“How much the lad knows of these things! how absorbed he is in them! and what a mercy it is just now, for he cares so little for books, it would be hard to amuse him while he is laid up; but the boys can supply him with beetles and stones to any extent, and I am glad to find out this taste of his; it is a good one, and may perhaps prove the making of him. If he should turn out a great naturalist, and Nat a musician, I should have cause to be proud of this year’s work;” and Mrs. Jo sat smiling over her book as she built castles in the air, just as she used to do when a girl, only then they were for herself, and now they were for other people, which is the reason perhaps that some of them came to pass in reality for charity is an excellent foundation to build anything upon.
Nat was most interested in the adventures, but Demi enjoyed the beetles and butterflies immensely, drinking in the history of their changeful little lives as if it were a new and lovely sort of fairy tale for, even in his plain way, Dan told it well, and found great satisfaction in the thought that here at least the small philosopher could learn of him. So interested were they in the account of catching a musk rat, whose skin was among the treasures, that Mr. Bhaer had to come himself to tell Nat and Demi it was time for the walk. Dan looked so wistfully after them as they ran off that Father Bhaer proposed carrying him to the sofa in the parlor for a little change of air and scene.
When he was established, and the house quiet, Mrs. Jo, who sat near by showing Teddy pictures, said, in an interested tone, as she nodded towards the treasures still in Dan’s hands,
“Where did you learn so much about these things?”
“I always liked ’em, but didn’t know much till Mr. Hyde told me.”
“Oh, he was a man who lived round in the woods studying these things I don’t know what you call him and wrote about frogs, and fishes, and so on. He stayed at Page’s, and used to want me to go and help him, and it was great fun, ’cause he told me ever so much, and was uncommon jolly and wise. Hope I’ll see him again sometime.”
“I hope you will,” said Mrs. Jo, for Dan’s face had brightened up, and he was so interested in the matter that he forgot his usual taciturnity.
“Why, he could make birds come to him, and rabbits and squirrels didn’t mind him any more than if he was a tree. Did you ever tickle a lizard with a straw?” asked Dan, eagerly.
“No, but I should like to try it.”
“Well, I’ve done it, and it’s so funny to see ’em turn over and stretch out, they like it so much. Mr. Hyde used to do it; and he’d make snakes listen to him while he whistled, and he knew just when certain flowers would blow, and bees wouldn’t sting him, and he’d tell the wonderfullest things about fish and flies, and the Indians and the rocks.”
“I think you were so fond of going with Mr. Hyde, you rather neglected Mr. Page,” said Mrs. Jo, slyly.
“Yes, I did; I hated to have to weed and hoe when I might be tramping round with Mr. Hyde. Page thought such things silly, and called Mr. Hyde crazy because he’d lay hours watching a trout or a bird.”
“Suppose you say lie instead of lay, it is better grammar,” said Mrs. Jo, very gently; and then added, “Yes, Page is a thorough farmer, and would not understand that a naturalist’s work was just as interesting, and perhaps just as important as his own. Now, Dan, if you really love these things, as I think you do, and I am glad to see it, you shall have time to study them and books to help you; but I want you to do something besides, and to do it faithfully, else you will be sorry by and by, and find that you have got to begin again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Dan, meekly, and looked a little scared by the serious tone of the last remarks, for he hated books, yet had evidently made up his mind to study anything she proposed.
“Do you see that cabinet with twelve drawers in it?” was the next very unexpected question.
Dan did see two tall old-fashioned ones standing on either side of the piano; he knew them well, and had often seen nice bits of string, nails, brown paper, and such useful matters come out of the various drawers. He nodded and smiled. Mrs. Jo went on,
“Well, don’t you think those drawers would be good places to put your eggs, and stones, and shells, and lichens?”
“Oh, splendid, but you wouldn’t like my things ‘clutterin’ round,’ as Mr. Page used to say, would you?” cried Dan, sitting up to survey the old piece of furniture with sparkling eyes.
“I like litter of that sort; and if I didn’t, I should give you the drawers, because I have a regard for children’s little treasures, and I think they should be treated respectfully. Now, I am going to make a bargain with you, Dan, and I hope you will keep it honorably. Here are twelve good-sized drawers, one for each month of the year, and they shall be yours as fast as you earn them, by doing the little duties that belong to you. I believe in rewards of a certain kind, especially for young folks; they help us along, and though we may begin by being good for the sake of the reward, if it is rightly used, we shall soon learn to love goodness for itself.”
“Do you have ’em?” asked Dan, looking as if this was new talk for him.
“Yes, indeed! I haven’t learnt to get on without them yet. My rewards are not drawers, or presents, or holidays, but they are things which I like as much as you do the others. The good behavior and success of my boys is one of the rewards I love best, and I work for it as I want you to work for your cabinet. Do what you dislike, and do it well, and you get two rewards, one, the prize you see and hold; the other, the satisfaction of a duty cheerfully performed. Do you understand that?”
“We all need these little helps; so you shall try to do your lessons and your work, play kindly with all the boys, and use your holidays well; and if you bring me a good report, or if I see and know it without words for I’m quick to spy out the good little efforts of my boys you shall have a compartment in the drawer for your treasures. See, some are already divided into four parts, and I will have the others made in the same way, a place for each week; and when the drawer is filled with curious and pretty things, I shall be as proud of it as you are; prouder, I think for in the pebbles, mosses, and gay butterflies, I shall see good resolutions carried out, conquered faults, and a promise well kept. Shall we do this, Dan?”
The boys answered with one of the looks which said much, for it showed that he felt and understood her wish and words, although he did not know how to express his interest and gratitude for such care and kindness. She understood the look, and seeing by the color that flushed up to his forehead that he was touched, as she wished him to be, she said no more about that side of the new plan, but pulled out the upper drawer, dusted it, and set it on two chairs before the sofa, saying briskly,
“Now, let us begin at once by putting those nice beetles in a safe place. These compartments will hold a good deal, you see. I’d pin the butterflies and bugs round the sides; they will be quite safe there, and leave room for the heavy things below. I’ll give you some cotton wool, and clean paper and pins, and you can get ready for the week’s work.”
“But I can’t go out to find any new things,” said Dan, looking piteously at his foot.
“That’s true; never mind, we’ll let these treasures do for this week, and I dare say the boys will bring you loads of things if you ask them.”
“They don’t know the right sort; besides, if I lay, no, lie here all the time, I can’t work and study, and earn my drawers.”
“There are plenty of lessons you can learn lying there, and several little jobs of work you can do for me.”
“Can I?” and Dan looked both surprised and pleased.
“You can learn to be patient and cheerful in spite of pain and no play. You can amuse Teddy for me, wind cotton, read to me when I sew, and do many things without hurting your foot, which will make the days pass quickly, and not be wasted ones.”
Here Demi ran in with a great butterfly in one hand, and a very ugly little toad in the other.
“See, Dan, I found them, and ran back to give them to you; aren’t they beautiful ones?” panted Demi, all out of breath.
Dan laughed at the toad, and said he had no place to put him, but the butterfly was a beauty, and if Mrs. Jo would give him a big pin, he would stick it right up in the drawer.
“I don’t like to see the poor thing struggle on a pin; if it must be killed, let us put it out of pain at once with a drop of camphor,” said Mrs. Jo, getting out the bottle.
“I know how to do it Mr. Hyde always killed ’em that way but I didn’t have any camphor, so I use a pin,” and Dan gently poured a drop on the insect’s head, when the pale green wings fluttered an instant, and then grew still.
This dainty little execution was hardly over when Teddy shouted from the bedroom, “Oh, the little trabs are out, and the big one’s eaten ’em all up.” Demi and his aunt ran to the rescue, and found Teddy dancing excitedly in a chair, while two little crabs were scuttling about the floor, having got through the wires of the cage. A third was clinging to the top of the cage, evidently in terror of his life, for below appeared a sad yet funny sight. The big crab had wedged himself into the little recess where Polly’s cup used to stand, and there he sat eating one of his relations in the coolest way. All the claws of the poor victim were pulled off, and he was turned upside down, his upper shell held in one claw close under the mouth of the big crab like a dish, while he leisurely ate out of it with the other claw, pausing now and then to turn his queer bulging eyes from side to side, and to put out a slender tongue and lick them in a way that made the children scream with laughter. Mrs. Jo carried the cage in for Dan to see the sight, while Demi caught and confined the wanderers under an inverted wash-bowl.
“I’ll have to let these fellers go, for I can’t keep ’em in the house,” said Dan, with evident regret.
“I’ll take care of them for you, if you will tell me how, and they can live in my turtle-tank just as well as not,” said Demi, who found them more interesting even that his beloved slow turtles. So Dan gave him directions about the wants and habits of the crabs, and Demi bore them away to introduce them to their new home and neighbors. “What a good boy he is!” said Dan, carefully settling the first butterfly, and remembering that Demi had given up his walk to bring it to him.
“He ought to be, for a great deal has been done to make him so.”
“He’s had folks to tell him things, and to help him; I haven’t,” said Dan, with a sigh, thinking of his neglected childhood, a thing he seldom did, and feeling as if he had not had fair play somehow.
“I know it, dear, and for that reason I don’t expect as much from you as from Demi, though he is younger; you shall have all the help that we can give you now, and I hope to teach you how to help yourself in the best way. Have you forgotten what Father Bhaer told you when you were here before, about wanting to be good, and asking God to help you?”
“No, ma’am,” very low.
“Do you try that way still?”
“No, ma’am,” lower still.
“Will you do it every night to please me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” very soberly.
“I shall depend on it, and I think I shall know if you are faithful to your promise, for these things always show to people who believe in them, though not a word is said. Now here is a pleasant story about a boy who hurt his foot worse than you did yours; read it, and see how bravely he bore his troubles.”
She put that charming little book, “The Crofton Boys,” into his hands, and left him for an hour, passing in and out from time to time that he might not feel lonely. Dan did not love to read, but soon got so interested that he was surprised when the boys came home. Daisy brought him a nosegay of wild flowers, and Nan insisted on helping bring him his supper, as he lay on the sofa with the door open into the dining-room, so that he could see the lads at table, and they could nod socially to him over their bread and butter.
Mr. Bhaer carried him away to his bed early, and Teddy came in his night-gown to say good-night, for he went to his little nest with the birds.
“I want to say my prayers to Danny; may I?” he asked; and when his mother said, “Yes,” the little fellow knelt down by Dan’s bed, and folding his chubby hands, said softly,
“Pease Dod bess everybody, and hep me to be dood.”
Then he went away smiling with sleepy sweetness over his mother’s shoulder.
But after the evening talk was done, the evening song sung, and the house grew still with beautiful Sunday silence, Dan lay in his pleasant room wide awake, thinking new thoughts, feeling new hopes and desires stirring in his boyish heart, for two good angels had entered in: love and gratitude began the work which time and effort were to finish; and with an earnest wish to keep his first promise, Dan folded his hands together in the Darkness, and softly whispered Teddy’s little prayer,
“Please God bless every one, and help me to be good.”