Louisa May Alcott.

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scold, and sometimes tear off horns and skin, declaring fiercely that
they "won't play." The few privileged persons who have studied them are
inclined to think them a remarkable mixture of the monkey, the sphinx,
the roc, and the queer creatures seen by the famous Peter Wilkins.

This game was a great favorite, and the younger children beguiled many
a rainy afternoon flapping or creeping about the nursery, acting like
little bedlamites and being as merry as little grigs. To be sure, it was
rather hard upon clothes, particularly trouser-knees, and jacket-elbows;
but Mrs. Bhaer only said, as she patched and darned,

"We do things just as foolish, and not half so harmless. If I could
get as much happiness out of it as the little dears do, I'd be a Brop

Nat's favorite amusements were working in his garden, and sitting in the
willow-tree with his violin, for that green nest was a fairy world to
him, and there he loved to perch, making music like a happy bird. The
lads called him "Old Chirper," because he was always humming, whistling,
or fiddling, and they often stopped a minute in their work or play to
listen to the soft tones of the violin, which seemed to lead a little
orchestra of summer sounds. The birds appeared to regard him as one of
themselves, and fearlessly sat on the fence or lit among the boughs to
watch him with their quick bright eyes. The robins in the apple-tree
near by evidently considered him a friend, for the father bird hunted
insects close beside him, and the little mother brooded as confidingly
over her blue eggs as if the boy was only a new sort of blackbird who
cheered her patient watch with his song. The brown brook babbled and
sparkled below him, the bees haunted the clover fields on either side,
friendly faces peeped at him as they passed, the old house stretched its
wide wings hospitably toward him, and with a blessed sense of rest and
love and happiness, Nat dreamed for hours in this nook, unconscious what
healthful miracles were being wrought upon him.

One listener he had who never tired, and to whom he was more than a
mere schoolmate. Poor Billy's chief delight was to lie beside the brook,
watching leaves and bits of foam dance by, listening dreamily to the
music in the willow-tree. He seemed to think Nat a sort of angel who sat
aloft and sang, for a few baby memories still lingered in his mind and
seemed to grow brighter at these times. Seeing the interest he took in
Nat, Mr. Bhaer begged him to help them lift the cloud from the feeble
brain by this gentle spell. Glad to do any thing to show his gratitude,
Nat always smiled on Billy when he followed him about, and let him
listen undisturbed to the music which seemed to speak a language he
could understand. "Help one another," was a favorite Plumfield motto,
and Nat learned how much sweetness is added to life by trying to live up
to it.

Jack Ford's peculiar pastime was buying and selling; and he bid fair
to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, a country merchant, who sold
a little of every thing and made money fast. Jack had seen the sugar
sanded, the molasses watered, the butter mixed with lard, and things of
that kind, and labored under the delusion that it was all a proper part
of the business. His stock in trade was of a different sort, but he made
as much as he could out of every worm he sold, and always got the
best of the bargain when he traded with the boys for string, knives,
fish-hooks, or whatever the article might be. The boys who all had
nicknames, called him "Skinflint," but Jack did not care as long as the
old tobacco-pouch in which he kept his money grew heavier and heavier.

He established a sort of auction-room, and now and then sold off all the
odds and ends he had collected, or helped the lads exchange things with
one another. He got bats, balls, hockey-sticks, etc., cheap, from one
set of mates, furbished them up, and let them for a few cents a time to
another set, often extending his business beyond the gates of Plumfield
in spite of the rules. Mr. Bhaer put a stop to some of his speculations,
and tried to give him a better idea of business talent than mere
sharpness in overreaching his neighbors. Now and then Jack made a bad
bargain, and felt worse about it than about any failure in lessons or
conduct, and took his revenge on the next innocent customer who came
along. His account-book was a curiosity; and his quickness at figures
quite remarkable. Mr. Bhaer praised him for this, and tried to make his
sense of honesty and honor as quick; and, by and by, when Jack found
that he could not get on without these virtues, he owned that his
teacher was right.

Cricket and football the boys had of course; but, after the stirring
accounts of these games in the immortal "Tom Brown at Rugby," no feeble
female pen may venture to do more than respectfully allude to them.

Emil spent his holidays on the river or the pond, and drilled the elder
lads for a race with certain town boys, who now and then invaded
their territory. The race duly came off, but as it ended in a general
shipwreck, it was not mentioned in public; and the Commodore had serious
thoughts of retiring to a desert island, so disgusted was he with his
kind for a time. No desert island being convenient, he was forced
to remain among his friends, and found consolation in building a

The little girls indulged in the usual plays of their age, improving
upon them somewhat as their lively fancies suggested. The chief and
most absorbing play was called "Mrs. Shakespeare Smith;" the name
was provided by Aunt Jo, but the trials of the poor lady were quite
original. Daisy was Mrs. S. S., and Nan by turns her daughter or a
neighbor, Mrs. Giddygaddy.

No pen can describe the adventures of these ladies, for in one short
afternoon their family was the scene of births, marriages, deaths,
floods, earthquakes, tea-parties, and balloon ascensions. Millions of
miles did these energetic women travel, dressed in hats and habits never
seen before by mortal eye, perched on the bed, driving the posts like
mettlesome steeds, and bouncing up and down till their heads spun. Fits
and fires were the pet afflictions, with a general massacre now and then
by way of change. Nan was never tired of inventing fresh combinations,
and Daisy followed her leader with blind admiration. Poor Teddy was a
frequent victim, and was often rescued from real danger, for the excited
ladies were apt to forget that he was not of the same stuff their
longsuffering dolls. Once he was shut into the closet for a dungeon, and
forgotten by the girls, who ran off to some out-of-door game. Another
time he was half drowned in the bath-tub, playing be a "cunning little
whale." And, worst of all, he was cut down just in time after being hung
up for a robber.

But the institution most patronized by all was the Club. It had no other
name, and it needed none, being the only one in the neighborhood. The
elder lads got it up, and the younger were occasionally admitted if
they behaved well. Tommy and Demi were honorary members, but were always
obliged to retire unpleasantly early, owing to circumstances over
which they had no control. The proceedings of this club were somewhat
peculiar, for it met at all sorts of places and hours, had all manner
of queer ceremonies and amusements, and now and then was broken up
tempestuously, only to be re-established, however, on a firmer basis.

Rainy evenings the members met in the schoolroom, and passed the time in
games: chess, morris, backgammon, fencing matches, recitations, debates,
or dramatic performances of a darkly tragical nature. In summer the barn
was the rendezvous, and what went on there no uninitiated mortal
knows. On sultry evenings the Club adjourned to the brook for aquatic
exercises, and the members sat about in airy attire, frog-like and cool.
On such occasions the speeches were unusually eloquent, quite flowing,
as one might say; and if any orator's remarks displeased the audience,
cold water was thrown upon him till his ardor was effectually quenched.
Franz was president, and maintained order admirably, considering the
unruly nature of the members. Mr. Bhaer never interfered with their
affairs, and was rewarded for this wise forbearance by being invited now
and then to behold the mysteries unveiled, which he appeared to enjoy

When Nan came she wished to join the Club, and caused great excitement
and division among the gentlemen by presenting endless petitions, both
written and spoken, disturbing their solemnities by insulting them
through the key-hole, performing vigorous solos on the door, and
writing up derisive remarks on walls and fences, for she belonged to
the "Irrepressibles." Finding these appeals in vain, the girls, by the
advice of Mrs. Jo, got up an institution of their own, which they called
the Cosy Club. To this they magnanimously invited the gentlemen whose
youth excluded them from the other one, and entertained these favored
beings so well with little suppers, new games devised by Nan, and other
pleasing festivities, that, one by one, the elder boys confessed a
desire to partake of these more elegant enjoyments, and, after much
consultation, finally decided to propose an interchange of civilities.

The members of the Cosy Club were invited to adorn the rival
establishment on certain evenings, and to the surprise of the gentlemen
their presence was not found to be a restraint upon the conversation
or amusement of the regular frequenters; which could not be said of all
Clubs, I fancy. The ladies responded handsomely and hospitably to these
overtures of peace, and both institutions flourished long and happily.


"Mrs. Shakespeare Smith would like to have Mr. John Brooke, Mr. Thomas
Bangs, and Mr. Nathaniel Blake to come to her ball at three o'clock

"P.S. Nat must bring his fiddle, so we can dance, and all the boys must
be good, or they cannot have any of the nice things we have cooked."

This elegant invitation would, I fear, have been declined, but for the
hint given in the last line of the postscript.

"They have been cooking lots of goodies, I smelt 'em. Let's go," said

"We needn't stay after the feast, you know," added Demi.

"I never went to a ball. What do you have to do?" asked Nat.

"Oh, we just play be men, and sit round stiff and stupid like grown-up
folks, and dance to please the girls. Then we eat up everything, and
come away as soon as we can."

"I think I could do that," said Nat, after considering Tommy's
description for a minute.

"I'll write and say we'll come;" and Demi despatched the following
gentlemanly reply,

"We will all come. Please have lots to eat. J. B. Esquire."

Great was the anxiety of the ladies about their first ball, because if
every thing went well they intended to give a dinner-party to the chosen

"Aunt Jo likes to have the boys play with us, if they are not rough;
so we must make them like our balls, then they will do them good," said
Daisy, with her maternal air, as she set the table and surveyed the
store of refreshments with an anxious eye.

"Demi and Nat will be good, but Tommy will do something bad, I know he
will," replied Nan, shaking her head over the little cake-basket which
she was arranging.

"Then I shall send him right home," said Daisy, with decision.

"People don't do so at parties, it isn't proper."

"I shall never ask him any more."

"That would do. He'd be sorry not to come to the dinner-ball, wouldn't

"I guess he would! we'll have the splendidest things ever seen, won't
we? Real soup with a ladle and a tureem [she meant tureen] and a little
bird for turkey, and gravy, and all kinds of nice vegytubbles." Daisy
never could say vegetables properly, and had given up trying.

"It is 'most three, and we ought to dress," said Nan, who had arranged a
fine costume for the occasion, and was anxious to wear it.

"I am the mother, so I shan't dress up much," said Daisy, putting on a
night-cap ornamented with a red bow, one of her aunt's long skirts, and
a shawl; a pair of spectacles and large pocket handkerchief completed
her toilette, making a plump, rosy little matron of her.

Nan had a wreath of artificial flowers, a pair of old pink slippers, a
yellow scarf, a green muslin skirt, and a fan made of feathers from the
duster; also, as a last touch of elegance, a smelling-bottle without any
smell in it.

"I am the daughter, so I rig up a good deal, and I must sing and dance,
and talk more than you do. The mothers only get the tea and be proper,
you know."

A sudden very loud knock caused Miss Smith to fly into a chair, and fan
herself violently, while her mamma sat bolt upright on the sofa, and
tried to look quite calm and "proper." Little Bess, who was on a visit,
acted the part of maid, and opened the door, saying with a smile, "Wart
in, gemplemun; it's all weady."

In honor of the occasion, the boys wore high paper collars, tall
black hats, and gloves of every color and material, for they were an
afterthought, and not a boy among them had a perfect pair.

"Good day, mum," said Demi, in a deep voice, which was so hard to keep
up that his remarks had to be extremely brief.

Every one shook hands and then sat down, looking so funny, yet so sober,
that the gentlemen forgot their manners, and rolled in their chairs with

"Oh, don't!" cried Mrs. Smith, much distressed.

"You can't ever come again if you act so," added Miss Smith, rapping Mr.
Bangs with her bottle because he laughed loudest.

"I can't help it, you look so like fury," gasped Mr. Bangs, with most
uncourteous candor.

"So do you, but I shouldn't be so rude as to say so. He shan't come to
the dinner-ball, shall he, Daisy?" cried Nan, indignantly.

"I think we had better dance now. Did you bring your fiddle, sir?" asked
Mrs. Smith, trying to preserve her polite composure.

"It is outside the door," and Nat went to get it.

"Better have tea first," proposed the unabashed Tommy, winking openly
at Demi to remind him that the sooner the refreshments were secured, the
sooner they could escape.

"No, we never have supper first; and if you don't dance well you won't
have any supper at all, not one bit, sir," said Mrs. Smith, so sternly
that her wild guests saw she was not to be trifled with, and grew
overwhelmingly civil all at once.

"I will take Mr. Bangs and teach him the polka, for he does not know it
fit to be seen," added the hostess, with a reproachful look that sobered
Tommy at once.

Nat struck up, and the ball opened with two couples, who went
conscientiously through a somewhat varied dance. The ladies did well,
because they liked it, but the gentlemen exerted themselves from more
selfish motives, for each felt that he must earn his supper, and labored
manfully toward that end. When every one was out of breath they were
allowed to rest; and, indeed, poor Mrs. Smith needed it, for her long
dress had tripped her up many times. The little maid passed round
molasses and water in such small cups that one guest actually emptied
nine. I refrain from mentioning his name, because this mild beverage
affected him so much that he put cup and all into his mouth at the ninth
round, and choked himself publicly.

"You must ask Nan to play and sing now," said Daisy to her brother, who
sat looking very much like an owl, as he gravely regarded the festive
scene between his high collars.

"Give us a song, mum," said the obedient guest, secretly wondering where
the piano was.

Miss Smith sailed up to an old secretary which stood in the room,
threw back the lid of the writing-desk, and sitting down before it,
accompanied herself with a vigor which made the old desk rattle as she
sang that new and lovely song, beginning

"Gaily the troubadour
Touched his guitar,
As he was hastening
Home from the war."

The gentlemen applauded so enthusiastically that she gave them "Bounding
Billows," "Little Bo-Peep," and other gems of song, till they were
obliged to hint that they had had enough. Grateful for the praises
bestowed upon her daughter, Mrs. Smith graciously announced,

"Now we will have tea. Sit down carefully, and don't grab."

It was beautiful to see the air of pride with which the good lady did
the honors of her table, and the calmness with which she bore the little
mishaps that occurred. The best pie flew wildly on the floor when she
tried to cut it with a very dull knife; the bread and butter vanished
with a rapidity calculated to dismay a housekeeper's soul; and, worst of
all, the custards were so soft that they had to be drunk up, instead of
being eaten elegantly with the new tin spoons.

I grieve to state that Miss Smith squabbled with the maid for the best
jumble, which caused Bess to toss the whole dish into the air, and burst
out crying amid a rain of falling cakes. She was comforted by a seat at
the table, and the sugar-bowl to empty; but during this flurry a large
plate of patties was mysteriously lost, and could not be found. They
were the chief ornament of the feast, and Mrs. Smith was indignant at
the loss, for she had made them herself, and they were beautiful to
behold. I put it to any lady if it was not hard to have one dozen
delicious patties (made of flour, salt, and water, with a large raisin
in the middle of each, and much sugar over the whole) swept away at one
fell swoop?

"You hid them, Tommy; I know you did!" cried the outraged hostess,
threatening her suspected guest with the milk-pot.

"I didn't!"

"You did!"

"It isn't proper to contradict," said Nan, who was hastily eating up the
jelly during the fray.

"Give them back, Demi," said Tommy.

"That's a fib, you've got them in your own pocket," bawled Demi, roused
by the false accusation.

"Let's take 'em away from him. It's too bad to make Daisy cry,"
suggested Nat, who found his first ball more exciting than he expected.

Daisy was already weeping, Bess like a devoted servant mingled her tears
with those of her mistress, and Nan denounced the entire race of boys as
"plaguey things." Meanwhile the battle raged among the gentlemen, for,
when the two defenders of innocence fell upon the foe, that hardened
youth intrenched himself behind a table and pelted them with the stolen
tarts, which were very effective missiles, being nearly as hard as
bullets. While his ammunition held out the besieged prospered, but the
moment the last patty flew over the parapet, the villain was seized,
dragged howling from the room, and cast upon the hall floor in an
ignominious heap. The conquerors then returned flushed with victory, and
while Demi consoled poor Mrs. Smith, Nat and Nan collected the scattered
tarts, replaced each raisin in its proper bed, and rearranged the dish
so that it really looked almost as well as ever. But their glory had
departed, for the sugar was gone, and no one cared to eat them after the
insult offered to them.

"I guess we had better go," said Demi, suddenly, as Aunt Jo's voice was
heard on the stairs.

"P'r'aps we had," and Nat hastily dropped a stray jumble that he had
just picked up.

But Mrs. Jo was among them before the retreat was accomplished, and into
her sympathetic ear the young ladies poured the story of their woes.

"No more balls for these boys till they have atoned for this bad
behavior by doing something kind to you," said Mrs. Jo, shaking her head
at the three culprits.

"We were only in fun," began Demi.

"I don't like fun that makes other people unhappy. I am disappointed in
you, Demi, for I hoped you would never learn to tease Daisy. Such a kind
little sister as she is to you."

"Boys always tease their sisters; Tom says so," muttered Demi.

"I don't intend that my boys shall, and I must send Daisy home if you
cannot play happily together," said Aunt Jo, soberly.

At this awful threat, Demi sidled up to his sister, and Daisy hastily
dried her tears, for to be separated was the worst misfortune that could
happen to the twins.

"Nat was bad, too, and Tommy was baddest of all," observed Nan, fearing
that two of the sinners would not get their fair share of punishment.

"I am sorry," said Nat, much ashamed.

"I ain't!" bawled Tommy through the keyhole, where he was listening with
all his might.

Mrs. Jo wanted very much to laugh, but kept her countenance, and said
impressively, as she pointed to the door,

"You can go, boys, but remember, you are not to speak to or play with
the little girls till I give you leave. You don't deserve the pleasure,
so I forbid it."

The ill-mannered young gentlemen hastily retired, to be received
outside with derision and scorn by the unrepentant Bangs, who would
not associate with them for at least fifteen minutes. Daisy was soon
consoled for the failure of her ball, but lamented the edict that parted
her from her brother, and mourned over his short-comings in her tender
little heart. Nan rather enjoyed the trouble, and went about turning up
her pug nose at the three, especially Tommy, who pretended not to care,
and loudly proclaimed his satisfaction at being rid of those "stupid
girls." But in his secret soul he soon repented of the rash act that
caused this banishment from the society he loved, and every hour of
separation taught him the value of the "stupid girls."

The others gave in very soon, and longed to be friends, for now there
was no Daisy to pet and cook for them; no Nan to amuse and doctor them;
and, worst of all, no Mrs. Jo to make home life pleasant and life easy
for them. To their great affliction, Mrs. Jo seemed to consider herself
one of the offended girls, for she hardly spoke to the outcasts, looked
as if she did not see them when she passed, and was always too busy now
to attend to their requests. This sudden and entire exile from favor
cast a gloom over their souls, for when Mother Bhaer deserted them,
their sun had set at noon-day, as it were, and they had no refuge left.

This unnatural state of things actually lasted for three days, then
they could bear it no longer, and fearing that the eclipse might become
total, went to Mr. Bhaer for help and counsel.

It is my private opinion that he had received instructions how to behave
if the case should be laid before him. But no one suspected it, and he
gave the afflicted boys some advice, which they gratefully accepted and
carried out in the following manner:

Secluding themselves in the garret, they devoted several play-hours to
the manufacture of some mysterious machine, which took so much paste
that Asia grumbled, and the little girls wondered mightily. Nan nearly
got her inquisitive nose pinched in the door, trying to see what was
going on, and Daisy sat about, openly lamenting that they could not
all play nicely together, and not have any dreadful secrets. Wednesday
afternoon was fine, and after a good deal of consultation about wind and
weather, Nat and Tommy went off, bearing an immense flat parcel hidden
under many newspapers. Nan nearly died with suppressed curiosity, Daisy
nearly cried with vexation, and both quite trembled with interest when
Demi marched into Mrs. Bhaer's room, hat in hand, and said, in the
politest tone possible to a mortal boy of his years,

"Please, Aunt Jo, would you and the girls come out to a surprise party
we have made for you? Do it's a very nice one."

"Thank you, we will come with pleasure; only, I must take Teddy with
me," replied Mrs. Bhaer, with a smile that cheered Demi like sunshine
after rain.

"We'd like to have him. The little wagon is all ready for the girls; you
won't mind walking just up to Pennyroyal Hill, will you Aunty?"

"I should like it exceedingly; but are you quite sure I shall not be in
the way?"

"Oh, no, indeed! we want you very much; and the party will be spoilt if
you don't come," cried Demi, with great earnestness.

"Thank you kindly, sir;" and Aunt Jo made him a grand curtsey, for she
liked frolics as well as any of them.

"Now, young ladies, we must not keep them waiting; on with the hats, and
let us be off at once. I'm all impatience to know what the surprise is."

As Mrs. Bhaer spoke every one bustled about, and in five minutes the
three little girls and Teddy were packed into the "clothes-basket," as
they called the wicker wagon which Toby drew. Demi walked at the head of
the procession, and Mrs. Jo brought up the rear, escorted by Kit. It was
a most imposing party, I assure you, for Toby had a red feather-duster
in his head, two remarkable flags waved over the carriage, Kit had a
blue bow on his neck, which nearly drove him wild, Demi wore a nosegay

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Online LibraryLouisa May AlcottLittle Men → online text (page 9 of 23)