Chapter 24 – Down The River

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

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A fortnight later, the boys were picking apples one golden October
afternoon, and the girls were hurrying to finish their work, that
they might go and help the harvesters. It was six weeks now since
the new school began, and they had learned to like it very much,
though they found that it was not all play, by any means. But
lessons, exercise, and various sorts of housework made an
agreeable change, and they felt that they were learning things
which would be useful to them all their lives. They had been
making underclothes for themselves, and each had several neatly
finished garments cut, fitted, and sewed by herself, and trimmed
with the pretty tatting Jill made in such quantities while she lay on
her sofa.

Now they were completing new dressing sacks, and had enjoyed
this job very much, as each chose her own material, and suited her
own taste in the making. Jill’s was white, with tiny scarlet leaves
all over it, trimmed with red braid and buttons so like
checkerberries she was tempted to eat them. Molly’s was gay, with
bouquets of every sort of flower, scalloped all round, and adorned
with six buttons, each of a different color, which she thought the
last touch of elegance. Merry’s, though the simplest, was the
daintiest of the three, being pale blue, trimmed with delicate
edging, and beautifully made.

Mrs. Minot had been reading from Miss Strickland’s "Queens of
England" while the girls worked, and an illustrated Shakspeare lay
open on the table, as well as several fine photographs of historical
places for them to look at as they went along. The hour was over
now, the teacher gone, and the pupils setting the last stitches as
they talked over the lesson, which had interested them exceedingly.

"I really believe I have got Henry’s six wives into my head right at
last. Two Annes, three Katherines, and one Jane. Now I’ve seen
where they lived and heard their stories, I quite feel as if I knew
them," said Merry, shaking the threads off her work before she
folded it up to carry home.

"’King Henry the Eighth to six spouses was wedded,

One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded,’

was all I knew about them before. Poor things, what a bad time
they did have," added Jill, patting down the red braid, which would
pucker a bit at the corners.

"Katherine Parr had the best of it, because she outlived the old
tyrant and so kept her head on," said Molly, winding the thread
round her last button, as if bound to fasten it on so firmly that
nothing should decapitate that.

"I used to think I’d like to be a queen or a great lady, and wear
velvet and jewels, and live in a palace, but now I don’t care much
for that sort of splendor. I like to make things pretty at home, and
know that they all depend on me, and love me very much. Queens
are not happy, and I am," said Merry, pausing to look at Anne
Hathaway’s cottage as she put up the picture, and to wonder if it
was very pleasant to have a famous man for one’s husband.

"I guess your missionarying has done you good; mine has, and I’m
getting to have things my own way more and more every day. Miss
Bat is so amiable, I hardly know her, and father tells her to ask
Miss Molly when she goes to him for orders. Isn’t that fun?"
laughed Molly, in high glee, at the agreeable change. "I like it ever
so much, but I don’t want to stay so all my days. I mean to travel,
and just as soon as I can I shall take Boo and go all round the
world, and see everything," she added, waving her gay sack, as if it
were the flag she was about to nail to the masthead of her ship.

"Well, I should like to be famous in some way, and have people
admire me very much. I’d like to act, or dance, or sing, or be what I
heard the ladies at Pebbly Beach call a ‘queen of society.’ But I
don’t expect to be anything, and I’m not going to worry I shall not
be a Lucinda, so I ought to be contented and happy all my life,"
said Jill, who was very ambitious in spite of the newly acquired
meekness, which was all the more becoming because her natural
liveliness often broke out like sunshine through a veil of light

If the three girls could have looked forward ten years they would
have been surprised to see how different a fate was theirs from the
one each had chosen, and how happy each was in the place she
was called to fill. Merry was not making the old farmhouse pretty,
but living in Italy, with a young sculptor for her husband, and
beauty such as she never dreamed of all about her. Molly was not
travelling round the world, but contentedly keeping house for her
father and still watching over Boo, who was becoming her pride
and joy as well as care. Neither was Jill a famous woman, but a
very happy and useful one, with the two mothers leaning on her as
they grew old, the young men better for her influence over them,
many friends to love and honor her, and a charming home, where
she was queen by right of her cheery spirit, grateful heart, and
unfailing devotion to those who had made her what she was.

If any curious reader, not content with this peep into futurity, asks,
"Did Molly and Jill ever marry?" we must reply, for the sake of
peace – Molly remained a merry spinster all her days, one of the
independent, brave, and busy creatures of whom there is such need
in the world to help take care of other peoples’ wives and children,
and do the many useful jobs that the married folk have no time for.
Jill certainly did wear a white veil on the day she was twenty-five
and called her husband Jack. Further than that we cannot go,
except to say that this leap did not end in a catastrophe, like the
first one they took together.

That day, however, they never dreamed of what was in store for
them, but chattered away as they cleared up the room, and then ran
off ready for play, feeling that they had earned it by work well
done. They found the lads just finishing, with Boo to help by
picking up the windfalls for the cider-heap, after he had amused
himself by putting about a bushel down the various holes old Bun
had left behind him. Jack was risking his neck climbing in the
most dangerous places, while Frank, with a long-handled
apple-picker, nipped off the finest fruit with care, both enjoying
the pleasant task and feeling proud of the handsome red and
yellow piles all about the little orchard. Merry and Molly caught
up baskets and fell to work with all their might, leaving Jill to sit
upon a stool and sort the early apples ready to use at once, looking
up now and then to nod and smile at her mother who watched her
from the window, rejoicing to see her lass so well and happy.

It was such a lovely day, they all felt its cheerful influence; for the
sun shone bright and warm, the air was full of an invigorating
freshness which soon made the girls’ faces look like rosy apples,
and their spirits as gay as if they had been stealing sips of new
cider through a straw. Jack whistled like a blackbird as he swung
and bumped about, Frank orated and joked, Merry and Molly ran
races to see who would fill and empty fastest, and Jill sung to Boo,
who reposed in a barrel, exhausted with his labors.

"These are the last of the pleasant days, and we ought to make the
most of them. Let’s have one more picnic before the frost spoils the
leaves," said Merry, resting a minute at the gate to look down the
street, which was a glorified sort of avenue, with brilliant maples
lining the way and carpeting the ground with crimson and gold.

"Oh, yes! Go down the river once more and have supper on the
Island. I couldn’t go to some of your picnics, and I do long for a
last good time before winter shuts me up again," cried Jill, eager to
harvest all the sunshine she could, for she was not yet quite her old
self again.

"I’m your man, if the other fellows agree. We can’t barrel these up
for a while, so to-morrow will be a holiday for us. Better make
sure of the day while you can, this weather can’t last long;" and
Frank shook his head like one on intimate terms with Old Prob.

"Don’t worry about those high ones, Jack. Give a shake and come
down and plan about the party," called Molly, throwing up a big
Baldwin with what seemed a remarkably good aim, for a shower of
apples followed, and a boy came tumbling earthward to catch on
the lowest bough and swing down like a caterpillar, exclaiming, as
he landed, –

"I’m glad that job is done! I’ve rasped every knuckle I’ve got and
worn out the knees of my pants. Nice little crop though, isn’t it?"

"It will be nicer if this young man does not bite every apple he
touches. Hi there! Stop it, Boo," commanded Frank, as he caught
his young assistant putting his small teeth into the best ones, to see
if they were sweet or sour.

Molly set the barrel up on end, and that took the boy out of the
reach of mischief, so he retired from view and peeped through a
crack as he ate his fifth pearmain, regardless of consequences.

"Gus will be at home to-morrow. He always comes up early on
Saturday, you know. We can’t get on without him," said Frank,
who missed his mate very much, for Gus had entered college, and
so far did not like it as much as he had expected.

"Or Ralph; he is very busy every spare minute on the little boy’s
bust, which is getting on nicely, he says; but he will be able to
come home in time for supper, I think," added Merry, remembering
the absent, as usual.

"I’ll ask the girls on my way home, and all meet at two o’clock for
a good row while it’s warm. What shall I bring?" asked Molly,
wondering if Miss Bat’s amiability would extend to making
goodies in the midst of her usual Saturday’s baking.

"You bring coffee and the big pot and some buttered crackers. I’ll
see to the pie and cake, and the other girls can have anything else
they like," answered Merry, glad and proud that she could provide
the party with her own inviting handiwork.

"I’ll take my zither, so we can have music as we sail, and Grif will
bring his violin, and Ralph can imitate a banjo so that you’d be
sure he had one. I do hope it will be fine, it is so splendid to go
round like other folks and enjoy myself," cried Jill, with a little
bounce of satisfaction at the prospect of a row and ramble.

"Come along, then, and make sure of the girls," said Merry,
catching up her roll of work, for the harvesting was done.

Molly put her sack on as the easiest way of carrying it, and,
extricating Boo, they went off, accompanied by the boys, "to make
sure of the fellows" also, leaving Jill to sit among the apples,
singing and sorting like a thrifty little housewife.

Next day eleven young people met at the appointed place, basket
in hand. Ralph could not come till later, for he was working now
as he never worked before. They were a merry flock, for the
mellow autumn day was even brighter and clearer than yesterday,
and the river looked its loveliest, winding away under the sombre
hemlocks, or through the fairyland the gay woods made on either
side. Two large boats and two small ones held them all, and away
they went, first up through the three bridges and round the bend,
then, turning, they floated down to the green island, where a grove
of oaks rustled their sere leaves and the squirrels were still
gathering acorns. Here they often met to keep their summer revels,
and here they now spread their feast on the flat rock which needed
no cloth beside its own gray lichens. The girls trimmed each dish
with bright leaves, and made the supper look like a banquet for the
elves, while the boys built a fire in the nook where ashes and
blackened stones told of many a rustic meal. The big tin coffee-pot
was not so romantic, but more successful than a kettle slung on
three sticks, gypsy fashion; so they did not risk a downfall, but set
the water boiling, and soon filled the air with the agreeable
perfume associated in their minds with picnics, as most of them
never tasted the fascinating stuff at any other time, being the worst
children can drink.

Frank was cook, Gus helped cut bread and cake, Jack and Grif
brought wood, while Bob Walker took Joe’s place and made
himself generally useful, as the other gentleman never did, and so
was quite out of favor lately.

All was ready at last, and they were just deciding to sit down
without Ralph, when a shout told them he was coming, and down
the river skimmed a wherry at such a rate the boys wondered
whom he had been racing with.

"Something has happened, and he is coming to tell us," said Jill,
who sat where she could see his eager face.

"Nothing bad, or he wouldn’t smile so. He is glad of a good row
and a little fun after working so hard all the week;" and Merry
shook a red napkin as a welcoming signal.

Something certainly had happened, and a very happy something it
must be, they all thought, as Ralph came on with flashing oars, and
leaping out as the boat touched the shore, ran up the slope, waving
his hat, and calling in a glad voice, sure of sympathy in his delight, –

"Good news! good news! Hurrah for Rome, next month!"

The young folks forgot their supper for a moment, to congratulate
him on his happy prospect, and hear all about it, while the leaves
rustled as if echoing the kind words, and the squirrels sat up aloft,
wondering what all the pleasant clamor was about.

"Yes, I’m really going in November. German asked me to go with
him to-day, and if there is any little hitch in my getting off, he’ll
lend a hand, and I – I’ll black his boots, wet his clay, and run his
errands the rest of my life to pay for this!" cried Ralph, in a burst
of gratitude; for, independent as he was, the kindness of this
successful friend to a deserving comrade touched and won his

"I call that a handsome thing to do!" said Frank, warmly, for noble
actions always pleased him. "I heard my mother say that making
good or useful men was the best sort of sculpture, so I think David
German may be proud of this piece of work, whether the big statue
succeeds or not."

"I’m very glad, old fellow. When I run over for my trip four years
from now, I’ll look you up, and see how you are getting on," said
Gus, with a hearty shake of the hand; and the younger lads grinned
cheerfully, even while they wondered where the fun was in
shaping clay and chipping marble.

"Shall you stay four years?" asked Merry’s soft voice, while a
wistful look came into her happy eyes.

"Ten, if I can," answered Ralph, decidedly, feeling as if a long
lifetime would be all too short for the immortal work he meant to
do. "I’ve got so much to learn, that I shall do whatever David
thinks best for me at first, and when I can go alone, I shall just
shut myself up and forget that there is any world outside my den."

"Do write and tell us how you get on now and then; I like to hear
about other people’s good times while I’m waiting for my own,"
said Molly, too much interested to observe that Grif was sticking
burrs up and down her braids.

"Of course I shall write to some of you, but you mustn’t expect any
great things for years yet. People don’t grow famous in a hurry, and
it takes a deal of hard work even to earn your bread and butter, as
you’ll find if you ever try it," answered Ralph, sobering down a
little as he remembered the long and steady effort it had taken to
get even so far.

"Speaking of bread and butter reminds me that we’d better eat ours
before the coffee gets quite cold," said Annette, for Merry seemed
to have forgotten that she had been chosen to play matron, as she
was the oldest.

The boys seconded the motion, and for a few minutes supper was
the all-absorbing topic, as the cups went round and the goodies
vanished rapidly, accompanied by the usual mishaps which make
picnic meals such fun. Ralph’s health was drunk with all sorts of
good wishes; and such splendid prophecies were made, that he
would have far surpassed Michael Angelo, if they could have come
true. Grif gave him an order on the spot for a full-length statue of
himself, and stood up to show the imposing attitude in which he
wished to be taken, but unfortunately slipped and fell forward with
one hand in the custard pie, the other clutching wildly at the
coffee-pot, which inhospitably burnt his fingers.

"I think I grasp the idea, and will be sure to remember not to make
your hair blow one way and the tails of your coat another, as a
certain sculptor made those of a famous man," laughed Ralph, as
the fallen hero scrambled up, amidst general merriment.

"Will the little bust be done before you go?" asked Jill, anxiously,
feeling a personal interest in the success of that order.

"Yes: I’ve been hard at it every spare minute I could get, and have a
fortnight more. It suits Mrs. Lennox, and she will pay well for it,
so I shall have something to start with, though I haven’t been able
to save much. I’m to thank you for that, and I shall send you the
first pretty thing I get hold of," answered Ralph, looking gratefully
at the bright face, which grew still brighter as Jill exclaimed, –

"I do feel so proud to know a real artist, and have my bust done by
him. I only wish I could pay for it as Mrs. Lennox does; but I
haven’t any money, and you don’t need the sort of things I can
make," she added, shaking her head, as she thought over knit
slippers, wall-pockets, and crochet in all its forms, as offerings to
her departing friend.

"You can write often, and tell me all about everybody, for I shall
want to know, and people will soon forget me when I’m gone,"
said Ralph, looking at Merry, who was making a garland of
yellow leaves for Juliet’s black hair.

Jill promised, and kept her word; but the longest letters went from
the farm-house on the hill, though no one knew the fact till long
afterward. Merry said nothing now, but she smiled, with a pretty
color in her cheeks, and was very much absorbed in her work,
while the talk went on.

"I wish I was twenty, and going to seek my fortune, as you are,"
said Jack; and the other boys agreed with him, for something in
Ralph’s new plans and purposes roused the manly spirit in all of
them, reminding them that playtime would soon be over, and the
great world before them, where to choose.

"It is easy enough to say what you’d like; but the trouble is, you
have to take what you can get, and make the best of it," said Gus,
whose own views were rather vague as yet.

"No you don’t, always; you can make things go as you want them,
if you only try hard enough, and walk right over whatever stands in
the way. I don’t mean to give up my plans for any man; but, if I
live, I’ll carry them out – you see if I don’t;" and Frank gave the
rock where he lay a blow with his fist, that sent the acorns flying
all about.

One of them hit Jack, and he said, sorrowfully, as he held it in his
hand so carefully it was evident he had some association with it, –

"Ed used to say that, and he had some splendid plans, but they
didn’t come to anything."

"Perhaps they did; who can tell? Do your best while you live, and I
don’t believe anything good is lost, whether we have it a long or a
short time," said Ralph, who knew what a help and comfort high
hopes were, and how they led to better things, if worthily

"A great many acorns are wasted, I suppose; but some of them
sprout and grow, and make splendid trees," added Merry, feeling
more than she knew how to express, as she looked up at the oaks

Only seven of the party were sitting on the knoll now, for the rest
had gone to wash the dishes and pack the baskets down by the
boats. Jack and Jill, with the three elder boys, were in a little
group, and as Merry spoke, Gus said to Frank, –

"Did you plant yours?"

"Yes, on the lawn, and I mean it shall come up if I can make it,"
answered Frank, gravely.

"I put mine where I can see it from the window, and not forget to
water and take care of it," added Jack, still turning the pretty
brown acorn to and fro as if he loved it.

"What do they mean?" whispered Merry to Jill, who was leaning
against her knee to rest.

"The boys were walking in the Cemetery last Sunday, as they often
do, and when they came to Ed’s grave, the place was all covered
with little acorns from the tree that grows on the bank. They each
took up some as they stood talking, and Jack said he should plant
his, for he loved Ed very much, you know. The others said they
would, too; and I hope the trees will grow, though we don’t need
anything to remember him by," answered Jill, in a low tone,
thinking of the pressed flowers the girls kept for his sake.

The boys heard her, but no one spoke for a moment as they sat
looking across the river toward the hill where the pines whispered
their lullabies and pointed heavenward, steadfast and green, all the
year round. None of them could express the thought that was in
their minds as Jill told the little story; but the act and the feeling
that prompted it were perhaps as beautiful an assurance as could
have been given that the dear dead boy’s example had not been
wasted, for the planting of the acorns was a symbol of the desire
budding in those young hearts to be what he might have been, and
to make their lives nobler for the knowledge and the love of him.

"It seems as if a great deal had happened this year," said Merry, in
a pensive tone, for this quiet talk just suited her mood.

"So I say, for there’s been a Declaration of Independence and a
Revolution in our house, and I’m commander-in-chief now; and
don’t I like it!" cried Molly, complacently surveying the neat new
uniform she wore of her own choosing.

"I feel as if I never learned so much in my life as I have since last
December, and yet I never did so little," added Jill, wondering why
the months of weariness and pain did not seem more dreadful to

"Well, pitching on my head seems to have given me a good shaking
up, somehow, and I mean to do great things next year in better
ways than breaking my bones coasting," said Jack, with a manly

"I feel like a Siamese twin without his mate now you are gone, but
I’m under orders for a while, and mean to do my best. Guess it
won’t be lost time;" and Frank nodded at Gus, who nodded back
with the slightly superior expression all Freshmen wear.

"Hope you won’t find it so. My work is all cut out for me, and I
intend to go in and win, though it is more of a grind than you
fellows know."

"I’m sure I have everything to be grateful for. It won’t be plain
sailing – I don’t expect it; but, if I live, I’ll do something to be proud
of," said Ralph, squaring his shoulders as if to meet and conquer
all obstacles as he looked into the glowing west, which was not fairer
than his ambitious dreams.

Here we will say good-by to these girls and boys of ours as they sit
together in the sunshine talking over a year that was to be for ever
memorable to them, not because of any very remarkable events,
but because they were just beginning to look about them as they
stepped out of childhood into youth, and some of the experiences
of the past months had set them to thinking, taught them to see the
use and beauty of the small duties, joys, and sorrows which make
up our lives, and inspired them to resolve that the coming year
should be braver and brighter than the last.

There are many such boys and girls, full of high hopes, lovely
possibilities, and earnest plans, pausing a moment before they
push their little boats from the safe shore. Let those who launch
them see to it that they have good health to man the oars, good
education for ballast, and good principles as pilots to guide them
as they voyage down an ever-widening river to the sea.


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