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in the sunny window, while Spring beauty filled the world outside, and
Sabbath silence reigned within, Nat enjoyed an hour or two of genuine
happiness, learning the sweet old tunes, and forgetting the hard past in
the cheerful present.

When the church-goers came back and dinner was over, every one read,
wrote letters home, said their Sunday lessons, or talked quietly to one
another, sitting here and there about the house. At three o'clock the
entire family turned out to walk, for all the active young bodies must
have exercise; and in these walks the active young minds were taught
to see and love the providence of God in the beautiful miracles which
Nature was working before their eyes. Mr. Bhaer always went with them,
and in his simple, fatherly way, found for his flock, "Sermons in
stones, books in the running brooks, and good in everything."

Mrs. Bhaer with Daisy and her own two boys drove into town, to pay the
weekly visit to Grandma, which was busy Mother Bhaer's one holiday and
greatest pleasure. Nat was not strong enough for the long walk, and
asked to stay at home with Tommy, who kindly offered to do the honors
of Plumfield. "You've seen the house, so come out and have a look at
the garden, and the barn, and the menagerie," said Tommy, when they were
left alone with Asia, to see that they didn't get into mischief;
for, though Tommy was one of the best-meaning boys who ever adorned
knickerbockers, accidents of the most direful nature were always
happening to him, no one could exactly tell how.

"What is your menagerie?" asked Nat, as they trotted along the drive
that encircled the house.

"We all have pets, you see, and we keep 'em in the corn-barn, and call
it the menagerie. Here you are. Isn't my guinea-pig a beauty?" and Tommy
proudly presented one of the ugliest specimens of that pleasing animal
that Nat ever saw.

"I know a boy with a dozen of 'em, and he said he'd give me one, only I
hadn't any place to keep it, so I couldn't have it. It was white, with
black spots, a regular rouser, and maybe I could get it for you if you'd
like it," said Nat, feeling it would be a delicate return for Tommy's
attentions.

"I'd like it ever so much, and I'll give you this one, and they can live
together if they don't fight. Those white mice are Rob's, Franz gave
'em to him. The rabbits are Ned's, and the bantams outside are Stuffy's.
That box thing is Demi's turtle-tank, only he hasn't begun to get 'em
yet. Last year he had sixty-two, whackers some of 'em. He stamped one of
'em with his name and the year, and let it go; and he says maybe he will
find it ever so long after and know it. He read about a turtle being
found that had a mark on it that showed it must be hundreds of years
old. Demi's such a funny chap."

"What is in this box?" asked Nat, stopping before a large deep one,
half-full of earth.

"Oh, that's Jack Ford's worm-shop. He digs heaps of 'em and keeps 'em
here, and when we want any to go afishing with, we buy some of him. It
saves lots of trouble, only he charged too much for 'em. Why, last time
we traded I had to pay two cents a dozen, and then got little ones.
Jack's mean sometimes, and I told him I'd dig for myself if he didn't
lower his prices. Now, I own two hens, those gray ones with top knots,
first-rate ones they are too, and I sell Mrs. Bhaer the eggs, but I
never ask her more than twenty-five cents a dozen, never! I'd be ashamed
to do it," cried Tommy, with a glance of scorn at the worm-shop.

"Who owns the dogs?" asked Nat, much interested in these commercial
transactions, and feeling that T. Bangs was a man whom it would be a
privilege and a pleasure to patronize.

"The big dog is Emil's. His name is Christopher Columbus. Mrs. Bhaer
named him because she likes to say Christopher Columbus, and no one
minds it if she means the dog," answered Tommy, in the tone of a
show-man displaying his menagerie. "The white pup is Rob's, and the
yellow one is Teddy's. A man was going to drown them in our pond, and
Pa Bhaer wouldn't let him. They do well enough for the little chaps, I
don't think much of 'em myself. Their names are Castor and Pollux."

"I'd like Toby the donkey best, if I could have anything, it's so nice
to ride, and he's so little and good," said Nat, remembering the weary
tramps he had taken on his own tired feet.

"Mr. Laurie sent him out to Mrs. Bhaer, so she shouldn't carry Teddy
on her back when we go to walk. We're all fond of Toby, and he's a
first-rate donkey, sir. Those pigeons belong to the whole lot of us, we
each have our pet one, and go shares in all the little ones as they come
along. Squabs are great fun; there ain't any now, but you can go up and
take a look at the old fellows, while I see if Cockletop and Granny have
laid any eggs."

Nat climbed up a ladder, put his head through a trap door and took a
long look at the pretty doves billing and cooing in their spacious loft.
Some on their nests, some bustling in and out, and some sitting at
their doors, while many went flying from the sunny housetop to the
straw-strewn farmyard, where six sleek cows were placidly ruminating.

"Everybody has got something but me. I wish I had a dove, or a hen, or
even a turtle, all my own," thought Nat, feeling very poor as he saw the
interesting treasures of the other boys. "How do you get these things?"
he asked, when he joined Tommy in the barn.

"We find 'em or buy 'em, or folks give 'em to us. My father sends me
mine; but as soon as I get egg money enough, I'm going to buy a pair of
ducks. There's a nice little pond for 'em behind the barn, and people
pay well for duck-eggs, and the little duckies are pretty, and it's fun
to see 'em swim," said Tommy, with the air of a millionaire.

Nat sighed, for he had neither father nor money, nothing in the wide
world but an old empty pocketbook, and the skill that lay in his ten
finger tips. Tommy seemed to understand the question and the sigh which
followed his answer, for after a moment of deep thought, he suddenly
broke out,

"Look here, I'll tell you what I'll do. If you will hunt eggs for me, I
hate it, I'll give you one egg out of every dozen. You keep account, and
when you've had twelve, Mother Bhaer will give you twenty-five cents for
'em, and then you can buy what you like, don't you see?"

"I'll do it! What a kind feller you are, Tommy!" cried Nat, quite
dazzled by this brilliant offer.

"Pooh! that is not anything. You begin now and rummage the barn, and
I'll wait here for you. Granny is cackling, so you're sure to find one
somewhere," and Tommy threw himself down on the hay with a luxurious
sense of having made a good bargain, and done a friendly thing.

Nat joyfully began his search, and went rustling from loft to loft till
he found two fine eggs, one hidden under a beam, and the other in an old
peck measure, which Mrs. Cockletop had appropriated.

"You may have one and I'll have the other, that will just make up my
last dozen, and to-morrow we'll start fresh. Here, you chalk your
accounts up near mine, and then we'll be all straight," said Tommy,
showing a row of mysterious figures on the side of an old winnowing
machine.

With a delightful sense of importance, the proud possessor of one egg
opened his account with his friend, who laughingly wrote above the
figures these imposing words,

"T. Bangs & Co."

Poor Nat found them so fascinating that he was with difficulty persuaded
to go and deposit his first piece of portable property in Asia's
store-room. Then they went on again, and having made the acquaintance
of the two horses, six cows, three pigs, and one Alderney "Bossy,"
as calves are called in New England, Tommy took Nat to a certain old
willow-tree that overhung a noisy little brook. From the fence it was
an easy scramble into a wide niche between the three big branches, which
had been cut off to send out from year to year a crowd of slender twigs,
till a green canopy rustled overhead. Here little seats had been fixed,
and a hollow place a closet made big enough to hold a book or two, a
dismantled boat, and several half-finished whistles.

"This is Demi's and my private place; we made it, and nobody can come up
unless we let 'em, except Daisy, we don't mind her," said Tommy, as Nat
looked with delight from the babbling brown water below to the green
arch above, where bees were making a musical murmur as they feasted on
the long yellow blossoms that filled the air with sweetness.

"Oh, it's just beautiful!" cried Nat. "I do hope you'll let me up
sometimes. I never saw such a nice place in all my life. I'd like to be
a bird, and live here always."

"It is pretty nice. You can come if Demi don't mind, and I guess he
won't, because he said last night that he liked you."

"Did he?" and Nat smiled with pleasure, for Demi's regard seemed to be
valued by all the boys, partly because he was Father Bhaer's nephew, and
partly because he was such a sober, conscientious little fellow.

"Yes; Demi likes quiet chaps, and I guess he and you will get on if you
care about reading as he does."

Poor Nat's flush of pleasure deepened to a painful scarlet at those last
words, and he stammered out,

"I can't read very well; I never had any time; I was always fiddling
round, you know."

"I don't love it myself, but I can do it well enough when I want to,"
said Tommy, after a surprised look, which said as plainly as words, "A
boy twelve years old and can't read!"

"I can read music, anyway," added Nat, rather ruffled at having to
confess his ignorance.

"I can't;" and Tommy spoke in a respectful tone, which emboldened Nat to
say firmly,

"I mean to study real hard and learn every thing I can, for I never had
a chance before. Does Mr. Bhaer give hard lessons?"

"No; he isn't a bit cross; he sort of explains and gives you a boost
over the hard places. Some folks don't; my other master didn't. If we
missed a word, didn't we get raps on the head!" and Tommy rubbed his own
pate as if it tingled yet with the liberal supply of raps, the memory
of which was the only thing he brought away after a year with his "other
master."

"I think I could read this," said Nat, who had been examining the books.

"Read a bit, then; I'll help you," resumed Tommy, with a patronizing
air.

So Nat did his best, and floundered through a page with may friendly
"boosts" from Tommy, who told him he would soon "go it" as well as
anybody. Then they sat and talked boy-fashion about all sorts of things,
among others, gardening; for Nat, looking down from his perch, asked
what was planted in the many little patches lying below them on the
other side of the brook.

"These are our farms," said Tommy. "We each have our own patch, and
raise what we like in it, only have to choose different things, and
can't change till the crop is in, and we must keep it in order all
summer."

"What are you going to raise this year?"

"Wal, I cattleated to hev beans, as they are about the easiest crop
a-goin'."

Nat could not help laughing, for Tommy had pushed back his hat, put his
hands in his pockets, and drawled out his words in unconscious imitation
of Silas, the man who managed the place for Mr. Bhaer.

"Come, you needn't laugh; beans are ever so much easier than corn or
potatoes. I tried melons last year, but the bugs were a bother, and the
old things wouldn't get ripe before the frost, so I didn't have but one
good water and two little 'mush mellions,'" said Tommy, relapsing into a
"Silasism" with the last word.

"Corn looks pretty growing," said Nat, politely, to atone for his laugh.

"Yes, but you have to hoe it over and over again. Now, six weeks' beans
only have to be done once or so, and they get ripe soon. I'm going to
try 'em, for I spoke first. Stuffy wanted 'em, but he's got to take
peas; they only have to be picked, and he ought to do it, he eats such a
lot."

"I wonder if I shall have a garden?" said Nat, thinking that even
corn-hoeing must be pleasant work.

"Of course you will," said a voice from below, and there was Mr. Bhaer
returned from his walk, and come to find them, for he managed to have
a little talk with every one of the lads some time during the day, and
found that these chats gave them a good start for the coming week.

Sympathy is a sweet thing, and it worked wonders here, for each boy knew
that Father Bhaer was interested in him, and some were readier to open
their hearts to him than to a woman, especially the older ones, who
liked to talk over their hopes and plans, man to man. When sick or in
trouble they instinctively turned to Mrs. Jo, while the little ones made
her their mother-confessor on all occasions.

In descending from their nest, Tommy fell into the brook; being used to
it, he calmly picked himself out and retired to the house to be dried.
This left Nat to Mr. Bhaer, which was just what he wished, and, during
the stroll they took among the garden plots, he won the lad's heart by
giving him a little "farm," and discussing crops with him as gravely as
if the food for the family depended on the harvest. From this pleasant
topic they went to others, and Nat had many new and helpful thoughts put
into a mind that received them as gratefully as the thirsty earth had
received the warm spring rain. All supper time he brooded over them,
often fixing his eyes on Mr. Bhaer with an inquiring look, that seemed
to say, "I like that, do it again, sir." I don't know whether the man
understood the child's mute language or not, but when the boys were all
gathered together in Mrs. Bhaer's parlor for the Sunday evening talk,
he chose a subject which might have been suggested by the walk in the
garden.

As he looked about him Nat thought it seemed more like a great family
than a school, for the lads were sitting in a wide half-circle round the
fire, some on chairs, some on the rug, Daisy and Demi on the knees of
Uncle Fritz, and Rob snugly stowed away in the back of his mother's
easy-chair, where he could nod unseen if the talk got beyond his depth.

Every one looked quite comfortable, and listened attentively, for the
long walk made rest agreeable, and as every boy there knew that he would
be called upon for his views, he kept his wits awake to be ready with an
answer.

"Once upon a time," began Mr. Bhaer, in the dear old-fashioned way,
"there was a great and wise gardener who had the largest garden ever
seen. A wonderful and lovely place it was, and he watched over it with
the greatest skill and care, and raised all manner of excellent and
useful things. But weeds would grow even in this fine garden; often the
ground was bad and the good seeds sown in it would not spring up. He
had many under gardeners to help him. Some did their duty and earned the
rich wages he gave them; but others neglected their parts and let them
run to waste, which displeased him very much. But he was very patient,
and for thousands and thousands of years he worked and waited for his
great harvest."

"He must have been pretty old," said Demi, who was looking straight into
Uncle Fritz's face, as if to catch every word.

"Hush, Demi, it's a fairy story," whispered Daisy.

"No, I think it's an arrygory," said Demi.

"What is a arrygory?" called out Tommy, who was of an inquiring turn.

"Tell him, Demi, if you can, and don't use words unless you are quite
sure you know what they mean," said Mr. Bhaer.

"I do know, Grandpa told me! A fable is a arrygory; it's a story that
means something. My 'Story without an end' is one, because the child in
it means a soul; don't it, Aunty?" cried Demi, eager to prove himself
right.

"That's it, dear; and Uncle's story is an allegory, I am quite sure; so
listen and see what it means," returned Mrs. Jo, who always took part in
whatever was going on, and enjoyed it as much as any boy among them.

Demi composed himself, and Mr. Bhaer went on in his best English, for he
had improved much in the last five years, and said the boys did it.

"This great gardener gave a dozen or so of little plots to one of his
servants, and told him to do his best and see what he could raise. Now
this servant was not rich, nor wise, nor very good, but he wanted to
help because the gardener had been very kind to him in many ways. So he
gladly took the little plots and fell to work. They were all sorts of
shapes and sizes, and some were very good soil, some rather stony, and
all of them needed much care, for in the rich soil the weeds grew fast,
and in the poor soil there were many stones."

"What was growing in them besides the weeds, and stones?" asked Nat; so
interested, he forgot his shyness and spoke before them all.

"Flowers," said Mr. Bhaer, with a kind look. "Even the roughest, most
neglected little bed had a bit of heart's-ease or a sprig of mignonette
in it. One had roses, sweet peas, and daisies in it," here he pinched
the plump cheek of the little girl leaning on his arm. "Another had all
sorts of curious plants in it, bright pebbles, a vine that went climbing
up like Jack's beanstalk, and many good seeds just beginning to sprout;
for, you see, this bed had been taken fine care of by a wise old man,
who had worked in gardens of this sort all his life."

At this part of the "arrygory," Demi put his head on one side like an
inquisitive bird, and fixed his bright eye on his uncle's face, as if he
suspected something and was on the watch. But Mr. Bhaer looked perfectly
innocent, and went on glancing from one young face to another, with a
grave, wistful look, that said much to his wife, who knew how earnestly
he desired to do his duty in these little garden plots.

"As I tell you, some of these beds were easy to cultivate, that means
to take care of Daisy, and others were very hard. There was one
particularly sunshiny little bed that might have been full of fruits and
vegetables as well as flowers, only it wouldn't take any pains, and when
the man sowed, well, we'll say melons in this bed, they came to nothing,
because the little bed neglected them. The man was sorry, and kept on
trying, though every time the crop failed, all the bed said, was, 'I
forgot.'"

Here a general laugh broke out, and every one looked at Tommy, who had
pricked up his ears at the word "melons," and hung down his head at the
sound of his favorite excuse.

"I knew he meant us!" cried Demi, clapping his hands. "You are the man,
and we are the little gardens; aren't we, Uncle Fritz?"

"You have guessed it. Now each of you tell me what crop I shall try to
sow in you this spring, so that next autumn I may get a good harvest out
of my twelve, no, thirteen, plots," said Mr. Bhaer, nodding at Nat as he
corrected himself.

"You can't sow corn and beans and peas in us. Unless you mean we are to
eat a great many and get fat," said Stuffy, with a sudden brightening of
his round, dull face as the pleasing idea occurred to him.

"He don't mean that kind of seeds. He means things to make us good; and
the weeds are faults," cried Demi, who usually took the lead in these
talks, because he was used to this sort of thing, and liked it very
much.

"Yes, each of you think what you need most, and tell me, and I will help
you to grow it; only you must do your best, or you will turn out like
Tommy's melons, all leaves and no fruit. I will begin with the oldest,
and ask the mother what she will have in her plot, for we are all parts
of the beautiful garden, and may have rich harvests for our Master if we
love Him enough," said Father Bhaer.

"I shall devote the whole of my plot to the largest crop of patience I
can get, for that is what I need most," said Mrs. Jo, so soberly that
the lads fell to thinking in good earnest what they should say when
their turns came, and some among them felt a twinge of remorse, that
they had helped to use up Mother Bhaer's stock of patience so fast.

Franz wanted perseverance, Tommy steadiness, Ned went in for good
temper, Daisy for industry, Demi for "as much wiseness as Grandpa," and
Nat timidly said he wanted so many things he would let Mr. Bhaer choose
for him. The others chose much the same things, and patience, good
temper, and generosity seemed the favorite crops. One boy wished to like
to get up early, but did not know what name to give that sort of seed;
and poor Stuffy sighed out,

"I wish I loved my lessons as much as I do my dinner, but I can't."

"We will plant self-denial, and hoe it and water it, and make it grow so
well that next Christmas no one will get ill by eating too much dinner.
If you exercise your mind, George, it will get hungry just as your body
does, and you will love books almost as much as my philosopher here,"
said Mr. Bhaer; adding, as he stroked the hair off Demi's fine forehead,
"You are greedy also, my son, and you like to stuff your little mind
full of fairy tales and fancies, as well as George likes to fill his
little stomach with cake and candy. Both are bad, and I want you to
try something better. Arithmetic is not half so pleasant as 'Arabian
Nights,' I know, but it is a very useful thing, and now is the time to
learn it, else you will be ashamed and sorry by and by."

"But, 'Harry and Lucy,' and 'Frank,' are not fairy books, and they
are all full of barometers, and bricks, and shoeing horses, and useful
things, and I'm fond of them; ain't I, Daisy?" said Demi, anxious to
defend himself.

"So they are; but I find you reading 'Roland and Maybird,' a great deal
oftener than 'Harry and Lucy,' and I think you are not half so fond of
'Frank' as you are of 'Sinbad.' Come, I shall make a little bargain with
you both, George shall eat but three times a day, and you shall read but
one story-book a week, and I will give you the new cricket-ground; only,
you must promise to play in it," said Uncle Fritz, in his persuasive
way, for Stuffy hated to run about, and Demi was always reading in play
hours.

"But we don't like cricket," said Demi.

"Perhaps not now, but you will when you know it. Besides, you do like to
be generous, and the other boys want to play, and you can give them the
new ground if you choose."

This was taken them both on the right side, and they agreed to the
bargain, to the great satisfaction of the rest.

There was a little more talk about the gardens, and then they all sang
together. The band delighted Nat, for Mrs. Bhaer played the piano, Franz
the flute, Mr. Bhaer a bass viol, and he himself the violin. A very
simple little concert, but all seemed to enjoy it, and old Asia, sitting
in the corner, joined at times with the sweetest voice of any, for in
this family, master and servant, old and young, black and white, shared
in the Sunday song, which went up to the Father of them all. After this
they each shook hands with Father Bhaer; Mother Bhaer kissed them every
one from sixteen-year-old Franz to little Rob, how kept the tip of her
nose for his own particular kisses, and then they trooped up to bed.

The light of the shaded lamp that burned in the nursery shone softly on
a picture hanging at the foot of Nat's bed. There were several others
on the walls, but the boy thought there must be something peculiar about
this one, for it had a graceful frame of moss and cones about it, and
on a little bracket underneath stood a vase of wild flowers freshly
gathered from the spring woods. It was the most beautiful picture of
them all, and Nat lay looking at it, dimly feeling what it meant, and
wishing he knew all about it.

"That's my picture," said a little voice in the room. Nat popped up his
head, and there was Demi in his night-gown pausing on his way back from
Aunt Jo's chamber, whither he had gone to get a cot for a cut finger.

"What is he doing to the children?" asked Nat.

"That is Christ, the Good Man, and He is blessing the children. Don't
you know about Him?" said Demi, wondering.

"Not much, but I'd like to, He looks so kind," answered Nat, whose chief
knowledge of the Good Man consisted in hearing His name taken in vain.

"I know all about it, and I like it very much, because it is true," said
Demi.

"Who told you?"

"My Grandpa, he knows every thing, and tells the best stories in
the world. I used to play with his big books, and make bridges, and
railroads, and houses, when I was a little boy," began Demi.

"How old are you now?" asked Nat, respectfully.

"'Most ten."

"You know a lot of things, don't you?"

"Yes; you see my head is pretty big, and Grandpa says it will take a
good deal to fill it, so I keep putting pieces of wisdom into it as fast
as I can," returned Demi, in his quaint way.

Nat laughed, and then said soberly,

"Tell on, please."

And Demi gladly told on without pause or punctuation. "I found a very


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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 3 of 23)