Chapter 6 – Last Words

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

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The next day was Sunday, and a goodly troop of young and old set
forth to church. – some driving, some walking, all enjoying the lovely
weather and the happy quietude which comes to refresh us when the
work and worry of the week are over. Daisy had a headache; and Aunt
Jo remained at home to keep her company, knowing very well that the
worst ache was in the tender heart struggling dutifully against the
love that grew stronger as the parting drew nearer.

‘Daisy knows my wishes, and I trust her. You must keep an eye on Nat,
and let him clearly understand that there is to be no "lovering", or
I shall forbid the letter-writing. I hate to seem cruel, but it is
too soon for my dear girl to bind herself in any way,’ said Mrs Meg,
as she rustled about in her best grey silk, while waiting for Demi,
who always escorted his pious mother to church as a peace-offering
for crossing her wishes in other things.

‘I will, dear; I’m lying in wait for all three boys today, like an
old spider; and I will have a good talk with each. They know I
understand them, and they always open their hearts sooner or later.
You look like a nice, plump little Quakeress, Meg; and no one will
believe that big boy is your son,’ added Mrs Jo, as Demi came in
shining with Sunday neatness, from his well-blacked boots to his
smooth brown head.

‘You flatter me, to soften my heart toward your boy. I know your
ways, Jo, and I don’t give in. Be firm, and spare me a scene by and
by. As for John, as long as he is satisfied with his old mother, I
don’t care what people think,’ answered Mrs Meg, accepting with a
smile the little posy of sweet peas and mignonette Demi brought her.

Then, having buttoned her dove-coloured gloves with care, she took
her son’s arm and went proudly away to the carriage, where Amy and
Bess waited, while Jo called after them, just as Marmee used to do:

‘Girls, have you got nice pocket-handkerchiefs?’ They all smiled at
the familiar words, and three white banners waved as they drove away,
leaving the spider to watch for her first fly. She did not wait long.
Daisy was lying down with a wet cheek on the little hymnbook out of
which she and Nat used to sing together; so Mrs Jo strolled about the
lawn, looking very like a wandering mushroom with her large buff

Dan had gone for a ten-mile stroll; and Nat was supposed to have
accompanied him, but presently came sneaking back, unable to tear
himself away from the Dovecote or lose a moment of nearness to his
idol that last day. Mrs Jo saw him at once, and beckoned him to a
rustic seat under the old elm, where they could have their
confidences undisturbed, and both keep an eye on a certain
white-curtained window, half hidden in vines.

‘Nice and cool here. I’m not up to one of Dan’s tramps today – it’s so
warm, and he goes so like a steam-engine. He headed for the swamp
where his pet snakes used to live, and I begged to be excused,’ said
Nat, fanning himself with his straw hat, though the day was not

‘I’m glad you did. Sit and rest with me, and have one of our good old
talks. We’ve both been so busy lately, I feel as if I didn’t half
know your plans; and I want to,’ answered Mrs Jo, feeling sure that
though they might start with Leipzig they would bring up at

‘You are very kind, and there’s nothing I’d like better. I don’t
realize I’m going so far – suppose I shan’t till I get afloat. It’s a
splendid start, and I don’t know how I can ever thank Mr Laurie for
all he’s done, or you either,’ added Nat, with a break in his voice;
for he was a tender-hearted fellow, and never forgot a kindness.

‘You can thank us beautifully by being and doing all we hope and
expect of you, my dear. In the new life you are going to there will
be a thousand trials and temptations, and only your own wit and
wisdom to rely on. That will be the time to test the principles we
have tried to give you, and see how firm they are. Of course, you
will make mistakes – we all do; but don’t let go of your conscience
and drift along blindly. Watch and pray, dear Nat; and while your
hand gains skill, let your head grow wiser, and keep your heart as
innocent and warm as it is now.’

‘I’ll try, Mother Bhaer, my very best to be a credit to you. I know I
shall improve in my music – can’t help it there; but I never shall be
very wise, I’m afraid. As for my heart, you know, I leave it behind
me in good keeping.’

As he spoke, Nat’s eyes were fixed on the window with a look of love
and longing that made his quiet face both manly and sad – plainly
showing how strong a hold this boyish affection had upon him.

‘I want to speak of that; and I know you will forgive what seems
hard, because I do most heartily sympathize with you,’ said Mrs Jo,
glad to have her say.

‘Yes, do talk about Daisy! I think of nothing but leaving and losing
her. I have no hope – I suppose it is too much to ask; only I can’t
help loving her, wherever I am!’ cried Nat, with a mixture of
defiance and despair in his face that rather startled Mrs Jo.

‘Listen to me and I’ll try to give you both comfort and good advice.
We all know that Daisy is fond of you, but her mother objects, and
being a good girl she tries to obey. Young people think they never
can change, but they do in the most wonderful manner, and very few
die of broken hearts.’ Mrs Jo smiled as she remembered another boy
whom she had once tried to comfort, and then went soberly on while
Nat listened as if his fate hung upon her lips.

‘One of two things will happen. You will find someone else to love,
or, better still, be so busy and happy in your music that you will be
willing to wait for time to settle the matter for you both. Daisy
will perhaps forget when you are gone, and be glad you are only
friends. At any rate it is much wiser to have no promises made; then
both are free, and in a year or two may meet to laugh over the little
romance nipped in the bud.’

‘Do you honestly think that?’ asked Nat, looking at her so keenly
that the truth had to come; for all his heart was in those frank blue
eyes of his.

‘No, I don’t!’ answered Mrs Jo. ‘Then if you were in my place, what
would you do?’ he added, with a tone of command never heard in his
gentle voice before.

‘Bless me! the boy is in dead earnest, and I shall forget prudence in
sympathy I’m afraid,’ thought Mrs Jo, surprised and pleased by the
unexpected manliness Nat showed.

‘I’ll tell you what I should do. I’d say to myself:

"I’ll prove that my love is strong and faithful, and make Daisy’s
mother proud to give her to me by being not only a good musician but
an excellent man, and so command respect and confidence. This I will
try for; and if I fail, I shall be the better for the effort, and
find comfort in the thought that I did my best for her sake."’

‘That is what I meant to do. But I wanted a word of hope to give me
courage,’ cried Nat, firing up as if the smouldering spark was set
ablaze by a breath of encouragement. ‘Other fellows, poorer and
stupider than I, have done great things and come to honour. Why may
not I, though I’m nothing now? I know Mrs Brooke remembers what I
came from, but my father was honest though everything went wrong; and
I have nothing to be ashamed of though I was a charity boy. I never
will be ashamed of my people or myself, and I’ll make other folks
respect me if I can.’

‘Good! that’s the right spirit, Nat. Hold to it and make yourself a
man. No one will be quicker to see and admire the brave work than my
sister Meg. She does not despise your poverty or your past; but
mothers are very tender over their daughters, and we Marches, though
we have been poor, are, I confess, a little proud of our good family.
We don’t care for money; but a long line of virtuous ancestors is
something to desire and to be proud of.’

‘Well, the Blakes are a good lot. I looked ’em up, and not one was
ever in prison, hanged, or disgraced in any way. We used to be rich
and honoured years ago, but we’ve died out and got poor, and father
was a street musician rather than beg; and I’ll be one again before
I’ll do the mean things some men do and pass muster.’

Nat was so excited that Mrs Jo indulged in a laugh to calm him, and
both went on more quietly.

‘I told my sister all that and it pleased her. I am sure if you do
well these next few years that she will relent and all be happily
settled, unless that wonderful change, which you don’t believe
possible, should occur. Now, cheer up; don’t be lackadaisical and
blue. Say good-bye cheerfully and bravely, show a manly front, and
leave a pleasant memory behind you. We all wish you well and hope
much for you. Write to me every week and I’ll send a good, gossipy
answer. Be careful what you write to Daisy; don’t gush or wail, for
sister Meg will see the letters; and you can help your cause very
much by sending sensible, cheery accounts of your life to us all.’

‘I will; I will; it looks brighter and better already, and I won’t
lose my one comfort by any fault of my own. Thank you so much, Mother
Bhaer, for taking my side. I felt so ungrateful and mean and crushed
when I thought you all considered me a sneak who had no business to
love such a precious girl as Daisy. No one said anything, but I knew
how you felt, and that Mr Laurie sent me off partly to get me out of
the way. Oh dear, life is pretty tough sometimes, isn’t it?’ And Nat
took his head in both hands as if it ached with the confusion of
hopes and fears, passions and plans that proved boyhood was past and
manhood had begun.

‘Very tough, but it is that very struggle with obstacles which does
us good. Things have been made easy for you in many ways, but no one
can do everything. You must paddle your own canoe now, and learn to
avoid the rapids and steer straight to the port you want to reach. I
don’t know just what your temptations will be for you have no bad
habits and seem to love music so well, nothing can lure you from it.
I only hope you won’t work too hard.’

‘I feel as if I could work like a horse, I’m so eager to get on; but
I’ll take care. Can’t waste time being sick, and you’ve given me
doses enough to keep me all right, I guess.’ Nat laughed as he
remembered the book of directions Mrs Jo had written for him to
consult on all occasions.

She immediately added some verbal ones on the subject of foreign
messes, and having mounted one of her pet hobbies, was in full gallop
when Emil was seen strolling about on the roof of the old house, that
being his favourite promenade; for there he could fancy himself
walking the deck, with only blue sky and fresh air about him.

‘I want a word with the Commodore, and up there we shall be nice and
quiet. Go and play to Daisy: it will put her to sleep and do you both
good. Sit in the porch, so I can keep an eye on you as I promised’;
and with a motherly pat on the shoulder Mrs Jo left Nat to his
delightful task and briskly ascended to the house-top, not up the
trellis as of old but by means of the stairs inside.

Emerging on the platform she found Emil cutting his initials afresh
in the wood-work and singing ‘Pull for the Shore’, like the tuneful
mariner he was.

‘Come aboard and make yourself at home, Aunty,’ he said, with a
playful salute. ‘I’m just leaving a P.P.C. in the old place, so when
you fly up here for refuge you’ll remember me.’

‘Ah, my dear, I’m not likely to forget you. It doesn’t need E. B. H.
cut on all the trees and railings to remind me of my sailor boy’; and
Mrs Jo took the seat nearest the blue figure astride the balustrade,
not quite sure how to begin the little sermon she wanted to preach.

‘Well, you don’t pipe your eye and look squally when I sheer off as
you used to, and that’s a comfort. I like to leave port in fair
weather and have a jolly send-off all round. Specially this time, for
it will be a year or more before we drop anchor here again,’ answered
Emil, pushing his cap back, and glancing about him as if he loved old
Plum and would be sorry never to see it any more.

‘You have salt water enough without my adding to it. I’m going to be
quite a Spartan mother, and send my sons to battle with no wailing,
only the command:

"With your shield or on it",’ said Mrs Jo cheerfully, adding after a
pause: ‘I often wish I could go too, and some day I will, when you
are captain and have a ship of your own – as I’ve no doubt you will
before long, with Uncle Herman to push you on.’

‘When I do I’ll christen her the Jolly Jo and take you as first mate.
It would be regular larks to have you aboard, and I’d be a proud man
to carry you round the world you’ve wanted to see so long and never
could,’ answered Emil, caught at once by this splendid vision.

‘I’ll make my first voyage with you and enjoy myself immensely in
spite of seasickness and all the stormy winds that blow. I’ve always
thought I’d like to see a wreck, a nice safe one with all saved after
great danger and heroic deeds, while we clung like Mr Pillicoddy to
main-top jibs and lee scuppers.’

‘No wrecks yet, ma’am, but we’ll try to accommodate customers.
Captain says I’m a lucky dog and bring fair weather, so we’ll save
the dirty weather for you if you want it,’ laughed Emil, digging at
the ship in full sail which he was adding to his design.

‘Thanks, I hope you will. This long voyage will give you new
experiences, and being an officer, you will have new duties and
responsibilities. Are you ready for them? You take everything so
gaily, I’ve been wondering if you realized that now you will have not
only to obey but to command also, and power is a dangerous thing. Be
careful that you don’t abuse it or let it make a tyrant of you.’

‘Right you are, ma’am. I’ve seen plenty of that, and have got my
bearings pretty well, I guess. I shan’t have very wide swing with
Peters over me, but I’ll see that the boys don’t get abused when he’s
bowsed up his jib. No right to speak before, but now I won’t stand

‘That sounds mysteriously awful; could I ask what nautical torture
"bowsing jibs" is?’ asked Mrs Jo, in a tone of deep interest.

‘Getting drunk. Peters can hold more grog than any man I ever saw; he
keeps right side up, but is as savage as a norther, and makes things
lively all round. I’ve seen him knock a fellow down with a belaying
pin, and couldn’t lend a hand. Better luck now, I hope.’ And Emil
frowned as if he already trod the quarter-deck, lord of all he

‘Don’t get into trouble, for even Uncle Herman’s favour won’t cover
insubordination, you know. You have proved yourself a good sailor;
now be a good officer, which is a harder thing, I fancy. It takes a
fine character to rule justly and kindly; you will have to put by
your boyish ways and remember your dignity. That will be excellent
training for you, Emil, and sober you down a bit. No more skylarking
except here, so mind your ways, and do honour to your buttons,’ said
Mrs Jo, tapping one of the very bright brass ones that ornamented the
new suit Emil was so proud of.

‘I’ll do my best. I know my time for skirmshander (chaff) is over,
and I must steer a straighter course; but don’t you fear, Jack ashore
is a very different craft from what he is with blue water under his
keel. I had a long talk with Uncle last night and got my orders; I
won’t forget ’em nor all I owe him. As for you, I’ll name my first
ship as I say, and have your bust for the figurehead, see if I
don’t,’ and Emil gave his aunt a hearty kiss to seal the vow, which
proceeding much amused Nat, playing softly in the porch of the

‘You do me proud, Captain. But, dear, I want to say one thing and
then I’m done; for you don’t need much advice of mine after my good
man has spoken. I read somewhere that every inch of rope used in the
British Navy has a strand of red in it, so that wherever a bit of it
is found it is known. That is the text of my little sermon to you.
Virtue, which means honour, honesty, courage, and all that makes
character, is the red thread that marks a good man wherever he is.
Keep that always and everywhere, so that even if wrecked by
misfortune, that sign shall still be found and recognized. Yours is a
rough life, and your mates not all we could wish, but you can be a
gentleman in the true sense of the word; and no matter what happens
to your body, keep your soul clean, your heart true to those who love
you, and do your duty to the end.’

As she spoke Emil had risen and stood listening with his cap off and
a grave, bright look as if taking orders from a superior officer;
when she ended, he answered briefly, but heartily:

‘Please God, I will!’

‘That’s all; I have little fear for you, but one never knows when or
how the weak moment may come, and sometimes a chance word helps us,
as so many my dear mother spoke come back to me now for my own
comfort and the guidance of my boys,’ said Mrs Jo, rising; for the
words had been said and no more were needed.

‘I’ve stored ’em up and know where to find ’em when wanted. Often and
often in my watch I’ve seen old Plum, and heard you and Uncle talking
so plainly, I’d have sworn I was here. It is a rough life, Aunty, but
a wholesome one if a fellow loves it as I do, and has an anchor to
windward as I have. Don’t worry about me, and I’ll come home next
year with a chest of tea that will cheer your heart and give you
ideas enough for a dozen novels. Going below? All right, steady in
the gangway! I’ll be along by the time you’ve got out the cake-box.
Last chance for a good old lunch ashore.’

Mrs Jo descended laughing, and Emil finished his ship whistling
cheerfully, neither dreaming when and where this little chat on the
house-top would return to the memory of one of them.

Dan was harder to catch, and not until evening did a quiet moment
come in that busy family; when, while the rest were roaming about,
Mrs Jo sat down to read in the study, and presently Dan looked in at
the window.

‘Come and rest after your long tramp; you must be tired,’ she called,
with an inviting nod towards the big sofa where so many boys had
reposed – as much as that active animal ever does.

‘Afraid I shall disturb you’; but Dan looked as if he wanted to stay
his restless feet somewhere.

‘Not a bit; I’m always ready to talk, shouldn’t be a woman if I were
not,’ laughed Mrs Jo, as Dan swung himself in and sat down with an
air of contentment very pleasant to see.

‘Last day is over, yet somehow I don’t seem to hanker to be off.
Generally, I’m rather anxious to cut loose after a short stop. Odd,
ain’t it?’ asked Dan, gravely picking grass and leaves out of his
hair and beard; for he had been lying on the grass, thinking many
thoughts in the quiet summer night.

‘Not at all; you are beginning to get civilized. It’s a good sign,
and I’m glad to see it,’ answered Mrs Jo promptly. ‘You’ve had your
swing, and want a change. Hope the farming will give it to you,
though helping the Indians pleases me more: it is so much better to
work for others than for one’s self alone.’

‘So ’tis,’ assented Dan heartily. ‘I seem to want to root somewhere
and have folks of my own to take care of. Tired of my own company, I
suppose, now I’ve seen so much better. I’m a rough, ignorant lot, and
I’ve been thinking maybe I’ve missed it loafing round creation,
instead of going in for education as the other chaps did. Hey?’

He looked anxiously at Mrs Jo; and she tried to hide the surprise
this new outburst caused her; for till now Dan had scorned books and
gloried in his freedom.

‘No; I don’t think so in your case. So far I’m sure the free life was
best. Now that you are a man you can control that lawless nature
better; but as a boy only great activity and much adventure could
keep you out of mischief. Time is taming my colt, you see, and I
shall yet be proud of him, whether he makes a pack-horse of himself
to carry help to the starving or goes to ploughing as Pegasus did.’

Dan liked the comparison, and smiled as he lounged in the
sofa-corner, with the new thoughtfulness in his eyes.

‘Glad you think so. The fact is it’s going to take a heap of taming
to make me go well in harness anywhere. I want to, and I try now and
then, but always kick over the traces and run away. No lives lost
yet; but I shouldn’t wonder if there was some time, and a general

‘Why, Dan, did you have any dangerous adventures during this last
absence? I fancied so, but didn’t ask before, knowing you’d tell me
if I could help in any way. Can I?’ And Mrs Jo looked anxiously at
him; for a sudden lowering expression had come into his face, and he
leaned forward as if to hide it.

‘Nothing very bad; but ‘Frisco isn’t just a heaven on earth, you know,
and it’s harder to be a saint there than here,’ he answered slowly;
then, as if he had made up his mind to ”fess’, as the children used
to say, he sat up, and added rapidly, in a half-defiant,
half-shamefaced way, ‘I tried gambling, and it wasn’t good for me.’

‘Was that how you made your money?’

‘Not a penny of it! That’s all honest, if speculation isn’t a bigger
sort of gambling. I won a lot; but I lost or gave it away, and cut
the whole concern before it got the better of me.’

‘Thank heaven for that! Don’t try it again; it may have the terrible
fascination for you it has for so many. Keep to your mountains and
prairies, and shun cities, if these things tempt you, Dan. Better
lose your life than your soul, and one such passion leads to worse
sins, as you know better than I.’

Dan nodded, and seeing how troubled she was, said, in a lighter tone,
though still the shadow of that past experience remained:

‘Don’t be scared; I’m all right now; and a burnt dog dreads the fire.
I don’t drink, or do the things you dread; don’t care for ’em; but I
get excited, and then this devilish temper of mine is more than I can
manage. Fighting a moose or a buffalo is all right; but when you
pitch into a man, no matter how great a scamp he is, you’ve got to
look out. I shall kill someone some day; that’s all I’m afraid of. I
do hate a sneak!’ And Dan brought his fist down on the table with a
blow that made the lamp totter and the books skip.

‘That always was your trial, Dan, and I can sympathize with you; for
I’ve been trying to govern my own temper all my life, and haven’t
learnt yet,’ said Mrs Jo, with a sigh. ‘For heaven’s sake, guard your
demon well, and don’t let a moment’s fury ruin all your life. As I
said to Nat, watch and pray, my dear boy. There is no other help or
hope for human weakness but God’s love and patience.’

Tears were in Mrs Jo’s eyes as she spoke; for she felt this deeply,
and knew how hard a task it is to rule these bosom sins of ours. Dan
looked touched, also uncomfortable, as he always did when religion of
any sort was mentioned, though he had a simple creed of his own, and
tried to live up to it in his blind way.

‘I don’t do much praying; don’t seem to come handy to me; but I can
watch like a redskin, only it’s easier to mount guard over a lurking
grizzly than my own cursed temper. It’s that I’m afraid of, if I
settle down. I can get on with wild beasts first-rate; but men rile
me awfully, and I can’t take it out in a free fight, as I can with a
bear or a wolf. Guess I’d better head for the Rockies, and stay there
a spell longer – till I’m tame enough for decent folks, if I ever am.’
And Dan leaned his rough head on his hands in a despondent attitude.

‘Try my sort of help, and don’t give up. Read more, study a little,
and try to meet a better class of people, who won’t "rile", but
soothe and strengthen you. We don’t make you savage, I’m sure; for
you have been as meek as a lamb, and made us very happy.’

‘Glad of it; but I’ve felt like a hawk in a hen-house all the same,
and wanted to pounce and tear more than once. Not so much as I used,
though,’ added Dan, after a short laugh at Mrs Jo’s surprised face.
‘I’ll try your plan, and keep good company this bout if I can; but a
man can’t pick and choose, knocking about as I do.’

‘Yes, you can this time; for you are going on a peaceful errand and
can keep clear of temptation if you try. Take some books and read;
that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have
the right sort. Let me pick out some for you.’ And Mrs Jo made a
bee-line to the well-laden shelves, which were the joy of her heart
and the comfort of her life.

‘Give me travels and stories, please; don’t want any pious works,
can’t seem to relish ’em, and won’t pretend I do,’ said Dan,
following to look over her head with small favour at the long lines
of well-worn volumes.

Mrs Jo turned short round, and putting a hand on either broad
shoulder, looked him in the eye, saying soberly:

‘Now, Dan, see here; never sneer at good things or pretend to be
worse than you are. Don’t let false shame make you neglect the
religion without which no man can live. You needn’t talk about it if
you don’t like, but don’t shut your heart to it in whatever shape it
comes. Nature is your God now; she has done much for you; let her do
more, and lead you to know and love a wiser and more tender teacher,
friend, and comforter than she can ever be. That is your only hope;
don’t throw it away, and waste time; for sooner or later you will
feel the need of Him, and He will come to you and hold you up when
all other help fails.’

Dan stood motionless, and let her read in his softened eyes the dumb
desire that lived in his heart, though he had no words to tell it,
and only permitted her to catch a glimpse of the divine spark which
smoulders or burns clearly in every human soul. He did not speak; and
glad to be spared some answer which should belie his real feelings,
Mrs Jo hastened to say, with her most motherly smile:

‘I saw in your room the little Bible I gave you long ago; it was well
worn outside, but fresh within, as if not much read. Will you promise
me to read a little once a week, dear, for my sake? Sunday is a quiet
day everywhere, and this book is never old nor out of place. Begin
with the stories you used to love when I told them to you boys. David
was your favourite, you remember? Read him again; he’ll suit you even
better now, and you’ll find his sins and repentance useful reading
till you come to the life and work of a diviner example than he. You
will do it, for love of mother Bhaer, who always loved her
"firebrand" and hoped to save him?’

‘I will,’ answered Dan, with a sudden brightening of face that was
like a sunburst through a cloud, full of promise though so
short-lived and rare.

Mrs Jo turned at once to the books and began to talk of them, knowing
well that Dan would not hear any more just then. He seemed relieved;
for it was always hard for him to show his inner self, and he took
pride in hiding it as an Indian does in concealing pain or fear.

‘Hallo, here’s old Sintram! I remember him; used to like him and his
tantrums, and read about ’em to Ted. There he is riding ahead with
Death and the Devil alongside.’

As Dan looked at the little picture of the young man with horse and
hound going bravely up the rocky defile, accompanied by the
companions who ride beside most men through this world, a curious
impulse made Mrs Jo say quickly:

‘That’s you, Dan, just you at this time! Danger and sin are near you
in the life you lead; moods and passions torment you; the bad father
left you to fight alone, and the wild spirit drives you to wander up
and down the world looking for peace and self-control. Even the
horse and hound are there, your Octoo and Don, faithful friends,
unscared by the strange mates that go with you. You have not got the
armour yet, but I’m trying to show you where to find it. Remember
the mother Sintram loved and longed to find, and did find when his
battle was bravely fought, his reward well earned? You can recollect
your mother; and I have always felt that all the good qualities you
possess come from her. Act out the beautiful old story in this as in
the other parts, and try to give her back a son to be proud of.’

Quite carried away by the likeness of the quaint tale to Dan’s life
and needs, Mrs Jo went on pointing to the various pictures which
illustrated it, and when she looked up was surprised to see how
struck and interested he seemed to be. Like all people of his
temperament he was very impressionable, and his life among hunters
and Indians had made him superstitious; he believed in dreams, liked
weird tales, and whatever appealed to the eye or mind, vividly
impressed him more than the wisest words. The story of poor,
tormented Sintram came back clearly as he looked and listened,
symbolizing his secret trials even more truly than Mrs Jo knew; and
just at that moment this had an effect upon him that never was
forgotten. But all he said was:

‘Small chance of that. I don’t take much stock in the idea of meeting
folks in heaven. Guess mother won’t remember the poor little brat she
left so long ago; why should she?’

‘Because true mothers never forget their children; and I know she was
one, from the fact that she ran away from the cruel husband, to save
her little son from bad influences. Had she lived, life would have
been happier for you, with this tender friend to help and comfort
you. Never forget that she risked everything for your sake, and don’t
let it be in vain.’

Mrs Jo spoke very earnestly, knowing that this was the one sweet
memory of Dan’s early life, and glad to have recalled it at this
moment; for suddenly a great tear splashed down on the page where
Sintram kneels at his mother’s feet, wounded, but victorious over sin
and death. She looked up, well pleased to have touched Dan to the
heart’s core, as that drop proved; but a sweep of the arm brushed
away the tell-tale, and his beard hid the mate to it, as he shut the
book, saying with a suppressed quiver in his strong voice:

‘I’ll keep this, if nobody wants it. I’ll read it over, and maybe it
will do me good. I’d like to meet her anywhere, but don’t believe I
ever shall.’

‘Keep it and welcome. My mother gave it to me; and when you read it
try to believe that neither of your mothers will ever forget you.’

Mrs Jo gave the book with a caress; and simply saying: ‘Thanks; good
night,’ Dan thrust it into his pocket, and walked straight away to
the river to recover from this unwonted mood of tenderness and

Next day the travellers were off. All were in good spirits, and a
cloud of handkerchiefs whitened the air as they drove away in the old
bus, waving their hats to everyone and kissing their hands,
especially to mother Bhaer, who said in her prophetic tone as she
wiped her eyes, when the familiar rumble died away:

‘I have a feeling that something is going to happen to some of them,
and they will never come back to me, or come back changed. Well, I
can only say, God be with my boys!’

And He was.


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