Louisa May Alcott.

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with stuffing in them and lots of apple-sauce."

"I have something to say about owls," began Nat, who had carefully
prepared a paper upon this subject with some help from Dan.

"Owls have big heads, round eyes, hooked bills, and strong claws. Some
are gray, some white, some black and yellowish. Their feathers are very
soft, and stick out a great deal. They fly very quietly, and hunt bats,
mice, little birds, and such things. They build nests in barns, hollow
trees, and some take the nests of other birds. The great horned owl has
two eggs bigger than a hen's and reddish brown. The tawny owl has
five eggs, white and smooth; and this is the kind that hoots at night.
Another kind sounds like a child crying. They eat mice and bats whole,
and the parts that they cannot digest they make into little balls and
spit out."

"My gracious! how funny!" Nan was heard to observe.

"They cannot see by day; and if they get out into the light, they go
flapping round half blind, and the other birds chase and peck at them,
as if they were making fun. The horned owl is very big, 'most as big as
the eagle. It eats rabbits, rats, snakes, and birds; and lives in rocks
and old tumble-down houses. They have a good many cries, and scream like
a person being choked, and say, 'Waugh O! waugh O!' and it scares people
at night in the woods. The white owl lives by the sea, and in cold
places, and looks something like a hawk. There is a kind of owl that
makes holes to live in like moles. It is called the burrowing owl, and
is very small. The barn-owl is the commonest kind; and I have watched
one sitting in a hole in a tree, looking like a little gray cat, with
one eye shut and the other open. He comes out at dusk, and sits round
waiting for the bats. I caught one, and here he is."

With that Nat suddenly produced from inside his jacket a little downy
bird, who blinked and ruffled his feathers, looking very plump and
sleepy and scared.

"Don't touch him! He is going to show off," said Nat, displaying his new
pet with great pride. First he put a cocked hat on the bird's head,
and the boys laughed at the funny effect; then he added a pair of paper
spectacles, and that gave the owl such a wise look that they shouted
with merriment. The performance closed with making the bird angry, and
seeing him cling to a handkerchief upside down, pecking and "clucking,"
as Rob called it. He was allowed to fly after that, and settled himself
on the bunch of pine-cones over the door, where he sat staring down at
the company with an air of sleepy dignity that amused them very much.

"Have you anything for us, George?" asked Mr. Bhaer, when the room was
still again.

"Well, I read and learned ever so much about moles, but I declare I've
forgotten every bit of it, except that they dig holes to live in, that
you catch them by pouring water down, and that they can't possibly live
without eating very often;" and Stuffy sat down, wishing he had not been
too lazy to write out his valuable observations, for a general smile
went round when he mentioned the last of the three facts which lingered
in his memory.

"Then we are done for to-day," began Mr. Bhaer, but Tommy called out in
a great hurry,

"No we ain't. Don't you know? We must give the thing;" and he winked
violently as he made an eye-glass of his fingers.

"Bless my heart, I forgot! Now is your time, Tom;" and Mr. Bhaer dropped
into his seat again, while all the boys but Dan looked mightily tickled
at something.

Nat, Tommy, and Demi left the room, and speedily returned with a little
red morocco box set forth in state on Mrs. Jo's best silver salver.
Tommy bore it, and, still escorted by Nat and Demi, marched up to
unsuspecting Dan, who stared at them as if he thought they were going to
make fun of him. Tommy had prepared an elegant and impressive speech for
the occasion, but when the minute came, it all went out of his head, and
he just said, straight from his kindly boyish heart,

"Here, old fellow, we all wanted to give you something to kind of pay
for what happened awhile ago, and to show how much we liked you for
being such a trump. Please take it, and have a jolly good time with it."

Dan was so surprised he could only get as red as the little box, and
mutter, "Thanky, boys!" as he fumbled to open it. But when he saw
what was inside, his face lighted up, and he seized the long desired
treasure, saying so enthusiastically that every one was satisfied,
though is language was anything but polished,

"What a stunner! I say, you fellows are regular bricks to give me this;
it's just what I wanted. Give us your paw, Tommy."

Many paws were given, and heartily shaken, for the boys were charmed
with Dan's pleasure, and crowded round him to shake hands and expatiate
on the beauties of their gift. In the midst of this pleasant chatter,
Dan's eye went to Mrs. Jo, who stood outside the group enjoying the
scene with all her heart.

"No, I had nothing to do with it. The boys got it up all themselves,"
she said, answering the grateful look that seemed to thank her for
that happy moment. Dan smiled, and said, in a tone that only she could
understand,

"It's you all the same;" and making his way through the boys, he held
out his hand first to her and then to the good Professor, who was
beaming benevolently on his flock.

He thanked them both with the silent, hearty squeeze he gave the kind
hands that had held him up, and led him into the safe refuge of a happy
home. Not a word was spoken, but they felt all he would say, and little
Teddy expressed his pleasure for them as he leaned from his father's arm
to hug the boy, and say, in his baby way,

"My dood Danny! everybody loves him now."

"Come here, show off your spy-glass, Dan, and let us see some of your
magnified pollywogs and annymalcumisms as you call 'em," said Jack, who
felt so uncomfortable during this scene that he would have slipped away
if Emil had not kept him.

"So I will, take a squint at that and see what you think of it," said
Dan, glad to show off his precious microscope.

He held it over a beetle that happened to be lying on the table, and
Jack bent down to take his squint, but looked up with an amazed face,
saying,

"My eye! what nippers the old thing has got! I see now why it hurts so
confoundedly when you grab a dorbug and he grabs back again."

"He winked at me," cried Nan, who had poked her head under Jack's elbow
and got the second peep.

Every one took a look, and then Dan showed them the lovely plumage on a
moth's wing, the four feathery corners to a hair, the veins on a leaf,
hardly visible to the naked eye, but like a thick net through the
wonderful little glass; the skin on their own fingers, looking like
queer hills and valleys; a cobweb like a bit of coarse sewing silk, and
the sting of a bee.

"It's like the fairy spectacles in my story-book, only more curious,"
said Demi, enchanted with the wonders he saw.

"Dan is a magician now, and he can show you many miracles going on all
round you; for he has two things needful patience and a love of nature.
We live in a beautiful and wonderful world, Demi, and the more you know
about it the wiser and the better you will be. This little glass will
give you a new set of teachers, and you may learn fine lessons from them
if you will," said Mr. Bhaer, glad to see how interested the boys were
in the matter.

"Could I see anybody's soul with this microscope if I looked hard?"
asked Demi, who was much impressed with the power of the bit of glass.

"No, dear; it's not powerful enough for that, and never can be made so.
You must wait a long while before your eyes are clear enough to see the
most invisible of God's wonders. But looking at the lovely things you
can see will help you to understand the lovelier things you can not
see," answered Uncle Fritz, with his hand on the boy's head.

"Well, Daisy and I both think that if there are any angels, their wings
look like that butterfly's as we see it through the glass, only more
soft and gold."

"Believe it if you like, and keep your own little wings as bright and
beautiful, only don't fly away for a long time yet."

"No, I won't," and Demi kept his word.

"Good-by, my boys; I must go now, but I leave you with our new Professor
of Natural History;" and Mrs. Jo went away well pleased with that
composition day.



CHAPTER XVIII. CROPS

The gardens did well that summer, and in September the little crops were
gathered in with much rejoicing. Jack and Ned joined their farms and
raised potatoes, those being a good salable article. They got twelve
bushels, counting little ones and all, and sold them to Mr. Bhaer at a
fair price, for potatoes went fast in that house. Emil and Franz devoted
themselves to corn, and had a jolly little husking in the barn, after
which they took their corn to the mill, and came proudly home with meal
enough to supply the family with hasty-pudding and Johnny-cake for a
lone time. They would not take money for their crop; because, as Franz
said, "We never can pay Uncle for all he has done for us if we raised
corn for the rest of our days."

Nat had beans in such abundance that he despaired of ever shelling them,
till Mrs. Jo proposed a new way, which succeeded admirably. The dry
pods were spread upon the barn-floor, Nat fiddled, and the boys danced
quadrilles on them, till they were thrashed out with much merriment and
very little labor.

Tommy's six weeks' beans were a failure; for a dry spell early in the
season hurt them, because he gave them no water; and after that he was
so sure that they could take care of themselves, he let the poor
things struggle with bugs and weeds till they were exhausted and died
a lingering death. So Tommy had to dig his farm over again, and plant
peas. But they were late; the birds ate many; the bushes, not being
firmly planted, blew down, and when the poor peas came at last, no one
cared for them, as their day was over, and spring-lamb had grown
into mutton. Tommy consoled himself with a charitable effort; for he
transplanted all the thistles he could find, and tended them carefully
for Toby, who was fond of the prickly delicacy, and had eaten all he
could find on the place. The boys had great fun over Tom's thistle
bed; but he insisted that it was better to care for poor Toby than for
himself, and declared that he would devote his entire farm next year to
thistles, worms, and snails, that Demi's turtles and Nat's pet owl might
have the food they loved, as well as the donkey. So like shiftless,
kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky Tommy!

Demi had supplied his grandmother with lettuce all summer, and in the
autumn sent his grandfather a basket of turnips, each one scrubbed up
till it looked like a great white egg. His Grandma was fond of salad,
and one of his Grandpa's favorite quotations was,

"Lucullus, whom frugality could charm,
Ate roasted turnips at the Sabine farm."

Therefore these vegetable offerings to the dear domestic god and goddess
were affectionate, appropriate, and classical.

Daisy had nothing but flowers in her little plot, and it bloomed all
summer long with a succession of gay or fragrant posies. She was very
fond of her garden, and delved away in it at all hours, watching over
her roses, and pansies, sweet-peas, and mignonette, as faithfully and
tenderly as she did over her dolls or her friends. Little nosegays were
sent into town on all occasions, and certain vases about the house
were her especial care. She had all sorts of pretty fancies about her
flowers, and loved to tell the children the story of the pansy, and show
them how the step-mother-leaf sat up in her green chair in purple and
gold; how the two own children in gay yellow had each its little seat,
while the step children, in dull colors, both sat on one small stool,
and the poor little father in his red nightcap, was kept out of sight
in the middle of the flower; that a monk's dark face looked out of the
monk's-hood larkspur; that the flowers of the canary-vine were so like
dainty birds fluttering their yellow wings, that one almost expected
to see them fly away, and the snapdragons that went off like little
pistol-shots when you cracked them. Splendid dollies did she make out of
scarlet and white poppies, with ruffled robes tied round the waist with
grass blade sashes, and astonishing hats of coreopsis on their
green heads. Pea-pod boats, with rose-leaf sails, received these
flower-people, and floated them about a placid pool in the most charming
style; for finding that there were no elves, Daisy made her own,
and loved the fanciful little friends who played their parts in her
summer-life.

Nan went in for herbs, and had a fine display of useful plants, which
she tended with steadily increasing interest and care. Very busy was
she in September cutting, drying, and tying up her sweet harvest, and
writing down in a little book how the different herbs are to be used.
She had tried several experiments, and made several mistakes; so she
wished to be particular lest she should give little Huz another fit by
administering wormwood instead of catnip.

Dick, Dolly, and Rob each grubbed away on his small farm, and made more
stir about it than all the rest put together. Parsnips and carrots were
the crops of the two D.'s; and they longed for it to be late enough to
pull up the precious vegetables. Dick did privately examine his carrots,
and plant them again, feeling that Silas was right in saying it was too
soon for them yet.

Rob's crop was four small squashes and one immense pumpkin. It really
was a "bouncer," as every one said; and I assure you that two small
persons could sit on it side by side. It seemed to have absorbed all the
goodness of the little garden, and all the sunshine that shone down on
it, and lay there a great round, golden ball, full of rich suggestions
of pumpkin-pies for weeks to come. Robby was so proud of his mammoth
vegetable that he took every one to see it, and, when frosts began to
nip, covered it up each night with an old bedquilt, tucking it round as
if the pumpkin was a well-beloved baby. The day it was gathered he would
let no one touch it but himself, and nearly broke his back tugging it
to the barn in his little wheelbarrow, with Dick and Dolly harnessed
in front to give a heave up the path. His mother promised him that the
Thanksgiving-pies should be made from it, and hinted vaguely that she
had a plan in her head which would cover the prize pumpkin and its owner
with glory.

Poor Billy had planted cucumbers, but unfortunately hoed them up and
left the pig-weed. This mistake grieved him very much for tem minutes,
then he forgot all about it, and sowed a handful of bright buttons which
he had collected, evidently thinking in his feeble mind that they
were money, and would come up and multiply, so that he might make many
quarters, as Tommy did. No one disturbed him, and he did what he liked
with his plot, which soon looked as if a series of small earthquakes
had stirred it up. When the general harvest-day came, he would have
had nothing but stones and weeds to show, if kind old Asia had not hung
half-a-dozen oranges on the dead tree he stuck up in the middle. Billy
was delighted with his crop; and no one spoiled his pleasure in the
little miracle which pity wrought for him, by making withered branches
bear strange fruit.

Stuffy had various trials with his melons; for, being impatient to taste
them, he had a solitary revel before they were ripe, and made himself so
ill, that for a day or two it seemed doubtful if he would ever eat
any more. But he pulled through it, and served up his first cantaloupe
without tasting a mouthful himself. They were excellent melons, for he
had a warm slope for them, and they ripened fast. The last and best were
lingering on the vines, and Stuffy had announced that he should sell
them to a neighbor. This disappointed the boys, who had hoped to eat
the melons themselves, and they expressed their displeasure in a new
and striking manner. Going one morning to gaze upon the three fine
watermelons which he had kept for the market, Stuffy was horrified to
find the word "PIG" cut in white letters on the green rind, staring
at him from every one. He was in a great rage, and flew to Mrs. Jo for
redress. She listened, condoled with him, and then said,

"If you want to turn the laugh, I'll tell you how, but you must give up
the melons."

"Well, I will; for I can't thrash all the boys, but I'd like to give
them something to remember, the mean sneaks," growled Stuff, still in a
fume.

Now Mrs. Jo was pretty sure who had done the trick, for she had seen
three heads suspiciously near to one another in the sofa-corner the
evening before; and when these heads had nodded with chuckles and
whispers, this experienced woman knew mischief was afoot. A moonlight
night, a rustling in the old cherry-tree near Emil's window, a cut on
Tommy's finger, all helped to confirm her suspicions; and having cooled
Stuffy's wrath a little, she bade him bring his maltreated melons to her
room, and say not a word to any one of what had happened. He did so,
and the three wags were amazed to find their joke so quietly taken. It
spoilt the fun, and the entire disappearance of the melons made them
uneasy. So did Stuffy's good-nature, for he looked more placid and plump
than ever, and surveyed them with an air of calm pity that perplexed
them very much.

At dinner-time they discovered why; for then Stuffy's vengeance fell
upon them, and the laugh was turned against them. When the pudding was
eaten, and the fruit was put on, Mary Ann re-appeared in a high state of
giggle, bearing a large watermelon; Silas followed with another; and
Dan brought up the rear with a third. One was placed before each of the
three guilty lads; and they read on the smooth green skins this addition
to their own work, "With the compliments of the PIG." Every one else
read it also, and the whole table was in a roar, for the trick had been
whispered about; so every one understood the sequel. Emil, Ned,
and Tommy did not know where to look, and had not a word to say for
themselves; so they wisely joined in the laugh, cut up the melons, and
handed them round, saying, what all the rest agreed to, that Stuffy had
taken a wise and merry way to return good for evil.

Dan had no garden, for he was away or lame the greater part of the
summer; so he had helped Silas wherever he could, chopped wood for Asia,
and taken care of the lawn so well, that Mrs. Jo always had smooth paths
and nicely shaven turf before her door.

When the others got in their crops, he looked sorry that he had so
little to show; but as autumn went on, he bethought himself of a
woodland harvest which no one would dispute with him, and which was
peculiarly his own. Every Saturday he was away alone to the forests,
fields, and hills, and always came back loaded with spoils; for he
seemed to know the meadows where the best flag-root grew, the thicket
where the sassafras was spiciest, the haunts where the squirrels went
for nuts, the white oak whose bark was most valuable, and the little
gold-thread vine that Nursey liked to cure the canker with. All sorts of
splendid red and yellow leaves did Dan bring home for Mrs. Jo to dress
her parlor with, graceful-seeded grasses, clematis tassels, downy, soft,
yellow wax-work berries, and mosses, red-brimmed, white, or emerald
green.

"I need not sigh for the woods now, because Dan brings the woods to me,"
Mrs. Jo used to say, as she glorified the walls with yellow maple boughs
and scarlet woodbine wreaths, or filled her vases with russet ferns,
hemlock sprays full of delicate cones, and hardy autumn flowers; for
Dan's crop suited her well.

The great garret was full of the children's little stores and for a time
was one of the sights of the house. Daisy's flower seeds in neat little
paper bags, all labelled, lay in a drawer of a three-legged table.
Nan's herbs hung in bunches against the wall, filling the air with their
aromatic breath. Tommy had a basket of thistle-down with the tiny seeds
attached, for he meant to plant them next year, if they did not all fly
away before that time. Emil had bunches of pop-corn hanging there to
dry, and Demi laid up acorns and different sorts of grain for the pets.
But Dan's crop made the best show, for fully one half of the floor was
covered with the nuts he brought. All kinds were there, for he ranged
the woods for miles round, climbed the tallest trees, and forced his way
into the thickest hedges for his plunder. Walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts,
and beechnuts lay in separate compartments, getting brown, and dry, and
sweet, ready for winter revels.

There was one butternut-tree on the place, and Rob and Teddy called it
theirs. It bore well this year, and the great dingy nuts came dropping
down to hide among the dead leaves, where the busy squirrels found them
better than the lazy Bhaers. Their father had told them (the boys, not
the squirrels) they should have the nuts if they would pick them up, but
no one was to help. It was easy work, and Teddy liked it, only he soon
got tired, and left his little basket half full for another day. But the
other day was slow to arrive, and, meantime, the sly squirrels were hard
at work, scampering up and down the old elm-trees stowing the nuts away
till their holes were full, then all about the crotches of the boughs,
to be removed at their leisure. Their funny little ways amused the boys,
till one day Silas said,

"Hev you sold them nuts to the squirrels?"

"No," answered Rob, wondering what Silas meant.

"Wal, then, you'd better fly round, or them spry little fellers won't
leave you none."

"Oh, we can beat them when we begin. There are such lots of nuts we
shall have a plenty."

"There ain't many more to come down, and they have cleared the ground
pretty well, see if they hain't."

Robby ran to look, and was alarmed to find how few remained. He called
Teddy, and they worked hard all one afternoon, while the squirrels sat
on the fence and scolded.

"Now, Ted, we must keep watch, and pick up just as fast as they fall, or
we shan't have more than a bushel, and every one will laugh at us if we
don't."

"The naughty quillies tarn't have 'em. I'll pick fast and run and put
'em in the barn twick," said Teddy, frowning at little Frisky, who
chattered and whisked his tail indignantly.

That night a high wind blew down hundreds of nuts, and when Mrs. Jo came
to wake her little sons, she said, briskly,

"Come, my laddies, the squirrels are hard at it, and you will have to
work well to-day, or they will have every nut on the ground."

"No, they won't," and Robby tumbled up in a great hurry, gobbled his
breakfast, and rushed out to save his property.

Teddy went too, and worked like a little beaver, trotting to and fro
with full and empty baskets. Another bushel was soon put away in the
corn-barn, and they were scrambling among the leaves for more nuts when
the bell rang for school.

"O father! let me stay out and pick. Those horrid squirrels will have
my nuts if you don't. I'll do my lessons by and by," cried Rob, running
into the school-room, flushed and tousled by the fresh cold wind and his
eager work.

"If you had been up early and done a little every morning there would be
no hurry now. I told you that, Rob, and you never minded. I cannot have
the lessons neglected as the work has been. The squirrels will get more
than their share this year, and they deserve it, for they have worked
best. You may go an hour earlier, but that is all," and Mr. Bhaer led
Rob to his place where the little man dashed at his books as if bent on
making sure of the precious hour promised him.

It was almost maddening to sit still and see the wind shaking down the
last nuts, and the lively thieves flying about, pausing now and then to
eat one in his face, and flirt their tails, as if they said, saucily,
"We'll have them in spite of you, lazy Rob." The only thing that
sustained the poor child in this trying moment was the sight of
Teddy working away all alone. It was really splendid the pluck and
perseverance of the little lad. He picked and picked till his back
ached; he trudged to and fro till his small legs were tired; and he
defied wind, weariness, and wicked "quillies," till his mother left
her work and did the carrying for him, full of admiration for the kind
little fellow who tried to help his brother. When Rob was dismissed, he
found Teddy reposing in the bushel-basket quite used up, but unwilling
to quit the field; for he flapped his hat at the thieves with one grubby


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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 19 of 23)