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.”