by Louisa M. Alcott
"Aunt Pen, where is Ariadne to sleep,
please? I wanted to bring her cradle,
but mamma said it would take up so much
room I could not."
And Alice looked about her for a resting-place
for her dolly as anxiously as if Ariadne
had been a live baby.
"Can't she lie on the sofa?" asked Aunt
Pen, with that sad want of interest in such
important matters which grown-up people so often
"No, indeed! Some one would sit down on
her, of course; and I won't have my darling
smashed. You would n't like it yourself, aunty,
and I 'm surprised at your proposing such a
thing!" cried Alice, clasping her babe with a
face full of maternal indignation.
"I beg your pardon! I really forgot that
danger. I 'm not so used to infants as you are,
and that accounts for it. Now I think of it,
there's a little bedstead up garret, and you
can have that. You will find it done up in a
paper in the great blue chest where all our old
toys are kept."
Appeased by Aunt Pen's apology, Alice
trotted to the attic, found the bedstead, and
came trotting back with a disappointed look
on her face.
"It is such a funny, old-fashioned thing I
don't know that Ariadne will consent to lie in
it. Anyway, I must air the feather-bed and
pillows first, or she will get cold. I wish I
could wash the sheets too, they are so yellow;
but there is no time now," said the little girl,
bustling round as she spoke, and laying the
little bed-furniture out on the rug.
"Everything is quite clean, my dear; I am
sure of that, for I washed the sheets and coverlet
myself not long ago, because I found a nest
of little mice there the last time I looked,"
answered Aunt Pen, with her eyes fixed thoughtfully
on the small bedstead.
"I guess you used to be fond of it when you
were a little girl; and that's why you keep it so
nicely now, isn't it?" asked Alice, as she
dusted the carved posts and patted the canvas
"Yes, there's quite a little romance about
that bed; and I love it so that I never can give
it away, but keep it mended up and in order
for the sake of old times and poor Val," said
Aunt Pen, smiling and sighing in the same
"Oh, tell about it! I do like to hear stories,
and so does Ariadne!" cried Alice, hastily
opening dolly's eyes, that she might express
her interest in the only way permitted her.
"Well, dear, I 'll tell you this true tale of
long ago; and while you listen you can be
making a new blanket for the bed. Mrs. Mouse
nibbled holes in the other one, and her babies
made a mess of it, so I burned it up. Here is
a nice little square of flannel, and there are
blue, red, and green worsteds for you to work
round the edges with."
"Now that is just splendid! I love to work
with crewels, and I 'll put little quirls and things
in the corners. I can do it all myself, so tell
away, please, aunty." And Alice settled
herself with great satisfaction, while Ariadne sat
bolt upright in her own armchair and stared
at Aunt Pen in a way that would have been
very embarrassing if her round blue eyes had
had a particle of expression in them.
"When I was about ten years old, it was the
joy of my heart to go every Saturday afternoon
to see my nurse, Betsey Brown. She no longer
lived out, but was married to a pilot, and had
a home of her own down in what we used to
call 'the watery part' of the city. A funny
little house, so close to the wharves that when
one looked out there were masts going to and
fro over the house-tops, and from the upper
windows I could see the blue ocean.
"Betsey had a boy with club feet, and a
brother who was deformed; but Bobby was my
pet playmate, and Valentine my best friend.
My chief pleasure was in seeing him work at
his turning-lathe, for he was very ingenious, and
made all sorts of useful and pretty things.
"But the best thing he did was to cure the
lame feet of his little nephew. In those days
there were few doctors who attended to such
troubles, and they were very expensive; so
poor Bobby had gone hobbling about ever since
he was born with his little feet turned in.
"Uncle Val could sympathize with him; and
though he knew there was no cure for his own
crooked back, he did his best to help the boy.
He made a very simple apparatus for straightening
the crippled feet (just two wooden splints,
with wooden screws to loosen or tighten the
pressure), and with patience, hope, and faith,
he worked over the child till the feet were
right, and Bobby could run and play like other
"Oh, Aunt Pen, was n't that lovely? And did
he really do it all himself? How clever he
must have been!" cried Alice, puckering the
new blanket in the pleasant interest of the
"He was very clever for a lad of eighteen.
But that was not all he did. Bobby's cure was
a long one, and I only saw the happy end of it;
yet I remember how we all rejoiced, and how
proud Betsey was of her brother. My father
wrote an account of it for some medical journal,
and it was much talked about in our little
circle; so much, indeed, that an aunt of ours who
had a lame boy came to see Val and talked it
all over with him.
"Val was much pleased, and offered to try
and cure her son if she would let the boy come
and live with him; for it needed great skill and
constant care to work the screws just right, and
tend the poor little feet gently.
"Aunt Dolly said no at once to that plan;
for how could she let her precious boy go and
live in that little house down in the poor part
of the city?
"There was no other way, however, for Val
would not leave his sister and his beloved lathe,
and was wise enough to see how impossible it
would be to have his own way with the child in
a house where every one obeyed his whims and
petted him, as such afflicted children usually
"So Val stood firm, and for a time nothing
"I was much interested in the affair, and
every time I saw my cousin Gus I told him
what nice times I had down there; how strong
and lively Bobby was, and declared my firm
belief that Val could cure every disease under
"These glowing accounts made Gus want to
go, and when he set his heart on anything he
always got it; so in the end Aunt Dolly
consented, and Gus went to board in the little
house, much to the wonder of some folks.
"The plan succeeded capitally, however, and
Gus thrived like a dandelion in springtime;
for simple food, plenty of air, no foolish
indulgence, and the most faithful care, built up the
little lad in a way that astonished and delighted
"The feet improved slowly; and Val was
sure that in time they would be all right, for
everything helped on the good work.
"Dear me, what happy days I used to spend
at Betsey's! Sometimes Isaac, the jolly, bluff
pilot, would take us out in his boat; and then
what rosy cheeks and good appetites we got!
Sometimes we played in Val's shop, and
watched him make pretty things or helped him
in some easy job, for he liked to have us near
him. And, oh, my heart, what delicious
suppers Betsey used to get us in the front room,
where all sorts of queer sea treasures were
collected,--shells, coral, and seaweed; odd
pictures of ships and fish, and old books full of
sailor songs and thrilling tales of wrecks."
"I wish I had been there!" interrupted
Alice. "Is the house all gone, aunty?"
"All gone, dear, and every one of that merry
party but myself," answered Aunt Pen, with a sigh.
"Don't think about the sad part of it, but go
on and tell about the bed, please," said Alice,
feeling that it was about time this interesting
piece of furniture appeared in the story.
"Well, that was made to comfort me when
Gus went home, as he did after staying two
years. Yes, he went home with straight feet,
the heartiest, happiest little lad I ever saw.
"I was heart-broken at losing my playmate,
and mourned for him as bitterly as a child
could, till Val comforted me, not only by the
cunning bedstead for my doll, but by a hundred
kindly words and acts, for which I never
thanked him half enough.
"Aunt Dolly and my father were so grateful
and pleased at Val's success with Gus that they
helped him in a plan he had some years later,
when he took a larger house in a better place,
and with Betsey as nurse, opened a small hospital
for the cure of deformed feet. It was an
excellent plan; and all was going well, when
poor Val wasted rapidly away, and died just as
his work began to bring him money and some
"That was very bad! But what became of
Bobby and Gus?" asked Alice, who was not
of an age to care much about the "sad part"
of any story.
"Bob became a sea-captain, and was an excellent
fellow till he went down with his ship in
a storm after rescuing all his crew, even to the
cabin-boy. I'm proud of Bob, and keep those
two great pearly shells in memory of him, for
he brought them to me after his first voyage."
Aunt Pen's eyes lit up, and her voice rose as
she spoke with real pride and affection of
honest Captain Brown, who to her was always little Bob.
"I like that, it was so brave and good; but
I do wish he had been saved, for then I could
have seen him. And maybe he would have
brought me a big green parrot that could say
funny things. What became of Gus?" asked
Alice, after a moment spent in the delightful
thought of owning a green parrot with a red tail.
"Ah, my dear, I wish I knew!" exclaimed
Aunt Pen, so earnestly that Alice dropped her
work, astonished at the change in that usually
"Don't tell any more if you 'd rather not,"
said the little girl, feeling instinctively that she
had touched some tender string.
But Aunt Pen only stroked her curly head
and went on in a softer tone, with her eyes fixed
upon a faded picture that had hung over her
work-table ever since Alice could remember.
"I like to tell you, dear, because I want you
to love the memory of this old friend of mine.
Gus went to sea also, much against his mother's
will, for the years spent in the little house near
the wharf had given the boy a taste for salt
water, and he could not overcome it, though he tried.
"He sailed with Captain Bob all round the
world, and would have been with him on that
last voyage if a sudden whim had not kept him
ashore. More than this we don't know; and
for seven years have had no tidings of him.
The others give him up, feeling sure that he
was lost in the wild hill-country of India, whither
he went in search of adventures. I suppose
they are right; but I cannot make it true, and
still hope to see the dear boy back, or at least
to hear some news of him."
"Would n't he be rather an old boy now,
Aunt Pen?" asked Alice, softly; for she wanted
to chase away the load of pain with a smile if
"Bless my heart, so he would! Forty, at
least. Well, well, he never will seem old to me,
though his hair should be gray when he comes
home." And Aunt Pen did smile as her eyes
went back to the faded picture with a tender
look that made Alice say timidly, while she laid
her blooming cheek against her aunt's hand,--
"Would you mind if I asked if it was Gus
who gave you this pretty ring, and was your
sweetheart once? Mamma told me you had
one, and he was dead; so I must never ask
why you did n't marry as she did."
"Yes, he gave me this, and was to come back
in a year or two; but I have never seen him
since, and never shall, I fear, till we all meet
over the great sea at last."
There Aunt Pen broke down, and spreading
her hands before her face, sat so still that Alice
feared to stir.
Even her careless child's heart was full of
pity now; and two great tears rolled down upon
the little blanket, to lie sparkling like drops of
dew in the heart of the very remarkable red
rose she was working in the middle.
Then it was that Ariadne distinguished
herself, and proved beyond a doubt that her blue
china eyes were worth something. A large,
brown, breezy-looking man had been peeping
in from the door for several moments, and
listening in the most improper manner. No one
saw him but Ariadne, and how could she warn
the others, poor thing, when she had n't a
tongue in her head? Don't tell me that dolls
have n't hearts somewhere in their sawdust
bosoms! I know better; and I am firmly
convinced that Ariadne's was full of sympathy for
Aunt Pen; else why should she, a well-bred
doll, suddenly and without the least apparent
cause, slip out of her chair and fall upon her
china nose with a loud whack?
Alice jumped up to catch her darling, and
Aunt Pen lifted her head to see what was the
matter, and the big brown man, giving his hat
a toss, came into the room like a whirlwind!
Alice, Ariadne, bedstead, and blanket, were
suddenly swept into a corner by some mysterious
means, and lay there in a heap, while the
two grown people fell into each other's arms,
I don't know which stared the hardest at this
dreadful proceeding, Alice or Ariadne, but I do
know that every one was very happy afterward,
and that the precious little bedstead was not
smashed, for I have seen it with my own eyes.