Louisa May Alcott.

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The Bhaers received him cordially, for Dan's sake, pleased that the lad
had been remembered. But, after a few minutes' chat, they were glad to
know Mr. Hyde for his own sake, so genial, simple, and interesting was
he. It was pleasant to see the boy's face light up when he caught
sight of his friend; pleasanter still to see Mr. Hyde's surprise and
satisfaction in Dan's improved manners and appearance, and pleasantest
of all to watch the two sit talking in a corner, forgetting the
differences of age, culture, and position, in the one subject which
interested both, as man and boy compared notes, and told the story of
their summer life.

"The performance must begin soon, or the actors will go to sleep," said
Mrs. Jo, when the first greetings were over.

So every one went into the school-room, and took seats before a curtain
made of two bed-covers. The children had already vanished; but stifled
laughter, and funny little exclamations from behind the curtain,
betrayed their whereabouts. The entertainment began with a spirited
exhibition of gymnastics, led by Franz. The six elder lads, in blue
trousers and red shirts, made a fine display of muscle with dumb-bells,
clubs, and weights, keeping time to the music of the piano, played by
Mrs. Jo behind the scenes. Dan was so energetic in this exercise, that
there was some danger of his knocking down his neighbors, like so many
nine-pins, or sending his bean-bags whizzing among the audience; for he
was excited by Mr. Hyde's presence, and a burning desire to do honor to
his teachers.

"A fine, strong lad. If I go on my trip to South America, in a year or
two, I shall be tempted to ask you to lend him to me, Mr. Bhaer," said
Mr. Hyde, whose interest in Dan was much increased by the report he had
just heard of him.

"You shall have him, and welcome, though we shall miss our young
Hercules very much. It would do him a world of good, and I am sure he
would serve his friend faithfully."

Dan heard both question and answer, and his heart leaped with joy at the
thought of travelling in a new country with Mr. Hyde, and swelled with
gratitude for the kindly commendation which rewarded his efforts to be
all these friends desired to see him.

After the gymnastics, Demi and Tommy spoke the old school dialogue,
"Money makes the mare go." Demi did very well, but Tommy was capital
as the old farmer; for he imitated Silas in a way that convulsed the
audience, and caused Silas himself to laugh so hard that Asia had
to slap him on the back, as they stood in the hall enjoying the fun
immensely.

Then Emil, who had got his breath by this time, gave them a sea-song
in costume, with a great deal about "stormy winds," "lee shores," and
a rousing chorus of "Luff, boys, luff," which made the room ring; after
which Ned performed a funny Chinese dance, and hopped about like a large
frog in a pagoda hat. As this was the only public exhibition ever held
at Plumfield, a few exercises in lightning-arithmetic, spelling,
and reading were given. Jack quite amazed the public by his rapid
calculations on the blackboard. Tommy won in the spelling match, and
Demi read a little French fable so well that Uncle Teddy was charmed.

"Where are the other children?" asked every one as the curtain fell, and
none of the little ones appeared.

"Oh, that is the surprise. It's so lovely, I pity you because you don't
know it," said Demi, who had gone to get his mother's kiss, and stayed
by her to explain the mystery when it should be revealed.

Goldilocks had been carried off by Aunt Jo, to the great amazement of
her papa, who quite outdid Mr. Bhaer in acting wonder, suspense, and
wild impatience to know "what was going to happen."

At last, after much rustling, hammering, and very audible directions
from the stage manager, the curtain rose to soft music, and Bess was
discovered sitting on a stool beside a brown paper fire-place. A dearer
little Cinderella was never seen; for the gray gown was very ragged, the
tiny shoes all worn, the face so pretty under the bright hair, and the
attitude so dejected, it brought tears, as well as smiles, to the fond
eyes looking at the baby actress. She sat quite still, till a voice
whispered, "Now!" then she sighed a funny little sigh, and said, "Oh
I wish I tood go to the ball!" so naturally, that her father clapped
frantically, and her mother called out, "Little darling!" These highly
improper expressions of feeling caused Cinderella to forget herself, and
shake her head at them, saying, reprovingly, "You mustn't 'peak to me."

Silence instantly prevailed, and three taps were heard on the wall.
Cinderella looked alarmed, but before she could remember to say, "What
is dat?" the back of the brown paper fire-place opened like a door, and,
with some difficulty, the fairy godmother got herself and her pointed
hat through. It was Nan, in a red cloak, a cap, and a wand, which she
waved as she said decidedly,

"You shall go to the ball, my dear."

"Now you must pull and show my pretty dress," returned Cinderella,
tugging at her brown gown.

"No, no; you must say, 'How can I go in my rags?'" said the godmother in
her own voice.

"Oh yes, so I mus';" and the Princess said it, quite undisturbed by her
forgetfulness.

"I change your rags into a splendid dress, because you are good," said
the godmother in her stage tones; and deliberately unbuttoning the brown
pinafore, she displayed a gorgeous sight.

The little Princess really was pretty enough to turn the heads of any
number of small princes, for her mamma had dressed her like a tiny court
lady, in a rosy silk train with satin under-skirt, and bits of bouquets
here and there, quite lovely to behold. The godmother put a crown, with
pink and white feathers drooping from it, on her head, and gave her
a pair of silver paper slippers, which she put on, and then stood up,
lifting her skirts to show them to the audience, saying, with pride, "My
dlass ones, ain't they pitty?"

She was so charmed with them, that she was with difficulty recalled to
her part, and made to say,

"But I have no toach, Dodmother."

"Behold it!" and Nan waved her wand with such a flourish, that she
nearly knocked off the crown of the Princess.

Then appeared the grand triumph of the piece. First, a rope was seen to
flap on the floor, to tighten with a twitch as Emil's voice was heard
to say, "Heave, ahoy!" and Silas's gruff one to reply, "Stiddy,
now, stiddy!" A shout of laughter followed, for four large gray rats
appeared, rather shaky as to their legs, and queer as to their tails,
but quite fine about the head, where black beads shone in the most
lifelike manner. They drew, or were intended to appear as if they did,
a magnificent coach made of half the mammoth pumpkin, mounted on the
wheels of Teddy's wagon, painted yellow to match the gay carriage.
Perched on a seat in front sat a jolly little coachman in a white
cotton-wool wig, cocked hat, scarlet breeches, and laced coat, who
cracked a long whip and jerked the red reins so energetically, that the
gray steeds reared finely. It was Teddy, and he beamed upon the company
so affably that they gave him a round all to himself; and Uncle Laurie
said, "If I could find as sober a coachman as that one, I would engage
him on the spot." The coach stopped, the godmother lifted in the
Princess, and she was trundled away in state, kissing her hand to the
public, with her glass shoes sticking up in front, and her pink train
sweeping the ground behind, for, elegant as the coach was, I regret to
say that her Highness was rather a tight fit.

The next scene was the ball, and here Nan and Daisy appeared as gay as
peacocks in all sorts of finery. Nan was especially good as the proud
sister, and crushed many imaginary ladies as she swept about the
palace-hall. The Prince, in solitary state upon a somewhat unsteady
throne, sat gazing about him from under an imposing crown, as he played
with his sword and admired the rosettes in his shoes. When Cinderella
came in he jumped up, and exclaimed, with more warmth than elegance,

"My gracious! who is that?" and immediately led the lady out to dance,
while the sisters scowled and turned up their noses in the corner.

The stately jig executed by the little couple was very pretty, for the
childish faces were so earnest, the costumes so gay, and the steps so
peculiar, that they looked like the dainty quaint figures painted on
a Watteau fan. The Princess's train was very much in her way, and
the sword of Prince Rob nearly tripped him up several times. But they
overcame these obstacles remarkably well, and finished the dance with
much grace and spirit, considering that neither knew what the other was
about.

"Drop your shoe," whispered Mrs. Jo's voice as the lady was about to sit
down.

"Oh, I fordot!" and, taking off one of the silvery slippers, Cinderella
planted it carefully in the middle of the stage, said to Rob, "Now you
must try and tatch me," and ran away, while the Prince, picking up the
shoe, obediently trotted after her.

The third scene, as everybody knows, is where the herald comes to try
on the shoe. Teddy, still in coachman's dress, came in blowing a tin
fish-horn melodiously, and the proud sisters each tried to put on the
slipper. Nan insisted on playing cut off her toe with a carving-knife,
and performed that operation so well that the herald was alarmed, and
begged her to be "welly keerful." Cinderella then was called, and came
in with the pinafore half on, slipped her foot into the slipper, and
announced, with satisfaction,

"I am the Pinsiss."

Daisy wept, and begged pardon; but Nan, who liked tragedy, improved upon
the story, and fell in a fainting-fit upon the floor, where she remained
comfortably enjoying the rest of the play. It was not long, for the
Prince ran in, dropped upon his knees, and kissed the hand of Goldilocks
with great ardor, while the herald blew a blast that nearly deafened the
audience. The curtain had no chance to fall, for the Princess ran off
the stage to her father, crying, "Didn't I do well?" while the Prince
and herald had a fencing-match with the tin horn and wooden sword.

"It was beautiful!" said every one; and, when the raptures had a little
subsided, Nat came out with his violin in his hand.

"Hush! hush!" cried all the children, and silence followed, for
something in the boy's bashful manner and appealing eyes make every one
listen kindly.

The Bhaers thought he would play some of the old airs he knew so well,
but, to their surprise, they heard a new and lovely melody, so softly,
sweetly played, that they could hardly believe it could be Nat. It was
one of those songs without words that touch the heart, and sing of all
tender home-like hopes and joys, soothing and cheering those who listen
to its simple music. Aunt Meg leaned her head on Demi's shoulder,
Grandmother wiped her eyes, and Mrs. Jo looked up at Mr. Laurie, saying,
in a choky whisper,

"You composed that."

"I wanted your boy to do you honor, and thank you in his own way,"
answered Laurie, leaning down to answer her.

When Nat made his bow and was about to go, he was called back by many
hands, and had to play again. He did so with such a happy face, that
it was good to see him, for he did his best, and gave them the gay old
tunes that set the feet to dancing, and made quietude impossible.

"Clear the floor!" cried Emil; and in a minute the chairs were pushed
back, the older people put safely in corners and the children gathered
on the stage.

"Show your manners!" called Emil; and the boys pranced up to the ladies,
old and young; with polite invitations to "tread the mazy," as dear Dick
Swiveller has it. The small lads nearly came to blows for the Princess,
but she chose Dick, like a kind, little gentlewoman as she was, and let
him lead her proudly to her place. Mrs. Jo was not allowed to decline;
and Aunt Amy filled Dan with unspeakable delight by refusing Franz and
taking him. Of course Nan and Tommy, Nat and Daisy paired off, while
Uncle Teddy went and got Asia, who was longing to "jig it," and felt
much elated by the honor done her. Silas and Mary Ann had a private
dance in the hall; and for half-an-hour Plumfield was at its merriest.

The party wound up with a grand promenade of all the young folks, headed
by the pumpkin-coach with the Princess and driver inside, and the rats
in a wildly frisky state.

While the children enjoyed this final frolic, the elders sat in the
parlor looking on as they talked together of the little people with the
interest of parents and friends.

"What are you thinking of, all by yourself, with such a happy face,
sister Jo?" asked Laurie, sitting down beside her on the sofa.

"My summer's work, Teddy, and amusing myself by imagining the future of
my boys," she answered, smiling as she made room for him.

"They are all to be poets, painters, and statesmen, famous soldiers, or
at least merchant princes, I suppose."

"No, I am not as aspiring as I once was, and I shall be satisfied if
they are honest men. But I will confess that I do expect a little glory
and a career for some of them. Demi is not a common child, and I think
he will blossom into something good and great in the best sense of the
word. The others will do well, I hope, especially my last two boys, for,
after hearing Nat play to-night, I really think he has genius."

"Too soon to say; talent he certainly has, and there is no doubt that
the boy can soon earn his bread by the work he loves. Build him up for
another year or so, and then I will take him off your hands, and launch
him properly."

"That is such a pleasant prospect for poor Nat, who came to me six
months ago so friendless and forlorn. Dan's future is already plain
to me. Mr. Hyde will want him soon, and I mean to give him a brave and
faithful little servant. Dan is one who can serve well if the wages are
love and confidence, and he has the energy to carve out his own future
in his own way. Yes, I am very happy over our success with these boys
one so weak, and one so wild; both so much better now, and so full of
promise."

"What magic did you use, Jo?"

"I only loved them, and let them see it. Fritz did the rest."

"Dear soul! you look as if 'only loving' had been rather hard work
sometimes," said Laurie, stroking her thin cheek with a look of more
tender admiration than he had ever given her as a girl.

"I'm a faded old woman, but I'm a very happy one; so don't pity me,
Teddy;" and she glanced about the room with eyes full of a sincere
content.

"Yes, your plan seems to work better and better every year," he said,
with an emphatic nod of approval toward the cheery scene before him.

"How can it fail to work well when I have so much help from you all?"
answered Mrs. Jo, looking gratefully at her most generous patron.

"It is the best joke of the family, this school of yours and its
success. So unlike the future we planned for you, and yet so suited to
you after all. It was a regular inspiration, Jo," said Laurie, dodging
her thanks as usual.

"Ah! but you laughed at it in the beginning, and still make all manner
of fun of me and my inspirations. Didn't you predict that having girls
with the boys would be a dead failure? Now see how well it works;" and
she pointed to the happy group of lads and lassies dancing, singing, and
chattering together with every sign of kindly good fellowship.

"I give in, and when my Goldilocks is old enough I'll send her to you.
Can I say more than that?"

"I shall be so proud to have your little treasure trusted to me. But
really, Teddy, the effect of these girls has been excellent. I know you
will laugh at me, but I don't mind, I'm used to it; so I'll tell you
that one of my favorite fancies is to look at my family as a small
world, to watch the progress of my little men, and, lately, to see how
well the influence of my little women works upon them. Daisy is the
domestic element, and they all feel the charm of her quiet, womanly
ways. Nan is the restless, energetic, strong-minded one; they admire her
courage, and give her a fair chance to work out her will, seeing that
she has sympathy as well as strength, and the power to do much in their
small world. Your Bess is the lady, full of natural refinement, grace,
and beauty. She polishes them unconsciously, and fills her place as any
lovely woman may, using her gentle influence to lift and hold them above
the coarse, rough things of life, and keep them gentlemen in the best
sense of the fine old word."

"It is not always the ladies who do that best, Jo. It is sometimes the
strong brave woman who stirs up the boy and makes a man of him;" and
Laurie bowed to her with a significant laugh.

"No; I think the graceful woman, whom the boy you allude to married, has
done more for him than the wild Nan of his youth; or, better still, the
wise, motherly woman who watched over him, as Daisy watches over Demi,
did more to make him what he is;" and Jo turned toward her mother, who
sat a little apart with Meg, looking so full of the sweet dignity and
beauty of old age, that Laurie gave her a glance of filial respect and
love as he replied, in serious earnest,

"All three did much for him, and I can understand how well these little
girls will help your lads."

"Not more than the lads help them; it is mutual, I assure you. Nat does
much for Daisy with his music; Dan can manage Nan better than any of
us; and Demi teaches your Goldilocks so easily and well that Fritz calls
them Roger Ascham and Lady Jane Grey. Dear me! if men and women would
only trust, understand, and help one another as my children do, what a
capital place the world would be!" and Mrs. Jo's eyes grew absent, as if
she was looking at a new and charming state of society in which people
lived as happily and innocently as her flock at Plumfield.

"You are doing your best to help on the good time, my dear. Continue
to believe in it, to work for it, and to prove its possibility by the
success of her small experiment," said Mr. March, pausing as he passed
to say an encouraging word, for the good man never lost his faith in
humanity, and still hoped to see peace, good-will, and happiness reign
upon the earth.

"I am not so ambitious as that, father. I only want to give these
children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which
will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their
battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their
fellow-creatures, and themselves; that is all I try for."

"That is every thing. Give them these helps, then let them go to work
out their life as men and women; and whatever their success or failure
is, I think they will remember and bless your efforts, my good son and
daughter."

The Professor had joined them, and as Mr. March spoke he gave a hand
to each, and left them with a look that was a blessing. As Jo and her
husband stood together for a moment talking quietly, and feeling that
their summer work had been well done if father approved, Mr. Laurie
slipped into the hall, said a word to the children, and all of a sudden
the whole flock pranced into the room, joined hands and danced about
Father and Mother Bhaer, singing blithely,

"Summer days are over,
Summer work is done;
Harvests have been gathered
Gayly one by one.
Now the feast is eaten,
Finished is the play;
But one rite remains for
Our Thanksgiving-day.
"Best of all the harvest
In the dear God's sight,
Are the happy children
In the home to-night;
And we come to offer
Thanks where thanks are due,
With grateful hearts and voices,
Father, mother, unto you."

With the last words the circle narrowed till the good Professor and his
wife were taken prisoner by many arms, and half hidden by the bouquet of
laughing young faces which surrounded them, proving that one plant had
taken root and blossomed beautifully in all the little gardens. For love
is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted
by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year,
and blessing those who give and those who receive.







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