Louisa May Alcott.

Little Men online

. (page 22 of 23)
Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 22 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


plaster on the feet, the flat iron on the stomach, and poor Stuffy was
found in the barn with blistered soles and a scorched jacket.

"Suppose you tell another story, that was such an interesting one," said
Nat, as the laughter subsided.

Before Mrs. Jo could refuse these insatiable Oliver Twists, Rob walked
into the room trailing his little bed-cover after him, and wearing
an expression of great sweetness as he said, steering straight to his
mother as a sure haven of refuge,

"I heard a great noise, and I thought sumfin dreffle might have
happened, so I came to see."

"Did you think I would forget you, naughty boy?" asked his mother,
trying to look stern.

"No; but I thought you'd feel better to see me right here," responded
the insinuating little party.

"I had much rather see you in bed, so march straight up again, Robin."

"Everybody that comes in here has to tell a story, and you can't so
you'd better cut and run," said Emil.

"Yes, I can! I tell Teddy lots of ones, all about bears and moons, and
little flies that say things when they buzz," protested Rob, bound to
stay at any price.

"Tell one now, then, right away," said Dan, preparing to shoulder and
bear him off.

"Well, I will; let me fink a minute," and Rob climbed into his mother's
lap, where he was cuddled, with the remark

"It is a family failing, this getting out of bed at wrong times. Demi
used to do it; and as for me, I was hopping in and out all night long.
Meg used to think the house was on fire, and send me down to see, and I
used to stay and enjoy myself, as you mean to, my bad son."

"I've finked now," observed Rob, quite at his ease, and eager to win the
entree into this delightful circle.

Every one looked and listened with faces full of suppressed merriment as
Rob, perched on his mother's knee and wrapped in the gay coverlet, told
the following brief but tragic tale with an earnestness that made it
very funny:

"Once a lady had a million children, and one nice little boy. She went
up-stairs and said, 'You mustn't go in the yard.' But he wented, and
fell into the pump, and was drowned dead."

"Is that all?" asked Franz, as Rob paused out of breath with this
startling beginning.

"No, there is another piece of it," and Rob knit his downy eyebrows in
the effort to evolve another inspiration.

"What did the lady do when he fell into the pump?" asked his mother, to
help him on.

"Oh, she pumped him up, and wrapped him in a newspaper, and put him on a
shelf to dry for seed."

A general explosion of laughter greeted this surprising conclusion, and
Mrs. Jo patted the curly head, as she said, solemnly,

"My son, you inherit your mother's gift of story-telling. Go where glory
waits thee."

"Now I can stay, can't I? Wasn't it a good story?" cried Rob, in high
feather at his superb success.

"You can stay till you have eaten these twelve pop-corns," said his
mother, expecting to see them vanish at one mouthful.

But Rob was a shrewd little man, and got the better of her by eating
them one by one very slowly, and enjoying every minute with all his
might.

"Hadn't you better tell the other story, while you wait for him?" said
Demi, anxious that no time should be lost.

"I really have nothing but a little tale about a wood-box," said Mrs.
Jo, seeing that Rob had still seven corns to eat.

"Is there a boy in it?"

"It is all boy."

"Is it true?" asked Demi.

"Every bit of it."

"Goody! tell on, please."

"James Snow and his mother lived in a little house, up in New Hampshire.
They were poor, and James had to work to help his mother, but he loved
books so well he hated work, and just wanted to sit and study all day
long."

"How could he! I hate books, and like work," said Dan, objecting to
James at the very outset.

"It takes all sorts of people to make a world; workers and students both
are needed, and there is room for all. But I think the workers should
study some, and the students should know how to work if necessary,"
answered Mrs. Jo, looking from Dan to Demi with a significant
expression.

"I'm sure I do work," and Demi showed three small hard spots in his
little palm, with pride.

"And I'm sure I study," added Dan, nodding with a groan toward the
blackboard full of neat figures.

"See what James did. He did not mean to be selfish, but his mother was
proud of him, and let him do as he liked, working by herself that he
might have books and time to read them. One autumn James wanted to go
to school, and went to the minister to see if he would help him, about
decent clothes and books. Now the minister had heard the gossip about
James's idleness, and was not inclined to do much for him, thinking
that a boy who neglected his mother, and let her slave for him, was
not likely to do very well even at school. But the good man felt more
interested when he found how earnest James was, and being rather an odd
man, he made this proposal to the boy, to try now sincere he was.

"'I will give you clothes and books on one condition, James.'

"'What is that, sir?' and the boy brightened up at once.

"'You are to keep your mother's wood-box full all winter long, and do
it yourself. If you fail, school stops.' James laughed at the queer
condition and readily agreed to it, thinking it a very easy one.

"He began school, and for a time got on capitally with the wood-box,
for it was autumn, and chips and brushwood were plentiful. He ran out
morning and evening and got a basket full, or chopped up the cat sticks
for the little cooking stove, and as his mother was careful and saving,
the task was not hard. But in November the frost came, the days were
dull and cold, and wood went fast. His mother bought a load with her own
earnings, but it seemed to melt away, and was nearly gone, before James
remembered that he was to get the next. Mrs. Snow was feeble and lame
with rheumatism, and unable to work as she had done, so James had to put
down the books, and see what he could do.

"It was hard, for he was going on well, and so interested in his
lessons that he hated to stop except for food and sleep. But he knew the
minister would keep his word, and much against his will James set about
earning money in his spare hours, lest the wood-box should get empty.
He did all sorts of things, ran errands, took care of a neighbor's cow,
helped the old sexton dust and warm the church on Sundays, and in these
ways got enough to buy fuel in small quantities. But it was hard work;
the days were short, the winter was bitterly cold, and precious time
went fast, and the dear books were so fascinating, that it was sad to
leave them, for dull duties that never seemed done.

"The minister watched him quietly, and seeing that he was in earnest
helped him without his knowledge. He met him often driving the wood
sleds from the forest, where the men were chopping and as James plodded
beside the slow oxen, he read or studied, anxious to use every minute.
'The boy is worth helping, this lesson will do him good, and when he
has learned it, I will give him an easier one,' said the minister
to himself, and on Christmas eve a splendid load of wood was quietly
dropped at the door of the little house, with a new saw and a bit of
paper, saying only,

"'The Lord helps those who help themselves.'

"Poor James expected nothing, but when he woke on that cold Christmas
morning, he found a pair of warm mittens, knit by his mother, with her
stiff painful fingers. This gift pleased him very much, but her kiss
and tender look as she called him her 'good son,' was better still. In
trying to keep her warm, he had warmed his own heart, you see, and
in filling the wood-box he had also filled those months with duties
faithfully done. He began to see this, to feel that there was something
better than books, and to try to learn the lessons God set him, as well
as those his school-master gave.

"When he saw the great pile of oak and pine logs at his door, and read
the little paper, he knew who sent it, and understood the minister's
plan; thanked him for it, and fell to work with all his might. Other
boys frolicked that day, but James sawed wood, and I think of all
the lads in the town the happiest was the one in the new mittens, who
whistled like a blackbird as he filled his mother's wood-box."

"That's a first rater!" cried Dan, who enjoyed a simple matter-of-face
story better than the finest fairy tale; "I like that fellow after all."

"I could saw wood for you, Aunt Jo!" said Demi, feeling as if a new
means of earning money for his mother was suggested by the story.

"Tell about a bad boy. I like them best," said Nan.

"You'd better tell about a naughty cross-patch of a girl," said Tommy,
whose evening had been spoilt by Nan's unkindness. It made his apple
taste bitter, his pop-corn was insipid, his nuts were hard to crack, and
the sight of Ned and Nan on one bench made him feel his life a burden.

But there were no more stories from Mrs. Jo, for on looking down at Rob
he was discovered to be fast asleep with his last corn firmly clasped in
his chubby hand. Bundling him up in his coverlet, his mother carried him
away and tucked him up with no fear of his popping out again.

"Now let's see who will come next," said Emil, setting the door
temptingly ajar.

Mary Ann passed first, and he called out to her, but Silas had warned
her, and she only laughed and hurried on in spite of their enticements.
Presently a door opened, and a strong voice was heard humming in the
hall,

"Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten
Dass ich so traurig bin."

"It's Uncle Fritz; all laugh loud and he will be sure to come in," said
Emil.

A wild burst of laughter followed, and in came Uncle Fritz, asking,
"What is the joke, my lads?"

"Caught! caught! you can't go out till you've told a story," cried the
boys, slamming the door.

"So! that is the joke then? Well, I have no wish to go, it is so
pleasant here, and I pay my forfeit at once," which he did by sitting
down and beginning instantly,

"A long time ago your Grandfather, Demi, went to lecture in a great
town, hoping to get some money for a home for little orphans that
some good people were getting up. His lecture did well, and he put a
considerable sum of money in his pocket, feeling very happy about it. As
he was driving in a chaise to another town, he came to a lonely bit of
road, late in the afternoon, and was just thinking what a good place it
was for robbers when he saw a bad-looking man come out of the woods
in front of him and go slowly along as if waiting till he came up. The
thought of the money made Grandfather rather anxious, and at first he
had a mind to turn round and drive away. But the horse was tired, and
then he did not like to suspect the man, so he kept on, and when he got
nearer and saw how poor and sick and ragged the stranger looked, his
heart reproached him, and stopping, he said in a kind voice,

"'My friend, you look tired; let me give you a lift.' The man seemed
surprised, hesitated a minute, and then got in. He did not seem inclined
to talk, but Grandfather kept on in his wise, cheerful way, speaking of
what a hard year it had been, how much the poor had suffered, and how
difficult it was to get on sometimes. The man slowly softened a little,
and won by the kind chat, told his story. How he had been sick, could
get no work, had a family of children, and was almost in despair.
Grandfather was so full of pity that he forgot his fear, and, asking the
man his name, said he would try to get him work in the next town, as he
had friends there. Wishing to get at pencil and paper to write down the
address, Grandfather took out his plump pocket-book, and the minute he
did so, the man's eye was on it. Then Grandfather remembered what was in
it and trembled for his money, but said quietly,

"'Yes, I have a little sum here for some poor orphans. I wish it was my
own, I would so gladly give you some of it. I am not rich, but I know
many of the trials of the poor; this five dollars is mine, and I want to
give it to you for your children.'

"The hard, hungry look in the man's eyes changed to a grateful one as he
took the small sum, freely given, and left the orphans' money untouched.
He rode on with Grandfather till they approached the town, then he asked
to be set down. Grandpa shook hands with him, and was about to drive on,
when the man said, as if something made him, 'I was desperate when we
met, and I meant to rob you, but you were so kind I couldn't do it. God
bless you, sir, for keeping me from it!'"

"Did Grandpa ever see him again?" asked Daisy, eagerly.

"No; but I believe the man found work, and did not try robbery any
more."

"That was a curious way to treat him; I'd have knocked him down," said
Dan.

"Kindness is always better than force. Try it and see," answered Mr.
Bhaer, rising.

"Tell another, please," cried Daisy.

"You must, Aunt Jo did," added Demi.

"Then I certainly won't, but keep my others for next time. Too many
tales are as bad as too many bonbons. I have paid my forfeit and I go,"
and Mr. Bhaer ran for his life, with the whole flock in full pursuit. He
had the start, however, and escaped safely into his study, leaving the
boys to go rioting back again.

They were so stirred up by the race that they could not settle to their
former quiet, and a lively game of Blindman's Buff followed, in which
Tommy showed that he had taken the moral of the last story to heart,
for, when he caught Nan, he whispered in her ear, "I'm sorry I called
you a cross-patch."

Nan was not to be outdone in kindness, so, when they played "Button,
button, who's got the button?" and it was her turn to go round, she
said, "Hold fast all I give you," with such a friendly smile at Tommy,
that he was not surprised to find the horse-hair ring in his hand
instead of the button. He only smiled back at her then, but when they
were going to bed, he offered Nan the best bite of his last apple; she
saw the ring on his stumpy little finger, accepted the bite, and peace
was declared. Both were ashamed of the temporary coldness, neither was
ashamed to say, "I was wrong, forgive me," so the childish friendship
remained unbroken, and the home in the willow lasted long, a pleasant
little castle in the air.



CHAPTER XXI. THANKSGIVING

This yearly festival was always kept at Plumfield in the good
old-fashioned way, and nothing was allowed to interfere with it. For
days beforehand, the little girls helped Asia and Mrs. Jo in store-room
and kitchen, making pies and puddings, sorting fruit, dusting dishes,
and being very busy and immensely important. The boys hovered on the
outskirts of the forbidden ground, sniffing the savory odors, peeping
in at the mysterious performances, and occasionally being permitted to
taste some delicacy in the process of preparation.

Something more than usual seemed to be on foot this year, for the girls
were as busy up-stairs as down, so were the boys in school-room and
barn, and a general air of bustle pervaded the house. There was a great
hunting up of old ribbons and finery, much cutting and pasting of gold
paper, and the most remarkable quantity of straw, gray cotton, flannel,
and big black beads, used by Franz and Mrs. Jo. Ned hammered at strange
machines in the workshop, Demi and Tommy went about murmuring to
themselves as if learning something. A fearful racket was heard in
Emil's room at intervals, and peals of laughter from the nursery when
Rob and Teddy were sent for and hidden from sight whole hours at a time.
But the thing that puzzled Mr. Bhaer the most was what became of Rob's
big pumpkin. It had been borne in triumph to the kitchen, where a dozen
golden-tinted pies soon after appeared. It would not have taken more
than a quarter of the mammoth vegetable to make them, yet where was the
rest? It disappeared, and Rob never seemed to care, only chuckled when
it was mentioned, and told his father, "To wait and see," for the fun of
the whole thing was to surprise Father Bhaer at the end, and not let him
know a bit about what was to happen.

He obediently shut eyes, ears, and mouth, and went about trying not
to see what was in plain sight, not to hear the tell-tale sounds that
filled the air, not to understand any of the perfectly transparent
mysteries going on all about him. Being a German, he loved these simple
domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart, for they
made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go elsewhere for
fun.

When at last the day came, the boys went off for a long walk, that they
might have good appetites for dinner; as if they ever needed them! The
girls remained at home to help set the table, and give last touches to
various affairs which filled their busy little souls with anxiety. The
school-room had been shut up since the night before, and Mr. Bhaer was
forbidden to enter it on pain of a beating from Teddy, who guarded the
door like a small dragon, though he was dying to tell about it, and
nothing but his father's heroic self-denial in not listening, kept him
from betraying a grand secret.

"It's all done, and it's perfectly splendid," cried Nan, coming out at
last with an air of triumph.

"The you know goes beautifully, and Silas knows just what to do now,"
added Daisy, skipping with delight at some unspeakable success.

"I'm blest if it ain't the 'cutest thing I ever see, them critters in
particular," said Silas, who had been let into the secret, went off
laughing like a great boy.

"They are coming; I hear Emil roaring 'Land lubbers lying down below,'
so we must run and dress," cried Nan, and up-stairs they scampered in a
great hurry.

The boys came trooping home with appetites that would have made the big
turkey tremble, if it had not been past all fear. They also retired to
dress; and for half-an-hour there was a washing, brushing, and prinking
that would have done any tidy woman's heart good to see. When the bell
rang, a troop of fresh-faced lads with shiny hair, clean collars, and
Sunday jackets on, filed into the dining-room, where Mrs. Jo, in her
one black silk, with a knot of her favorite white chrysanthemums in her
bosom, sat at the head of the table, "looking splendid," as the boys
said, whenever she got herself up. Daisy and Nan were as gay as a posy
bed in their new winter dresses, with bright sashes and hair ribbons.
Teddy was gorgeous to behold in a crimson merino blouse, and his best
button boots, which absorbed and distracted him as much as Mr. Toot's
wristbands did on one occasion.

As Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer glanced at each other down the long table, with
those rows of happy faces on either side, they had a little thanksgiving
all to themselves, and without a word, for one heart said to the other,

"Our work has prospered, let us be grateful and go on."

The clatter of knives and forks prevented much conversation for a few
minutes, and Mary Ann with an amazing pink bow in her hair "flew round"
briskly, handing plates and ladling out gravy. Nearly every one had
contributed to the feast, so the dinner was a peculiarly interesting
ones to the eaters of it, who beguiled the pauses by remarks on their
own productions.

"If these are not good potatoes I never saw any," observed Jack, as he
received his fourth big mealy one.

"Some of my herbs are in the stuffing of the turkey, that's why it's so
nice," said Nan, taking a mouthful with intense satisfaction.

"My ducks are prime any way; Asia said she never cooked such fat ones,"
added Tommy.

"Well, our carrots are beautiful, ain't they, and our parsnips will
be ever so good when we dig them," put in Dick, and Dolly murmured his
assent from behind the bone he was picking.

"I helped make the pies with my pumpkin," called out Robby, with a laugh
which he stopped by retiring into his mug.

"I picked some of the apples that the cider is made of," said Demi.

"I raked the cranberries for the sauce," cried Nat.

"I got the nuts," added Dan, and so it went on all round the table.

"Who made up Thanksgiving?" asked Rob, for being lately promoted to
jacket and trousers he felt a new and manly interest in the institutions
of his country.

"See who can answer that question," and Mr. Bhaer nodded to one or two
of his best history boys.

"I know," said Demi, "the Pilgrims made it."

"What for?" asked Rob, without waiting to learn who the Pilgrims were.

"I forget," and Demi subsided.

"I believe it was because they were starved once, and so when they had a
good harvest, they said, 'We will thank God for it,' and they had a day
and called it Thanksgiving," said Dan, who liked the story of the brave
men who suffered so nobly for their faith.

"Good! I didn't think you would remember any thing but natural history,"
and Mr. Bhaer tapped gently on the table as applause for his pupil.

Dan looked pleased; and Mrs. Jo said to her son, "Now do you understand
about it, Robby?"

"No, I don't. I thought pil-grins were a sort of big bird that lived on
rocks, and I saw pictures of them in Demi's book."

"He means penguins. Oh, isn't he a little goosey!" and Demi laid back in
his chair and laughed aloud.

"Don't laugh at him, but tell him all about it if you can," said Mrs.
Bhaer, consoling Rob with more cranberry sauce for the general smile
that went round the table at his mistake.

"Well, I will;" and, after a pause to collect his ideas, Demi delivered
the following sketch of the Pilgrim Fathers, which would have made even
those grave gentlemen smile if they could have heard it.

"You see, Rob, some of the people in England didn't like the king, or
something, so they got into ships and sailed away to this country. It
was all full of Indians, and bears, and wild creatures, and they lived
in forts, and had a dreadful time."

"The bears?" asked Robby, with interest.

"No; the Pilgrims, because the Indians troubled them. They hadn't enough
to eat, and they went to church with guns, and ever so many died, and
they got out of the ships on a rock, and it's called Plymouth Rock, and
Aunt Jo saw it and touched it. The Pilgrims killed all the Indians,
and got rich; and hung the witches, and were very good; and some of the
greatest great-grandpas came in the ships. One was the Mayflower; and
they made Thanksgiving, and we have it always, and I like it. Some more
turkey, please."

"I think Demi will be an historian, there is such order and clearness in
his account of events;" and Uncle Fritz's eyes laughed at Aunt Jo, as he
helped the descendant of the Pilgrims to his third bit of turkey.

"I thought you must eat as much as ever you could on Thanksgiving.
But Franz says you mustn't even then;" and Stuffy looked as if he had
received bad news.

"Franz is right, so mind your knife and fork, and be moderate, or else
you won't be able to help in the surprise by and by," said Mrs. Jo.

"I'll be careful; but everybody does eat lots, and I like it better
than being moderate," said Stuffy, who leaned to the popular belief that
Thanksgiving must be kept by coming as near apoplexy as possible, and
escaping with merely a fit of indigestion or a headache.

"Now, my 'pilgrims' amuse yourselves quietly till tea-time, for you will
have enough excitement this evening," said Mrs. Jo, as they rose from
the table after a protracted sitting, finished by drinking every one's
health in cider.

"I think I will take the whole flock for a drive, it is so pleasant;
then you can rest, my dear, or you will be worn out this evening," added
Mr. Bhaer; and as soon as coats and hats could be put on, the great
omnibus was packed full, and away they went for a long gay drive,
leaving Mrs. Jo to rest and finish sundry small affairs in peace.

An early and light tea was followed by more brushing of hair and washing
of hands; then the flock waited impatiently for the company to come.
Only the family was expected; for these small revels were strictly
domestic, and such being the case, sorrow was not allowed to sadden the
present festival. All came; Mr. and Mrs. March, with Aunt Meg, so sweet
and lovely, in spite of her black dress and the little widow's cap that
encircled her tranquil face. Uncle Teddy and Aunt Amy, with the Princess
looking more fairy-like than ever, in a sky-blue gown, and a great
bouquet of hot-house flowers, which she divided among the boys, sticking
one in each button-hole, making them feel peculiarly elegant and
festive. One strange face appeared, and Uncle Teddy led the unknown
gentleman up to the Bhaers, saying,

"This is Mr. Hyde; he has been inquiring about Dan, and I ventured to
bring him to-night, that he might see how much the boy has improved."


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22

Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 22 of 23)