FictionForest

Chapter 11 – Uncle Teddy

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

Light off Small Medium Large

For a week Dan only moved from bed to sofa; a long week and a
hard one, for the hurt foot was very painful at times, the quiet days
were very wearisome to the active lad, longing to be out enjoying
the summer weather, and especially difficult was it to be patient.
But Dan did his best, and every one helped him in their various
ways; so the time passed, and he was rewarded at last by hearing
the doctor say, on Saturday morning,

"This foot is doing better than I expected. Give the lad the crutch
this afternoon, and let him stump about the house a little."

"Hooray!" shouted Nat, and raced away to tell the other boys the
good news.

Everybody was very glad, and after dinner the whole flock
assembled to behold Dan crutch himself up and down the hall a
few times before he settled in the porch to hold a sort of levee. He
was much pleased at the interest and good-will shown him, and
brightened up more and more every minute; for the boys came to
pay their respects, the little girls fussed about him with stools and
cushions, and Teddy watched over him as if he was a frail creature
unable to do anything for himself. They were still sitting and
standing about the steps, when a carriage stopped at the gate, a hat
was waved from it, and with a shout of "Uncle Teddy! Uncle
Teddy!" Rob scampered down the avenue as fast as his short legs
would carry him. All he boys but Dan ran after him to see who
should be first to open the gate, and in a moment the carriage
drove up with boys swarming all over it, while Uncle Teddy sat
laughing in the midst, with his little daughter on his knee.

"Stop the triumphal car and let Jupiter descend," he said, and
jumping out ran up the steps to meet Mrs. Bhaer, who stood
smiling and clapping her hands like a girl.

"How goes it, Teddy?"

"All right, Jo."

Then they shook hands, and Mr. Laurie put Bess into her aunt’s
arms, saying, as the child hugged her tight, "Goldilocks wanted to
see you so much that I ran away with her, for I was quite pining for
a sight of you myself. We want to play with your boys for an hour
or so, and to see how ‘the old woman who lived in a shoe, and had
so many children she did not know what to do,’ is getting on."

"I’m so glad! Play away, and don’t get into mischief," answered
Mrs. Jo, as the lads crowded round the pretty child, admiring her
long golden hair, dainty dress, and lofty ways, for the little
"Princess," as they called her, allowed no one to kiss her, but sat
smiling down upon them, and graciously patting their heads with
her little, white hands. They all adored her, especially Rob, who
considered her a sort of doll, and dared not touch her lest she
should break, but worshipped her at a respectful distance, made
happy by an occasional mark of favor from her little highness. As
she immediately demanded to see Daisy’s kitchen, she was borne
off by Mrs. Jo, with a train of small boys following. The others, all
but Nat and Demi, ran away to the menagerie and gardens to have
all in order; for Mr. Laurie always took a general survey, and
looked disappointed if things were not flourishing.

Standing on the steps, he turned to Dan, saying like an old
acquaintance, though he had only seen him once or twice before,

"How is the foot?"

"Better, sir."

"Rather tired of the house, aren’t you?"

"Guess I am!" and Dan’s eyes roved away to the green hills and
woods where he longed to be.

"Suppose we take a little turn before the others come back? That
big, easy carriage will be quite safe and comfortable, and a breath
of fresh air will do you good. Get a cushion and a shawl, Demi,
and let’s carry Dan off."

The boys thought it a capital joke, and Dan looked delighted, but
asked, with an unexpected burst of virtue,

"Will Mrs. Bhaer like it?"

"Oh, yes; we settled all that a minute ago."

"You didn’t say any thing about it, so I don’t see how you could,"
said Demi, inquisitively.

"We have a way of sending messages to one another, without any
words. It is a great improvement on the telegraph."

"I know it’s eyes; I saw you lift your eyebrows, and nod toward the
carriage, and Mrs. Bhaer laughed and nodded back again," cried
Nat, who was quite at his ease with kind Mr. Laurie by this time.

"Right. Now them, come on," and in a minute Dan found himself
settled in the carriage, his foot on a cushion on the seat opposite,
nicely covered with a shawl, which fell down from the upper
regions in a most mysterious manner, just when they wanted it.
Demi climbed up to the box beside Peter, the black coachman. Nat
sat next Dan in the place of honor, while Uncle Teddy would sit
opposite, to take care of the foot, he said, but really that he might
study the faces before him both so happy, yet so different, for
Dan’s was square, and brown, and strong, while Nat’s was long,
and fair, and rather weak, but very amiable with its mild eyes and
good forehead.

"By the way, I’ve got a book somewhere here that you may like to
see," said the oldest boy of the party, diving under the seat and
producing a book which make Dan exclaim,

"Oh! by George, isn’t that a stunner?" as he turned the leaves, and
saw fine plates of butterflies, and birds, and every sort of
interesting insect, colored like life. He was so charmed that he
forgot his thanks, but Mr. Laurie did not mind, and was quite
satisfied to see the boy’s eager delight, and to hear this
exclamations over certain old friends as he came to them. Nat
leaned on his shoulder to look, and Demi turned his back to the
horses, and let his feet dangle inside the carriage, so that he might
join in the conversation.

When they got among the beetles, Mr. Laurie took a curious little
object out of his vest-pocket, and laying it in the palm of his hand,
said,

"There’s a beetle that is thousands of years old;" and then, while
the lads examined the queer stone-bug, that looked so old and
gray, he told them how it came out of the wrappings of a mummy,
after lying for ages in a famous tomb. Finding them interested, he
went on to tell about the Egyptians, and the strange and splendid
ruins they have left behind them the Nile, and how he sailed up the
mighty river, with the handsome dark men to work his boat; how
he shot alligators, saw wonderful beasts and birds; and afterwards
crossed the desert on a camel, who pitched him about like a ship in
a storm.

"Uncle Teddy tells stories ‘most as well as Grandpa," said Demi,
approvingly, when the tale was done, and the boys’ eyes asked for
more.

"Thank you," said Mr. Laurie, quite soberly, for he considered
Demi’s praise worth having, for children are good critics in such
cases, and to suit them is an accomplishment that any one may be
proud of.

"Here’s another trifle or two that I tucked into my pocket as I was
turning over my traps to see if I had any thing that would amuse
Dan," and Uncle Teddy produced a fine arrow-head and a string of
wampum.

"Oh! tell about the Indians," cried Demi, who was fond of playing
wigwam.

"Dan knows lots about them," added Nat.

"More than I do, I dare say. Tell us something," and Mr. Laurie
looked as interested as the other two.

"Mr. Hyde told me; he’s been among ’em, and can talk their talk,
and likes ’em," began Dan, flattered by their attention, but rather
embarrassed by having a grown-up listener.

"What is wampum for?" asked curious Demi, from his perch.

The others asked questions likewise, and, before he knew it, Dan
was reeling off all Mr. Hyde had told him, as they sailed down the
river a few weeks before. Mr. Laurie listened well, but found the
boy more interesting than the Indians, for Mrs. Jo had told him
about Dan, and he rather took a fancy to the wild lad, who ran
away as he himself had often longed to do, and who was slowly
getting tamed by pain and patience.

"I’ve been thinking that it would be a good plan for you fellows to
have a museum of your own; a place in which to collect all the
curious and interesting things that you find, and make, and have
given you. Mrs. Jo is too kind to complain, but it is rather hard for
her to have the house littered up with all sorts of rattletraps,
half-a-pint of dor-bugs in one of her best vases, for instance, a
couple of dead bats nailed up in the back entry, wasps nests
tumbling down on people’s heads, and stones lying round
everywhere, enough to pave the avenue. There are not many
women who would stand that sort of thing, are there, now?"

As Mr. Laurie spoke with a merry look in his eyes, the boys
laughed and nudged one another, for it was evident that some one
told tales out of school, else how could he know of the existence
of these inconvenient treasures.

"Where can we put them, then?" said Demi, crossing his legs and
leaning down to argue the question.

"In the old carriage-house."

"But it leaks, and there isn’t any window, nor any place to put
things, and it’s all dust and cobwebs," began Nat.

"Wait till Gibbs and I have touched it up a bit, and then see how
you like it. He is to come over on Monday to get it ready; then next
Saturday I shall come out, and we will fix it up, and make the
beginning, at least, of a fine little museum. Every one can bring his
things, and have a place for them; and Dan is to be the head man,
because he knows most about such matters, and it will be quiet,
pleasant work for him now that he can’t knock about much."

"Won’t that be jolly?" cried Nat, while Dan smiled all over his face
and had not a word to say, but hugged his book, and looked at Mr.
Laurie as if he thought him one of the greatest public benefactors
that ever blessed the world.

"Shall I go round again, sir?" asked Peter, as they came to the gate,
after two slow turns about the half-mile triangle.

"No, we must be prudent, else we can’t come again. I must go over
the premises, take a look at the carriage-house, and have a little
talk with Mrs. Jo before I go;" and, having deposited Dan on his
sofa to rest and enjoy his book, Uncle Teddy went off to have a
frolic with the lads who were raging about the place in search of
him. Leaving the little girls to mess up-stairs, Mrs. Bhaer sat down
by Dan, and listened to his eager account of the drive till the flock
returned, dusty, warm, and much excited about the new museum,
which every one considered the most brilliant idea of the age.

"I always wanted to endow some sort of an institution, and I am
going to begin with this," said Mr. Laurie, sitting down on a stool
at Mrs. Jo’s feet.

"You have endowed one already. What do you call this?" and Mrs.
Jo pointed to the happy-faced lads, who had camped upon the floor
about him.

"I call it a very promising Bhaer-garden, and I’m proud to be a
member of it. Did you know I was the head boy in this school?" he
asked, turning to Dan, and changing the subject skilfully, for he
hated to be thanked for the generous things he did.

"I thought Franz was!" answered Dan, wondering what the man
meant.

"Oh, dear no! I’m the first boy Mrs. Jo ever had to take care of, and
I was such a bad one that she isn’t done with me yet, though she
has been working at me for years and years."

"How old she must be!" said Nat, innocently.

"She began early, you see. Poor thing! she was only fifteen when
she took me, and I led her such a life, it’s a wonder she isn’t
wrinkled and gray, and quite worn out," and Mr. Laurie looked up
at her laughing.

"Don’t Teddy; I won’t have you abuse yourself so;" and Mrs. Jo
stroked the curly black head at her knee as affectionately as ever,
for, in spite of every thing Teddy was her boy still.

"If it hadn’t been for you, there never would have been a Plumfield.
It was my success with you, sir, that gave me courage to try my pet
plan. So the boys may thank you for it, and name the new
institution ‘The Laurence Museum,’ in honor of its founder, won’t
we, boys?" she added, looking very like the lively Jo of old times.

"We will! we will!" shouted the boys, throwing up their hats, for
though they had taken them off on entering the house, according to
rule, they had been in too much of a hurry to hang them up.

"I’m as hungry as a bear, can’t I have a cookie?" asked Mr. Laurie,
when the shout subsided and he had expressed his thanks by a
splendid bow.

"Trot out and ask Asia for the gingerbread-box, Demi. It isn’t in
order to eat between meals, but, on this joyful occasion, we won’t
mind, and have a cookie all round," said Mrs. Jo; and when the
box came she dealt them out with a liberal hand, every one
munching away in a social circle.

Suddenly, in the midst of a bite, Mr. Laurie cried out, "Bless my
heart, I forgot grandma’s bundle!" and running out to the carriage,
returned with an interesting white parcel, which, being opened,
disclosed a choice collection of beasts, birds, and pretty things cut
out of crisp sugary cake, and baked a lovely brown.

"There’s one for each, and a letter to tell which is whose. Grandma
and Hannah made them, and I tremble to think what would have
happened to me if I had forgotten to leave them."

Then, amid much laughing and fun, the cakes were distributed. A
fish for Dan, a fiddle for Nat, a book for Demi, a money for
Tommy, a flower for Daisy, a hoop for Nan, who had driven twice
round the triangle without stopping, a star for Emil, who put on
airs because he studied astronomy, and, best of all, an omnibus for
Franz, whose great delight was to drive the family bus. Stuffy got a
fat pig, and the little folks had birds, and cats, and rabbits, with
black currant eyes.

"Now I must go. Where is my Goldilocks? Mamma will come
flying out to get her if I’m not back early," said Uncle Teddy, when
the last crumb had vanished, which it speedily did, you may be
sure.

The young ladies had gone into the garden, and while they waited
till Franz looked them up, Jo and Laurie stood at the door talking
together.

"How does little Giddy-gaddy come on?" he asked, for Nan’s
pranks amused him very much, and he was never tired of teasing
Jo about her.

"Nicely; she is getting quite mannerly, and begins to see the error
of her wild ways."

"Don’t the boys encourage her in them?"

"Yes; but I keep talking, and lately she has improved much. You
saw how prettily she shook hands with you, and how gentle she
was with Bess. Daisy’s example has its effect upon her, and I’m
quite sure that a few months will work wonders."

Here Mrs. Jo’s remarks were cut short by the appearance of Nan
tearing round the corner at a break-neck pace, driving a
mettlesome team of four boys, and followed by Daisy trundling
Bess in a wheelbarrow. Hat off, hair flying, whip cracking, and
barrow bumping, up they came in a cloud of dust, looking as wild
a set of little hoydens as one would wish to see.

"So, these are the model children, are they? It’s lucky I didn’t bring
Mrs. Curtis out to see your school for the cultivation of morals and
manners; she would never have recovered from the shock of this
spectacle," said Mr. Laurie, laughing at Mrs. Jo’s premature
rejoicing over Nan’s improvement.

"Laugh away; I’ll succeed yet. As you used to say at College,
quoting some professor, ‘Though the experiment has failed, the
principle remains the same,’ " said Mrs. Bhaer, joining in the
merriment.

"I’m afraid Nan’s example is taking effect upon Daisy, instead of
the other way. Look at my little princess! she has utterly forgotten
her dignity, and is screaming like the rest. Young ladies, what does
this mean?" and Mr. Laurie rescued his small daughter from
impending destruction, for the four horses were champing their
bits and curvetting madly all about her, as she sat brandishing a
great whip in both hands.

"We’re having a race, and I beat," shouted Nan.

"I could have run faster, only I was afraid of spilling Bess,"
screamed Daisy.

"Hi! go long!" cried the princess, giving such a flourish with her
whip that the horses ran away, and were seen no more.

"My precious child! come away from this ill-mannered crew
before you are quite spoilt. Good-by, Jo! Next time I come, I shall
expect to find the boys making patchwork."

"It wouldn’t hurt them a bit. I don’t give in, mind you; for my
experiments always fail a few times before they succeed. Love to
Amy and my blessed Marmee," called Mrs. Jo, as the carriage
drove away; and the last Mr. Laurie saw of her, she was consoling
Daisy for her failure by a ride in the wheelbarrow, and looking as
if she liked it.

Great was the excitement all the week about the repairs in the
carriage-house, which went briskly on in spite of the incessant
questions, advice, and meddling of the boys. Old Gibbs was nearly
driven wild with it all, but managed to do his work nevertheless;
and by Friday night the place was all in order roof mended, shelves
up, walls whitewashed, a great window cut at the back, which let
in a flood of sunshine, and gave them a fine view of the brook, the
meadows, and the distant hills; and over the great door, painted in
red letters, was "The Laurence Museum."

All Saturday morning the boys were planning how it should be
furnished with their spoils, and when Mr. Laurie arrived, bringing
an aquarium which Mrs. Amy said she was tired of, their rapture
was great.

The afternoon was spent in arranging things, and when the running
and lugging and hammering was over, the ladies were invited to
behold the institution.

It certainly was a pleasant place, airy, clean, and bright. A
hop-vine shook its green bells round the open window, the pretty
aquarium stood in the middle of the room, with some delicate
water plants rising above the water, and gold-fish showing their
brightness as they floated to and fro below. On either side of the
window were rows of shelves ready to receive the curiosities yet to
be found. Dan’s tall cabinet stood before the great door which was
fastened up, while the small door was to be used. On the cabinet
stood a queer Indian idol, very ugly, but very interesting; old Mr.
Laurence sent it, as well as a fine Chinese junk in full sail, which
had a conspicuous place on the long table in the middle of the
room. Above, swinging in a loop, and looking as if she was alive,
hung Polly, who died at an advanced age, had been carefully
stuffed, and was no presented by Mrs. Jo. The walls were
decorated with all sorts of things. A snake’s skin, a big wasp’s nest,
a birch-bark canoe, a string of birds’ eggs, wreaths of gray moss
from the South, and a bunch of cotton-pods. The dead bats had a
place, also a large turtle-shell, and an ostrich-egg proudly
presented by Demi, who volunteered to explain these rare
curiosities to guests whenever they liked. There were so many
stones that it was impossible to accept them all, so only a few of
the best were arranged among the shells on the shelves, the rest
were piled up in corners, to be examined by Dan at his leisure.

Every one was eager to give something, even Silas, who sent home
for a stuffed wild-cat killed in his youth. It was rather moth-eaten
and shabby, but on a high bracket and best side foremost the effect
was fine, for the yellow glass eyes glared, and the mouth snarled
so naturally, that Teddy shook in his little shoes at sight of it, when
he came bringing his most cherished treasure, one cocoon, to lay
upon the shrine of science.

"Isn’t it beautiful? I’d no idea we had so many curious things. I
gave that; don’t it look well? We might make a lot by charging
something for letting folks see it."

Jack added that last suggestion to the general chatter that went on
as the family viewed the room.

"This is a free museum and if there is any speculating on it I’ll
paint out the name over the door," said Mr. Laurie, turning so
quickly that Jack wished he had held his tongue.

"Hear! hear!" cried Mr. Bhaer.

"Speech! speech!" added Mrs. Jo.

"Can’t, I’m too bashful. You give them a lecture yourself you are
used to it," Mr. Laurie answered, retreating towards the window,
meaning to escape. But she held him fast, and said, laughing as she
looked at the dozen pairs of dirty hands about her,

"If I did lecture, it would on the chemical and cleansing properties
of soap. Come now, as the founder of the institution, you really
ought to give us a few moral remarks, and we will applaud
tremendously."

Seeing that there was no way of escaping, Mr. Laurie looked up at
Polly hanging overhead, seemed to find inspiration in the brilliant
old bird, and sitting down upon the table, said, in his pleasant way,

"There is one thing I’d like to suggest, boys, and that is, I want you
to get some good as well as much pleasure out of this. Just putting
curious or pretty things here won’t do it; so suppose you read up
about them, so that when anybody asks questions you can answer
them, and understand the matter. I used to like these things myself,
and should enjoy hearing about them now, for I’ve forgotten all I
once knew. It wasn’t much, was it, Jo? Here’s Dan now, full of
stories about birds, and bugs, and so on; let him take care of the
museum, and once a week the rest of you take turns to read a
composition, or tell about some animal, mineral, or vegetable. We
should all like that, and I think it would put considerable useful
knowledge into our heads. What do you say, Professor?"

"I like it much, and will give the lads all the help I can. But they
will need books to read up these new subjects, and we have not
many, I fear," began Mr. Bhaer, looking much pleased, planning
many fine lectures on geology, which he liked. "We should have a
library for the special purpose."

"Is that a useful sort of book, Dan?" asked Mr. Laurie, pointing to
the volume that lay open by the cabinet.

"Oh, yes! it tells all I want to know about insects. I had it here to
see how to fix the butterflies right. I covered it, so it is not hurt;"
and Dan caught it up, fearing the lender might think him careless.

"Give it here a minute;" and, pulling out his pencil, Mr. Laurie
wrote Dan’s name in it, saying, as he set the book up on one of the
corner shelves, where nothing stood but a stuffed bird without a
tail, "There, that is the beginning of the museum library. I’ll hunt
up some more books, and Demi shall keep them in order. Where
are those jolly little books we used to read, Jo? ‘Insect Architecture’
or some such name, all about ants having battles, and bees having
queens, and crickets eating holes in our clothes and stealing milk,
and larks of that sort."

"In the garret at home. I’ll have them sent out, and we will plunge
into Natural History with a will," said Mrs. Jo, ready for any thing.

"Won’t it be hard to write about such things?" asked Nat, who
hated compositions.

"At first, perhaps; but you will soon like it. If you think that hard,
how would you like to have this subject given to you, as it was to a
girl of thirteen: A conversation between Themistocles, Aristides,
and Pericles on the proposed appropriation of funds of the
confederacy of Delos for the ornamentation of Athens?" said Mrs.
Jo.

The boys groaned at the mere sound of the long names, and the
gentlemen laughed at the absurdity of the lesson.

"Did she write it?" asked Demi, in an awe-stricken tone.

"Yes, but you can imagine what a piece of work she make of it,
though she was rather a bright child."

"I’d like to have seen it," said Mr. Bhaer.

"Perhaps I can find it for you; I went to school with her," and Mrs.
Jo looked so wicked that every one knew who the little girl was.

Hearing of this fearful subject for a composition quite reconciled
the boys to the thought of writing about familiar things.
Wednesday afternoon was appointed for the lectures, as they
preferred to call them, for some chose to talk instead of write. Mr.
Bhaer promised a portfolio in which the written productions
should be kept, and Mrs. Bhaer said she would attend the course
with great pleasure.

Then the dirty-handed society went off the wash, followed by the
Professor, trying to calm the anxiety of Rob, who had been told by
Tommy that all water was full of invisible pollywogs.

"I like your plan very much, only don’t be too generous, Teddy,"
said Mrs. Bhaer, when they were left alone. "You know most of
the boys have got to paddle their own canoes when they leave us,
and too much sitting in the lap of luxury will unfit them for it."

"I’ll be moderate, but do let me amuse myself. I get desperately
tired of business sometimes, and nothing freshens me up like a
good frolic with your boys. I like that Dan very much, Jo. He isn’t
demonstrative; but he has the eye of a hawk, and when you have
tamed him a little he will do you credit."

"I’m so glad you think so. Thank you very much for your kindness
to him, especially for this museum affair; it will keep him happy
while he is lame, give me a chance to soften and smooth this poor,
rough lad, and make him love us. What did inspire you with such a
beautiful, helpful idea, Teddy?" asked Mrs. Bhaer, glancing back
at the pleasant room, as she turned to leave it.

Laurie took both her hands in his, and answered, with a look that
made her eyes fill with happy tears,

"Dear Jo! I have known what it is to be a motherless boy, and I
never can forget how much you and yours have done for me all
these years."

 

Leave a Reply