FictionForest

Chapter 6 – A Fire Brand

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"Please, ma’am, could I speak to you? It is something very
important," said Nat, popping his head in at the door of Mrs.
Bhaer’s room.

It was the fifth head which had popped in during the last half-hour;
but Mrs. Jo was used to it, so she looked up, and said, briskly,

"What is it, my lad?"

Nat came in, shut the door carefully behind him, and said in an
eager, anxious tone,

"Dan has come."

"Who is Dan?"

"He’s a boy I used to know when I fiddled round the streets. He
sold papers, and he was kind to me, and I saw him the other day in
town, and told him how nice it was here, and he’s come."

"But, my dear boy, that is rather a sudden way to pay a visit."

"Oh, it isn’t a visit; he wants to stay if you will let him!" said Nat
innocently.

"Well, I don’t know about that," began Mrs. Bhaer, rather startled
by the coolness of the proposition.

"Why, I thought you liked to have poor boys come and live with
you, and be kind to ’em as you were to me," said Nat, looking
surprised and alarmed.

"So I do, but I like to know something about them first. I have to
choose them, because there are so many. I have not room for all. I
wish I had."

"I told him to come because I thought you’d like it, but if there isn’t
room he can go away again," said Nat, sorrowfully.

The boy’s confidence in her hospitality touched Mrs. Bhaer, and
she could not find the heart to disappoint his hope, and spoil his
kind little plan, so she said,

"Tell me about this Dan."

"I don’t know any thing, only he hasn’t got any folks, and he’s poor,
and he was good to me, so I’d like to be good to him if I could."

"Excellent reasons every one; but really, Nat, the house is full, and
I don’t know where I could put him," said Mrs. Bhaer, more and
more inclined to prove herself the haven of refuge he seemed to
think her.

"He could have my bed, and I could sleep in the barn. It isn’t cold
now, and I don’t mind, I used to sleep anywhere with father," said
Nat, eagerly.

Something in his speech and face made Mrs. Jo put her hand on
his shoulder, and say in her kindest tone:

"Bring in your friend, Nat; I think we must find room for him
without giving him your place."

Nat joyfully ran off, and soon returned followed by a most
unprepossessing boy, who slouched in and stood looking about
him, with a half bold, half sullen look, which made Mrs. Bhaer say
to herself, after one glance,

"A bad specimen, I am afraid."

"This is Dan," said Nat, presenting him as if sure of his welcome.

"Nat tells me you would like to come and stay with us," began
Mrs. Jo, in a friendly tone.

"Yes," was the gruff reply.

"Have you no friends to take care of you?"

"No."

"Say, ‘No, ma’am,’ " whispered Nat.

"Shan’t neither," muttered Dan.

"How old are you?"

"About fourteen."

"You look older. What can you do?"

"’Most anything."

"If you stay here we shall want you to do as the others do, work
and study as well as play. Are you willing to agree to that?"

"Don’t mind trying."

"Well, you can stay a few days, and we will see how we get on
together. Take him out, Nat, and amuse him till Mr. Bhaer comes
home, when we will settle about the matter," said Mrs. Jo, finding
it rather difficult to get on with this cool young person, who fixed
his big black eyes on her with a hard, suspicious expression,
sorrowfully unboyish.

"Come on, Nat," he said, and slouched out again.

"Thank you, ma’am," added Nat, as he followed him, feeling
without quite understanding the difference in the welcome given to
him and to his ungracious friend.

"The fellows are having a circus out in the barn; don’t you want to
come and see it?" he asked, as they came down the wide steps on
to the lawn.

"Are they big fellows?" said Dan.

"No; the big ones are gone fishing."

"Fire away, then," said Dan.

Nat led him to the great barn and introduced him to his set, who
were disporting themselves among the half-empty lofts. A large
circle was marked out with hay on the wide floor, and in the
middle stood Demi with a long whip, while Tommy, mounted on
the much-enduring Toby, pranced about the circle playing being a
monkey.

"You must pay a pin apiece, or you can’t see the show," said
Stuffy, who stood by the wheelbarrow in which sat the band,
consisting of a pocket-comb blown upon by Ned, and a toy drum
beaten spasmodically by Rob.

"He’s company, so I’ll pay for both," said Nat, handsomely, as he
stuck two crooked pins in the dried mushroom which served as
money-box.

With a nod to the company they seated themselves on a couple of
boards, and the performance went on. After the monkey act, Ned
gave them a fine specimen of his agility by jumping over an old
chair, and running up and down ladders, sailor fashion. Then Demi
danced a jig with a gravity beautiful to behold. Nat was called
upon to wrestle with Stuffy, and speedily laid that stout youth upon
the ground. After this, Tommy proudly advanced to turn a
somersault, an accomplishment which he had acquired by painful
perseverance, practising in private till every joint of his little frame
was black and blue. His feats were received with great applause,
and he was about to retire, flushed with pride and a rush of blood
to the head, when a scornful voice in the audience was heard to
say,

"Ho! that ain’t any thing!"

"Say that again, will you?" and Tommy bristled up like an angry
turkey-cock.

"Do you want to fight?" said Dan, promptly descending from the
barrel and doubling up his fists in a business-like manner.

"No, I don’t;" and the candid Thomas retired a step, rather taken
aback by the proposition.

"Fighting isn’t allowed!" cried the others, much excited.

"You’re a nice lot," sneered Dan.

"Come, if you don’t behave, you shan’t stay," said Nat, firing up at
that insult to his friends.

"I’d like to see him do better than I did, that’s all," observed
Tommy, with a swagger.

"Clear the way, then," and without the slightest preparation Dan
turned three somersaults one after the other and came up on his
feet.

"You can’t beat that, Tom; you always hit your head and tumble
flat," said Nat, pleased at his friend’s success.

Before he could say any more the audience were electrified by
three more somersaults backwards, and a short promenade on the
hands, head down, feet up. This brought down the house, and
Tommy joined in the admiring cries which greeted the
accomplished gymnast as he righted himself, and looked at them
with an air of calm superiority.

"Do you think I could learn to do it without its hurting me very
much?" Tom meekly asked, as he rubbed the elbows which still
smarted after the last attempt.

"What will you give me if I’ll teach you?" said Dan.

"My new jack-knife; it’s got five blades, and only one is broken."

"Give it here, then."

Tommy handed it over with an affectionate look at its smooth
handle. Dan examined it carefully, then putting it into his pocket,
walked off, saying with a wink,

"Keep it up till you learn, that’s all."

A howl of wrath from Tommy was followed by a general uproar,
which did not subside till Dan, finding himself in a minority,
proposed that they should play stick-knife, and whichever won
should have the treasure. Tommy agreed, and the game was played
in a circle of excited faces, which all wore an expression of
satisfaction, when Tommy won and secured the knife in the depth
of his safest pocket.

"You come off with me, and I’ll show you round," said Nat, feeling
that he must have a little serious conversation with his friend in
private.

What passed between them no one knew, but when they appeared
again, Dan was more respectful to every one, though still gruff in
his speech, and rough in his manner; and what else could be
expected of the poor lad who had been knocking about the world
all his short life with no one to teach him any better?

The boys had decided that they did not like him, and so they left
him to Nat, who soon felt rather oppressed by the responsibility,
but too kind-hearted to desert him.

Tommy, however, felt that in spite of the jack-knife transaction,
there was a bond of sympathy between them, and longed to return
to the interesting subject of somersaults. He soon found an
opportunity, for Dan, seeing how much he admired him, grew
more amiable, and by the end of the first week was quite intimate
with the lively Tom.

Mr. Bhaer, when he heard the story and saw Dan, shook his head,
but only said quietly,

"The experiment may cost us something, but we will try it."

If Dan felt any gratitude for his protection, he did not show it, and
took without thanks all that was give him. He was ignorant, but
very quick to learn when he chose; had sharp eyes to watch what
went on about him; a saucy tongue, rough manners, and a temper
that was fierce and sullen by turns. He played with all his might,
and played well at almost all the games. He was silent and gruff
before grown people, and only now and then was thoroughly
sociable among the lads. Few of them really liked him, but few
could help admiring his courage and strength, for nothing daunted
him, and he knocked tall Franz flat on one occasion with an ease
that caused all the others to keep at a respectful distance from his
fists. Mr. Bhaer watched him silently, and did his best to tame the
"Wild Boy," as they called him, but in private the worthy man
shook his head, and said soberly, "I hope the experiment will turn
out well, but I am a little afraid it may cost too much."

Mrs. Bhaer lost her patience with him half a dozen times a day, yet
never gave him up, and always insisted that there was something
good in the lad, after all; for he was kinder to animals than to
people, he liked to rove about in the woods, and, best of all, little
Ted was fond of him. What the secret was no one could discover,
but Baby took to him at once gabbled and crowed whenever he
saw him preferred his strong back to ride on to any of the others
and called him "My Danny" out of his own little head. Teddy was
the only creature to whom Dan showed an affection, and this was
only manifested when he thought no one else would see it; but
mothers’ eyes are quick, and motherly hearts instinctively divine
who love their babies. So Mrs. Jo soon saw and felt that there was
a soft spot in rough Dan, and bided her time to touch and win him.

But an unexpected and decidedly alarming event upset all their
plans, and banished Dan from Plumfield.

Tommy, Nat, and Demi began by patronizing Dan, because the
other lads rather slighted him; but soon they each felt there was a
certain fascination about the bad boy, and from looking down upon
him they came to looking up, each for a different reason. Tommy
admired his skill and courage; Nat was grateful for past kindness;
and Demi regarded him as a sort of animated story book, for when
he chose Dan could tell his adventures in a most interesting way. It
pleased Dan to have the three favorites like him, and he exerted
himself to be agreeable, which was the secret of his success.

The Bhaers were surprised, but hoped the lads would have a good
influence over Dan, and waited with some anxiety, trusting that no
harm would come of it.

Dan felt they did not quite trust him, and never showed them his
best side, but took a wilful pleasure in trying their patience and
thwarting their hopes as far as he dared.

Mr. Bhaer did not approve of fighting, and did not think it a proof
of either manliness or courage for two lads to pommel one another
for the amusement of the rest. All sorts of hardy games and
exercises were encouraged, and the boys were expected to take
hard knocks and tumbles without whining; but black eyes and
bloody noses given for the fun of it were forbidden as a foolish and
a brutal play.

Dan laughed at this rule, and told such exciting tales of his own
valor, and the many frays that he had been in, that some of the lads
were fired with a desire to have a regular good "mill."

"Don’t tell, and I’ll show you how," said Dan; and, getting half a
dozen of the lads together behind the barn, he gave them a lesson
in boxing, which quite satisfied the ardor of most of them. Emil,
however, could not submit to be beaten by a fellow younger than
himself, for Emil was past fourteen and a plucky fellow, so he
challenged Dan to a fight. Dan accepted at once, and the others
looked on with intense interest.

What little bird carried the news to head-quarters no one ever
knew, but, in the very hottest of the fray, when Dan and Emil were
fighting like a pair of young bulldogs, and the others with fierce,
excited faces were cheering them on, Mr. Bhaer walked into the
ring, plucked the combatants apart with a strong hand, and said, in
the voice they seldom heard,

"I can’t allow this, boys! Stop it at once; and never let me see it
again. I keep a school for boys, not for wild beasts. Look at each
other and be ashamed of yourselves."

"You let me go, and I’ll knock him down again," shouted Dan,
sparring away in spite of the grip on his collar.

"Come on, come on, I ain’t thrashed yet!" cried Emil, who had
been down five times, but did not know when he was beaten.

"They are playing be gladdy what-you-call-’ems, like the Romans,
Uncle Fritz," called out Demi, whose eyes were bigger than ever
with the excitement of this new pastime.

"They were a fine set of brutes; but we have learned something
since then, I hope, and I cannot have you make my barn a
Colosseum. Who proposed this?" asked Mr. Bhaer.

"Dan," answered several voices.

"Don’t you know that it is forbidden?"

"Yes," growled Dan, sullenly.

"Then why break the rule?"

"They’ll all be molly-coddles, if they don’t know how to fight."

"Have you found Emil a molly-coddle? He doesn’t look much like
one," and Mr. Bhaer brought the two face to face. Dan had a black
eye, and his jacket was torn to rags, but Emil’s face was covered
with blood from a cut lip and a bruised nose, while a bump on his
forehead was already as purple as a plum. In spite of his wounds
however, he still glared upon his foe, and evidently panted to
renew the fight.

"He’d make a first-rater if he was taught," said Dan, unable to
withhold the praise from the boy who made it necessary for him to
do his best.

"He’ll be taught to fence and box by and by, and till then I think he
will do very well without any lessons in mauling. Go and wash
your faces; and remember, Dan, if you break any more of the rules
again, you will be sent away. That was the bargain; do your part
and we will do ours."

The lads went off, and after a few more words to the spectators,
Mr. Bhaer followed to bind up the wounds of the young gladiators.
Emil went to bed sick, and Dan was an unpleasant spectacle for a
week.

But the lawless lad had no thought of obeying, and soon
transgressed again.

One Saturday afternoon as a party of the boys went out to play,
Tommy said,

"Let’s go down to the river, and cut a lot of new fish-poles."

"Take Toby to drag them back, and one of us can ride him down,"
proposed Stuffy, who hated to walk.

"That means you, I suppose; well, hurry up, lazy-bones," said Dan.

Away they went, and having got the poles were about to go home,
when Demi unluckily said to Tommy, who was on Toby with a
long rod in his hand,

"You look like the picture of the man in the bull-fight, only you
haven’t got a red cloth, or pretty clothes on."

"I’d like to see one; there’s old Buttercup in the big meadow, ride at
her, Tom, and see her run," proposed Dan, bent on mischief.

"No, you mustn’t," began Demi, who was learning to distrust Dan’s
propositions.

"Why not, little fuss-button?" demanded Dan.

"I don’t think Uncle Fritz would like it."

"Did he ever say we must not have a bull-fight?"

"No, I don’t think he ever did," admitted Demi.

"Then hold your tongue. Drive on, Tom, and here’s a red rag to
flap at the old thing. I’ll help you to stir her up," and over the wall
went Dan, full of the new game, and the rest followed like a flock
of sheep; even Demi, who sat upon the bars, and watched the fun
with interest.

Poor Buttercup was not in a very good mood, for she had been
lately bereft of her calf, and mourned for the little thing most
dismally. Just now she regarded all mankind as her enemies (and I
do not blame her), so when the matadore came prancing towards
her with the red handkerchief flying at the end of his long lance,
she threw up her head, and gave a most appropriate "Moo!"
Tommy rode gallantly at her, and Toby recognizing an old friend,
was quite willing to approach; but when the lance came down on
her back with a loud whack, both cow and donkey were surprised
and disgusted. Toby back with a bray of remonstrance, and
Buttercup lowered her horns angrily.

"At her again, Tom; she’s jolly cross, and will do it capitally!"
called Dan, coming up behind with another rod, while Jack and
Ned followed his example.

Seeing herself thus beset, and treated with such disrespect,
Buttercup trotted round the field, getting more and more
bewildered and excited every moment, for whichever way she
turned, there was a dreadful boy, yelling and brandishing a new
and very disagreeable sort of whip. It was great fun for them, but
real misery for her, till she lost patience and turned the tables in
the most unexpected manner. All at once she wheeled short round,
and charged full at her old friend Toby, whose conduct cut her to
the heart. Poor slow Toby backed so precipitately that he tripped
over a stone, and down went horse, matadore, and all, in one
ignominious heap, while distracted Buttercup took a surprising
leap over the wall, and galloped wildly out of sight down the road.

"Catch her, stop her, head her off! run, boys, run!" shouted Dan,
tearing after her at his best pace, for she was Mr. Bhaer’s pet
Alderney, and if anything happened to her, Dan feared it would be
all over with him. Such a running and racing and bawling and
puffing as there was before she was caught! The fish-poles were
left behind; Toby was trotted nearly off his legs in the chase; and
every boy was red, breathless, and scared. They found poor
Buttercup at last in a flower garden, where she had taken refuge,
worn out with the long run. Borrowing a rope for a halter, Dan led
her home, followed by a party of very sober young gentlemen, for
the cow was in a sad state, having strained her shoulder jumping,
so that she limped, her eyes looked wild, and her glossy coat was
wet and muddy.

"You’ll catch it this time, Dan," said Tommy, as he led the
wheezing donkey beside the maltreated cow.

"So will you, for you helped."

"We all did, but Demi," added Jack.

"He put it into our heads," said Ned.

"I told you not to do it," cried Demi, who was most broken-hearted
at poor Buttercup’s state.

"Old Bhaer will send me off, I guess. Don’t care if he does,"
muttered Dan, looking worried in spite of his words.

"We’ll ask him not to, all of us," said Demi, and the others assented
with the exception of Stuffy, who cherished the hope that all the
punishment might fall on one guilty head. Dan only said, "Don’t
bother about me;" but he never forgot it, even though he led the
lads astray again, as soon as the temptation came.

When Mr. Bhaer saw the animal, and heard the story, he said very
little, evidently fearing that he should say too much in the first
moments of impatience. Buttercup was made comfortable in her
stall, and the boys sent to their rooms till supper-time. This brief
respite gave them time to think the matter over, to wonder what
the penalty would be, and to try to imagine where Dan would be
sent. He whistled briskly in his room, so that no one should think
he cared a bit; but while he waited to know his fate, the longing to
stay grew stronger and stronger, the more he recalled the comfort
and kindness he had known here, the hardship and neglect he had
felt elsewhere. He knew they tried to help him, and at the bottom
of his heart he was grateful, but his rough life had made him hard
and careless, suspicious and wilful. He hated restraint of any sort,
and fought against it like an untamed creature, even while he knew
it was kindly meant, and dimly felt that he would be the better for
it. He made up his mind to be turned adrift again, to knock about
the city as he had done nearly all his life; a prospect that made him
knit his black brows, and look about the cosy little room with a
wistful expression that would have touched a much harder heart
than Mr. Bhaer’s if he had seen it. It vanished instantly, however,
when the good man came in, and said in his accustomed grave
way,

"I have heard all about it, Dan, and though you have broken the
rules again, I am going to give you one more trial, to please
Mother Bhaer."

Dan flushed up to his forehead at this unexpected reprieve, but he
only said in his gruff way,

"I didn’t know there was any rule about bull-fighting."

"As I never expected to have any at Plumfield, I never did make
such a rule," answered Mr. Bhaer, smiling in spite of himself at the
boy’s excuse. Then he added gravely, "But one of the first and most
important of our few laws is the law of kindness to every dumb
creature on the place. I want everybody and everything to be happy
here, to love and trust, and serve us, as we try to love and trust and
serve them faithfully and willingly. I have often said that you were
kinder to the animals than any of the other boys, and Mrs. Bhaer
liked that trait in you very much, because she thought it showed a
good heart. But you have disappointed us in that, and we are sorry,
for we hoped to make you quite one of us. Shall we try again?"

Dan’s eyes had been on the floor, and his hands nervously picking
at the bit of wood he had been whittling as Mr. Bhaer came in, but
when he heard the kind voice ask that question, he looked up
quickly, and said in a more respectful tone than he had ever used
before,

"Yes, please."

"Very well, then, we will say no more, only you will stay at home
from the walk to-morrow, as the other boys will and all of you
must wait on poor Buttercup till she is well again."

"I will."

"Now, go down to supper, and do your best, my boy, more for your
own sake than for ours." Then Mr. Bhaer shook hands with him,
and Dan went down more tamed by kindness than he would have
been by the good whipping which Asia had strongly
recommended.

Dan did try for a day or two, but not being used to it, he soon tired
and relapsed into his old wilful ways. Mr. Bhaer was called from
home on business one day, and the boys had no lessons. They liked
this, and played hard till bedtime, when most of them turned in
and slept like dormice. Dan, however, had a plan in his head, and
when he and Nat were alone, he unfolded it.

"Look here!" he said, taking from under his bed a bottle, a cigar,
and a pack of cards, "I’m going to have some fun, and do as I used
to with the fellows in town. Here’s some beer, I got if of the old
man at the station, and this cigar; you can pay for ’em or Tommy
will, he’s got heaps of money and I haven’t a cent. I’m going to ask
him in; no, you go, they won’t mind you."

"The folks won’t like it," began Nat.

"They won’t know. Daddy Bhaer is away, and Mrs. Bhaer’s busy
with Ted; he’s got croup or something, and she can’t leave him. We
shan’t sit up late or make any noise, so where’s the harm?"

"Asia will know if we burn the lamp long, she always does."

"No, she won’t, I’ve got a dark lantern on purpose; it don’t give
much light, and we can shut it quick if we hear anyone coming,"
said Dan.

This idea struck Nat as a fine one, and lent an air of romance to the
thing. He started off to tell Tommy, but put his head in again to
say,

"You want Demi, too, don’t you?"

"No, I don’t; the Deacon will rollup eyes and preach if you tell
him. He will be asleep, so just tip the wink to Tom and cut back
again."

Nat obeyed, and returned in a minute with Tommy half dressed,
rather tousled about the head and very sleepy, but quite ready for
fun as usual.

"Now, keep quiet, and I’ll show you how to play a first-rate game
called ‘Poker,’ " said Dan, as the three revellers gathered round the
table, on which were set forth the bottle, the cigar, and the cards.
"First we’ll all have a drink, then we’ll take a go at the ‘weed,’ and
then we’ll play. That’s the way men do, and it’s jolly fun."

The beer circulated in a mug, and all three smacked their lips over
it, though Nat and Tommy did not like the bitter stuff. The cigar
was worse still, but they dared not say so, and each puffed away
till he was dizzy or choked, when he passed the "weed" on to his
neighbor. Dan liked it, for it seemed like old times when he now
and then had a chance to imitate the low men who surrounded
him. He drank, and smoked, and swaggered as much like them as
he could, and, getting into the spirit of the part he assumed, he
soon began to swear under his breath for fear some one should
hear him. "You mustn’t; it’s wicked to say ‘Damn!’ " cried Tommy,
who had followed his leader so far.

"Oh, hang! don’t you preach, but play away; it’s part of the fun to
swear."

"I’d rather say ‘thunder turtles,’ " said Tommy, who had composed
this interesting exclamation and was very proud of it.

"And I’ll say ‘The Devil;’ that sounds well," added Nat, much
impressed by Dan’s manly ways.

Dan scoffed at their "nonsense," and swore stoutly as he tried to
teach them the new game.

But Tommy was very sleepy, and Nat’s head began to ache with
the beer and the smoke, so neither of them was very quick to learn,
and the game dragged. The room was nearly dark, for the lantern
burned badly; they could not laugh loud nor move about much, for
Silas slept next door in the shed-chamber, and altogether the party
was dull. In the middle of a deal Dan stopped suddenly, and called
out, "Who’s that?" in a startled tone, and at the same moment drew
the slide over the light. A voice in the darkness said tremulously, "I
can’t find Tommy," and then there was the quick patter of bare feet
running away down the entry that led from the wing to the main
house.

"It’s Demi! he’s gone to call some one; cut into bed, Tom, and don’t
tell!" cried Dan, whisking all signs of the revel out of sight, and
beginning to tear off his clothes, while Nat did the same.

Tommy flew to his room and dived into bed, where he lay,
laughing till something burned his hand, when he discovered that
he was still clutching the stump of the festive cigar, which he
happened to be smoking when the revel broke up.

It was nearly out, and he was about to extinguish it carefully when
Nursey’s voice was heard, and fearing it would betray him if he hid
it in the bed, he threw it underneath, after a final pinch which he
thought finished it.

Nursey came in with Demi, who looked much amazed to see the
red face of Tommy reposing peacefully upon his pillow.

"He wasn’t there just now, because I woke up and could not find
him anywhere," said Demi, pouncing on him.

"What mischief are you at now, bad child?" asked Nursey, with a
good-natured shake, which made the sleeper open his eyes to say
meekly,

"I only ran into Nat’s room to see him about something. Go away,
and let me alone; I’m awful sleepy."

Nursey tucked Demi in, and went off to reconnoitre, but only
found two boys slumbering peacefully in Dan’s room. "Some little
frolic," she thought, and as there was no harm done she said
nothing to Mrs. Bhaer, who was busy and worried over little
Teddy.

Tommy was sleepy, and telling Demi to mind his own business
and not ask questions, he was snoring in ten minutes, little
dreaming what was going on under his bed. The cigar did not go
out, but smouldered away on the straw carpet till it was nicely on
fire, and a hungry little flame went creeping along till the dimity
bedcover caught, then the sheets, and then the bed itself. The beer
made Tommy sleep heavily, and the smoke stupified Demi, so they
slept on till the fire began to scorch them, and they were in danger
of being burned to death.

Franz was sitting up to study, and as he left the school-room he
smelt the smoke, dashed up-stairs and saw it coming in a cloud
from the left wing of the house. Without stopping to call any one,
he ran into the room, dragged the boys from the blazing bed, and
splashed all the water he could find at hand on to the flames. It
checked but did not quench the fire, and the children wakened on
being tumbled topsy-turvy into a cold hall, began to roar at the top
of their voices. Mrs. Bhaer instantly appeared, and a minute after
Silas burst out of his room shouting, "Fire!" in a tone that raised
the whole house. A flock of white goblins with scared faces
crowded into the hall, and for a minute every one was
panic-stricken.

Then Mrs. Bhaer found her wits, bade Nursey see to the burnt
boys, and sent Franz and Silas down-stairs for some tubs of wet
clothes which she flung on the bed, over the carpet, and up against
the curtains, now burning finely, and threatening to kindle the
walls.

Most of the boys stood dumbly looking on, but Dan and Emil
worked bravely, running to and fro with water from the bath-room,
and helping to pull down the dangerous curtains.

The peril was soon over, and ordering the boys all back to bed, and
leaving Silas to watch lest the fire broke out again, Mrs. Bhaer and
Franz went to see how the poor boys got on. Demi had escaped
with one burn and a grand scare, but Tommy had not only most of
his hair scorched off his head, but a great burn on his arm, that
made him half crazy with the pain. Demi was soon made cosy, and
Franz took him away to his own bed, where the kind lad soothed
his fright and hummed him to sleep as cosily as a woman. Nursey
watched over poor Tommy all night, trying to ease his misery, and
Mrs. Bhaer vibrated between him and little Teddy with oil and
cotton, paregoric and squills, saying to herself from time to time,
as if she found great amusement in the thought, "I always knew
Tommy would set the house on fire, and now he has done it!"

When Mr. Bhaer got home next morning he found a nice state of
things. Tommy in bed, Teddy wheezing like a little grampus, Mrs.
Jo quite used up, and the whole flock of boys so excited that they
all talked at once, and almost dragged him by main force to view
the ruins. Under his quiet management things soon fell into order,
for every one felt that he was equal to a dozen conflagrations, and
worked with a will at whatever task he gave them.

There was no school that morning, but by afternoon the damaged
room was put to rights, the invalids were better, and there was
time to hear and judge the little culprits quietly. Nat and Tommy
told their parts in the mischief, and were honestly sorry for the
danger they had brought to the dear old house and all in it. But
Dan put on his devil-may-care look, and would not own that there
was much harm done.

Now, of all things, Mr. Bhaer hated drinking, gambling, and
swearing; smoking he had given up that the lads might not be
tempted to try it, and it grieved and angered him deeply to find that
the boy, with whom he had tried to be most forbearing, should take
advantage of his absence to introduce these forbidden vices, and
teach his innocent little lads to think it manly and pleasant to
indulge in them. He talked long and earnestly to the assembled
boys, and ended by saying, with an air of mingled firmness and
regret,

"I think Tommy is punished enough, and that scar on his arm will
remind him for a long time to let these things alone. Nat’s fright
will do for him, for he is really sorry, and does try to obey me. But
you, Dan, have been many times forgiven, and yet it does no good.
I cannot have my boys hurt by your bad example, nor my time
wasted in talking to deaf ears, so you can say good-bye to them all,
and tell Nursey to put up your things in my little black bag."

"Oh! sir, where is he going?" cried Nat.

"To a pleasant place up in the country, where I sometimes send
boys when they don’t do well here. Mr. Page is a kind man, and
Dan will be happy there if he chooses to do his best."

"Will he ever come back?" asked Demi.

"That will depend on himself; I hope so."

As he spoke, Mr. Bhaer left the room to write his letter to Mr.
Page, and the boys crowded round Dan very much as people do
about a man who is going on a long and perilous journey to
unknown regions.

"I wonder if you’ll like it," began Jack.

"Shan’t stay if I don’t," said Dan coolly.

"Where will you go?" asked Nat.

"I may go to sea, or out west, or take a look at California,"
answered Dan, with a reckless air that quite took away the breath
of the little boys.

"Oh, don’t! stay with Mr. Page awhile and then come back here;
do, Dan," pleaded Nat, much affected at the whole affair.

"I don’t care where I go, or how long I stay, and I’ll be hanged if I
ever come back here," with which wrathful speech Dan went away
to put up his things, every one of which Mr. Bhaer had given him.

That was the only good-bye he gave the boys, for they were all
talking the matter over in the barn when he came down, and he
told Nat not to call them. The wagon stood at the door, and Mrs.
Bhaer came out to speak to Dan, looking so sad that his heart
smote him, and he said in a low tone,

"May I say good-bye to Teddy?"

"Yes, dear; go in and kiss him, he will miss his Danny very much."

No one saw the look in Dan’s eyes as he stooped over the crib, and
saw the little face light up at first sight of him, but he heard Mrs.
Bhaer say pleadingly,

"Can’t we give the poor lad one more trial, Fritz?" and Mr. Bhaer
answer in his steady way,

"My dear, it is not best, so let him go where he can do no harm to
others, while they do good to him, and by and by he shall come
back, I promise you."

"He’s the only boy we ever failed with, and I am so grieved, for I
thought there was the making of a fine man in him, spite of his
faults."

Dan heard Mrs. Bhaer sigh, and he wanted to ask for one more
trial himself, but his pride would not let him, and he came out with
the hard look on his face, shook hands without a word, and drove
away with Mr. Bhaer, leaving Nat and Mrs. Jo to look after him
with tears in their eyes.

A few days afterwards they received a letter from Mr. Page, saying
that Dan was doing well, whereat they all rejoiced. But three
weeks later came another letter, saying that Dan had run away, and
nothing had been heard of him, whereat they all looked sober, and
Mr. Bhaer said,

"Perhaps I ought to have given him another chance."

Mrs. Bhaer, however, nodded wisely and answered, "Don’t be
troubled, Fritz; the boy will come back to us, I’m sure of it."

But time went on and no Dan came.

 

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