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Chapter 4 – Dan

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

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Mrs Jo often thought that Dan had Indian blood in him, not only
because of his love of a wild, wandering life, but his appearance;
for as he grew up, this became more striking. At twenty-five he was
very tall, with sinewy limbs, a keen, dark face, and the alert look
of one whose senses were all alive; rough in manner, full of energy,
quick with word and blow, eyes full of the old fire, always watchful
as if used to keep guard, and a general air of vigour and freshness
very charming to those who knew the dangers and delights of his
adventurous life. He was looking his best as he sat talking with
‘Mother Bhaer’, one strong brown hand in hers, and a world of
affection in his voice as he said:

‘Forget old friends! How could I forget the only home I ever knew?
Why, I was in such a hurry to come and tell my good luck that I
didn’t stop to fix up, you see; though I knew you’d think I looked
more like a wild buffalo than ever,’ with a shake of his shaggy black
head, a tug at his beard, and a laugh that made the room ring.

‘I like it; I always had a fancy for banditti – and you look just like
one. Mary, being a newcomer, was frightened at your looks and
manners. Josie won’t know you, but Ted will recognize his Danny in
spite of the big beard and flowing mane. They will all be here soon
to welcome you; so before they come tell me more about yourself. Why,
Dan, dear! it’s nearly two years since you were here! Has it gone
well with you?’ asked Mrs Jo, who had been listening with maternal
interest to his account of life in California, and the unexpected
success of a small investment he had made.

‘First-rate! I don’t care for the money, you know. I only want a
trifle to pay my way – rather earn as I go, and not be bothered with
the care of a lot. It’s the fun of the thing coming to me, and my
being able to give away, that I like. No use to lay up; I shan’t live
to be old and need it, – my sort never do,’ said Dan, looking as if
his little fortune rather oppressed him.

‘But if you marry and settle somewhere, as I hope you will, you must
have something to begin with, my son. So be prudent and invest your
money; don’t give it away, for rainy days come to all of us, and
dependence would be very hard for you to bear,’ answered Mrs Jo with
a sage air, though she liked to see that the money-making fever had
not seized her lucky boy yet.

Dan shook his head, and glanced about the room as if he already found
it rather confined and longed for all out-of-doors again.

‘Who would marry a jack-o’-lantern like me? Women like a steady-going
man; I shall never be that.’

‘My dear boy, when I was a girl I liked just such adventurous fellows
as you are. Anything fresh and daring, free and romantic, is always
attractive to us womenfolk. Don’t be discouraged; you’ll find an
anchor some day, and be content to take shorter voyages and bring
home a good cargo.’

‘What should you say if I brought you an Indian squaw some day?’
asked Dan, with a glimmer of mischief in the eyes that rested on a
marble bust of Galatea gleaming white and lovely in the corner.

‘Welcome her heartily, if she was a good one. Is there a prospect of
it?’ and Mrs Jo peered at him with the interest which even literary
ladies take in love affairs.

‘Not at present, thank you. I’m too busy "to gallivant", as Ted calls
it. How is the boy?’ asked Dan, skilfully turning the conversation,
as if he had had enough of sentiment.

Mrs Jo was off at once, and expatiated upon the talents and virtues
of her sons till they came bursting in and fell upon Dan like two
affectionate young bears, finding a vent for their joyful emotions in
a sort of friendly wrestling-match; in which both got worsted, of
course, for the hunter soon settled them. The Professor followed, and
tongues went like mill-clappers while Mary lighted up and cook
devoted herself to an unusually good supper, instinctively divining
that this guest was a welcome one.

After tea Dan was walking up and down the long rooms as he talked,
with occasional trips into the hall for a fresher breath of air, his
lungs seeming to need more than those of civilized people. In one of
these trips he saw a white figure framed in the dark doorway, and
paused to look at it. Bess paused also, not recognizing her old
friend, and quite unconscious of the pretty picture she made
standing, tall and slender, against the soft gloom of the summer
night, with her golden hair like a halo round her head, and the ends
of a white shawl blown out like wings by the cool wind sweeping
through the hail. ‘Is it Dan?’ she asked, coming in with a gracious
smile and outstretched hand.

‘Looks like it; but I didn’t know you, Princess. I thought it was a
spirit,’ answered Dan, looking down at her with a curious softness
and wonder in his face.

‘I’ve grown very much, but two years have changed you entirely’; and
Bess looked up with girlish pleasure at the picturesque figure before
her – for it was a decided contrast to the well-dressed people about
her.

Before they could say more, Josie rushed in, and, forgetfull of the
newly acquired dignity of her teens, let Dan catch her up and kiss
her like a child. Not till he set her down did he discover she also
was changed, and exclaimed in comic dismay:

‘Hallo! Why, you are growing up too! What am I going to do, with no
young one to play with? Here’s Ted going it like a beanstalk, and
Bess a young lady, and even you, my mustard-seed, letting down your
frocks and putting on airs.’

The girls laughed, and Josie blushed as she stared at the tall man,
conscious that she had leaped before she looked. They made a pretty
contrast, these two young cousins – one as fair as a lily, the other a
little wild rose. And Dan gave a nod of satisfaction as he surveyed
them; for he had seen many bonny girls in his travels, and was glad
that these old friends were blooming so beautifully.

‘Here! we can’t allow any monopoly of Dan!’ called Mrs Jo. ‘Bring him
back and keep an eye on him, or he will be slipping off for another
little run of a year or two before we have half seen him.’

Led by these agreeable captors, Dan returned to the parlour to
receive a scolding from Josie for getting ahead of all the other boys
and looking like a man first.

‘Emil is older; but he’s only a boy, and dances jigs and sings sailor
songs just as he used to. You look about thirty, and as big and black
as a villain in a play. Oh, I’ve got a splendid idea! You are just
the thing for Arbaces in The Last Days of Pompeii. We want to act it;
have the lion and the gladiators and the eruption. Tom and Ted are
going to shower bushels of ashes down and roll barrels of stones
about. We wanted a dark man for the Egyptian; and you will be
gorgeous in red and white shawls. Won’t he, Aunt Jo?’

This deluge of words made Dan clap his hands over his ears; and
before Mrs Bhaer could answer her impetuous niece the Laurences, with
Meg and her family, arrived, soon followed by Tom and Nan, and all
sat down to listen to Dan’s adventures – told in brief yet effective
manner, as the varying expressions of interest, wonder, merriment,
and suspense painted on the circle of faces round him plainly showed.
The boys all wanted to start at once for California and make
fortunes; the girls could hardly wait for the curious and pretty
things he had picked up for them in his travels; while the elders
rejoiced heartily over the energy and good prospects of their wild
boy.

‘Of course you will want to go back for another stroke of luck; and I
hope you will have it. But speculation is a dangerous game, and you
may lose all you’ve won,’ said Mr Laurie, who had enjoyed the
stirring tale as much as any of the boys, and would have liked to
rough it with Dan as well as they.

‘I’ve had enough of it, for a while at least; too much like gambling.
The excitement is all I care for, and it isn’t good for me. I have a
notion to try farming out West. It’s grand on a large scale; and I
feel as if steady work would be rather jolly after loafing round so
long. I can make a beginning, and you can send me your black sheep to
stock my place with. I tried sheep-farming in Australia, and know
something about black ones, any way.’

A laugh chased away the sober look in Dan’s face as he ended; and
those who knew him best guessed that he had learned a lesson there in
San Francisco, and dared not try again.

‘That is a capital idea, Dan!’ cried Mrs Jo, seeing great hope in
this desire to fix himself somewhere and help others. ‘We shall know
where you are, and can go and see you, and not have half the world
between us. I’ll send my Ted for a visit. He’s such a restless
spirit, it would do him good. With you he would be safe while he
worked off his surplus energies and learned a wholesome business.’

‘I’ll use the "shubble and de hoe" like a good one, if I get a chance
out there; but the Speranza mines sound rather jollier,’ said Ted,
examining the samples of ore Dan had brought for the Professor.

‘You go and start a new town, and when we are ready to swarm we will
come out and settle there. You will want a newspaper very soon, and I
like the idea of running one myself much better than grinding away as
I do now,’ observed Demi, panting to distinguish himself in the
journalistic line.

‘We could easily plant a new college there. These sturdy Westerners
are hungry for learning, and very quick to see and choose the best,’
added ever-young Mr March, beholding with his prophetic eye many
duplicates of their own flourishing establishment springing up in the
wide West.

‘Go on, Dan. It is a fine plan, and we will back you up. I shouldn’t
mind investing in a few prairies and cowboys myself,’ said Mr Laurie,
always ready to help the lads to help themselves, both by his cheery
words and ever-open purse.

‘A little money sort of ballasts a fellow, and investing it in land
anchors him – for a while, at least. I’d like to see what I can do,
but I thought I’d consult you before I decided. Have my doubts about
it suiting me for many years; but I can cut loose when I’m tired,’
answered Dan, both touched and pleased at the eager interest of these
friends in his plans.

‘I know you won’t like it. After having the whole world to roam over,
one farm will seem dreadfully small and stupid,’ said Josie, who much
preferred the romance of the wandering life which brought her
thrilling tales and pretty things at each return.

‘Is there any art out there?’ asked Bess, thinking what a good study
in black and white Dan would make as he stood talking, half turned
from the light.

‘Plenty of nature, dear; and that is better. You will find splendid
animals to model, and scenery such as you never saw in Europe to
paint. Even prosaic pumpkins are grand out there. You can play
Cinderella in one of them, Josie, when you open your theatre in
Dansville,’ said Mr Laurie, anxious that no cold water should be
thrown on the new plan.

Stage-struck Josie was caught at once, and being promised all the
tragic parts on the yet unbuilt stage, she felt a deep interest in
the project and begged Dan to lose no time in beginning his
experiment. Bess also confessed that studies from nature would be
good for her, and wild scenery improve her taste, which might grow
over-nice if only the delicate and beautiful were set before her.

‘I speak for the practice of the new town,’ said Nan, always eager
for fresh enterprises. ‘I shall be ready by the time you get well
started – towns grow so fast out there.’

‘Dan isn’t going to allow any woman under forty in his place. He
doesn’t like them, ‘specially young and pretty ones,’ put in Tom, who
was raging with jealousy, because he read admiration for Nan in Dan’s
eyes.

‘That won’t affect me, because doctors are exceptions to all rules.
There won’t be much sickness in Dansville, everyone will lead such
active, wholesome lives, and only energetic young people will go
there. But accidents will be frequent, owing to wild cattle, fast
riding, Indian scrimmages, and the recklessness of Western life. That
will just suit me. I long for broken bones, surgery is so interesting
and I get so little here,’ answered Nan, yearning to put out her
shingle and begin.

‘I’ll have you, Doctor, and be glad of such a good sample of what we
can do in the East. Peg away, and I’ll send for you as soon as I have
a roof to cover you. I’ll scalp a few red fellows or smash up a dozen
or so of cowboys for your special benefit,’ laughed Dan, well pleased
with the energy and fine physique which made Nan a conspicuous figure
among other girls.

‘Thanks. I’ll come. Would you just let me feel your arm? Splendid
biceps! Now, boys, see here: this is what I call muscle.’ And Nan
delivered a short lecture with Dan’s sinewy arm to illustrate it.
Tom retired to the alcove and glowered at the stars, while he swung
his own right arm with a vigour suggestive of knocking someone down.

‘Make Tom sexton; he’ll enjoy burying the patients Nan kills. He’s
trying to get up the glum expression proper to the business. Don’t
forget him, Dan,’ said Ted, directing attention to the blighted being
in the corner.

But Tom never sulked long, and came out from his brief eclipse with
the cheerful proposition:

‘Look here, we’ll get the city to ship out to Dansville all the cases
of yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera that arrive; then Nan will be
happy and her mistakes won’t matter much with emigrants and
convicts.’

‘I should advise settling near Jacksonville, or some such city, that
you might enjoy the society of cultivated persons. The Plato Club is
there, and a most ardent thirst for philosophy. Everything from the
East is welcomed hospitably, and new enterprises would flourish in
such kindly soil,’ observed Mr March, mildly offering a suggestion,
as he sat among the elders enjoying the lively scene.

The idea of Dan studying Plato was very funny; but no one except
naughty Ted smiled, and Dan made haste to unfold another plan
seething in that active brain of his.

‘I’m not sure the farming will succeed, and have a strong leaning
towards my old friends the Montana Indians. They are a peaceful
tribe, and need help awfully; hundreds have died of starvation
because they don’t get their share. The Sioux are fighters, thirty
thousand strong, so Government fears ’em, and gives ’em all they
want. I call that a damned shame!’ Dan stopped short as the oath
slipped out, but his eyes flashed, and he went on quickly: ‘It is
just that, and I won’t beg pardon. If I’d had any money when I was
there I’d have given every cent to those poor devils, cheated out of
everything, and waiting patiently, after being driven from their own
land to places where nothing will grow. Now, honest agents could do
much, and I’ve a feeling that I ought to go and lend a hand. I know
their lingo, and I like ’em. I’ve got a few thousands, and I ain’t
sure I have any right to spend it on myself and settle down to enjoy
it. Hey?’

Dan looked very manly and earnest as he faced his friends, flushed
and excited by the energy of his words; and all felt that little
thrill of sympathy which links hearts together by the tie of pity for
the wronged.

‘Do it, do it!’ cried Mrs Jo, fired at once; for misfortune was much
more interesting to her than good luck.

‘Do it, do it!’ echoed Ted, applauding as if at a play, ‘and take me
along to help. I’m just raging to get among those fine fellows and
hunt.’

‘Let us hear more and see if it is wise,’ said Mr Laurie, privately
resolving to people his as yet unbought prairies with Montana
Indians, and increase his donations to the society that sent
missionaries to this much wronged people.

Dan plunged at once into the history of what he saw among the
Dakotas, and other tribes in the Northwest, telling of their wrongs,
patience, and courage as if they were his brothers.

‘They called me Dan Fire Cloud, because my rifle was the best they
ever saw. And Black Hawk was as good a friend as a fellow would want;
saved my life more than once, and taught me just what will be useful
if I go back. They are down on their luck, now, and I’d like to pay
my debts.’

By this time everyone was interested, and Dansville began to lose its
charm. But prudent Mr Bhaer suggested that one honest agent among
many could not do much, and noble as the effort would be, it was
wiser to think over the matter carefully, get influence and authority
from the right quarters, and meantime look at lands before deciding.

‘Well, I will. I’m going to take a run to Kansas and see how that
promises. Met a fellow in ‘Frisco who’d been there, and he spoke well
of it. The fact is, there’s so much to be done every where that I
don’t know where to catch on, and half wish I hadn’t any money,’
answered Dan, knitting his brows in the perplexity all kind souls
feel when anxious to help at the great task of the world’s charity.

‘I’ll keep it for you till you decide. You are such an impetuous lad
you’ll give it to the first beggar that gets hold of you. I’ll turn
it over while you are prospecting, and hand it back when you are
ready to invest, shall I?’ asked Mr Laurie, who had learned wisdom
since the days of his own extravagant youth.

‘Thanky, sir, I’d be glad to get rid of it. You just hold on till I
say the word; and if anything happens to me this time, keep it to
help some other scamp as you helped me. This is my will, and you all
witness it. Now I feel better.’ And Dan squared his shoulders as if
relieved of a burden, after handing over the belt in which he carried
his little fortune.

No one dreamed how much was to happen before Dan came to take his
money back, nor how nearly that act was his last will and testament;
and while Mr Laurie was explaining how he would invest it, a cheery
voice was heard singing:

‘Oh, Peggy was a jolly lass,

Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!

She never grudged her Jack a glass,

Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!

And when he sailed the raging main,

She faithful was unto her swain,

Ye heave ho, boys, ye heave ho!’

Emil always announced his arrival in that fashion, and in a moment he
came hurrying in with Nat, who had been giving lessons in town all
day. It was good to see the latter beam at his friend as he nearly
shook his hand off; better still to see how Dan gratefully remembered
all he owed Nat, and tried to pay the debt in his rough way; and best
of all to hear the two travellers compare notes and reel off yarns to
dazzle the land-lubbers and home-keepers.

After this addition the house would not contain the gay youngsters,
so they migrated to the piazza and settled on the steps, like a flock
of night-loving birds. Mr March and the Professor retired to the
study, Meg and Amy went to look after the little refection of fruit
and cake which was to come, and Mrs Jo and Mr Laurie sat in the long
window listening to the chat that went on outside.

‘There they are, the flower of our flock!’ she said, pointing to the
group before them. ‘The others are dead or scattered, but these seven
boys and four girls are my especial comfort and pride. Counting
Alice Heath, my dozen is made up, and my hands are full trying to
guide these young lives as far as human skill can do it.’

‘When we remember how different they are, from what some of them
came, and the home influences about others, I think we may feel
pretty well satisfied so far,’ answered Mr Laurie soberly, as his
eyes rested on one bright head among the black and brown ones, for
the young moon shone alike on all.

‘I don’t worry about the girls; Meg sees to them, and is so wise and
patient and tender they can’t help doing well; but my boys are more
care every year, and seem to drift farther away from me each time
they go,’ sighed Mrs Jo. ‘They will grow up, and I can only hold them
by one little thread, which may snap at any time, as it has with Jack
and Ned. Dolly and George still like to come back, and I can say my
word to them; and dear old Franz is too true ever to forget his own.
But the three who are soon going out into the world again I can’t
help worrying about. Emil’s good heart will keep him straight, I
hope, and

‘"A sweet little cherub sits up aloft,

To look out for the life of poor Jack."’

Nat is to make his first flight, and he’s weak in spite of your
strengthening influence; and Dan is still untamed. I fear it will
take some hard lesson to do that.’

‘He’s a fine fellow, Jo, and I almost regret this farming project. A
little polish would make a gentleman of him, and who knows what he
might become here among us,’ answered Mr Laurie, leaning over Mrs
Bhaer’s chair, just as he used to do years ago when they had
mischievous secrets together.

‘It wouldn’t be safe, Teddy. Work and the free life he loves will
make a good man of him, and that is better than any amount of polish,
with the dangers an easy life in a city would bring him. We can’t
change his nature – only help it to develop in the right direction.
The old impulses are there, and must be controlled, or he will go
wrong. I see that; but his love for us is a safeguard, and we must
keep a hold on him till he is older or has a stronger tie to help
him.’

Mrs Jo spoke earnestly, for, knowing Dan better than anyone else, she
saw that her colt was not thoroughly broken yet, and feared while she
hoped, knowing that life would always be hard for one like him. She
was sure that before he went away again, in some quiet moment he
would give her a glimpse of his inner self, and then she could say
the word of warning or encouragement that he needed. So she bided her
time, studying him meanwhile, glad to see all that was promising, and
quick to detect the harm the world was doing him. She was very
anxious to make a success of her ‘firebrand’ because others predicted
failure; but having learned that people cannot be moulded like clay,
she contented herself with the hope that this neglected boy might
become a good man, and asked no more. Even that was much to expect,
so full was he of wayward impulses, strong passions, and the lawless
nature born in him. Nothing held him but the one affection of his
life – the memory of Plumfield, the fear of disappointing these
faithful friends, the pride, stronger than principle, that made him
want to keep the regard of the mates who always had admired and loved
him in spite of all his faults.

‘Don’t fret, old dear; Emil is one of the happy-go-lucky sort who
always fall on their legs. I’ll see to Nat, and Dan is in a good way
now. Let him take a look at Kansas, and if the farm plan loses its
charm, he can fall back on poor Lo, and really do good out there.
He’s unusually fitted for that peculiar task and I hope he’ll decide
to do it. Fighting oppressors, and befriending the oppressed will
keep those dangerous energies of his busy, and the life will suit him
better than sheep-folds and wheat-fields.’

‘I hope so. What is that?’ and Mrs Jo leaned forward to listen, as
exclamations from Ted and Josie caught her ear.

‘A mustang! a real, live one; and we can ride it. Dan, you are a
first-class trump!’ cried the boy.

‘A whole Indian dress for me! Now I can play Namioka, if the boys act
Metamora,’ added Josie, clapping her hands.

‘A buffalo’s head for Bess! Good gracious, Dan, why did you bring
such a horrid thing as that to her?’ asked Nan.

‘Thought it would do her good to model something strong and natural.
She’ll never amount to anything if she keeps on making namby-pamby
gods and pet kittens,’ answered irreverent Dan, remembering that when
he was last here Bess was vibrating distractedly between a head of
Apollo and her Persian cat as models.

‘Thank you; I’ll try it, and if I fail we can put the buffalo up in
the hall to remind us of you,’ said Bess, indignant at the insult
offered the gods of her idolatry, but too well bred to show it except
in her voice, which was as sweet and as cold as ice-cream.

‘I suppose you won’t come out to see our new settlement when the rest
do? Too rough for you?’ asked Dan, trying to assume the deferential
air all the boys used when addressing their Princess.

‘I am going to Rome to study for years. All the beauty and art of the
world is there, and a lifetime isn’t long enough to enjoy it,’
answered Bess.

‘Rome is a mouldy old tomb compared to the "Garden of the gods" and
my magnificent Rockies. I don’t care a hang for art; nature is as
much as I can stand, and I guess I could show you things that would
knock your old masters higher than kites. Better come, and while
Josie rides the horses you can model ’em. If a drove of a hundred or
so of wild ones can’t show you beauty, I’ll give up,’ cried Dan,
waxing enthusiastic over the wild grace and vigour which he could
enjoy but had no power to describe.

‘I’ll come some day with papa, and see if they are better than the
horses of St Mark and those on Capitol Hill. Please don’t abuse my
gods, and I will try to like yours,’ said Bess, beginning to think
the West might be worth seeing, though no Raphael or Angelo had yet
appeared there.

‘That’s a bargain! I do think people ought to see their own country
before they go scooting off to foreign parts, as if the new world
wasn’t worth discovering,’ began Dan, ready to bury the hatchet.

‘It has some advantages, but not all. The women of England can vote,
and we can’t. I’m ashamed of America that she isn’t ahead in all good
things,’ cried Nan, who held advanced views on all reforms, and was
anxious about her rights, having had to fight for some of them.

‘Oh, please don’t begin on that. People always quarrel over that
question, and call names, and never agree. Do let us be quiet and
happy tonight,’ pleaded Daisy, who hated discussion as much as Nan
loved it.

‘You shall vote as much as you like in our new town, Nan; be mayor
and aldermen, and run the whole concern. It’s going to be as free as
air, or I can’t live in it,’ said Dan, adding, with a laugh, ‘I see
Mrs Giddygaddy and Mrs Shakespeare Smith don’t agree any better than
they used to.’

‘If everyone agreed, we should never get on. Daisy is a dear, but
inclined to be an old fogy; so I stir her up; and next fall she will
go and vote with me. Demi will escort us to do the one thing we are
allowed to do as yet.’

‘Will you take ’em, Deacon?’ asked Dan, using the old name as if he
liked it. ‘It works capitally in Wyoming.’

‘I shall be proud to do it. Mother and the aunts go every year, and
Daisy will come with me. She is my better half still; and I don’t
mean to leave her behind in anything,’ said Demi, with an arm round
his sister of whom he was fonder than ever.

Dan looked at them wistfully, thinking how sweet it must be to have
such a tie; and his lonely youth seemed sadder than ever as he
recalled its struggles. A gusty sigh from Tom made sentiment
impossible, as he said pensively:

‘I always wanted to be a twin. It’s so sociable and so cosy to have
someone glad to lean on a fellow and comfort him, if other girls are
cruel.’

As Tom’s unrequited passion was the standing joke of the family, this
allusion produced a laugh, which Nan increased by whipping out a
bottle of Nux, saying, with her professional air:

‘I knew you ate too much lobster for tea. Take four pellets, and your
dyspepsia will be all right. Tom always sighs and is silly when he’s
overeaten.’

‘I’ll take ’em. These are the only sweet things you ever give me.’
And Tom gloomily crunched his dose.

‘"Who can minister to a mind diseased, or pluck out a rooted sorrow?"
quoted Josie tragically from her perch on the railing.

‘Come with me, Tommy, and I’ll make a man of you. Drop your pills and
powders, and cavort round the world a spell, and you’ll soon forget
you’ve got a heart, or a stomach either,’ said Dan, offering his one
panacea for all ills.

‘Ship with me, Tom. A good fit of seasickness will set you up, and a
stiff north-easter blow your blue-devils away. Come along as
surgeon – easy berth, and no end of larks.’

‘"And if your Nancy frowns, my lad,

And scorns a jacket blue,

Just hoist your sails for other ports,

And find a maid more true."’

added Emil, who had a fragment of song to cheer every care and
sorrow, and freely offered them to his friends.

‘Perhaps I’ll think of it when I’ve got my diploma. I’m not going to
grind three mortal years and have nothing to show for it. Till then, – ‘

‘I’ll never desert Mrs Micawber,’ interrupted Teddy, with a gurgling
sob. Tom immediately rolled him off the step into the wet grass
below; and by the time this slight skirmish was over, the jingle of
teaspoons suggested refreshments of a more agreeable sort. In former
times the little girls waited on the boys, to save confusion; now the
young men flew to serve the ladies, young and old; and that slight
fact showed plainly how the tables were turned by time. And what a
pleasant arrangement it was! Even Josie sat still, and let Emil bring
her berries; enjoying her young lady-hood, till Ted stole her cake,
when she forgot manners, and chastised him with a rap on the
knuckles. As guest of honour, Dan was only allowed to wait on Bess,
who still held the highest place in this small world. Tom carefully
selected the best of everything for Nan, to be crushed by the remark:

‘I never eat at this hour; and you will have a nightmare if you do.’

So, dutifully curbing the pangs of hunger, he gave the plate to
Daisy, and chewed rose-leaves for his supper.

When a surprising quantity of wholesome nourishment had been
consumed, someone said, ‘Let’s sing!’ and a tuneful hour followed.
Nat fiddled, Demi piped, Dan strummed the old banjo, and Emil warbled
a doleful ballad about the wreck of the Bounding Betsey; then
everybody joined in the old songs till there was very decidedly
‘music in the air’; and passers-by said, as they listened smiling:
‘Old Plum is gay tonight!’

When all had gone Dan lingered on the piazza, enjoying the balmy wind
that blew up from the hayfields, and brought the breath of flowers
from Parnassus; and as he leaned there romantically in the moonlight,
Mrs Jo came to shut the door.

‘Dreaming dreams, Dan?’ she asked, thinking the tender moment might
have come. Imagine the shock when, instead of some interesting
confidence or affectionate word, Dan swung round, saying bluntly:

‘I was wishing I could smoke.’

Mrs Jo laughed at the downfall of her hopes, and answered kindly:

‘You may, in your room; but don’t set the house afire.’

Perhaps Dan saw a little disappointment in her face, or the memory of
the sequel of that boyish frolic touched his heart; for he stooped
and kissed her, saying in a whisper: ‘Good night, mother.’ And Mrs Jo
was half satisfied.

 

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