Chapter 4 – Little Things

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"IT ‘S so wainy, I can’t go out, and evwybody is so cwoss they
won’t play with me," said Maud, when Polly found her fretting on
the stairs, and paused to ask the cause of her wails.

"I ‘ll play with you; only don’t scream and wake your mother. What
shall we play?"

"I don’t know; I ‘m tired of evwything, ’cause my toys are all
bwoken, and my dolls are all sick but Clawa," moaned Maud,
giving a jerk to the Paris doll which she held upside down by one
leg in the most unmaternal manner.

"I ‘m going to dress a dolly for my little sister; would n’t you like to
see me do it?" asked Polly, persuasively, hoping to beguile the
cross child and finish her own work at the same time.

"No, I should n’t, ’cause she ‘ll look nicer than my Clawa. Her
clothes won’t come off; and Tom spoilt ’em playing ball with her in
the yard."

"Would n’t you like to rip these clothes off, and have me show you
how to make some new ones, so you can dress and undress Clara
as much as you like?"

"Yes; I love to cut." And Maud’s, face brightened; for
destructiveness is one of the earliest traits of childhood, and
ripping was Maud’s delight.

Establishing themselves in the deserted dining-room, the children
fell to work; and when Fanny discovered them, Maud was
laughing with all her heart at poor Clara, who, denuded of her
finery, was cutting up all sorts of capers in the hands of her merry
little mistress.

"I should think you ‘d be ashamed to play with dolls, Polly. I have
n’t touched one this ever so long," said Fanny, looking down with a
superior air.

"I ain’t ashamed, for it keeps Maud happy, and will please my
sister Kitty; and I think sewing is better than prinking or reading
silly novels, so, now." And Polly stitched away with a resolute air,
for she and Fanny had had a little tiff; because Polly would n’t let
her friend do up her hair "like other folks," and bore her ears.

"Don’t be cross, dear, but come and do something nice, it ‘s so dull
to-day," said Fanny, anxious to be friends again, for it was doubly
dull without Polly.

"Can’t; I ‘m busy."

"You always are busy. I never saw such a girl. What in the world
do you find to do all the time?" asked Fanny, watching with
interest the set of the little red merino frock Polly was putting on
to her doll.

"Lots of things; but I like to be lazy sometimes as much as you do;
just lie on the sofa, and read fairy stories, or think about nothing.
Would you have a white-muslin apron or a black silk?" added
Polly, surveying her work with satisfaction.

"Muslin, with pockets and tiny blue bows. I ‘ll show you how."
And forgetting her hate and contempt for dolls, down sat Fanny,
soon getting as much absorbed as either of the others.

The dull day brightened wonderfully after that, and the time flew
pleasantly, as tongues and needles went together. Grandma peeped
in, and smiled at the busy group, saying, "Sew away, my dears;
dollies are safe companions, and needlework an accomplishment
that ‘s sadly neglected nowadays. Small stitches, Maud; neat
buttonholes, Fan; cut carefully, Polly, and don’t waste your cloth.
Take pains; and the best needlewoman shall have a pretty bit of
white satin for a doll’s bonnet."

Fanny exerted herself, and won the prize, for Polly helped Maud,
and neglected her own work; but she did n’t care much, for Mr.
Shaw said, looking at the three bright faces at the tea-table, "I
guess Polly has been making sunshine for you to-day." "No,
indeed, sir, I have n’t done anything, only dress Maud’s doll."

And Polly did n’t think she had done much; but it was one of the
little things which are always waiting to be done in this world of
ours, where rainy days come so often, where spirits get out of tune,
and duty won’t go hand in hand with pleasure. Little things of this
sort are especially good work for little people; a kind little thought,
an unselfish little act, a cheery little word, are so sweet and
comfortable, that no one can fail to feel their beauty and love the
giver, no matter how small they are. Mothers do a deal of this sort
of thing, unseen, unthanked, but felt and remembered long
afterward, and never lost, for this is the simple magic that binds
hearts together, and keeps home happy. Polly had learned this

She loved to do the "little things" that others did not see, or were
too busy to stop for; and while doing them, without a thought of
thanks, she made sunshine for herself as well as others. There was
so much love in her own home, that she quickly felt the want of it
in Fanny’s, and puzzled herself to find out why these people were
not kind and patient to one another. She did not try to settle the
question, but did her best to love and serve and bear with each, and
the good will, the gentle heart, the helpful ways and simple
manners of our Polly made her dear to every one, for these virtues,
even in a little child, are lovely and attractive.

Mr. Shaw was very kind to her, for he liked her modest, respectful
manners; and Polly was so grateful for his many favors, that she
soon forgot her fear, and showed her affection in all sorts of
confiding little ways, which pleased him extremely. She used to
walk across the park with him when he went to his office in the
morning, talking busily all the way, and saying "Good-by" with a
nod and a smile when they parted at the great gate. At first, Mr.
Shaw did not care much about it; but soon he missed her if she did
not come, and found that something fresh and pleasant seemed to
brighten all his day, if a small, gray-coated figure, with an
intelligent face, a merry voice, and a little hand slipped confidingly
into his, went with him through the wintry park. Coming home
late, he liked to see a curly, brown head watching at the window;
to find his slippers ready, his paper in its place, and a pair of
willing feet, eager to wait upon him. "I wish my Fanny was more
like her," he often said to himself, as he watched the girls, while
they thought him deep in politics or the state of the money market.
Poor Mr. Shaw had been so busy getting rich, that he had not
found time to teach his children to love him; he was more at
leisure now, and as his boy and girls grew up, he missed
something. Polly was unconsciously showing him what it was, and
making child-love so sweet, that he felt he could not do without it
any more, yet did n’t quite know how to win the confidence of the
children, who had always found him busy, indifferent, and

As the girls were going to bed one night, Polly kissed grandma, as
usual, and Fanny laughed at her, saying, "What a baby you are! We
are too old for such things now."

"I don’t think people ever are too old to kiss their fathers and
mothers," was the quick answer.

"Right, my little Polly;" and Mr. Shaw stretched out his hand to her
with such a kindly look, that Fanny stared surprised, and then said,
shyly, "I thought you did n’t care about it, father." "I do, my dear:"
And Mr. Shaw put out the other hand to Fanny, who gave him a
daughterly kiss, quite forgetting everything but the tender feeling
that sprung up in her heart at the renewal of the childish custom
which we never need outgrow.

Mrs. Shaw was a nervous, fussy invalid, who wanted something
every five minutes; so Polly found plenty of small things to do for
her and did, them so cheerfully, that the poor lady loved to have
the quiet, helpful child near, to wait upon her, read to her, run
errands, or hand the seven different shawls which were continually
being put on or off.

Grandma, too, was glad to find willing hands and feet to serve her;
and Polly passed many happy hours in the quaint rooms, learning
all sorts of pretty arts, and listening to pleasant chat, never
dreaming how much sunshine she brought to the solitary old lady.

Tom was Polly’s rock ahead for a long time, because he was
always breaking out in a new place, and one never knew where to
find him. He tormented yet amused her; was kind one day, and a
bear the next; at times she fancied he was never going to be bad
again, and the next thing she knew he was deep in mischief, and
hooted at the idea of repentance and reformation. Polly gave him
up as a hard case; but was so in the habit of helping any one who
seemed in trouble, that she was good to him simply because she
could n’t help it.

"What ‘s the matter? Is your lesson too hard for you?" she asked
one evening, as a groan made her look across the table to where
Tom sat scowling over a pile of dilapidated books, with his hands
in his hair, as if his head was in danger of flying asunder with the
tremendous effort he was making.

"Hard! Guess it is. What in thunder do I care about the old
Carthaginians? Regulus was n’t bad; but I ‘m sick of him!" And
Tom dealt "Harkness’s Latin Reader" a thump, which expressed his
feelings better than words.

"I like Latin, and used to get on well when I studied it with Jimmy.
Perhaps I can help you a little bit," said Polly, as Tom wiped his
hot face and refreshed himself with a peanut.

"You? pooh! girls’ Latin don’t amount to much anyway," was the
grateful reply.

But Polly was used to him now, and, nothing daunted, took a look
at the grimy page in the middle of which Tom had stuck. She read
it so well, that the young gentleman stopped munching to regard
her with respectful astonishment, and when she stopped, he said,
suspiciously, "You are a sly one, Polly, to study up so you can
show off before me. But it won’t do, ma’am; turn over a dozen
pages, and try again."

Polly obeyed, and did even better than before, saying, as she
looked up, with a laugh, "I ‘ve been through the whole book; so
you won’t catch me that way, Tom."

"I say, how came you to know such a lot?" asked Tom, much

"I studied with Jimmy, and kept up with him, for father let us be
together in all our lessons. It was so nice, and we learned so fast!"

"Tell me about Jimmy. He ‘s your brother, is n’t he?"

"Yes; but he ‘s dead, you know. I ‘ll tell about him some other time;
you ought to study now, and perhaps I can help you," said Polly,
with a little quiver of the lips.

"Should n’t wonder if you could." And Tom spread the book
between them with a grave and business-like air, for he felt that
Polly had got the better of him, and it behooved him to do his best
for the honor of his sex. He went at the lesson with a will, and
soon floundered out of his difficulties, for Polly gave him a lift
here and there, and they went on swimmingly, till they came to
some rules to be learned. Polly had forgotten them, so they, both
committed them to memory; Tom, with hands in his pockets,
rocked to and fro, muttering rapidly, while Polly twisted the little
curl on her forehead and stared at the wall, gabbling with all her

"Done!" cried Tom, presently.

"Done!" echoed Polly; and then they heard each other recite till
both were perfect "That ‘s pretty good fun," said Tom, joyfully,
tossing poor Harkness away, and feeling that the pleasant
excitement of companionship could lend a charm even to Latin

"Now, ma’am, we ‘ll take a turn at algibbera. I like that as much as
I hate Latin."

Polly accepted the invitation, and soon owned that Tom could beat
her here. This fact restored his equnimity; but he did n’t crow over
her, far from it; for he helped her with a paternal patience that
made her eyes twinkle with suppressed fun, as he soberly
explained and illustrated, unconsciously imitating Dominie Deane,
till Polly found it difficult to keep from laughing in his face.

"You may have another go at it any, time you like," generously
remarked Tom, as he shied the algebra after the Latin Reader.

"I ‘ll come every evening, then. I ‘d like to, for I have n’t studied a
bit since I came. You shall try and make me like algebra, and I ‘ll
try and make you like Latin, will you?"

"Oh, I ‘d like it well enough, if there was any one explain it to me.
Old Deane puts us through double-quick, and don’t give a fellow
time to ask questions when we read."

"Ask your father; he knows."

"Don’t believe he does; should n’t dare to bother him, if he did."

"Why not?"

"He ‘d pull my ears, and call me a ‘stupid,’ or tell me not to worry

"I don’t think he would. He ‘s very kind to me, and I ask lots of

"He likes you better than he does me."

"Now, Tom! it ‘s wrong of you to say so. Of course he loves you
ever so much more than he does me," cried Polly, reprovingly.

"Why don’t he show it then?" muttered Tom, with a half-wistful,
half-defiant glance toward the library door, which stood ajar.

"You act so, how can he?" asked Polly, after a pause, in which she
put Tom’s question to herself, and could find no better reply than
the one she gave him.

"Why don’t he give me my velocipede? He said, if I did well at
school for a month, I should have it; and I ‘ve been pegging away
like fury for most six weeks, and he don’t do a thing about it. The
girls get their duds, because they tease. I won’t do that anyway; but
you don’t catch me studying myself to death, and no pay for it."

"It is too bad; but you ought to do it because it ‘s right, and never
mind being paid," began Polly, trying to be moral, but secretly
sympathizing heartily with poor Tom.

"Don’t you preach, Polly. If the governor took any notice of me,
and cared how I got on, I would n’t mind the presents so much; but
he don’t care a hang, and never even asked if I did well last
declamation day, when I ‘d gone and learned ‘The Battle of Lake
Regillus,’ because he said he liked it."

"Oh, Tom! Did you say that? It ‘s splendid! Jim and I used to say
Horatius together, and it was such fun. Do speak your piece to me,
I do so like ‘Macaulay’s Lays.’"

"It ‘s dreadful long," began Tom; but his face brightened, for
Polly’s interest soothed his injured feelings, and he was glad to
prove his elocutionary powers. He began without much spirit; but
soon the martial ring of the lines fired him, and before he knew it,
he was on his legs thundering away in grand style, while Polly
listened with kindling face and absorbed attention. Tom did
declaim well, for he quite forgot himself, and delivered the stirring
ballad with an energy that made Polly flush and tingle with
admiration and delight, and quite electrified a second listener, who
had heard all that went on, and watched the little scene from
behind his newspaper.

As Tom paused, breathless, and Polly clapped her hands
enthusiastically, the sound was loudly echoed from behind him.
Both whirled round, and there was Mr. Shaw, standing in the
doorway, applauding with all his might.

Tom looked much abashed, and said not a word; Polly ran to Mr.
Shaw, and danced before him, saying, eagerly, "Was n’t it
splendid? Did n’t he do well? May n’t he have his velocipede

"Capital, Tom; you ‘ll be an orator yet. Learn another piece like
that, and I ‘ll come and hear you speak it. Are you ready for your
velocipede, hey?"

Polly was right; and Tom owned that "the governor" was kind, did
like him and had n’t entirely forgotten his promise. The boy turned
red with pleasure, and picked at the buttons on his jacket, while
listening to this unexpected praise; but when he spoke, he looked
straight up in his father’s face, while his own shone with pleasure,
as he answered, in one breath, "Thankee, sir. I ‘ll do it, sir. Guess I
am, sir!"

"Very good; then look out for your new horse tomorrow, sir." And
Mr. Shaw stroked the fuzzy red head with a kind hand, feeling a
fatherly pleasure in the conviction that there was something in his
boy after all.

Tom got his velocipede next day, named it Black Auster, in
memory of the horse in "The Battle of Lake Regillus," and came to
grief as soon as he began to ride his new steed.

"Come out and see me go it," whispered Tom to Polly, after three
days’ practice in the street, for he had already learned to ride in the

Polly and Maud willingly went, and watched his struggles, with
deep interest, till he got an upset, which nearly put an end to his
velocipeding forever.

"Hi, there! Auster’s coming!" shouted Tom, as came rattling down
the long, steep street outside the park.

They stepped aside, and he whizzed by, arms and legs going like
mad, with the general appearance of a runaway engine. It would
have been a triumphant descent, if a big dog had not bounced
suddenly through one of the openings, and sent the whole concern
helter-skelter into the gutter. Polly laughed as she ran to view the
ruin. for Tom lay flat on his back with the velocipede atop him,
while the big dog barked wildly, and his master scolded him for
his awkwardness. But when she saw Tom’s face, Polly was
frightened, for the color had all gone out of it, his eyes looked
strange and dizzy, and drops of blood began to trickle from a great
cut on his forehead. The man saw it, too, and had him up in a
minute; but he could n’t stand, and stared about him in a dazed sort
of way, as he sat on the curbstone, while Polly held her
handkerchief to his forehead, and pathetically begged to know if
he was killed.

"Don’t scare mother, I ‘m all right. Got upset, did n’t I?" he asked,
presently, eyeing the prostrate velocipede with more anxiety about
its damages than his own.

"I knew you ‘d hurt yourself with that horrid thing just let it be, and
come home, for your head bleeds dreadfully, and everybody is
looking at us," whispered Polly, trying to tie the little handkerchief
over the ugly cut.

"Come on, then. Jove! how queer my head feels! Give us a boost,
please. Stop howling, Maud, and come home. You bring the
machine, and I ‘ll pay you, Pat." As he spoke, Tom slowly picked
himself and steadying himself by Polly’s shoulder, issued
commands, and the procession fell into line. First, the big dog,
barking at intervals; then the good-natured Irishman, trundling
"that divil of a whirligig," as he disrespectfully called the idolized
velocipede; then the wounded hero, supported by the helpful Polly;
and Maud brought up the rear in tears, bearing Tom’s cap.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Shaw was out driving with grandma, and
Fanny was making calls; so that there was no one but Polly to
stand by Tom, for the parlor-maid turned faint at the sight of
blood, and the chamber-maid lost her wits in the flurry. It was a
bad cut, and must be sewed up at once, the doctor said, as soon as
he came. "Somebody must hold his head;" he added, as he
threaded his queer little needle.

"I ‘ll keep still, but if anybody must hold me, let Polly. You ain’t
afraid, are you?" asked Tom, with imploring look, for he did n’t
like the idea of being sewed a bit.

Polly was just going to shrink away, saying, "Oh I can’t!" when she
remembered that Tom once called her a coward. Here was a
chance to prove that she was n’t; besides, poor Tom had no one
else to help him; so she came up to the sofa where he lay, and
nodded reassuringly, as she put a soft little hand on either side of
the damaged head.

"You are a trump, Polly," whispered Tom. Then he set his teeth,
clenched his hands, lay quite still, and bore it like a man. It was all
over in a minute or two, and when he had had a glass of wine, and
was nicely settled on his bed, he felt pretty comfortable, in spite of
the pain in his head; and being ordered to keep quiet, he said,
"Thank you ever so much, Polly," and watched her with a grateful
face as she crept away.

He had to keep the house for a week, and laid about looking very
interesting with a great black patch on his forehead. Every one
‘petted him;’ for the doctor said, that if the blow had been an inch
nearer the temple, it would have been fatal, and the thought of
losing him so suddenly made bluff old Tom very precious all at
once. His father asked him how he was a dozen times a day; his
mother talked continually of "that dear boy’s narrow escape"; and
grandma cockered him up with every delicacy she could invent;
and the girls waited on him like devoted slaves. This new
treatment had an excellent effect; for when neglected Tom got
over his first amazement at this change of base, he blossomed out
delightfully, as sick people do sometimes, and surprised his family
by being unexpectedly patient, grateful, and amiable. Nobody ever
knew how much good it did him; for boys seldom have
confidences of this sort except with their mothers, and Mrs. Shaw
had never found the key to her son’s heart. But a little seed was
sowed then that took root, and though it grew very slowly, it came
to something in the end. Perhaps Polly helped it a little. Evening
was his hardest time, for want of exercise made him as restless and
nervous as it was possible for a hearty lad to be on such a short

He could n’t sleep so the girls amused him; Fanny played and read
aloud; Polly sung, and told stories; and did the latter so well, that it
got to be a regular thing for her to begin as soon as twilight came,
and Tom was settled in his favorite place on grandma’s sofa.

"Fire away, Polly," said the young sultan, one evening, as his little
Scheherazade sat down in her low chair, after stirring up the fire
till the room was bright and cosy.

"I don’t feel like stories to-night, Tom. I ‘ve told all I know, and
can’t make up any more," answered Polly, leaning her head on her
hand with a sorrowful look that Tom had never seen before. He
watched her a minute, and then asked, curiously, "What were you
thinking about, just now, when you sat staring at the fire, and
getting soberer and soberer every minute?

"I was thinking about Jimmy."

"Would you mind telling about him? You know, you said you
would some time; but don’t, if you ‘d rather not," said Tom,
lowering his rough voice respectfully.

"I like to talk about him; but there is n’t much to tell," began Polly,
grateful for his interest. "Sitting here with you reminded me of the
way I used to sit with him when he was sick. We used to have such
happy times, and it ‘s so pleasant to think about them now."

"He was awfully good, was n’t he?"

"No, he was n’t; but he tried to be, and mother says that is half the
battle. We used to get tired of trying; but we kept making
resolutions, and working hard to keep ’em. I don’t think I got on
much; but Jimmy did, and every one loved him."

"Did n’t you ever squabble, as we do?"

"Yes, indeed, sometimes; but we could n’t stay mad, and always
made it up again as soon as we could. Jimmy used to come round
first, and say, ‘All serene, Polly,’ so kind and jolly, that I could n’t
help laughing and being friends right away."

"Did he not know a lot?"

"Yes, I think he did, for he liked to study, and wanted to get on, so
he could help father. People used to call him a fine boy, and I felt
so proud to hear it; but they did n’t know half how wise he was,
because he did n’t show off a bit. I suppose sisters always are grand
of their brothers; but I don’t believe many girls had as much right
to be as I had."

"Most girls don’t care two pins about their brothers; so that shows
you don’t know much about it."

"Well, they ought to, if they don’t; and they would if the boys were
as kind to them as Jimmy was to me."

"Why, what did he do?"

"Loved me dearly, and was n’t ashamed to show it," cried Polly,
with a sob in her voice, that made her answer very eloquent.

"What made him die, Polly?" asked Tom, soberly, after little

"He got hurt coasting, last winter; but he never told which boy did
it, and he only lived a week. I helped take care of him; and he was
so patient, I used to wonder at him, for he was in dreadful pain all
time. He gave me his books, and his dog, and his speckled hens,
and his big knife, and said, ‘Good-by, Polly,’ and kissed me the last
thing and then O Jimmy! Jimmy! If he only could come back!"

Poor Polly’s eyes had been getting fuller and fuller, lips trembling
more and more, as she went on; when she came to that "good-by,"
she could n’t get any further, but covered up her face, and cried as
her heart would break. Tom was full of sympathy, but did n’t know
how to show it; so he sat shaking up the camphor bottle, and trying
to think of something proper and comfortable to say, when Fanny
came to the rescue, and cuddled Polly in her arms, with soothing
little pats and whispers and kisses, till the tears stopped, and Polly
said, she "did n’t mean to, and would n’t any more. I ‘ve been
thinking about my dear boy all the evening, for Tom reminds me
of him," she added, with a sigh.

"Me? How can I, when I ain’t a bit like him?" cried Tom, amazed.

"But you are in some ways."

"Wish I was; but I can’t be, for he was good, you know."

"So are you, when you choose. Has n’t he been good and patient,
and don’t we all like to pet him when he ‘s clever, Fan?"’ said Polly,
whose heart was still aching for her brother, and ready for his sake
to find virtues even in tormenting Tom.

"Yes; I don’t know the boy lately; but he ‘ll be as bad as ever when
he ‘s well," returned Fanny, who had n’t much faith in sick-bed

"Much you know about it," growled Tom, lying down again, for he
had sat bolt upright when Polly made the astounding declaration
that he was like the well-beloved Jimmy. That simple little history
had made a deep impression on Tom, and the tearful ending
touched the tender spot that most boys hide so carefully. It is very
pleasant to be loved and admired, very sweet to think we shall be
missed and mourned when we die; and Tom was seized with a
sudden desire to imitate this boy, who had n’t done anything
wonderful, yet was so dear to his sister, that she cried for him a
whole year after he was dead; so studious and clever, the people
called him "a fine fellow"; and so anxious to be good, that he kept
on trying, till he was better even than Polly, whom Tom privately
considered a model of virtue, as girls go.

"I just wish I had a sister like you," he broke out, all of a sudden.

"And I just wish I had a brother like Jim," cried Fanny, for she felt
the reproach in Tom’s words, and knew she deserved it.

"I should n’t think you ‘d envy anybody, for you ‘ve got one
another," said Polly, with such a wistful look, that it suddenly set
Tom and Fanny to wondering why they did n’t have better times
together, and enjoy themselves, as Polly and Jim did.

"Fan don’t care for anybody but herself," said Tom.

"Tom is such a bear," retorted Fanny.

"I would n’t say such things, for if anything should happen to either
of you, the other one would feel so sorry. Every cross word I ever
said to Jimmy comes back now, and makes me wish I had n’t."

Two great tears rolled down Polly’s cheeks, and were quietly
wiped away; but I think they watered that sweet sentiment, called
fraternal love, which till now had been neglected in the hearts of
this brother and sister. They did n’t say anything then, or make any
plans, or confess any faults; but when they parted for the night,
Fanny gave the wounded head a gentle pat (Tom never would have
forgiven her if she had kissed him), and said, in a whisper, "I hope
you ‘ll have a good sleep, Tommy, dear."

And Tom nodded back at her, with a hearty "Same to you, Fan."

That was all; but it meant a good deal, for the voices were kind,
and the eyes met full of that affection which makes words of little
consequence. Polly saw it; and though she did n’t know that she
had made the sunshine, it shone back upon her so pleasantly, that
she fell happily asleep, though her Jimmy was n’t there to say


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