a Blimber, Fritz, you couldn't do it if you tried;
and our boys will never submit to the forcing process of that famous
hot-bed. No fear that they will be too elegant: American boys like
liberty too well. But good manners they cannot fail to have, if we give
them the kindly spirit that shines through the simplest demeanor, making
it courteous and cordial, like yours, my dear old boy."

"Tut! tut! we will not compliment; for if I begin you will run away, and
I have a wish to enjoy this happy half hour to the end;" yet Mr. Bhaer
looked pleased with the compliment, for it was true, and Mrs. Jo felt
that she had received the best her husband could give her, by saying
that he found his truest rest and happiness in her society.

"To return to the children: I have just had another proof of Goldilocks'
good influence," said Mrs. Jo, drawing her chair nearer the sofa,
where the Professor lay resting after a long day's work in his various
gardens. "Nan hates sewing, but for love of Bess has been toiling half
the afternoon over a remarkable bag in which to present a dozen of our
love-apples to her idol when she goes. I praised her for it, and she
said, in her quick way, 'I like to sew for other people; it is stupid
sewing for myself.' I took the hint, and shall give her some little
shirts and aprons for Mrs. Carney's children. She is so generous, she
will sew her fingers sore for them, and I shall not have to make a task
of it."

"But needlework is not a fashionable accomplishment, my dear."

"Sorry for it. My girls shall learn all I can teach them about it,
even if they give up the Latin, Algebra, and half-a-dozen ologies it
is considered necessary for girls to muddle their poor brains over
now-a-days. Amy means to make Bess an accomplished woman, but the dear's
mite of a forefinger has little pricks on it already, and her mother has
several specimens of needlework which she values more than the clay bird
without a bill, that filled Laurie with such pride when Bess made it."

"I also have proof of the Princess's power," said Mrs. Bhaer, after he
had watched Mrs. Jo sew on a button with an air of scorn for the whole
system of fashionable education. "Jack is so unwilling to be classed
with Stuffy and Ned, as distasteful to Bess, that he came to me a little
while ago, and asked me to touch his warts with caustic. I have often
proposed it, and he never would consent; but now he bore the smart
manfully, and consoles his present discomfort by hopes of future favor,
when he can show her fastidious ladyship a smooth hand."

Mrs. Bhaer laughed at the story, and just then Stuffy came in to ask if
he might give Goldilocks some of the bonbons his mother had sent him.

"She is not allowed to eat sweeties; but if you like to give her the
pretty box with the pink sugar-rose in it, she would like it very much,"
said Mrs. Jo, unwilling to spoil this unusual piece of self-denial, for
the "fat boy" seldom offered to share his sugar-plums.

"Won't she eat it? I shouldn't like to make her sick," said Stuffy,
eyeing the delicate sweetmeat lovingly, yet putting it into the box.

"Oh, no, she won't touch it, if I tell her it is to look at, not to eat.
She will keep it for weeks, and never think of tasting it. Can you do as
much?"

"I should hope so! I'm ever so much older than she is," cried Stuffy,
indignantly.

"Well, suppose we try. Here, put your bonbons in this bag, and see how
long you can keep them. Let me count two hearts, four red fishes, three
barley-sugar horses, nine almonds, and a dozen chocolate drops. Do you
agree to that?" asked sly Mrs. Jo, popping the sweeties into her little
spool-bag.

"Yes," said Stuffy, with a sigh; and pocketing the forbidden fruit,
he went away to give Bess the present, that won a smile from her, and
permission to escort her round the garden.

"Poor Stuffy's heart has really got the better of his stomach at last,
and his efforts will be much encouraged by the rewards Bess gives him,"
said Mrs. Jo.

"Happy is the man who can put temptation in his pocket and learn
self-denial from so sweet a little teacher!" added Mr. Bhaer, as
the children passed the window, Stuffy's fat face full of placid
satisfaction, and Goldilocks surveying her sugar-rose with polite
interest, though she would have preferred a real flower with a "pitty
smell."

When her father came to take her home, a universal wail arose, and the
parting gifts showered upon her increased her luggage to such an extent
that Mr. Laurie proposed having out the big wagon to take it into town.
Every one had given her something; and it was found difficult to pack
white mice, cake, a parcel of shells, apples, a rabbit kicking violently
in a bag, a large cabbage for his refreshment, a bottle of minnows, and
a mammoth bouquet. The farewell scene was moving, for the Princess sat
upon the hall-table, surrounded by her subjects. She kissed her cousins,
and held out her hand to the other boys, who shook it gently with
various soft speeches, for they were taught not to be ashamed of showing
their emotions.

"Come again soon, little dear," whispered Dan, fastening his best
green-and-gold beetle in her hat.

"Don't forget me, Princess, whatever you do," said the engaging Tommy,
taking a last stroke of the pretty hair.

"I am coming to your house next week, and then I shall see you, Bess,"
added Nat, as if he found consolation in the thought.

"Do shake hands now," cried Jack, offering a smooth paw.

"Here are two nice new ones to remember us by," said Dick and Dolly,
presenting fresh whistles, quite unconscious that seven old ones had
been privately deposited in the kitchen-stove.

"My little precious! I shall work you a book-mark right away, and you
must keep it always," said Nan, with a warm embrace.

But of all the farewells, poor Billy's was the most pathetic, for the
thought that she was really going became so unbearable that he cast
himself down before her, hugging her little blue boots and blubbering
despairingly, "Don't go away! oh, don't!" Goldilocks was so touched by
this burst of feeling, that she leaned over and lifting the poor lad's
head, said, in her soft, little voice,

"Don't cry, poor Billy! I will tiss you and tum adain soon."

This promise consoled Billy, and he fell back beaming with pride at the
unusual honor conferred upon him.

"Me too! me too!" clamored Dick and Dolly, feeling that their devotion
deserved some return. The others looked as if they would like to join
in the cry; and something in the kind, merry faces about her moved the
Princess to stretch out her arms and say, with reckless condescension,

"I will tiss evvybody!"

Like a swarm of bees about a very sweet flower, the affectionate lads
surrounded their pretty playmate, and kissed her till she looked like a
little rose, not roughly, but so enthusiastically that nothing but the
crown of her hat was visible for a moment. Then her father rescued her,
and she drove away still smiling and waving her hands, while the boys
sat on the fence screaming like a flock of guinea-fowls, "Come back!
come back!" till she was out of sight.

They all missed her, and each dimly felt that he was better for having
known a creature so lovely, delicate, and sweet; for little Bess
appealed to the chivalrous instinct in them as something to love,
admire, and protect with a tender sort of reverence. Many a man
remembers some pretty child who has made a place in his heart and kept
her memory alive by the simple magic of her innocence; these little men
were just learning to feel this power, and to love it for its gentle
influence, not ashamed to let the small hand lead them, nor to own their
loyalty to womankind, even in the bud.



CHAPTER XIV. DAMON AND PYTHIAS

Mrs. Bhaer was right; peace was only a temporary lull, a storm was
brewing, and two days after Bess left, a moral earthquake shook
Plumfield to its centre.

Tommy's hens were at the bottom of the trouble, for if they had not
persisted in laying so many eggs, he could not have sold them and made
such sums. Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful
root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without
potatoes. Tommy certainly could not, for he spent his income so
recklessly, that Mr. Bhaer was obliged to insist on a savings-bank, and
presented him with a private one an imposing tin edifice, with the name
over the door, and a tall chimney, down which the pennies were to
go, there to rattle temptingly till leave was given to open a sort of
trap-door in the floor.

The house increased in weight so rapidly, that Tommy soon became
satisfied with his investment, and planned to buy unheard-of treasures
with his capital. He kept account of the sums deposited, and was
promised that he might break the bank as soon as he had five dollars,
on condition that he spent the money wisely. Only one dollar was needed,
and the day Mrs. Jo paid him for four dozen eggs, he was so delighted,
that he raced off to the barn to display the bright quarters to Nat, who
was also laying by money for the long-desired violin.

"I wish I had 'em to put with my three dollars, then I'd soon get enough
to buy my fiddle," he said, looking wistfully at the money.

"P'raps I'll lend you some. I haven't decided yet what I'll do with
mine," said Tommy, tossing up his quarters and catching them as they
fell.

"Hi! boys! come down to the brook and see what a jolly great snake Dan's
got!" called a voice from behind the barn.

"Come on," said Tommy; and, laying his money inside the old winnowing
machine, away he ran, followed by Nat.

The snake was very interesting, and then a long chase after a lame
crow, and its capture, so absorbed Tommy's mind and time, that he never
thought of his money till he was safely in bed that night.

"Never mind, no one but Nat knows where it is," said the easy-going lad,
and fell asleep untroubled by any anxiety about his property.

Next morning, just as the boys assembled for school, Tommy rushed into
the room breathlessly, demanding,

"I say, who has got my dollar?"

"What are you talking about?" asked Franz.

Tommy explained, and Nat corroborated his statement.

Every one else declared they knew nothing about it, and began to look
suspiciously at Nat, who got more and more alarmed and confused with
each denial.

"Somebody must have taken it," said Franz, as Tommy shook his fist at
the whole party, and wrathfully declared that,

"By thunder turtles! if I get hold of the thief, I'll give him what he
won't forget in a hurry."

"Keep cool, Tom; we shall find him out; thieves always come to grief,"
said Dan, as one who knew something of the matter.

"May be some tramp slept in the barn and took it," suggested Ned.

"No, Silas don't allow that; besides, a tramp wouldn't go looking in


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 14 of 23)