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not only a want of courage, but a power of deceit that boded ill for the
future. Still more trying was his steady refusal to talk of the matter,
to ask pardon, or express any remorse. Days passed; and he went about
his lessons and his work, silent, grim, and unrepentant. As if taking
warning by their treatment of Nat, he asked no sympathy of any one,
rejected the advances of the boys, and spent his leisure hours roaming
about the fields and woods, trying to find playmates in the birds and
beasts, and succeeding better than most boys would have done, because he
knew and loved them so well.

"If this goes on much longer, I'm afraid he will run away again, for he
is too young to stand a life like this," said Mr. Bhaer, quite dejected
at the failure of all his efforts.

"A little while ago I should have been quite sure that nothing would
tempt him away, but now I am ready of any thing, he is so changed,"
answered poor Mrs. Jo, who mourned over her boy and could not be
comforted, because he shunned her more than any one else, and only
looked at her with the half-fierce, half-imploring eyes of a wild animal
caught in a trap, when she tried to talk to him alone.

Nat followed him about like a shadow, and Dan did not repulse him as
rudely as he did others, but said, in his blunt way, "You are all right;
don't worry about me. I can stand it better than you did."

"But I don't like to have you all alone," Nat would say, sorrowfully.

"I like it;" and Dan would tramp away, stifling a sigh sometimes, for he
was lonely.

Passing through the birch grove one day, he came up on several of the
boys, who were amusing themselves by climbing up the trees and swinging
down again, as they slender elastic stems bent till their tops touched
the ground. Dan paused a minute to watch the fun, without offering
to join in it, and as he stood there Jack took his turn. He had
unfortunately chosen too large a tree; for when he swung off, it only
bent a little way, and left him hanging at a dangerous height.

"Go back; you can't do it!" called Ned from below.

Jack tried, but the twigs slipped from his hands, and he could not get
his legs round the trunk. He kicked, and squirmed, and clutched in vain,
then gave it up, and hung breathless, saying helplessly,

"Catch me! help me! I must drop!"

"You'll be killed if you do," cried Ned, frightened out of his wits.

"Hold on!" shouted Dan; and up the tree he went, crashing his way along
till he nearly reached Jack, whose face looked up at him, full of fear
and hope.

"You'll both come down," said Ned, dancing with excitement on the slope
underneath, while Nat held out his arms, in the wild hope of breaking
the fall.

"That's what I want; stand from under," answered Dan, coolly; and, as he
spoke, his added weight bent the tree many feet nearer the earth.

Jack dropped safely; but the birch, lightened of half its load, flew up
again so suddenly, that Dan, in the act of swinging round to drop feet
foremost, lost his hold and fell heavily.

"I'm not hurt, all right in a minute," he said, sitting up, a little
pale and dizzy, as the boys gathered round him, full of admiration and
alarm.

"You're a trump, Dan, and I'm ever so much obliged to you," cried Jack,
gratefully.

"It wasn't any thing," muttered Dan, rising slowly.

"I say it was, and I'll shake hands with you, though you are," Ned
checked the unlucky word on his tongue, and held out his hand, feeling
that it was a handsome thing on his part.

"But I won't shake hands with a sneak;" and Dan turned his back with a
look of scorn, that caused Ned to remember the brook, and retire with
undignified haste.

"Come home, old chap; I'll give you a lift;" and Nat walked away with
him leaving the others to talk over the feat together, to wonder when
Dan would "come round," and to wish one and all that Tommy's "confounded
money had been in Jericho before it made such a fuss."

When Mr. Bhaer came into school next morning, he looked so happy, that
the boys wondered what had happened to him, and really thought he had
lost his mind when they saw him go straight to Dan, and, taking him by
both hands, say all in one breath, as he shook them heartily,

"I know all about it, and I beg your pardon. It was like you to do it,
and I love you for it, though it's never right to tell lies, even for a
friend."

"What is it?" cried Nat, for Dan said not a word, only lifted up his
head, as if a weight of some sort had fallen off his back.

"Dan did not take Tommy's money;" and Mr. Bhaer quite shouted it, he was
so glad.

"Who did?" cried the boys in a chorus.

Mr. Bhaer pointed to one empty seat, and every eye followed his finger,
yet no one spoke for a minute, they were so surprised.

"Jack went home early this morning, but he left this behind him;" and
in the silence Mr. Bhaer read the note which he had found tied to his
door-handle when he rose.

"I took Tommy's dollar. I was peeking in through a crack and saw him put
it there. I was afraid to tell before, though I wanted to. I didn't care
so much about Nat, but Dan is a trump, and I can't stand it any longer.
I never spent the money; it's under the carpet in my room, right behind
the washstand. I'm awful sorry. I am going home, and don't think I shall
ever come back, so Dan may have my things.

"JACK"

It was not an elegant confession, being badly written, much blotted,
and very short; but it was a precious paper to Dan; and, when Mr. Bhaer
paused, the boy went to him, saying, in a rather broken voice, but with
clear eyes, and the frank, respectful manner they had tried to teach
him,

"I'll say I'm sorry now, and ask you to forgive me, sir."

"It was a kind lie, Dan, and I can't help forgiving it; but you see it
did no good," said Mr. Bhaer, with a hand on either shoulder, and a face
full of relief and affection.

"It kept the boys from plaguing Nat. That's what I did it for. It made
him right down miserable. I didn't care so much," explained Dan, as if
glad to speak out after his hard silence.

"How could you do it? You are always so kind to me," faltered Nat,
feeling a strong desire to hug his friend and cry. Two girlish
performances, which would have scandalized Dan to the last degree.

"It's all right now, old fellow, so don't be a fool," he said,
swallowing the lump in his throat, and laughing out as he had not done
for weeks. "Does Mrs. Bhaer know?" he asked, eagerly.

"Yes; and she is so happy I don't know what she will do to you," began
Mr. Bhaer, but got no farther, for here the boys came crowding about Dan
in a tumult of pleasure and curiosity; but before he had answered more
than a dozen questions, a voice cried out,

"Three cheers for Dan!" and there was Mrs. Jo in the doorway waving her
dish-towel, and looking as if she wanted to dance a jig for joy, as she
used to do when a girl.

"Now then," cried Mr. Bhaer, and led off a rousing hurrah, which
startled Asia in the kitchen, and made old Mr. Roberts shake his head as
he drove by, saying,

"Schools are not what they were when I was young!"

Dan stood it pretty well for a minute, but the sight of Mrs. Jo's
delight upset him, and he suddenly bolted across the hall into the
parlor, whither she instantly followed, and neither were seen for half
an hour.

Mr. Bhaer found it very difficult to calm his excited flock; and, seeing
that lessons were an impossibility for a time, he caught their attention
by telling them the fine old story of the friends whose fidelity to one
another has made their names immortal. The lads listened and remembered,
for just then their hearts were touched by the loyalty of a humbler pair
of friends. The lie was wrong, but the love that prompted it and the
courage that bore in silence the disgrace which belonged to another,
made Dan a hero in their eyes. Honesty and honor had a new meaning now;
a good name was more precious than gold; for once lost money could not
buy it back; and faith in one another made life smooth and happy as
nothing else could do.

Tommy proudly restored the name of the firm; Nat was devoted to Dan; and
all the boys tried to atone to both for former suspicion and neglect.
Mrs. Jo rejoiced over her flock, and Mr. Bhaer was never tired of
telling the story of his young Damon and Pythias.



CHAPTER XV. IN THE WILLOW

The old tree saw and heard a good many little scenes and confidences
that summer, because it became the favorite retreat of all the children,
and the willow seemed to enjoy it, for a pleasant welcome always met
them, and the quiet hours spent in its arms did them all good. It had
a great deal of company one Saturday afternoon, and some little bird
reported what went on there.

First came Nan and Daisy with their small tubs and bits of soap, for
now and then they were seized with a tidy fit, and washed up all their
dolls' clothes in the brook. Asia would not have them "slopping round"
in her kitchen, and the bath-room was forbidden since Nan forgot to turn
off the water till it overflowed and came gently dripping down through
the ceiling. Daisy went systematically to work, washing first the white
and then the colored things, rinsing them nicely, and hanging them to
dry on a cord fastened from one barberry-bush to another, and pinning
them up with a set of tiny clothes-pins Ned had turned for her. But Nan
put all her little things to soak in the same tub, and then forgot them
while she collected thistledown to stuff a pillow for Semiramis, Queen
of Babylon, as one doll was named. This took some time, and when Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy came to take out her clothes, deep green stains appeared on
every thing, for she had forgotten the green silk lining of a certain
cape, and its color had soaked nicely into the pink and blue gowns, the
little chemises, and even the best ruffled petticoat.

"Oh me! what a mess!" sighed Nan.

"Lay them on the grass to bleach," said Daisy, with an air of
experience.

"So I will, and we can sit up in the nest and watch that they don't blow
away."

The Queen of Babylon's wardrobe was spread forth upon the bank, and,
turning up their tubs to dry, the little washerwomen climbed into the
nest, and fell to talking, as ladies are apt to do in the pauses of
domestic labor.

"I'm going to have a feather-bed to go with my new pillow," said Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy, as she transferred the thistledown from her pocket to her
handkerchief, losing about half in the process.

"I wouldn't; Aunt Jo says feather-beds aren't healthy. I never let my
children sleep on any thing but a mattress," returned Mrs. Shakespeare
Smith, decidedly.

"I don't care; my children are so strong they often sleep on the
floor, and don't mind it," (which was quite true). "I can't afford nine
mattresses, and I like to make beds myself."

"Won't Tommy charge for the feathers?"

"May be he will, but I shan't pay him, and he won't care," returned Mrs.
G., taking a base advantage of the well-known good nature of T. Bangs.

"I think the pink will fade out of that dress sooner than the green mark
will," observed Mrs. S., looking down from her perch, and changing the
subject, for she and her gossip differed on many points, and Mrs. Smith
was a discreet lady.

"Never mind; I'm tired of dolls, and I guess I shall put them all away
and attend to my farm; I like it rather better than playing house," said
Mrs. G., unconsciously expressing the desire of many older ladies, who
cannot dispose of their families so easily however.

"But you mustn't leave them; they will die without their mother," cried
the tender Mrs. Smith.

"Let 'em die then; I'm tired of fussing over babies, and I'm going
to play with the boys; they need me to see to 'em," returned the
strong-minded lady.

Daisy knew nothing about women's rights; she quietly took all she
wanted, and no one denied her claim, because she did not undertake what
she could not carry out, but unconsciously used the all-powerful right
of her own influence to win from others any privilege for which she
had proved her fitness. Nan attempted all sorts of things, undaunted by
direful failures, and clamored fiercely to be allowed to do every thing
that the boys did. They laughed at her, hustled her out of the way, and
protested against her meddling with their affairs. But she would not be
quenched and she would be heard, for her will was strong, and she had
the spirit of a rampant reformer. Mrs. Bhaer sympathized with her, but
tired to curb her frantic desire for entire liberty, showing her that
she must wait a little, learn self-control, and be ready to use her
freedom before she asked for it. Nan had meek moments when she agreed to
this, and the influences at work upon her were gradually taking effect.
She no longer declared that she would be engine-driver or a blacksmith,
but turned her mind to farming, and found in it a vent for the energy
bottled up in her active little body. It did not quite satisfy her,
however; for her sage and sweet marjoram were dumb things, and could not
thank her for her care. She wanted something human to love, work for,
and protect, and was never happier than when the little boys brought
their cut fingers, bumped heads, or bruised joints for her to "mend-up."
Seeing this, Mrs. Jo proposed that she should learn how to do it nicely,
and Nursey had an apt pupil in bandaging, plastering, and fomenting. The
boys began to call her "Dr. Giddy-gaddy," and she liked it so well that
Mrs. Jo one day said to the Professor,

"Fritz, I see what we can do for that child. She wants something to live
for even now, and will be one of the sharp, strong, discontented women
if she does not have it. Don't let us snub her restless little nature,
but do our best to give her the work she likes, and by and by persuade
her father to let her study medicine. She will make a capital doctor,
for she has courage, strong nerves, a tender heart, and an intense love
and pity for the weak and suffering."

Mr. Bhaer smiled at first, but agreed to try, and gave Nan an
herb-garden, teaching her the various healing properties of the plants
she tended, and letting her try their virtues on the children in
the little illnesses they had from time to time. She learned fast,
remembered well, and showed a sense and interest most encouraging to
her Professor, who did not shut his door in her face because she was a
little woman.

She was thinking of this, as she sat in the willow that day, and when
Daisy said in her gentle way,

"I love to keep house, and mean to have a nice one for Demi when we grow
up and live together."

Nan replied with decision

"Well, I haven't got any brother, and I don't want any house to fuss
over. I shall have an office, with lots of bottles and drawers and
pestle things in it, and I shall drive round in a horse and chaise and
cure sick people. That will be such fun."

"Ugh! how can you bear the bad-smelling stuff and the nasty little
powders and castor-oil and senna and hive syrup?" cried Daisy, with a
shudder.

"I shan't have to take any, so I don't care. Besides, they make people
well, and I like to cure folks. Didn't my sage-tea make Mother Bhaer's
headache go away, and my hops stop Ned's toothache in five hours? So
now!"

"Shall you put leeches on people, and cut off legs and pull out teeth?"
asked Daisy, quaking at the thought.

"Yes, I shall do every thing; I don't care if the people are all smashed
up, I shall mend them. My grandpa was a doctor, and I saw him sew a
great cut in a man's cheek, and I held the sponge, and wasn't frightened
a bit, and Grandpa said I was a brave girl."

"How could you? I'm sorry for sick people, and I like to nurse them,
but it makes my legs shake so I have to run away. I'm not a brave girl,"
sighed Daisy.

"Well, you can be my nurse, and cuddle my patients when I have given
them the physic and cut off their legs," said Nan, whose practice was
evidently to be of the heroic kind.

"Ship ahoy! Where are you, Nan?" called a voice from below.

"Here we are."

"Ay, ay!" said the voice, and Emil appeared holding one hand in the
other, with his face puckered up as if in pain.

"Oh, what's the matter?" cried Daisy, anxiously.

"A confounded splinter in my thumb. Can't get it out. Take a pick at it,
will you, Nanny?"

"It's in very deep, and I haven't any needle," said Nan, examining a
tarry thumb with interest.

"Take a pin," said Emil, in a hurry.

"No, it's too big and hasn't got a sharp point."

Here Daisy, who had dived into her pocket, presented a neat little
housewife with four needles in it.

"You are the Posy who always has what we want," said Emil; and Nan
resolved to have a needle-book in her own pocket henceforth, for just
such cases as this were always occurring in her practice.

Daisy covered her eyes, but Nan probed and picked with a steady hand,
while Emil gave directions not down in any medical work or record.

"Starboard now! Steady, boys, steady! Try another tack. Heave ho! there
she is!"

"Suck it," ordered the Doctor, surveying the splinter with an
experienced eye.

"Too dirty," responded the patient, shaking his bleeding hand.

"Wait; I'll tie it up if you have got a handkerchief."

"Haven't; take one of those rags down there."

"Gracious! no, indeed; they are doll's clothes," cried Daisy,
indignantly.

"Take one of mine; I'd like to have you," said Nan; and swinging himself
down, Emil caught up the first "rag" he saw. It happened to be the
frilled skirt; but Nan tore it up without a murmur; and when the royal
petticoat was turned into a neat little bandage, she dismissed her
patient with the command,

"Keep it wet, and let it alone; then it will heal right up, and not be
sore."

"What do you charge?" asked the Commodore, laughing.

"Nothing; I keep a 'spensary; that is a place where poor people are
doctored free gratis for nothing," explained Nan, with an air.

"Thank you, Doctor Giddy-gaddy. I'll always call you in when I come
to grief;" and Emil departed, but looked back to say for one good turn
deserves another "Your duds are blowing away, Doctor."

Forgiving the disrespectful word, "duds," the ladies hastily descended,
and, gathering up their wash, retired to the house to fire up the little
stove, and go to ironing.

A passing breath of air shook the old willow, as if it laughed softly
at the childish chatter which went on in the nest, and it had hardly
composed itself when another pair of birds alighted for a confidential
twitter.

"Now, I'll tell you the secret," began Tommy, who was "swellin' wisibly"
with the importance of his news.

"Tell away," answered Nat, wishing he had brought his fiddle, it was so
shady and quiet here.

"Well, we fellows were talking over the late interesting case of
circumstantial evidence," said Tommy, quoting at random from a speech
Franz had made at the club, "and I proposed giving Dan something to
make up for our suspecting him, to show our respect, and so on, you know
something handsome and useful, that he could keep always and be proud
of. What do you think we chose?"

"A butterfly-net; he wants one ever so much," said Nat, looking a little
disappointed, for he meant to get it himself.

"No, sir; it's to be a microscope, a real swell one, that we see
what-do-you-call-'ems in water with, and stars, and ant-eggs, and all
sorts of games, you know. Won't it be a jolly good present?" said Tommy,
rather confusing microscopes and telescopes in his remarks.

"Tip-top! I'm so glad! Won't it cost a heap, though?" cried Nat, feeling
that his friend was beginning to be appreciated.

"Of course it will; but we are all going to give something. I headed the
paper with my five dollars; for if it is done at all, it must be done
handsome."

"What! all of it? I never did see such a generous chap as you are;" and
Nat beamed upon him with sincere admiration.

"Well, you see, I've been so bothered with my property, that I'm tired
of it, and don't mean to save up any more, but give it away as I go
along, and then nobody will envy me, or want to steal it, and I shan't
be suspecting folks and worrying about my old cash," replied Tommy, on
whom the cares and anxieties of a millionaire weighed heavily.

"Will Mr. Bhaer let you do it?"

"He thought it was a first-rate plan, and said that some of the best men
he knew preferred to do good with their money instead of laying it up to
be squabbled over when they died."

"Your father is rich; does he do that way?"

"I'm not sure; he gives me all I want; I know that much. I'm going to
talk to him about it when I go home. Anyhow, I shall set him a good
example;" and Tommy was so serious, that Nat did not dare to laugh, but
said, respectfully,

"You will be able to do ever so much with your money, won't you?"

"So Mr. Bhaer said, and he promised to advise me about useful ways of
spending it. I'm going to begin with Dan; and next time I get a dollar
or so, I shall do something for Dick, he's such a good little chap, and
only has a cent a week for pocket-money. He can't earn much, you know;
so I'm going to kind of see to him;" and good-hearted Tommy quite longed
to begin.

"I think that's a beautiful plan, and I'm not going to try to buy a
fiddle any more; I'm going to get Dan his net all myself, and if there
is any money left, I'll do something to please poor Billy. He's fond
of me, and though he isn't poor, he'd like some little thing from me,
because I can make out what he wants better than the rest of you."
And Nat fell to wondering how much happiness could be got out of his
precious three dollars.

"So I would. Now come and ask Mr. Bhaer if you can't go in town with me
on Monday afternoon, so you can get the net, while I get the microscope.
Franz and Emil are going too, and we'll have a jolly time larking round
among the shops."

The lads walked away arm-in-arm, discussing the new plans with droll
importance, yet beginning already to feel the sweet satisfaction which
comes to those who try, no matter how humbly, to be earthly providences
to the poor and helpless, and gild their mite with the gold of charity
before it is laid up where thieves cannot break through and steal.

"Come up and rest while we sort the leaves; it's so cool and pleasant
here," said Demi, as he and Dan came sauntering home from a long walk in
the woods.

"All right!" answered Dan, who was a boy of few words, and up they went.

"What makes birch leaves shake so much more than the others?" asked
inquiring Demi, who was always sure of an answer from Dan.

"They are hung differently. Don't you see the stem where it joins the
leaf is sort of pinched one way, and where it joins the twig, it is
pinched another. This makes it waggle with the least bit of wind, but
the elm leaves hang straight, and keep stiller."

"How curious! will this do so?" and Demi held up a sprig of acacia,
which he had broken from a little tree on the lawn, because it was so
pretty.

"No; that belongs to the sort that shuts up when you touch it. Draw your
finger down the middle of the stem, and see if the leaves don't curl
up," said Dan, who was examining a bit of mica.

Demi tried it, and presently the little leaves did fold together, till
the spray showed a single instead of a double line of leaves.

"I like that; tell me about the others. What do these do?" asked Demi,
taking up a new branch.

"Feed silk-worms; they live on mulberry leaves, till they begin to spin
themselves up. I was in a silk-factory once, and there were rooms full
of shelves all covered with leaves, and worms eating them so fast that
it made a rustle. Sometimes they eat so much they die. Tell that to
Stuffy," and Dan laughed, as he took up another bit of rock with a
lichen on it.

"I know one thing about this mullein leaf: the fairies use them for
blankets," said Demi, who had not quite given up his faith in the
existence of the little folk in green.

"If I had a microscope, I'd show you something prettier than fairies,"
said Dan, wondering if he should ever own that coveted treasure. "I knew
an old woman who used mullein leaves for a night-cap because she had
face-ache. She sewed them together, and wore it all the time."

"How funny! was she your grandmother?"

"Never had any. She was a queer old woman, and lived alone in a little
tumble-down house with nineteen cats. Folks called her a witch, but she
wasn't, though she looked like an old rag-bag. She was real kind to me
when I lived in that place, and used to let me get warm at her fire when
the folks at the poorhouse were hard on me."

"Did you live in a poorhouse?"

"A little while. Never mind that I didn't mean to speak of it;" and Dan


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