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retiring to the nursery, but Nan said, "No, I want to see the boys, and
the barn," and ran off, swinging her hat by one string till it broke,
when she left it to its fate on the grass.

"Hullo! Nan!" cried the boys as she bounced in among them with the

"I'm going to stay."

"Hooray!" bawled Tommy from the wall on which he was perched, for Nan
was a kindred spirit, and he foresaw "larks" in the future.

"I can bat; let me play," said Nan, who could turn her hand to any
thing, and did not mind hard knocks.

"We ain't playing now, and our side beat without you."

"I can beat you in running, any way," returned Nan, falling back on her
strong point.

"Can she?" asked Nat of Jack.

"She runs very well for a girl," answered Jack, who looked down upon Nan
with condescending approval.

"Will you try?" said Nan, longing to display her powers.

"It's too hot," and Tommy languished against the wall as if quite

"What's the matter with Stuffy?" asked Nan, whose quick eyes were roving
from face to face.

"Ball hurt his hand; he howls at every thing," answered Jack scornfully.

"I don't, I never cry, no matter how I'm hurt; it's babyish," said Nan,

"Pooh! I could make you cry in two minutes," returned Stuffy, rousing

"See if you can."

"Go and pick that bunch of nettles, then," and Stuffy pointed to a
sturdy specimen of that prickly plant growing by the wall.

Nan instantly "grasped the nettle," pulled it up, and held it with a
defiant gesture, in spite of the almost unbearable sting.

"Good for you," cried the boys, quick to acknowledge courage even in one
of the weaker sex.

More nettled than she was, Stuffy determined to get a cry out of her
somehow, and he said tauntingly, "You are used to poking your hands into
every thing, so that isn't fair. Now go and bump your head real hard
against the barn, and see if you don't howl then."

"Don't do it," said Nat, who hated cruelty.

But Nan was off, and running straight at the barn, she gave her head a
blow that knocked her flat, and sounded like a battering-ram. Dizzy, but
undaunted, she staggered up, saying stoutly, though her face was drawn
with pain,

"That hurt, but I don't cry."

"Do it again," said Stuffy angrily; and Nan would have done it, but Nat
held her; and Tommy, forgetting the heat, flew at Stuffy like a little
game-cock, roaring out,

"Stop it, or I'll throw you over the barn!" and so shook and hustled
poor Stuffy that for a minute he did not know whether he was on his head
or his heels.

"She told me to," was all he could say, when Tommy let him alone.

"Never mind if she did; it is awfully mean to hurt a little girl," said
Demi, reproachfully.

"Ho! I don't mind; I ain't a little girl, I'm older than you and Daisy;
so now," cried Nan, ungratefully.

"Don't preach, Deacon, you bully Posy every day of your life," called
out the Commodore, who just then hove in sight.

"I don't hurt her; do I, Daisy?" and Demi turned to his sister, who was
"pooring" Nan's tingling hands, and recommending water for the purple
lump rapidly developing itself on her forehead.

"You are the best boy in the world," promptly answered Daisy; adding,
as truth compelled her to do, "You hurt me sometimes, but you don't mean

"Put away the bats and things, and mind what you are about, my hearties.
No fighting allowed aboard this ship," said Emil, who rather lorded it
over the others.

"How do you do, Madge Wildfire?" said Mr. Bhaer, as Nan came in with
the rest to supper. "Give the right hand, little daughter, and mind thy
manners," he added, as Nan offered him her left.

"The other hurts me."

"The poor little hand! what has it been doing to get those blisters?" he
asked, drawing it from behind her back, where she had put it with a look
which made him think she had been in mischief.

Before Nan could think of any excuse, Daisy burst out with the whole
story, during which Stuffy tried to hide his face in a bowl of bread and
milk. When the tale was finished, Mr. Bhaer looked down the long table
towards his wife, and said with a laugh in his eyes,

"This rather belongs to your side of the house, so I won't meddle with
it, my dear."

Mrs. Jo knew what he meant, but she liked her little black sheep all the
better for her pluck, though she only said in her soberest way,

"Do you know why I asked Nan to come here?"

"To plague me," muttered Stuffy, with his mouth full.

"To help make little gentlemen of you, and I think you have shown that
some of you need it."

Here Stuffy retired into his bowl again, and did not emerge till Demi
made them all laugh by saying, in his slow wondering way,

"How can she, when she's such a tomboy?"

"That's just it, she needs help as much as you, and I expect you set her
an example of good manners."

"Is she going to be a little gentleman too?" asked Rob.

"She'd like it; wouldn't you, Nan?" added Tommy.

"No, I shouldn't; I hate boys!" said Nan fiercely, for her hand still
smarted, and she began to think that she might have shown her courage in
some wiser way.

"I am sorry you hate my boys, because they can be well-mannered, and
most agreeable when they choose. Kindness in looks and words and ways is
true politeness, and any one can have it if they only try to treat other
people as they like to be treated themselves."

Mrs. Bhaer had addressed herself to Nan, but the boys nudged one
another, and appeared to take the hint, for that time at least, and
passed the butter; said "please," and "thank you," "yes, sir," and "no,
ma'am," with unusual elegance and respect. Nan said nothing, but kept
herself quiet and refrained from tickling Demi, though strongly tempted
to do so, because of the dignified airs he put on. She also appeared
to have forgotten her hatred of boys, and played "I spy" with them till
dark. Stuffy was observed to offer her frequent sucks on his candy-ball
during the game, which evidently sweetened her temper, for the last
thing she said on going to bed was,

"When my battledore and shuttle-cock comes, I'll let you all play with

Her first remark in the morning was "Has my box come?" and when told
that it would arrive sometime during the day, she fretted and fumed, and
whipped her doll, till Daisy was shocked. She managed to exist, however,
till five o'clock, when she disappeared, and was not missed till
supper-time, because those at home thought she had gone to the hill with
Tommy and Demi.

"I saw her going down the avenue alone as hard as she could pelt,"
said Mary Ann, coming in with the hasty-pudding, and finding every one
asking, "Where is Nan?"

"She has run home, little gypsy!" cried Mrs. Bhaer, looking anxious.

"Perhaps she has gone to the station to look after her luggage,"
suggested Franz.

"That is impossible, she does not know the way, and if she found it, she
could never carry the box a mile," said Mrs. Bhaer, beginning to think
that her new idea might be rather a hard one to carry out.

"It would be like her," and Mr. Bhaer caught up his hat to go and find
the child, when a shout from Jack, who was at the window, made everyone
hurry to the door.

There was Miss Nan, to be sure, tugging along a very large band-box tied
up in linen bag. Very hot and dusty and tired did she look, but marched
stoutly along, and came puffing up to the steps, where she dropped
her load with a sigh of relief, and sat down upon it, observed as she
crossed her tired arms,

"I couldn't wait any longer, so I went and got it."

"But you did not know the way," said Tommy, while the rest stood round
enjoying the joke.

"Oh, I found it, I never get lost."

"It's a mile, how could you go so far?"

"Well, it was pretty far, but I rested a good deal."

"Wasn't that thing very heavy?"

"It's so round, I couldn't get hold of it good, and I thought my arms
would break right off."

"I don't see how the station-master let you have it," said Tommy.

"I didn't say anything to him. He was in the little ticket place, and
didn't see me, so I just took it off the platform."

"Run down and tell him it is all right, Franz, or old Dodd will think
it is stolen," said Mr. Bhaer, joining in the shout of laughter at Nan's

"I told you we would send for it if it did not come. Another time you
must wait, for you will get into trouble if you run away. Promise me
this, or I shall not dare to trust you out of my sight," said Mrs.
Bhaer, wiping the dust off Nan's little hot face.

"Well, I won't, only papa tells me not to put off doing things, so I

"That is rather a poser; I think you had better give her some supper
now, and a private lecture by and by," said Mr. Bhaer, too much amused
to be angry at the young lady's exploit.

The boys thought it "great fun," and Nan entertained them all
supper-time with an account of her adventures; for a big dog had barked
at her, a man had laughed at her, a woman had given her a doughnut, and
her hat had fallen into the brook when she stopped to drink, exhausted
with her exertion.

"I fancy you will have your hands full now, my dear; Tommy and Nan are
quite enough for one woman," said Mr. Bhaer, half an hour later.

"I know it will take some time to tame the child, but she is such a
generous, warm-hearted little thing, I should love her even if she were
twice as naughty," answered Mrs. Jo, pointing to the merry group, in
the middle of which stood Nan, giving away her things right and left, as
lavishly as if the big band-box had no bottom.

It was those good traits that soon made little "Giddygaddy," as they
called her, a favorite with every one. Daisy never complained of being
dull again, for Nan invented the most delightful plays, and her pranks
rivalled Tommy's, to the amusement of the whole school. She buried her
big doll and forgot it for a week, and found it well mildewed when she
dragged it up. Daisy was in despair, but Nan took it to the painter who
as at work about the house, got him to paint it brick red, with staring
black eyes, then she dressed it up with feathers, and scarlet flannel,
and one of Ned's leaden hatchets; and in the character of an Indian
chief, the late Poppydilla tomahawked all the other dolls, and caused
the nursery to run red with imaginary gore. She gave away her new shoes
to a beggar child, hoping to be allowed to go barefoot, but found it
impossible to combine charity and comfort, and was ordered to ask leave
before disposing of her clothes. She delighted the boys by making a
fire-ship out of a shingle with two large sails wet with turpentine,
which she lighted, and then sent the little vessel floating down the
brook at dusk. She harnessed the old turkey-cock to a straw wagon, and
made him trot round the house at a tremendous pace. She gave her coral
necklace for four unhappy kittens, which had been tormented by some
heartless lads, and tended them for days as gently as a mother, dressing
their wounds with cold cream, feeding them with a doll's spoon, and
mourning over them when they died, till she was consoled by one of
Demi's best turtles. She made Silas tattoo an anchor on her arm like
his, and begged hard to have a blue star on each cheek, but he dared not
do it, though she coaxed and scolded till the soft-hearted fellow longed
to give in. She rode every animal on the place, from the big horse Andy
to the cross pig, from whom she was rescued with difficulty. Whatever
the boys dared her to do she instantly attempted, no matter how
dangerous it might be, and they were never tired of testing her courage.

Mr. Bhaer suggested that they should see who would study best, and Nan
found as much pleasure in using her quick wits and fine memory as her
active feet and merry tongue, while the lads had to do their best to
keep their places, for Nan showed them that girls could do most things
as well as boys, and some things better. There were no rewards in
school, but Mr. Bhaer's "Well done!" and Mrs. Bhaer's good report on the
conscience book, taught them to love duty for its own sake, and try to
do it faithfully, sure sooner or later the recompense would come. Little
Nan was quick to feel the new atmosphere, to enjoy it, to show that it
was what she needed; for this little garden was full of sweet flowers,
half hidden by the weeds; and when kind hands gently began to
cultivate it, all sorts of green shoots sprung up, promising to blossom
beautifully in the warmth of love and care, the best climate for young
hearts and souls all the world over.


As there is no particular plan to this story, except to describe a few
scenes in the life at Plumfield for the amusement of certain little
persons, we will gently ramble along in this chapter and tell some of
the pastimes of Mrs. Jo's boys. I beg leave to assure my honored readers
that most of the incidents are taken from real life, and that the oddest
are the truest; for no person, no matter how vivid an imagination he may
have, can invent anything half so droll as the freaks and fancies that
originate in the lively brains of little people.

Daisy and Demi were full of these whims, and lived in a world of their
own, peopled with lovely or grotesque creatures, to whom they gave the
queerest names, and with whom they played the queerest games. One of
these nursery inventions was an invisible sprite called "The Naughty
Kitty-mouse," whom the children had believed in, feared, and served for
a long time. They seldom spoke of it to any one else, kept their rites
as private as possible; and, as they never tried to describe it even to
themselves, this being had a vague mysterious charm very agreeable
to Demi, who delighted in elves and goblins. A most whimsical and
tyrannical imp was the Naughty Kitty-mouse, and Daisy found a fearful
pleasure in its service, blindly obeying its most absurd demands, which
were usually proclaimed from the lips of Demi, whose powers of invention
were great. Rob and Teddy sometimes joined in these ceremonies, and
considered them excellent fun, although they did not understand half
that went on.

One day after school Demi whispered to his sister, with an ominous wag
of the head,

"The Kitty-mouse wants us this afternoon."

"What for?" asked Daisy, anxiously.

"A sackerryfice," answered Demi, solemnly. "There must be a fire behind
the big rock at two o'clock, and we must all bring the things we like
best, and burn them!" he added, with an awful emphasis on the last

"Oh, dear! I love the new paper dollies Aunt Amy painted for me best
of any thing; must I burn them up?" cried Daisy, who never thought of
denying the unseen tyrant any thing it demanded.

"Every one. I shall burn my boat, my best scrapbook, and all my
soldiers," said Demi firmly.

"Well, I will; but it's too bad of Kitty-mouse to want our very nicest
things," sighed Daisy.

"A sackerryfice means to give up what you are fond of, so we must,"
explained Demi, to whom the new idea had been suggested by hearing
Uncle Fritz describe the customs of the Greeks to the big boys who were
reading about them in school.

"Is Rob coming too," asked Daisy.

"Yes, and he is going to bring his toy village; it is all made of wood,
you know, and will burn nicely. We'll have a grand bonfire, and see them
blaze up, won't we?"

This brilliant prospect consoled Daisy, and she ate her dinner with a
row of paper dolls before her, as a sort of farewell banquet.

At the appointed hour the sacrificial train set forth, each child
bearing the treasures demanded by the insatiable Kitty-mouse. Teddy
insisted on going also, and seeing that all the others had toys, he
tucked a squeaking lamb under one arm, and old Annabella under the
other, little dreaming what anguish the latter idol was to give him.

"Where are you going, my chickens?" asked Mrs. Jo, as the flock passed
her door.

"To play by the big rock; can't we?"

"Yes, only don't do near the pond, and take good care of baby."

"I always do," said Daisy, leading forth her charge with a capable air.

"Now, you must all sit round, and not move till I tell you. This flat
stone is an altar, and I am going to make a fire on it."

Demi then proceeded to kindle up a small blaze, as he had seen the boys
do at picnics. When the flame burned well, he ordered the company to
march round it three times and then stand in a circle.

"I shall begin, and as fast as my things are burnt, you must bring

With that he solemnly laid on a little paper book full of pictures,
pasted in by himself; this was followed by a dilapidated boat, and
then one by one the unhappy leaden soldiers marched to death. Not one
faltered or hung back, from the splendid red and yellow captain to the
small drummer who had lost his legs; all vanished in the flames and
mingled in one common pool of melted lead.

"Now, Daisy!" called the high priest of Kitty-mouse, when his rich
offerings had been consumed, to the great satisfaction of the children.

"My dear dollies, how can I let them go?" moaned Daisy, hugging the
entire dozen with a face full of maternal woe.

"You must," commanded Demi; and with a farewell kiss to each, Daisy laid
her blooming dolls upon the coals.

"Let me keep one, the dear blue thing, she is so sweet," besought the
poor little mamma, clutching her last in despair.

"More! more!" growled an awful voice, and Demi cried, "that's the
Kitty-mouse! she must have every one, quick, or she will scratch us."

In went the precious blue belle, flounces, rosy hat, and all, and
nothing but a few black flakes remained of that bright band.

"Stand the houses and trees round, and let them catch themselves; it
will be like a real fire then," said Demi, who liked variety even in his

Charmed by this suggestion, the children arranged the doomed village,
laid a line of coals along the main street, and then sat down to watch
the conflagration. It was somewhat slow to kindle owing to the paint,
but at last one ambitious little cottage blazed up, fired a tree of the
palm species, which fell on to the roof of a large family mansion,
and in a few minutes the whole town was burning merrily. The wooden
population stood and stared at the destruction like blockheads, as they
were, till they also caught and blazed away without a cry. It took
some time to reduce the town to ashes, and the lookers-on enjoyed the
spectacle immensely, cheering as each house fell, dancing like wild
Indians when the steeple flamed aloft, and actually casting one wretched
little churn-shaped lady, who had escaped to the suburbs, into the very
heart of the fire.

The superb success of this last offering excited Teddy to such a degree,
that he first threw his lamb into the conflagration, and before it had
time even to roast, he planted poor Annabella on the funeral pyre. Of
course she did not like it, and expressed her anguish and resentment in
a way that terrified her infant destroyer. Being covered with kid,
she did not blaze, but did what was worse, she squirmed. First one leg
curled up, then the other, in a very awful and lifelike manner; next
she flung her arms over her head as if in great agony; her head itself
turned on her shoulders, her glass eyes fell out, and with one final
writhe of her whole body, she sank down a blackened mass on the ruins
of the town. This unexpected demonstration startled every one and
frightened Teddy half out of his little wits. He looked, then screamed
and fled toward the house, roaring "Marmar" at the top of his voice.

Mrs. Bhaer heard the outcry and ran to the rescue, but Teddy could only
cling to her and pour out in his broken way something about "poor Bella
hurted," "a dreat fire," and "all the dollies dorn." Fearing some dire
mishap, his mother caught him up and hurried to the scene of action,
where she found the blind worshippers of Kitty-mouse mourning over the
charred remains of the lost darling.

"What have you been at? Tell me all about it," said Mrs. Jo, composing
herself to listen patiently, for the culprits looked so penitent, she
forgave them beforehand.

With some reluctance Demi explained their play, and Aunt Jo laughed till
the tears ran down her cheeks, the children were so solemn, and the play
was so absurd.

"I thought you were too sensible to play such a silly game as this. If
I had any Kitty-mouse I'd have a good one who liked you to play in safe
pleasant ways, and not destroy and frighten. Just see what a ruin you
have made; all Daisy's pretty dolls, Demi's soldiers, and Rob's new
village beside poor Teddy's pet lamb, and dear old Annabella. I shall
have to write up in the nursery the verse that used to come in the boxes
of toys,

"The children of Holland take pleasure in making,
What the children of Boston take pleasure in breaking."

"Only I shall put Plumfield instead of Boston."

"We never will again, truly, truly!" cried the repentant little sinners,
much abashed at this reproof.

"Demi told us to," said Rob.

"Well, I heard Uncle tell about the Greece people, who had altars
and things, and so I wanted to be like them, only I hadn't any live
creatures to sackerryfice, so we burnt up our toys."

"Dear me, that is something like the bean story," said Aunt Jo, laughing

"Tell about it," suggested Daisy, to change the subject.

"Once there was a poor woman who had three or four little children, and
she used to lock them up in her room when she went out to work, to keep
them safe. On day when she was going away she said, 'Now, my dears,
don't let baby fall out of window, don't play with the matches, and
don't put beans up your noses.' Now the children had never dreamed of
doing that last thing, but she put it into their heads, and the minute
she was gone, they ran and stuffed their naughty little noses full of
beans, just to see how it felt, and she found them all crying when she
came home."

"Did it hurt?" asked Rob, with such intense interest that his mother
hastily added a warning sequel, lest a new edition of the bean story
should appear in her own family.

"Very much, as I know, for when my mother told me this story, I was so
silly that I went and tried it myself. I had no beans, so I took some
little pebbles, and poked several into my nose. I did not like it at
all, and wanted to take them out again very soon, but one would not
come, and I was so ashamed to tell what a goose I been that I went for
hours with the stone hurting me very much. At last the pain got so bad
I had to tell, and when my mother could not get it out the doctor came.
Then I was put in a chair and held tight, Rob, while he used his ugly
little pincers till the stone hopped out. Dear me! how my wretched
little nose did ache, and how people laughed at me!" and Mrs. Jo shook
her head in a dismal way, as if the memory of her sufferings was too
much for her.

Rob looked deeply impressed and I am glad to say took the warning to
heart. Demi proposed that they should bury poor Annabella, and in the
interest of the funeral Teddy forgot his fright. Daisy was soon consoled
by another batch of dolls from Aunt Amy, and the Naughty Kitty-mouse
seemed to be appeased by the last offerings, for she tormented them no

"Brops" was the name of a new and absorbing play, invented by Bangs.
As this interesting animal is not to be found in any Zoological Garden,
unless Du Chaillu has recently brought one from the wilds of Africa, I
will mention a few of its peculiar habits and traits, for the benefit of
inquiring minds. The Brop is a winged quadruped, with a human face of
a youthful and merry aspect. When it walks the earth it grunts, when it
soars it gives a shrill hoot, occasionally it goes erect, and talks good
English. Its body is usually covered with a substance much resembling a
shawl, sometimes red, sometimes blue, often plaid, and, strange to say,
they frequently change skins with one another. On their heads they have
a horn very like a stiff brown paper lamp-lighter. Wings of the same
substance flap upon their shoulders when they fly; this is never very
far from the ground, as they usually fall with violence if they attempt
any lofty flights. They browse over the earth, but can sit up and eat
like the squirrel. Their favorite nourishment is the seed-cake; apples
also are freely taken, and sometimes raw carrots are nibbled when food
is scarce. They live in dens, where they have a sort of nest, much like
a clothes-basket, in which the little Brops play till their wings are
grown. These singular animals quarrel at times, and it is on these
occasions that they burst into human speech, call each other names, cry,

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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 8 of 23)