Louisa May Alcott.

Little Men online

. (page 18 of 23)
Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 18 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

made Jack sheer off in haste.

"If you want something to wrestle with, I will give you a tougher
specimen than Jack," said Mr. Bhaer; and, leading the way to the
wood-yard, he pointed out certain roots of trees that had been grubbed
up in the spring, and had been lying there waiting to be split.

"There, when you feel inclined to maltreat the boys, just come and work
off your energies here, and I'll thank you for it."

"So I will;" and, seizing the axe that lay near Dan hauled out a tough
root, and went at it so vigorously, that the chips flew far and wide,
and Mr. Bhaer fled for his life.

To his great amusement, Dan took him at his word, and was often seen
wrestling with the ungainly knots, hat and jacket off, red face, and
wrathful eyes; for he got into royal rages over some of his adversaries,
and swore at them under his breath till he had conquered them, when he
exulted, and marched off to the shed with an armful of gnarled oak-wood
in triumph. He blistered his hands, tired his back, and dulled the axe,
but it did him good, and he got more comfort out of the ugly roots than
any one dreamed, for with each blow he worked off some of the pent-up
power that would otherwise have been expended in some less harmless way.

"When this is gone I really don't know what I shall do," said Mrs. Jo
to herself, for no inspiration came, and she was at the end of her

But Dan found a new occupation for himself, and enjoyed it some time
before any one discovered the cause of his contentment. A fine young
horse of Mr. Laurie's was kept at Plumfield that summer, running loose
in a large pasture across the brook. The boys were all interested in the
handsome, spirited creature, and for a time were fond of watching him
gallop and frisk with his plumey tail flying, and his handsome head
in the air. But they soon got tired of it, and left Prince Charlie to
himself. All but Dan, he never tired of looking at the horse, and seldom
failed to visit him each day with a lump of sugar, a bit of bread, or
an apple to make him welcome. Charlie was grateful, accepted his
friendship, and the two loved one another as if they felt some tie
between them, inexplicable but strong. In whatever part of the wide
field he might be, Charlie always came at full speed when Dan whistled
at the bars, and the boy was never happier than when the beautiful,
fleet creature put its head on his shoulder, looking up at him with fine
eyes full of intelligent affection.

"We understand one another without any palaver, don't we, old fellow?"
Dan would say, proud of the horse's confidence, and, so jealous of his
regard, that he told no one how well the friendship prospered, and never
asked anybody but Teddy to accompany him on these daily visits.

Mr. Laurie came now and then to see how Charlie got on, and spoke of
having him broken to harness in the autumn.

"He won't need much taming, he is such a gentle, fine-tempered brute. I
shall come out and try him with a saddle myself some day," he said, on
one of these visits.

"He lets me put a halter on him, but I don't believe he will bear a
saddle even if you put it on," answered Dan, who never failed to be
present when Charlie and his master met.

"I shall coax him to bear it, and not mind a few tumbles at first. He
has never been harshly treated, so, though he will be surprised at the
new performance, I think he won't be frightened, and his antics will do
no harm."

"I wonder what he would do," said Dan to himself, as Mr. Laurie went
away with the Professor, and Charlie returned to the bars, from which he
had retired when the gentlemen came up.

A daring fancy to try the experiment took possession of the boy as he
sat on the topmost rail with the glossy back temptingly near him.
Never thinking of danger, he obeyed the impulse, and while Charlie
unsuspectingly nibbled at the apple he held, Dan quickly and quietly
took his seat. He did not keep it long, however, for with an astonished
snort, Charlie reared straight up, and deposited Dan on the ground. The
fall did not hurt him, for the turf was soft, and he jumped up, saying,
with a laugh,

"I did it anyway! Come here, you rascal, and I'll try it again."

But Charlie declined to approach, and Dan left him resolving to succeed
in the end; for a struggle like this suited him exactly. Next time he
took a halter, and having got it on, he played with the horse for a
while, leading him to and fro, and putting him through various antics
till he was a little tired; then Dan sat on the wall and gave him bread,
but watched his chance, and getting a good grip of the halter, slipped
on to his back. Charlie tried the old trick, but Dan held on, having had
practice with Toby, who occasionally had an obstinate fit, and tried to
shake off his rider. Charlie was both amazed and indignant; and after
prancing for a minute, set off at a gallop, and away went Dan heels over
head. If he had not belonged to the class of boys who go through all
sorts of dangers unscathed, he would have broken his neck; as it was, he
got a heavy fall, and lay still collecting his wits, while Charlie tore
round the field tossing his head with every sign of satisfaction at
the discomfiture of his rider. Presently it seemed to occur to him that
something was wrong with Dan, and, being of a magnanimous nature, he
went to see what the matter was. Dan let him sniff about and perplex
himself for a few minutes; then he looked up at him, saying, as
decidedly as if the horse could understand,

"You think you have beaten, but you are mistaken, old boy; and I'll ride
you yet see if I don't."

He tried no more that day, but soon after attempted a new method of
introducing Charlie to a burden. He strapped a folded blanket on his
back, and then let him race, and rear, and roll, and fume as much as
he liked. After a few fits of rebellion Charlie submitted, and in a few
days permitted Dan to mount him, often stopped short to look round, as
if he said, half patiently, half reproachfully, "I don't understand it,
but I suppose you mean no harm, so I permit the liberty."

Dan patted and praised him, and took a short turn every day, getting
frequent falls, but persisting in spite of them, and longing to try a
saddle and bridle, but not daring to confess what he had done. He had
his wish, however, for there had been a witness of his pranks who said a
good word for him.

"Do you know what that chap has ben doin' lately?" asked Silas of his
master, one evening, as he received his orders for the next day.

"Which boy?" said Mr. Bhaer, with an air of resignation, expecting some
sad revelation.

"Dan, he's ben a breaking the colt, sir, and I wish I may die if he
ain't done it," answered Silas, chuckling.

"How do you know?"

"Wal, I kinder keep an eye on the little fellers, and most gen'lly know
what they're up to; so when Dan kep going off to the paster, and coming
home black and blue, I mistrusted that suthing was goin' on. I didn't
say nothin', but I crep up into the barn chamber, and from there I see
him goin' through all manner of games with Charlie. Blest if he warn't
throwed time and agin, and knocked round like a bag o' meal. But the
pluck of that boy did beat all, and he 'peared to like it, and kep on as
ef bound to beat."

"But, Silas, you should have stopped it the boy might have been killed,"
said Mr. Bhaer, wondering what freak his irrepressibles would take into
their heads next.

"S'pose I oughter; but there warn't no real danger, for Charlie ain't
no tricks, and is as pretty a tempered horse as ever I see. Fact was, I
couldn't bear to spile sport, for ef there's any thing I do admire it's
grit, and Dan is chock full on 't. But now I know he's hankerin' after
a saddle, and yet won't take even the old one on the sly; so I just
thought I'd up and tell, and may be you'd let him try what he can do.
Mr. Laurie won't mind, and Charlie's all the better for 't."

"We shall see;" and off went Mr. Bhaer to inquire into the matter.

Dan owned up at once, and proudly proved that Silas was right by showing
off his power over Charlie; for by dint of much coaxing, many carrots,
and infinite perseverance, he really had succeeded in riding the colt
with a halter and blanket. Mr. Laurie was much amused, and well pleased
with Dan's courage and skill, and let him have a hand in all future
performances; for he set about Charlie's education at once, saying
that he was not going to be outdone by a slip of a boy. Thanks to Dan,
Charlie took kindly to the saddle and bridle when he had once reconciled
himself to the indignity of the bit; and after Mr. Laurie had trained
him a little, Dan was permitted to ride him, to the great envy and
admiration of the other boys.

"Isn't he handsome? and don't he mind me like a lamb?" said Dan one day
as he dismounted and stood with his arm round Charlie's neck.

"Yes, and isn't he a much more useful and agreeable animal than the
wild colt who spent his days racing about the field, jumping fences, and
running away now and then?" asked Mrs. Bhaer from the steps where she
always appeared when Dan performed with Charlie.

"Of course he is. See he won't run away now, even if I don't hold him,
and he comes to me the minute I whistle; I have tamed him well, haven't
I?" and Dan looked both proud and pleased, as well he might, for, in
spite of their struggles together, Charlie loved him better than his

"I am taming a colt too, and I think I shall succeed as well as you if
I am as patient and persevering," said Mrs. Jo, smiling so significantly
at him, that Dan understood and answered, laughing, yet in earnest,

"We won't jump over the fence and run away, but stay and let them make a
handsome, useful span of us, hey, Charlie?"


"Hurry up, boys, it's three o'clock, and Uncle Fritz likes us to be
punctual, you know," said Franz one Wednesday afternoon as a bell rang,
and a stream of literary-looking young gentlemen with books and paper in
their hands were seen going toward the museum.

Tommy was in the school-room, bending over his desk, much bedaubed with
ink, flushed with the ardor of inspiration, and in a great hurry as
usual, for easy-going Bangs never was ready till the very last minute.
As Franz passed the door looking up laggards, Tommy gave one last blot
and flourish, and departed out the window, waving his paper to dry as
he went. Nan followed, looking very important, with a large roll in her
hand, and Demi escorted Daisy, both evidently brimful of some delightful

The museum was all in order, and the sunshine among the hop-vines made
pretty shadows on the floor as it peeped through the great window. On
one side sat Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer, on the other was a little table
on which the compositions were laid as soon as read, and in a large
semicircle sat the children on camp-stools which occasionally shut up
and let the sitter down, thus preventing any stiffness in the assembly.
As it took too much time to have all read, they took turns, and on this
Wednesday the younger pupils were the chief performers, while the elder
ones listened with condescension and criticised freely.

"Ladies first; so Nan may begin," said Mr. Bhaer, when the settling of
stools and rustling of papers had subsided.

Nan took her place beside the little table, and, with a preliminary
giggle, read the following interesting essay on,


"The sponge, my friends, is a most useful and interesting plant. It
grows on rocks under the water, and is a kind of sea-weed, I believe.
People go and pick it and dry it and wash it, because little fish and
insects live in the holes of the sponge; I found shells in my new one,
and sand. Some are very fine and soft; babies are washed with them. The
sponge has many uses. I will relate some of them, and I hope my friends
will remember what I say. One use is to wash the face; I don't like it
myself, but I do it because I wish to be clean. Some people don't, and
they are dirty." Here the eye of the reader rested sternly upon Dick and
Dolly, who quailed under it, and instantly resolved to scrub themselves
virtuously on all occasions. "Another use is to wake people up; I allude
to boys par-tic-u-lar-ly." Another pause after the long word to enjoy
the smothered laugh that went round the room. "Some boys do not get
up when called, and Mary Ann squeezes the water out of a wet sponge
on their faces, and it makes them so mad they wake up." Here the laugh
broke out, and Emil said, as if he had been hit,

"Seems to me you are wandering from the subject."

"No, I ain't; we are to write about vegetables or animals, and I'm doing
both: for boys are animals, aren't they?" cried Nan; and, undaunted by
the indignant "No!" shouted at her, she calmly proceeded,

"One more interesting thing is done with sponges, and this is when
doctors put ether on it, and hold it to people's noses when they have
teeth out. I shall do this when I am bigger, and give ether to the sick,
so they will go to sleep and not feel me cut off their legs and arms."

"I know somebody who killed cats with it," called out Demi, but was
promptly crushed by Dan, who upset his camp-stool and put a hat over his

"I will not be interruckted," said Nan, frowning upon the unseemly
scrimmagers. Order was instantly restored, and the young lady closed her
remarks as follows:

"My composition has three morals, my friends." Somebody groaned, but no
notice was taken of the insult. "First, is keep your faces clean second,
get up early third, when the ether sponge is put over your nose, breathe
hard and don't kick, and your teeth will come out easy. I have no more
to say." And Miss Nan sat down amid tumultuous applause.

"That is a very remarkable composition; its tone is high, and there is
a good deal of humor in it. Very well done, Nan. Now, Daisy," and Mr.
Bhaer smiled at one young lady as he beckoned the other.

Daisy colored prettily as she took her place, and said, in her modest
little voice,

"I'm afraid you won't like mine; it isn't nice and funny like Nan's. But
I couldn't do any better."

"We always like yours, Posy," said Uncle Fritz, and a gentle murmur from
the boys seemed to confirm the remark. Thus encouraged, Daisy read her
little paper, which was listened to with respectful attention.


"The cat is a sweet animal. I love them very much. They are clean and
pretty, and catch rats and mice, and let you pet them, and are fond
of you if you are kind. They are very wise, and can find their way
anywhere. Little cats are called kittens, and are dear things. I have
two, named Huz and Buz, and their mother is Topaz, because she has
yellow eyes. Uncle told me a pretty story about a man named Ma-ho-met.
He had a nice cat, and when she was asleep on his sleeve, and he wanted
to go away, he cut off the sleeve so as not to wake her up. I think he
was a kind man. Some cats catch fish."

"So do I!" cried Teddy, jumping up eager to tell about his trout.

"Hush!" said his mother, setting him down again as quickly as possible,
for orderly Daisy hated to be "interruckted," as Nan expressed it.

"I read about one who used to do it very slyly. I tried to make Topaz,
but she did not like the water, and scratched me. She does like tea, and
when I play in my kitchen she pats the teapot with her paw, till I give
her some. She is a fine cat, she eats apple-pudding and molasses. Most
cats do not."

"That's a first-rater," called out Nat, and Daisy retired, pleased with
the praise of her friend.

"Demi looks so impatient we must have him up at once or he won't hold
out," said Uncle Fritz, and Demi skipped up with alacrity.

"Mine is a poem!" he announced in a tone of triumph, and read his first
effort in a loud and solemn voice:

"I write about the butterfly,
It is a pretty thing;
And flies about like the birds,
But it does not sing.
"First it is a little grub,
And then it is a nice yellow cocoon,
And then the butterfly
Eats its way out soon.
"They live on dew and honey,
They do not have any hive,
They do not sting like wasps, and bees, and hornets,
And to be as good as they are we should strive.
"I should like to be a beautiful butterfly,
All yellow, and blue, and green, and red;
But I should not like
To have Dan put camphor on my poor little head."

This unusual burst of genius brought down the house, and Demi was
obliged to read it again, a somewhat difficult task, as there was no
punctuation whatever, and the little poet's breath gave out before he
got to the end of some of the long lines.

"He will be a Shakespeare yet," said Aunt Jo, laughing as if she would
die, for this poetic gem reminded her of one of her own, written at the
age of ten, and beginning gloomily,

"I wish I had a quiet tomb,
Beside a little rill;
Where birds, and bees, and butterflies,
Would sing upon the hill."

"Come on, Tommy. If there is as much ink inside your paper as there is
outside, it will be a long composition," said Mr. Bhaer, when Demi had
been induced to tear himself from his poem and sit down.

"It isn't a composition, it's a letter. You see, I forgot all about its
being my turn till after school, and then I didn't know what to have,
and there wasn't time to read up; so I thought you wouldn't mind my
taking a letter that I wrote to my Grandma. It's got something about
birds in it, so I thought it would do."

With this long excuse, Tommy plunged into a sea of ink and floundered
through, pausing now and then to decipher one of his own flourishes.

"MY DEAR GRANDMA, I hope you are well. Uncle James sent me a pocket
rifle. It is a beautiful little instrument of killing, shaped like
this [Here Tommy displayed a remarkable sketch of what looked like
an intricate pump, or the inside of a small steam-engine] 44 are the
sights; 6 is a false stock that fits in at A; 3 is the trigger, and 2
is the cock. It loads at the breech, and fires with great force and
straightness. I am going out shooting squirrels soon. I shot several
fine birds for the museum. They had speckled breasts, and Dan liked
them very much. He stuffed them tip-top, and they sit on the tree quite
natural, only one looks a little tipsy. We had a Frenchman working here
the other day, and Asia called his name so funnily that I will tell
you about it. His name was Germain: first she called him Jerry, but we
laughed at her, and she changed it to Jeremiah; but ridicule was
the result, so it became Mr. Germany; but ridicule having been again
resumed, it became Garrymon, which it has remained ever since. I do not
write often, I am so busy; but I think of you often, and sympathize with
you, and sincerely hope you get on as well as can be expected without
me. Your affectionate grandson,


"P.S.? If you come across any postage-stamps, remember me.

"N.B. Love to all, and a great deal to Aunt Almira. Does she make any
nice plum-cakes now?

"P.S.? Mrs. Bhaer sends her respects.

"P.S.? And so would Mr. B, if he knew I was in act to write.

"N.B. Father is going to give me a watch on my birthday. I am glad as at
present I have no means of telling time, and am often late at school.

"P.S.? I hope to see you soon. Don't you wish to send for me?

"T. B. B."

As each postscript was received with a fresh laugh from the boys, by the
time he came to the sixth and last, Tommy was so exhausted that he was
glad to sit down and wipe his ruddy face.

"I hope the dear old lady will live through it," said Mr. Bhaer, under
cover of the noise.

"We won't take any notice of the broad hint given in that last P.S.
The letter will be quite as much as she can bear without a visit from
Tommy," answered Mrs. Jo, remembering that the old lady usually took to
her bed after a visitation from her irrepressible grandson.

"Now, me," said Teddy, who had learned a bit of poetry, and was so eager
to say it that he had been bobbing up and down during the reading, and
could no longer be restrained.

"I'm afraid he will forget it if he waits; and I have had a deal of
trouble teaching him," said his mother.

Teddy trotted to the rostrum, dropped a curtsey and nodded his head at
the same time, as if anxious to suit every one; then, in his baby voice,
and putting the emphasis on the wrong words, he said his verse all in
one breath:

"Little drops of water,
Little drains of sand,
Mate a might okum (ocean),
And a peasant land.
"Little words of kindness,
Pokin evvy day,
Make a home a hebbin,
And hep us on a way."

Clapping his hands at the end, he made another double salutation, and
then ran to hide his head in his mother's lap, quite overcome by the
success of his "piece," for the applause was tremendous.

Dick and Dolly did not write, but were encouraged to observe the habits
of animals and insects, and report what they saw. Dick liked this, and
always had a great deal to say; so, when his name was called, he marched
up, and, looking at the audience with his bright confiding eyes, told
his little story so earnestly that no one smiled at his crooked body,
because the "straight soul" shone through it beautifully.

"I've been watching dragonflies, and I read about them in Dan's book,
and I'll try and tell you what I remember. There's lots of them flying
round on the pond, all blue, with big eyes, and sort of lace wings,
very pretty. I caught one, and looked at him, and I think he was the
handsomest insect I ever saw. They catch littler creatures than they
are to eat, and have a queer kind of hook thing that folds up when they
ain't hunting. It likes the sunshine, and dances round all day. Let me
see! what else was there to tell about? Oh, I know! The eggs are laid in
the water, and go down to the bottom, and are hatched in the mud. Little
ugly things come out of 'em; I can't say the name, but they are brown,
and keep having new skins, and getting bigger and bigger. Only think! it
takes them two years to be a dragonfly! Now this is the curiousest part
of it, so you listen tight, for I don't believe you know it. When it is
ready it knows somehow, and the ugly, grubby thing climbs up out of the
water on a flag or a bulrush, and bursts open its back."

"Come, I don't believe that," said Tommy, who was not an observant boy,
and really thought Dick was "making up."

"It does burst open its back, don't it?" and Dick appealed to Mr. Bhaer,
who nodded a very decided affirmative, to the little speaker's great

"Well, out comes the dragonfly, all whole, and he sits in the sun sort
of coming alive, you know; and he gets strong, and then he spreads his
pretty wings, and flies away up in the air, and never is a grub any
more. That's all I know; but I shall watch and try to see him do it, for
I think it's splendid to turn into a beautiful dragonfly, don't you?"

Dick had told his story well, and, when he described the flight of the
new-born insect, had waved his hands, and looked up as if he saw, and
wanted to follow it. Something in his face suggested to the minds of
the elder listeners the thought that some day little Dick would have his
wish, and after years of helplessness and pain would climb up into the
sun some happy day, and, leaving his poor little body behind him, find
a new lovely shape in a fairer world than this. Mrs. Jo drew him to her
side, and said, with a kiss on his thin cheek,

"That is a sweet little story, dear, and you remembered it wonderfully
well. I shall write and tell your mother all about it;" and Dick sat
on her knee, contentedly smiling at the praise, and resolving to watch
well, and catch the dragonfly in the act of leaving its old body for
the new, and see how he did it. Dolly had a few remarks to make upon
the "Duck," and made them in a sing-song tone, for he had learned it by
heart, and thought it a great plague to do it at all.

"Wild ducks are hard to kill; men hide and shoot at them, and have tame
ducks to quack and make the wild ones come where the men can fire at
them. They have wooden ducks made too, and they sail round, and the
wild ones come to see them; they are stupid, I think. Our ducks are very
tame. They eat a great deal, and go poking round in the mud and water.
They don't take good care of their eggs, but them spoil, and - "

"Mine don't!" cried Tommy.

"Well, some people's do; Silas said so. Hens take good care of little
ducks, only they don't like to have them go in the water, and make a
great fuss. But the little ones don't care a bit. I like to eat ducks

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 18 of 23)