FictionForest

Chapter 7 – Naughty Nan

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

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"Fritz, I’ve got a new idea," cried Mrs. Bhaer, as she met her
husband one day after school.

"Well, my dear, what is it?" and he waited willingly to hear the
new plan, for some of Mrs. Jo’s ideas were so droll, it was
impossible to help laughing at them, though usually they were
quite sensible, and he was glad to carry them out.

"Daisy needs a companion, and the boys would be all the better for
another girl among them; you know we believe in bringing up little
men and women together, and it is high time we acted up to our
belief. They pet and tyrannize over Daisy by turns, and she is
getting spoilt. Then they must learn gentle ways, and improve their
manners, and having girls about will do it better than any thing
else."

"You are right, as usual. Now, who shall we have?" asked Mr.
Bhaer, seeing by the look in her eye that Mrs. Jo had some one all
ready to propose.

"Little Annie Harding."

"What! Naughty Nan, as the lads call her?" cried Mr. Bhaer,
looking very much amused.

"Yes, she is running wild at home since her mother died, and is too
bright a child to be spoilt by servants. I have had my eye on her for
some time, and when I met her father in town the other day I asked
him why he did not send her to school. He said he would gladly if
he could find as good a school for girls as ours was for boys. I
know he would rejoice to have her come; so suppose we drive over
this afternoon and see about it."

"Have not you cares enough now, my Jo, without this little gypsy
to torment you?" asked Mr. Bhaer, patting the hand that lay on his
arm.

"Oh dear, no," said Mother Bhaer, briskly. "I like it, and never was
happier than since I had my wilderness of boys. You see, Fritz, I
feel a great sympathy for Nan, because I was such a naughty child
myself that I know all about it. She is full of spirits, and only needs
to be taught what to do with them to be as nice a little girl as
Daisy. Those quick wits of hers would enjoy lessons if they were
rightly directed, and what is now a tricksy midget would soon
become a busy, happy child. I know how to manage her, for I
remember how my blessed mother managed me, and "

"And if you succeed half as well as she did, you will have done a
magnificent work," interrupted Mr. Bhaer, who labored under the
delusion that Mrs. B. was the best and most charming woman
alive.

"Now, if you make fun of my plan I’ll give you bad coffee for a
week, and then where are you, sir?" cried Mrs. Jo, tweaking him
by the ear just as if he was one of the boys.

"Won’t Daisy’s hair stand erect with horror at Nan’s wild ways?"
asked Mr. Bhaer, presently, when Teddy had swarmed up his
waistcoat, and Rob up his back, for they always flew at their father
the minute school was done.

"At first, perhaps, but it will do Posy good. She is getting prim and
Bettyish, and needs stirring up a bit. She always has a good time
when Nan comes over to play, and the two will help each other
without knowing it. Dear me, half the science of teaching is
knowing how much children do for one another, and when to mix
them."

"I only hope she won’t turn out another firebrand."

"My poor Dan! I never can quite forgive myself for letting him
go," sighed Mrs. Bhaer.

At the sound of the name, little Teddy, who had never forgotten his
friend, struggled down from his father’s arms, and trotted to the
door, looked out over the sunny lawn with a wistful face, and then
trotted back again, saying, as he always did when disappointed of
the longed-for sight,

"My Danny’s tummin’ soon."

"I really think we ought to have kept him, if only for Teddy’s sake,
he was so fond of him, and perhaps baby’s love would have done
for him what we failed to do."

"I’ve sometimes felt that myself; but after keeping the boys in a
ferment, and nearly burning up the whole family, I thought it safer
to remove the firebrand, for a time at least," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Dinner’s ready, let me ring the bell," and Rob began a solo upon
that instrument which made it impossible to hear one’s self speak.

"Then I may have Nan, may I?" asked Mrs. Jo.

"A dozen Nans if you want them, my dear," answered Mr. Bhaer,
who had room in his fatherly heart for all the naughty neglected
children in the world.

When Mrs. Bhaer returned from her drive that afternoon, before
she could unpack the load of little boys, without whom she seldom
moved, a small girl of ten skipped out at the back of the carry-all
and ran into the house, shouting,

"Hi, Daisy! where are you?"

Daisy came, and looked pleased to see her guest, but also a trifle
alarmed, when Nan said, still prancing, as if it was impossible to
keep still,

"I’m going to stay here always, papa says I may, and my box is
coming tomorrow, all my things had to be washed and mended,
and your aunt came and carried me off. Isn’t it great fun?"

"Why, yes. Did you bring your big doll?" asked Daisy, hoping she
had, for on the last visit Nan had ravaged the baby house, and
insisted on washing Blanche Matilda’s plaster face, which spoilt
the poor dear’s complexion for ever.

"Yes, she’s somewhere round," returned Nan, with most
unmaternal carelessness. "I made you a ring coming along, and
pulled the hairs out of Dobbin’s tail. Don’t you want it?" and Nan
presented a horse-hair ring in token of friendship, as they had both
vowed they would never speak to one another again when they last
parted.

Won by the beauty of the offering, Daisy grew more cordial, and
proposed retiring to the nursery, but Nan said, "No, I want to see
the boys, and the barn," and ran off, swinging her hat by one string
till it broke, when she left it to its fate on the grass.

"Hullo! Nan!" cried the boys as she bounced in among them with
the announcement,

"I’m going to stay."

"Hooray!" bawled Tommy from the wall on which he was perched,
for Nan was a kindred spirit, and he foresaw "larks" in the future.

"I can bat; let me play," said Nan, who could turn her hand to any
thing, and did not mind hard knocks.

"We ain’t playing now, and our side beat without you."

"I can beat you in running, any way," returned Nan, falling back on
her strong point.

"Can she?" asked Nat of Jack.

"She runs very well for a girl," answered Jack, who looked down
upon Nan with condescending approval.

"Will you try?" said Nan, longing to display her powers.

"It’s too hot," and Tommy languished against the wall as if quite
exhausted.

"What’s the matter with Stuffy?" asked Nan, whose quick eyes
were roving from face to face.

"Ball hurt his hand; he howls at every thing," answered Jack
scornfully.

"I don’t, I never cry, no matter how I’m hurt; it’s babyish," said Nan,
loftily.

"Pooh! I could make you cry in two minutes," returned Stuffy,
rousing up.

"See if you can."

"Go and pick that bunch of nettles, then," and Stuffy pointed to a
sturdy specimen of that prickly plant growing by the wall.

Nan instantly "grasped the nettle," pulled it up, and held it with a
defiant gesture, in spite of the almost unbearable sting.

"Good for you," cried the boys, quick to acknowledge courage
even in one of the weaker sex.

More nettled than she was, Stuffy determined to get a cry out of
her somehow, and he said tauntingly, "You are used to poking your
hands into every thing, so that isn’t fair. Now go and bump your
head real hard against the barn, and see if you don’t howl then."

"Don’t do it," said Nat, who hated cruelty.

But Nan was off, and running straight at the barn, she gave her
head a blow that knocked her flat, and sounded like a
battering-ram. Dizzy, but undaunted, she staggered up, saying
stoutly, though her face was drawn with pain,

"That hurt, but I don’t cry."

"Do it again," said Stuffy angrily; and Nan would have done it, but
Nat held her; and Tommy, forgetting the heat, flew at Stuffy like a
little game-cock, roaring out,

"Stop it, or I’ll throw you over the barn!" and so shook and hustled
poor Stuffy that for a minute he did not know whether he was on
his head or his heels.

"She told me to," was all he could say, when Tommy let him
alone.

"Never mind if she did; it is awfully mean to hurt a little girl," said
Demi, reproachfully.

"Ho! I don’t mind; I ain’t a little girl, I’m older than you and Daisy;
so now," cried Nan, ungratefully.

"Don’t preach, Deacon, you bully Posy every day of your life,"
called out the Commodore, who just then hove in sight.

"I don’t hurt her; do I, Daisy?" and Demi turned to his sister, who
was "pooring" Nan’s tingling hands, and recommending water for
the purple lump rapidly developing itself on her forehead.

"You are the best boy in the world," promptly answered Daisy;
adding, as truth compelled her to do, "You hurt me sometimes, but
you don’t mean to."

"Put away the bats and things, and mind what you are about, my
hearties. No fighting allowed aboard this ship," said Emil, who
rather lorded it over the others.

"How do you do, Madge Wildfire?" said Mr. Bhaer, as Nan came
in with the rest to supper. "Give the right hand, little daughter, and
mind thy manners," he added, as Nan offered him her left.

"The other hurts me."

"The poor little hand! what has it been doing to get those blisters?"
he asked, drawing it from behind her back, where she had put it
with a look which made him think she had been in mischief.

Before Nan could think of any excuse, Daisy burst out with the
whole story, during which Stuffy tried to hide his face in a bowl of
bread and milk. When the tale was finished, Mr. Bhaer looked
down the long table towards his wife, and said with a laugh in his
eyes,

"This rather belongs to your side of the house, so I won’t meddle
with it, my dear."

Mrs. Jo knew what he meant, but she liked her little black sheep
all the better for her pluck, though she only said in her soberest
way,

"Do you know why I asked Nan to come here?"

"To plague me," muttered Stuffy, with his mouth full.

"To help make little gentlemen of you, and I think you have shown
that some of you need it."

Here Stuffy retired into his bowl again, and did not emerge till
Demi made them all laugh by saying, in his slow wondering way,

"How can she, when she’s such a tomboy?"

"That’s just it, she needs help as much as you, and I expect you set
her an example of good manners."

"Is she going to be a little gentleman too?" asked Rob.

"She’d like it; wouldn’t you, Nan?" added Tommy.

"No, I shouldn’t; I hate boys!" said Nan fiercely, for her hand still
smarted, and she began to think that she might have shown her
courage in some wiser way.

"I am sorry you hate my boys, because they can be well-mannered,
and most agreeable when they choose. Kindness in looks and
words and ways is true politeness, and any one can have it if they
only try to treat other people as they like to be treated themselves."

Mrs. Bhaer had addressed herself to Nan, but the boys nudged one
another, and appeared to take the hint, for that time at least, and
passed the butter; said "please," and "thank you," "yes, sir," and
"no, ma’am," with unusual elegance and respect. Nan said nothing,
but kept herself quiet and refrained from tickling Demi, though
strongly tempted to do so, because of the dignified airs he put on.
She also appeared to have forgotten her hatred of boys, and played
"I spy" with them till dark. Stuffy was observed to offer her
frequent sucks on his candy-ball during the game, which evidently
sweetened her temper, for the last thing she said on going to bed
was,

"When my battledore and shuttle-cock comes, I’ll let you all play
with ’em."

Her first remark in the morning was "Has my box come?" and
when told that it would arrive sometime during the day, she fretted
and fumed, and whipped her doll, till Daisy was shocked. She
managed to exist, however, till five o’clock, when she disappeared,
and was not missed till supper-time, because those at home
thought she had gone to the hill with Tommy and Demi.

"I saw her going down the avenue alone as hard as she could pelt,"
said Mary Ann, coming in with the hasty-pudding, and finding
every one asking, "Where is Nan?"

"She has run home, little gypsy!" cried Mrs. Bhaer, looking
anxious.

"Perhaps she has gone to the station to look after her luggage,"
suggested Franz.

‘That is impossible, she does not know the way, and if she found it,
she could never carry the box a mile," said Mrs. Bhaer, beginning
to think that her new idea might be rather a hard one to carry out.

"It would be like her," and Mr. Bhaer caught up his hat to go and
find the child, when a shout from Jack, who was at the window,
made everyone hurry to the door.

There was Miss Nan, to be sure, tugging along a very large
band-box tied up in linen bag. Very hot and dusty and tired did she
look, but marched stoutly along, and came puffing up to the steps,
where she dropped her load with a sigh of relief, and sat down
upon it, observed as she crossed her tired arms,

"I couldn’t wait any longer, so I went and got it."

"But you did not know the way," said Tommy, while the rest stood
round enjoying the joke.

"Oh, I found it, I never get lost."

"It’s a mile, how could you go so far?"

"Well, it was pretty far, but I rested a good deal."

"Wasn’t that thing very heavy?"

"It’s so round, I couldn’t get hold of it good, and I thought my arms
would break right off."

"I don’t see how the station-master let you have it," said Tommy.

"I didn’t say anything to him. He was in the little ticket place, and
didn’t see me, so I just took it off the platform."

"Run down and tell him it is all right, Franz, or old Dodd will think
it is stolen," said Mr. Bhaer, joining in the shout of laughter at
Nan’s coolness.

"I told you we would send for it if it did not come. Another time
you must wait, for you will get into trouble if you run away.
Promise me this, or I shall not dare to trust you out of my sight,"
said Mrs. Bhaer, wiping the dust off Nan’s little hot face.

"Well, I won’t, only papa tells me not to put off doing things, so I
don’t."

"That is rather a poser; I think you had better give her some supper
now, and a private lecture by and by," said Mr. Bhaer, too much
amused to be angry at the young lady’s exploit.

The boys thought it "great fun," and Nan entertained them all
supper-time with an account of her adventures; for a big dog had
barked at her, a man had laughed at her, a woman had given her a
doughnut, and her hat had fallen into the brook when she stopped
to drink, exhausted with her exertion.

‘I fancy you will have your hands full now, my dear; Tommy and
Nan are quite enough for one woman," said Mr. Bhaer, half an
hour later.

"I know it will take some time to tame the child, but she is such a
generous, warm-hearted little thing, I should love her even if she
were twice as naughty," answered Mrs. Jo, pointing to the merry
group, in the middle of which stood Nan, giving away her things
right and left, as lavishly as if the big band-box had no bottom.

It was those good traits that soon made little "Giddygaddy," as they
called her, a favorite with every one. Daisy never complained of
being dull again, for Nan invented the most delightful plays, and
her pranks rivalled Tommy’s, to the amusement of the whole
school. She buried her big doll and forgot it for a week, and found
it well mildewed when she dragged it up. Daisy was in despair, but
Nan took it to the painter who as at work about the house, got him
to paint it brick red, with staring black eyes, then she dressed it up
with feathers, and scarlet flannel, and one of Ned’s leaden
hatchets; and in the character of an Indian chief, the late
Poppydilla tomahawked all the other dolls, and caused the nursery
to run red with imaginary gore. She gave away her new shoes to a
beggar child, hoping to be allowed to go barefoot, but found it
impossible to combine charity and comfort, and was ordered to ask
leave before disposing of her clothes. She delighted the boys by
making a fire-ship out of a shingle with two large sails wet with
turpentine, which she lighted, and then sent the little vessel
floating down the brook at dusk. She harnessed the old
turkey-cock to a straw wagon, and made him trot round the house
at a tremendous pace. She gave her coral necklace for four
unhappy kittens, which had been tormented by some heartless lads,
and tended them for days as gently as a mother, dressing their
wounds with cold cream, feeding them with a doll’s spoon, and
mourning over them when they died, till she was consoled by one
of Demi’s best turtles. She made Silas tattoo an anchor on her arm
like his, and begged hard to have a blue star on each cheek, but he
dared not do it, though she coaxed and scolded till the soft-hearted
fellow longed to give in. She rode every animal on the place, from
the big horse Andy to the cross pig, from whom she was rescued
with difficulty. Whatever the boys dared her to do she instantly
attempted, no matter how dangerous it might be, and they were
never tired of testing her courage.

Mr. Bhaer suggested that they should see who would study best,
and Nan found as much pleasure in using her quick wits and fine
memory as her active feet and merry tongue, while the lads had to
do their best to keep their places, for Nan showed them that girls
could do most things as well as boys, and some things better.
There were no rewards in school, but Mr. Bhaer’s "Well done!" and
Mrs. Bhaer’s good report on the conscience book, taught them to
love duty for its own sake, and try to do it faithfully, sure sooner or
later the recompense would come. Little Nan was quick to feel the
new atmosphere, to enjoy it, to show that it was what she needed;
for this little garden was full of sweet flowers, half hidden by the
weeds; and when kind hands gently began to cultivate it, all sorts
of green shoots sprung up, promising to blossom beautifully in the
warmth of love and care, the best climate for young hearts and
souls all the world over.

 

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