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Baa! Baa! by Louisa M. Alcott

BAA THE FIRST.

They did n't look at all like heroines, those two shabby little girls, as they trotted down the hill, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. Their bare feet were scratched and brown, their hands were red with berry stains, and their freckled faces shone with heat under the flapping sun-bonnets. But Patty and Tilda were going to do a fine piece of work, although they did not know it then, and were very full of their own small affairs as they went briskly toward the station to sell berries.

The tongues went as fast as the feet; for this was a great expedition, and both were much excited about it

"Don't they look lovely?" said Tilda, proudly surveying her sister's load as she paused to change a heavy pail from one arm to the other.

"Perfectly de-licious! I know folks will buy 'em, if we ain't too scared to offer 'em," answered Patty, stopping also to settle the two dozen little birch baskets full of red raspberries which she carried, prettily set forth, on an old waiter, trimmed with scarlet bunch-berries, white everlasting, and green leaves.

"I sha'n't be. I 'll go right along and holler real loud,--see if I don't. I'm bound to have our books and boots for next winter; so just keep thinking how nice they'll be, and push ahead," said stout-hearted Tilda, the leader of the expedition.

"Hurry up. I want to have time to sprinkle the posies, so they'll look fresh when the train comes. I hope there'll be lots of children in it; they always want to eat, ma says."

"It was real mean of Elviry Morris to go and offer to sell cheaper up to the hotel than we did, and spoil our market. Guess she'll wish she'd thought of this when we tell what we 've done down here." And both children laughed with satisfaction as they trudged along, never minding the two hot, dusty miles they had to go.

The station was out of the village, and the long trains carrying summer travellers to the mountains stopped there once a day to meet the stages for different places. It was a pleasant spot, with a great pond on one side, deep forests on the other, and in the distance glimpses of gray peaks or green slopes inviting the weary city people to come and rest.

Every one seemed glad to get out during the ten minutes' pause, even if their journey was not yet ended; and while they stood about, enjoying the fresh air from the pond, or watching the stages load up, Tilda and Patty planned to offer their tempting little baskets of fresh fruit and flowers. It was a great effort, and their hearts beat with childish hope and fear as they came in sight of the station, with no one about but the jolly stage-drivers lounging in the shade.

"Plenty of time. Let's go to the pond and wash off the dust and get a drink. Folks won't see us behind those cars," said Tilda, glad to slip out of sight till the train arrived; for even her courage seemed to ooze away as the important moment approached.

A long cattle-train stood on a side track waiting for the other one to pass; and while the little girls splashed their feet in the cool water, or drank from their hands, a pitiful sound filled the air. Hundreds of sheep, closely packed in the cars and suffering agonies from dust and heat and thirst, thrust their poor noses through the bars, bleating frantically; for the sight of all that water, so near yet so impossible to reach, drove them wild. Those farther down the track, who could not see the blue lake, could smell it, and took up the cry till the woods echoed with it, and even the careless drivers said, with a glance of pity,--

"Hard on the poor critters this hot day, ain't it?"

"Oh, Tilda, hear 'em baa, and see 'em crowd this side to get at the water! Let's take 'em some in our pickin' dishes. It's so dreadful to be dry," said tender-hearted Patty, filling her pint cup, and running to offer it to the nearest pathetic nose outstretched to meet it. A dozen thirsty tongues tried to lap it, and in the struggle the little cup was soon emptied; but Patty ran for more, and Tilda did the same, both getting so excited over the distress of the poor creatures that they never heard the far-off whistle of their train, and continued running to and fro on their errand of mercy, careless of their own weary feet, hot faces, and the precious flowers withering in the sun.

They did not see a party of people sitting near by under the trees, who watched them and listened to their eager talk with smiling interest.

"Run, Patty; this poor little one is half dead. Throw some water in his face while I make this big one stop walking on him. Oh, dear! There are so many! We can't help half, and our mugs are so small!"

"I know what I 'll do, Tilda,--tip out the berries into my apron, and bring up a nice lot at once," cried Patty, half beside herself with pity.

"It will spoil your apron and mash the berries, but never mind. I don't care if we don't sell one if we can help these poor dear lammies," answered energetic Tilda, dashing into the pond up to her ankles to fill the pail, while Patty piled up the fruit in her plaid apron.

"Oh, my patience me! the train is coming!" cried Patty, as a shrill shriek woke the echoes, and an approaching rumble was heard.

"Let it come. I won't leave this sheep till it's better. You go and sell the first lot; I 'll come as quick as I can," commanded Tilda, so busy reviving the exhausted animal that she could not stop even to begin the cherished new plan.

"I don't dare go alone; you come and call out, and I 'll hold the waiter," quavered poor Patty, looking sadly scared as the long train rolled by with a head at every window.

"Don't be a goose. Stay here and work, then; I 'll go and sell every basket. I 'm so mad about these poor things, I ain't afraid of anybody," cried Tilda, with a last refreshing splash among the few favored sheep, as she caught up the tray and marched off to the platform,--a very hot, wet, shabby little girl, but with a breast full of the just indignation and tender pity that go to redress half the wrongs of this great world.

"Oh, mamma, see the pretty baskets! do buy some, I 'm so thirsty and tired," exclaimed more than one eager little traveller, as Tilda held up her tray, crying bravely,--

"Fresh berries! fresh berries! ten cents! only ten cents!"

They were all gone in ten minutes; and if Patty had been with her, the pail might have been emptied before the train left. But the other little Samaritan was hard at work; and when her sister joined her, proudly displaying a handful of silver, she was prouder still to show her woolly invalid feebly nibbling grass from her hand.

"We might have sold everyone,--folks liked 'em ever so much; and next time we 'll have two dozen baskets apiece. But we 'll have to be spry, for some of the children fuss about picking out the one they like. It's real fun, Patty," said Tilda, tying up the precious dimes in a corner of her dingy little handkerchief.

"So's this," answered the other, with a last loving pat of her patient's nose, as the train began to move, and car after car of suffering sheep passed them with plaintive cries and vain efforts to reach the blessed water of which they were in such dreadful need.

Poor Patty could n't bear it. She was hot, tired, and unhappy because she could do so little; and when her pitying eyes lost sight of that load of misery, she just sat down and cried.

But Tilda scolded as she carefully put the unsold berries back into the pail, still unconscious of the people behind the elder-bushes by the pond.

"That's the wickedest thing that ever was; and I just wish I was a man, so I could see about it. I 'd put all the railroad folks in those cars, and keep 'em there hours and hours and hours, going by ponds all the time; and I 'd have ice-cream, too, where they could n't get a bit, and lots of fans, and other folks all cool and comfortable, never caring how hot and tired and thirsty they were. Yes, I would! and then we'd see how they like it."

Here indignant Tilda had to stop for breath, and refreshed herself by sucking berry-juice off her fingers.

"We must do something about it. I can't be happy to think of those poor lammies going so far without any water. It's awful to be dry," sobbed Patty, drinking her own tears as they fell.

"If I had a hose, I 'd come every day and hose all over the cars; that would do some good. Anyway, we 'll bring the other big pail, and water all we can," said Tilda, whose active brain was always ready with a plan.

"Then we sha'n't sell our berries," began Patty, despondently; for all the world was saddened to her just then by the sight she had seen.

"We 'll come earlier, and both work real hard till our train is in. Then I 'll sell, and you go on watering with both pails. It's hard work, but we can take turns. What ever shall we do with all these berries? The under ones are smashed, so we 'll eat 'em; but these are nice, only who will buy 'em?" And Tilda looked soberly at the spoiled apron and the four quarts of raspberries picked with so much care in the hot sun.

"I will," said a pleasant voice; and a young lady came out from the bushes just as the good fairy appears to the maidens in old tales.

Both little girls started and stared, and were covered with confusion when other heads popped up, and a stout gentleman came toward them, smiling so good-naturedly that they were not afraid.

"We are having a picnic in the woods, and would like these nice berries for our supper, if you want to sell them," said the lady, holding out a pretty basket.

"Yes, ma'am, we do. You can have 'em all. They 're a little mashed; so we won't ask but ten cents a quart, though we expected to get twelve," said Tilda, who was a real Yankee, and had an eye to business.

"What do you charge for watering the sheep?" asked the stout gentleman, looking kindly at Patty, who at once retired into the depths of her sun-bonnet, like a snail into its shell.

"Nothing, sir. Was n't it horrid to see those poor things? That's what made her cry. She's real tender-hearted, and she could n't bear it; so we let the berries go, and did what we could," answered Tilda, with such an earnest little face that it looked pretty in spite of tan and freckles and dust.

"Yes, it was very sad, and we must see about it. Here's something to pay for the berries, also for the water." And the gentleman threw a bright half-dollar into Tilda's lap and another into Patty's, just as if he was used to tossing money about in that delightful manner.

The little girls did n't know what to say to him; but they beamed at every one, and surveyed the pretty silver pieces as if they were very precious in their sight.

"What will you do with them?" asked the lady, in the friendly sort of voice that always gets a ready answer.

"Oh, we are saving up to buy books and rubber boots, so we can go to school next winter. We live two miles from school, and wear out lots of boots, and get colds when it's wet. We had Pewmonia last spring, and ma said we must have rubber boots, and we might earn 'em in berry-time," said Tilda, eagerly.

"Yes, and she's real smart, and she's going to be promoted, and must have new books, and they cost so much, and ma ain't rich, so we get 'em ourselves," added sister Patty, forgetting bashfulness in sisterly pride.

"That's brave. How much will it take for the boots and the books?" asked the lady, with a glance at the old gentleman, who was eating berries out of her basket.

"As much as five dollars, I guess. We want to get a shawl for ma, so she can go to meetin'. It's a secret, and we pick every day real hard, 'cause berries don't last long," said Tilda, wisely.

"She thought of coming down here. We felt so bad about losing our place at the hotel, and did n't know what to do, till Tilda made this plan. I think it's a splendid one." And Patty eyed her half-dollar with immense satisfaction.

"Don't spoil the plan, Alice. I 'm passing every week while you are up here, and I 'll see to the success of the affair," said the old gentleman, with a nod; adding, in a louder tone, "These are very fine berries, and I want you to take four quarts every other day to Miller's farm over there. You know the place?"

"Yes, sir! yes, sir!" cried two eager voices; for the children felt as if a rain of half-dollars was about to set in.

"I come up every Saturday and go down Monday; and I shall look out for you here, and you can water the sheep as much as you like. They need it, poor beasts!" added the old gentleman.

"We will, sir! we will!" cried the children, with faces so full of innocent gratitude and good will that the young lady stooped and kissed them both.

"Now, my dear, we must be off, and not keep our friends waiting any longer," said the old gentleman, turning toward the heads still bobbing about behind the bushes.

"Good-by, good-by. We won't forget the berries and the sheep," called the children, waving the stained apron like a banner, and showing every white tooth in the beaming smiles they sent after these new friends.

"Nor I my lambs," said Alice to herself, as she followed her father to the boat.

"What will ma say when we tell her and show her this heap of money?" exclaimed Tilda, pouring the dimes into her lap, and rapturously chinking the big half-dollars before she tied them all up again.

"I hope we sha'n't be robbed going home. You 'd better hide it in your breast, else some one might see it," said prudent Patty, oppressed by the responsibility of so much wealth.

"There goes the boat!" cried Tilda. "Don't it look lovely? Those are the nicest folks I ever saw."

"She's perfectly elegant. I 'd like a white dress and a hat just like that. When she kissed me, the long feather was as soft as a bird's wing on my cheeks, and her hair was all curling round like the picture we cut out of the paper." And Patty gazed after the boat as if this little touch of romance in her hard-working life was delightful to her.

"They must be awful rich, to want so many berries. We shall have to fly round to get enough for them and the car folks too. Let's go right off now to that thick place we left this morning, else Elviry may get ahead of us," said practical Tilda, jumping up, ready to make hay while the sun shone. But neither of them dreamed what a fine crop they were to get in that summer, all owing to their readiness in answering that pitiful "Baa! baa!"

BAA THE SECOND.

A very warm and a very busy week followed, for the berries were punctually delivered at the farm, and successfully sold at the station; and, best of all, the sheep were as faithfully watered as two little pails and two little girls could do it. Every one else forgot them. Mr. Benson was a busy old gentleman far away in the city; Miss Alice was driving, boating, and picnicking all day long; and the men at the depot had no orders to care for the poor beasts. But Tilda and Patty never forgot; and, rain or shine, they were there when the long train came in, waiting to do what they could, with dripping pails, handfuls of grass, or green branches, to refresh these suffering travellers for whom no thought was taken.

The rough stage-drivers laughed at them, the brakemen ordered them away, and the station-master said they were "little fools;" but nothing daunted the small sisters of charity, and in a few days they were let alone. Their arms were very tired lifting the pails, their backs ached with lugging so much water, and mother would not let them wear any but their oldest clothes for such wet work; so they had their trials, but bore them bravely, and never expected to be thanked.

When Saturday came round, and Miss Alice drove to meet her father, she remembered the little girls, and looked for them. Up at the farm she enjoyed her berries, and ordered them to be promptly paid for, but was either asleep or away when they arrived, and so had not seen the children. The sight of Patty, hastily scrambling a clean apron over her old frock, as she waited for the train with her tray of fruit, made the young lady leave the phaeton and go to meet the child, asking, with a smile,--

"Where is the black-eyed sister? Not ill, I hope.

"No, ma'am; she's watering the sheep. She's so strong she does it better 'n I do, and I sell the baskets," answered Patty, rejoicing secretly in the clean faded apron that hid her shabbiness.

"Ah, I forgot my lambs; but you were faithful to yours, you good little things! Have you done it every day?"

"Yes, 'm. Ma said, if we promised, we must do it; and we like it. Only there 's such a lot of 'em, and we get pretty tired." And Patty rubbed her arms as if they ached.

"I 'll speak to papa about it this very day. It will be a good time; for Mr. Jacobs, the president of the road, is coming up to spend Sunday, and they must do something for the poor beasts," said Miss Alice, ashamed to be outdone by two little girls.

"That will be so nice. We read a piece in a paper our teacher lends us, and I brought it down to show Mr. Weed, the depot man. He said it was a shame, but nobody could help it; so we thought we 'd tell him about the law we found." And Patty eagerly drew a worn copy of "Our Dumb Animals" from her pocket to show the little paragraph to this all-powerful friend who knew the railroad king.

Miss Alice read:--

"An act of Congress provides that at the end of every twenty-eight hours' journey animals shall be given five hours' rest, and duly fed and watered, unless shipped in cars having accommodations for the care of live-stock on board."

"There!" cried Patty, "that's the law; and ma says these sheep come ever so far, and ought to be watered. Do tell the president, and ask him to see to it. There was another piece about some poor pigs and cows being ninety-two hours without water and food. It was awful."

"I will tell him. Here 's our train. Run to your berries. I 'll find papa, and show him this."

As Miss Alice spoke, the cars thundered into the little station, and a brief bustle ensued, during which Patty was too busy to see what happened.

Mr. Benson and another stout old gentleman got out; and the minute Miss Alice had been kissed, she said very earnestly,--

"Wait a little, please; I want to settle a very important piece of business before we go home."

Then, while the gentlemen listened indulgently, she told the story, showed the bit in the paper, and pointing out Patty, added warmly,--

"That's one good child. Come and see the other, and you will agree with me that something ought to be done to relieve their kind little hearts and arms, if not out of mercy to the animals, who can't be called dumb in this case, though we have been deaf too long."

"My wilful girl must have her way. Come and get a whiff of fresh air, Jacobs." And Mr. Benson followed his daughter across the track, glad to get out of the bustle.

Yes, Tilda was there, and at work so energetically that they dared not approach, but stood looking and laughing for a moment. Two pails of water stood near her, and with a long-handled dipper she was serving all she could reach; those which were packed on the upper tier she could only refresh by a well-aimed splash, which was eagerly welcomed, and much enjoyed by all parties,--for Tilda got well showered herself, but did not care a bit, for it was a melting July day.

"That is a very little thing to do, but it is the cup of cold water which we have forgotten," said Miss Alice, softly, while the air was full of cries of longing as the blue lake shone before the thirsty beasts.

"Jacobs, we must attend to this."

"Benson, we will. I 'll look into the matter, and report at the next meeting."

That was all they said; but Alice clapped her hands, for she knew the thing would be done, and smiled like sunshine on the two old gentlemen, who presently watched the long train rumble away, with shakes and nods of the gray heads, which expressed both pity and determination.

The other train soon followed, and Patty came running over with her empty tray and a handful of silver to join Tilda, who sat down upon her upturned pail, tired out.

"Papa will see to it, children; and, thanks to you, the sheep will soon be more comfortable," said Miss Alice, joining them.

"Oh, goody! I hope they'll be quick; it's so hot, there 's ever so many dead ones to-day, and I can't help 'em," answered Tilda, fanning herself with her bonnet, and wiping the drops off her red face.

Miss Alice took a pretty straw fan out of her pocket and handed it to her, with a look of respect for the faithful little soul who did her duty so well.

"Ask for me when you come to the farm to-night. I shall have some hats and aprons for you, and I want to know you better," she said, remembering the broad-brimmed hats and ready-made aprons in the village store.

"Thank you, ma'am. We 'll come. Now we won't have to do this wet work we 'd like to be neat and nice," said Patty, gratefully.

"Do you always sell all your berries down here?" asked Miss Alice, watching Tilda tie up the dimes.

"Yes, indeed; and we could sell more if both of us went. But ma said we were making lots of money, and it was n't best to get rich too fast," answered Tilda, wisely.

"That's a good thing for us to remember, Benson, especially just now, and not count the cost of this little improvement in our cattle cars too closely," said Mr. Jacobs, as the old gentlemen came up in time to hear Tilda's speech.

"Your mother is a remarkable woman; I must come and see her," added Mr. Benson.

"Yes, sir; she is. She'd be pleased to see you any day." And Tilda stood up respectfully as her elders addressed her.

"Getting too rich, are you? Then I suppose it would n't do to ask you to invest this in your business for me?" asked Mr. Jacobs, holding up two silver dollars, as if he felt bashful about offering them.

Two pairs of eyes sparkled; and Patty's hand went out involuntarily, as she thought how many things she could get with all that money.

"Would they buy a lamb? and would you like to use it that way?" asked Tilda, in a business-like tone.

"I guess Miller would let you have one for that sum if Miss Alice makes the bargain, and I should very much like to start a flock if you would attend to it for me," answered Mr. Jacobs, with a laughing nod at the young lady, who seemed to understand that way of making bargains.

"We 'd like it ever so much! We 've wanted a lamb all summer; and we've got a nice rocky pasture, with lots of pennyroyal and berry bushes and a brook, for it to live in. We could get one ourselves now we are so rich; but we 'd rather buy more things for ma, and mend the roof 'fore the snow comes: it's so old, rain runs down on our bed sometimes."

"That's bad; but you seem fond of water, and look as if it agreed with you," said Mr. Jacobs, playfully poking Tilda's soaked apron with his cane.

They all laughed; and Mr. Benson said, looking at his watch,--

"Come, Alice, we must go. I want my dinner, and so does Jacobs. Good-by, little water-witches. I 'll see you again."

"Do you s'pose they 'll remember the lambs and hats, and all they promised?" asked Patty, as the others turned away.

"I don't believe they will. Rich folks are so busy having good times they are apt to forget poor folks, seems to me," answered Tilda, shaking her head like a little Solomon.

"Bless my heart, what a sharp child that is! We must not disappoint her; so remind me, Alice, to make a memorandum of all this business," whispered Mr. Benson, who heard every word.

"The President is a very nice man, and I know he 'll keep his word. See! he dropped the money in my tray, and I never saw him do it," cried Patty, pouncing on the dollars like a robin on a worm.

"There's a compliment for you, and well worth the money. Such confidence is beautiful," said Mr. Jacobs, laughing.

"Well, I 've learned a little lesson, and I 'll lay it to heart so well I won't let either of you forget," added Alice, as they drove away; while Tilda and Patty trudged home, quite unconscious that they had set an example which their elders were not ashamed to follow.

So many delightful things happened after this that the children felt as if they had got into a fairy tale. First of all, two nice rough straw hats and four useful aprons were given them that very night. Next day Miss Alice went to see their mother, and found an excellent woman, trying to bring up her girls, with no one to help her.

Then somehow the roof got mended, and the fence, so that passing cattle could not devastate the little beds where the children carefully cultivated wild flowers from the woods and hills. There seemed to be a sudden call for berries in the neighborhood,--for the story of the small Samaritans went about, and even while they laughed, people felt an interest in the children, and were glad to help them; so the dimes in the spoutless teapot rose like a silver tide, and visions of new gowns, and maybe sleds, danced through the busy little brains.

But, best and most wonderful of all, the old gentlemen did not forget the sheep. It was astonishing how quickly and easily it was all done, when once those who had the power found both the will and the way. Every one was interested now: the stage-drivers joked no more; the brakemen lent a hand with the buckets while waiting for better means of relief; and cross Mr. Weed patted Tilda and Patty on the head, and pointed them out to strangers as the "nice little girls who stirred up the railroad folks." Children from the hotel came to look at them, and Elviry Morris was filled with regret that she had no share in this interesting affair.

Thus the little pail of water they offered for pity's sake kept the memory of this much-needed mercy green till the lake poured its full tide along the channel made for it, and there was no more suffering on that road.

The first day the new pumps were tried every one went to see them work; and earliest of all were Tilda and Patty, in pink aprons and wreaths of evergreens round their new hats, in honor of the day. It was sweet to see their intense satisfaction as the water streamed into the troughs, and the thirsty sheep drank so gratefully. The innocent little souls did not know how many approving glances were cast upon them as they sat on a log, with the tired arms folded, two trays of berries at their feet now, and two faces beaming with the joy of a great hope beautifully fulfilled.

Presently a party from the hotel appeared; and something was evidently going to happen, for the boys and girls kept dodging behind the cars to see if they were coming. Tilda and Patty wondered who or what, but kept modestly apart upon their log, glad to see that the fine folks enjoyed the sight about as much as they did.

A rattle was heard along the road, a wagon stopped behind the station, and an excited boy came flying over the track to make the mysterious announcement to the other children,--

"They 've got 'em, and they are regular beauties."

"More pumps or troughs, I guess. Well, we can't have too many," said Tilda, with an eye to the business under way.

"I wish those folks would n't stare so. I s'pose it's the new aprons with pockets," whispered bashful Patty, longing for the old cape-bonnet to retire into.

But both forgot pumps and pockets in a moment, as a striking procession appeared round the corner. Mr. Benson, trying not to laugh, but shining with heat and fun, led a very white lamb with a red bow on its neck; and behind him came Miss Alice, leading another lamb with a blue bow. She looked very much in earnest, and more like a good fairy than ever, as she carried out her little surprise. People looked and laughed; but every one seemed to understand the joke at once, and were very quiet when Mr. Benson held up his hand, and said, in a voice which was earnest as well as merry,--

"Here, my little girls, are two friends of those poor fellows yonder come to thank you for your pity, and to prove, I hope, that rich people are not always too busy with their own good times to remember their poorer neighbors. Take them, my dears, and God bless you!"

"I did n't forget my lambs this time, but have been taming these for you; and Mr. Jacobs begs you will accept them, with his love," added Miss Alice, as the two pretty creatures were led up to their new owners, wagging their tails and working their noses in the most amiable manner, though evidently much amazed at the scene.

Tilda and Patty were so surprised that they were dumb with delight, and could only blush and pat the woolly heads, feeling more like story-book girls than ever. The other children, charmed with this pleasant ending to the pretty story, set up a cheer; the men joined in it with a will; while the ladies waved their parasols, and all the sheep seemed to add to the chorus their grateful "Baa! baa!"

 
 
 

EBooks - Fiction, Nonfiction 1000s of them ~ Index