A Hole In The Wall by Louisa May Alcott (2)


After that day a new life began for Johnny, and he flourished like a poor little plant that has struggled out of some dark corner into the sunshine. All sorts of delightful things happened, and good times really seemed to have come. The mysterious papa made no objection to the liberties taken with his wall, being busy with his own affairs, and glad to have his little girl happy. Old Nanna, being more careful, came to see the new neighbors, and was disarmed at once by the affliction of the boy and the gentle manners of the mother. She brought all the curtains of the house for Mrs. Morris to do up, and in her pretty broken English praised Johnny’s gallery and library, promising to bring Fay to see him some day.

Meantime the little people prattled daily together, and all manner of things came and went between them. Flowers, fruit, books, and bonbons kept Johnny in a state of bliss, and inspired him with such brilliant inventions that the Princess never knew what agreeable surprise would come next. Astonishing kites flew over the wall, and tissue balloons exploded in the flower-beds. All the birds of the air seemed to live in that court; for the boy whistled and piped till he was hoarse, because she liked it. The last of the long-hoarded cents came out of his tin bank to buy paper and pictures for the gay little books he made for her. His side of the wall was ravaged that hers might be adorned; and, as the last offering his grateful heart could give, he poked the toad through the hole, to live among the lilies and eat the flies that began to buzz about her Highness when she came to give her orders to her devoted subjects.

She always called the lad Giovanni, because she thought it a prettier name than John; and she was never tired of telling stories, asking questions, and making plans. The favorite one was what they would do when Johnny came to see her, as she had been promised he should when papa was not too busy to let them enjoy the charms of the studio; for Fay was a true artist’s child, and thought nothing so lovely as pictures. Johnny thought so, too, and dreamed of the happy day when he should go and see the wonders his little friend described so well.

“I think it will be to-morrow; for papa has a lazy fit coming on, and then he always plays with me and lets me rummage where I like, while he goes out or smokes in the garden. So be ready; and if he says you can come, I will have the flag up early and you can hurry.”

These agreeable remarks were breathed into Johnny’s willing ear about a fortnight after the acquaintance began; and he hastened to promise, adding soberly, a minute after,–

“Mother says she’s afraid it will be too much for me to go around and up steps, and see new things; for I get tired so easy, and then the pain comes on. But I don’t care how I ache if I can only see the pictures–and you.”

“Won’t you ever be any better? Nanna thinks you might.”

“So does mother, if we had money to go away in the country, and eat nice things; and have doctors. But we can’t; so it’s no use worrying.” And Johnny gave a great sigh.

“I wish papa was rich, then he would give you money. He works hard to make enough to go back to Italy, so I cannot ask him; but perhaps I can sell my pictures also, and get a little. Papa’s friends often offer me sweets for kisses; I will have money instead, and that will help. Yes, I shall do it.” And Fay clapped her hands decidedly.

“Don’t you mind about it. I’m going to learn to mend shoes. Mr. Pegget says he’ll teach me. That doesn’t need legs, and he gets enough to live on very well.”

“It isn’t pretty work. Nanna can teach you to braid straw as she did at home; that is easy and nice, and the baskets sell very well, she says. I shall speak to her about it, and you can try to-morrow when you come.”

“I will. Do you really think I can come, then?” And Johnny stood up to try his legs; for he dreaded the long walk, as it seemed to him.

“I will go at once and ask papa.”

Away flew Fay, and soon came back with a glad “Yes!” that sent Johnny hobbling in to tell his mother, and beg her to mend the elbows of his only jacket; for, suddenly, his old clothes looked so shabby he feared to show himself to the neighbors he so longed to see.

“Hurrah! I’m really going to-morrow. And you, too, mammy dear,” cried the boy, waving his crutch so vigorously that he slipped and fell.

“Never mind; I’m used to it. Pull me up, and I’ll rest while we talk about it,” he said cheerily, as his mother helped him to the bed, where he forgot his pain in thinking of the delights in store for him.

Next day, the flag was flying from the wall, and Fay early at the hole, but no Johnny came; and when Nanna went to see what kept him, she returned with the sad news that the poor boy was suffering much, and would not be able to stir for some days.

“Let me go and see him,” begged Fay, imploringly.

“Cara mia, it is no place for you. So dark, so damp, so poor, it is enough to break the heart,” said Nanna, decidedly.

“If papa was here, he would let me go. I shall not play; I shall sit here and make some plans for my poor boy.”

Nanna left her indignant little mistress, and went to cook a nice bowl of soup for Johnny; while Fay concocted a fine plan, and, what was more remarkable, carried it out.

For a week it rained, for a week Johnny lay in pain, and for a week Fay worked quietly at her little easel in the corner of the studio, while her father put the last touches to his fine picture, too busy to take much notice of the child. On Saturday the sun shone, Johnny was better, and the great picture was done. So were the small ones; for as her father sat resting after his work, Fay went to him, with a tired but happy face, and, putting several drawings into his hand, told her cherished plan.

“Papa, you said you would pay me a dollar for every good copy I made of the cast you gave me. I tried very hard, and here are three. I want some money very, very much. Could you pay for these?”

“They are excellent,” said the artist, after carefully looking at them. “You have tried, my good child, and here are your well-earned dollars. What do you want them for?”

“To help my boy. I want him to come in here and see the pictures, and let Nanna teach him to plait baskets; and he can rest, and you will like him, and he might get well if he had some money, and I have three quarters the friends gave me instead of bonbons. Would that be enough to send poor Giovanni into the country and have doctors?”

No wonder Fay’s papa was bewildered by this queer jumble, because, being absorbed in his work, he had never heard half the child had told him, and had forgotten all about Johnny. Now he listened with half an ear, studying the effect of sunshine upon his picture meantime, while Fay told him the little story, and begged to know how much money it would take to make Johnny’s back well.

“Bless your sweet soul, my darling, it would need more than I can spare or you earn in a year. By and by, when I am at leisure, we will see what can be done,” answered papa, smoking comfortably, as he lay on the sofa in the large studio at the top of the house.

“You say that about a great many things, papa. ‘By and by’ won’t be long enough to do all you promise then. I like now much better, and poor Giovanni needs the country more than you need cigars or I new frocks,” said Fay, stroking her father’s tired forehead and looking at him with an imploring face.

“My dear, I cannot give up my cigar, for in this soothing smoke I find inspiration, and though you are a little angel, you must be clothed; so wait a bit, and we will attend to the boy–later.” He was going to say “by and by” again, but paused just in time, with a laugh.

“Then I shall take him to the country all myself. I cannot wait for this hateful ‘by and by.’ I know how I shall do it, and at once. Now, now!” cried Fay, losing patience; and with an indignant glance at the lazy papa, who seemed going to sleep, she dashed out of the room, down many stairs, through the kitchen, startling Nanna and scattering the salad as if a whirlwind had gone by, and never paused for breath till she stood before the garden wall with a little hatchet in her hand.

“This shall be the country for him till I get enough money to send him away. I will show what I can do. He pulled out two bricks. I will beat down the wall, and he shall come in at once,” panted Fay; and she gave a great blow at the bricks, bent on having her will without delay,–for she was an impetuous little creature, full of love and pity for the poor boy pining for the fresh air and sunshine, of which she had so much.

Bang, bang, went the little hatchet, and down came one brick after another, till the hole was large enough for Fay to thrust her head through; and being breathless by that time, she paused to rest and take a look at Johnny’s court.

Meanwhile Nanna, having collected her lettuce leaves and her wits, went to see what the child was about; and finding her at work like a little fury, the old woman hurried up to tell “the Signor,” Fay’s papa, that his little daughter was about to destroy the garden and bury herself under the ruins of the wall. This report, delivered with groans and wringing of the hands, roused the artist and sent him to the rescue, as he well knew that his angel was a very energetic one, and capable of great destruction.

When he arrived, he beheld a cloud of dust, a pile of bricks among the lilies, and the feet of his child sticking out of a large hole in the wall, while her head and shoulders were on the other side. Much amused, yet fearful that the stone coping might come down on her, he pulled her back with the assurance that he would listen and help her now immediately, if there was such need of haste.

But he grew sober when he saw Fay’s face; for it was bathed in tears, her hands were bleeding, and dust covered her from head to foot.

“My darling, what afflicts you? Tell papa, and he will do anything you wish.”

“No, you will forget, you will say ‘Wait;’ and now that I have seen it all, I cannot stop till I get him out of that dreadful place. Look, look, and see if it is not sad to live there all in pain and darkness, and so poor.”

As she spoke, Fay urged her father toward the hole; and to please her he looked, seeing the dull court, the noisy street beyond, and close by the low room, where Johnny’s mother worked all day, while the poor boy’s pale face was dimly seen as he lay on his bed waiting for deliverance.

“Well, well, it is a pitiful case; and easily mended, since Fay is so eager about it. Hope the lad is all she says, and nothing catching about his illness. Nanna can tell me.”

Then he drew back his head, and leading Fay to the seat, took her on his knee, all flushed, dirty, and tearful as she was, soothing her by saying tenderly,–

“Now let me hear all about it, and be sure I’ll not forget. What shall I do to please you, dear, before you pull down the house about my ears?”

Then Fay told her tale all over again; and being no longer busy, her father found it very touching, with the dear, grimy little face looking into his, and the wounded hands clasped beseechingly as she pleaded for poor Johnny.

“God bless your tender heart, child; you shall have him in here to-morrow, and we will see what can be done for those pathetic legs of his. But listen, Fay, I have an easier way to do it than yours, and a grand surprise for the boy. Time is short, but it can be done; and to show you that I am in earnest, I will go this instant and begin the work. Come and wash your face while I get on my boots, and then we will go together.”

At these words Fay threw her arms about papa’s neck and gave him many grateful kisses, stopping in the midst to ask,–

“Truly, now?”

“See if it is not so.” And putting her down, papa went off with great strides, while she ran laughing after him, all her doubts set at rest by this agreeable energy on his part.

If Johnny had not been asleep in the back room, he would have seen strange and pleasant sights that afternoon and evening; for something went on in the court that delighted his mother, amused the artist, and made Fay the happiest child in Boston. No one was to tell till the next day, that Johnny’s surprise might be quite perfect, and Mrs. Morris sat up till eleven to get his old clothes in order; for Fay’s papa had been to see her, and became interested in the boy, as no one could help being when they saw his patient little face.

So hammers rang, trowels scraped, shovels dug, and wonderful changes were made, while Fay danced about in the moonlight, like Puck intent upon some pretty prank, and papa quoted Snout, [Footnote: A character in Shakspeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”] the tinker’s parting words, as appropriate to the hour,–

“Thus have I, wall, my part discharged so;
And, being done, thus wall away doth go.”

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