Louisa May Alcott.

Little Men online

. (page 20 of 23)
Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 20 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

little hand, while he refreshed himself with the big apple held in the

Rob fell to work and the ground was cleared before two o'clock, the nuts
safely in the corn-barn loft, and the weary workers exulted in their
success. But Frisky and his wife were not to be vanquished so easily;
and when Rob went up to look at his nuts a few days later he was amazed
to see how many had vanished. None of the boys could have stolen them,
because the door had been locked; the doves could not have eaten them,
and there were no rats about. There was great lamentation among the
young Bhaers till Dick said,

"I saw Frisky on the roof of the corn-barn, may be he took them."

"I know he did! I'll have a trap, and kill him dead," cried Rob,
disgusted with Frisky's grasping nature.

"Perhaps if you watch, you can find out where he puts them, and I may
be able to get them back for you," said Dan, who was much amused by the
fight between the boys and squirrels.

So Rob watched and saw Mr. and Mrs. Frisky drop from the drooping elm
boughs on to the roof of the corn-barn, dodge in at one of the little
doors, much to the disturbance of the doves, and come out with a nut in
each mouth. So laden they could not get back the way they came, but
ran down the low roof, along the wall, and leaping off at a corner they
vanished a minute and re-appeared without their plunder. Rob ran to the
place, and in a hollow under the leaves he found a heap of the stolen
property hidden away to be carried off to the holes by and by.

"Oh, you little villains! I'll cheat you now, and not leave one," said
Rob. So he cleared the corner and the corn-barn, and put the contested
nuts in the garret, making sure that no broken window-pane could
anywhere let in the unprincipled squirrels. They seemed to feel that the
contest was over, and retired to their hole, but now and then could not
resist throwing down nut-shells on Rob's head, and scolding violently
as if they could not forgive him nor forget that he had the best of the

Father and Mother Bhaer's crop was of a different sort, and not so
easily described; but they were satisfied with it, felt that their
summer work had prospered well, and by and by had a harvest that made
them very happy.


"Wake up, Demi, dear! I want you."

"Why, I've just gone to bed; it can't be morning yet;" and Demi blinked
like a little owl as he waked from his first sound sleep.

"It's only ten, but your father is ill, and we must go to him. O my
little John! my poor little John!" and Aunt Jo laid her head down on
the pillow with a sob that scared sleep from Demi's eyes and filled his
heart with fear and wonder; for he dimly felt why Aunt Jo called him
"John," and wept over him as if some loss had come that left him poor.
He clung to her without a word, and in a minute she was quite steady
again, and said, with a tender kiss as she saw his troubled face,

"We are going to say good-by to him, my darling, and there is no time to
lose; so dress quickly and come to me in my room. I must go to Daisy."

"Yes, I will;" and when Aunt Jo was gone, little Demi got up quietly,
dressed as if in a dream, and leaving Tommy fast asleep went away
through the silent house, feeling that something new and sorrowful was
going to happen something that set him apart from the other boys for
a time, and made the world seem as dark and still and strange as those
familiar rooms did in the night. A carriage sent by Mr. Laurie stood
before the door. Daisy was soon ready, and the brother and sister held
each other by the hand all the way into town, as they drove swiftly and
silently with aunt and uncle through the shadowy roads to say good-by to

None of the boys but Franz and Emil knew what had happened, and when
they came down next morning, great was their wonderment and discomfort,
for the house seemed forlorn without its master and mistress. Breakfast
was a dismal meal with no cheery Mrs. Jo behind the teapots; and when
school-time came, Father Bhaer's place was empty. They wandered about in
a disconsolate kind of way for an hour, waiting for news and hoping it
would be all right with Demi's father, for good John Brooke was much
beloved by the boys. Ten o'clock came, and no one arrived to relieve
their anxiety. They did not feel like playing, yet the time dragged
heavily, and they sat about listless and sober. All at once, Franz got
up, and said, in his persuasive way,

"Look here, boys! let's go into school and do our lessons just as if
Uncle was here. It will make the day go faster, and will please him, I

"But who will hear us say them?" asked Jack.

"I will; I don't know much more than you do, but I'm the oldest here,
and I'll try to fill Uncle's place till he comes, if you don't mind."

Something in the modest, serious way Franz said this impressed the boys,
for, though the poor lad's eyes were red with quiet crying for Uncle
John in that long sad night, there was a new manliness about him, as if
he had already begun to feel the cares and troubles of life, and tried
to take them bravely.

"I will, for one," and Emil went to his seat, remembering that obedience
to his superior officer is a seaman's first duty.

The others followed; Franz took his uncle's seat, and for an hour
order reigned. Lessons were learned and said, and Franz made a patient,
pleasant teacher, wisely omitting such lessons as he was not equal to,
and keeping order more by the unconscious dignity that sorrow gave him
than by any words of his own. The little boys were reading when a step
was heard in the hall, and every one looked up to read the news in Mr.
Bhaer's face as he came in. The kind face told them instantly that Demi
had no father now, for it was worn and pale, and full of tender grief,
which left him no words with which to answer Rob, as he ran to him,
saying, reproachfully,

"What made you go and leave me in the night, papa?"

The memory of the other father who had left his children in the night,
never to return, made Mr. Bhaer hold his own boy close, and, for a
minute, hide his face in Robby's curly hair. Emil laid his head down
on his arms, Franz, went to put his hand on his uncle's shoulder, his
boyish face pale with sympathy and sorrow, and the others sat so still
that the soft rustle of the falling leaves outside was distinctly heard.

Rob did not clearly understand what had happened, but he hated to see
papa unhappy, so he lifted up the bent head, and said, in his chirpy
little voice,

"Don't cry, mein Vater! we were all so good, we did our lessons, without
you, and Franz was the master."

Mr. Bhaer looked up then, tried to smile, and said in a grateful tone
that made the lads feel like saints, "I thank you very much, my boys.
It was a beautiful way to help and comfort me. I shall not forget it, I
assure you."

"Franz proposed it, and was a first-rate master, too," said Nat; and the
others gave a murmur of assent most gratifying to the young dominie.

Mr. Bhaer put Rob down, and, standing up, put his arm round his tall
nephew's shoulder, as he said, with a look of genuine pleasure,

"This makes my hard day easier, and gives me confidence in you all. I
am needed there in town, and must leave you for some hours. I thought
to give you a holiday, or send some of you home, but if you like to stay
and go on as you have begun, I shall be glad and proud of my good boys."

"We'll stay;" "We'd rather;" "Franz can see to us;" cried several,
delighted with the confidence shown in them.

"Isn't Marmar coming home?" asked Rob, wistfully; for home without
"Marmar" was the world without the sun to him.

"We shall both come to-night; but dear Aunt Meg needs Mother more than
you do now, and I know you like to lend her for a little while."

"Well, I will; but Teddy's been crying for her, and he slapped Nursey,
and was dreadful naughty," answered Rob, as if the news might bring
mother home.

"Where is my little man?" asked Mr. Bhaer.

"Dan took him out, to keep him quiet. He's all right now," said Franz,
pointing to the window, through which they could see Dan drawing baby in
his little wagon, with the dogs frolicking about him.

"I won't see him, it would only upset him again; but tell Dan I leave
Teddy in his care. You older boys I trust to manage yourselves for a
day. Franz will direct you, and Silas is here to over see matters. So
good-by till to-night."

"Just tell me a word about Uncle John," said Emil, detaining Mr. Bhaer,
as he was about hurrying away again.

"He was only ill a few hours, and died as he has lived, so cheerfully,
so peacefully, that it seems a sin to mar the beauty of it with any
violent or selfish grief. We were in time to say good-by: and Daisy and
Demi were in his arms as he fell asleep on Aunt Meg's breast. No more
now, I cannot bear it," and Mr. Bhaer went hastily away quite bowed with
grief, for in John Brooke he had lost both friend and brother, and there
was no one left to take his place.

All that day the house was very still; the small boys played quietly in
the nursery; the others, feeling as if Sunday had come in the middle
of the week, spent it in walking, sitting in the willow, or among their
pets, all talking much of "Uncle John," and feeling that something
gentle, just, and strong, had gone out of their little world, leaving a
sense of loss that deepened every hour. At dusk, Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer came
home alone, for Demi and Daisy were their mother's best comfort now,
and could not leave her. Poor Mrs. Jo seemed quite spent, and evidently
needed the same sort of comfort, for her first words, as she came up the
stairs, were, "Where is my baby?"

"Here I is," answered a little voice, as Dan put Teddy into her arms,
adding, as she hugged him close, "My Danny tooked tare of me all day,
and I was dood."

Mrs. Jo turned to thank the faithful nurse, but Dan was waving off the
boys, who had gathered in the hall to meet her, and was saying, in a low
voice, "Keep back; she don't want to be bothered with us now."

"No, don't keep back. I want you all. Come in and see me, my boys. I've
neglected you all day," and Mrs. Jo held out her hands to them as they
gathered round and escorted her into her own room, saying little, but
expressing much by affectionate looks and clumsy little efforts to show
their sorrow and sympathy.

"I am so tired, I will lie here and cuddle Teddy, and you shall bring me
in some tea," she said, trying to speak cheerfully for their sakes.

A general stampede into the dining-room followed, and the supper-table
would have been ravaged if Mr. Bhaer had not interfered. It was agreed
that one squad should carry in the mother's tea, and another bring it
out. The four nearest and dearest claimed the first honor, so Franz bore
the teapot, Emil the bread, Rob the milk, and Teddy insisted on carrying
the sugar basin, which was lighter by several lumps when it arrived than
when it started. Some women might have found it annoying at such a time
to have boys creaking in and out, upsetting cups and rattling spoons in
violent efforts to be quiet and helpful; but it suited Mrs. Jo, because
just then her heart was very tender; and remembering that many of her
boys were fatherless or motherless, she yearned over them, and found
comfort in their blundering affection. It was the sort of food that did
her more good than the very thick bread-and-butter that they gave her,
and the rough Commodore's broken whisper,

"Bear up, Aunty, it's a hard blow; but we'll weather it somehow;"
cheered her more than the sloppy cup he brought her, full of tea as
bitter as if some salt tear of his own had dropped into it on the way.
When supper was over, a second deputation removed the tray; and Dan
said, holding out his arms for sleepy little Teddy,

"Let me put him to bed, you're so tired, Mother."

"Will you go with him, lovey?" asked Mrs. Jo of her small lord and
master, who lay on her arm among the sofa-pillows.

"Torse I will;" and he was proudly carried off by his faithful bearer.

"I wish I could do something," said Nat, with a sigh, as Franz leaned
over the sofa, and softly stroked Aunt Jo's hot forehead.

"You can, dear. Go and get your violin, and play me the sweet little
airs Uncle Teddy sent you last. Music will comfort me better than any
thing else to-night."

Nat flew for his fiddle, and, sitting just outside her door, played as
he had never done before, for now his heart was in it, and seemed
to magnetize his fingers. The other lads sat quietly upon the steps,
keeping watch that no new-comer should disturb the house; Franz lingered
at his post; and so, soothed, served, and guarded by her boys, poor Mrs.
Jo slept at last, and forgot her sorrow for an hour.

Two quiet days, and on the third Mr. Bhaer came in just after school,
with a note in his hand, looking both moved and pleased.

"I want to read you something, boys," he said; and as they stood round
him he read this:

"DEAR BROTHER FRITZ, I hear that you do not mean to bring your flock
today, thinking that I may not like it. Please do. The sight of his
friends will help Demi through the hard hour, and I want the boys to
hear what father says of my John. It will do them good, I know. If they
would sing one of the sweet old hymns you have taught them so well,
I should like it better than any other music, and feel that it was
beautifully suited to the occasion. Please ask them, with my love.


"Will you go?" and Mr. Bhaer looked at the lads, who were greatly
touched by Mrs. Brooke's kind words and wishes.

"Yes," they answered, like one boy; and an hour later they went away
with Franz to bear their part in John Brooke's simple funeral.

The little house looked as quiet, sunny, and home-like as when Meg
entered it as a bride, ten years ago, only then it was early summer,
and rose blossomed everywhere; now it was early autumn, and dead leaves
rustled softly down, leaving the branches bare. The bride was a widow
now; but the same beautiful serenity shone in her face, and the sweet
resignation of a truly pious soul made her presence a consolation to
those who came to comfort her.

"O Meg! how can you bear it so?" whispered Jo, as she met them at the
door with a smile of welcome, and no change in her gentle manner, except
more gentleness.

"Dear Jo, the love that has blest me for ten happy years supports me
still. It could not die, and John is more my own than ever," whispered
Meg; and in her eyes the tender trust was so beautiful and bright, that
Jo believed her, and thanked God for the immortality of love like hers.

They were all there father and mother, Uncle Teddy, and Aunt Amy, old
Mr. Laurence, white-haired and feeble now, Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer, with
their flock, and many friends, come to do honor to the dead. One would
have said that modest John Brooke, in his busy, quiet, humble life,
had had little time to make friends; but now they seemed to start
up everywhere, old and young, rich and poor, high and low; for all
unconsciously his influence had made itself widely felt, his virtues
were remembered, and his hidden charities rose up to bless him. The
group about his coffin was a far more eloquent eulogy than any Mr. March
could utter. There were the rich men whom he had served faithfully for
years; the poor old women whom he cherished with his little store, in
memory of his mother; the wife to whom he had given such happiness that
death could not mar it utterly; the brothers and sisters in whose hearts
he had made a place for ever; the little son and daughter, who already
felt the loss of his strong arm and tender voice; the young children,
sobbing for their kindest playmate, and the tall lads, watching with
softened faces a scene which they never could forget. A very simple
service, and very short; for the fatherly voice that had faltered in the
marriage-sacrament now failed entirely as Mr. March endeavored to pay
his tribute of reverence and love to the son whom he most honored.
Nothing but the soft coo of Baby Josy's voice up-stairs broke the long
hush that followed the last Amen, till, at a sign from Mr. Bhaer, the
well-trained boyish voices broke out in a hymn, so full of lofty cheer,
that one by one all joined in it, singing with full hearts, and finding
their troubled spirits lifted into peace on the wings of that brave,
sweet psalm.

As Meg listened, she felt that she had done well; for not only did the
moment comfort her with the assurance that John's last lullaby was sung
by the young voices he loved so well, but in the faces of the boys she
saw that they had caught a glimpse of the beauty of virtue in its most
impressive form, and that the memory of the good man lying dead before
them would live long and helpfully in their remembrance. Daisy's head
lay in her lap, and Demi held her hand, looking often at her, with eyes
so like his father's, and a little gesture that seemed to say, "Don't
be troubled, mother; I am here;" and all about her were friends to lean
upon and love; so patient, pious Meg put by her heavy grief, feeling
that her best help would be to live for others, as her John had done.

That evening, as the Plumfield boys sat on the steps, as usual, in the
mild September moonlight, they naturally fell to talking of the event of
the day.

Emil began by breaking out, in his impetuous way, "Uncle Fritz is the
wisest, and Uncle Laurie the jolliest, but Uncle John was the best; and
I'd rather be like him than any man I ever saw."

"So would I. Did you hear what those gentlemen said to Grandpa to-day? I
would like to have that said of me when I was dead;" and Franz felt with
regret that he had not appreciated Uncle John enough.

"What did they say?" asked Jack, who had been much impressed by the
scenes of the day.

"Why, one of the partners of Mr. Laurence, where Uncle John has been
ever so long, was saying that he was conscientious almost to a fault as
a business man, and above reproach in all things. Another gentleman said
no money could repay the fidelity and honesty with which Uncle John had
served him, and then Grandpa told them the best of all. Uncle John once
had a place in the office of a man who cheated, and when this man wanted
uncle to help him do it, uncle wouldn't, though he was offered a big
salary. The man was angry and said, 'You will never get on in business
with such strict principles;' and uncle answered back, 'I never will try
to get on without them,' and left the place for a much harder and poorer

"Good!" cried several of the boys warmly, for they were in the mood to
understand and value the little story as never before.

"He wasn't rich, was he?" asked Jack.


"He never did any thing to make a stir in the world, did he?"


"He was only good?"

"That's all;" and Franz found himself wishing that Uncle John had done
something to boast of, for it was evident that Jack was disappointed by
his replies.

"Only good. That is all and every thing," said Mr. Bhaer, who had
overheard the last few words, and guessed what was going on the minds of
the lads.

"Let me tell you a little about John Brooke, and you will see why men
honor him, and why he was satisfied to be good rather than rich or
famous. He simply did his duty in all things, and did it so cheerfully,
so faithfully, that it kept him patient and brave, and happy through
poverty and loneliness and years of hard work. He was a good son, and
gave up his own plans to stay and live with his mother while she needed
him. He was a good friend, and taught Laurie much beside his Greek and
Latin, did it unconsciously, perhaps, by showing him an example of an
upright man. He was a faithful servant, and made himself so valuable to
those who employed him that they will find it hard to fill his place.
He was a good husband and father, so tender, wise, and thoughtful, that
Laurie and I learned much of him, and only knew how well he loved his
family, when we discovered all he had done for them, unsuspected and

Mr. Bhaer stopped a minute, and the boys sat like statues in the
moonlight until he went on again, in a subdued, but earnest voice: "As
he lay dying, I said to him, 'Have no care for Meg and the little ones;
I will see that they never want.' Then he smiled and pressed my hand,
and answered, in his cheerful way, 'No need of that; I have cared for
them.' And so he had, for when we looked among his papers, all was in
order, not a debt remained; and safely put away was enough to keep Meg
comfortable and independent. Then we knew why he had lived so plainly,
denied himself so many pleasures, except that of charity, and worked
so hard that I fear he shortened his good life. He never asked help for
himself, though often for others, but bore his own burden and worked
out his own task bravely and quietly. No one can say a word of complaint
against him, so just and generous and kind was he; and now, when he is
gone, all find so much to love and praise and honor, that I am proud to
have been his friend, and would rather leave my children the legacy he
leaves his than the largest fortune ever made. Yes! Simple, generous
goodness is the best capital to found the business of this life upon. It
lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only riches we can take out
of this world with us. Remember that, my boys; and if you want to earn
respect and confidence and love follow in the footsteps of John Brooke."

When Demi returned to school, after some weeks at home, he seemed to
have recovered from his loss with the blessed elasticity of childhood,
and so he had in a measure; but he did not forget, for his was a nature
into which things sank deeply, to be pondered over, and absorbed into
the soil where the small virtues were growing fast. He played and
studied, worked and sang, just as before, and few suspected any change;
but there was one and Aunt Jo saw it for she watched over the boy with
her whole heart, trying to fill John's place in her poor way. He seldom
spoke of his loss, but Aunt Jo often heard a stifled sobbing in the
little bed at night; and when she went to comfort him, all his cry was,
"I want my father! oh, I want my father!" for the tie between the two
had been a very tender one, and the child's heart bled when it was
broken. But time was kind to him, and slowly he came to feel that father
was not lost, only invisible for a while, and sure to be found again,
well and strong and fond as ever, even though his little son should see
the purple asters blossom on his grave many, many times before they met.
To this belief Demi held fast, and in it found both help and comfort,
because it led him unconsciously through a tender longing for the father
whom he had seen to a childlike trust in the Father whom he had not
seen. Both were in heaven, and he prayed to both, trying to be good for
love of them.

The outward change corresponded to the inward, for in those few weeks
Demi seemed to have grown tall, and began to drop his childish plays,
not as if ashamed of them, as some boys do, but as if he had outgrown
them, and wanted something manlier. He took to the hated arithmetic,
and held on so steadily that his uncle was charmed, though he could not
understand the whim, until Demi said,

"I am going to be a bookkeeper when I grow up, like papa, and I must
know about figures and things, else I can't have nice, neat ledgers like

At another time he came to his aunt with a very serious face, and said

"What can a small boy do to earn money?"

"Why do you ask, my deary?"

"My father told me to take care of mother and the little girls, and I
want to, but I don't know how to begin."

"He did not mean now, Demi, but by and by, when you are large."

"But I wish to begin now, if I can, because I think I ought to make some
money to buy things for the family. I am ten, and other boys no bigger
than I earn pennies sometimes."

"Well, then, suppose you rake up all the dead leaves and cover the
strawberry bed. I'll pay you a dollar for the job," said Aunt Jo.

"Isn't that a great deal? I could do it in one day. You must be fair,
and no pay too much, because I want to truly earn it."

"My little John, I will be fair, and not pay a penny too much. Don't
work too hard; and when that is done I will have something else for you
to do," said Mrs. Jo, much touched by his desire to help, and his sense
of justice, so like his scrupulous father.

When the leaves were done, many barrowloads of chips were wheeled from
the wood to the shed, and another dollar earned. Then Demi helped
cover the schoolbooks, working in the evenings under Franz's direction,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23

Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 20 of 23)