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Chapter 19 – John Brooke

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

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"Wake up, Demi, dear! I want you."

"Why, I’ve just gone to bed; it can’t be morning yet;" and Demi
blinked like a little owl as he waked from his first sound sleep.

"It’s only ten, but your father is ill, and we must go to him. O my
little John! my poor little John!" and Aunt Jo laid her head down
on the pillow with a sob that scared sleep from Demi’s eyes and
filled his heart with fear and wonder; for he dimly felt why Aunt
Jo called him "John," and wept over him as if some loss had come
that left him poor. He clung to her without a word, and in a minute
she was quite steady again, and said, with a tender kiss as she saw
his troubled face,

"We are going to say good-by to him, my darling, and there is no
time to lose; so dress quickly and come to me in my room. I must
go to Daisy."

"Yes, I will;" and when Aunt Jo was gone, little Demi got up
quietly, dressed as if in a dream, and leaving Tommy fast asleep
went away through the silent house, feeling that something new
and sorrowful was going to happen something that set him apart
from the other boys for a time, and made the world seem as dark
and still and strange as those familiar rooms did in the night. A
carriage sent by Mr. Laurie stood before the door. Daisy was soon
ready, and the brother and sister held each other by the hand all the
way into town, as they drove swiftly and silently with aunt and
uncle through the shadowy roads to say good-by to father.

None of the boys but Franz and Emil knew what had happened,
and when they came down next morning, great was their
wonderment and discomfort, for the house seemed forlorn without
its master and mistress. Breakfast was a dismal meal with no
cheery Mrs. Jo behind the teapots; and when school-time came,
Father Bhaer’s place was empty. They wandered about in a
disconsolate kind of way for an hour, waiting for news and hoping
it would be all right with Demi’s father, for good John Brooke was
much beloved by the boys. Ten o’clock came, and no one arrived
to relieve their anxiety. They did not feel like playing, yet the time
dragged heavily, and they sat about listless and sober. All at once,
Franz got up, and said, in his persuasive way,

"Look here, boys! let’s go into school and do our lessons just as if
Uncle was here. It will make the day go faster, and will please
him, I know."

"But who will hear us say them?" asked Jack.

"I will; I don’t know much more than you do, but I’m the oldest
here, and I’ll try to fill Uncle’s place till he comes, if you don’t
mind."

Something in the modest, serious way Franz said this impressed
the boys, for, though the poor lad’s eyes were red with quiet crying
for Uncle John in that long sad night, there was a new manliness
about him, as if he had already begun to feel the cares and troubles
of life, and tried to take them bravely.

"I will, for one," and Emil went to his seat, remembering that
obedience to his superior officer is a seaman’s first duty.

The others followed; Franz took his uncle’s seat, and for an hour
order reigned. Lessons were learned and said, and Franz made a
patient, pleasant teacher, wisely omitting such lessons as he was
not equal to, and keeping order more by the unconscious dignity
that sorrow gave him than by any words of his own. The little boys
were reading when a step was heard in the hall, and every one
looked up to read the news in Mr. Bhaer’s face as he came in. The
kind face told them instantly that Demi had no father now, for it
was worn and pale, and full of tender grief, which left him no
words with which to answer Rob, as he ran to him, saying,
reproachfully,

"What made you go and leave me in the night, papa?"

The memory of the other father who had left his children in the
night, never to return, made Mr. Bhaer hold his own boy close,
and, for a minute, hide his face in Robby’s curly hair. Emil laid his
head down on his arms, Franz, went to put his hand on his uncle’s
shoulder, his boyish face pale with sympathy and sorrow, and the
others sat so still that the soft rustle of the falling leaves outside
was distinctly heard.

Rob did not clearly understand what had happened, but he hated to
see papa unhappy, so he lifted up the bent head, and said, in his
chirpy little voice,

"Don’t cry, mein Vater! we were all so good, we did our lessons,
without you, and Franz was the master."

Mr. Bhaer looked up then, tried to smile, and said in a grateful
tone that made the lads feel like saints, "I thank you very much, my
boys. It was a beautiful way to help and comfort me. I shall not
forget it, I assure you."

"Franz proposed it, and was a first-rate master, too," said Nat; and
the others gave a murmur of assent most gratifying to the young
dominie.

Mr. Bhaer put Rob down, and, standing up, put his arm round his
tall nephew’s shoulder, as he said, with a look of genuine pleasure,

"This makes my hard day easier, and gives me confidence in you
all. I am needed there in town, and must leave you for some hours.
I thought to give you a holiday, or send some of you home, but if
you like to stay and go on as you have begun, I shall be glad and
proud of my good boys."

"We’ll stay;" "We’d rather;" "Franz can see to us;" cried several,
delighted with the confidence shown in them.

"Isn’t Marmar coming home?" asked Rob, wistfully; for home
without "Marmar" was the world without the sun to him.

"We shall both come to-night; but dear Aunt Meg needs Mother
more than you do now, and I know you like to lend her for a little
while."

"Well, I will; but Teddy’s been crying for her, and he slapped
Nursey, and was dreadful naughty," answered Rob, as if the news
might bring mother home.

"Where is my little man?" asked Mr. Bhaer.

"Dan took him out, to keep him quiet. He’s all right now," said
Franz, pointing to the window, through which they could see Dan
drawing baby in his little wagon, with the dogs frolicking about
him.

"I won’t see him, it would only upset him again; but tell Dan I
leave Teddy in his care. You older boys I trust to manage
yourselves for a day. Franz will direct you, and Silas is here to over
see matters. So good-by till to-night."

"Just tell me a word about Uncle John," said Emil, detaining Mr.
Bhaer, as he was about hurrying away again.

"He was only ill a few hours, and died as he has lived, so
cheerfully, so peacefully, that it seems a sin to mar the beauty of it
with any violent or selfish grief. We were in time to say good-by:
and Daisy and Demi were in his arms as he fell asleep on Aunt
Meg’s breast. No more now, I cannot bear it," and Mr. Bhaer went
hastily away quite bowed with grief, for in John Brooke he had lost
both friend and brother, and there was no one left to take his place.

All that day the house was very still; the small boys played quietly
in the nursery; the others, feeling as if Sunday had come in the
middle of the week, spent it in walking, sitting in the willow, or
among their pets, all talking much of "Uncle John," and feeling
that something gentle, just, and strong, had gone out of their little
world, leaving a sense of loss that deepened every hour. At dusk,
Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer came home alone, for Demi and Daisy were
their mother’s best comfort now, and could not leave her. Poor
Mrs. Jo seemed quite spent, and evidently needed the same sort of
comfort, for her first words, as she came up the stairs, were,
"Where is my baby?"

"Here I is," answered a little voice, as Dan put Teddy into her
arms, adding, as she hugged him close, "My Danny tooked tare of
me all day, and I was dood."

Mrs. Jo turned to thank the faithful nurse, but Dan was waving off
the boys, who had gathered in the hall to meet her, and was saying,
in a low voice, "Keep back; she don’t want to be bothered with us
now."

"No, don’t keep back. I want you all. Come in and see me, my
boys. I’ve neglected you all day," and Mrs. Jo held out her hands to
them as they gathered round and escorted her into her own room,
saying little, but expressing much by affectionate looks and clumsy
little efforts to show their sorrow and sympathy.

"I am so tired, I will lie here and cuddle Teddy, and you shall bring
me in some tea," she said, trying to speak cheerfully for their
sakes.

A general stampede into the dining-room followed, and the
supper-table would have been ravaged if Mr. Bhaer had not
interfered. It was agreed that one squad should carry in the
mother’s tea, and another bring it out. The four nearest and dearest
claimed the first honor, so Franz bore the teapot, Emil the bread,
Rob the milk, and Teddy insisted on carrying the sugar basin,
which was lighter by several lumps when it arrived than when it
started. Some women might have found it annoying at such a time
to have boys creaking in and out, upsetting cups and rattling
spoons in violent efforts to be quiet and helpful; but it suited Mrs.
Jo, because just then her heart was very tender; and remembering
that many of her boys were fatherless or motherless, she yearned
over them, and found comfort in their blundering affection. It was
the sort of food that did her more good than the very thick
bread-and-butter that they gave her, and the rough Commodore’s
broken whisper,

"Bear up, Aunty, it’s a hard blow; but we’ll weather it somehow;"
cheered her more than the sloppy cup he brought her, full of tea as
bitter as if some salt tear of his own had dropped into it on the
way. When supper was over, a second deputation removed the
tray; and Dan said, holding out his arms for sleepy little Teddy,

"Let me put him to bed, you’re so tired, Mother."

"Will you go with him, lovey?" asked Mrs. Jo of her small lord and
master, who lay on her arm among the sofa-pillows.

"Torse I will;" and he was proudly carried off by his faithful
bearer.

"I wish I could do something," said Nat, with a sigh, as Franz
leaned over the sofa, and softly stroked Aunt Jo’s hot forehead.

"You can, dear. Go and get your violin, and play me the sweet
little airs Uncle Teddy sent you last. Music will comfort me better
than any thing else to-night."

Nat flew for his fiddle, and, sitting just outside her door, played as
he had never done before, for now his heart was in it, and seemed
to magnetize his fingers. The other lads sat quietly upon the steps,
keeping watch that no new-comer should disturb the house; Franz
lingered at his post; and so, soothed, served, and guarded by her
boys, poor Mrs. Jo slept at last, and forgot her sorrow for an hour.

Two quiet days, and on the third Mr. Bhaer came in just after
school, with a note in his hand, looking both moved and pleased.

"I want to read you something, boys," he said; and as they stood
round him he read this:

"DEAR BROTHER FRITZ, I hear that you do not mean to bring
your flock today, thinking that I may not like it. Please do. The
sight of his friends will help Demi through the hard hour, and I
want the boys to hear what father says of my John. It will do them
good, I know. If they would sing one of the sweet old hymns you
have taught them so well, I should like it better than any other
music, and feel that it was beautifully suited to the occasion.
Please ask them, with my love.

MEG."

"Will you go?" and Mr. Bhaer looked at the lads, who were greatly
touched by Mrs. Brooke’s kind words and wishes.

"Yes," they answered, like one boy; and an hour later they went
away with Franz to bear their part in John Brooke’s simple funeral.

The little house looked as quiet, sunny, and home-like as when
Meg entered it as a bride, ten years ago, only then it was early
summer, and rose blossomed everywhere; now it was early
autumn, and dead leaves rustled softly down, leaving the branches
bare. The bride was a widow now; but the same beautiful serenity
shone in her face, and the sweet resignation of a truly pious soul
made her presence a consolation to those who came to comfort
her.

"O Meg! how can you bear it so?" whispered Jo, as she met them
at the door with a smile of welcome, and no change in her gentle
manner, except more gentleness.

"Dear Jo, the love that has blest me for ten happy years supports
me still. It could not die, and John is more my own than ever,"
whispered Meg; and in her eyes the tender trust was so beautiful
and bright, that Jo believed her, and thanked God for the
immortality of love like hers.

They were all there father and mother, Uncle Teddy, and Aunt
Amy, old Mr. Laurence, white-haired and feeble now, Mr. and
Mrs. Bhaer, with their flock, and many friends, come to do honor
to the dead. One would have said that modest John Brooke, in his
busy, quiet, humble life, had had little time to make friends; but
now they seemed to start up everywhere, old and young, rich and
poor, high and low; for all unconsciously his influence had made
itself widely felt, his virtues were remembered, and his hidden
charities rose up to bless him. The group about his coffin was a far
more eloquent eulogy than any Mr. March could utter. There were
the rich men whom he had served faithfully for years; the poor old
women whom he cherished with his little store, in memory of his
mother; the wife to whom he had given such happiness that death
could not mar it utterly; the brothers and sisters in whose hearts he
had made a place for ever; the little son and daughter, who already
felt the loss of his strong arm and tender voice; the young children,
sobbing for their kindest playmate, and the tall lads, watching with
softened faces a scene which they never could forget. A very
simple service, and very short; for the fatherly voice that had
faltered in the marriage-sacrament now failed entirely as Mr.
March endeavored to pay his tribute of reverence and love to the
son whom he most honored. Nothing but the soft coo of Baby
Josy’s voice up-stairs broke the long hush that followed the last
Amen, till, at a sign from Mr. Bhaer, the well-trained boyish
voices broke out in a hymn, so full of lofty cheer, that one by one
all joined in it, singing with full hearts, and finding their troubled
spirits lifted into peace on the wings of that brave, sweet psalm.

As Meg listened, she felt that she had done well; for not only did
the moment comfort her with the assurance that John’s last lullaby
was sung by the young voices he loved so well, but in the faces of
the boys she saw that they had caught a glimpse of the beauty of
virtue in its most impressive form, and that the memory of the
good man lying dead before them would live long and helpfully in
their remembrance. Daisy’s head lay in her lap, and Demi held her
hand, looking often at her, with eyes so like his father’s, and a little
gesture that seemed to say, "Don’t be troubled, mother; I am here;"
and all about her were friends to lean upon and love; so patient,
pious Meg put by her heavy grief, feeling that her best help would
be to live for others, as her John had done.

That evening, as the Plumfield boys sat on the steps, as usual, in
the mild September moonlight, they naturally fell to talking of the
event of the day.

Emil began by breaking out, in his impetuous way, "Uncle Fritz is
the wisest, and Uncle Laurie the jolliest, but Uncle John was the
best; and I’d rather be like him than any man I ever saw."

"So would I. Did you hear what those gentlemen said to Grandpa
to-day? I would like to have that said of me when I was dead;" and
Franz felt with regret that he had not appreciated Uncle John
enough.

"What did they say?" asked Jack, who had been much impressed
by the scenes of the day.

"Why, one of the partners of Mr. Laurence, where Uncle John has
been ever so long, was saying that he was conscientious almost to
a fault as a business man, and above reproach in all things.
Another gentleman said no money could repay the fidelity and
honesty with which Uncle John had served him, and then Grandpa
told them the best of all. Uncle John once had a place in the office
of a man who cheated, and when this man wanted uncle to help
him do it, uncle wouldn’t, though he was offered a big salary. The
man was angry and said, ‘You will never get on in business with
such strict principles;’ and uncle answered back, ‘I never will try to
get on without them,’ and left the place for a much harder and
poorer one."

"Good!" cried several of the boys warmly, for they were in the
mood to understand and value the little story as never before.

"He wasn’t rich, was he?" asked Jack.

"No."

"He never did any thing to make a stir in the world, did he?"

"No."

"He was only good?"

"That’s all;" and Franz found himself wishing that Uncle John had
done something to boast of, for it was evident that Jack was
disappointed by his replies.

"Only good. That is all and every thing," said Mr. Bhaer, who had
overheard the last few words, and guessed what was going on the
minds of the lads.

"Let me tell you a little about John Brooke, and you will see why
men honor him, and why he was satisfied to be good rather than
rich or famous. He simply did his duty in all things, and did it so
cheerfully, so faithfully, that it kept him patient and brave, and
happy through poverty and loneliness and years of hard work. He
was a good son, and gave up his own plans to stay and live with his
mother while she needed him. He was a good friend, and taught
Laurie much beside his Greek and Latin, did it unconsciously,
perhaps, by showing him an example of an upright man. He was a
faithful servant, and made himself so valuable to those who
employed him that they will find it hard to fill his place. He was a
good husband and father, so tender, wise, and thoughtful, that
Laurie and I learned much of him, and only knew how well he
loved his family, when we discovered all he had done for them,
unsuspected and unassisted."

Mr. Bhaer stopped a minute, and the boys sat like statues in the
moonlight until he went on again, in a subdued, but earnest voice:
"As he lay dying, I said to him, ‘Have no care for Meg and the little
ones; I will see that they never want.’ Then he smiled and pressed
my hand, and answered, in his cheerful way, ‘No need of that; I
have cared for them.’ And so he had, for when we looked among
his papers, all was in order, not a debt remained; and safely put
away was enough to keep Meg comfortable and independent. Then
we knew why he had lived so plainly, denied himself so many
pleasures, except that of charity, and worked so hard that I fear he
shortened his good life. He never asked help for himself, though
often for others, but bore his own burden and worked out his own
task bravely and quietly. No one can say a word of complaint
against him, so just and generous and kind was he; and now, when
he is gone, all find so much to love and praise and honor, that I am
proud to have been his friend, and would rather leave my children
the legacy he leaves his than the largest fortune ever made. Yes!
Simple, generous goodness is the best capital to found the business
of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only
riches we can take out of this world with us. Remember that, my
boys; and if you want to earn respect and confidence and love
follow in the footsteps of John Brooke."

When Demi returned to school, after some weeks at home, he
seemed to have recovered from his loss with the blessed elasticity
of childhood, and so he had in a measure; but he did not forget, for
his was a nature into which things sank deeply, to be pondered
over, and absorbed into the soil where the small virtues were
growing fast. He played and studied, worked and sang, just as
before, and few suspected any change; but there was one and Aunt
Jo saw it for she watched over the boy with her whole heart, trying
to fill John’s place in her poor way. He seldom spoke of his loss,
but Aunt Jo often heard a stifled sobbing in the little bed at night;
and when she went to comfort him, all his cry was, "I want my
father! oh, I want my father!" for the tie between the two had been
a very tender one, and the child’s heart bled when it was broken.
But time was kind to him, and slowly he came to feel that father
was not lost, only invisible for a while, and sure to be found again,
well and strong and fond as ever, even though his little son should
see the purple asters blossom on his grave many, many times
before they met. To this belief Demi held fast, and in it found both
help and comfort, because it led him unconsciously through a
tender longing for the father whom he had seen to a childlike trust
in the Father whom he had not seen. Both were in heaven, and he
prayed to both, trying to be good for love of them.

The outward change corresponded to the inward, for in those few
weeks Demi seemed to have grown tall, and began to drop his
childish plays, not as if ashamed of them, as some boys do, but as
if he had outgrown them, and wanted something manlier. He took
to the hated arithmetic, and held on so steadily that his uncle was
charmed, though he could not understand the whim, until Demi
said,

"I am going to be a bookkeeper when I grow up, like papa, and I
must know about figures and things, else I can’t have nice, neat
ledgers like his."

At another time he came to his aunt with a very serious face, and
said

"What can a small boy do to earn money?"

"Why do you ask, my deary?"

"My father told me to take care of mother and the little girls, and I
want to, but I don’t know how to begin."

"He did not mean now, Demi, but by and by, when you are large."

"But I wish to begin now, if I can, because I think I ought to make
some money to buy things for the family. I am ten, and other boys
no bigger than I earn pennies sometimes."

"Well, then, suppose you rake up all the dead leaves and cover the
strawberry bed. I’ll pay you a dollar for the job," said Aunt Jo.

"Isn’t that a great deal? I could do it in one day. You must be fair,
and no pay too much, because I want to truly earn it."

"My little John, I will be fair, and not pay a penny too much. Don’t
work too hard; and when that is done I will have something else
for you to do," said Mrs. Jo, much touched by his desire to help,
and his sense of justice, so like his scrupulous father.

When the leaves were done, many barrowloads of chips were
wheeled from the wood to the shed, and another dollar earned.
Then Demi helped cover the schoolbooks, working in the evenings
under Franz’s direction, tugging patiently away at each book,
letting no one help, and receiving his wages with such satisfaction
that the dingy bills became quite glorified in his sight.

"Now, I have a dollar for each of them, and I should like to take
my money to mother all myself, so she can see that I have minded
my father."

So Demi made a duteous pilgrimage to his mother, who received
his little earnings as a treasure of great worth, and would have kept
it untouched, if Demi had not begged her to buy some useful thing
for herself and the women-children, whom he felt were left to his
care.

This made him very happy, and, though he often forgot his
responsibilities for a time, the desire to help was still there,
strengthening with his years. He always uttered the words "my
father" with an air of gentle pride, and often said, as if he claimed
a title full of honor, "Don’t call me Demi any more. I am John
Brooke now." So, strengthened by a purpose and a hope, the little
lad of ten bravely began the world, and entered into his
inheritance, the memory of a wise and tender father, the legacy of
an honest name.

 

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