Chapter 8 – Merry And Molly

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月04日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

Now let us see how the other missionaries got on with their tasks.

Farmer Grant was a thrifty, well-to-do man, anxious to give his
children greater advantages than he had enjoyed, and to improve
the fine place of which he was justly proud. Mrs. Grant was a
notable housewife, as ambitious and industrious as her husband,
but too busy to spend any time on the elegancies of life, though
always ready to help the poor and sick like a good neighbor and
Christian woman. The three sons – Tom, Dick, and Harry – were big
fellows of seventeen, nineteen, and twenty-one; the first two on the
farm, and the elder in a store just setting up for himself.
Kind-hearted but rough-mannered youths, who loved Merry very
much, but teased her sadly about her "fine lady airs," as they called
her dainty ways and love of beauty.

Merry was a thoughtful girl, full of innocent fancies, refined tastes,
and romantic dreams, in which no one sympathized at home,
though she was the pet of the family. It did seem, to an outsider, as
if the delicate little creature had got there by mistake, for she
looked very like a tea-rose in a field of clover and dandelions,
whose highest aim in life was to feed cows and help make root

When the girls talked over the new society, it pleased Merry very
much, and she decided not only to try and love work better, but to
convert her family to a liking for pretty things, as she called her
own more cultivated tastes.

"I will begin at once, and show them that I don’t mean to shirk my
duty, though I do want to be nice," thought she, as she sat at supper
one night and looked about her, planning her first move.

Not a very cheering prospect for a lover of the beautiful, certainly,
for the big kitchen, though as neat as wax, had nothing lovely in it,
except a red geranium blooming at the window. Nor were the
people all that could be desired, in some respects, as they sat about
the table shovelling in pork and beans with their knives, drinking
tea from their saucers, and laughing out with a hearty "Haw, haw,"
when anything amused them. Yet the boys were handsome, strong
specimens, the farmer a hale, benevolent-looking man, the
housewife a pleasant, sharp-eyed matron, who seemed to find
comfort in looking often at the bright face at her elbow, with the
broad forehead, clear eyes, sweet mouth, and quiet voice that came
like music in among the loud masculine ones, or the quick,
nervous tones of a woman always in a hurry.

Merry’s face was so thoughtful that evening that her father
observed it, for, when at home, he watched her as one watches a
kitten, glad to see anything so pretty, young, and happy, at its play.

"Little daughter has got something on her mind, I mistrust. Come
and tell father all about it," he said, with a sounding slap on his
broad knee as he turned his chair from the table to the ugly stove,
where three pairs of wet boots steamed underneath, and a great
kettle of cider apple-sauce simmered above.

"When I’ve helped clear up, I’ll come and talk. Now, mother, you
sit down and rest; Roxy and I can do everything," answered Merry,
patting the old rocking-chair so invitingly that the tired woman
could not resist, especially as watching the kettle gave her an
excuse for obeying.

"Well, I don’t care if I do, for I’ve been on my feet since five
o’clock. Be sure you cover things up, and shut the buttery door, and
put the cat down cellar, and sift your meal. I’ll see to the
buckwheats last thing before I go to bed."

Mrs. Grant subsided with her knitting, for her hands were never
idle; Tom tilted his chair back against the wall and picked his teeth
with his pen-knife; Dick got out a little pot of grease, to make the
boots water-tight; and Harry sat down at the small table to look
over his accounts, with an important air, – for every one occupied
this room, and the work was done in the out-kitchen behind.

Merry hated clearing up, but dutifully did every distasteful task,
and kept her eye on careless Roxy till all was in order; then she
gladly went to perch on her father’s knee, seeing in all the faces
about her the silent welcome they always wore for the "little one."

"Yes, I do want something, but I know you will say it is silly," she
began, as her father pinched her blooming cheek, with the wish
that his peaches would ever look half as well.

"Shouldn’t wonder if it was a doll now;" and Mr. Grant stroked her
head with an indulgent smile, as if she was about six instead of

"Why, father, you know I don’t! I haven’t played with dollies for
years and years. No; I want to fix up my room pretty, like Jill’s. I’ll
do it all myself, and only want a few things, for I don’t expect it to
look as nice as hers."

Indignation gave Merry courage to state her wishes boldly, though
she knew the boys would laugh. They did, and her mother said in a
tone of surprise, –

"Why, child, what more can you want? I’m sure your room is
always as neat as a new pin, thanks to your bringing up, and I told
you to have a fire there whenever you wanted to."

"Let me have some old things out of the garret, and I’ll show you
what I want. It is neat, but so bare and ugly I hate to be there. I do
so love something pretty to look at!" and Merry gave a little shiver
of disgust as she turned her eyes away from the large greasy boot
Dick was holding up to be sure it was well lubricated all round.

"So do I, and that’s a fact. I couldn’t get on without my pretty girl
here, any way. Why, she touches up the old place better than a
dozen flower-pots in full blow," said the farmer, as his eye went
from the scarlet geranium to the bright young face so near his own.

"I wish I had a dozen in the sitting-room window. Mother says they
are not tidy, but I’d keep them neat, and I know you’d like it,"
broke in Merry, glad of the chance to get one of the long-desired
wishes of her heart fulfilled.

"I’ll fetch you some next time I go over to Ballad’s. Tell me what
you want, and we’ll have a posy bed somewhere round, see if we
don’t," said her father, dimly understanding what she wanted.

"Now, if mother says I may fix my room, I shall be satisfied, and
I’ll do my chores without a bit of fuss, to show how grateful I am,"
said the girl, thanking her father with a kiss, and smiling at her
mother so wistfully that the good woman could not refuse.

"You may have anything you like out of the blue chest. There’s a
lot of things there that the moths got at after Grandma died, and I
couldn’t bear to throw or give ’em away. Trim up your room as you
like, and mind you don’t forget your part of the bargain," answered
Mrs. Grant, seeing profit in the plan.

"I won’t; I’ll work all the morning to-morrow, and in the afternoon
I’ll get ready to show you what I call a nice, pretty room,"
answered Merry, looking so pleased it seemed as if another flower
had blossomed in the large bare kitchen.

She kept her word, and the very stormy afternoon when Jill got
into trouble, Merry was working busily at her little bower. In the
blue chest she found a variety of treasures, and ignoring the moth
holes, used them to the best advantage, trying to imitate the simple
comfort with a touch of elegance which prevailed in Mrs. Minot’s
back bedroom.

Three faded red-moreen curtains went up at the windows over the
chilly paper shades, giving a pleasant glow to the bare walls. A red
quilt with white stars, rather the worse for many washings, covered
the bed, and a gay cloth the table, where a judicious arrangement
of books and baskets concealed the spots. The little air-tight stove
was banished, and a pair of ancient andirons shone in the fire-light.
Grandma’s last and largest braided rug lay on the hearth, and her
brass candlesticks adorned the bureau, over the mirror of which
was festooned a white muslin skirt, tied up with Merry’s red sash.
This piece of elegance gave the last touch to her room, she
thought, and she was very proud of it, setting forth all her small
store of trinkets in a large shell, with an empty scent bottle, and a
clean tidy over the pincushion. On the walls she hung three
old-fashioned pictures, which she ventured to borrow from the
garret till better could be found. One a mourning piece, with a
very tall lady weeping on an urn in a grove of willows, and two
small boys in knee breeches and funny little square tails to their
coats, looking like cherubs in large frills. The other was as good as
a bonfire, being an eruption of Vesuvius, and very lurid indeed, for
the Bay of Naples was boiling like a pot, the red sky raining rocks,
and a few distracted people lying flat upon the shore. The third
was a really pretty scene of children dancing round a May-pole, for
though nearly a hundred years old, the little maids smiled and the
boys pranced as gayly as if the flowers they carried were still alive
and sweet.

"Now I’ll call them all to see, and say that it is pretty. Then I’ll
enjoy it, and come here when things look dismal and bare
everywhere else," said Merry, when at last it was done. She had
worked all the afternoon, and only finished at supper time, so the
candles had to be lighted that the toilette might look its best, and
impress the beholders with an idea of true elegance. Unfortunately,
the fire smoked a little, and a window was set ajar to clear the
room; an evil-disposed gust blew in, wafting the thin drapery
within reach of the light, and when Merry threw open the door
proudly thinking to display her success, she was horrified to find
the room in a blaze, and half her labor all in vain.

The conflagration was over in a minute, however, for the boys tore
down the muslin and stamped out the fire with much laughter,
while Mrs. Grant bewailed the damage to her carpet, and poor
Merry took refuge in her father’s arms, refusing to be comforted in
spite of his kind commendation of "Grandma’s fixins."

The third little missionary had the hardest time of all, and her first
efforts were not much more satisfactory nor successful than the
others. Her father was away from morning till night, and then had
his paper to read, books to keep, or "a man to see down town," so
that, after a hasty word at tea, he saw no more of the children till
another evening, as they were seldom up at his early breakfast. He
thought they were well taken care of, for Miss Bathsheba Dawes
was an energetic, middle-aged spinster when she came into the
family, and had been there fifteen years, so he did not observe,
what a woman would have seen at once, that Miss Bat was getting
old and careless, and everything about the house was at sixes and
sevens. She took good care of him, and thought she had done her
duty if she got three comfortable meals, nursed the children when
they were ill, and saw that the house did not burn up. So Maria
Louisa and Napoleon Bonaparte got on as they could, without the
tender cares of a mother. Molly had been a happy-go-lucky child,
contented with her pets, her freedom, and little Boo to love; but
now she was just beginning to see that they were not like other
children, and to feel ashamed of it.

"Papa is busy, but Miss Bat ought to see to us; she is paid for it,
and goodness knows she has an easy time now, for if I ask her to
do anything, she groans over her bones, and tells me young folks
should wait on themselves. I take all the care of Boo off her hands,
but I can’t wash my own things, and he hasn’t a decent trouser to
his blessed little legs. I’d tell papa, but it wouldn’t do any good;
he’d only say, ‘Yes, child, yes, I’ll attend to it,’ and never do a

This used to be Molly’s lament, when some especially trying event
occurred, and if the girls were not there to condole with her, she
would retire to the shed-chamber, call her nine cats about her, and,
sitting in the old bushel basket, pull her hair about her ears, and
scold all alone. The cats learned to understand this habit, and
nobly did their best to dispel the gloom which now and then
obscured the sunshine of their little mistress. Some of them would
creep into her lap and purr till the comfortable sound soothed her
irritation; the sedate elders sat at her feet blinking with such wise
and sympathetic faces, that she felt as if half a dozen Solomons
were giving her the sagest advice; while the kittens frisked about,
cutting up their drollest capers till she laughed in spite of herself.
When the laugh came, the worst of the fit was over, and she soon
cheered up, dismissing the consolers with a pat all round, a feast of
good things from Miss Bat’s larder, and the usual speech: –

"Well, dears, it’s of no use to worry. I guess we shall get along
somehow, if we don’t fret."

With which wise resolution, Molly would leave her retreat and
freshen up her spirits by a row on the river or a romp with Boo,
which always finished the case. Now, however, she was bound to
try the new plan and do something toward reforming not only the
boy’s condition, but the disorder and discomfort of home.

"I’ll play it is Siam, and this the house of a native, and I’m come to
show the folks how to live nicely. Miss Bat won’t know what to
make of it, and I can’t tell her, so I shall get some fun out of it,
any way," thought Molly, as she surveyed the dining-room the day
her mission began.

The prospect was not cheering; and, if the natives of Siam live in
such confusion, it is high time they were attended to. The
breakfast-table still stood as it was left, with slops of coffee on the
cloth; bits of bread, egg-shells, and potato-skins lay about, and one
lonely sausage was cast away in the middle of a large platter. The
furniture was dusty, stove untidy, and the carpet looked as if
crumbs had been scattered to chickens who declined their
breakfast. Boo was sitting on the sofa, with his arm through a hole
in the cover, hunting for some lost treasure put away there for safe
keeping, like a little magpie as he was. Molly fancied she washed
and dressed him well enough; but to-day she seemed to see more
clearly, and sighed as she thought of the hard job in store for her if
she gave him the thorough washing he needed, and combed out
that curly mop of hair.

"I’ll clear up first and do that by and by. I ought to have a nice little
tub and good towels, like Mrs. Minot, and I will, too, if I buy them
myself," she said, piling up cups with an energy that threatened
destruction to handles.

Miss Bat, who was trailing about the kitchen, with her head pinned
up in a little plaid shawl, was so surprised by the demand for a pan
of hot water and four clean towels, that she nearly dropped her
snuff-box, chief comfort of her lazy soul.

"What new whimsey now? Generally, the dishes stand round till I
have time to pick ’em up, and you are off coasting or careering
somewhere. Well, this tidy fit won’t last long, so I may as well
make the most of it," said Miss Bat, as she handed out the required
articles, and then pushed her spectacles from the tip of her sharp
nose to her sharper black eyes for a good look at the girl who stood
primly before her, with a clean apron on and her hair braided up
instead of flying wildly about her shoulders.

"Umph!" was all the comment that Miss Bat made on this unusual
neatness, and she went on scraping her saucepans, while Molly
returned to her work, very well pleased with the effect of her first
step, for she felt that the bewilderment of Miss Bat would be a
constant inspiration to fresh efforts.

An hour of hard work produced an agreeable change in the abode
of the native, for the table was cleared, room swept and dusted,
fire brightened, and the holes in the sofa-covering were pinned up
till time could be found to mend them. To be sure, rolls of lint lay
in corners, smears of ashes were on the stove hearth, and dust still
lurked on chair rounds and table legs. But too much must not be
expected of a new convert, so the young missionary sat down to
rest, well pleased and ready for another attempt as soon as she
could decide in what direction it should be made. She quailed
before Boo as she looked at the unconscious innocent peacefully
playing with the spotted dog, now bereft of his tail, and the lone
sausage with which he was attempting to feed the hungry animal,
whose red mouth always gaped for more.

"It will be an awful job, and he is so happy I won’t plague him yet.
Guess I’ll go and put my room to rights first, and pick up some
clean clothes to put on him, if he is alive after I get through with
him," thought Molly, foreseeing a stormy passage for the boy, who
hated a bath as much as some people hate a trip across the

Up she went, and finding the fire out felt discouraged, thought she
would rest a little more, so retired under the blankets to read one
of the Christmas books. The dinner-bell rang while she was still
wandering happily in "Nelly’s Silver Mine," and she ran down to
find that Boo had laid out a railroad all across her neat room, using
bits of coal for sleepers and books for rails, over which he was
dragging the yellow sled laden with a dismayed kitten, the tailless
dog, and the remains of the sausage, evidently on its way to the
tomb, for Boo took bites at it now and then, no other lunch being
offered him.

"Oh dear! why can’t boys play without making such a mess,"
sighed Molly, picking up the feathers from the duster with which
Boo had been trying to make a "cocky-doo" of the hapless dog. "I’ll
wash him right after dinner, and that will keep him out of mischief
for a while," she thought, as the young engineer unsuspiciously
proceeded to ornament his already crocky countenance with
squash, cranberry sauce, and gravy, till he looked more like a Fiji
chief in full war-paint than a Christian boy.

"I want two pails of hot water, please, Miss Bat, and the big tub,"
said Molly, as the ancient handmaid emptied her fourth cup of tea,
for she dined with the family, and enjoyed her own good cooking
in its prime.

"What are you going to wash now?"

"Boo – I’m sure he needs it enough;" and Molly could not help
laughing as the victim added to his brilliant appearance by
smearing the colors all together with a rub of two grimy hands,
making a fine "Turner" of himself.

"Now, Maria Louisa Bemis, you ain’t going to cut up no capers
with that child! The idea of a hot bath in the middle of the day, and
him full of dinner, and croupy into the bargain! Wet a corner of a
towel at the kettle-spout and polish him off if you like, but you
won’t risk his life in no bath-tubs this cold day."

Miss Bat’s word was law in some things, so Molly had to submit,
and took Boo away, saying, loftily, as she left the room, –

"I shall ask father, and do it to-night, for I will not have my
brother look like a pig."

"My patience! how the Siamese do leave their things round," she
exclaimed, as she surveyed her room after making up the fire and
polishing off Boo. "I’ll put things in order, and then mend up my
rags, if I can find my thimble. Now, let me see;" and she went to
exploring her closet, bureau, and table, finding such disorder
everywhere that her courage nearly gave out.

She had clothes enough, but all needed care; even her best dress
had two buttons off, and her Sunday hat but one string. Shoes,
skirts, books, and toys lay about, and her drawers were a perfect
chaos of soiled ruffles, odd gloves, old ribbons, boot lacings, and
bits of paper.

"Oh, my heart, what a muddle! Mrs. Minot wouldn’t think much of
me if she could see that," said Molly, recalling how that lady once
said she could judge a good deal of a little girl’s character and
habits by a peep at her top drawer, and went on, with great
success, to guess how each of the school-mates kept her drawer.

"Come, missionary, clear up, and don’t let me find such a glory-hole
again, or I’ll report you to the society," said Molly, tipping
the whole drawer-full out upon the bed, and beguiling the tiresome
job by keeping up the new play.

Twilight came before it was done, and a great pile of things
loomed up on her table, with no visible means of repair, – for
Molly’s work-basket was full of nuts, and her thimble down a hole
in the shed-floor, where the cats had dropped it in their play.

"I’ll ask Bat for hooks and tape, and papa for some money to buy
scissors and things, for I don’t know where mine are. Glad I can’t
do any more now! Being neat is such hard work!" and Molly threw
herself down on the rug beside the old wooden cradle in which
Boo was blissfully rocking, with a cargo of toys aboard.

She watched her time, and as soon as her father had done supper,
she hastened to say, before he got to his desk, –

"Please, papa, I want a dollar to get some brass buttons and things
to fix Boo’s clothes with. He wore a hole in his new trousers
coasting down the Kembles’ steps. And can’t I wash him? He needs
it, and Miss Bat won’t let me have a tub."

"Certainly, child, certainly; do what you like, only don’t keep me. I
must be off, or I shall miss Jackson, and he’s the man I want;" and,
throwing down two dollars instead of one, Mr. Bemis hurried
away, with a vague impression that Boo had swallowed a dozen
brass buttons, and Miss Bat had been coasting somewhere in a
bath-pan; but catching Jackson was important, so he did not stop to

Armed with the paternal permission, Molly carried her point, and
oh, what a dreadful evening poor Boo spent! First, he was decoyed
upstairs an hour too soon, then put in a tub by main force and
sternly scrubbed, in spite of shrieks that brought Miss Bat to the
locked door to condole with the sufferer, scold the scrubber, and
depart, darkly prophesying croup before morning.

"He always howls when he is washed; but I shall do it, since you
won’t, and he must get used to it. I will not have people tell me he’s
neglected, if I can help it," cried Molly, working away with tears in
her eyes – for it was as hard for her as for Boo; but she meant to be
thorough for once in her life, no matter what happened.

When the worst was over, she coaxed him with candy and stories
till the long task of combing out the curls was safely done; then, in
the clean night-gown with a blue button newly sewed on, she laid
him in bed, worn out, but sweet as a rose.

"Now, say your prayers, darling, and go to sleep with the nice red
blanket all tucked round so you won’t get cold," said Molly, rather
doubtful of the effect of the wet head.

"No, I won’t! Going to sleep now!" and Boo shut his eyes wearily,
feeling that his late trials had not left him in a prayerful mood.

"Then you’ll be a real little heathen, as Mrs. Pecq called you, and I
don’t know what I shall do with you," said Molly, longing to
cuddle rather than scold the little fellow, whose soul needed
looking after as well as his body.

"No, no; I won’t be a heevin! I don’t want to be frowed to the
trockindiles. I will say my prayers! oh, I will!" and, rising in his
bed, Boo did so, with the devotion of an infant Samuel, for he
remembered the talk when the society was formed.

Molly thought her labors were over for that night, and soon went to
bed, tired with her first attempts. But toward morning she was
wakened by the hoarse breathing of the boy, and was forced to
patter away to Miss Bat’s room, humbly asking for the squills, and
confessing that the prophecy had come to pass.

"I knew it! Bring the child to me, and don’t fret. I’ll see to him, and
next time you do as I say," was the consoling welcome she
received as the old lady popped up a sleepy but anxious face in a
large flannel cap, and shook the bottle with the air of a general
who had routed the foe before and meant to do it again.

Leaving her little responsibility in Miss Bat’s arms, Molly retired to
wet her pillow with a few remorseful tears, and to fall asleep,
wondering if real missionaries ever killed their pupils in the
process of conversion.

So the girls all failed in the beginning; but they did not give up,
and succeeded better next time, as we shall see.


Leave a Review