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tugging patiently away at each book, letting no one help, and receiving
his wages with such satisfaction that the dingy bills became quite
glorified in his sight.

"Now, I have a dollar for each of them, and I should like to take
my money to mother all myself, so she can see that I have minded my

So Demi made a duteous pilgrimage to his mother, who received his little
earnings as a treasure of great worth, and would have kept it untouched,
if Demi had not begged her to buy some useful thing for herself and the
women-children, whom he felt were left to his care.

This made him very happy, and, though he often forgot his
responsibilities for a time, the desire to help was still there,
strengthening with his years. He always uttered the words "my father"
with an air of gentle pride, and often said, as if he claimed a title
full of honor, "Don't call me Demi any more. I am John Brooke now."
So, strengthened by a purpose and a hope, the little lad of ten bravely
began the world, and entered into his inheritance, the memory of a wise
and tender father, the legacy of an honest name.


With the October frosts came the cheery fires in the great fireplaces;
and Demi's dry pine-chips helped Dan's oak-knots to blaze royally, and
go roaring up the chimney with a jolly sound. All were glad to gather
round the hearth, as the evenings grew longer, to play games, read, or
lay plans for the winter. But the favorite amusement was story-telling,
and Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer were expected to have a store of lively tales
always on hand. Their supply occasionally gave out, and then the boys
were thrown upon their own resources, which were not always successful.
Ghost-parties were the rage at one time; for the fun of the thing
consisted in putting out the lights, letting the fire die down, and then
sitting in the dark, and telling the most awful tales they could invent.
As this resulted in scares of all sorts among the boys, Tommy's walking
in his sleep on the shed roof, and a general state of nervousness in
the little ones, it was forbidden, and they fell back on more harmless

One evening, when the small boys were snugly tucked in bed, and the
older lads were lounging about the school-room fire, trying to decide
what they should do, Demi suggested a new way of settling the question.

Seizing the hearth-brush, he marched up and down the room, saying, "Row,
row, row;" and when the boys, laughing and pushing, had got into line,
he said, "Now, I'll give you two minutes to think of a play." Franz was
writing, and Emil reading the Life of Lord Nelson, and neither joined
the party, but the others thought hard, and when the time was up were
ready to reply.

"Now, Tom!" and the poker softly rapped him on the head.

"Blind-man's Buff."


"Commerce; a good round game, and have cents for the pool."

"Uncle forbids our playing for money. Dan, what do you want?"

"Let's have a battle between the Greeks and Romans."


"Roast apples, pop corn, and crack nuts."

"Good! good!" cried several; and when the vote was taken, Stuffy's
proposal carried the day.

Some went to the cellar for apples, some to the garret for nuts, and
others looked up the popper and the corn.

"We had better ask the girls to come in, hadn't we?" said Demi, in a
sudden fit of politeness.

"Daisy pricks chestnuts beautifully," put in Nat, who wanted his little
friend to share the fun.

"Nan pops corn tip-top, we must have her," added Tommy.

"Bring in your sweethearts then, we don't mind," said Jack, who laughed
at the innocent regard the little people had for one another.

"You shan't call my sister a sweetheart; it is so silly!" cried Demi, in
a way that made Jack laugh.

"She is Nat's darling, isn't she, old chirper?"

"Yes, if Demi don't mind. I can't help being fond of her, she is so good
to me," answered Nat, with bashful earnestness, for Jack's rough ways
disturbed him.

"Nan is my sweetheart, and I shall marry her in about a year, so don't
you get in the way, any of you," said Tommy, stoutly; for he and Nan
had settled their future, child-fashion, and were to live in the willow,
lower down a basket for food, and do other charmingly impossible things.

Demi was quenched by the decision of Bangs, who took him by the arm and
walked him off to get the ladies. Nan and Daisy were sewing with Aunt Jo
on certain small garments, for Mrs. Carney's newest baby.

"Please, ma'am, could you lend us the girls for a little while? We'll
be very careful of them," said Tommy, winking one eye to express apples,
snapping his fingers to signify pop-corn, and gnashing his teeth to
convey the idea of nut-cracking.

The girls understood this pantomime at once, and began to pull of
their thimbles before Mrs. Jo could decide whether Tommy was going
into convulsions or was brewing some unusual piece of mischief. Demi
explained with elaboration, permission was readily granted, and the boys
departed with their prize.

"Don't you speak to Jack," whispered Tommy, as he and Nan promenaded
down the hall to get a fork to prick the apples.

"Why not?"

"He laughs at me, so I don't wish you to have any thing to do with him."

"Shall, if I like," said Nan, promptly resenting this premature
assumption of authority on the part of her lord.

"Then I won't have you for my sweetheart."

"I don't care."

"Why, Nan, I thought you were fond of me!" and Tommy's voice was full of
tender reproach.

"If you mind Jack's laughing I don't care for you one bit."

"Then you may take back your old ring; I won't wear it any longer;" and
Tommy plucked off a horsehair pledge of affection which Nan had given
him in return for one made of a lobster's feeler.

"I shall give it to Ned," was her cruel reply; for Ned liked Mrs.
Giddy-gaddy, and had turned her clothespins, boxes, and spools enough to
set up housekeeping with.

Tommy said, "Thunder turtles!" as the only vent equal to the pent-up
anguish of the moment, and, dropping Nan's arm, retired in high dudgeon,
leaving her to follow with the fork, a neglect which naughty Nan
punished by proceeding to prick his heart with jealousy as if it were
another sort of apple.

The hearth was swept, and the rosy Baldwins put down to roast. A shovel
was heated, and the chestnuts danced merrily upon it, while the corn
popped wildly in its wire prison. Dan cracked his best walnuts, and
every one chattered and laughed, while the rain beat on the window-pane
and the wind howled round the house.

"Why is Billy like this nut?" asked Emil, who was frequently inspired
with bad conundrums.

"Because he is cracked," answered Ned.

"That's not fair; you mustn't make fun of Billy, because he can't hit
back again. It's mean," cried Dan, smashing a nut wrathfully.

"To what family of insects does Blake belong?" asked peacemaker Franz,
seeing that Emil looked ashamed and Dan lowering.

"Gnats," answered Jack.

"Why is Daisy like a bee?" cried Nat, who had been wrapt in thought for
several minutes.

"Because she is queen of the hive," said Dan.


"Because she is sweet."

"Bees are not sweet."

"Give it up."

"Because she makes sweet things, is always busy, and likes flowers,"
said Nat, piling up his boyish compliments till Daisy blushed like a
rosy clover.

"Why is Nan like a hornet?" demanded Tommy, glowering at her, and
adding, without giving any one time to answer, "Because she isn't sweet,
makes a great buzzing about nothing, and stings like fury."

"Tommy's mad, and I'm glad," cried Ned, as Nan tossed her head and
answered quickly,

"What thing in the china-closet is Tom like?"

"A pepper pot," answered Ned, giving Nan a nut meat with a tantalizing
laugh that made Tommy feel as if he would like to bounce up like a hot
chestnut and hit somebody.

Seeing that ill-humor was getting the better of the small supply of wit
in the company, Franz cast himself into the breach again.

"Let's make a law that the first person who comes into the room shall
tell us a story. No matter who it is, he must do it, and it will be fun
to see who comes first."

The others agreed, and did not have to wait long, for a heavy step soon
came clumping through the hall, and Silas appeared, bearing an armful
of wood. He was greeted by a general shout, and stood staring about him
with a bewildered grin on his big red face, till Franz explained the

"Sho! I can't tell a story," he said, putting down his load and
preparing to leave the room. But the boys fell upon him, forced him into
a seat, and held him there, laughing, and clamoring for their story,
till the good-natured giant was overpowered.

"I don't know but jest one story, and that's about a horse," he said,
much flattered by the reception he received.

"Tell it! tell it!" cried the boys.

"Wal," began Silas, tipping his chair back against the wall, and
putting his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, "I jined a cavalry
regiment durin' the war, and see a consid'able amount of fightin'. My
horse, Major, was a fust-rate animal, and I was as fond on him as
ef he'd ben a human critter. He warn't harnsome, but he was the
best-tempered, stiddyest, lovenest brute I ever see. I fust battle we
went into, he gave me a lesson that I didn't forgit in a hurry, and
I'll tell you how it was. It ain't no use tryin' to picter the noise and
hurry, and general horridness of a battle to you young fellers, for I
ain't no words to do it in; but I'm free to confess that I got so sort
of confused and upset at the fust on it, that I didn't know what I was
about. We was ordered to charge, and went ahead like good ones, never
stoppin' to pick up them that went down in the scrimmage. I got a shot
in the arm, and was pitched out of the saddle don't know how, but there
I was left behind with two or three others, dead and wounded, for the
rest went on, as I say. Wal, I picked myself up and looked round for
Major, feeling as ef I'd had about enough for that spell. I didn't see
him nowhere, and was kinder walking back to camp, when I heard a whinny
that sounded nateral. I looked round, and there was Major stopping for
me a long way off, and lookin' as ef he didn't understand why I was
loiterin' behind. I whistled, and he trotted up to me as I'd trained him
to do. I mounted as well as I could with my left arm bleedin' and was
for going on to camp, for I declare I felt as sick and wimbly as a
woman; folks often do in their fust battle. But, no sir! Major was the
bravest of the two, and he wouldn't go, not a peg; he jest rared up, and
danced, and snorted, and acted as ef the smell of powder and the noise
had drove him half wild. I done my best, but he wouldn't give in, so
I did; and what do you think that plucky brute done? He wheeled slap
round, and galloped back like a hurricane, right into the thickest of
the scrimmage!"

"Good for him!" cried Dan excitedly, while the other boys forgot apples
and nuts in their interest.

"I wish I may die ef I warn't ashamed of myself," continued Silas,
warming up at the recollection of that day. "I was mad as a hornet, and
I forgot my waound, and jest pitched in, rampagin' raound like fury till
there come a shell into the midst of us, and in bustin' knocked a lot
of us flat. I didn't know nothin' for a spell, and when I come-to, the
fight was over just there, and I found myself layin' by a wall of poor
Major long-side wuss wounded than I was. My leg was broke, and I had a
ball in my shoulder, but he, poor old feller! was all tore in the side
with a piece of that blasted shell."

"O Silas! what did you do?" cried Nan, pressing close to him with a face
full of eager sympathy and interest.

"I dragged myself nigher, and tried to stop the bleedin' with sech rags
as I could tear off of me with one hand. But it warn't no use, and he
lay moanin' with horrid pain, and lookin' at me with them lovin' eyes of
his, till I thought I couldn't bear it. I give him all the help I could,
and when the sun got hotter and hotter, and he began to lap out his
tongue, I tried to get to a brook that was a good piece away, but I
couldn't do it, being stiff and faint, so I give it up and fanned him
with my hat. Now you listen to this, and when you hear folks comin' down
on the rebs, you jest remember what one on 'em did, and give him credit
of it. I poor feller in gray laid not fur off, shot through the lungs
and dyin' fast. I'd offered him my handkerchief to keep the sun off his
face, and he'd thanked me kindly, for in sech times as that men don't
stop to think on which side they belong, but jest buckle-to and help one
another. When he see me mournin' over Major and tryin' to ease his pain,
he looked up with his face all damp and white with sufferin', and sez
he, 'There's water in my canteen; take it, for it can't help me,' and he
flung it to me. I couldn't have took it ef I hadn't had a little brandy
in a pocket flask, and I made him drink it. It done him good, and I felt
as much set up as if I'd drunk it myself. It's surprisin' the good sech
little things do folks sometime;" and Silas paused as if he felt again
the comfort of that moment when he and his enemy forgot their feud, and
helped one another like brothers.

"Tell about Major," cried the boys, impatient for the catastrophe.

"I poured the water over his poor pantin' tongue, and ef ever a dumb
critter looked grateful, he did then. But it warn't of much use, for
the dreadful waound kep on tormentin' him, till I couldn't bear it any
longer. It was hard, but I done it in mercy, and I know he forgive me."

"What did you do?" asked Emil, as Silas stopped abruptly with a loud
"hem," and a look in his rough face that made Daisy go and stand by him
with her little hand on his knee.

"I shot him."

Quite a thrill went through the listeners as Silas said that, for
Major seemed a hero in their eyes, and his tragic end roused all their

"Yes, I shot him, and put him out of his misery. I patted him fust, and
said, 'Good-by;' then I laid his head easy on the grass, give a last
look into his lovin' eyes, and sent a bullet through his head. He hardly
stirred, I aimed so true, and when I seen him quite still, with no more
moanin' and pain, I was glad, and yet wal, I don't know as I need by
ashamed on't I jest put my arms raound his neck and boo-hooed like a
great baby. Sho! I didn't know I was sech a fool;" and Silas drew his
sleeve across his eyes, as much touched by Daisy's sob, as by the memory
of faithful Major.

No one spoke for a minute, because the boys were as quick to feel the
pathos of the little story as tender-hearted Daisy, though they did not
show it by crying.

"I'd like a horse like that," said Dan, half-aloud.

"Did the rebel man die, too?" asked Nan, anxiously.

"Not then. We laid there all day, and at night some of our fellers came
to look after the missing ones. They nat'rally wanted to take me fust,
but I knew I could wait, and the rebel had but one chance, maybe, so I
made them carry him off right away. He had jest strength enough to hold
out his hand to me and say, 'Thanky, comrade!' and them was the last
words he spoke, for he died an hour after he got to the hospital-tent."

"How glad you must have been that you were kind to him!" said Demi, who
was deeply impressed by this story.

"Wal, I did take comfort thinkin' of it, as I laid there alone for a
number of hours with my head on Major's neck, and see the moon come up.
I'd like to have buried the poor beast decent, but it warn't possible;
so I cut off a bit of his mane, and I've kep it ever sence. Want to see
it, sissy?"

"Oh, yes, please," answered Daisy, wiping away her tears to look.

Silas took out an old "wallet" as he called his pocket-book, and
produced from an inner fold a bit of brown paper, in which was a rough
lock of white horse-hair. The children looked at it silently, as it lay
in the broad palm, and no one found any thing to ridicule in the love
Silas bore his good horse Major.

"That is a sweet story, and I like it, though it did make me cry. Thank
you very much, Si," and Daisy helped him fold and put away his little
relic; while Nan stuffed a handful of pop-corn into his pocket, and the
boys loudly expressed their flattering opinions of his story, feeling
that there had been two heroes in it.

He departed, quite overcome by his honors, and the little conspirators
talked the tale over, while they waited for their next victim. It was
Mrs. Jo, who came in to measure Nan for some new pinafores she was
making for her. They let her get well in, and then pounced upon her,
telling her the law, and demanding the story. Mrs. Jo was very much
amused at the new trap, and consented at once, for the sound of happy
voices had been coming across the hall so pleasantly that she quite
longed to join them, and forget her own anxious thoughts of Sister Meg.

"Am I the first mouse you have caught, you sly pussies-in-boots?"
she asked, as she was conducted to the big chair, supplied with
refreshments, and surrounded by a flock of merry-faced listeners.

They told her about Silas and his contribution, and she slapped her
forehead in despair, for she was quite at her wits' end, being called
upon so unexpectedly for a bran new tale.

"What shall I tell about?" she said.

"Boys," was the general answer.

"Have a party in it," said Daisy.

"And something good to eat," added Stuffy.

"That reminds me of a story, written years ago, by a dear old lady. I
used to be very fond of it, and I fancy you will like it, for it has
both boys, and 'something good to eat' in it."

"What is it called?" asked Demi.

"'The Suspected Boy.'"

Nat looked up from the nuts he was picking, and Mrs. Jo smiled at him,
guessing what was in his mind.

"Miss Crane kept a school for boys in a quiet little town, and a very
good school it was, of the old-fashioned sort. Six boys lived in her
house, and four or five more came in from the town. Among those who
lived with her was one named Lewis White. Lewis was not a bad boy, but
rather timid, and now and then he told a lie. One day a neighbor sent
Miss Crane a basket of gooseberries. There were not enough to go round,
so kind Miss Crane, who liked to please her boys, went to work and made
a dozen nice little gooseberry tarts."

"I'd like to try gooseberry tarts. I wonder if she made them as I do
my raspberry ones," said Daisy, whose interest in cooking had lately

"Hush," said Nat, tucking a plump pop-corn into her mouth to silence
her, for he felt a particular interest in this tale, and thought it
opened well.

"When the tarts were done, Miss Crane put them away in the best parlor
closet, and said not a word about them, for she wanted to surprise the
boys at tea-time. When the minute came and all were seated at table, she
went to get her tarts, but came back looking much troubled, for what do
you think had happened?"

"Somebody had hooked them!" cried Ned.

"No, there they were, but some one had stolen all the fruit out of
them by lifting up the upper crust and then putting it down after the
gooseberry had been scraped out."

"What a mean trick!" and Nan looked at Tommy, as if to imply that he
would do the same.

"When she told the boys her plan and showed them the poor little
patties all robbed of their sweetness, the boys were much grieved and
disappointed, and all declared that they knew nothing about the matter.
'Perhaps the rats did it,' said Lewis, who was among the loudest to deny
any knowledge of the tarts. 'No, rats would have nibbled crust and all,
and never lifted it up and scooped out the fruit. Hands did that,' said
Miss Crane, who was more troubled about the lie that some one must have
told than about her lost patties. Well, they had supper and went to bed,
but in the night Miss Crane heard some one groaning, and going to
see who it was she found Lewis in great pain. He had evidently eaten
something that disagreed with him, and was so sick that Miss Crane was
alarmed, and was going to send for the doctor, when Lewis moaned out,
'It's the gooseberries; I ate them, and I must tell before I die,' for
the thought of a doctor frightened him. 'If that is all, I'll give you
an emetic and you will soon get over it,' said Miss Crane. So Lewis had
a good dose, and by morning was quite comfortable. 'Oh, don't tell the
boys; they will laugh at me so,' begged the invalid. Kind Miss Crane
promised not to, but Sally, the girl, told the story, and poor Lewis had
no peace for a long time. His mates called him Old Gooseberry, and were
never tired of asking him the price of tarts."

"Served him right," said Emil.

"Badness always gets found out," added Demi, morally.

"No, it don't," muttered Jack, who was tending the apples with great
devotion, so that he might keep his back to the rest and account for his
red face.

"Is that all?" asked Dan.

"No, that is only the first part; the second part is more interesting.
Some time after this a peddler came by one day and stopped to show his
things to the boys, several of whom bought pocket-combs, jew's-harps,
and various trifles of that sort. Among the knives was a little
white-handled penknife that Lewis wanted very much, but he had spent all
his pocket-money, and no one had any to lend him. He held the knife in
his hand, admiring and longing for it, till the man packed up his goods
to go, then he reluctantly laid it down, and the man went on his way.
The next day, however, the peddler returned to say that he could not
find that very knife, and thought he must have left it at Miss Crane's.
It was a very nice one with a pearl handle, and he could not afford
to lose it. Every one looked, and every one declared they knew nothing
about it. 'This young gentleman had it last, and seemed to want it very
much. Are you quite sure you put it back?' said the man to Lewis, who
was much troubled at the loss, and vowed over and over again that he did
return it. His denials seemed to do no good, however, for every one was
sure he had taken it, and after a stormy scene Miss Crane paid for it,
and the man went grumbling away."

"Did Lewis have it?" cried Nat, much excited.

"You will see. Now poor Lewis had another trial to bear, for the boys
were constantly saying, 'Lend me your pearl-handled knife, Gooseberry,'
and things of that sort, till Lewis was so unhappy he begged to be sent
home. Miss Crane did her best to keep the boys quiet, but it was hard
work, for they would tease, and she could not be with them all the
time. That is one of the hardest things to teach boys; they won't 'hit
a fellow when he is down,' as they say, but they will torment him in
little ways till he would thank them to fight it out all round."

"I know that," said Dan.

"So do I," added Nat, softly.

Jack said nothing, but he quite agreed; for he knew that the elder boys
despised him, and let him alone for that very reason.

"Do go on about poor Lewis, Aunt Jo. I don't believe he took the knife,
but I want to be sure," said Daisy, in great anxiety.

"Well, week after week went on and the matter was not cleared up.
The boys avoided Lewis, and he, poor fellow, was almost sick with the
trouble he had brought upon himself. He resolved never to tell another
lie, and tried so hard that Miss Crane pitied and helped him, and really
came at last to believe that he did not take the knife. Two months after
the peddler's first visit, he came again, and the first thing he said

"'Well, ma'am, I found that knife after all. It had slipped behind the
lining of my valise, and fell out the other day when I was putting in a
new stock of goods. I thought I'd call and let you know, as you paid for
it, and maybe would like it, so here it is.'"

"The boys had all gathered round, and at these words they felt much
ashamed, and begged Lewis' pardon so heartily that he could not refuse
to give it. Miss Crane presented the knife to him, and he kept it many
years to remind him of the fault that had brought him so much trouble."

"I wonder why it is that things you eat on the sly hurt you, and don't
when you eat them at table," observed Stuffy, thoughtfully.

"Perhaps your conscience affects your stomach," said Mrs. Jo, smiling at
his speech.

"He is thinking of the cucumbers," said Ned, and a gale of merriment
followed the words, for Stuffy's last mishap had been a funny one.

He ate two large cucumbers in private, felt very ill, and confided
his anguish to Ned, imploring him to do something. Ned good-naturedly
recommended a mustard plaster and a hot flat iron to the feet; only in
applying these remedies he reversed the order of things, and put the

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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 21 of 23)