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Title: Little Women
Author: Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Little Women" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



LITTLE WOMEN


by

Louisa May Alcott



CONTENTS


PART 1

          ONE  PLAYING PILGRIMS
          TWO  A MERRY CHRISTMAS
        THREE  THE LAURENCE BOY
         FOUR  BURDENS
         FIVE  BEING NEIGHBORLY
          SIX  BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL
        SEVEN  AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION
        EIGHT  JO MEETS APOLLYON
         NINE  MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR
          TEN  THE P.C. AND P.O.
       ELEVEN  EXPERIMENTS
       TWELVE  CAMP LAURENCE
     THIRTEEN  CASTLES IN THE AIR
     FOURTEEN  SECRETS
      FIFTEEN  A TELEGRAM
      SIXTEEN  LETTERS
    SEVENTEEN  LITTLE FAITHFUL
     EIGHTEEN  DARK DAYS
     NINETEEN  AMY'S WILL
       TWENTY  CONFIDENTIAL
   TWENTY-ONE  LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE
   TWENTY-TWO  PLEASANT MEADOWS
 TWENTY-THREE  AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION


PART 2

  TWENTY-FOUR  GOSSIP
  TWENTY-FIVE  THE FIRST WEDDING
   TWENTY-SIX  ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS
 TWENTY-SEVEN  LITERARY LESSONS
 TWENTY-EIGHT  DOMESTIC EXPERIENCES
  TWENTY-NINE  CALLS
       THIRTY  CONSEQUENCES
   THIRTY-ONE  OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
   THIRTY-TWO  TENDER TROUBLES
 THIRTY-THREE  JO'S JOURNAL
  THIRTY-FOUR  FRIEND
  THIRTY-FIVE  HEARTACHE
   THIRTY-SIX  BETH'S SECRET
 THIRTY-SEVEN  NEW IMPRESSIONS
 THIRTY-EIGHT  ON THE SHELF
  THIRTY-NINE  LAZY LAURENCE
        FORTY  THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
    FORTY-ONE  LEARNING TO FORGET
    FORTY-TWO  ALL ALONE
  FORTY-THREE  SURPRISES
   FORTY-FOUR  MY LORD AND LADY
   FORTY-FIVE  DAISY AND DEMI
    FORTY-SIX  UNDER THE UMBRELLA
  FORTY-SEVEN  HARVEST TIME



CHAPTER ONE

PLAYING PILGRIMS

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying
on the rug.

"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old
dress.

"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty
things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an
injured sniff.

"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth contentedly
from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the
cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, "We haven't got
Father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say
"perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of Father far
away, where the fighting was.

Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, "You know
the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was
because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we
ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in
the army.  We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and
ought to do it gladly.  But I am afraid I don't," and Meg shook her
head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.

"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any good.  We've
each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped by our giving
that.  I agree not to expect anything from Mother or you, but I do want
to buy _Undine and Sintran_ for myself.  I've wanted it so long," said
Jo, who was a bookworm.

"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a little sigh,
which no one heard but the hearth brush and kettle-holder.

"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils; I really need
them," said Amy decidedly.

"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't wish us to
give up everything.  Let's each buy what we want, and have a little
fun; I'm sure we work hard enough to earn it," cried Jo, examining the
heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner.

"I know I do--teaching those tiresome children nearly all day, when I'm
longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the complaining tone
again.

"You don't have half such a hard time as I do," said Jo. "How would you
like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy old lady, who keeps
you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries you till you're ready to
fly out the window or cry?"

"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keeping things
tidy is the worst work in the world.  It makes me cross, and my hands
get so stiff, I can't practice well at all." And Beth looked at her
rough hands with a sigh that any one could hear that time.

"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy, "for you don't
have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you
don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your
father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your nose isn't nice."

"If you mean libel, I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa
was a pickle bottle," advised Jo, laughing.

"I know what I mean, and you needn't be statirical about it. It's
proper to use good words, and improve your vocabilary," returned Amy,
with dignity.

"Don't peck at one another, children.  Don't you wish we had the money
Papa lost when we were little, Jo?  Dear me! How happy and good we'd
be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who could remember better times.

"You said the other day you thought we were a deal happier than the
King children, for they were fighting and fretting all the time, in
spite of their money."

"So I did, Beth.  Well, I think we are.  For though we do have to work,
we make fun of ourselves, and are a pretty jolly set, as Jo would say."

"Jo does use such slang words!" observed Amy, with a reproving look at
the long figure stretched on the rug.

Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and began to
whistle.

"Don't, Jo.  It's so boyish!"

"That's why I do it."

"I detest rude, unladylike girls!"

"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!"

"Birds in their little nests agree," sang Beth, the peacemaker, with
such a funny face that both sharp voices softened to a laugh, and the
"pecking" ended for that time.

"Really, girls, you are both to be blamed," said Meg, beginning to
lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. "You are old enough to leave off
boyish tricks, and to behave better, Josephine.  It didn't matter so
much when you were a little girl, but now you are so tall, and turn up
your hair, you should remember that you are a young lady."

"I'm not!   And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear it in two
tails till I'm twenty," cried Jo, pulling off her net, and shaking down
a chestnut mane.  "I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss
March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China Aster!  It's
bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy's games and work and
manners!  I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy.  And
it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa. And
I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!"

And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled like
castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.

"Poor Jo!  It's too bad, but it can't be helped.  So you must try to be
contented with making your name boyish, and playing brother to us
girls," said Beth, stroking the rough head with a hand that all the
dish washing and dusting in the world could not make ungentle in its
touch.

"As for you, Amy," continued Meg, "you are altogether too particular
and prim.  Your airs are funny now, but you'll grow up an affected
little goose, if you don't take care. I like your nice manners and
refined ways of speaking, when you don't try to be elegant.  But your
absurd words are as bad as Jo's slang."

"If Jo is a tomboy and Amy a goose, what am I, please?" asked Beth,
ready to share the lecture.

"You're a dear, and nothing else," answered Meg warmly, and no one
contradicted her, for the 'Mouse' was the pet of the family.

As young readers like to know 'how people look', we will take this
moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat
knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly
without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within.  It was a comfortable
room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a
good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses,
chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a
pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.

Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being
plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet
mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old
Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she
never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very
much in her way.  She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp,
gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce,
funny, or thoughtful.  Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it
was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way.  Round shoulders
had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the
uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a
woman and didn't like it. Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her,
was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy
manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom
disturbed.  Her father called her 'Little Miss Tranquility', and the
name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of
her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved.
Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own
opinion at least.  A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow
hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying
herself like a young lady mindful of her manners.  What the characters
of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.

The clock struck six and, having swept up the hearth, Beth put a pair
of slippers down to warm.  Somehow the sight of the old shoes had a
good effect upon the girls, for Mother was coming, and everyone
brightened to welcome her.  Meg stopped lecturing, and lighted the
lamp, Amy got out of the easy chair without being asked, and Jo forgot
how tired she was as she sat up to hold the slippers nearer to the
blaze.

"They are quite worn out.  Marmee must have a new pair."

"I thought I'd get her some with my dollar," said Beth.

"No, I shall!" cried Amy.

"I'm the oldest," began Meg, but Jo cut in with a decided, "I'm the man
of the family now Papa is away, and I shall provide the slippers, for
he told me to take special care of Mother while he was gone."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Beth, "let's each get her something
for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves."

"That's like you, dear!  What will we get?" exclaimed Jo.

Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg announced, as if the
idea was suggested by the sight of her own pretty hands, "I shall give
her a nice pair of gloves."

"Army shoes, best to be had," cried Jo.

"Some handkerchiefs, all hemmed," said Beth.

"I'll get a little bottle of cologne.  She likes it, and it won't cost
much, so I'll have some left to buy my pencils," added Amy.

"How will we give the things?" asked Meg.

"Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open the bundles.
Don't you remember how we used to do on our birthdays?" answered Jo.

"I used to be so frightened when it was my turn to sit in the chair
with the crown on, and see you all come marching round to give the
presents, with a kiss.  I liked the things and the kisses, but it was
dreadful to have you sit looking at me while I opened the bundles,"
said Beth, who was toasting her face and the bread for tea at the same
time.

"Let Marmee think we are getting things for ourselves, and then
surprise her.  We must go shopping tomorrow afternoon, Meg. There is so
much to do about the play for Christmas night," said Jo, marching up
and down, with her hands behind her back, and her nose in the air.

"I don't mean to act any more after this time.  I'm getting too old for
such things," observed Meg, who was as much a child as ever about
'dressing-up' frolics.

"You won't stop, I know, as long as you can trail round in a white gown
with your hair down, and wear gold-paper jewelry. You are the best
actress we've got, and there'll be an end of everything if you quit the
boards," said Jo.  "We ought to rehearse tonight.  Come here, Amy, and
do the fainting scene, for you are as stiff as a poker in that."

"I can't help it.  I never saw anyone faint, and I don't choose to make
myself all black and blue, tumbling flat as you do.  If I can go down
easily, I'll drop.  If I can't, I shall fall into a chair and be
graceful.  I don't care if Hugo does come at me with a pistol,"
returned Amy, who was not gifted with dramatic power, but was chosen
because she was small enough to be borne out shrieking by the villain
of the piece.

"Do it this way.  Clasp your hands so, and stagger across the room,
crying frantically, 'Roderigo! Save me! Save me!'" and away went Jo,
with a melodramatic scream which was truly thrilling.

Amy followed, but she poked her hands out stiffly before her, and
jerked herself along as if she went by machinery, and her "Ow!" was
more suggestive of pins being run into her than of fear and anguish.
Jo gave a despairing groan, and Meg laughed outright, while Beth let
her bread burn as she watched the fun with interest. "It's no use!  Do
the best you can when the time comes, and if the audience laughs, don't
blame me.  Come on, Meg."

Then things went smoothly, for Don Pedro defied the world in a speech
of two pages without a single break.  Hagar, the witch, chanted an
awful incantation over her kettleful of simmering toads, with weird
effect.  Roderigo rent his chains asunder manfully, and Hugo died in
agonies of remorse and arsenic, with a wild, "Ha! Ha!"

"It's the best we've had yet," said Meg, as the dead villain sat up and
rubbed his elbows.

"I don't see how you can write and act such splendid things, Jo.
You're a regular Shakespeare!" exclaimed Beth, who firmly believed that
her sisters were gifted with wonderful genius in all things.

"Not quite," replied Jo modestly.  "I do think _The Witches Curse, an
Operatic Tragedy_ is rather a nice thing, but I'd like to try
_Macbeth_, if we only had a trapdoor for Banquo.  I always wanted to do
the killing part.  'Is that a dagger that I see before me?" muttered
Jo, rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she had seen a famous
tragedian do.

"No, it's the toasting fork, with Mother's shoe on it instead of the
bread.  Beth's stage-struck!" cried Meg, and the rehearsal ended in a
general burst of laughter.

"Glad to find you so merry, my girls," said a cheery voice at the door,
and actors and audience turned to welcome a tall, motherly lady with a
'can I help you' look about her which was truly delightful. She was not
elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the girls thought the
gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in
the world.

"Well, dearies, how have you got on today?  There was so much to do,
getting the boxes ready to go tomorrow, that I didn't come home to
dinner.  Has anyone called, Beth?  How is your cold, Meg?  Jo, you look
tired to death.  Come and kiss me, baby."

While making these maternal inquiries Mrs. March got her wet things
off, her warm slippers on, and sitting down in the easy chair, drew Amy
to her lap, preparing to enjoy the happiest hour of her busy day.  The
girls flew about, trying to make things comfortable, each in her own
way.  Meg arranged the tea table, Jo brought wood and set chairs,
dropping, over-turning, and clattering everything she touched.  Beth
trotted to and fro between parlor kitchen, quiet and busy, while Amy
gave directions to everyone, as she sat with her hands folded.

As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with a particularly
happy face, "I've got a treat for you after supper."

A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine. Beth
clapped her hands, regardless of the biscuit she held, and Jo tossed up
her napkin, crying, "A letter!  A letter!  Three cheers for Father!"

"Yes, a nice long letter.  He is well, and thinks he shall get through
the cold season better than we feared.  He sends all sorts of loving
wishes for Christmas, and an especial message to you girls," said Mrs.
March, patting her pocket as if she had got a treasure there.

"Hurry and get done!  Don't stop to quirk your little finger and simper
over your plate, Amy," cried Jo, choking on her tea and dropping her
bread, butter side down, on the carpet in her haste to get at the treat.

Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy corner and brood
over the delight to come, till the others were ready.

"I think it was so splendid in Father to go as chaplain when he was too
old to be drafted, and not strong enough for a soldier," said Meg
warmly.

"Don't I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan--what's its name?  Or a
nurse, so I could be near him and help him," exclaimed Jo, with a groan.

"It must be very disagreeable to sleep in a tent, and eat all sorts of
bad-tasting things, and drink out of a tin mug," sighed Amy.

"When will he come home, Marmee?" asked Beth, with a little quiver in
her voice.

"Not for many months, dear, unless he is sick.  He will stay and do his
work faithfully as long as he can, and we won't ask for him back a
minute sooner than he can be spared.  Now come and hear the letter."

They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth at her
feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on
the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter
should happen to be touching.  Very few letters were written in those
hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent
home.  In this one little was said of the hardships endured, the
dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered. It was a cheerful,
hopeful letter, full of lively descriptions of camp life, marches, and
military news, and only at the end did the writer's heart over-flow
with fatherly love and longing for the little girls at home.

"Give them all of my dear love and a kiss.  Tell them I think of them
by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort in their
affection at all times.  A year seems very long to wait before I see
them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these
hard days need not be wasted.  I know they will remember all I said to
them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty
faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves
so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and
prouder than ever of my little women." Everybody sniffed when they came
to that part.  Jo wasn't ashamed of the great tear that dropped off the
end of her nose, and Amy never minded the rumpling of her curls as she
hid her face on her mother's shoulder and sobbed out, "I am a selfish
girl!  But I'll truly try to be better, so he mayn't be disappointed in
me by-and-by."

"We all will," cried Meg.  "I think too much of my looks and hate to
work, but won't any more, if I can help it."

"I'll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman' and not be
rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere
else," said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much
harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.

Beth said nothing, but wiped away her tears with the blue army sock and
began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doing the duty that
lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quiet little soul to be all
that Father hoped to find her when the year brought round the happy
coming home.

Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by saying in her
cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrims Progress
when you were little things?  Nothing delighted you more than to have
me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and
sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from
the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop,
where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a
Celestial City."

"What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and
passing through the valley where the hob-goblins were," said Jo.

"I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs,"
said Meg.

"I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the cellar
and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk we had up at the
top.  If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd rather like to play it
over again," said Amy, who began to talk of renouncing childish things
at the mature age of twelve.

"We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are
playing all the time in one way or another.  Our burdens are here, our
road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the
guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace
which is a true Celestial City.  Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you
begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can
get before Father comes home."

"Really, Mother?  Where are our bundles?" asked Amy, who was a very
literal young lady.

"Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth. I rather
think she hasn't got any," said her mother.

"Yes, I have.  Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying girls with nice
pianos, and being afraid of people."

Beth's bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted to laugh, but
nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings very much.

"Let us do it," said Meg thoughtfully.  "It is only another name for
trying to be good, and the story may help us, for though we do want to
be good, it's hard work and we forget, and don't do our best."

"We were in the Slough of Despond tonight, and Mother came and pulled
us out as Help did in the book.  We ought to have our roll of
directions, like Christian.  What shall we do about that?" asked Jo,
delighted with the fancy which lent a little romance to the very dull
task of doing her duty.

"Look under your pillows Christmas morning, and you will find your
guidebook," replied Mrs. March.

They talked over the new plan while old Hannah cleared the table, then
out came the four little work baskets, and the needles flew as the
girls made sheets for Aunt March.  It was uninteresting sewing, but
tonight no one grumbled.  They adopted Jo's plan of dividing the long
seams into four parts, and calling the quarters Europe, Asia, Africa,
and America, and in that way got on capitally, especially when they
talked about the different countries as they stitched their way through
them.

At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before they went to bed.
No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano, but she had
a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant
accompaniment to the simple songs they sang.  Meg had a voice like a
flute, and she and her mother led the little choir.  Amy chirped like a
cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always
coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoiled the
most pensive tune.  They had always done this from the time they could
lisp...

    Crinkle, crinkle, 'ittle 'tar,

and it had become a household custom, for the mother was a born singer.
The first sound in the morning was her voice as she went about the
house singing like a lark, and the last sound at night was the same
cheery sound, for the girls never grew too old for that familiar
lullaby.



CHAPTER TWO

A MERRY CHRISTMAS

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No
stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much
disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down
because it was crammed so full of goodies.  Then she remembered her
mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a
little crimson-covered book.  She knew it very well, for it was that
beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it
was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey.  She woke
Meg with a "Merry Christmas," and bade her see what was under her
pillow.  A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside,
and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present
very precious in their eyes.  Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage
and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and
all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy
with the coming day.

In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature,
which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved
her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently
given.

"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her
to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, "Mother wants
us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once.
We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all
this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things.  You can
do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a
little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good
and help me through the day."

Then she opened her new book and began to read.  Jo put her arm round
her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression
so seldom seen on her restless face.

"How good Meg is!  Come, Amy, let's do as they do.  I'll help you with
the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don't understand,"
whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her
sisters' example.

"I'm glad mine is blue," said Amy.  and then the rooms were very still
while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to
touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for
their gifts, half an hour later.

"Goodness only knows.  Some poor creeter came a-beggin', and your ma
went straight off to see what was needed.  There never was such a woman
for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin'," replied Hannah,
who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by
them all more as a friend than a servant.

"She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and have everything
ready," said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a
basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper
time.  "Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?" she added, as the
little flask did not appear.

"She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put a ribbon on
it, or some such notion," replied Jo, dancing about the room to take
the first stiffness off the new army slippers.

"How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they?  Hannah washed and ironed
them for me, and I marked them all myself," said Beth, looking proudly
at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labor.

"Bless the child!  She's gone and put 'Mother' on them instead of 'M.
March'.  How funny!" cried Jo, taking one up.

"Isn't that right?  I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's
initials are M.M., and I don't want anyone to use these but Marmee,"
said Beth, looking troubled.

"It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible too, for
no one can ever mistake now.  It will please her very much, I know,"
said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.

"There's Mother.  Hide the basket, quick!" cried Jo, as a door slammed
and steps sounded in the hall.

Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters
all waiting for her.

"Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?" asked Meg,
surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so
early.

"Don't laugh at me, Jo!  I didn't mean anyone should know till the time
came.  I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I
gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any
more."

As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap
one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort to forget
herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronounced her 'a
trump', while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finest rose to
ornament the stately bottle.

"You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about
being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the
minute I was up, and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now."

Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the
girls to the table, eager for breakfast.

"Merry Christmas, Marmee!  Many of them!  Thank you for our books.  We
read some, and mean to every day," they all cried in chorus.

"Merry Christmas, little daughters!  I'm glad you began at once, and
hope you will keep on.  But I want to say one word before we sit down.
Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby.
Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they
have no fire.  There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy
came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold.  My girls, will
you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?"

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a
minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, "I'm
so glad you came before we began!"

"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?" asked
Beth eagerly.

"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroically giving
up the article she most liked.

Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one
big plate.

"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. "You
shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and
milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime."

They were soon ready, and the procession set out.  Fortunately it was
early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and
no one laughed at the queer party.

A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire,
ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale,
hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.

"Ach, mein Gott!  It is good angels come to us!" said the poor woman,
crying for joy.

"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them to laughing.

In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work
there.  Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the
broken panes with old hats and her own cloak.  Mrs. March gave the
mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while
she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own.  The
girls meantime spread the table, set the children round the fire, and
fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing, talking, and trying to
understand the funny broken English.

"Das ist gut!"  "Die Engel-kinder!" cried the poor things as they ate
and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze. The girls had
never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable,
especially Jo, who had been considered a 'Sancho' ever since she was
born.  That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of
it.  And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there
were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little
girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with
bread and milk on Christmas morning.

"That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it," said
Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs
collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.

Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in
the few little bundles, and the tall vase of red roses, white
chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave
quite an elegant air to the table.

"She's coming!  Strike up, Beth!  Open the door, Amy!  Three cheers for
Marmee!" cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to conduct Mother to
the seat of honor.

Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and Meg enacted
escort with great dignity.  Mrs. March was both surprised and touched,
and smiled with her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the
little notes which accompanied them.  The slippers went on at once, a
new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy's
cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were
pronounced a perfect fit.

There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the
simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at
the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and then all fell to
work.

The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of
the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities.  Being
still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to
afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their
wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention, made
whatever they needed.  Very clever were some of their productions,
pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats
covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering
with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the
same useful diamond shaped bits left in sheets when the lids of
preserve pots were cut out.  The big chamber was the scene of many
innocent revels.

No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to her heart's
content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet leather boots
given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew an actor.  These boots,
an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some
picture, were Jo's chief treasures and appeared on all occasions.  The
smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors
to take several parts apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit
for the hard work they did in learning three or four different parts,
whisking in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage
besides.  It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless
amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been
idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society.

On christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which was the
dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a
most flattering state of expectancy.  There was a good deal of rustling
and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and an
occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the
excitement of the moment.  Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew
apart, and the _operatic tragedy_ began.

"A gloomy wood," according to the one playbill, was represented by a
few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and a cave in the
distance.  This cave was made with a clothes horse for a roof, bureaus
for walls, and in it was a small furnace in full blast, with a black
pot on it and an old witch bending over it.  The stage was dark and the
glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued
from the kettle when the witch took off the cover.  A moment was
allowed for the first thrill to subside, then Hugo, the villain,
stalked in with a clanking sword at his side, a slouching hat, black
beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots.  After pacing to and fro in
much agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain,
singing of his hatred for Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his pleasing
resolution to kill the one and win the other. The gruff tones of Hugo's
voice, with an occasional shout when his feelings overcame him, were
very impressive, and the audience applauded the moment he paused for
breath.  Bowing with the air of one accustomed to public praise, he
stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding,
"What ho, minion! I need thee!"

Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face, a red and
black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon her cloak.  Hugo
demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroy Roderigo.
Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, and proceeded to call
up the spirit who would bring the love philter.

    Hither, hither, from thy home,
    Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
    Born of roses, fed on dew,
    Charms and potions canst thou brew?
    Bring me here, with elfin speed,
    The fragrant philter which I need.
    Make it sweet and swift and strong,
    Spirit, answer now my song!

A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the cave
appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings, golden
hair, and a garland of roses on its head.  Waving a wand, it sang...

    Hither I come,
    From my airy home,
    Afar in the silver moon.
    Take the magic spell,
    And use it well,
    Or its power will vanish soon!

And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, the spirit
vanished.  Another chant from Hagar produced another apparition, not a
lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black imp appeared and, having
croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappeared with a
mocking laugh.  Having warbled his thanks and put the potions in his
boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed the audience that as he had
killed a few of her friends in times past, she had cursed him, and
intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him.  Then the curtain
fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the
merits of the play.

A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again, but
when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentery had been
got up, no one murmured at the delay.  It was truly superb. A tower
rose to the ceiling, halfway up appeared a window with a lamp burning
in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely blue and
silver dress, waiting for Roderigo.  He came in gorgeous array, with
plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, a guitar, and the boots, of
course.  Kneeling at the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in
melting tones.  Zara replied and, after a musical dialogue, consented
to fly.  Then came the grand effect of the play.  Roderigo produced a
rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara
to descend.  Timidly she crept from her lattice, put her hand on
Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down when "Alas!
Alas for Zara!" she forgot her train.  It caught in the window, the
tower tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the
unhappy lovers in the ruins.

A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the
wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, "I told you so!  I told
you so!"  With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire,
rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside...

"Don't laugh!  Act as if it was all right!" and, ordering Roderigo up,
banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn. Though decidedly
shaken by the fall from the tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old
gentleman and refused to stir.  This dauntless example fired Zara.  She
also defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest dungeons
of the castle.  A stout little retainer came in with chains and led
them away, looking very much frightened and evidently forgetting the
speech he ought to have made.

Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared, having come to
free the lovers and finish Hugo.  She hears him coming and hides, sees
him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid the timid little
servant, "Bear them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I
shall come anon."  The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him something,
and Hagar changes the cups for two others which are harmless.
Ferdinando, the 'minion', carries them away, and Hagar puts back the
cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty
after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and after a good deal
of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies, while Hagar informs him
what she has done in a song of exquisite power and melody.

This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons might have
thought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long red hair
rather marred the effect of the villain's death.  He was called before
the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose
singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the
performance put together.

Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of stabbing
himself because he has been told that Zara has deserted him. Just as
the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sung under his window,
informing him that Zara is true but in danger, and he can save her if
he will.  A key is thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm of
rapture he tears off his chains and rushes away to find and rescue his
lady love.

Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro. He
wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it, and after a
touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes in and demands
her hand.  Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and
gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, and Rodrigo is about to bear
away the exhausted Zara, when the timid servant enters with a letter
and a bag from Hagar, who has mysteriously disappeared.  The latter
informs the party that she bequeaths untold wealth to the young pair
and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn't make them happy.  The bag
is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage
till it is quite glorified with the glitter.  This entirely softens the
stern sire.  He consents without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus,
and the curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's
blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.

Tumultuous applause followed but received an unexpected check, for the
cot bed, on which the dress circle was built, suddenly shut up and
extinguished the enthusiastic audience.  Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to
the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though many were speechless
with laughter.  The excitement had hardly subsided when Hannah
appeared, with "Mrs. March's compliments, and would the ladies walk
down to supper."

This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw the table,
they looked at one another in rapturous amazement.  It was like Marmee
to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine as this was
unheard of since the departed days of plenty.  There was ice cream,
actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and
distracting french bonbons and, in the middle of the table, four great
bouquets of hot house flowers.

It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at the table and
then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.

"Santa Claus," said Beth.

"Mother did it." And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of her gray
beard and white eyebrows.

"Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper," cried Jo, with a
sudden inspiration.

"All wrong.  Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.

"The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such a thing
into his head?  We don't know him!" exclaimed Meg.

"Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an
odd old gentleman, but that pleased him.  He knew my father years ago,
and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would
allow him to express his friendly feeling toward my children by sending
them a few trifles in honor of the day.  I could not refuse, and so you
have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk
breakfast."

"That boy put it into his head, I know he did!  He's a capital fellow,
and I wish we could get acquainted.  He looks as if he'd like to know
us but he's bashful, and Meg is so prim she won't let me speak to him
when we pass," said Jo, as the plates went round, and the ice began to
melt out of sight, with ohs and ahs of satisfaction.

"You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don't you?"
asked one of the girls.  "My mother knows old Mr. Laurence, but says
he's very proud and doesn't like to mix with his neighbors. He keeps
his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking with his tutor,
and makes him study very hard.  We invited him to our party, but he
didn't come.  Mother says he's very nice, though he never speaks to us
girls."

"Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talked over the
fence, and were getting on capitally, all about cricket, and so on,
when he saw Meg coming, and walked off.  I mean to know him some day,
for he needs fun, I'm sure he does," said Jo decidedly.

"I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman, so I've no
objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunity comes. He
brought the flowers himself, and I should have asked him in, if I had
been sure what was going on upstairs.  He looked so wistful as he went
away, hearing the frolic and evidently having none of his own."

"It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!" laughed Jo, looking at her boots.
"But we'll have another play sometime that he can see.  Perhaps he'll
help act.  Wouldn't that be jolly?"

"I never had such a fine bouquet before!  How pretty it is!" And Meg
examined her flowers with great interest.

"They are lovely.  But Beth's roses are sweeter to me," said Mrs.
March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.

Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, "I wish I could send my
bunch to Father.  I'm afraid he isn't having such a merry Christmas as
we are."



CHAPTER THREE

THE LAURENCE BOY

"Jo!  Jo!  Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found
her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped
up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window.
This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a
dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a
pet rat who lived near by and didn't mind her a particle.  As Meg
appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole.  Jo shook the tears off her
cheeks and waited to hear the news.

"Such fun!  Only see!  A regular note of invitation from Mrs. Gardiner
for tomorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paper and then
proceeding to read it with girlish delight.

"'Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine at
a little dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willing we should go, now
what shall we wear?"

"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear our
poplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jo with her
mouth full.

"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg.  "Mother says I may when I'm
eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait."

"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us.
Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear in mine.
Whatever shall I do?  The burn shows badly, and I can't take any out."

"You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight. The
front is all right.  I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, and Marmee
will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers are lovely, and
my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'd like."

"Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can't get any new ones, so I
shall have to go without," said Jo, who never troubled herself much
about dress.

"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly. "Gloves are
more important than anything else.  You can't dance without them, and
if you don't I should be so mortified."

"Then I'll stay still.  I don't care much for company dancing. It's no
fun to go sailing round.  I like to fly about and cut capers."

"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, and you are
so careless.  She said when you spoiled the others that she shouldn't
get you any more this winter.  Can't you make them do?"

"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know how
stained they are.  That's all I can do.  No!  I'll tell you how we can
manage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one.  Don't you see?"

"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glove
dreadfully," began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.

"Then I'll go without.  I don't care what people say!" cried Jo, taking
up her book.

"You may have it, you may!  Only don't stain it, and do behave nicely.
Don't put your hands behind you, or stare, or say 'Christopher
Columbus!' will you?"

"Don't worry about me.  I'll be as prim as I can and not get into any
scrapes, if I can help it.  Now go and answer your note, and let me
finish this splendid story."

So Meg went away to 'accept with thanks', look over her dress, and sing
blithely as she did up her one real lace frill, while Jo finished her
story, her four apples, and had a game of romps with Scrabble.

On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two younger girls
played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in the
all-important business of 'getting ready for the party'.  Simple as the
toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down, laughing
and talking, and at one time a strong smell of burned hair pervaded the
house.  Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Jo undertook to
pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs.

"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perch on the bed.

"It's the dampness drying," replied Jo.

"What a queer smell!  It's like burned feathers," observed Amy,
smoothing her own pretty curls with a superior air.

"There, now I'll take off the papers and you'll see a cloud of little
ringlets," said Jo, putting down the tongs.

She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared, for the
hair came with the papers, and the horrified hairdresser laid a row of
little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim.

"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done?  I'm spoiled!  I can't go!  My hair,
oh, my hair!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the uneven frizzle on
her forehead.

"Just my luck!  You shouldn't have asked me to do it.  I always spoil
everything.  I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and so I've made
a mess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little black pancakes with
tears of regret.

"It isn't spoiled.  Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so the ends
come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like the last fashion.
I've seen many girls do it so," said Amy consolingly.

"Serves me right for trying to be fine.  I wish I'd let my hair alone,"
cried Meg petulantly.

"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty.  But it will soon grow out
again," said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.

After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and by the
united exertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got up and her
dress on.  They looked very well in their simple suits, Meg's in
silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin.
Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white
chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light
glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the effect "quite
easy and fine".  Meg's high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt
her, though she would not own it, and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed
stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but,
dear me, let us be elegant or die.

"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters went
daintily down the walk.  "Don't eat much supper, and come away at
eleven when I send Hannah for you."  As the gate clashed behind them, a
voice cried from a window...

"Girls, girls!  Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"

"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo, adding
with a laugh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would ask that if we
were all running away from an earthquake."

"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real
lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief," replied
Meg, who had a good many little 'aristocratic tastes' of her own.

"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo. Is my sash
right?  And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, as she turned from
the glass in Mrs. Gardiner's dressing room after a prolonged prink.

"I know I shall forget.  If you see me doing anything wrong, just
remind me by a wink, will you?" returned Jo, giving her collar a twitch
and her head a hasty brush.

"No, winking isn't ladylike.  I'll lift my eyebrows if any thing is
wrong, and nod if you are all right.  Now hold your shoulder straight,
and take short steps, and don't shake hands if you are introduced to
anyone.  It isn't the thing."

"How do you learn all the proper ways?  I never can.  Isn't that music
gay?"

Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went to
parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an event to
them.  Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted them kindly and
handed them over to the eldest of her six daughters. Meg knew Sallie
and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn't care much for girls
or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back carefully against the
wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in a flower garden.  Half
a dozen jovial lads were talking about skates in another part of the
room, and she longed to go and join them, for skating was one of the
joys of her life.  She telegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows
went up so alarmingly that she dared not stir.  No one came to talk to
her, and one by one the group dwindled away till she was left alone.
She could not roam about and amuse herself, for the burned breadth
would show, so she stared at people rather forlornly till the dancing
began.  Meg was asked at once, and the tight slippers tripped about so
briskly that none would have guessed the pain their wearer suffered
smilingly.  Jo saw a big red headed youth approaching her corner, and
fearing he meant to engage her, she slipped into a curtained recess,
intending to peep and enjoy herself in peace.  Unfortunately, another
bashful person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell
behind her, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy'.

"Dear me, I didn't know anyone was here!" stammered Jo, preparing to
back out as speedily as she had bounced in.

But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he looked a little
startled, "Don't mind me, stay if you like."

"Shan't I disturb you?"

"Not a bit.  I only came here because I don't know many people and felt
rather strange at first, you know."

"So did I.  Don't go away, please, unless you'd rather."

The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo said, trying to
be polite and easy, "I think I've had the pleasure of seeing you
before.  You live near us, don't you?"

"Next door."  And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo's prim
manner was rather funny when he remembered how they had chatted about
cricket when he brought the cat home.

That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, in her
heartiest way, "We did have such a good time over your nice Christmas
present."

"Grandpa sent it."

"But you put it into his head, didn't you, now?"

"How is your cat, Miss March?" asked the boy, trying to look sober
while his black eyes shone with fun.

"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence.  But I am not Miss March, I'm only
Jo," returned the young lady.

"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."

"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."

"My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it, for the fellows called
me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead."

"I hate my name, too, so sentimental!  I wish every one would say Jo
instead of Josephine.  How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora?"

"I thrashed 'em."

"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bear it."  And
Jo resigned herself with a sigh.

"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, looking as if he
thought the name suited her.

"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyone is
lively.  In a place like this I'm sure to upset something, tread on
people's toes, or do something dreadful, so I keep out of mischief and
let Meg sail about.  Don't you dance?"

"Sometimes.  You see I've been abroad a good many years, and haven't
been into company enough yet to know how you do things here."

"Abroad!" cried Jo.  "Oh, tell me about it!  I love dearly to hear
people describe their travels."

Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eager questions
soon set him going, and he told her how he had been at school in Vevay,
where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet of boats on the lake,
and for holiday fun went on walking trips about Switzerland with their
teachers.

"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo.  "Did you go to Paris?"

"We spent last winter there."

"Can you talk French?"

"We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay."

"Do say some!  I can read it, but can't pronounce."

"Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?"

"How nicely you do it!  Let me see ... you said, 'Who is the young lady
in the pretty slippers', didn't you?"

"Oui, mademoiselle."

"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was!  Do you think she is
pretty?"

"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks so fresh and
quiet, and dances like a lady."

Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of her sister, and
stored it up to repeat to Meg.  Both peeped and critisized and chatted
till they felt like old acquaintances.  Laurie's bashfulness soon wore
off, for Jo's gentlemanly demeanor amused and set him at his ease, and
Jo was her merry self again, because her dress was forgotten and nobody
lifted their eyebrows at her.  She liked the 'Laurence boy' better than
ever and took several good looks at him, so that she might describe him
to the girls, for they had no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys
were almost unknown creatures to them.

"Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine
teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite, for a boy,
and altogether jolly.  Wonder how old he is?"

It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to ask, but she checked herself in
time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a round-about way.

"I suppose you are going to college soon?  I see you pegging away at
your books, no, I mean studying hard."  And Jo blushed at the dreadful
'pegging' which had escaped her.

Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with a shrug.  "Not
for a year or two.  I won't go before seventeen, anyway."

"Aren't you but fifteen?" asked Jo, looking at the tall lad, whom she
had imagined seventeen already.

"Sixteen, next month."

"How I wish I was going to college!  You don't look as if you liked it."

"I hate it!  Nothing but grinding or skylarking.  And I don't like the
way fellows do either, in this country."

"What do you like?"

"To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way."

Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but his black brows
looked rather threatening as he knit them, so she changed the subject
by saying, as her foot kept time, "That's a splendid polka!  Why don't
you go and try it?"

"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant little bow.

"I can't, for I told Meg I wouldn't, because..." There Jo stopped, and
looked undecided whether to tell or to laugh.

"Because, what?"

"You won't tell?"

"Never!"

"Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and so I burn my
frocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicely mended, it
shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one would see it.  You may
laugh, if you want to.  It is funny, I know."

But Laurie didn't laugh.  He only looked down a minute, and the
expression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently, "Never mind
that.  I'll tell you how we can manage.  There's a long hall out there,
and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us. Please come."

Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloves when
she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore.  The hall was
empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught
her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and
spring.  When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs to get
their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an account of a students'
festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search of her sister.  She
beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into a side room, where she
found her on a sofa, holding her foot, and looking pale.

"I've sprained my ankle.  That stupid high heel turned and gave me a
sad wrench.  It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don't know how I'm
ever going to get home," she said, rocking to and fro in pain.

"I knew you'd hurt your feet with those silly shoes.  I'm sorry.  But I
don't see what you can do, except get a carriage, or stay here all
night," answered Jo, softly rubbing the poor ankle as she spoke.

"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much.  I dare say
I can't get one at all, for most people come in their own, and it's a
long way to the stable, and no one to send."

"I'll go."

"No, indeed!  It's past nine, and dark as Egypt.  I can't stop here,
for the house is full.  Sallie has some girls staying with her. I'll
rest till Hannah comes, and then do the best I can."

"I'll ask Laurie.  He will go," said Jo, looking relieved as the idea
occurred to her.

"Mercy, no!  Don't ask or tell anyone.  Get me my rubbers, and put
these slippers with our things.  I can't dance anymore, but as soon as
supper is over, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute she comes."

"They are going out to supper now.  I'll stay with you.  I'd rather."

"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee.  I'm so tired I can't
stir."

So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo went blundering away
to the dining room, which she found after going into a china closet,
and opening the door of a room where old Mr. Gardiner was taking a
little private refreshment.  Making a dart at the table, she secured
the coffee, which she immediately spilled, thereby making the front of
her dress as bad as the back.

"Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!" exclaimed Jo, finishing Meg's
glove by scrubbing her gown with it.

"Can I help you?" said a friendly voice.  And there was Laurie, with a
full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in the other.

"I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very tired, and someone
shook me, and here I am in a nice state," answered Jo, glancing
dismally from the stained skirt to the coffee-colored glove.

"Too bad!   I was looking for someone to give this to.  May I take it
to your sister?"

"Oh, thank you!  I'll show you where she is.  I don't offer to take it
myself, for I should only get into another scrape if I did."

Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies, Laurie drew up a
little table, brought a second installment of coffee and ice for Jo,
and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronounced him a 'nice
boy'.  They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes, and were in
the midst of a quiet game of _Buzz_, with two or three other young
people who had strayed in, when Hannah appeared.  Meg forgot her foot
and rose so quickly that she was forced to catch hold of Jo, with an
exclamation of pain.

"Hush!  Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It's
nothing.  I turned my foot a little, that's all," and limped upstairs
to put her things on.

Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits' end, till she
decided to take things into her own hands.  Slipping out, she ran down
and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a carriage. It
happened to be a hired waiter who knew nothing about the neighborhood
and Jo was looking round for help when Laurie, who had heard what she
said, came up and offered his grandfather's carriage, which had just
come for him, he said.

"It's so early!  You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo, looking relieved
but hesitating to accept the offer.

"I always go early, I do, truly!  Please let me take you home. It's all
on my way, you know, and it rains, they say."

That settled it, and telling him of Meg's mishap, Jo gratefully
accepted and rushed up to bring down the rest of the party.  Hannah
hated rain as much as a cat does so she made no trouble, and they
rolled away in the luxurious close carriage, feeling very festive and
elegant.  Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up, and the
girls talked over their party in freedom.

"I had a capital time.  Did you?" asked Jo, rumpling up her hair, and
making herself comfortable.

"Yes, till I hurt myself.  Sallie's friend, Annie Moffat, took a fancy
to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her when Sallie does.
She is going in the spring when the opera comes, and it will be
perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go," answered Meg, cheering
up at the thought.

"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from.  Was he
nice?"

"Oh, very!  His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very polite, and I
had a delicious redowa with him."

"He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the new step. Laurie
and I couldn't help laughing.  Did you hear us?"

"No, but it was very rude.  What were you about all that time, hidden
away there?"

Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished they were at
home.  With many thanks, they said good night and crept in, hoping to
disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, two little
nightcaps bobbed up, and two sleepy but eager voices cried out...

"Tell about the party!  Tell about the party!"

With what Meg called 'a great want of manners' Jo had saved some
bonbons for the little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearing the
most thrilling events of the evening.

"I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, to come home
from the party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gown with a maid to
wait on me," said Meg, as Jo bound up her foot with arnica and brushed
her hair.

"I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we
do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight
slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them."
And I think Jo was quite right.



CHAPTER FOUR

BURDENS

"Oh, dear, how hard it does seem to take up our packs and go on,"
sighed Meg the morning after the party, for now the holidays were over,
the week of merrymaking did not fit her for going on easily with the
task she never liked.

"I wish it was Christmas or New Year's all the time. Wouldn't it be
fun?" answered Jo, yawning dismally.

"We shouldn't enjoy ourselves half so much as we do now. But it does
seem so nice to have little suppers and bouquets, and go to parties,
and drive home, and read and rest, and not work.  It's like other
people, you know, and I always envy girls who do such things, I'm so
fond of luxury," said Meg, trying to decide which of two shabby gowns
was the least shabby.

"Well, we can't have it, so don't let us grumble but shoulder our
bundles and trudge along as cheerfully as Marmee does.  I'm sure Aunt
March is a regular Old Man of the Sea to me, but I suppose when I've
learned to carry her without complaining, she will tumble off, or get
so light that I shan't mind her."

This idea tickled Jo's fancy and put her in good spirits, but Meg
didn't brighten, for her burden, consisting of four spoiled children,
seemed heavier than ever. She had not heart enough even to make herself
pretty as usual by putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressing her hair
in the most becoming way.

"Where's the use of looking nice, when no one sees me but those cross
midgets, and no one cares whether I'm pretty or not?" she muttered,
shutting her drawer with a jerk.  "I shall have to toil and moil all my
days, with only little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly
and sour, because I'm poor and can't enjoy my life as other girls do.
It's a shame!"

So Meg went down, wearing an injured look, and wasn't at all agreeable
at breakfast time.  Everyone seemed rather out of sorts and inclined to
croak.

Beth had a headache and lay on the sofa, trying to comfort herself with
the cat and three kittens.  Amy was fretting because her lessons were
not learned, and she couldn't find her rubbers.  Jo would whistle and
make a great racket getting ready.

Mrs. March was very busy trying to finish a letter, which must go at
once, and Hannah had the grumps, for being up late didn't suit her.

"There never was such a cross family!" cried Jo, losing her temper when
she had upset an inkstand, broken both boot lacings, and sat down upon
her hat.

"You're the crossest person in it!" returned Amy, washing out the sum
that was all wrong with the tears that had fallen on her slate.

"Beth, if you don't keep these horrid cats down cellar I'll have them
drowned," exclaimed Meg angrily as she tried to get rid of the kitten
which had scrambled up her back and stuck like a burr just out of reach.

Jo laughed, Meg scolded, Beth implored, and Amy wailed because she
couldn't remember how much nine times twelve was.

"Girls, girls, do be quiet one minute!  I must get this off by the
early mail, and you drive me distracted with your worry," cried Mrs.
March, crossing out the third spoiled sentence in her letter.

There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who stalked in, laid two
hot turnovers on the table, and stalked out again. These turnovers were
an institution, and the girls called them 'muffs', for they had no
others and found the hot pies very comforting to their hands on cold
mornings.

Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how busy or grumpy she
might be, for the walk was long and bleak. The poor things got no other
lunch and were seldom home before two.

"Cuddle your cats and get over your headache, Bethy. Goodbye, Marmee.
We are a set of rascals this morning, but we'll come home regular
angels.  Now then, Meg!"  And Jo tramped away, feeling that the
pilgrims were not setting out as they ought to do.

They always looked back before turning the corner, for their mother was
always at the window to nod and smile, and wave her hand to them.
Somehow it seemed as if they couldn't have got through the day without
that, for whatever their mood might be, the last glimpse of that
motherly face was sure to affect them like sunshine.

"If Marmee shook her fist instead of kissing her hand to us, it would
serve us right, for more ungrateful wretches than we are were never
seen," cried Jo, taking a remorseful satisfaction in the snowy walk and
bitter wind.

"Don't use such dreadful expressions," replied Meg from the depths of
the veil in which she had shrouded herself like a nun sick of the world.

"I like good strong words that mean something," replied Jo, catching
her hat as it took a leap off her head preparatory to flying away
altogether.

"Call yourself any names you like, but I am neither a rascal nor a
wretch and I don't choose to be called so."

"You're a blighted being, and decidedly cross today because you can't
sit in the lap of luxury all the time.  Poor dear, just wait till I
make my fortune, and you shall revel in carriages and ice cream and
high-heeled slippers, and posies, and red-headed boys to dance with."

"How ridiculous you are, Jo!"  But Meg laughed at the nonsense and felt
better in spite of herself.

"Lucky for you I am, for if I put on crushed airs and tried to be
dismal, as you do, we should be in a nice state. Thank goodness, I can
always find something funny to keep me up.  Don't croak any more, but
come home jolly, there's a dear."

Jo gave her sister an encouraging pat on the shoulder as they parted
for the day, each going a different way, each hugging her little warm
turnover, and each trying to be cheerful in spite of wintry weather,
hard work, and the unsatisfied desires of pleasure-loving youth.

When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate
friend, the two oldest girls begged to be allowed to do something
toward their own support, at least.  Believing that they could not
begin too early to cultivate energy, industry, and independence, their
parents consented, and both fell to work with the hearty good will
which in spite of all obstacles is sure to succeed at last.

Margaret found a place as nursery governess and felt rich with her
small salary.  As she said, she was 'fond of luxury', and her chief
trouble was poverty.  She found it harder to bear than the others
because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of
ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown.  She tried not to be
envious or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl
should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments, and a
happy life.  At the Kings' she daily saw all she wanted, for the
children's older sisters were just out, and Meg caught frequent
glimpses of dainty ball dresses and bouquets, heard lively gossip about
theaters, concerts, sleighing parties, and merrymakings of all kinds,
and saw money lavished on trifles which would have been so precious to
her.  Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her
feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to
know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy.

Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and needed an active
person to wait upon her.  The childless old lady had offered to adopt
one of the girls when the troubles came, and was much offended because
her offer was declined.  Other friends told the Marches that they had
lost all chance of being remembered in the rich old lady's will, but
the unworldly Marches only said...

"We can't give up our girls for a dozen fortunes.  Rich or poor, we
will keep together and be happy in one another."

The old lady wouldn't speak to them for a time, but happening to meet
Jo at a friend's, something in her comical face and blunt manners
struck the old lady's fancy, and she proposed to take her for a
companion.  This did not suit Jo at all, but she accepted the place
since nothing better appeared and, to every one's surprise, got on
remarkably well with her irascible relative.  There was an occasional
tempest, and once Jo marched home, declaring she couldn't bear it
longer, but Aunt March always cleared up quickly, and sent for her to
come back again with such urgency that she could not refuse, for in her
heart she rather liked the peppery old lady.

I suspect that the real attraction was a large library of fine books,
which was left to dust and spiders since Uncle March died.  Jo
remembered the kind old gentleman, who used to let her build railroads
and bridges with his big dictionaries, tell her stories about queer
pictures in his Latin books, and buy her cards of gingerbread whenever
he met her in the street.  The dim, dusty room, with the busts staring
down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, the globes, and best of
all, the wilderness of books in which she could wander where she liked,
made the library a region of bliss to her.

The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy with company, Jo
hurried to this quiet place, and curling herself up in the easy chair,
devoured poetry, romance, history, travels, and pictures like a regular
bookworm.  But, like all happiness, it did not last long, for as sure
as she had just reached the heart of the story, the sweetest verse of a
song, or the most perilous adventure of her traveler, a shrill voice
called, "Josy-phine! Josy-phine!" and she had to leave her paradise to
wind yarn, wash the poodle, or read Belsham's Essays by the hour
together.

Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid.  What it was, she had
no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell her, and meanwhile, found
her greatest affliction in the fact that she couldn't read, run, and
ride as much as she liked.  A quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless
spirit were always getting her into scrapes, and her life was a series
of ups and downs, which were both comic and pathetic. But the training
she received at Aunt March's was just what she needed, and the thought
that she was doing something to support herself made her happy in spite
of the perpetual "Josy-phine!"

Beth was too bashful to go to school.  It had been tried, but she
suffered so much that it was given up, and she did her lessons at home
with her father.  Even when he went away, and her mother was called to
devote her skill and energy to Soldiers' Aid Societies, Beth went
faithfully on by herself and did the best she could.  She was a
housewifely little creature, and helped Hannah keep home neat and
comfortable for the workers, never thinking of any reward but to be
loved.  Long, quiet days she spent, not lonely nor idle, for her little
world was peopled with imaginary friends, and she was by nature a busy
bee.  There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning,
for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever.  Not one
whole or handsome one among them, all were outcasts till Beth took them
in, for when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her
because Amy would have nothing old or ugly. Beth cherished them all the
more tenderly for that very reason, and set up a hospital for infirm
dolls.  No pins were ever stuck into their cotton vitals, no harsh
words or blows were ever given them, no neglect ever saddened the heart
of the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed, nursed and
caressed with an affection which never failed. One forlorn fragment of
dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a tempestuous life, was
left a wreck in the rag bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued
by Beth and taken to her refuge.  Having no top to its head, she tied
on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid
these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting her best bed
to this chronic invalid.  If anyone had known the care lavished on that
dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts, even while they
laughed. She brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took it out
to breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sang it lullabies and
never went to bed without kissing its dirty face and whispering
tenderly, "I hope you'll have a good night, my poor dear."

Beth had her troubles as well as the others, and not being an angel but
a very human little girl, she often 'wept a little weep' as Jo said,
because she couldn't take music lessons and have a fine piano.  She
loved music so dearly, tried so hard to learn, and practiced away so
patiently at the jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if
someone (not to hint Aunt March) ought to help her.  Nobody did,
however, and nobody saw Beth wipe the tears off the yellow keys, that
wouldn't keep in tune, when she was all alone. She sang like a little
lark about her work, never was too tired for Marmee and the girls, and
day after day said hopefully to herself, "I know I'll get my music some
time, if I'm good."

There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners
till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the
sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and
the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow
behind.

If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her life was, she
would have answered at once, "My nose."  When she was a baby, Jo had
accidently dropped her into the coal hod, and Amy insisted that the
fall had ruined her nose forever.  It was not big nor red, like poor
'Petrea's', it was only rather flat, and all the pinching in the world
could not give it an aristocratic point.  No one minded it but herself,
and it was doing its best to grow, but Amy felt deeply the want of a
Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to console herself.

"Little Raphael," as her sisters called her, had a decided talent for
drawing, and was never so happy as when copying flowers, designing
fairies, or illustrating stories with queer specimens of art.  Her
teachers complained that instead of doing her sums she covered her
slate with animals, the blank pages of her atlas were used to copy maps
on, and caricatures of the most ludicrous description came fluttering
out of all her books at unlucky moments.  She got through her lessons
as well as she could, and managed to escape reprimands by being a model
of deportment.  She was a great favorite with her mates, being
good-tempered and possessing the happy art of pleasing without effort.
Her little airs and graces were much admired, so were her
accomplishments, for besides her drawing, she could play twelve tunes,
crochet, and read French without mispronouncing more than two-thirds of
the words.  She had a plaintive way of saying, "When Papa was rich we
did so-and-so," which was very touching, and her long words were
considered 'perfectly elegant' by the girls.

Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone petted her, and her
small vanities and selfishnesses were growing nicely. One thing,
however, rather quenched the vanities.  She had to wear her cousin's
clothes.  Now Florence's mama hadn't a particle of taste, and Amy
suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of a blue bonnet,
unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not fit.  Everything was
good, well made, and little worn, but Amy's artistic eyes were much
afflicted, especially this winter, when her school dress was a dull
purple with yellow dots and no trimming.

"My only comfort," she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes, "is that
Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria
Parks's mother does.  My dear, it's really dreadful, for sometimes she
is so bad her frock is up to her knees, and she can't come to school.
When I think of this deggerredation, I feegorcer I can bear even my
flat nose and purple gown with yellow skyrockets on it."

Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange attraction of
opposites Jo was gentle Beth's.  To Jo alone did the shy child tell her
thoughts, and over her big harum-scarum sister Beth unconsciously
exercised more influence than anyone in the family.  The two older
girls were a great deal to one another, but each took one of the
younger sisters into her keeping and watched over her in her own way,
'playing mother' they called it, and put their sisters in the places of
discarded dolls with the maternal instinct of little women.

"Has anybody got anything to tell?  It's been such a dismal day I'm
really dying for some amusement," said Meg, as they sat sewing together
that evening.

"I had a queer time with Aunt today, and, as I got the best of it, I'll
tell you about it," began Jo, who dearly loved to tell stories.  "I was
reading that everlasting Belsham, and droning away as I always do, for
Aunt soon drops off, and then I take out some nice book, and read like
fury till she wakes up.  I actually made myself sleepy, and before she
began to nod, I gave such a gape that she asked me what I meant by
opening my mouth wide enough to take the whole book in at once."

"I wish I could, and be done with it," said I, trying not to be saucy.

"Then she gave me a long lecture on my sins, and told me to sit and
think them over while she just 'lost' herself for a moment. She never
finds herself very soon, so the minute her cap began to bob like a
top-heavy dahlia, I whipped the _Vicar of Wakefield_ out of my pocket,
and read away, with one eye on him and one on Aunt. I'd just got to
where they all tumbled into the water when I forgot and laughed out
loud.  Aunt woke up and, being more good-natured after her nap, told me
to read a bit and show what frivolous work I preferred to the worthy
and instructive Belsham. I did my very best, and she liked it, though
she only said...

"'I don't understand what it's all about.  Go back and begin it,
child.'"

"Back I went, and made the Primroses as interesting as ever I could.
Once I was wicked enough to stop in a thrilling place, and say meekly,
'I'm afraid it tires you, ma'am.  Shan't I stop now?'"

"She caught up her knitting, which had dropped out of her hands, gave
me a sharp look through her specs, and said, in her short way, 'Finish
the chapter, and don't be impertinent, miss'."

"Did she own she liked it?" asked Meg.

"Oh, bless you, no!  But she let old Belsham rest, and when I ran back
after my gloves this afternoon, there she was, so hard at the Vicar
that she didn't hear me laugh as I danced a jig in the hall because of
the good time coming.  What a pleasant life she might have if only she
chose!  I don't envy her much, in spite of her money, for after all
rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, I think," added Jo.

"That reminds me," said Meg, "that I've got something to tell. It isn't
funny, like Jo's story, but I thought about it a good deal as I came
home.  At the Kings' today I found everybody in a flurry, and one of
the children said that her oldest brother had done something dreadful,
and Papa had sent him away.  I heard Mrs. King crying and Mr. King
talking very loud, and Grace and Ellen turned away their faces when
they passed me, so I shouldn't see how red and swollen their eyes were.
I didn't ask any questions, of course, but I felt so sorry for them and
was rather glad I hadn't any wild brothers to do wicked things and
disgrace the family."

"I think being disgraced in school is a great deal tryinger than
anything bad boys can do," said Amy, shaking her head, as if her
experience of life had been a deep one.  "Susie Perkins came to school
today with a lovely red carnelian ring.  I wanted it dreadfully, and
wished I was her with all my might.  Well, she drew a picture of Mr.
Davis, with a monstrous nose and a hump, and the words, 'Young ladies,
my eye is upon you!' coming out of his mouth in a balloon thing.  We
were laughing over it when all of a sudden his eye was on us, and he
ordered Susie to bring up her slate.  She was parrylized with fright,
but she went, and oh, what do you think he did?  He took her by the
ear--the ear!  Just fancy how horrid!--and led her to the recitation
platform, and made her stand there half an hour, holding the slate so
everyone could see."

"Didn't the girls laugh at the picture?" asked Jo, who relished the
scrape.

"Laugh? Not one! They sat still as mice, and Susie cried quarts, I know
she did.  I didn't envy her then, for I felt that millions of carnelian
rings wouldn't have made me happy after that. I never, never should
have got over such a agonizing mortification." And Amy went on with her
work, in the proud consciousness of virtue and the successful utterance
of two long words in a breath.

"I saw something I liked this morning, and I meant to tell it at
dinner, but I forgot," said Beth, putting Jo's topsy-turvy basket in
order as she talked.  "When I went to get some oysters for Hannah, Mr.
Laurence was in the fish shop, but he didn't see me, for I kept behind
the fish barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter the fishman. A poor
woman came in with a pail and a mop, and asked Mr. Cutter if he would
let her do some scrubbing for a bit of fish, because she hadn't any
dinner for her children, and had been disappointed of a day's work.
Mr. Cutter was in a hurry and said 'No', rather crossly, so she was
going away, looking hungry and sorry, when Mr. Laurence hooked up a big
fish with the crooked end of his cane and held it out to her.  She was
so glad and surprised she took it right into her arms, and thanked him
over and over.  He told her to 'go along and cook it', and she hurried
off, so happy!  Wasn't it good of him?  Oh, she did look so funny,
hugging the big, slippery fish, and hoping Mr. Laurence's bed in heaven
would be 'aisy'."

When they had laughed at Beth's story, they asked their mother for one,
and after a moments thought, she said soberly, "As I sat cutting out
blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt very anxious about
Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we should be, if anything
happened to him.  It was not a wise thing to do, but I kept on worrying
till an old man came in with an order for some clothes.  He sat down
near me, and I began to talk to him, for he looked poor and tired and
anxious.

"'Have you sons in the army?' I asked, for the note he brought was not
to me."

"Yes, ma'am.  I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner, and
I'm going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.' he
answered quietly."

"'You have done a great deal for your country, sir,' I said, feeling
respect now, instead of pity."

"'Not a mite more than I ought, ma'am.  I'd go myself, if I was any
use.  As I ain't, I give my boys, and give 'em free.'"

"He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so glad to give
his all, that I was ashamed of myself.  I'd given one man and thought
it too much, while he gave four without grudging them.  I had all my
girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting, miles away,
to say good-by to him, perhaps!  I felt so rich, so happy thinking of
my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave him some money, and
thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me."

"Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this. I like
to think about them afterward, if they are real and not too preachy,"
said Jo, after a minute's silence.

Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told stories to this
little audience for many years, and knew how to please them.

"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and
drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and
parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented." (Here
the listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to sew
diligently.) "These girls were anxious to be good and made many
excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them very well, and were
constantly saying, 'If only we had this,' or 'If we could only do
that,' quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many things
they actually could do.  So they asked an old woman what spell they
could use to make them happy, and she said, 'When you feel
discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.'" (Here Jo
looked up quickly, as if about to speak, but changed her mind, seeing
that the story was not done yet.)

"Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soon were
surprised to see how well off they were.  One discovered that money
couldn't keep shame and sorrow out of rich people's houses, another
that, though she was poor, she was a great deal happier, with her
youth, health, and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feeble old
lady who couldn't enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeable as it
was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging for it and
the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so valuable as good
behavior.  So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy the blessings
already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest they should be taken
away entirely, instead of increased, and I believe they were never
disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman's advice."

"Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our own stories
against us, and give us a sermon instead of a romance!" cried Meg.

"I like that kind of sermon.  It's the sort Father used to tell us,"
said Beth thoughtfully, putting the needles straight on Jo's cushion.

"I don't complain near as much as the others do, and I shall be more
careful than ever now, for I've had warning from Susie's downfall,"
said Amy morally.

"We needed that lesson, and we won't forget it.  If we do so, you just
say to us, as old Chloe did in _Uncle Tom_, 'Tink ob yer marcies,
chillen!' 'Tink ob yer marcies!'" added Jo, who could not, for the life
of her, help getting a morsel of fun out of the little sermon, though
she took it to heart as much as any of them.



CHAPTER FIVE

BEING NEIGHBORLY

"What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?" asked Meg one snowy
afternoon, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber
boots, old sack, and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the
other.

"Going out for exercise," answered Jo with a mischievous twinkle in her
eyes.

"I should think two long walks this morning would have been enough!
It's cold and dull out, and I advise you to stay warm and dry by the
fire, as I do," said Meg with a shiver.

"Never take advice!  Can't keep still all day, and not being a
pussycat, I don't like to doze by the fire.  I like adventures, and I'm
going to find some."

Meg went back to toast her feet and read _Ivanhoe_, and Jo began to dig
paths with great energy.  The snow was light, and with her broom she
soon swept a path all round the garden, for Beth to walk in when the
sun came out and the invalid dolls needed air.  Now, the garden
separated the Marches' house from that of Mr. Laurence.  Both stood in
a suburb of the city, which was still countrylike, with groves and
lawns, large gardens, and quiet streets.  A low hedge parted the two
estates.  On one side was an old, brown house, looking rather bare and
shabby, robbed of the vines that in summer covered its walls and the
flowers, which then surrounded it.  On the other side was a stately
stone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury,
from the big coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and
the glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains.

Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house, for no children
frolicked on the lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows, and
few people went in and out, except the old gentleman and his grandson.

To Jo's lively fancy, this fine house seemed a kind of enchanted
palace, full of splendors and delights which no one enjoyed.  She had
long wanted to behold these hidden glories, and to know the Laurence
boy, who looked as if he would like to be known, if he only knew how to
begin.  Since the party, she had been more eager than ever, and had
planned many ways of making friends with him, but he had not been seen
lately, and Jo began to think he had gone away, when she one day spied
a brown face at an upper window, looking wistfully down into their
garden, where Beth and Amy were snow-balling one another.

"That boy is suffering for society and fun," she said to herself. "His
grandpa does not know what's good for him, and keeps him shut up all
alone.  He needs a party of jolly boys to play with, or somebody young
and lively.  I've a great mind to go over and tell the old gentleman
so!"

The idea amused Jo, who liked to do daring things and was always
scandalizing Meg by her queer performances.  The plan of 'going over'
was not forgotten.  And when the snowy afternoon came, Jo resolved to
try what could be done.  She saw Mr. Lawrence drive off, and then
sallied out to dig her way down to the hedge, where she paused and took
a survey.  All quiet, curtains down at the lower windows, servants out
of sight, and nothing human visible but a curly black head leaning on a
thin hand at the upper window.

"There he is," thought Jo, "Poor boy!  All alone and sick this dismal
day.  It's a shame!  I'll toss up a snowball and make him look out, and
then say a kind word to him."

Up went a handful of soft snow, and the head turned at once, showing a
face which lost its listless look in a minute, as the big eyes
brightened and the mouth began to smile.  Jo nodded and laughed, and
flourished her broom as she called out...

"How do you do?  Are you sick?"

Laurie opened the window, and croaked out as hoarsely as a raven...

"Better, thank you.  I've had a bad cold, and been shut up a week."

"I'm sorry.  What do you amuse yourself with?"

"Nothing.  It's dull as tombs up here."

"Don't you read?"

"Not much.  They won't let me."

"Can't somebody read to you?"

"Grandpa does sometimes, but my books don't interest him, and I hate to
ask Brooke all the time."

"Have someone come and see you then."

"There isn't anyone I'd like to see.  Boys make such a row, and my head
is weak."

"Isn't there some nice girl who'd read and amuse you?  Girls are quiet
and like to play nurse."

"Don't know any."

"You know us," began Jo, then laughed and stopped.

"So I do!  Will you come, please?" cried Laurie.

"I'm not quiet and nice, but I'll come, if Mother will let me. I'll go
ask her.  Shut the window, like a good boy, and wait till I come."

With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house,
wondering what they would all say to her.  Laurie was in a flutter of
excitement at the idea of having company, and flew about to get ready,
for as Mrs. March said, he was 'a little gentleman', and did honor to
the coming guest by brushing his curly pate, putting on a fresh color,
and trying to tidy up the room, which in spite of half a dozen
servants, was anything but neat.  Presently there came a loud ring,
than a decided voice, asking for 'Mr. Laurie', and a surprised-looking
servant came running up to announce a young lady.

"All right, show her up, it's Miss Jo," said Laurie, going to the door
of his little parlor to meet Jo, who appeared, looking rosy and quite
at her ease, with a covered dish in one hand and Beth's three kittens
in the other.

"Here I am, bag and baggage," she said briskly.  "Mother sent her love,
and was glad if I could do anything for you.  Meg wanted me to bring
some of her blanc mange, she makes it very nicely, and Beth thought her
cats would be comforting.  I knew you'd laugh at them, but I couldn't
refuse, she was so anxious to do something."

It so happened that Beth's funny loan was just the thing, for in
laughing over the kits, Laurie forgot his bashfulness, and grew
sociable at once.

"That looks too pretty to eat," he said, smiling with pleasure, as Jo
uncovered the dish, and showed the blanc mange, surrounded by a garland
of green leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amy's pet geranium.

"It isn't anything, only they all felt kindly and wanted to show it.
Tell the girl to put it away for your tea.  It's so simple you can eat
it, and being soft, it will slip down without hurting your sore throat.
What a cozy room this is!"

"It might be if it was kept nice, but the maids are lazy, and I don't
know how to make them mind.  It worries me though."

"I'll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the hearth
brushed, so--and the things made straight on the mantelpiece, so--and
the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from
the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit.  Now then, you're fixed."

And so he was, for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things
into place and given quite a different air to the room.  Laurie watched
her in respectful silence, and when she beckoned him to his sofa, he
sat down with a sigh of satisfaction, saying gratefully...

"How kind you are!  Yes, that's what it wanted.  Now please take the
big chair and let me do something to amuse my company."

"No, I came to amuse you.  Shall I read aloud?" and Jo looked
affectionately toward some inviting books near by.

"Thank you!  I've read all those, and if you don't mind, I'd rather
talk," answered Laurie.

"Not a bit.  I'll talk all day if you'll only set me going. Beth says I
never know when to stop."

"Is Beth the rosy one, who stays at home good deal and sometimes goes
out with a little basket?" asked Laurie with interest.

"Yes, that's Beth.  She's my girl, and a regular good one she is, too."

"The pretty one is Meg, and the curly-haired one is Amy, I believe?"

"How did you find that out?"

Laurie colored up, but answered frankly, "Why, you see I often hear you
calling to one another, and when I'm alone up here, I can't help
looking over at your house, you always seem to be having such good
times.  I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes you forget
to put down the curtain at the window where the flowers are. And when
the lamps are lighted, it's like looking at a picture to see the fire,
and you all around the table with your mother.  Her face is right
opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers, I can't help
watching it.  I haven't got any mother, you know." And Laurie poked the
fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could not control.

The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo's warm heart.
She had been so simply taught that there was no nonsense in her head,
and at fifteen she was as innocent and frank as any child.  Laurie was
sick and lonely, and feeling how rich she was in home and happiness,
she gladly tried to share it with him. Her face was very friendly and
her sharp voice unusually gentle as she said...

"We'll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leave to look
as much as you like.  I just wish, though, instead of peeping, you'd
come over and see us.  Mother is so splendid, she'd do you heaps of
good, and Beth would sing to you if I begged her to, and Amy would
dance.  Meg and I would make you laugh over our funny stage properties,
and we'd have jolly times.  Wouldn't your grandpa let you?"

"I think he would, if your mother asked him.  He's very kind, though he
does not look so, and he lets me do what I like, pretty much, only he's
afraid I might be a bother to strangers," began Laurie, brightening
more and more.

"We are not strangers, we are neighbors, and you needn't think you'd be
a bother.  We want to know you, and I've been trying to do it this ever
so long.  We haven't been here a great while, you know, but we have got
acquainted with all our neighbors but you."

"You see, Grandpa lives among his books, and doesn't mind much what
happens outside.  Mr. Brooke, my tutor, doesn't stay here, you know,
and I have no one to go about with me, so I just stop at home and get
on as I can."

"That's bad.  You ought to make an effort and go visiting everywhere
you are asked, then you'll have plenty of friends, and pleasant places
to go to.  Never mind being bashful.  It won't last long if you keep
going."

Laurie turned red again, but wasn't offended at being accused of
bashfulness, for there was so much good will in Jo it was impossible
not to take her blunt speeches as kindly as they were meant.

"Do you like your school?" asked the boy, changing the subject, after a
little pause, during which he stared at the fire and Jo looked about
her, well pleased.

"Don't go to school, I'm a businessman--girl, I mean.  I go to wait on
my great-aunt, and a dear, cross old soul she is, too," answered Jo.

Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question, but remembering just
in time that it wasn't manners to make too many inquiries into people's
affairs, he shut it again, and looked uncomfortable.

Jo liked his good breeding, and didn't mind having a laugh at Aunt
March, so she gave him a lively description of the fidgety old lady,
her fat poodle, the parrot that talked Spanish, and the library where
she reveled.

Laurie enjoyed that immensely, and when she told about the prim old
gentleman who came once to woo Aunt March, and in the middle of a fine
speech, how Poll had tweaked his wig off to his great dismay, the boy
lay back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and a maid
popped her head in to see what was the matter.

"Oh!  That does me no end of good.  Tell on, please," he said, taking
his face out of the sofa cushion, red and shining with merriment.

Much elated with her success, Jo did 'tell on', all about their plays
and plans, their hopes and fears for Father, and the most interesting
events of the little world in which the sisters lived.  Then they got
to talking about books, and to Jo's delight, she found that Laurie
loved them as well as she did, and had read even more than herself.

"If you like them so much, come down and see ours.  Grandfather is out,
so you needn't be afraid," said Laurie, getting up.

"I'm not afraid of anything," returned Jo, with a toss of the head.

"I don't believe you are!" exclaimed the boy, looking at her with much
admiration, though he privately thought she would have good reason to
be a trifle afraid of the old gentleman, if she met him in some of his
moods.

The atmosphere of the whole house being summerlike, Laurie led the way
from room to room, letting Jo stop to examine whatever struck her
fancy.  And so, at last they came to the library, where she clapped her
hands and pranced, as she always did when especially delighted.  It was
lined with books, and there were pictures and statues, and distracting
little cabinets full of coins and curiosities, and Sleepy Hollow
chairs, and queer tables, and bronzes, and best of all, a great open
fireplace with quaint tiles all round it.

"What richness!" sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velour chair
and gazing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. "Theodore
Laurence, you ought to be the happiest boy in the world," she added
impressively.

"A fellow can't live on books," said Laurie, shaking his head as he
perched on a table opposite.

Before he could more, a bell rang, and Jo flew up, exclaiming with
alarm, "Mercy me!  It's your grandpa!"

"Well, what if it is?  You are not afraid of anything, you know,"
returned the boy, looking wicked.

"I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I don't know why I should
be.  Marmee said I might come, and I don't think you're any the worse
for it," said Jo, composing herself, though she kept her eyes on the
door.

"I'm a great deal better for it, and ever so much obliged. I'm only
afraid you are very tired of talking to me.  It was so pleasant, I
couldn't bear to stop," said Laurie gratefully.

"The doctor to see you, sir," and the maid beckoned as she spoke.

"Would you mind if I left you for a minute?  I suppose I must see him,"
said Laurie.

"Don't mind me.  I'm happy as a cricket here," answered Jo.

Laurie went away, and his guest amused herself in her own way. She was
standing before a fine portrait of the old gentleman when the door
opened again, and without turning, she said decidedly, "I'm sure now
that I shouldn't be afraid of him, for he's got kind eyes, though his
mouth is grim, and he looks as if he had a tremendous will of his own.
He isn't as handsome as my grandfather, but I like him."

"Thank you, ma'am," said a gruff voice behind her, and there, to her
great dismay, stood old Mr. Laurence.

Poor Jo blushed till she couldn't blush any redder, and her heart began
to beat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she had said.  For a
minute a wild desire to run away possessed her, but that was cowardly,
and the girls would laugh at her, so she resolved to stay and get out
of the scrape as she could.  A second look showed her that the living
eyes, under the bushy eyebrows, were kinder even than the painted ones,
and there was a sly twinkle in them, which lessened her fear a good
deal.  The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as the old gentleman said
abruptly, after the dreadful pause, "So you're not afraid of me, hey?"

"Not much, sir."

"And you don't think me as handsome as your grandfather?"

"Not quite, sir."

"And I've got a tremendous will, have I?"

"I only said I thought so."

"But you like me in spite of it?"

"Yes, I do, sir."

That answer pleased the old gentleman.  He gave a short laugh, shook
hands with her, and, putting his finger under her chin, turned up her
face, examined it gravely, and let it go, saying with a nod, "You've
got your grandfather's spirit, if you haven't his face.  He was a fine
man, my dear, but what is better, he was a brave and an honest one, and
I was proud to be his friend."

"Thank you, sir," And Jo was quite comfortable after that, for it
suited her exactly.

"What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?" was the next
question, sharply put.

"Only trying to be neighborly, sir."  And Jo told how her visit came
about.

"You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?"

"Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him good
perhaps.  We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could,
for we don't forget the splendid Christmas present you sent us," said
Jo eagerly.

"Tut, tut, tut!  That was the boy's affair.  How is the poor woman?"

"Doing nicely, sir."  And off went Jo, talking very fast, as she told
all about the Hummels, in whom her mother had interested richer friends
than they were.

"Just her father's way of doing good.  I shall come and see your mother
some fine day.  Tell her so.  There's the tea bell, we have it early on
the boy's account.  Come down and go on being neighborly."

"If you'd like to have me, sir."

"Shouldn't ask you, if I didn't."  And Mr. Laurence offered her his arm
with old-fashioned courtesy.

"What would Meg say to this?" thought Jo, as she was marched away,
while her eyes danced with fun as she imagined herself telling the
story at home.

"Hey!  Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow?" said the old
gentleman, as Laurie came running downstairs and brought up with a
start of surprise at the astounding sight of Jo arm in arm with his
redoubtable grandfather.

"I didn't know you'd come, sir," he began, as Jo gave him a triumphant
little glance.

"That's evident, by the way you racket downstairs.  Come to your tea,
sir, and behave like a gentleman."  And having pulled the boy's hair by
way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, while Laurie went through a
series of comic evolutions behind their backs, which nearly produced an
explosion of laughter from Jo.

The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his four cups of tea,
but he watched the young people, who soon chatted away like old
friends, and the change in his grandson did not escape him.  There was
color, light, and life in the boy's face now, vivacity in his manner,
and genuine merriment in his laugh.

"She's right, the lad is lonely.  I'll see what these little girls can
do for him," thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked and listened.  He liked
Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, and she seemed to understand
the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself.

If the Laurences had been what Jo called 'prim and poky', she would not
have got on at all, for such people always made her shy and awkward.
But finding them free and easy, she was so herself, and made a good
impression.  When they rose she proposed to go, but Laurie said he had
something more to show her, and took her away to the conservatory,
which had been lighted for her benefit.  It seemed quite fairylike to
Jo, as she went up and down the walks, enjoying the blooming walls on
either side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and the wonderful
vines and trees that hung about her, while her new friend cut the
finest flowers till his hands were full.  Then he tied them up, saying,
with the happy look Jo liked to see, "Please give these to your mother,
and tell her I like the medicine she sent me very much."

They found Mr. Laurence standing before the fire in the great drawing
room, but Jo's attention was entirely absorbed by a grand piano, which
stood open.

"Do you play?" she asked, turning to Laurie with a respectful
expression.

"Sometimes," he answered modestly.

"Please do now.  I want to hear it, so I can tell Beth."

"Won't you first?"

"Don't know how.  Too stupid to learn, but I love music dearly."

So Laurie played and Jo listened, with her nose luxuriously buried in
heliotrope and tea roses.  Her respect and regard for the 'Laurence'
boy increased very much, for he played remarkably well and didn't put
on any airs.  She wished Beth could hear him, but she did not say so,
only praised him till he was quite abashed, and his grandfather came to
his rescue.

"That will do, that will do, young lady.  Too many sugarplums are not
good for him.  His music isn't bad, but I hope he will do as well in
more important things.  Going?  well, I'm much obliged to you, and I
hope you'll come again.  My respects to your mother. Good night, Doctor
Jo."

He shook hands kindly, but looked as if something did not please him.
When they got into the hall, Jo asked Laurie if she had said something
amiss.  He shook his head.

"No, it was me.  He doesn't like to hear me play."

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you some day.  John is going home with you, as I can't."

"No need of that.  I am not a young lady, and it's only a step.  Take
care of yourself, won't you?"

"Yes, but you will come again, I hope?"

"If you promise to come and see us after you are well."

"I will."

"Good night, Laurie!"

"Good night, Jo, good night!"

When all the afternoon's adventures had been told, the family felt
inclined to go visiting in a body, for each found something very
attractive in the big house on the other side of the hedge. Mrs. March
wanted to talk of her father with the old man who had not forgotten
him, Meg longed to walk in the conservatory, Beth sighed for the grand
piano, and Amy was eager to see the fine pictures and statues.

"Mother, why didn't Mr. Laurence like to have Laurie play?" asked Jo,
who was of an inquiring disposition.

"I am not sure, but I think it was because his son, Laurie's father,
married an Italian lady, a musician, which displeased the old man, who
is very proud.  The lady was good and lovely and accomplished, but he
did not like her, and never saw his son after he married.  They both
died when Laurie was a little child, and then his grandfather took him
home.  I fancy the boy, who was born in Italy, is not very strong, and
the old man is afraid of losing him, which makes him so careful.
Laurie comes naturally by his love of music, for he is like his mother,
and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician.
At any rate, his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like, and so
he 'glowered' as Jo said."

"Dear me, how romantic!" exclaimed Meg.

"How silly!" said Jo.  "Let him be a musician if he wants to, and not
plague his life out sending him to college, when he hates to go."

"That's why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners, I
suppose.  Italians are always nice," said Meg, who was a little
sentimental.

"What do you know about his eyes and his manners?  You never spoke to
him, hardly," cried Jo, who was not sentimental.

"I saw him at the party, and what you tell shows that he knows how to
behave.  That was a nice little speech about the medicine Mother sent
him."

"He meant the blanc mange, I suppose."

"How stupid you are, child!  He meant you, of course."

"Did he?" And Jo opened her eyes as if it had never occurred to her
before.

"I never saw such a girl!  You don't know a compliment when you get
it," said Meg, with the air of a young lady who knew all about the
matter.

"I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly
and spoil my fun.  Laurie's a nice boy and I like him, and I won't have
any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish.  We'll all be
good to him because he hasn't got any mother, and he may come over and
see us, mayn't he, Marmee?"

"Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Meg will
remember that children should be children as long as they can."

"I don't call myself a child, and I'm not in my teens yet," observed
Amy.  "What do you say, Beth?"

"I was thinking about our '_Pilgrim's Progress_'," answered Beth, who
had not heard a word.  "How we got out of the Slough and through the
Wicket Gate by resolving to be good, and up the steep hill by trying,
and that maybe the house over there, full of splendid things, is going
to be our Palace Beautiful."

"We have got to get by the lions first," said Jo, as if she rather
liked the prospect.



CHAPTER SIX

BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL

The big house did prove a Palace Beautiful, though it took some time
for all to get in, and Beth found it very hard to pass the lions.  Old
Mr. Laurence was the biggest one, but after he had called, said
something funny or kind to each one of the girls, and talked over old
times with their mother, nobody felt much afraid of him, except timid
Beth.  The other lion was the fact that they were poor and Laurie rich,
for this made them shy of accepting favors which they could not return.
But, after a while, they found that he considered them the benefactors,
and could not do enough to show how grateful he was for Mrs. March's
motherly welcome, their cheerful society, and the comfort he took in
that humble home of theirs.  So they soon forgot their pride and
interchanged kindnesses without stopping to think which was the greater.

All sorts of pleasant things happened about that time, for the new
friendship flourished like grass in spring.  Every one liked Laurie,
and he privately informed his tutor that "the Marches were regularly
splendid girls."  With the delightful enthusiasm of youth, they took
the solitary boy into their midst and made much of him, and he found
something very charming in the innocent companionship of these
simple-hearted girls.  Never having known mother or sisters, he was
quick to feel the influences they brought about him, and their busy,
lively ways made him ashamed of the indolent life he led. He was tired
of books, and found people so interesting now that Mr. Brooke was
obliged to make very unsatisfactory reports, for Laurie was always
playing truant and running over to the Marches'.

"Never mind, let him take a holiday, and make it up afterward," said
the old gentleman.  "The good lady next door says he is studying too
hard and needs young society, amusement, and exercise.  I suspect she
is right, and that I've been coddling the fellow as if I'd been his
grandmother.  Let him do what he likes, as long as he is happy. He
can't get into mischief in that little nunnery over there, and Mrs.
March is doing more for him than we can."

What good times they had, to be sure.  Such plays and tableaux, such
sleigh rides and skating frolics, such pleasant evenings in the old
parlor, and now and then such gay little parties at the great house.
Meg could walk in the conservatory whenever she liked and revel in
bouquets, Jo browsed over the new library voraciously, and convulsed
the old gentleman with her criticisms, Amy copied pictures and enjoyed
beauty to her heart's content, and Laurie played 'lord of the manor' in
the most delightful style.

But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up
courage to go to the 'Mansion of Bliss', as Meg called it.  She went
once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity,
stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said "Hey!" so
loud, that he frightened her so much her 'feet chattered on the floor',
she never told her mother, and she ran away, declaring she would never
go there any more, not even for the dear piano.  No persuasions or
enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr.
Laurence's ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters.
During one of the brief calls he made, he artfully led the conversation
to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine
organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found
it impossible to stay in her distant corner, but crept nearer and
nearer, as if fascinated.  At the back of his chair she stopped and
stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks red with
excitement of this unusual performance.  Taking no more notice of her
than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked on about Laurie's
lessons and teachers.  And presently, as if the idea had just occurred
to him, he said to Mrs. March...

"The boy neglects his music now, and I'm glad of it, for he was getting
too fond of it.  But the piano suffers for want of use.  Wouldn't some
of your girls like to run over, and practice on it now and then, just
to keep it in tune, you know, ma'am?"

Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightly together to
keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and
the thought of practicing on that splendid instrument quite took her
breath away.  Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with
an odd little nod and smile...

"They needn't see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time. For I'm
shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie is out a
great deal, and the servants are never near the drawing room after nine
o'clock."

Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that
last arrangement left nothing to be desired.  "Please, tell the young
ladies what I say, and if they don't care to come, why, never mind."
Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a
face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way...

"Oh sir, they do care, very very much!"

"Are you the musical girl?" he asked, without any startling "Hey!" as
he looked down at her very kindly.

"I'm Beth.  I love it dearly, and I'll come, if you are quite sure
nobody will hear me, and be disturbed," she added, fearing to be rude,
and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.

"Not a soul, my dear.  The house is empty half the day, so come and
drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you."

"How kind you are, sir!"

Beth blushed like a rose under the friendly look he wore, but she was
not frightened now, and gave the hand a grateful squeeze because she
had no words to thank him for the precious gift he had given her. The
old gentleman softly stroked the hair off her forehead, and, stooping
down, he kissed her, saying, in a tone few people ever heard...

"I had a little girl once, with eyes like these.  God bless you, my
dear!  Good day, madam."  And away he went, in a great hurry.

Beth had a rapture with her mother, and then rushed up to impart the
glorious news to her family of invalids, as the girls were not home.
How blithely she sang that evening, and how they all laughed at her
because she woke Amy in the night by playing the piano on her face in
her sleep.  Next day, having seen both the old and young gentleman out
of the house, Beth, after two or three retreats, fairly got in at the
side door, and made her way as noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing
room where her idol stood.  Quite by accident, of course, some pretty,
easy music lay on the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent
stops to listen and look about, Beth at last touched the great
instrument, and straightway forgot her fear, herself, and everything
else but the unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was
like the voice of a beloved friend.

She stayed till Hannah came to take her home to dinner, but she had no
appetite, and could only sit and smile upon everyone in a general state
of beatitude.

After that, the little brown hood slipped through the hedge nearly
every day, and the great drawing room was haunted by a tuneful spirit
that came and went unseen.  She never knew that Mr. Laurence opened his
study door to hear the old-fashioned airs he liked.  She never saw
Laurie mount guard in the hall to warn the servants away. She never
suspected that the exercise books and new songs which she found in the
rack were put there for her especial benefit, and when he talked to her
about music at home, she only thought how kind he was to tell things
that helped her so much.  So she enjoyed herself heartily, and found,
what isn't always the case, that her granted wish was all she had
hoped.  Perhaps it was because she was so grateful for this blessing
that a greater was given her.  At any rate she deserved both.

"Mother, I'm going to work Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers.  He is so
kind to me, I must thank him, and I don't know any other way. Can I do
it?" asked Beth, a few weeks after that eventful call of his.

"Yes, dear.  It will please him very much, and be a nice way of
thanking him.  The girls will help you about them, and I will pay for
the making up," replied Mrs. March, who took peculiar pleasure in
granting Beth's requests because she so seldom asked anything for
herself.

After many serious discussions with Meg and Jo, the pattern was chosen,
the materials bought, and the slippers begun.  A cluster of grave yet
cheerful pansies on a deeper purple ground was pronounced very
appropriate and pretty, and Beth worked away early and late, with
occasional lifts over hard parts.  She was a nimble little needlewoman,
and they were finished before anyone got tired of them.  Then she wrote
a short, simple note, and with Laurie's help, got them smuggled onto
the study table one morning before the old gentleman was up.

When this excitement was over, Beth waited to see what would happen.
All day passed and a part of the next before any acknowledgement
arrived, and she was beginning to fear she had offended her crochety
friend.  On the afternoon of the second day, she went out to do an
errand, and give poor Joanna, the invalid doll, her daily exercise.  As
she came up the street, on her return, she saw three, yes, four heads
popping in and out of the parlor windows, and the moment they saw her,
several hands were waved, and several joyful voices screamed...

"Here's a letter from the old gentleman!  Come quick, and read it!"

"Oh, Beth, he's sent you..." began Amy, gesticulating with unseemly
energy, but she got no further, for Jo quenched her by slamming down
the window.

Beth hurried on in a flutter of suspense.  At the door her sisters
seized and bore her to the parlor in a triumphal procession, all
pointing and all saying at once, "Look there!  Look there!"  Beth did
look, and turned pale with delight and surprise, for there stood a
little cabinet piano, with a letter lying on the glossy lid, directed
like a sign board to "Miss Elizabeth March."

"For me?" gasped Beth, holding onto Jo and feeling as if she should
tumble down, it was such an overwhelming thing altogether.

"Yes, all for you, my precious!  Isn't it splendid of him?  Don't you
think he's the dearest old man in the world?  Here's the key in the
letter.  We didn't open it, but we are dying to know what he says,"
cried Jo, hugging her sister and offering the note.

"You read it!  I can't, I feel so queer!  Oh, it is too lovely!" and
Beth hid her face in Jo's apron, quite upset by her present.

Jo opened the paper and began to laugh, for the first words she saw
were...

"Miss March: "Dear Madam--"

"How nice it sounds!  I wish someone would write to me so!" said Amy,
who thought the old-fashioned address very elegant.

"'I have had many pairs of slippers in my life, but I never had any
that suited me so well as yours,'" continues Jo.  "'Heartsease is my
favorite flower, and these will always remind me of the gentle giver.
I like to pay my debts, so I know you will allow 'the old gentleman' to
send you something which once belonged to the little grand daughter he
lost.  With hearty thanks and best wishes, I remain "'Your grateful
friend and humble servant, 'JAMES LAURENCE'."

"There, Beth, that's an honor to be proud of, I'm sure! Laurie told me
how fond Mr. Laurence used to be of the child who died, and how he kept
all her little things carefully.  Just think, he's given you her piano.
That comes of having big blue eyes and loving music," said Jo, trying
to soothe Beth, who trembled and looked more excited than she had ever
been before.

"See the cunning brackets to hold candles, and the nice green silk,
puckered up, with a gold rose in the middle, and the pretty rack and
stool, all complete," added Meg, opening the instrument and displaying
its beauties.

"'Your humble servant, James Laurence'.  Only think of his writing that
to you.  I'll tell the girls.  They'll think it's splendid," said Amy,
much impressed by the note.

"Try it, honey.  Let's hear the sound of the baby pianny," said Hannah,
who always took a share in the family joys and sorrows.

So Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkable piano
ever heard.  It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple-pie
order, but, perfect as it was, I think the real charm lay in the
happiest of all happy faces which leaned over it, as Beth lovingly
touched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright
pedals.

"You'll have to go and thank him," said Jo, by way of a joke, for the
idea of the child's really going never entered her head.

"Yes, I mean to.  I guess I'll go now, before I get frightened thinking
about it." And, to the utter amazement of the assembled family, Beth
walked deliberately down the garden, through the hedge, and in at the
Laurences' door.

"Well, I wish I may die if it ain't the queerest thing I ever see!  The
pianny has turned her head!  She'd never have gone in her right mind,"
cried Hannah, staring after her, while the girls were rendered quite
speechless by the miracle.

They would have been still more amazed if they had seen what Beth did
afterward.  If you will believe me, she went and knocked at the study
door before she gave herself time to think, and when a gruff voice
called out, "come in!" she did go in, right up to Mr. Laurence, who
looked quite taken aback, and held out her hand, saying, with only a
small quaver in her voice, "I came to thank you, sir, for..." But she
didn't finish, for he looked so friendly that she forgot her speech
and, only remembering that he had lost the little girl he loved, she
put both arms round his neck and kissed him.

If the roof of the house had suddenly flown off, the old gentleman
wouldn't have been more astonished.  But he liked it. Oh, dear, yes, he
liked it amazingly!  And was so touched and pleased by that confiding
little kiss that all his crustiness vanished, and he just set her on
his knee, and laid his wrinkled cheek against her rosy one, feeling as
if he had got his own little granddaughter back again.  Beth ceased to
fear him from that moment, and sat there talking to him as cozily as if
she had known him all her life, for love casts out fear, and gratitude
can conquer pride.  When she went home, he walked with her to her own
gate, shook hands cordially, and touched his hat as he marched back
again, looking very stately and erect, like a handsome, soldierly old
gentleman, as he was.

When the girls saw that performance, Jo began to dance a jig, by way of
expressing her satisfaction, Amy nearly fell out of the window in her
surprise, and Meg exclaimed, with up-lifted hands, "Well, I do believe
the world is coming to an end."



CHAPTER SEVEN

AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION

"That boy is a perfect cyclops, isn't he?" said Amy one day, as Laurie
clattered by on horseback, with a flourish of his whip as he passed.

"How dare you say so, when he's got both his eyes?  And very handsome
ones they are, too," cried Jo, who resented any slighting remarks about
her friend.

"I didn't say anything about his eyes, and I don't see why you need
fire up when I admire his riding."

"Oh, my goodness!  That little goose means a centaur, and she called
him a Cyclops," exclaimed Jo, with a burst of laughter.

"You needn't be so rude, it's only a 'lapse of lingy', as Mr. Davis
says," retorted Amy, finishing Jo with her Latin.  "I just wish I had a
little of the money Laurie spends on that horse," she added, as if to
herself, yet hoping her sisters would hear.

"Why?" asked Meg kindly, for Jo had gone off in another laugh at Amy's
second blunder.

"I need it so much.  I'm dreadfully in debt, and it won't be my turn to
have the rag money for a month."

"In debt, Amy?  What do you mean?" And Meg looked sober.

"Why, I owe at least a dozen pickled limes, and I can't pay them, you
know, till I have money, for Marmee forbade my having anything charged
at the shop."

"Tell me all about it.  Are limes the fashion now?  It used to be
pricking bits of rubber to make balls."  And Meg tried to keep her
countenance, Amy looked so grave and important.

"Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to
be thought mean, you must do it too.  It's nothing but limes now, for
everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them
off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess.
If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime.  If she's mad with
her, she eats one before her face, and doesn't offer even a suck.  They
treat by turns, and I've had ever so many but haven't returned them,
and I ought for they are debts of honor, you know."

"How much will pay them off and restore your credit?" asked Meg, taking
out her purse.

"A quarter would more than do it, and leave a few cents over for a
treat for you.  Don't you like limes?"

"Not much.  You may have my share.  Here's the money.  Make it last as
long as you can, for it isn't very plenty, you know."

"Oh, thank you!  It must be so nice to have pocket money!  I'll have a
grand feast, for I haven't tasted a lime this week.  I felt delicate
about taking any, as I couldn't return them, and I'm actually suffering
for one."

Next day Amy was rather late at school, but could not resist the
temptation of displaying, with pardonable pride, a moist brown-paper
parcel, before she consigned it to the inmost recesses of her desk.
During the next few minutes the rumor that Amy March had got
twenty-four delicious limes (she ate one on the way) and was going to
treat circulated through her 'set', and the attentions of her friends
became quite overwhelming.  Katy Brown invited her to her next party on
the spot.  Mary Kinglsey insisted on lending her her watch till recess,
and Jenny Snow, a satirical young lady, who had basely twitted Amy upon
her limeless state, promptly buried the hatchet and offered to furnish
answers to certain appalling sums.  But Amy had not forgotten Miss
Snow's cutting remarks about 'some persons whose noses were not too
flat to smell other people's limes, and stuck-up people who were not
too proud to ask for them', and she instantly crushed 'that Snow
girl's' hopes by the withering telegram, "You needn't be so polite all
of a sudden, for you won't get any."

A distinguished personage happened to visit the school that morning,
and Amy's beautifully drawn maps received praise, which honor to her
foe rankled in the soul of Miss Snow, and caused Miss March to assume
the airs of a studious young peacock.  But, alas, alas!  Pride goes
before a fall, and the revengeful Snow turned the tables with
disastrous success.  No sooner had the guest paid the usual stale
compliments and bowed himself out, than Jenny, under pretense of asking
an important question, informed Mr. Davis, the teacher, that Amy March
had pickled limes in her desk.

Now Mr. Davis had declared limes a contraband article, and solemnly
vowed to publicly ferrule the first person who was found breaking the
law.  This much-enduring man had succeeded in banishing chewing gum
after a long and stormy war, had made a bonfire of the confiscated
novels and newspapers, had suppressed a private post office, had
forbidden distortions of the face, nicknames, and caricatures, and done
all that one man could do to keep half a hundred rebellious girls in
order.  Boys are trying enough to human patience, goodness knows, but
girls are infinitely more so, especially to nervous gentlemen with
tyrannical tempers and no more talent for teaching than Dr. Blimber.
Mr. Davis knew any quantity of Greek, Latin, algebra, and ologies of
all sorts so he was called a fine teacher, and manners, morals,
feelings, and examples were not considered of any particular
importance.  It was a most unfortunate moment for denouncing Amy, and
Jenny knew it.  Mr. Davis had evidently taken his coffee too strong
that morning, there was an east wind, which always affected his
neuralgia, and his pupils had not done him the credit which he felt he
deserved.  Therefore, to use the expressive, if not elegant, language
of a schoolgirl, "He was as nervous as a witch and as cross as a bear".
The word 'limes' was like fire to powder, his yellow face flushed, and
he rapped on his desk with an energy which made Jenny skip to her seat
with unusual rapidity.

"Young ladies, attention, if you please!"

At the stern order the buzz ceased, and fifty pairs of blue, black,
gray, and brown eyes were obediently fixed upon his awful countenance.

"Miss March, come to the desk."

Amy rose to comply with outward composure, but a secret fear oppressed
her, for the limes weighed upon her conscience.

"Bring with you the limes you have in your desk," was the unexpected
command which arrested her before she got out of her seat.

"Don't take all." whispered her neighbor, a young lady of great
presence of mind.

Amy hastily shook out half a dozen and laid the rest down before Mr.
Davis, feeling that any man possessing a human heart would relent when
that delicious perfume met his nose.  Unfortunately, Mr. Davis
particularly detested the odor of the fashionable pickle, and disgust
added to his wrath.

"Is that all?"

"Not quite," stammered Amy.

"Bring the rest immediately."

With a despairing glance at her set, she obeyed.

"You are sure there are no more?"

"I never lie, sir."

"So I see.  Now take these disgusting things two by two, and throw them
out of the window."

There was a simultaneous sigh, which created quite a little gust, as
the last hope fled, and the treat was ravished from their longing lips.
Scarlet with shame and anger, Amy went to and fro six dreadful times,
and as each doomed couple, looking oh, so plump and juicy, fell from
her reluctant hands, a shout from the street completed the anguish of
the girls, for it told them that their feast was being exulted over by
the little Irish children, who were their sworn foes.  This--this was
too much.  All flashed indignant or appealing glances at the inexorable
Davis, and one passionate lime lover burst into tears.

As Amy returned from her last trip, Mr. Davis gave a portentous "Hem!"
and said, in his most impressive manner...

"Young ladies, you remember what I said to you a week ago.  I am sorry
this has happened, but I never allow my rules to be infringed, and I
never break my word.  Miss March, hold out your hand."

Amy started, and put both hands behind her, turning on him an imploring
look which pleaded for her better than the words she could not utter.
She was rather a favorite with 'old Davis', as, of course, he was
called, and it's my private belief that he would have broken his word
if the indignation of one irrepressible young lady had not found vent
in a hiss.  That hiss, faint as it was, irritated the irascible
gentleman, and sealed the culprit's fate.

"Your hand, Miss March!" was the only answer her mute appeal received,
and too proud to cry or beseech, Amy set her teeth, threw back her head
defiantly, and bore without flinching several tingling blows on her
little palm.  They were neither many nor heavy, but that made no
difference to her.  For the first time in her life she had been struck,
and the disgrace, in her eyes, was as deep as if he had knocked her
down.

"You will now stand on the platform till recess," said Mr. Davis,
resolved to do the thing thoroughly, since he had begun.

That was dreadful.  It would have been bad enough to go to her seat,
and see the pitying faces of her friends, or the satisfied ones of her
few enemies, but to face the whole school, with that shame fresh upon
her, seemed impossible, and for a second she felt as if she could only
drop down where she stood, and break her heart with crying.  A bitter
sense of wrong and the thought of Jenny Snow helped her to bear it,
and, taking the ignominious place, she fixed her eyes on the stove
funnel above what now seemed a sea of faces, and stood there, so
motionless and white that the girls found it hard to study with that
pathetic figure before them.

During the fifteen minutes that followed, the proud and sensitive
little girl suffered a shame and pain which she never forgot.  To
others it might seem a ludicrous or trivial affair, but to her it was a
hard experience, for during the twelve years of her life she had been
governed by love alone, and a blow of that sort had never touched her
before.  The smart of her hand and the ache of her heart were forgotten
in the sting of the thought, "I shall have to tell at home, and they
will be so disappointed in me!"

The fifteen minutes seemed an hour, but they came to an end at last,
and the word 'Recess!' had never seemed so welcome to her before.

"You can go, Miss March," said Mr. Davis, looking, as he felt,
uncomfortable.

He did not soon forget the reproachful glance Amy gave him, as she
went, without a word to anyone, straight into the anteroom, snatched
her things, and left the place "forever," as she passionately declared
to herself.  She was in a sad state when she got home, and when the
older girls arrived, some time later, an indignation meeting was held
at once.  Mrs. March did not say much but looked disturbed, and
comforted her afflicted little daughter in her tenderest manner. Meg
bathed the insulted hand with glycerine and tears, Beth felt that even
her beloved kittens would fail as a balm for griefs like this, Jo
wrathfully proposed that Mr. Davis be arrested without delay, and
Hannah shook her fist at the 'villain' and pounded potatoes for dinner
as if she had him under her pestle.

No notice was taken of Amy's flight, except by her mates, but the
sharp-eyed demoiselles discovered that Mr. Davis was quite benignant in
the afternoon, also unusually nervous.  Just before school closed, Jo
appeared, wearing a grim expression as she stalked up to the desk, and
delivered a letter from her mother, then collected Amy's property, and
departed, carefully scraping the mud from her boots on the door mat, as
if she shook the dust of the place off her feet.

"Yes, you can have a vacation from school, but I want you to study a
little every day with Beth," said Mrs. March that evening. "I don't
approve of corporal punishment, especially for girls.  I dislike Mr.
Davis's manner of teaching and don't think the girls you associate with
are doing you any good, so I shall ask your father's advice before I
send you anywhere else."

"That's good!  I wish all the girls would leave, and spoil his old
school.  It's perfectly maddening to think of those lovely limes,"
sighed Amy, with the air of a martyr.

"I am not sorry you lost them, for you broke the rules, and deserved
some punishment for disobedience," was the severe reply, which rather
disappointed the young lady, who expected nothing but sympathy.

"Do you mean you are glad I was disgraced before the whole school?"
cried Amy.

"I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault," replied her
mother, "but I'm not sure that it won't do you more good than a bolder
method.  You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is
quite time you set about correcting it.  You have a good many little
gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit
spoils the finest genius.  There is not much danger that real talent or
goodness will be overlooked long, even if it is, the consciousness of
possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of
all power is modesty."

"So it is!" cried Laurie, who was playing chess in a corner with Jo.
"I knew a girl once, who had a really remarkable talent for music, and
she didn't know it, never guessed what sweet little things she composed
when she was alone, and wouldn't have believed it if anyone had told
her."

"I wish I'd known that nice girl.  Maybe she would have helped me, I'm
so stupid," said Beth, who stood beside him, listening eagerly.

"You do know her, and she helps you better than anyone else could,"
answered Laurie, looking at her with such mischievous meaning in his
merry black eyes that Beth suddenly turned very red, and hid her face
in the sofa cushion, quite overcome by such an unexpected discovery.

Jo let Laurie win the game to pay for that praise of her Beth, who
could not be prevailed upon to play for them after her compliment. So
Laurie did his best, and sang delightfully, being in a particularly
lively humor, for to the Marches he seldom showed the moody side of his
character.  When he was gone, Amy, who had been pensive all evening,
said suddenly, as if busy over some new idea, "Is Laurie an
accomplished boy?"

"Yes, he has had an excellent education, and has much talent. He will
make a fine man, if not spoiled by petting," replied her mother.

"And he isn't conceited, is he?" asked Amy.

"Not in the least.  That is why he is so charming and we all like him
so much."

"I see.  It's nice to have accomplishments and be elegant, but not to
show off or get perked up," said Amy thoughtfully.

"These things are always seen and felt in a person's manner and
conversations, if modestly used, but it is not necessary to display
them," said Mrs. March.

"Any more than it's proper to wear all your bonnets and gowns and
ribbons at once, that folks may know you've got them," added Jo, and
the lecture ended in a laugh.



CHAPTER EIGHT

JO MEETS APOLLYON

"Girls, where are you going?" asked Amy, coming into their room one
Saturday afternoon, and finding them getting ready to go out with an
air of secrecy which excited her curiosity.

"Never mind.  Little girls shouldn't ask questions," returned Jo
sharply.

Now if there is anything mortifying to our feelings when we are young,
it is to be told that, and to be bidden to "run away, dear" is still
more trying to us.  Amy bridled up at this insult, and determined to
find out the secret, if she teased for an hour. Turning to Meg, who
never refused her anything very long, she said coaxingly, "Do tell me!
I should think you might let me go, too, for Beth is fussing over her
piano, and I haven't got anything to do, and am so lonely."

"I can't, dear, because you aren't invited," began Meg, but Jo broke in
impatiently, "Now, Meg, be quiet or you will spoil it all.  You can't
go, Amy, so don't be a baby and whine about it."

"You are going somewhere with Laurie, I know you are.  You were
whispering and laughing together on the sofa last night, and you
stopped when I came in.  Aren't you going with him?"

"Yes, we are.  Now do be still, and stop bothering."

Amy held her tongue, but used her eyes, and saw Meg slip a fan into her
pocket.

"I know!  I know!  You're going to the theater to see the _Seven
Castles!_" she cried, adding resolutely, "and I shall go, for Mother
said I might see it, and I've got my rag money, and it was mean not to
tell me in time."

"Just listen to me a minute, and be a good child," said Meg soothingly.
"Mother doesn't wish you to go this week, because your eyes are not
well enough yet to bear the light of this fairy piece.  Next week you
can go with Beth and Hannah, and have a nice time."

"I don't like that half as well as going with you and Laurie. Please
let me.  I've been sick with this cold so long, and shut up, I'm dying
for some fun.  Do, Meg!  I'll be ever so good," pleaded Amy, looking as
pathetic as she could.

"Suppose we take her.  I don't believe Mother would mind, if we bundle
her up well," began Meg.

"If she goes I shan't, and if I don't, Laurie won't like it, and it
will be very rude, after he invited only us, to go and drag in Amy.  I
should think she'd hate to poke herself where she isn't wanted," said
Jo crossly, for she disliked the trouble of overseeing a fidgety child
when she wanted to enjoy herself.

Her tone and manner angered Amy, who began to put her boots on, saying,
in her most aggravating way, "I shall go.  Meg says I may, and if I pay
for myself, Laurie hasn't anything to do with it."

"You can't sit with us, for our seats are reserved, and you mustn't sit
alone, so Laurie will give you his place, and that will spoil our
pleasure.  Or he'll get another seat for you, and that isn't proper
when you weren't asked.  You shan't stir a step, so you may just stay
where you are," scolded Jo, crosser than ever, having just pricked her
finger in her hurry.

Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry and Meg to
reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and the two girls
hurried down, leaving their sister wailing.  For now and then she
forgot her grown-up ways and acted like a spoiled child.  Just as the
party was setting out, Amy called over the banisters in a threatening
tone, "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March, see if you ain't."

"Fiddlesticks!" returned Jo, slamming the door.

They had a charming time, for _The Seven Castles Of The Diamond Lake_
was as brilliant and wonderful as heart could wish. But in spite of the
comical red imps, sparkling elves, and the gorgeous princes and
princesses, Jo's pleasure had a drop of bitterness in it.  The fairy
queen's yellow curls reminded her of Amy, and between the acts she
amused herself with wondering what her sister would do to make her
'sorry for it'.  She and Amy had had many lively skirmishes in the
course of their lives, for both had quick tempers and were apt to be
violent when fairly roused.  Amy teased Jo, and Jo irritated Amy, and
semioccasional explosions occurred, of which both were much ashamed
afterward. Although the oldest, Jo had the least self-control, and had
hard times trying to curb the fiery spirit which was continually
getting her into trouble.  Her anger never lasted long, and having
humbly confessed her fault, she sincerely repented and tried to do
better. Her sisters used to say that they rather liked to get Jo into a
fury because she was such an angel afterward.  Poor Jo tried
desperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready to flame
up and defeat her, and it took years of patient effort to subdue it.

When they got home, they found Amy reading in the parlor. She assumed
an injured air as they came in, never lifted her eyes from her book, or
asked a single question.  Perhaps curiosity might have conquered
resentment, if Beth had not been there to inquire and receive a glowing
description of the play.  On going up to put away her best hat, Jo's
first look was toward the bureau, for in their last quarrel Amy had
soothed her feelings by turning Jo's top drawer upside down on the
floor.  Everything was in its place, however, and after a hasty glance
into her various closets, bags, and boxes, Jo decided that Amy had
forgiven and forgotten her wrongs.

There Jo was mistaken, for next day she made a discovery which produced
a tempest.  Meg, Beth, and Amy were sitting together, late in the
afternoon, when Jo burst into the room, looking excited and demanding
breathlessly, "Has anyone taken my book?"

Meg and Beth said, "No." at once, and looked surprised.  Amy poked the
fire and said nothing.  Jo saw her color rise and was down upon her in
a minute.

"Amy, you've got it!"

"No, I haven't."

"You know where it is, then!"

"No, I don't."

"That's a fib!" cried Jo, taking her by the shoulders, and looking
fierce enough to frighten a much braver child than Amy.

"It isn't.  I haven't got it, don't know where it is now, and don't
care."

"You know something about it, and you'd better tell at once, or I'll
make you."  And Jo gave her a slight shake.

"Scold as much as you like, you'll never see your silly old book
again," cried Amy, getting excited in her turn.

"Why not?"

"I burned it up."

"What!  My little book I was so fond of, and worked over, and meant to
finish before Father got home?  Have you really burned it?" said Jo,
turning very pale, while her eyes kindled and her hands clutched Amy
nervously.

"Yes, I did!  I told you I'd make you pay for being so cross yesterday,
and I have, so..."

Amy got no farther, for Jo's hot temper mastered her, and she shook Amy
till her teeth chattered in her head, crying in a passion of grief and
anger...

"You wicked, wicked girl!  I never can write it again, and I'll never
forgive you as long as I live."

Meg flew to rescue Amy, and Beth to pacify Jo, but Jo was quite beside
herself, and with a parting box on her sister's ear, she rushed out of
the room up to the old sofa in the garret, and finished her fight alone.

The storm cleared up below, for Mrs. March came home, and, having heard
the story, soon brought Amy to a sense of the wrong she had done her
sister.  Jo's book was the pride of her heart, and was regarded by her
family as a literary sprout of great promise.  It was only half a dozen
little fairy tales, but Jo had worked over them patiently, putting her
whole heart into her work, hoping to make something good enough to
print.  She had just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the
old manuscript, so that Amy's bonfire had consumed the loving work of
several years.  It seemed a small loss to others, but to Jo it was a
dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could be made up to her.
Beth mourned as for a departed kitten, and Meg refused to defend her
pet.  Mrs. March looked grave and grieved, and Amy felt that no one
would love her till she had asked pardon for the act which she now
regretted more than any of them.

When the tea bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim and unapproachable
that it took all Amy's courage to say meekly...

"Please forgive me, Jo.  I'm very, very sorry."

"I never shall forgive you," was Jo's stern answer, and from that
moment she ignored Amy entirely.

No one spoke of the great trouble, not even Mrs. March, for all had
learned by experience that when Jo was in that mood words were wasted,
and the wisest course was to wait till some little accident, or her own
generous nature, softened Jo's resentment and healed the breach.  It
was not a happy evening, for though they sewed as usual, while their
mother read aloud from Bremer, Scott, or Edgeworth, something was
wanting, and the sweet home peace was disturbed.  They felt this most
when singing time came, for Beth could only play, Jo stood dumb as a
stone, and Amy broke down, so Meg and Mother sang alone.  But in spite
of their efforts to be as cheery as larks, the flutelike voices did not
seem to chord as well as usual, and all felt out of tune.

As Jo received her good-night kiss, Mrs. March whispered gently, "My
dear, don't let the sun go down upon your anger.  Forgive each other,
help each other, and begin again tomorrow."

Jo wanted to lay her head down on that motherly bosom, and cry her
grief and anger all away, but tears were an unmanly weakness, and she
felt so deeply injured that she really couldn't quite forgive yet.  So
she winked hard, shook her head, and said gruffly because Amy was
listening, "It was an abominable thing, and she doesn't deserve to be
forgiven."

With that she marched off to bed, and there was no merry or
confidential gossip that night.

Amy was much offended that her overtures of peace had been repulsed,
and began to wish she had not humbled herself, to feel more injured
than ever, and to plume herself on her superior virtue in a way which
was particularly exasperating.  Jo still looked like a thunder cloud,
and nothing went well all day.  It was bitter cold in the morning, she
dropped her precious turnover in the gutter, Aunt March had an attack
of the fidgets, Meg was sensitive, Beth would look grieved and wistful
when she got home, and Amy kept making remarks about people who were
always talking about being good and yet wouldn't even try when other
people set them a virtuous example.

"Everybody is so hateful, I'll ask Laurie to go skating.  He is always
kind and jolly, and will put me to rights, I know," said Jo to herself,
and off she went.

Amy heard the clash of skates, and looked out with an impatient
exclamation.

"There!  She promised I should go next time, for this is the last ice
we shall have.  But it's no use to ask such a crosspatch to take me."

"Don't say that.  You were very naughty, and it is hard to forgive the
loss of her precious little book, but I think she might do it now, and
I guess she will, if you try her at the right minute," said Meg.  "Go
after them.  Don't say anything till Jo has got good-natured with
Laurie, than take a quiet minute and just kiss her, or do some kind
thing, and I'm sure she'll be friends again with all her heart."

"I'll try," said Amy, for the advice suited her, and after a flurry to
get ready, she ran after the friends, who were just disappearing over
the hill.

It was not far to the river, but both were ready before Amy reached
them.  Jo saw her coming, and turned her back.  Laurie did not see, for
he was carefully skating along the shore, sounding the ice, for a warm
spell had preceded the cold snap.

"I'll go on to the first bend, and see if it's all right before we
begin to race," Amy heard him say, as he shot away, looking like a
young Russian in his fur-trimmed coat and cap.

Jo heard Amy panting after her run, stamping her feet and blowing on
her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jo never turned and
went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking a bitter, unhappy sort of
satisfaction in her sister's troubles. She had cherished her anger till
it grew strong and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and
feelings always do unless cast out at once.  As Laurie turned the bend,
he shouted back...

"Keep near the shore.  It isn't safe in the middle." Jo heard, but Amy
was struggling to her feet and did not catch a word.  Jo glanced over
her shoulder, and the little demon she was harboring said in her ear...

"No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care of herself."

Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn, and Amy,
far behind, striking out toward the smoother ice in the middle of the
river.  For a minute Jo stood still with a strange feeling in her
heart, then she resolved to go on, but something held and turned her
round, just in time to see Amy throw up her hands and go down, with a
sudden crash of rotten ice, the splash of water, and a cry that made
Jo's heart stand still with fear.  She tried to call Laurie, but her
voice was gone.  She tried to rush forward, but her feet seemed to have
no strength in them, and for a second, she could only stand motionless,
staring with a terror-stricken face at the little blue hood above the
black water. Something rushed swiftly by her, and Laurie's voice cried
out...

"Bring a rail.  Quick, quick!"

How she did it, she never knew, but for the next few minutes she worked
as if possessed, blindly obeying Laurie, who was quite self-possessed,
and lying flat, held Amy up by his arm and hockey stick till Jo dragged
a rail from the fence, and together they got the child out, more
frightened than hurt.

"Now then, we must walk her home as fast as we can.  Pile our things on
her, while I get off these confounded skates," cried Laurie, wrapping
his coat round Amy, and tugging away at the straps which never seemed
so intricate before.

Shivering, dripping, and crying, they got Amy home, and after an
exciting time of it, she fell asleep, rolled in blankets before a hot
fire.  During the bustle Jo had scarcely spoken but flown about,
looking pale and wild, with her things half off, her dress torn, and
her hands cut and bruised by ice and rails and refractory buckles. When
Amy was comfortably asleep, the house quiet, and Mrs. March sitting by
the bed, she called Jo to her and began to bind up the hurt hands.

"Are you sure she is safe?" whispered Jo, looking remorsefully at the
golden head, which might have been swept away from her sight forever
under the treacherous ice.

"Quite safe, dear.  She is not hurt, and won't even take cold, I think,
you were so sensible in covering and getting her home quickly," replied
her mother cheerfully.

"Laurie did it all.  I only let her go.  Mother, if she should die, it
would be my fault."  And Jo dropped down beside the bed in a passion of
penitent tears, telling all that had happened, bitterly condemning her
hardness of heart, and sobbing out her gratitude for being spared the
heavy punishment which might have come upon her.

"It's my dreadful temper!  I try to cure it, I think I have, and then
it breaks out worse than ever.  Oh, Mother, what shall I do?  What
shall I do?" cried poor Jo, in despair.

"Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is
impossible to conquer your fault," said Mrs. March, drawing the blowzy
head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheek so tenderly that Jo
cried even harder.

"You don't know, you can't guess how bad it is!  It seems as if I could
do anything when I'm in a passion.  I get so savage, I could hurt
anyone and enjoy it.  I'm afraid I shall do something dreadful some
day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. Oh, Mother, help
me, do help me!"

"I will, my child, I will.  Don't cry so bitterly, but remember this
day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another
like it.  Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than
yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them.  You think
your temper is the worst in the world, but mine used to be just like
it."

"Yours, Mother?  Why, you are never angry!"  And for the moment Jo
forgot remorse in surprise.

"I've been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded
in controlling it.  I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I
have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it,
though it may take me another forty years to do so."

The patience and the humility of the face she loved so well was a
better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpest reproof.  She
felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence given her.  The
knowledge that her mother had a fault like hers, and tried to mend it,
made her own easier to bear and strengthened her resolution to cure it,
though forty years seemed rather a long time to watch and pray to a
girl of fifteen.

"Mother, are you angry when you fold your lips tight together and go
out of the room sometimes, when Aunt March scolds or people worry you?"
asked Jo, feeling nearer and dearer to her mother than ever before.

"Yes, I've learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and
when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away
for a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and
wicked," answered Mrs. March with a sigh and a smile, as she smoothed
and fastened up Jo's disheveled hair.

"How did you learn to keep still?  That is what troubles me, for the
sharp words fly out before I know what I'm about, and the more I say
the worse I get, till it's a pleasure to hurt people's feelings and say
dreadful things.  Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear."

"My good mother used to help me..."

"As you do us..." interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.

"But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and for years
had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess my weakness to
anyone else.  I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good many bitter tears
over my failures, for in spite of my efforts I never seemed to get on.
Then your father came, and I was so happy that I found it easy to be
good.  But by-and-by, when I had four little daughters round me and we
were poor, then the old trouble began again, for I am not patient by
nature, and it tried me very much to see my children wanting anything."

"Poor Mother!  What helped you then?"

"Your father, Jo.  He never loses patience, never doubts or complains,
but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed
to do otherwise before him.  He helped and comforted me, and showed me
that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little
girls possess, for I was their example.  It was easier to try for your
sakes than for my own. A startled or surprised look from one of you
when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done,
and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest
reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them
copy."

"Oh, Mother, if I'm ever half as good as you, I shall be satisfied,"
cried Jo, much touched.

"I hope you will be a great deal better, dear, but you must keep watch
over your 'bosom enemy', as father calls it, or it may sadden, if not
spoil your life.  You have had a warning. Remember it, and try with
heart and soul to master this quick temper, before it brings you
greater sorrow and regret than you have known today."

"I will try, Mother, I truly will.  But you must help me, remind me,
and keep me from flying out.  I used to see Father sometimes put his
finger on his lips, and look at you with a very kind but sober face,
and you always folded your lips tight and went away.  Was he reminding
you then?" asked Jo softly.

"Yes.  I asked him to help me so, and he never forgot it, but saved me
from many a sharp word by that little gesture and kind look."

Jo saw that her mother's eyes filled and her lips trembled as she
spoke, and fearing that she had said too much, she whispered anxiously,
"Was it wrong to watch you and to speak of it?  I didn't mean to be
rude, but it's so comfortable to say all I think to you, and feel so
safe and happy here."

"My Jo, you may say anything to your mother, for it is my greatest
happiness and pride to feel that my girls confide in me and know how
much I love them."

"I thought I'd grieved you."

"No, dear, but speaking of Father reminded me how much I miss him, how
much I owe him, and how faithfully I should watch and work to keep his
little daughters safe and good for him."

"Yet you told him to go, Mother, and didn't cry when he went, and never
complain now, or seem as if you needed any help," said Jo, wondering.

"I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tears till he was
gone.  Why should I complain, when we both have merely done our duty
and will surely be the happier for it in the end?  If I don't seem to
need help, it is because I have a better friend, even than Father, to
comfort and sustain me.  My child, the troubles and temptations of your
life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive
them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your
Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one.  The more you love
and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will
depend on human power and wisdom.  His love and care never tire or
change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of
lifelong peace, happiness, and strength.  Believe this heartily, and go
to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as
freely and confidingly as you come to your mother."

Jo's only answer was to hold her mother close, and in the silence which
followed the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart
without words.  For in that sad yet happy hour, she had learned not
only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of
self-denial and self-control, and led by her mother's hand, she had
drawn nearer to the Friend who always welcomes every child with a love
stronger than that of any father, tenderer than that of any mother.

Amy stirred and sighed in her sleep, and as if eager to begin at once
to mend her fault, Jo looked up with an expression on her face which it
had never worn before.

"I let the sun go down on my anger.  I wouldn't forgive her, and today,
if it hadn't been for Laurie, it might have been too late!  How could I
be so wicked?" said Jo, half aloud, as she leaned over her sister
softly stroking the wet hair scattered on the pillow.

As if she heard, Amy opened her eyes, and held out her arms, with a
smile that went straight to Jo's heart.  Neither said a word, but they
hugged one another close, in spite of the blankets, and everything was
forgiven and forgotten in one hearty kiss.



CHAPTER NINE

MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR

"I do think it was the most fortunate thing in the world that those
children should have the measles just now," said Meg, one April day, as
she stood packing the 'go abroady' trunk in her room, surrounded by her
sisters.

"And so nice of Annie Moffat not to forget her promise.  A whole
fortnight of fun will be regularly splendid," replied Jo, looking like
a windmill as she folded skirts with her long arms.

"And such lovely weather, I'm so glad of that," added Beth, tidily
sorting neck and hair ribbons in her best box, lent for the great
occasion.

"I wish I was going to have a fine time and wear all these nice
things," said Amy with her mouth full of pins, as she artistically
replenished her sister's cushion.

"I wish you were all going, but as you can't, I shall keep my
adventures to tell you when I come back.  I'm sure it's the least I can
do when you have been so kind, lending me things and helping me get
ready," said Meg, glancing round the room at the very simple outfit,
which seemed nearly perfect in their eyes.

"What did Mother give you out of the treasure box?" asked Amy, who had
not been present at the opening of a certain cedar chest in which Mrs.
March kept a few relics of past splendor, as gifts for her girls when
the proper time came.

"A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue
sash.  I wanted the violet silk, but there isn't time to make it over,
so I must be contented with my old tarlaton."


"It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash will set it
off beautifully.  I wish I hadn't smashed my coral bracelet, for you
might have had it," said Jo, who loved to give and lend, but whose
possessions were usually too dilapidated to be of much use.

"There is a lovely old-fashioned pearl set in the treasure chest, but
Mother said real flowers were the prettiest ornament for a young girl,
and Laurie promised to send me all I want," replied Meg.  "Now, let me
see, there's my new gray walking suit, just curl up the feather in my
hat, Beth, then my poplin for Sunday and the small party, it looks
heavy for spring, doesn't it?  The violet silk would be so nice.  Oh,
dear!"

"Never mind, you've got the tarlaton for the big party, and you always
look like an angel in white," said Amy, brooding over the little store
of finery in which her soul delighted.

"It isn't low-necked, and it doesn't sweep enough, but it will have to
do.  My blue housedress looks so well, turned and freshly trimmed, that
I feel as if I'd got a new one.  My silk sacque isn't a bit the
fashion, and my bonnet doesn't look like Sallie's.  I didn't like to
say anything, but I was sadly disappointed in my umbrella.  I told
Mother black with a white handle, but she forgot and bought a green one
with a yellowish handle.  It's strong and neat, so I ought not to
complain, but I know I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie's silk one
with a gold top," sighed Meg, surveying the little umbrella with great
disfavor.

"Change it," advised Jo.

"I won't be so silly, or hurt Marmee's feelings, when she took so much
pains to get my things.  It's a nonsensical notion of mine, and I'm not
going to give up to it.  My silk stockings and two pairs of new gloves
are my comfort.  You are a dear to lend me yours, Jo.  I feel so rich
and sort of elegant, with two new pairs, and the old ones cleaned up
for common."  And Meg took a refreshing peep at her glove box.

"Annie Moffat has blue and pink bows on her nightcaps. Would you put
some on mine?" she asked, as Beth brought up a pile of snowy muslins,
fresh from Hannah's hands.

"No, I wouldn't, for the smart caps won't match the plain gowns without
any trimming on them.  Poor folks shouldn't rig," said Jo decidedly.

"I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real lace on my
clothes and bows on my caps?" said Meg impatiently.

"You said the other day that you'd be perfectly happy if you could only
go to Annie Moffat's," observed Beth in her quiet way.

"So I did!  Well, I am happy, and I won't fret, but it does seem as if
the more one gets the more one wants, doesn't it?  There now, the trays
are ready, and everything in but my ball dress, which I shall leave for
Mother to pack," said Meg, cheering up, as she glanced from the
half-filled trunk to the many times pressed and mended white tarlaton,
which she called her 'ball dress' with an important air.

The next day was fine, and Meg departed in style for a fortnight of
novelty and pleasure.  Mrs. March had consented to the visit rather
reluctantly, fearing that Margaret would come back more discontented
than she went.  But she begged so hard, and Sallie had promised to take
good care of her, and a little pleasure seemed so delightful after a
winter of irksome work that the mother yielded, and the daughter went
to take her first taste of fashionable life.

The Moffats were very fashionable, and simple Meg was rather daunted,
at first, by the splendor of the house and the elegance of its
occupants.  But they were kindly people, in spite of the frivolous life
they led, and soon put their guest at her ease. Perhaps Meg felt,
without understanding why, that they were not particularly cultivated
or intelligent people, and that all their gilding could not quite
conceal the ordinary material of which they were made.  It certainly
was agreeable to fare sumptuously, drive in a fine carriage, wear her
best frock every day, and do nothing but enjoy herself.  It suited her
exactly, and soon she began to imitate the manners and conversation of
those about her, to put on little airs and graces, use French phrases,
crimp her hair, take in her dresses, and talk about the fashions as
well as she could.  The more she saw of Annie Moffat's pretty things,
the more she envied her and sighed to be rich.  Home now looked bare
and dismal as she thought of it, work grew harder than ever, and she
felt that she was a very destitute and much-injured girl, in spite of
the new gloves and silk stockings.

She had not much time for repining, however, for the three young girls
were busily employed in 'having a good time'.  They shopped, walked,
rode, and called all day, went to theaters and operas or frolicked at
home in the evening, for Annie had many friends and knew how to
entertain them.  Her older sisters were very fine young ladies, and one
was engaged, which was extremely interesting and romantic, Meg thought.
Mr. Moffat was a fat, jolly old gentleman, who knew her father, and
Mrs. Moffat, a fat, jolly old lady, who took as great a fancy to Meg as
her daughter had done.  Everyone petted her, and 'Daisey', as they
called her, was in a fair way to have her head turned.

When the evening for the small party came, she found that the poplin
wouldn't do at all, for the other girls were putting on thin dresses
and making themselves very fine indeed.  So out came the tarlatan,
looking older, limper, and shabbier than ever beside Sallie's crisp new
one.  Meg saw the girls glance at it and then at one another, and her
cheeks began to burn, for with all her gentleness she was very proud.
No one said a word about it, but Sallie offered to dress her hair, and
Annie to tie her sash, and Belle, the engaged sister, praised her white
arms.  But in their kindness Meg saw only pity for her poverty, and her
heart felt very heavy as she stood by herself, while the others
laughed, chattered, and flew about like gauzy butterflies.  The hard,
bitter feeling was getting pretty bad, when the maid brought in a box
of flowers.  Before she could speak, Annie had the cover off, and all
were exclaiming at the lovely roses, heath, and fern within.

"It's for Belle, of course, George always sends her some, but these are
altogether ravishing," cried Annie, with a great sniff.

"They are for Miss March, the man said.  And here's a note," put in the
maid, holding it to Meg.

"What fun!  Who are they from?  Didn't know you had a lover," cried the
girls, fluttering about Meg in a high state of curiosity and surprise.

"The note is from Mother, and the flowers from Laurie," said Meg
simply, yet much gratified that he had not forgotten her.

"Oh, indeed!" said Annie with a funny look, as Meg slipped the note
into her pocket as a sort of talisman against envy, vanity, and false
pride, for the few loving words had done her good, and the flowers
cheered her up by their beauty.

Feeling almost happy again, she laid by a few ferns and roses for
herself, and quickly made up the rest in dainty bouquets for the
breasts, hair, or skirts of her friends, offering them so prettily that
Clara, the elder sister, told her she was 'the sweetest little thing
she ever saw', and they looked quite charmed with her small attention.
Somehow the kind act finished her despondency, and when all the rest
went to show themselves to Mrs. Moffat, she saw a happy, bright-eyed
face in the mirror, as she laid her ferns against her rippling hair and
fastened the roses in the dress that didn't strike her as so very
shabby now.

She enjoyed herself very much that evening, for she danced to her
heart's content.  Everyone was very kind, and she had three
compliments.  Annie made her sing, and some one said she had a
remarkably fine voice.  Major Lincoln asked who 'the fresh little girl
with the beautiful eyes' was, and Mr. Moffat insisted on dancing with
her because she 'didn't dawdle, but had some spring in her', as he
gracefully expressed it.  So altogether she had a very nice time, till
she overheard a bit of conversation, which disturbed her extremely.
She was sitting just inside the conservatory, waiting for her partner
to bring her an ice, when she heard a voice ask on the other side of
the flowery wall...

"How old is he?"

"Sixteen or seventeen, I should say," replied another voice.

"It would be a grand thing for one of those girls, wouldn't it?  Sallie
says they are very intimate now, and the old man quite dotes on them."

"Mrs. M.  has made her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well,
early as it is.  The girl evidently doesn't think of it yet," said Mrs.
Moffat.

"She told that fib about her momma, as if she did know, and colored up
when the flowers came quite prettily.  Poor thing! She'd be so nice if
she was only got up in style.  Do you think she'd be offended if we
offered to lend her a dress for Thursday?" asked another voice.

"She's proud, but I don't believe she'd mind, for that dowdy tarlaton
is all she has got.  She may tear it tonight, and that will be a good
excuse for offering a decent one."

Here Meg's partner appeared, to find her looking much flushed and
rather agitated.  She was proud, and her pride was useful just then,
for it helped her hide her mortification, anger, and disgust at what
she had just heard.  For, innocent and unsuspicious as she was, she
could not help understanding the gossip of her friends.  She tried to
forget it, but could not, and kept repeating to herself, "Mrs. M.  has
made her plans," "that fib about her mamma," and "dowdy tarlaton," till
she was ready to cry and rush home to tell her troubles and ask for
advice.  As that was impossible, she did her best to seem gay, and
being rather excited, she succeeded so well that no one dreamed what an
effort she was making. She was very glad when it was all over and she
was quiet in her bed, where she could think and wonder and fume till
her head ached and her hot cheeks were cooled by a few natural tears.
Those foolish, yet well meant words, had opened a new world to Meg, and
much disturbed the peace of the old one in which till now she had lived
as happily as a child.  Her innocent friendship with Laurie was spoiled
by the silly speeches she had overheard.  Her faith in her mother was a
little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to her by Mrs. Moffat,
who judged others by herself, and the sensible resolution to be
contented with the simple wardrobe which suited a poor man's daughter
was weakened by the unnecessary pity of girls who thought a shabby
dress one of the greatest calamities under heaven.

Poor Meg had a restless night, and got up heavy-eyed, unhappy, half
resentful toward her friends, and half ashamed of herself for not
speaking out frankly and setting everything right.  Everybody dawdled
that morning, and it was noon before the girls found energy enough even
to take up their worsted work.  Something in the manner of her friends
struck Meg at once.  They treated her with more respect, she thought,
took quite a tender interest in what she said, and looked at her with
eyes that plainly betrayed curiosity.  All this surprised and flattered
her, though she did not understand it till Miss Belle looked up from
her writing, and said, with a sentimental air...

"Daisy, dear, I've sent an invitation to your friend, Mr. Laurence, for
Thursday.  We should like to know him, and it's only a proper
compliment to you."

Meg colored, but a mischievous fancy to tease the girls made her reply
demurely, "You are very kind, but I'm afraid he won't come."

"Why not, Cherie?" asked Miss Belle.

"He's too old."

"My child, what do you mean?  What is his age, I beg to know!" cried
Miss Clara.

"Nearly seventy, I believe," answered Meg, counting stitches to hide
the merriment in her eyes.

"You sly creature!  Of course we meant the young man," exclaimed Miss
Belle, laughing.

"There isn't any, Laurie is only a little boy."  And Meg laughed also
at the queer look which the sisters exchanged as she thus described her
supposed lover.

"About your age," Nan said.

"Nearer my sister Jo's; I am seventeen in August," returned Meg,
tossing her head.

"It's very nice of him to send you flowers, isn't it?" said Annie,
looking wise about nothing.

"Yes, he often does, to all of us, for their house is full, and we are
so fond of them.  My mother and old Mr. Laurence are friends, you know,
so it is quite natural that we children should play together," and Meg
hoped they would say no more.

"It's evident Daisy isn't out yet," said Miss Clara to Belle with a nod.

"Quite a pastoral state of innocence all round," returned Miss Belle
with a shrug.

"I'm going out to get some little matters for my girls.  Can I do
anything for you, young ladies?" asked Mrs. Moffat, lumbering in like
an elephant in silk and lace.

"No, thank you, ma'am," replied Sallie.  "I've got my new pink silk for
Thursday and don't want a thing."

"Nor I..." began Meg, but stopped because it occurred to her that she
did want several things and could not have them.

"What shall you wear?" asked Sallie.

"My old white one again, if I can mend it fit to be seen, it got sadly
torn last night," said Meg, trying to speak quite easily, but feeling
very uncomfortable.

"Why don't you send home for another?" said Sallie, who was not an
observing young lady.

"I haven't got any other."  It cost Meg an effort to say that, but
Sallie did not see it and exclaimed in amiable surprise, "Only that?
How funny..."  She did not finish her speech, for Belle shook her head
at her and broke in, saying kindly...

"Not at all.  Where is the use of having a lot of dresses when she
isn't out yet?  There's no need of sending home, Daisy, even if you had
a dozen, for I've got a sweet blue silk laid away, which I've outgrown,
and you shall wear it to please me, won't you, dear?"

"You are very kind, but I don't mind my old dress if you don't, it does
well enough for a little girl like me," said Meg.

"Now do let me please myself by dressing you up in style. I admire to
do it, and you'd be a regular little beauty with a touch here and
there.  I shan't let anyone see you till you are done, and then we'll
burst upon them like Cinderella and her godmother going to the ball,"
said Belle in her persuasive tone.

Meg couldn't refuse the offer so kindly made, for a desire to see if
she would be 'a little beauty' after touching up caused her to accept
and forget all her former uncomfortable feelings toward the Moffats.

On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and
between them they turned Meg into a fine lady.  They crimped and curled
her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder,
touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense
would have added 'a soupcon of rouge', if Meg had not rebelled.  They
laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly
breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in
the mirror.  A set of silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace,
brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink
silk which did not show.  A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom, and
a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty, white shoulders,
and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied the last wish of her
heart.  A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a shoulder
holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the
satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.

"Mademoiselle is charmante, tres jolie, is she not?" cried Hortense,
clasping her hands in an affected rapture.

"Come and show yourself," said Miss Belle, leading the way to the room
where the others were waiting.

As Meg went rustling after, with her long skirts trailing, her earrings
tinkling, her curls waving, and her heart beating, she felt as if her
fun had really begun at last, for the mirror had plainly told her that
she was 'a little beauty'.  Her friends repeated the pleasing phrase
enthusiastically, and for several minutes she stood, like a jackdaw in
the fable, enjoying her borrowed plumes, while the rest chattered like
a party of magpies.

"While I dress, do you drill her, Nan, in the management of her skirt
and those French heels, or she will trip herself up.  Take your silver
butterfly, and catch up that long curl on the left side of her head,
Clara, and don't any of you disturb the charming work of my hands,"
said Belle, as she hurried away, looking well pleased with her success.

"You don't look a bit like yourself, but you are very nice. I'm nowhere
beside you, for Belle has heaps of taste, and you're quite French, I
assure you.  Let your flowers hang, don't be so careful of them, and be
sure you don't trip," returned Sallie, trying not to care that Meg was
prettier than herself.

Keeping that warning carefully in mind, Margaret got safely down stairs
and sailed into the drawing rooms where the Moffats and a few early
guests were assembled.  She very soon discovered that there is a charm
about fine clothes which attracts a certain class of people and secures
their respect.  Several young ladies, who had taken no notice of her
before, were very affectionate all of a sudden.  Several young
gentlemen, who had only stared at her at the other party, now not only
stared, but asked to be introduced, and said all manner of foolish but
agreeable things to her, and several old ladies, who sat on the sofas,
and criticized the rest of the party, inquired who she was with an air
of interest.  She heard Mrs. Moffat reply to one of them...

"Daisy March--father a colonel in the army--one of our first families,
but reverses of fortune, you know; intimate friends of the Laurences;
sweet creature, I assure you; my Ned is quite wild about her."

"Dear me!" said the old lady, putting up her glass for another
observation of Meg, who tried to look as if she had not heard and been
rather shocked at Mrs. Moffat's fibs. The 'queer feeling' did not pass
away, but she imagined herself acting the new part of fine lady and so
got on pretty well, though the tight dress gave her a side-ache, the
train kept getting under her feet, and she was in constant fear lest
her earrings should fly off and get lost or broken.  She was flirting
her fan and laughing at the feeble jokes of a young gentleman who tried
to be witty, when she suddenly stopped laughing and looked confused,
for just opposite, she saw Laurie.  He was staring at her with
undisguised surprise, and disapproval also, she thought, for though he
bowed and smiled, yet something in his honest eyes made her blush and
wish she had her old dress on. To complete her confusion, she saw Belle
nudge Annie, and both glance from her to Laurie, who, she was happy to
see, looked unusually boyish and shy.

"Silly creatures, to put such thoughts into my head.  I won't care for
it, or let it change me a bit," thought Meg, and rustled across the
room to shake hands with her friend.

"I'm glad you came, I was afraid you wouldn't." she said, with her most
grown-up air.

"Jo wanted me to come, and tell her how you looked, so I did," answered
Laurie, without turning his eyes upon her, though he half smiled at her
maternal tone.

"What shall you tell her?" asked Meg, full of curiosity to know his
opinion of her, yet feeling ill at ease with him for the first time.

"I shall say I didn't know you, for you look so grown-up and unlike
yourself, I'm quite afraid of you," he said, fumbling at his glove
button.

"How absurd of you!  The girls dressed me up for fun, and I rather like
it.  Wouldn't Jo stare if she saw me?" said Meg, bent on making him say
whether he thought her improved or not.

"Yes, I think she would," returned Laurie gravely.

"Don't you like me so?" asked Meg.

"No, I don't," was the blunt reply.

"Why not?" in an anxious tone.

He glanced at her frizzled head, bare shoulders, and fantastically
trimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more than his answer,
which had not a particle of his usual politeness in it.

"I don't like fuss and feathers."

That was altogether too much from a lad younger than herself, and Meg
walked away, saying petulantly, "You are the rudest boy I ever saw."

Feeling very much ruffled, she went and stood at a quiet window to cool
her cheeks, for the tight dress gave her an uncomfortably brilliant
color.  As she stood there, Major Lincoln passed by, and a minute after
she heard him saying to his mother...

"They are making a fool of that little girl.  I wanted you to see her,
but they have spoiled her entirely.  She's nothing but a doll tonight."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Meg.  "I wish I'd been sensible and worn my own
things, then I should not have disgusted other people, or felt so
uncomfortable and ashamed of myself."

She leaned her forehead on the cool pane, and stood half hidden by the
curtains, never minding that her favorite waltz had begun, till some
one touched her, and turning, she saw Laurie, looking penitent, as he
said, with his very best bow and his hand out...

"Please forgive my rudeness, and come and dance with me."

"I'm afraid it will be too disagreeable to you," said Meg, trying to
look offended and failing entirely.

"Not a bit of it, I'm dying to do it.  Come, I'll be good. I don't like
your gown, but I do think you are just splendid." And he waved his
hands, as if words failed to express his admiration.

Meg smiled and relented, and whispered as they stood waiting to catch
the time, "Take care my skirt doesn't trip you up.  It's the plague of
my life and I was a goose to wear it."

"Pin it round your neck, and then it will be useful," said Laurie,
looking down at the little blue boots, which he evidently approved of.

Away they went fleetly and gracefully, for having practiced at home,
they were well matched, and the blithe young couple were a pleasant
sight to see, as they twirled merrily round and round, feeling more
friendly than ever after their small tiff.

"Laurie, I want you to do me a favor, will you?" said Meg, as he stood
fanning her when her breath gave out, which it did very soon though she
would not own why.

"Won't I!" said Laurie, with alacrity.

"Please don't tell them at home about my dress tonight. They won't
understand the joke, and it will worry Mother."

"Then why did you do it?" said Laurie's eyes, so plainly that Meg
hastily added...

"I shall tell them myself all about it, and 'fess' to Mother how silly
I've been.  But I'd rather do it myself.  So you'll not tell, will you?"

"I give you my word I won't, only what shall I say when they ask me?"

"Just say I looked pretty well and was having a good time."

"I'll say the first with all my heart, but how about the other?  You
don't look as if you were having a good time.  Are you?" And Laurie
looked at her with an expression which made her answer in a whisper...

"No, not just now.  Don't think I'm horrid.  I only wanted a little
fun, but this sort doesn't pay, I find, and I'm getting tired of it."

"Here comes Ned Moffat.  What does he want?" said Laurie, knitting his
black brows as if he did not regard his young host in the light of a
pleasant addition to the party.

"He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he's coming for
them.  What a bore!" said Meg, assuming a languid air which amused
Laurie immensely.

He did not speak to her again till suppertime, when he saw her drinking
champagne with Ned and his friend Fisher, who were behaving 'like a
pair of fools', as Laurie said to himself, for he felt a brotherly sort
of right to watch over the Marches and fight their battles whenever a
defender was needed.

"You'll have a splitting headache tomorrow, if you drink much of that.
I wouldn't, Meg, your mother doesn't like it, you know," he whispered,
leaning over her chair, as Ned turned to refill her glass and Fisher
stooped to pick up her fan.

"I'm not Meg tonight, I'm 'a doll' who does all sorts of crazy things.
Tomorrow I shall put away my 'fuss and feathers' and be desperately
good again," she answered with an affected little laugh.

"Wish tomorrow was here, then," muttered Laurie, walking off,
ill-pleased at the change he saw in her.

Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the other girls did.
After supper she undertook the German, and blundered through it, nearly
upsetting her partner with her long skirt, and romping in a way that
scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditated a lecture.  But he got
no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept away from him till he came to say
good night.

"Remember!" she said, trying to smile, for the splitting headache had
already begun.

"Silence a la mort," replied Laurie, with a melodramatic flourish, as
he went away.

This little bit of byplay excited Annie's curiosity, but Meg was too
tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she had been to a
masquerade and hadn't enjoyed herself as much as she expected.  She was
sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home, quite used up with
her fortnight's fun and feeling that she had 'sat in the lap of luxury'
long enough.

"It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have company manners on all
the time.  Home is a nice place, though it isn't splendid," said Meg,
looking about her with a restful expression, as she sat with her mother
and Jo on the Sunday evening.

"I'm glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid home would seem
dull and poor to you after your fine quarters," replied her mother, who
had given her many anxious looks that day.  For motherly eyes are quick
to see any change in children's faces.

Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over what a
charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weigh upon her
spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, she sat
thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and looking worried.
As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Meg suddenly left her
chair and, taking Beth's stool, leaned her elbows on her mother's knee,
saying bravely...

"Marmee, I want to 'fess'."

"I thought so.  What is it, dear?"

"Shall I go away?" asked Jo discreetly.

"Of course not.  Don't I always tell you everything?  I was ashamed to
speak of it before the younger children, but I want you to know all the
dreadful things I did at the Moffats'."

"We are prepared," said Mrs. March, smiling but looking a little
anxious.

"I told you they dressed me up, but I didn't tell you that they
powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like a
fashion-plate.  Laurie thought I wasn't proper.  I know he did, though
he didn't say so, and one man called me 'a doll'.  I knew it was silly,
but they flattered me and said I was a beauty, and quantities of
nonsense, so I let them make a fool of me."

"Is that all?" asked Jo, as Mrs. March looked silently at the downcast
face of her pretty daughter, and could not find it in her heart to
blame her little follies.

"No, I drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt, and was
altogether abominable," said Meg self-reproachfully.

"There is something more, I think."  And Mrs. March smoothed the soft
cheek, which suddenly grew rosy as Meg answered slowly...

"Yes.  It's very silly, but I want to tell it, because I hate to have
people say and think such things about us and Laurie."

Then she told the various bits of gossip she had heard at the Moffats',
and as she spoke, Jo saw her mother fold her lips tightly, as if ill
pleased that such ideas should be put into Meg's innocent mind.

"Well, if that isn't the greatest rubbish I ever heard," cried Jo
indignantly.  "Why didn't you pop out and tell them so on the spot?"

"I couldn't, it was so embarrassing for me.  I couldn't help hearing at
first, and then I was so angry and ashamed, I didn't remember that I
ought to go away."

"Just wait till I see Annie Moffat, and I'll show you how to settle
such ridiculous stuff.  The idea of having 'plans' and being kind to
Laurie because he's rich and may marry us by-and-by!  Won't he shout
when I tell him what those silly things say about us poor children?"
And Jo laughed, as if on second thoughts the thing struck her as a good
joke.

"If you tell Laurie, I'll never forgive you!  She mustn't, must she,
Mother?" said Meg, looking distressed.

"No, never repeat that foolish gossip, and forget it as soon as you
can," said Mrs. March gravely.  "I was very unwise to let you go among
people of whom I know so little, kind, I dare say, but worldly,
ill-bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about young people.  I am more
sorry than I can express for the mischief this visit may have done you,
Meg."

"Don't be sorry, I won't let it hurt me.  I'll forget all the bad and
remember only the good, for I did enjoy a great deal, and thank you
very much for letting me go.  I'll not be sentimental or dissatisfied,
Mother.  I know I'm a silly little girl, and I'll stay with you till
I'm fit to take care of myself.  But it is nice to be praised and
admired, and I can't help saying I like it," said Meg, looking half
ashamed of the confession.

"That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the liking does not
become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly things.
Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having, and to excite
the admiration of excellent people by being modest as well as pretty,
Meg."

Margaret sat thinking a moment, while Jo stood with her hands behind
her, looking both interested and a little perplexed, for it was a new
thing to see Meg blushing and talking about admiration, lovers, and
things of that sort.  And Jo felt as if during that fortnight her
sister had grown up amazingly, and was drifting away from her into a
world where she could not follow.

"Mother, do you have 'plans', as Mrs. Moffat said?" asked Meg bashfully.

"Yes, my dear, I have a great many, all mothers do, but mine differ
somewhat from Mrs. Moffat's, I suspect.  I will tell you some of them,
for the time has come when a word may set this romantic little head and
heart of yours right, on a very serious subject.  You are young, Meg,
but not too young to understand me, and mothers' lips are the fittest
to speak of such things to girls like you.  Jo, your turn will come in
time, perhaps, so listen to my 'plans' and help me carry them out, if
they are good."

Jo went and sat on one arm of the chair, looking as if she thought they
were about to join in some very solemn affair. Holding a hand of each,
and watching the two young faces wistfully, Mrs. March said, in her
serious yet cheery way...

"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be
admired, loved, and respected.  To have a happy youth, to be well and
wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care
and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen
by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a
woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful
experience.  It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait
for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes,
you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy.  My dear
girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the
world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid
houses, which are not homes because love is wanting.  Money is a
needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I
never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for.
I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved,
contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace."

"Poor girls don't stand any chance, Belle says, unless they put
themselves forward," sighed Meg.

"Then we'll be old maids," said Jo stoutly.

"Right, Jo.  Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or
unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. March
decidedly.  "Don't be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincere
lover.  Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls,
but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids. Leave
these things to time.  Make this home happy, so that you may be fit for
homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contented here if they
are not.  One thing remember, my girls.  Mother is always ready to be
your confidant, Father to be your friend, and both of us hope and trust
that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and
comfort of our lives."

"We will, Marmee, we will!" cried both, with all their hearts, as she
bade them good night.



CHAPTER TEN

THE P.C. AND P.O.

As spring came on, a new set of amusements became the fashion, and the
lengthening days gave long afternoons for work and play of all sorts.
The garden had to be put in order, and each sister had a quarter of the
little plot to do what she liked with.  Hannah used to say, "I'd know
which each of them gardings belonged to, ef I see 'em in Chiny," and so
she might, for the girls' tastes differed as much as their characters.
Meg's had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it.
Jo's bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying
experiments.  This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the
seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plant were to feed Aunt
Cockle-top and her family of chicks.  Beth had old-fashioned fragrant
flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks,
pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for
the pussies.  Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but
very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging
their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall
white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants
as would consent to blossom there.

Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine
days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some
new, all more or less original.  One of these was the 'P.C.', for as
secret societies were the fashion, it was thought proper to have one,
and as all of the girls admired Dickens, they called themselves the
Pickwick Club.  With a few interruptions, they had kept this up for a
year, and met every Saturday evening in the big garret, on which
occasions the ceremonies were as follows:  Three chairs were arranged
in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges,
with a big 'P.C.' in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper
called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something,
while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven
o'clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges
round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity.  Meg, as
the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus
Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy,
who was always trying to do what she couldn't, was Nathaniel Winkle.
Pickwick, the president, read the paper, which was filled with original
tales, poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in which
they good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults and short
comings.  On one occasion, Mr. Pickwick put on a pair of spectacles
without any glass, rapped upon the table, hemmed, and having stared
hard at Mr. Snodgrass, who was tilting back in his chair, till he
arranged himself properly, began to read:

    _________________________________________________

    "THE PICKWICK PORTFOLIO"



    MAY 20, 18--

    POET'S CORNER

    ANNIVERSARY ODE


    Again we meet to celebrate
    With badge and solemn rite,
    Our fifty-second anniversary,
    In Pickwick Hall, tonight.

    We all are here in perfect health,
    None gone from our small band:
    Again we see each well-known face,
    And press each friendly hand.

    Our Pickwick, always at his post,
    With reverence we greet,
    As, spectacles on nose, he reads
    Our well-filled weekly sheet.

    Although he suffers from a cold,
    We joy to hear him speak,
    For words of wisdom from him fall,
    In spite of croak or squeak.

    Old six-foot Snodgrass looms on high,
    With elephantine grace,
    And beams upon the company,
    With brown and jovial face.

    Poetic fire lights up his eye,
    He struggles 'gainst his lot.
    Behold ambition on his brow,
    And on his nose, a blot.

    Next our peaceful Tupman comes,
    So rosy, plump, and sweet,
    Who chokes with laughter at the puns,
    And tumbles off his seat.

    Prim little Winkle too is here,
    With every hair in place,
    A model of propriety,
    Though he hates to wash his face.

    The year is gone, we still unite
    To joke and laugh and read,
    And tread the path of literature
    That doth to glory lead.

    Long may our paper prosper well,
    Our club unbroken be,
    And coming years their blessings pour
    On the useful, gay 'P.  C.'.
    A.  SNODGRASS

    ________

    THE MASKED MARRIAGE
    (A Tale Of Venice)

    Gondola after gondola swept up to the marble
    steps, and left its lovely load to swell the
    brilliant throng that filled the stately halls of Count
    Adelon.  Knights and ladies, elves and pages, monks
    and flower girls, all mingled gaily in the dance.
    Sweet voices and rich melody filled the air, and so
    with mirth and music the masquerade went on.
    "Has your Highness seen the Lady Viola tonight?"
    asked a gallant troubadour of the fairy queen who
    floated down the hall upon his arm.

    "Yes, is she not lovely, though so sad!  Her
    dress is well chosen, too, for in a week she weds
    Count Antonio, whom she passionately hates."

    "By my faith, I envy him.  Yonder he comes,
    arrayed like a bridegroom, except the black mask.
    When that is off we shall see how he regards the
    fair maid whose heart he cannot win, though her
    stern father bestows her hand," returned the troubadour.

    "Tis whispered that she loves the young English
    artist who haunts her steps, and is spurned by the
    old Count," said the lady, as they joined the dance.
    The revel was at its height when a priest
    appeared, and withdrawing the young pair to an alcove,
    hung with purple velvet, he motioned them to kneel.
    Instant silence fell on the gay throng, and not a
    sound, but the dash of fountains or the rustle of
    orange groves sleeping in the moonlight, broke the
    hush, as Count de Adelon spoke thus:

    "My lords and ladies, pardon the ruse by which
    I have gathered you here to witness the marriage of
    my daughter.  Father, we wait your services."
    All eyes turned toward the bridal party, and a
    murmur of amazement went through the throng, for
    neither bride nor groom removed their masks.  Curiosity
    and wonder possessed all hearts, but respect restrained
    all tongues till the holy rite was over.  Then the
    eager spectators gathered round the count, demanding
    an explanation.

    "Gladly would I give it if I could, but I only
    know that it was the whim of my timid Viola, and I
    yielded to it.  Now, my children, let the play end.
    Unmask and receive my blessing."

    But neither bent the knee, for the young bridegroom
    replied in a tone that startled all listeners
    as the mask fell, disclosing the noble face of Ferdinand
    Devereux, the artist lover, and leaning on the
    breast where now flashed the star of an English earl
    was the lovely Viola, radiant with joy and beauty.

    "My lord, you scornfully bade me claim your
    daughter when I could boast as high a name and vast a
    fortune as the Count Antonio.  I can do more, for even
    your ambitious soul cannot refuse the Earl of Devereux
    and De Vere, when he gives his ancient name and boundless
    wealth in return for the beloved hand of this fair lady,
    now my wife."

    The count stood like one changed to stone, and
    turning to the bewildered crowd, Ferdinand added, with
    a gay smile of triumph, "To you, my gallant friends, I
    can only wish that your wooing may prosper as mine has
    done, and that you may all win as fair a bride as I have
    by this masked marriage."
    S.  PICKWICK


    Why is the P.  C.  like the Tower of Babel?
    It is full of unruly members.

    _________

    THE HISTORY OF A SQUASH


    Once upon a time a farmer planted a little seed
    in his garden, and after a while it sprouted and became
    a vine and bore many squashes.  One day in October,
    when they were ripe, he picked one and took it
    to market.  A gorcerman bought and put it in his shop.
    That same morning, a little girl in a brown hat
    and blue dress, with a round face and snub nose, went
    and bought it for her mother.  She lugged it home, cut
    it up, and boiled it in the big pot, mashed some of it
    with salt and butter, for dinner.  And to the rest she added
    a pint of milk, two eggs, four spoons of sugar, nutmeg,
    and some crackers, put it in a deep dish, and baked it
    till it was brown and nice, and next day it was eaten
    by a family named March.
    T.  TUPMAN

    _________

    Mr. Pickwick, Sir:--
    I address you upon the subject of sin the sinner
    I mean is a man named Winkle who makes trouble in his
    club by laughing and sometimes won't write his piece in
    this fine paper I hope you will pardon his badness and
    let him send a French fable because he can't write out
    of his head as he has so many lessons to do and no brains
    in future I will try to take time by the fetlock and
    prepare some work which will be all commy la fo that
    means all right I am in haste as it is nearly school
    time.
    Yours respectably,
    N.  WINKLE

    [The above is a manly and handsome aknowledgment of past
    misdemeanors.  If our young friend studied punctuation, it
    would be well.]

    _________

    A SAD ACCIDENT

    On Friday last, we were startled by a violent shock
    in our basement, followed by cries of distress.
    On rushing in a body to the cellar, we discovered our beloved
    President prostrate upon the floor, having tripped and
    fallen while getting wood for domestic purposes.  A perfect
    scene of ruin met our eyes, for in his fall Mr. Pickwick
    had plunged his head and shoulders into a tub of water,
    upset a keg of soft soap upon his manly form,  and torn
    his garments badly.  On being removed from this perilous
    situation, it was discovered that he had suffered
    no injury but several bruises, and we are happy to add,
    is now doing well.
    ED.

    _________

    THE PUBLIC BEREAVEMENT

    It is our painful duty to record the sudden and
    mysterious disappearance of our cherished friend, Mrs.
    Snowball Pat Paw.  This lovely and beloved cat was the
    pet of a large circle of warm and admiring friends; for
    her beauty attracted all eyes, her graces and virtues
    endeared her to all hearts, and her loss is deeply felt
    by the whole community.

    When last seen, she was sitting at the gate, watching
    the butcher's cart, and it is feared that some villain,
    tempted by her charms, basely stole her.  Weeks have passed,
    but no trace of her has been discovered, and we relinquish
    all hope, tie a black ribbon to her basket, set aside her
    dish, and weep for her as one lost to us forever.

    _________

    A sympathizing friend sends the following gem:


    A LAMENT
    (FOR S.  B.  PAT PAW)

    We mourn the loss of our little pet,
    And sigh o'er her hapless fate,
    For never more by the fire she'll sit,
    Nor play by the old green gate.

    The little grave where her infant sleeps
    Is 'neath the chestnut tree.
    But o'er her grave we may not weep,
    We know not where it may be.

    Her empty bed, her idle ball,
    Will never see her more;
    No gentle tap, no loving purr
    Is heard at the parlor door.

    Another cat comes after her mice,
    A cat with a dirty face,
    But she does not hunt as our darling did,
    Nor play with her airy grace.

    Her stealthy paws tread the very hall
    Where Snowball used to play,
    But she only spits at the dogs our pet
    So gallantly drove away.

    She is useful and mild, and does her best,
    But she is not fair to see,
    And we cannot give her your place dear,
    Nor worship her as we worship thee.
    A.S.

    _________

    ADVERTISEMENTS

    MISS ORANTHY BLUGGAGE, the accomplished
    strong-minded lecturer, will deliver her
    famous lecture on "WOMAN AND HER POSITION"
    at Pickwick Hall, next Saturday Evening,
    after the usual performances.


    A WEEKLY MEETING will be held at Kitchen
    Place, to teach young ladies how to cook.
    Hannah Brown will preside, and all are
    invited to attend.

    The DUSTPAN SOCIETY will meet on Wednesday
    next, and parade in the upper story of the
    Club House.  All members to appear in uniform
    and shoulder their brooms at nine precisely.

    Mrs. BETH BOUNCER will open her new
    assortment of Doll's Millinery next week.
    The latest Paris fashions have arrived,
    and orders are respectfully solicited.

    A NEW PLAY will appear at the Barnville
    Theatre, in the course of a few weeks, which
    will surpass anything ever seen on the American stage.
    "The Greek Slave, or Constantine the Avenger," is the name
    of this thrilling drama!!!



    HINTS

    If S.P.  didn't use so much soap on his hands,
    he wouldn't always be late at breakfast.  A.S.
    is requested not to whistle in the street.  T.T
    please don't forget Amy's napkin.  N.W.  must
    not fret because his dress has not nine tucks.



    WEEKLY REPORT

    Meg--Good.
    Jo--Bad.
    Beth--Very Good.
    Amy--Middling.

    _________________________________________________


As the President finished reading the paper (which I beg leave to
assure my readers is a bona fide copy of one written by bona fide girls
once upon a time), a round of applause followed, and then Mr. Snodgrass
rose to make a proposition.

"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, assuming a parliamentary
attitude and tone, "I wish to propose the admission of a new
member--one who highly deserves the honor, would be deeply grateful for
it, and would add immensely to the spirit of the club, the literary
value of the paper, and be no end jolly and nice.  I propose Mr.
Theodore Laurence as an honorary member of the P.  C.  Come now, do
have him."

Jo's sudden change of tone made the girls laugh, but all looked rather
anxious, and no one said a word as Snodgrass took his seat.

"We'll put it to a vote," said the President.  "All in favor of this
motion please to manifest it by saying, 'Aye'."

A loud response from Snodgrass, followed, to everybody's surprise, by a
timid one from Beth.

"Contrary-minded say, 'No'."

Meg and Amy were contrary-minded, and Mr. Winkle rose to say with great
elegance, "We don't wish any boys, they only joke and bounce about.
This is a ladies' club, and we wish to be private and proper."

"I'm afraid he'll laugh at our paper, and make fun of us afterward,"
observed Pickwick, pulling the little curl on her forehead, as she
always did when doubtful.

Up rose Snodgrass, very much in earnest.  "Sir, I give you my word as a
gentleman, Laurie won't do anything of the sort.  He likes to write,
and he'll give a tone to our contributions and keep us from being
sentimental, don't you see?  We can do so little for him, and he does
so much for us, I think the least we can do is to offer him a place
here, and make him welcome if he comes."

This artful allusion to benefits conferred brought Tupman to his feet,
looking as if he had quite made up his mind.

"Yes; we ought to do it, even if we are afraid.  I say he may come, and
his grandpa, too, if he likes."

This spirited burst from Beth electrified the club, and Jo left her
seat to shake hands approvingly.  "Now then, vote again. Everybody
remember it's our Laurie, and say, 'Aye!'" cried Snodgrass excitedly.

"Aye!  Aye!  Aye!" replied three voices at once.

"Good!  Bless you!  Now, as there's nothing like 'taking time by the
fetlock', as Winkle characteristically observes, allow me to present
the new member."  And, to the dismay of the rest of the club, Jo threw
open the door of the closet, and displayed Laurie sitting on a rag bag,
flushed and twinkling with suppressed laughter.

"You rogue!  You traitor!  Jo, how could you?" cried the three girls,
as Snodgrass led her friend triumphantly forth, and producing both a
chair and a badge, installed him in a jiffy.

"The coolness of you two rascals is amazing," began Mr. Pickwick,
trying to get up an awful frown and only succeeding in producing an
amiable smile.  But the new member was equal to the occasion, and
rising, with a grateful salutation to the Chair, said in the most
engaging manner, "Mr. President and ladies--I beg pardon,
gentlemen--allow me to introduce myself as Sam Weller, the very humble
servant of the club."

"Good!  Good!" cried Jo, pounding with the handle of the old warming
pan on which she leaned.

"My faithful friend and noble patron," continued Laurie with a wave of
the hand, "who has so flatteringly presented me, is not to be blamed
for the base stratagem of tonight.  I planned it, and she only gave in
after lots of teasing."

"Come now, don't lay it all on yourself.  You know I proposed the
cupboard," broke in Snodgrass, who was enjoying the joke amazingly.

"Never mind what she says.  I'm the wretch that did it, sir," said the
new member, with a Welleresque nod to Mr. Pickwick.  "But on my honor,
I never will do so again, and henceforth devote myself to the interest
of this immortal club."

"Hear!  Hear!" cried Jo, clashing the lid of the warming pan like a
cymbal.

"Go on, go on!" added Winkle and Tupman, while the President bowed
benignly.

"I merely wish to say, that as a slight token of my gratitude for the
honor done me, and as a means of promoting friendly relations between
adjoining nations, I have set up a post office in the hedge in the
lower corner of the garden, a fine, spacious building with padlocks on
the doors and every convenience for the mails, also the females, if I
may be allowed the expression.  It's the old martin house, but I've
stopped up the door and made the roof open, so it will hold all sorts
of things, and save our valuable time.  Letters, manuscripts, books,
and bundles can be passed in there, and as each nation has a key, it
will be uncommonly nice, I fancy.  Allow me to present the club key,
and with many thanks for your favor, take my seat."

Great applause as Mr. Weller deposited a little key on the table and
subsided, the warming pan clashed and waved wildly, and it was some
time before order could be restored.  A long discussion followed, and
everyone came out surprising, for everyone did her best.  So it was an
unusually lively meeting, and did not adjourn till a late hour, when it
broke up with three shrill cheers for the new member.

No one ever regretted the admittance of Sam Weller, for a more devoted,
well-behaved, and jovial member no club could have. He certainly did
add 'spirit' to the meetings, and 'a tone' to the paper, for his
orations convulsed his hearers and his contributions were excellent,
being patriotic, classical, comical, or dramatic, but never
sentimental.  Jo regarded them as worthy of Bacon, Milton, or
Shakespeare, and remodeled her own works with good effect, she thought.

The P.  O.  was a capital little institution, and flourished
wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as
through the real post office.  Tragedies and cravats, poetry and
pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers,
invitations, scoldings, and puppies.  The old gentleman liked the fun,
and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and
funny telegrams, and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's
charms, actually sent a love letter to Jo's care.  How they laughed
when the secret came out, never dreaming how many love letters that
little post office would hold in the years to come.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

EXPERIMENTS

"The first of June!  The Kings are off to the seashore tomorrow, and
I'm free.  Three months' vacation--how I shall enjoy it!" exclaimed
Meg, coming home one warm day to find Jo laid upon the sofa in an
unusual state of exhaustion, while Beth took off her dusty boots, and
Amy made lemonade for the refreshment of the whole party.

"Aunt March went today, for which, oh, be joyful!" said Jo. "I was
mortally afraid she'd ask me to go with her.  If she had, I should have
felt as if I ought to do it, but Plumfield is about as gay as a
churchyard, you know, and I'd rather be excused. We had a flurry
getting the old lady off, and I had a fright every time she spoke to
me, for I was in such a hurry to be through that I was uncommonly
helpful and sweet, and feared she'd find it impossible to part from me.
I quaked till she was fairly in the carriage, and had a final fright,
for as it drove of, she popped out her head, saying, 'Josyphine, won't
you--?' I didn't hear any more, for I basely turned and fled.  I did
actually run, and whisked round the corner where I felt safe."

"Poor old Jo!  She came in looking as if bears were after her," said
Beth, as she cuddled her sister's feet with a motherly air.

"Aunt March is a regular samphire, is she not?" observed Amy, tasting
her mixture critically.

"She means vampire, not seaweed, but it doesn't matter.  It's too warm
to be particular about one's parts of speech," murmured Jo.

"What shall you do all your vacation?" asked Amy, changing the subject
with tact.

"I shall lie abed late, and do nothing," replied Meg, from the depths
of the rocking chair.  "I've been routed up early all winter and had to
spend my days working for other people, so now I'm going to rest and
revel to my heart's content."

"No," said Jo, "that dozy way wouldn't suit me.  I've laid in a heap of
books, and I'm going to improve my shining hours reading on my perch in
the old apple tree, when I'm not having l----"

"Don't say 'larks!'" implored Amy, as a return snub for the 'samphire'
correction.

"I'll say 'nightingales' then, with Laurie.  That's proper and
appropriate, since he's a warbler."

"Don't let us do any lessons, Beth, for a while, but play all the time
and rest, as the girls mean to," proposed Amy.

"Well, I will, if Mother doesn't mind.  I want to learn some new songs,
and my children need fitting up for the summer.  They are dreadfully
out of order and really suffering for clothes."

"May we, Mother?" asked Meg, turning to Mrs. March, who sat sewing in
what they called 'Marmee's corner'.

"You may try your experiment for a week and see how you like it.  I
think by Saturday night you will find that all play and no work is as
bad as all work and no play."

"Oh, dear, no!  It will be delicious, I'm sure," said Meg complacently.

"I now propose a toast, as my 'friend and pardner, Sairy Gamp', says.
Fun forever, and no grubbing!" cried Jo, rising, glass in hand, as the
lemonade went round.

They all drank it merrily, and began the experiment by lounging for the
rest of the day.  Next morning, Meg did not appear till ten o'clock.
Her solitary breakfast did not taste good, and the room seemed lonely
and untidy, for Jo had not filled the vases, Beth had not dusted, and
Amy's books lay scattered about.  Nothing was neat and pleasant but
'Marmee's corner', which looked as usual.  And there Meg sat, to 'rest
and read', which meant to yawn and imagine what pretty summer dresses
she would get with her salary.  Jo spent the morning on the river with
Laurie and the afternoon reading and crying over _The Wide, Wide
World_, up in the apple tree.  Beth began by rummaging everything out
of the big closet where her family resided, but getting tired before
half done, she left her establishment topsy-turvy and went to her
music, rejoicing that she had no dishes to wash. Amy arranged her
bower, put on her best white frock, smoothed her curls, and sat down to
draw under the honeysuckle, hoping someone would see and inquire who
the young artist was.  As no one appeared but an inquisitive
daddy-longlegs, who examined her work with interest, she went to walk,
got caught in a shower, and came home dripping.

At teatime they compared notes, and all agreed that it had been a
delightful, though unusually long day.  Meg, who went shopping in the
afternoon and got a 'sweet blue muslin', had discovered, after she had
cut the breadths off, that it wouldn't wash, which mishap made her
slightly cross.  Jo had burned the skin off her nose boating, and got a
raging headache by reading too long.  Beth was worried by the confusion
of her closet and the difficulty of learning three or four songs at
once, and Amy deeply regretted the damage done her frock, for Katy
Brown's party was to be the next day and now like Flora McFlimsey, she
had 'nothing to wear'.  But these were mere trifles, and they assured
their mother that the experiment was working finely.  She smiled, said
nothing, and with Hannah's help did their neglected work, keeping home
pleasant and the domestic machinery running smoothly.  It was
astonishing what a peculiar and uncomfortable state of things was
produced by the 'resting and reveling' process.  The days kept getting
longer and longer, the weather was unusually variable and so were
tempers; an unsettled feeling possessed everyone, and Satan found
plenty of mischief for the idle hands to do.  As the height of luxury,
Meg put out some of her sewing, and then found time hang so heavily,
that she fell to snipping and spoiling her clothes in her attempts to
furbish them up a la Moffat.  Jo read till her eyes gave out and she
was sick of books, got so fidgety that even good-natured Laurie had a
quarrel with her, and so reduced in spirits that she desperately wished
she had gone with Aunt March.  Beth got on pretty well, for she was
constantly forgetting that it was to be all play and no work, and fell
back into her old ways now and then.  But something in the air affected
her, and more than once her tranquility was much disturbed, so much so
that on one occasion she actually shook poor dear Joanna and told her
she was 'a fright'.  Amy fared worst of all, for her resources were
small, and when her sisters left her to amuse herself, she soon found
that accomplished and important little self a great burden.  She didn't
like dolls, fairy tales were childish, and one couldn't draw all the
time.  Tea parties didn't amount to much, neither did picnics, unless
very well conducted.  "If one could have a fine house, full of nice
girls, or go traveling, the summer would be delightful, but to stay at
home with three selfish sisters and a grown-up boy was enough to try
the patience of a Boaz," complained Miss Malaprop, after several days
devoted to pleasure, fretting, and ennui.

No one would own that they were tired of the experiment, but by Friday
night each acknowledged to herself that she was glad the week was
nearly done.  Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply, Mrs. March, who
had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish off the trial in an
appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday and let the girls
enjoy the full effect of the play system.

When they got up on Saturday morning, there was no fire in the kitchen,
no breakfast in the dining room, and no mother anywhere to be seen.

"Mercy on us!  What has happened?" cried Jo, staring about her in
dismay.

Meg ran upstairs and soon came back again, looking relieved but rather
bewildered, and a little ashamed.

"Mother isn't sick, only very tired, and she says she is going to stay
quietly in her room all day and let us do the best we can.  It's a very
queer thing for her to do, she doesn't act a bit like herself.  But she
says it has been a hard week for her, so we mustn't grumble but take
care of ourselves."

"That's easy enough, and I like the idea, I'm aching for something to
do, that is, some new amusement, you know," added Jo quickly.

In fact it was an immense relief to them all to have a little work, and
they took hold with a will, but soon realized the truth of Hannah's
saying, "Housekeeping ain't no joke."  There was plenty of food in the
larder, and while Beth and Amy set the table, Meg and Jo got breakfast,
wondering as they did why servants ever talked about hard work.

"I shall take some up to Mother, though she said we were not to think
of her, for she'd take care of herself," said Meg, who presided and
felt quite matronly behind the teapot.

So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken up with the
cook's compliments.  The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelet
scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus, but Mrs. March
received her repast with thanks and laughed heartily over it after Jo
was gone.

"Poor little souls, they will have a hard time, I'm afraid, but they
won't suffer, and it will do them good," she said, producing the more
palatable viands with which she had provided herself, and disposing of
the bad breakfast, so that their feelings might not be hurt, a motherly
little deception for which they were grateful.

Many were the complaints below, and great the chagrin of the head cook
at her failures.  "Never mind, I'll get the dinner and be servant, you
be mistress, keep your hands nice, see company, and give orders," said
Jo, who knew still less than Meg about culinary affairs.

This obliging offer was gladly accepted, and Margaret retired to the
parlor, which she hastily put in order by whisking the litter under the
sofa and shutting the blinds to save the trouble of dusting.  Jo, with
perfect faith in her own powers and a friendly desire to make up the
quarrel, immediately put a note in the office, inviting Laurie to
dinner.

"You'd better see what you have got before you think of having
company," said Meg, when informed of the hospitable but rash act.

"Oh, there's corned beef and plenty of poatoes, and I shall get some
asparagus and a lobster, 'for a relish', as Hannah says. We'll have
lettuce and make a salad.  I don't know how, but the book tells.  I'll
have blanc mange and strawberries for dessert, and coffee too, if you
want to be elegant."

"Don't try too many messes, Jo, for you can't make anything but
gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat.  I wash my hands of the
dinner party, and since you have asked Laurie on your own
responsibility, you may just take care of him."

"I don't want you to do anything but be civil to him and help to the
pudding.  You'll give me your advice if I get in a muddle, won't you?"
asked Jo, rather hurt.

"Yes, but I don't know much, except about bread and a few trifles.  You
had better ask Mother's leave before you order anything," returned Meg
prudently.

"Of course I shall.  I'm not a fool."  And Jo went off in a huff at the
doubts expressed of her powers.

"Get what you like, and don't disturb me.  I'm going out to dinner and
can't worry about things at home," said Mrs. March, when Jo spoke to
her.  "I never enjoyed housekeeping, and I'm going to take a vacation
today, and read, write, go visiting, and amuse myself."

The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortably and
reading early in the morning made Jo feel as if some unnatural
phenomenon had occurred, for an eclipse, an earthquake, or a volcanic
eruption would hardly have seemed stranger.

"Everything is out of sorts, somehow," she said to herself, going
downstairs.  "There's Beth crying, that's a sure sign that something is
wrong in this family.  If Amy is bothering, I'll shake her."

Feeling very much out of sorts herself, Jo hurried into the parlor to
find Beth sobbing over Pip, the canary, who lay dead in the cage with
his little claws pathetically extended, as if imploring the food for
want of which he had died.

"It's all my fault, I forgot him, there isn't a seed or a drop left.
Oh, Pip!  Oh, Pip!  How could I be so cruel to you?" cried Beth, taking
the poor thing in her hands and trying to restore him.

Jo peeped into his half-open eye, felt his little heart, and finding
him stiff and cold, shook her head, and offered her domino box for a
coffin.

"Put him in the oven, and maybe he will get warm and revive," said Amy
hopefully.

"He's been starved, and he shan't be baked now he's dead.  I'll make
him a shroud, and he shall be buried in the garden, and I'll never have
another bird, never, my Pip! for I am too bad to own one," murmured
Beth, sitting on the floor with her pet folded in her hands.

"The funeral shall be this afternoon, and we will all go.  Now, don't
cry, Bethy.  It's a pity, but nothing goes right this week, and Pip has
had the worst of the experiment.  Make the shroud, and lay him in my
box, and after the dinner party, we'll have a nice little funeral,"
said Jo, beginning to feel as if she had undertaken a good deal.

Leaving the others to console Beth, she departed to the kitchen, which
was in a most discouraging state of confusion.  Putting on a big apron,
she fell to work and got the dishes piled up ready for washing, when
she discovered that the fire was out.

"Here's a sweet prospect!" muttered Jo, slamming the stove door open,
and poking vigorously among the cinders.

Having rekindled the fire, she thought she would go to market while the
water heated.  The walk revived her spirits, and flattering herself
that she had made good bargains, she trudged home again, after buying a
very young lobster, some very old asparagus, and two boxes of acid
strawberries.  By the time she got cleared up, the dinner arrived and
the stove was red-hot.  Hannah had left a pan of bread to rise, Meg had
worked it up early, set it on the hearth for a second rising, and
forgotten it.  Meg was entertaining Sallie Gardiner in the parlor, when
the door flew open and a floury, crocky, flushed, and disheveled figure
appeared, demanding tartly...

"I say, isn't bread 'riz' enough when it runs over the pans?"

Sallie began to laugh, but Meg nodded and lifted her eyebrows as high
as they would go, which caused the apparition to vanish and put the
sour bread into the oven without further delay.  Mrs. March went out,
after peeping here and there to see how matters went, also saying a
word of comfort to Beth, who sat making a winding sheet, while the dear
departed lay in state in the domino box.  A strange sense of
helplessness fell upon the girls as the gray bonnet vanished round the
corner, and despair seized them when a few minutes later Miss Crocker
appeared, and said she'd come to dinner.  Now this lady was a thin,
yellow spinster, with a sharp nose and inquisitive eyes, who saw
everything and gossiped about all she saw. They disliked her, but had
been taught to be kind to her, simply because she was old and poor and
had few friends.  So Meg gave her the easy chair and tried to entertain
her, while she asked questions, critsized everything, and told stories
of the people whom she knew.

Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions
which Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became a
standing joke.  Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone,
and discovered that something more than energy and good will is
necessary to make a cook.  She boiled the asparagus for an hour and was
grieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever.
The bread burned black; for the salad dressing so aggravated her that
she could not make it fit to eat.  The lobster was a scarlet mystery to
her, but she hammered and poked till it was unshelled and its meager
proportions concealed in a grove of lettuce leaves.  The potatoes had
to be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not done at
the last.  The blanc mange was lumpy, and the strawberries not as ripe
as they looked, having been skilfully 'deaconed'.

"Well, they can eat beef and bread and butter, if they are hungry, only
it's mortifying to have to spend your whole morning for nothing,"
thought Jo, as she rang the bell half an hour later than usual, and
stood, hot, tired, and dispirited, surveying the feast spread before
Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance, and Miss Crocker, whose
tattling tongue would report them far and wide.

Poor Jo would gladly have gone under the table, as one thing after
another was tasted and left, while Amy giggled, Meg looked distressed,
Miss Crocker pursed her lips, and Laurie talked and laughed with all
his might to give a cheerful tone to the festive scene.  Jo's one
strong point was the fruit, for she had sugared it well, and had a
pitcher of rich cream to eat with it.  Her hot cheeks cooled a trifle,
and she drew a long breath as the pretty glass plates went round, and
everyone looked graciously at the little rosy islands floating in a sea
of cream.  Miss Crocker tasted first, made a wry face, and drank some
water hastily.  Jo, who refused, thinking there might not be enough,
for they dwindled sadly after the picking over, glanced at Laurie, but
he was eating away manfully, though there was a slight pucker about his
mouth and he kept his eye fixed on his plate.  Amy, who was fond of
delicate fare, took a heaping spoonful, choked, hid her face in her
napkin, and left the table precipitately.

"Oh, what is it?" exclaimed Jo, trembling.

"Salt instead of sugar, and the cream is sour," replied Meg with a
tragic gesture.

Jo uttered a groan and fell back in her chair, remembering that she had
given a last hasty powdering to the berries out of one of the two boxes
on the kitchen table, and had neglected to put the milk in the
refrigerator.  She turned scarlet and was on the verge of crying, when
she met Laurie's eyes, which would look merry in spite of his heroic
efforts.  The comical side of the affair suddenly struck her, and she
laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks.  So did everyone else, even
'Croaker' as the girls called the old lady, and the unfortunate dinner
ended gaily, with bread and butter, olives and fun.

"I haven't strength of mind enough to clear up now, so we will sober
ourselves with a funeral," said Jo, as they rose, and Miss Crocker made
ready to go, being eager to tell the new story at another friend's
dinner table.

They did sober themselves for Beth's sake.  Laurie dug a grave under
the ferns in the grove, little Pip was laid in, with many tears by his
tender-hearted mistress, and covered with moss, while a wreath of
violets and chickweed was hung on the stone which bore his epitaph,
composed by Jo while she struggled with the dinner.

    Here lies Pip March,
    Who died the 7th of June;
    Loved and lamented sore,
    And not forgotten soon.

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Beth retired to her room, overcome
with emotion and lobster, but there was no place of repose, for the
beds were not made, and she found her grief much assuaged by beating up
the pillows and putting things in order.  Meg helped Jo clear away the
remains of the feast, which took half the afternoon and left them so
tired that they agreed to be contented with tea and toast for supper.

Laurie took Amy to drive, which was a deed of charity, for the sour
cream seemed to have had a bad effect upon her temper.  Mrs. March came
home to find the three older girls hard at work in the middle of the
afternoon, and a glance at the closet gave her an idea of the success
of one part of the experiment.

Before the housewives could rest, several people called, and there was
a scramble to get ready to see them.  Then tea must be got, errands
done, and one or two necessary bits of sewing neglected until the last
minute.  As twilight fell, dewy and still, one by one they gathered on
the porch where the June roses were budding beautifully, and each
groaned or sighed as she sat down, as if tired or troubled.

"What a dreadful day this has been!" began Jo, usually the first to
speak.

"It has seemed shorter than usual, but so uncomfortable," said Meg.

"Not a bit like home," added Amy.

"It can't seem so without Marmee and little Pip," sighed Beth, glancing
with full eyes at the empty cage above her head.

"Here's Mother, dear, and you shall have another bird tomorrow, if you
want it."

As she spoke, Mrs. March came and took her place among them, looking as
if her holiday had not been much pleasanter than theirs.

"Are you satisfied with your experiment, girls, or do you want another
week of it?" she asked, as Beth nestled up to her and the rest turned
toward her with brightening faces, as flowers turn toward the sun.

"I don't!" cried Jo decidedly.

"Nor I," echoed the others.

"You think then, that it is better to have a few duties and live a
little for others, do you?"

"Lounging and larking doesn't pay," observed Jo, shaking her head. "I'm
tired of it and mean to go to work at something right off."

"Suppose you learn plain cooking.  That's a useful accomplishment,
which no woman should be without," said Mrs. March, laughing inaudibly
at the recollection of Jo's dinner party, for she had met Miss Crocker
and heard her account of it.

"Mother, did you go away and let everything be, just to see how we'd
get on?" cried Meg, who had had suspicions all day.

"Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing
her share faithfully.  While Hannah and I did your work, you got on
pretty well, though I don't think you were very happy or amiable.  So I
thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when
everyone thinks only of herself.  Don't you feel that it is pleasanter
to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when
it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and
lovely to us all?"

"We do, Mother, we do!" cried the girls.

"Then let me advise you to take up your little burdens again, for
though they seem heavy sometimes, they are good for us, and lighten as
we learn to carry them.  Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for
everyone.  It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and
spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than
money or fashion."

"We'll work like bees, and love it too, see if we don't," said Jo.
"I'll learn plain cooking for my holiday task, and the next dinner
party I have shall be a success."

"I'll make the set of shirts for father, instead of letting you do it,
Marmee.  I can and I will, though I'm not fond of sewing. That will be
better than fussing over my own things, which are plenty nice enough as
they are." said Meg.

"I'll do my lessons every day, and not spend so much time with my music
and dolls.  I am a stupid thing, and ought to be studying, not
playing," was Beth's resolution, while Amy followed their example by
heroically declaring, "I shall learn to make buttonholes, and attend to
my parts of speech."

"Very good!  Then I am quite satisfied with the experiment, and fancy
that we shall not have to repeat it, only don't go to the other extreme
and delve like slaves.  Have regular hours for work and play, make each
day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth
of time by employing it well.  Then youth will be delightful, old age
will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite
of poverty."

"We'll remember, Mother!" and they did.



CHAPTER TWELVE

CAMP LAURENCE

Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could attend to it
regularly, and dearly liked the daily task of unlocking the little door
and distributing the mail.  One July day she came in with her hands
full, and went about the house leaving letters and parcels like the
penny post.

"Here's your posy, Mother!  Laurie never forgets that," she said,
putting the fresh nosegay in the vase that stood in 'Marmee's corner',
and was kept supplied by the affectionate boy.

"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth, delivering
the articles to her sister, who sat near her mother, stitching
wristbands.

"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," said Meg,
looking at the gray cotton glove.  "Didn't you drop the other in the
garden?"

"No, I'm sure I didn't, for there was only one in the office."

"I hate to have odd gloves!  Never mind, the other may be found.  My
letter is only a translation of the German song I wanted.  I think Mr.
Brooke did it, for this isn't Laurie's writing."

Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty in her gingham
morning gown, with the little curls blowing about her forehead, and
very womanly, as she sat sewing at her little worktable, full of tidy
white rolls, so unconscious of the thought in her mother's mind as she
sewed and sang, while her fingers flew and her thoughts were busied
with girlish fancies as innocent and fresh as the pansies in her belt,
that Mrs. March smiled and was satisfied.

"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat, which covered
the whole post office and stuck outside," said Beth, laughing as she
went into the study where Jo sat writing.

"What a sly fellow Laurie is!  I said I wished bigger hats were the
fashion, because I burn my face every hot day.  He said, 'Why mind the
fashion?  Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!' I said I would if I had
one, and he has sent me this, to try me.  I'll wear it for fun, and
show him I don't care for the fashion."  And hanging the antique
broad-brim on a bust of Plato, Jo read her letters.

One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill, for it said
to her...


My Dear:

I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction I watch
your efforts to control your temper.  You say nothing about your
trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps, that no one sees
them but the Friend whose help you daily ask, if I may trust the
well-worn cover of your guidebook.  I, too, have seen them all, and
heartily believe in the sincerity of your resolution, since it begins
to bear fruit.  Go on, dear, patiently and bravely, and always believe
that no one sympathizes more tenderly with you than your loving...

Mother


"That does me good!  That's worth millions of money and pecks of
praise.  Oh, Marmee, I do try!  I will keep on trying, and not get
tired, since I have you to help me."

Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance with a few happy
tears, for she had thought that no one saw and appreciated her efforts
to be good, and this assurance was doubly precious, doubly encouraging,
because unexpected and from the person whose commendation she most
valued.  Feeling stronger than ever to meet and subdue her Apollyon,
she pinned the note inside her frock, as a shield and a reminder, lest
she be taken unaware, and proceeded to open her other letter, quite
ready for either good or bad news.  In a big, dashing hand, Laurie
wrote...

Dear Jo, What ho!

Some english girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow and I want to
have a jolly time.  If it's fine, I'm going to pitch my tent in
Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch and croquet--have a
fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sorts of larks.  They are
nice people, and like such things.  Brooke will go to keep us boys
steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety for the girls.  I want you
all to come, can't let Beth off at any price, and nobody shall worry
her.  Don't bother about rations, I'll see to that and everything else,
only do come, there's a good fellow!

In a tearing hurry, Yours ever, Laurie.

"Here's richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.

"Of course we can go, Mother?  It will be such a help to Laurie, for I
can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the children be useful in some
way."

"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people.  Do you know anything
about them, Jo?" asked Meg.

"Only that there are four of them.  Kate is older than you, Fred and
Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), who is nine or
ten.  Laurie knew them abroad, and liked the boys.  I fancied, from the
way he primmed up his mouth in speaking of her, that he didn't admire
Kate much."

"I'm so glad my French print is clean, it's just the thing and so
becoming!" observed Meg complacently.  "Have you anything decent, Jo?"

"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me.  I shall row and
tramp about, so I don't want any starch to think of.  You'll come,
Betty?"

"If you won't let any boys talk to me."

"Not a boy!"

"I like to please Laurie, and I'm not afraid of Mr. Brooke, he is so
kind.  But I don't want to play, or sing, or say anything. I'll work
hard and not trouble anyone, and you'll take care of me, Jo, so I'll
go."

"That's my good girl.  You do try to fight off your shyness, and I love
you for it.  Fighting faults isn't easy, as I know, and a cheery word
kind of gives a lift.  Thank you, Mother," And Jo gave the thin cheek a
grateful kiss, more precious to Mrs. March than if it had given back
the rosy roundness of her youth.

"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted to copy,"
said Amy, showing her mail.

"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come over and play to
him tonight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shall go," added Beth,
whose friendship with the old gentleman prospered finely.

"Now let's fly round, and do double duty today, so that we can play
tomorrow with free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace her pen with a
broom.

When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morning to promise
them a fine day, he saw a comical sight.  Each had made such
preparation for the fete as seemed necessary and proper. Meg had an
extra row of little curlpapers across her forehead, Jo had copiously
anointed her afflicted face with cold cream, Beth had taken Joanna to
bed with her to atone for the approaching separation, and Amy had
capped the climax by putting a clothespin on her nose to uplift the
offending feature.  It was one of the kind artists use to hold the
paper on their drawing boards, therefore quite appropriate and
effective for the purpose it was now being put.  This funny spectacle
appeared to amuse the sun, for he burst out with such radiance that Jo
woke up and roused her sisters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.

Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party, and soon a
lively bustle began in both houses.  Beth, who was ready first, kept
reporting what went on next door, and enlivened her sisters' toilets by
frequent telegrams from the window.

"There goes the man with the tent!  I see Mrs. Barker doing up the
lunch in a hamper and a great basket.  Now Mr. Laurence is looking up
at the sky and the weathercock.  I wish he would go too.  There's
Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy!  Oh, mercy me!  Here's a
carriage full of people, a tall lady, a little girl, and two dreadful
boys.  One is lame, poor thing, he's got a crutch. Laurie didn't tell
us that.  Be quick, girls!  It's getting late. Why, there is Ned
Moffat, I do declare.  Meg, isn't that the man who bowed to you one day
when we were shopping?"

"So it is.  How queer that he should come.  I thought he was at the
mountains.  There is Sallie.  I'm glad she got back in time. Am I all
right, Jo?" cried Meg in a flutter.

"A regular daisy.  Hold up your dress and put your hat on straight, it
looks sentimental tipped that way and will fly off at the first puff.
Now then, come on!"

"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat?  It's too absurd!
You shall not make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg, as Jo tied
down with a red ribbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashioned leghorn Laurie
had sent for a joke.

"I just will, though, for it's capital, so shady, light, and big. It
will make fun, and I don't mind being a guy if I'm comfortable." With
that Jo marched straight away and the rest followed, a bright little
band of sisters, all looking their best in summer suits, with happy
faces under the jaunty hatbrims.

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the most cordial
manner.  The lawn was the reception room, and for several minutes a
lively scene was enacted there.  Meg was grateful to see that Miss
Kate, though twenty, was dressed with a simplicity which American girls
would do well to imitate, and who was much flattered by Mr. Ned's
assurances that he came especially to see her.  Jo understood why
Laurie 'primmed up his mouth' when speaking of Kate, for that young
lady had a standoff-don't-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with
the free and easy demeanor of the other girls.  Beth took an
observation of the new boys and decided that the lame one was not
'dreadful', but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on that
account.  Amy found Grace a well-mannered, merry, little person, and
after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, they suddenly
became very good friends.

Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on beforehand, the
party was soon embarked, and the two boats pushed off together, leaving
Mr. Laurence waving his hat on the shore.  Laurie and Jo rowed one
boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous
twin, did his best to upset both by paddling about in a wherry like a
disturbed water bug.  Jo's funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it
was of general utility.  It broke the ice in the beginning by producing
a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to and fro as
she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the whole party, if
a shower came up, she said.  Miss Kate decided that she was 'odd', but
rather clever, and smiled upon her from afar.

Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to face with
the rowers, who both admired the prospect and feathered their oars with
uncommon 'skill and dexterity'.  Mr. Brooke was a grave, silent young
man, with handsome brown eyes and a pleasant voice.  Meg liked his
quiet manners and considered him a walking encyclopedia of useful
knowledge.  He never talked to her much, but he looked at her a good
deal, and she felt sure that he did not regard her with aversion.  Ned,
being in college, of course put on all the airs which freshmen think it
their bounden duty to assume.  He was not very wise, but very
good-natured, and altogether an excellent person to carry on a picnic.
Sallie Gardiner was absorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and
chattering with the ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror
by his pranks.

It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched and the wickets
down by the time they arrived.  A pleasant green field, with three
wide-spreading oaks in the middle and a smooth strip of turf for
croquet.

"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as they landed with
exclamations of delight.

"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, the other
fellows are staff officers, and you, ladies, are company. The tent is
for your especial benefit and that oak is your drawing room, this is
the messroom and the third is the camp kitchen.  Now, let's have a game
before it gets hot, and then we'll see about dinner."

Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the game played by the
other eight.  Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred. Laurie took Sallie,
Jo, and Ned.  The English played well, but the Americans played better,
and contested every inch of the ground as strongly as if the spirit of
'76 inspired them.  Jo and Fred had several skirmishes and once
narrowly escaped high words. Jo was through the last wicket and had
missed the stroke, which failure ruffled her a good deal.  Fred was
close behind her and his turn came before hers.  He gave a stroke, his
ball hit the wicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side.  No one was
very near, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with his
toe, which put it just an inch on the right side.

"I'm through!  Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you, and get in first," cried
the young gentleman, swinging his mallet for another blow.

"You pushed it.  I saw you.  It's my turn now," said Jo sharply.

"Upon my word, I didn't move it.  It rolled a bit, perhaps, but that is
allowed.  So, stand off please, and let me have a go at the stake."

"We don't cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," said Jo
angrily.

"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows.  There you go!"
returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.

Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself in time,
colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering down a wicket
with all her might, while Fred hit the stake and declared himself out
with much exultation.  She went off to get her ball, and was a long
time finding it among the bushes, but she came back, looking cool and
quiet, and waited her turn patiently.  It took several strokes to
regain the place she had lost, and when she got there, the other side
had nearly won, for Kate's ball was the last but one and lay near the
stake.

"By George, it's all up with us!  Goodbye, Kate.  Miss Jo owes me one,
so you are finished," cried Fred excitedly, as they all drew near to
see the finish.

"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies," said Jo,
with a look that made the lad redden, "especially when they beat them,"
she added, as, leaving Kate's ball untouched, she won the game by a
clever stroke.

Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn't do to exult
over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle of the cheer
to whisper to his friend, "Good for you, Jo!  He did cheat, I saw him.
We can't tell him so, but he won't do it again, take my word for it."

Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose braid, and
said approvingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but you kept your
temper, and I'm so glad, Jo."

"Don't praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute. I should
certainly have boiled over if I hadn't stayed among the nettles till I
got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue. It's simmering now,
so I hope he'll keep out of my way," returned Jo, biting her lips as
she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.

"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch. "Commissary
general, will you make the fire and get water, while Miss March, Miss
Sallie, and I spread the table?  Who can make good coffee?"

"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister.  So Jo, feeling that
her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, went to preside over
the coffeepot, while the children collected dry sticks, and the boys
made a fire and got water from a spring near by.  Miss Kate sketched
and Frank talked to Beth, who was making little mats of braided rushes
to serve as plates.

The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the tablecloth with an
inviting array of eatables and drinkables, prettily decorated with
green leaves.  Jo announced that the coffee was ready, and everyone
settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youth is seldom dyspeptic, and
exercise develops wholesome appetites. A very merry lunch it was, for
everything seemed fresh and funny, and frequent peals of laughter
startled a venerable horse who fed near by.  There was a pleasing
inequality in the table, which produced many mishaps to cups and
plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little black ants partook of the
refreshments without being invited, and fuzzy caterpillars swung down
from the tree to see what was going on.  Three white-headed children
peeped over the fence, and an objectionable dog barked at them from the
other side of the river with all his might and main.

"There's salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer of berries.

"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two unwary
little ones who had gone to a creamy death.  "How dare you remind me of
that horrid dinner party, when yours is so nice in every way?" added
Jo, as they both laughed and ate out of one plate, the china having run
short.

"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven't got over it yet.
This is no credit to me, you know, I don't do anything.  It's you and
Meg and Brooke who make it all go, and I'm no end obliged to you.  What
shall we do when we can't eat anymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his
trump card had been played when lunch was over.

"Have games till it's cooler.  I brought Authors, and I dare say Miss
Kate knows something new and nice.  Go and ask her.  She's company, and
you ought to stay with her more."

"Aren't you company too?  I thought she'd suit Brooke, but he keeps
talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through that ridiculous
glass of hers.  I'm going, so you needn't try to preach propriety, for
you can't do it, Jo."

Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would not, and
the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to the drawing
room to play Rig-marole.

"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells as long as
he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some exciting point, when
the next takes it up and does the same.  It's very funny when well
done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragical comical stuff to laugh
over.  Please start it, Mr. Brooke," said Kate, with a commanding air,
which surprised Meg, who treated the tutor with as much respect as any
other gentleman.

Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr. Brooke
obediently began the story, with the handsome brown eyes steadily fixed
upon the sunshiny river.

"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek his fortune,
for he had nothing but his sword and his shield. He traveled a long
while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, and had a hard time of it, till
he came to the palace of a good old king, who had offered a reward to
anyone who could tame and train a fine but unbroken colt, of which he
was very fond.  The knight agreed to try, and got on slowly but surely,
for the colt was a gallant fellow, and soon learned to love his new
master, though he was freakish and wild.  Every day, when he gave his
lessons to this pet of the king's, the knight rode him through the
city, and as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful
face, which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found.  One
day, as he went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the window of a
ruinous castle the lovely face.  He was delighted, inquired who lived
in this old castle, and was told that several captive princesses were
kept there by a spell, and spun all day to lay up money to buy their
liberty.  The knight wished intensely that he could free them, but he
was poor and could only go by each day, watching for the sweet face and
longing to see it out in the sunshine.  At last he resolved to get into
the castle and ask how he could help them.  He went and knocked.  The
great door flew open, and he beheld..."

"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry of rapture, 'At
last!  At last!'" continued Kate, who had read French novels, and
admired the style.  "'Tis she!' cried Count Gustave, and fell at her
feet in an ecstasy of joy.  'Oh, rise!' she said, extending a hand of
marble fairness.  'Never! Till you tell me how I may rescue you,' swore
the knight, still kneeling. 'Alas, my cruel fate condemns me to remain
here till my tyrant is destroyed.' 'Where is the villain?' 'In the
mauve salon.  Go, brave heart, and save me from despair.' 'I obey, and
return victorious or dead!' With these thrilling words he rushed away,
and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter, when
he received..."

"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an old fellow in a
black gown fired at him," said Ned.  "Instantly, Sir What's-his-name
recovered himself, pitched the tyrant out of the window, and turned to
join the lady, victorious, but with a bump on his brow, found the door
locked, tore up the curtains, made a rope ladder, got halfway down when
the ladder broke, and he went headfirst into the moat, sixty feet
below.  Could swim like a duck, paddled round the castle till he came
to a little door guarded by two stout fellows, knocked their heads
together till they cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling
exertion of his prodigious strength, he smashed in the door, went up a
pair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads as big as
your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics, Miss
March.  At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sight that took
his breath away and chilled his blood..."

"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and a lamp in
its wasted hand," went on Meg.  "It beckoned, gliding noiselessly
before him down a corridor as dark and cold as any tomb.  Shadowy
effigies in armor stood on either side, a dead silence reigned, the
lamp burned blue, and the ghostly figure ever and anon turned its face
toward him, showing the glitter of awful eyes through its white veil.
They reached a curtained door, behind which sounded lovely music.  He
sprang forward to enter, but the specter plucked him back, and waved
threateningly before him a..."

"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed the
audience.  "'Thankee,' said the knight politely, as he took a pinch and
sneezed seven times so violently that his head fell off.  'Ha! Ha!'
laughed the ghost, and having peeped through the keyhole at the
princesses spinning away for dear life, the evil spirit picked up her
victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were eleven other
knights packed together without their heads, like sardines, who all
rose and began to..."

"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and, as they
danced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war in full sail.
'Up with the jib, reef the tops'l halliards, helm hard alee, and man
the guns!' roared the captain, as a Portuguese pirate hove in sight,
with a flag black as ink flying from her foremast. 'Go in and win, my
hearties!' says the captain, and a tremendous fight began.  Of course
the British beat--they always do."

"No, they don't!" cried Jo, aside.

"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap over the
schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whose lee scuppers
ran blood, for the order had been 'Cutlasses, and die hard!' 'Bosun's
mate, take a bight of the flying-jib sheet, and start this villain if
he doesn't confess his sins double quick,' said the British captain.
The Portuguese held his tongue like a brick, and walked the plank,
while the jolly tars cheered like mad.  But the sly dog dived, came up
under the man-of-war, scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail
set, 'To the bottom of the sea, sea, sea' where..."

"Oh, gracious!  What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred ended his
rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell nautical phrases
and facts out of one of his favorite books. "Well, they went to the
bottom, and a nice mermaid welcomed them, but was much grieved on
finding the box of headless knights, and kindly pickled them in brine,
hoping to discover the mystery about them, for being a woman, she was
curious.  By-and-by a diver came down, and the mermaid said, 'I'll give
you a box of pearls if you can take it up,' for she wanted to restore
the poor things to life, and couldn't raise the heavy load herself.  So
the diver hoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening it to
find no pearls.  He left it in a great lonely field, where it was found
by a..."

"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field," said
Amy, when Sallie's invention gave out.  "The little girl was sorry for
them, and asked an old woman what she should do to help them.  'Your
geese will tell you, they know everything.' said the old woman.  So she
asked what she should use for new heads, since the old ones were lost,
and all the geese opened their hundred mouths and screamed..."

"'Cabbages!'" continued Laurie promptly.  "'Just the thing,' said the
girl, and ran to get twelve fine ones from her garden. She put them on,
the knights revived at once, thanked her, and went on their way
rejoicing, never knowing the difference, for there were so many other
heads like them in the world that no one thought anything of it.  The
knight in whom I'm interested went back to find the pretty face, and
learned that the princesses had spun themselves free and all gone and
married, but one.  He was in a great state of mind at that, and
mounting the colt, who stood by him through thick and thin, rushed to
the castle to see which was left.  Peeping over the hedge, he saw the
queen of his affections picking flowers in her garden.  'Will you give
me a rose?' said he.  'You must come and get it.  I can't come to you,
it isn't proper,' said she, as sweet as honey.  He tried to climb over
the hedge, but it seemed to grow higher and higher.  Then he tried to
push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and he was in despair.
So he patiently broke twig after twig till he had made a little hole
through which he peeped, saying imploringly, 'Let me in!  Let me in!'
But the pretty princess did not seem to understand, for she picked her
roses quietly, and left him to fight his way in.  Whether he did or
not, Frank will tell you."

"I can't.  I'm not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayed at the
sentimental predicament out of which he was to rescue the absurd
couple.  Beth had disappeared behind Jo, and Grace was asleep.

"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, is he?" asked
Mr. Brooke, still watching the river, and playing with the wild rose in
his buttonhole.

"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gate after a
while," said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threw acorns at his
tutor.

"What a piece of nonsense we have made!  With practice we might do
something quite clever.  Do you know Truth?"

"I hope so," said Meg soberly.

"The game, I mean?"

"What is it?" said Fred.

"Why, you pile up your hands, choose a number, and draw out in turn,
and the person who draws at the number has to answer truly any question
put by the rest.  It's great fun."

"Let's try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.

Miss Kate and Mr. Brooke, Meg, and Ned declined, but Fred, Sallie, Jo,
and Laurie piled and drew, and the lot fell to Laurie.

"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.

"Grandfather and Napoleon."

"Which lady here do you think prettiest?" said Sallie.

"Margaret."

"Which do you like best?" from Fred.

"Jo, of course."

"What silly questions you ask!"  And Jo gave a disdainful shrug as the
rest laughed at Laurie's matter-of-fact tone.

"Try again.  Truth isn't a bad game," said Fred.

"It's a very good one for you," retorted Jo in a low voice. Her turn
came next.

"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred, by way of testing in her the
virtue he lacked himself.

"A quick temper."

"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.

"A pair of boot lacings," returned Jo, guessing and defeating his
purpose.

"Not a true answer.  You must say what you really do want most."

"Genius.  Don't you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?" And she
slyly smiled in his disappointed face.

"What virtues do you most admire in a man?" asked Sallie.

"Courage and honesty."

"Now my turn," said Fred, as his hand came last.

"Let's give it to him," whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded and asked at
once...

"Didn't you cheat at croquet?"

"Well, yes, a little bit."

"Good!  Didn't you take your story out of _The Sea Lion?_" said Laurie.

"Rather."

"Don't you think the English nation perfect in every respect?" asked
Sallie.

"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."

"He's a true John Bull.  Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have a chance
without waiting to draw.  I'll harrrow up your feelings first by asking
if you don't think you are something of a flirt," said Laurie, as Jo
nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.

"You impertinent boy!  Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie, with an
air that proved the contrary.

"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.

"Spiders and rice pudding."

"What do you like best?" asked Jo.

"Dancing and French gloves."

"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play.  Let's have a sensible game
of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.

Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it went on,
the three elders sat apart, talking.  Miss Kate took out her sketch
again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay on the grass with
a book, which he did not read.

"How beautifully you do it!  I wish I could draw," said Meg, with
mingled admiration and regret in her voice.

"Why don't you learn?  I should think you had taste and talent for it,"
replied Miss Kate graciously.

"I haven't time."

"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy.  So did mine, but I
proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons privately, and
then she was quite willing I should go on.  Can't you do the same with
your governess?"

"I have none."

"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with us.  Very
fine schools they are, too, Papa says.  You go to a private one, I
suppose?"

"I don't go at all.  I am a governess myself."

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said, "Dear
me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something in her face
made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.

Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America love
independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and
respected for supporting themselves."

"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do so.  We
have many most respectable and worthy young women who do the same and
are employed by the nobility, because, being the daughters of
gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished, you know," said
Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg's pride, and made her
work seem not only more distasteful, but degrading.

"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke, breaking
an awkward pause.

"Oh, yes!  It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoever
translated it for me." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.

"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.

"Not very well.  My father, who taught me, is away, and I don't get on
very fast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."

"Try a little now.  Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor who
loves to teach."  And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with an
inviting smile.

"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful in
the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.

"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one of the most
beautiful passages in a perfectly correct but perfectly expressionless
manner.

Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg, who said
innocently, "I thought it was poetry."

"Some of it is.  Try this passage."

There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as he opened at poor
Mary's lament.

Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new tutor used
to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously making poetry of
the hard words by the soft intonation of her musical voice.  Down the
page went the green guide, and presently, forgetting her listener in
the beauty of the sad scene, Meg read as if alone, giving a little
touch of tragedy to the words of the unhappy queen.  If she had seen
the brown eyes then, she would have stopped short, but she never looked
up, and the lesson was not spoiled for her.

"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring her
many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.

Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of the little
tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying with condescension,
"You've a nice accent and in time will be a clever reader.  I advise
you to learn, for German is a valuable accomplishment to teachers.  I
must look after Grace, she is romping." And Miss Kate strolled away,
adding to herself with a shrug, "I didn't come to chaperone a
governess, though she is young and pretty.  What odd people these
Yankees are.  I'm afraid Laurie will be quite spoiled among them."

"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at governesses
and don't treat them as we do," said Meg, looking after the retreating
figure with an annoyed expression.

"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know to my
sorrow.  There's no place like America for us workers, Miss Margaret."
And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful that Meg was ashamed to
lament her hard lot.

"I'm glad I live in it then.  I don't like my work, but I get a good
deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain. I only
wished I liked teaching as you do."

"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil.  I shall be very
sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily punching holes in
the turf.

"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question, but her
eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"

"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as he is
off, I shall turn soldier.  I am needed."

"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg.  "I should think every young man
would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers and sisters who
stay at home," she added sorrowfully.

"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live or die,"
said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the dead rose in the
hole he had made and covered it up, like a little grave.

"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we should all
be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," said Meg heartily.

"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking cheerful
again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted on the old
horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skill before the
young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.

"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood resting
after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.

"I dote upon it.  My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was rich, but
we don't keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added Amy, laughing.

"Tell me about Ellen Tree.  Is it a donkey?" asked Grace curiously.

"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but we've only got
an old sidesaddle and no horse.  Out in our garden is an apple tree
that has a nice low branch, so Jo put the saddle on it, fixed some
reins on the part that turns up, and we bounce away on Ellen Tree
whenever we like."

"How funny!" laughed Grace.  "I have a pony at home, and ride nearly
every day in the park with Fred and Kate.  It's very nice, for my
friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies and gentlemen."

"Dear, how charming!  I hope I shall go abroad some day, but I'd rather
go to Rome than the Row," said Amy, who had not the remotest idea what
the Row was and wouldn't have asked for the world.

Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they were
saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatient gesture
as he watched the active lads going through all sorts of comical
gymnastics.  Beth, who was collecting the scattered Author cards,
looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way, "I'm afraid you are
tired.  Can I do anything for you?"

"Talk to me, please.  It's dull, sitting by myself," answered Frank,
who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.

If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not have seemed a
more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there was no place to run to,
no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor boy looked so wistfully at her
that she bravely resolved to try.

"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over the cards
and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.

"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting," said
Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to his strength.

My heart!  What shall I do?  I don't know anything about them, thought
Beth, and forgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry, she said,
hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, but I suppose you
know all about it."

"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping a
confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and hounds for
me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself for her
innocent blunder.

"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she said,
turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she had read one
of the boys' books in which Jo delighted.

Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness to
amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious of her
sisters' surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle of Beth talking
away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she had begged
protection.

"Bless her heart!  She pities him, so she is good to him," said Jo,
beaming at her from the croquet ground.

"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if there could be
no further doubt of it.

"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said Grace to
Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets out of the acorn
cups.

"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be," said
Amy, well pleased at Beth's success.  She meant 'facinating', but as
Grace didn't know the exact meaning of either word, fastidious sounded
well and made a good impression.

An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of croquet
finished the afternoon.  At sunset the tent was struck, hampers packed,
wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole party floated down the
river, singing at the tops of their voices. Ned, getting sentimental,
warbled a serenade with the pensive refrain...

    Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,

and at the lines...

    We each are young, we each have a heart,
    Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?

he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she laughed
outright and spoiled his song.

"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover of a lively
chorus.  "You've kept close to that starched-up Englishwoman all day,
and now you snub me."

"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn't help it,"
replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach, for it was
quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the Moffat party and
the talk after it.

Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying to her
rather pettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl, is there?"

"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defending her
friend even while confessing her shortcomings.

"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be witty, and
succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.

On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated with
cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going to Canada.
As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss Kate looked
after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in her voice, "In
spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls are very nice when
one knows them."

"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CASTLES IN THE AIR

Laurie lay luxuriously swinging to and fro in his hammock one warm
September afternoon, wondering what his neighbors were about, but too
lazy to go and find out.  He was in one of his moods, for the day had
been both unprofitable and unsatisfactory, and he was wishing he could
live it over again.  The hot weather made him indolent, and he had
shirked his studies, tried Mr. Brooke's patience to the utmost,
displeased his grandfather by practicing half the afternoon, frightened
the maidservants half out of their wits by mischievously hinting that
one of his dogs was going mad, and, after high words with the stableman
about some fancied neglect of his horse, he had flung himself into his
hammock to fume over the stupidity of the world in general, till the
peace of the lovely day quieted him in spite of himself. Staring up
into the green gloom of the horse-chestnut trees above him, he dreamed
dreams of all sorts, and was just imagining himself tossing on the
ocean in a voyage round the world, when the sound of voices brought him
ashore in a flash. Peeping through the meshes of the hammock, he saw
the Marches coming out, as if bound on some expedition.

"What in the world are those girls about now?" thought Laurie, opening
his sleepy eyes to take a good look, for there was something rather
peculiar in the appearance of his neighbors.  Each wore a large,
flapping hat, a brown linen pouch slung over one shoulder, and carried
a long staff.  Meg had a cushion, Jo a book, Beth a basket, and Amy a
portfolio.  All walked quietly through the garden, out at the little
back gate, and began to climb the hill that lay between the house and
river.

"Well, that's cool," said Laurie to himself, "to have a picnic and
never ask me!  They can't be going in the boat, for they haven't got
the key.  Perhaps they forgot it.  I'll take it to them, and see what's
going on."

Though possessed of half a dozen hats, it took him some time to find
one, then there was a hunt for the key, which was at last discovered in
his pocket, so that the girls were quite out of sight when he leaped
the fence and ran after them.  Taking the shortest way to the
boathouse, he waited for them to appear, but no one came, and he went
up the hill to take an observation.  A grove of pines covered one part
of it, and from the heart of this green spot came a clearer sound than
the soft sigh of the pines or the drowsy chirp of the crickets.

"Here's a landscape!" thought Laurie, peeping through the bushes, and
looking wide-awake and good-natured already.

It was a rather pretty little picture, for the sisters sat together in
the shady nook, with sun and shadow flickering over them, the aromatic
wind lifting their hair and cooling their hot cheeks, and all the
little wood people going on with their affairs as if these were no
strangers but old friends.  Meg sat upon her cushion, sewing daintily
with her white hands, and looking as fresh and sweet as a rose in her
pink dress among the green.  Beth was sorting the cones that lay thick
under the hemlock near by, for she made pretty things with them.  Amy
was sketching a group of ferns, and Jo was knitting as she read aloud.
A shadow passed over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he
ought to go away because uninvited; yet lingering because home seemed
very lonely and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his
restless spirit.  He stood so still that a squirrel, busy with its
harvesting, ran down a pine close beside him, saw him suddenly and
skipped back, scolding so shrilly that Beth looked up, espied the
wistful face behind the birches, and beckoned with a reassuring smile.

"May I come in, please?  Or shall I be a bother?" he asked, advancing
slowly.

Meg lifted her eyebrows, but Jo scowled at her defiantly and said at
once, "Of course you may.  We should have asked you before, only we
thought you wouldn't care for such a girl's game as this."

"I always like your games, but if Meg doesn't want me, I'll go away."

"I've no objection, if you do something.  It's against the rules to be
idle here," replied Meg gravely but graciously.

"Much obliged.  I'll do anything if you'll let me stop a bit, for it's
as dull as the Desert of Sahara down there.  Shall I sew, read, cone,
draw, or do all at once? Bring on your bears. I'm ready."  And Laurie
sat down with a submissive expression delightful to behold.

"Finish this story while I set my heel," said Jo, handing him the book.

"Yes'm." was the meek answer, as he began, doing his best to prove his
gratitude for the favor of admission into the 'Busy Bee Society'.

The story was not a long one, and when it was finished, he ventured to
ask a few questions as a reward of merit.

"Please, ma'am, could I inquire if this highly instructive and charming
institution is a new one?"

"Would you tell him?" asked Meg of her sisters.

"He'll laugh," said Amy warningly.

"Who cares?" said Jo.

"I guess he'll like it," added Beth.

"Of course I shall!  I give you my word I won't laugh.  Tell away, Jo,
and don't be afraid."

"The idea of being afraid of you!  Well, you see we used to play
Pilgrim's Progress, and we have been going on with it in earnest, all
winter and summer."

"Yes, I know," said Laurie, nodding wisely.

"Who told you?" demanded Jo.

"Spirits."

"No, I did.  I wanted to amuse him one night when you were all away,
and he was rather dismal.  He did like it, so don't scold, Jo," said
Beth meekly.

"You can't keep a secret.  Never mind, it saves trouble now."

"Go on, please," said Laurie, as Jo became absorbed in her work,
looking a trifle displeased.

"Oh, didn't she tell you about this new plan of ours?  Well, we have
tried not to waste our holiday, but each has had a task and worked at
it with a will.  The vacation is nearly over, the stints are all done,
and we are ever so glad that we didn't dawdle."

"Yes, I should think so," and Laurie thought regretfully of his own
idle days.

"Mother likes to have us out-of-doors as much as possible, so we bring
our work here and have nice times.  For the fun of it we bring our
things in these bags, wear the old hats, use poles to climb the hill,
and play pilgrims, as we used to do years ago.  We call this hill the
Delectable Mountain, for we can look far away and see the country where
we hope to live some time."

Jo pointed, and Laurie sat up to examine, for through an opening in the
wood one could look cross the wide, blue river, the meadows on the
other side, far over the outskirts of the great city, to the green
hills that rose to meet the sky.  The sun was low, and the heavens
glowed with the splendor of an autumn sunset.  Gold and purple clouds
lay on the hilltops, and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery
white peaks that shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City.

"How beautiful that is!" said Laurie softly, for he was quick to see
and feel beauty of any kind.

"It's often so, and we like to watch it, for it is never the same, but
always splendid," replied Amy, wishing she could paint it.

"Jo talks about the country where we hope to live sometime--the real
country, she means, with pigs and chickens and haymaking. It would be
nice, but I wish the beautiful country up there was real, and we could
ever go to it," said Beth musingly.

"There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go,
by-and-by, when we are good enough," answered Meg with her sweetest
voice.

"It seems so long to wait, so hard to do.  I want to fly away at once,
as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate."

"You'll get there, Beth, sooner or later, no fear of that," said Jo.
"I'm the one that will have to fight and work, and climb and wait, and
maybe never get in after all."

"You'll have me for company, if that's any comfort.  I shall have to do
a deal of traveling before I come in sight of your Celestial City.  If
I arrive late, you'll say a good word for me, won't you, Beth?"

Something in the boy's face troubled his little friend, but she said
cheerfully, with her quiet eyes on the changing clouds, "If people
really want to go, and really try all their lives, I think they will
get in, for I don't believe there are any locks on that door or any
guards at the gate.  I always imagine it is as it is in the picture,
where the shining ones stretch out their hands to welcome poor
Christian as he comes up from the river."

"Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could
come true, and we could live in them?" said Jo, after a little pause.

"I've made such quantities it would be hard to choose which I'd have,"
said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the squirrel who had
betrayed him.

"You'd have to take your favorite one.  What is it?" asked Meg.

"If I tell mine, will you tell yours?"

"Yes, if the girls will too."

"We will.  Now, Laurie."

"After I'd seen as much of the world as I want to, I'd like to settle
in Germany and have just as much music as I choose.  I'm to be a famous
musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear me.  And I'm never
to be bothered about money or business, but just enjoy myself and live
for what I like.  That's my favorite castle. What's yours, Meg?"

Margaret seemed to find it a little hard to tell hers, and waved a
brake before her face, as if to disperse imaginary gnats, while she
said slowly, "I should like a lovely house, full of all sorts of
luxurious things--nice food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture,
pleasant people, and heaps of money.  I am to be mistress of it, and
manage it as I like, with plenty of servants, so I never need work a
bit.  How I should enjoy it!  For I wouldn't be idle, but do good, and
make everyone love me dearly."

"Wouldn't you have a master for your castle in the air?" asked Laurie
slyly.

"I said 'pleasant people', you know," and Meg carefully tied up her
shoe as she spoke, so that no one saw her face.

"Why don't you say you'd have a splendid, wise, good husband and some
angelic little children?  You know your castle wouldn't be perfect
without," said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet, and rather
scorned romance, except in books.

"You'd have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels in yours,"
answered Meg petulantly.

"Wouldn't I though?  I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms
piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand, so that
my works should be as famous as Laurie's music.  I want to do something
splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that
won't be forgotten after I'm dead.  I don't know what, but I'm on the
watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day.  I think I shall
write books, and get rich and famous, that would suit me, so that is my
favorite dream."

"Mine is to stay at home safe with Father and Mother, and help take
care of the family," said Beth contentedly.

"Don't you wish for anything else?" asked Laurie.

"Since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied.  I only wish we
may all keep well and be together, nothing else."

"I have ever so many wishes, but the pet one is to be an artist, and go
to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the best artist in the whole
world," was Amy's modest desire.

"We're an ambitious set, aren't we?  Every one of us, but Beth, wants
to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect. I do wonder if
any of us will ever get our wishes," said Laurie, chewing grass like a
meditative calf.

"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the
door remains to be seen," observed Jo mysteriously.

"I've got the key to mine, but I'm not allowed to try it. Hang
college!" muttered Laurie with an impatient sigh.

"Here's mine!" and Amy waved her pencil.

"I haven't got any," said Meg forlornly.

"Yes, you have," said Laurie at once.

"Where?"

"In your face."

"Nonsense, that's of no use."

"Wait and see if it doesn't bring you something worth having," replied
the boy, laughing at the thought of a charming little secret which he
fancied he knew.

Meg colored behind the brake, but asked no questions and looked across
the river with the same expectant expression which Mr. Brooke had worn
when he told the story of the knight.

"If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see how many of
us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than now," said
Jo, always ready with a plan.

"Bless me!  How old I shall be, twenty-seven!" exclaimed Meg, who felt
grown up already, having just reached seventeen.

"You and I will be twenty-six, Teddy, Beth twenty-four, and Amy
twenty-two.  What a venerable party!" said Jo.

"I hope I shall have done something to be proud of by that time, but
I'm such a lazy dog, I'm afraid I shall dawdle, Jo."

"You need a motive, Mother says, and when you get it, she is sure
you'll work splendidly."

"Is she?  By Jupiter, I will, if I only get the chance!" cried Laurie,
sitting up with sudden energy.  "I ought to be satisfied to please
Grandfather, and I do try, but it's working against the grain, you see,
and comes hard.  He wants me to be an India merchant, as he was, and
I'd rather be shot.  I hate tea and silk and spices, and every sort of
rubbish his old ships bring, and I don't care how soon they go to the
bottom when I own them.  Going to college ought to satisfy him, for if
I give him four years he ought to let me off from the business.  But
he's set, and I've got to do just as he did, unless I break away and
please myself, as my father did.  If there was anyone left to stay with
the old gentleman, I'd do it tomorrow."

Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threat into
execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing up very fast
and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man's hatred of
subjection, a young man's restless longing to try the world for himself.

"I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and never come home
again till you have tried your own way," said Jo, whose imagination was
fired by the thought of such a daring exploit, and whose sympathy was
excited by what she called 'Teddy's Wrongs'.

"That's not right, Jo.  You mustn't talk in that way, and Laurie
mustn't take your bad advice.  You should do just what your grandfather
wishes, my dear boy," said Meg in her most maternal tone. "Do your best
at college, and when he sees that you try to please him, I'm sure he
won't be hard on you or unjust to you.  As you say, there is no one
else to stay with and love him, and you'd never forgive yourself if you
left him without his permission.  Don't be dismal or fret, but do your
duty and you'll get your reward, as good Mr. Brooke has, by being
respected and loved."

"What do you know about him?" asked Laurie, grateful for the good
advice, but objecting to the lecture, and glad to turn the conversation
from himself after his unusual outbreak.

"Only what your grandpa told us about him, how he took good care of his
own mother till she died, and wouldn't go abroad as tutor to some nice
person because he wouldn't leave her.  And how he provides now for an
old woman who nursed his mother, and never tells anyone, but is just as
generous and patient and good as he can be."

"So he is, dear old fellow!" said Laurie heartily, as Meg paused,
looking flushed and earnest with her story.  "It's like Grandpa to find
out all about him without letting him know, and to tell all his
goodness to others, so that they might like him. Brooke couldn't
understand why your mother was so kind to him, asking him over with me
and treating him in her beautiful friendly way.  He thought she was
just perfect, and talked about it for days and days, and went on about
you all in flaming style.  If ever I do get my wish, you see what I'll
do for Brooke."

"Begin to do something now by not plaguing his life out," said Meg
sharply.

"How do you know I do, Miss?"

"I can always tell by his face when he goes away.  If you have been
good, he looks satisfied and walks briskly.  If you have plagued him,
he's sober and walks slowly, as if he wanted to go back and do his work
better."

"Well, I like that?  So you keep an account of my good and bad marks in
Brooke's face, do you?  I see him bow and smile as he passes your
window, but I didn't know you'd got up a telegraph."

"We haven't.  Don't be angry, and oh, don't tell him I said anything!
It was only to show that I cared how you get on, and what is said here
is said in confidence, you know," cried Meg, much alarmed at the
thought of what might follow from her careless speech.

"I don't tell tales," replied Laurie, with his 'high and mighty' air,
as Jo called a certain expression which he occasionally wore. "Only if
Brooke is going to be a thermometer, I must mind and have fair weather
for him to report."

"Please don't be offended.  I didn't mean to preach or tell tales or be
silly.  I only thought Jo was encouraging you in a feeling which you'd
be sorry for by-and-by.  You are so kind to us, we feel as if you were
our brother and say just what we think. Forgive me, I meant it kindly."
And Meg offered her hand with a gesture both affectionate and timid.

Ashamed of his momentary pique, Laurie squeezed the kind little hand,
and said frankly, "I'm the one to be forgiven.  I'm cross and have been
out of sorts all day.  I like to have you tell me my faults and be
sisterly, so don't mind if I am grumpy sometimes.  I thank you all the
same."

Bent on showing that he was not offended, he made himself as agreeable
as possible, wound cotton for Meg, recited poetry to please Jo, shook
down cones for Beth, and helped Amy with her ferns, proving himself a
fit person to belong to the 'Busy Bee Society'.  In the midst of an
animated discussion on the domestic habits of turtles (one of those
amiable creatures having strolled up from the river), the faint sound
of a bell warned them that Hannah had put the tea 'to draw', and they
would just have time to get home to supper.

"May I come again?" asked Laurie.

"Yes, if you are good, and love your book, as the boys in the primer
are told to do," said Meg, smiling.

"I'll try."

"Then you may come, and I'll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do.
There's a demand for socks just now," added Jo, waving hers like a big
blue worsted banner as they parted at the gate.

That night, when Beth played to Mr. Laurence in the twilight, Laurie,
standing in the shadow of the curtain, listened to the little David,
whose simple music always quieted his moody spirit, and watched the old
man, who sat with his gray head on his hand, thinking tender thoughts
of the dead child he had loved so much. Remembering the conversation of
the afternoon, the boy said to himself, with the resolve to make the
sacrifice cheerfully, "I'll let my castle go, and stay with the dear
old gentleman while he needs me, for I am all he has."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

SECRETS

Jo was very busy in the garret, for the October days began to grow
chilly, and the afternoons were short.  For two or three hours the sun
lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated on the old sofa,
writing busily, with her papers spread out upon a trunk before her,
while Scrabble, the pet rat, promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied
by his oldest son, a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of
his whiskers. Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the
last page was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish and
threw down her pen, exclaiming...

"There, I've done my best!  If this won't suit I shall have to wait
till I can do better."

Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully through,
making dashes here and there, and putting in many exclamation points,
which looked like little balloons.  Then she tied it up with a smart
red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at it with a sober, wistful
expression, which plainly showed how earnest her work had been.  Jo's
desk up here was an old tin kitchen which hung against the wall.  In it
she kept her papers, and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble,
who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a
circulating library of such books as were left in his way by eating the
leaves.  From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript, and
putting both in her pocket, crept quietly downstairs, leaving her
friends to nibble on her pens and taste her ink.

She put on her hat and jacket as noiselessly as possible, and going to
the back entry window, got out upon the roof of a low porch, swung
herself down to the grassy bank, and took a roundabout way to the road.
Once there, she composed herself, hailed a passing omnibus, and rolled
away to town, looking very merry and mysterious.

If anyone had been watching her, he would have thought her movements
decidedly peculiar, for on alighting, she went off at a great pace till
she reached a certain number in a certain busy street.  Having found
the place with some difficulty, she went into the doorway, looked up
the dirty stairs, and after standing stock still a minute, suddenly
dived into the street and walked away as rapidly as she came.  This
maneuver she repeated several times, to the great amusement of a
black-eyed young gentleman lounging in the window of a building
opposite.  On returning for the third time, Jo gave herself a shake,
pulled her hat over her eyes, and walked up the stairs, looking as if
she were going to have all her teeth out.

There was a dentist's sign, among others, which adorned the entrance,
and after staring a moment at the pair of artificial jaws which slowly
opened and shut to draw attention to a fine set of teeth, the young
gentleman put on his coat, took his hat, and went down to post himself
in the opposite doorway, saying with a smile and a shiver, "It's like
her to come alone, but if she has a bad time she'll need someone to
help her home."

In ten minutes Jo came running downstairs with a very red face and the
general appearance of a person who had just passed through a trying
ordeal of some sort.  When she saw the young gentleman she looked
anything but pleased, and passed him with a nod.  But he followed,
asking with an air of sympathy, "Did you have a bad time?"

"Not very."

"You got through quickly."

"Yes, thank goodness!"

"Why did you go alone?"

"Didn't want anyone to know."

"You're the oddest fellow I ever saw.  How many did you have out?"

Jo looked at her friend as if she did not understand him, then began to
laugh as if mightily amused at something.

"There are two which I want to have come out, but I must wait a week."

"What are you laughing at?  You are up to some mischief, Jo," said
Laurie, looking mystified.

"So are you.  What were you doing, sir, up in that billiard saloon?"

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, it wasn't a billiard saloon, but a
gymnasium, and I was taking a lesson in fencing."

"I'm glad of that."

"Why?"

"You can teach me, and then when we play _Hamlet_, you can be Laertes,
and we'll make a fine thing of the fencing scene."

Laurie burst out with a hearty boy's laugh, which made several
passers-by smile in spite of themselves.

"I'll teach you whether we play _Hamlet_ or not.  It's grand fun and
will straighten you up capitally.  But I don't believe that was your
only reason for saying 'I'm glad' in that decided way, was it now?"

"No, I was glad that you were not in the saloon, because I hope you
never go to such places.  Do you?"

"Not often."

"I wish you wouldn't."

"It's no harm, Jo.  I have billiards at home, but it's no fun unless
you have good players, so, as I'm fond of it, I come sometimes and have
a game with Ned Moffat or some of the other fellows."

"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry, for you'll get to liking it better and better,
and will waste time and money, and grow like those dreadful boys.  I
did hope you'd stay respectable and be a satisfaction to your friends,"
said Jo, shaking her head.

"Can't a fellow take a little innocent amusement now and then without
losing his respectability?" asked Laurie, looking nettled.

"That depends upon how and where he takes it.  I don't like Ned and his
set, and wish you'd keep out of it.  Mother won't let us have him at
our house, though he wants to come.  And if you grow like him she won't
be willing to have us frolic together as we do now."

"Won't she?" asked Laurie anxiously.

"No, she can't bear fashionable young men, and she'd shut us all up in
bandboxes rather than have us associate with them."

"Well, she needn't get out her bandboxes yet.  I'm not a fashionable
party and don't mean to be, but I do like harmless larks now and then,
don't you?"

"Yes, nobody minds them, so lark away, but don't get wild, will you?
Or there will be an end of all our good times."

"I'll be a double distilled saint."

"I can't bear saints.  Just be a simple, honest, respectable boy, and
we'll never desert you.  I don't know what I should do if you acted
like Mr. King's son.  He had plenty of money, but didn't know how to
spend it, and got tipsy and gambled, and ran away, and forged his
father's name, I believe, and was altogether horrid."

"You think I'm likely to do the same?  Much obliged."

"No, I don't--oh, dear, no!--but I hear people talking about money
being such a temptation, and I sometimes wish you were poor. I
shouldn't worry then."

"Do you worry about me, Jo?"

"A little, when you look moody and discontented, as you sometimes do,
for you've got such a strong will, if you once get started wrong, I'm
afraid it would be hard to stop you."

Laurie walked in silence a few minutes, and Jo watched him, wishing she
had held her tongue, for his eyes looked angry, though his lips smiled
as if at her warnings.

"Are you going to deliver lectures all the way home?" he asked
presently.

"Of course not.  Why?"

"Because if you are, I'll take a bus.  If you're not, I'd like to walk
with you and tell you something very interesting."

"I won't preach any more, and I'd like to hear the news immensely."

"Very well, then, come on.  It's a secret, and if I tell you, you must
tell me yours."

"I haven't got any," began Jo, but stopped suddenly, remembering that
she had.

"You know you have--you can't hide anything, so up and 'fess, or I
won't tell," cried Laurie.

"Is your secret a nice one?"

"Oh, isn't it!  All about people you know, and such fun!  You ought to
hear it, and I've been aching to tell it this long time. Come, you
begin."

"You'll not say anything about it at home, will you?"

"Not a word."

"And you won't tease me in private?"

"I never tease."

"Yes, you do.  You get everything you want out of people.  I don't know
how you do it, but you are a born wheedler."

"Thank you.  Fire away."

"Well, I've left two stories with a newspaperman, and he's to give his
answer next week," whispered Jo, in her confidant's ear.

"Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!" cried
Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the great delight
of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a dozen Irish children,
for they were out of the city now.

"Hush!  It won't come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn't rest till
I had tried, and I said nothing about it because I didn't want anyone
else to be disappointed."

"It won't fail.  Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare
compared to half the rubbish that is published every day. Won't it be
fun to see them in print, and shan't we feel proud of our authoress?"

Jo's eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed in, and a
friend's praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper puffs.

"Where's your secret?  Play fair, Teddy, or I'll never believe you
again," she said, trying to extinguish the brilliant hopes that blazed
up at a word of encouragement.

"I may get into a scrape for telling, but I didn't promise not to, so I
will, for I never feel easy in my mind till I've told you any plummy
bit of news I get.  I know where Meg's glove is."

"Is that all?" said Jo, looking disappointed, as Laurie nodded and
twinkled with a face full of mysterious intelligence.

"It's quite enough for the present, as you'll agree when I tell you
where it is."

"Tell, then."

Laurie bent, and whispered three words in Jo's ear, which produced a
comical change.  She stood and stared at him for a minute, looking both
surprised and displeased, then walked on, saying sharply, "How do you
know?"

"Saw it."

"Where?"

"Pocket."

"All this time?"

"Yes, isn't that romantic?"

"No, it's horrid."

"Don't you like it?"

"Of course I don't.  It's ridiculous, it won't be allowed.  My
patience!  What would Meg say?"

"You are not to tell anyone.  Mind that."

"I didn't promise."

"That was understood, and I trusted you."

"Well, I won't for the present, anyway, but I'm disgusted, and wish you
hadn't told me."

"I thought you'd be pleased."

"At the idea of anybody coming to take Meg away? No, thank you."

"You'll feel better about it when somebody comes to take you away."

"I'd like to see anyone try it," cried Jo fiercely.

"So should I!" and Laurie chuckled at the idea.

"I don't think secrets agree with me, I feel rumpled up in my mind
since you told me that," said Jo rather ungratefully.

"Race down this hill with me, and you'll be all right," suggested
Laurie.

No one was in sight, the smooth road sloped invitingly before her, and
finding the temptation irresistible, Jo darted away, soon leaving hat
and comb behind her and scattering hairpins as she ran. Laurie reached
the goal first and was quite satisfied with the success of his
treatment, for his Atlanta came panting up with flying hair, bright
eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of dissatisfaction in her face.

"I wish I was a horse, then I could run for miles in this splendid air,
and not lose my breath.  It was capital, but see what a guy it's made
me.  Go, pick up my things, like a cherub, as you are," said Jo,
dropping down under a maple tree, which was carpeting the bank with
crimson leaves.

Laurie leisurely departed to recover the lost property, and Jo bundled
up her braids, hoping no one would pass by till she was tidy again.
But someone did pass, and who should it be but Meg, looking
particularly ladylike in her state and festival suit, for she had been
making calls.

"What in the world are you doing here?" she asked, regarding her
disheveled sister with well-bred surprise.

"Getting leaves," meekly answered Jo, sorting the rosy handful she had
just swept up.

"And hairpins," added Laurie, throwing half a dozen into Jo's lap.
"They grow on this road, Meg, so do combs and brown straw hats."

"You have been running, Jo.  How could you?  When will you stop such
romping ways?" said Meg reprovingly, as she settled her cuffs and
smoothed her hair, with which the wind had taken liberties.

"Never till I'm stiff and old and have to use a crutch.  Don't try to
make me grow up before my time, Meg.  It's hard enough to have you
change all of a sudden.  Let me be a little girl as long as I can."

As she spoke, Jo bent over the leaves to hide the trembling of her
lips, for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting to be a
woman, and Laurie's secret made her dread the separation which must
surely come some time and now seemed very near.  He saw the trouble in
her face and drew Meg's attention from it by asking quickly, "Where
have you been calling, all so fine?"

"At the Gardiners', and Sallie has been telling me all about Belle
Moffat's wedding.  It was very splendid, and they have gone to spend
the winter in Paris.  Just think how delightful that must be!"

"Do you envy her, Meg?" said Laurie.

"I'm afraid I do."

"I'm glad of it!" muttered Jo, tying on her hat with a jerk.

"Why?" asked Meg, looking surprised.

"Because if you care much about riches, you will never go and marry a
poor man," said Jo, frowning at Laurie, who was mutely warning her to
mind what she said.

"I shall never 'go and marry' anyone," observed Meg, walking on with
great dignity while the others followed, laughing, whispering, skipping
stones, and 'behaving like children', as Meg said to herself, though
she might have been tempted to join them if she had not had her best
dress on.

For a week or two, Jo behaved so queerly that her sisters were quite
bewildered.  She rushed to the door when the postman rang, was rude to
Mr. Brooke whenever they met, would sit looking at Meg with a
woe-begone face, occasionally jumping up to shake and then kiss her in
a very mysterious manner.  Laurie and she were always making signs to
one another, and talking about 'Spread Eagles' till the girls declared
they had both lost their wits.  On the second Saturday after Jo got out
of the window, Meg, as she sat sewing at her window, was scandalized by
the sight of Laurie chasing Jo all over the garden and finally
capturing her in Amy's bower.  What went on there, Meg could not see,
but shrieks of laughter were heard, followed by the murmur of voices
and a great flapping of newspapers.

"What shall we do with that girl?  She never will behave like a young
lady," sighed Meg, as she watched the race with a disapproving face.

"I hope she won't.  She is so funny and dear as she is," said Beth, who
had never betrayed that she was a little hurt at Jo's having secrets
with anyone but her.

"It's very trying, but we never can make her comme la fo," added Amy,
who sat making some new frills for herself, with her curls tied up in a
very becoming way, two agreeable things that made her feel unusually
elegant and ladylike.

In a few minutes Jo bounced in, laid herself on the sofa, and affected
to read.

"Have you anything interesting there?" asked Meg, with condescension.

"Nothing but a story, won't amount to much, I guess," returned Jo,
carefully keeping the name of the paper out of sight.

"You'd better read it aloud.  That will amuse us and keep you out of
mischief," said Amy in her most grown-up tone.

"What's the name?" asked Beth, wondering why Jo kept her face behind
the sheet.

"The Rival Painters."

"That sounds well.  Read it," said Meg.

With a loud "Hem!" and a long breath, Jo began to read very fast.  The
girls listened with interest, for the tale was romantic, and somewhat
pathetic, as most of the characters died in the end. "I like that about
the splendid picture," was Amy's approving remark, as Jo paused.

"I prefer the lovering part.  Viola and Angelo are two of our favorite
names, isn't that queer?" said Meg, wiping her eyes, for the lovering
part was tragical.

"Who wrote it?" asked Beth, who had caught a glimpse of Jo's face.

The reader suddenly sat up, cast away the paper, displaying a flushed
countenance, and with a funny mixture of solemnity and excitement
replied in a loud voice, "Your sister."

"You?" cried Meg, dropping her work.

"It's very good," said Amy critically.

"I knew it!  I knew it! Oh, my Jo, I am so proud!"  and Beth ran to hug
her sister and exult over this splendid success.

Dear me, how delighted they all were, to be sure!  How Meg wouldn't
believe it till she saw the words.  "Miss Josephine March," actually
printed in the paper.  How graciously Amy critisized the artistic parts
of the story, and offered hints for a sequel, which unfortunately
couldn't be carried out, as the hero and heroine were dead.  How Beth
got excited, and skipped and sang with joy.  How Hannah came in to
exclaim, "Sakes alive, well I never!" in great astonishment at 'that
Jo's doin's'.  How proud Mrs. March was when she knew it.  How Jo
laughed, with tears in her eyes, as she declared she might as well be a
peacock and done with it, and how the 'Spread Eagle' might be said to
flap his wings triumphantly over the House of March, as the paper
passed from hand to hand.

"Tell us about it."  "When did it come?" "How much did you get for it?"
"What will Father say?" "Won't Laurie laugh?" cried the family, all in
one breath as they clustered about Jo, for these foolish, affectionate
people made a jubilee of every little household joy.

"Stop jabbering, girls, and I'll tell you everything," said Jo,
wondering if Miss Burney felt any grander over her Evelina than she did
over her 'Rival Painters'.  Having told how she disposed of her tales,
Jo added, "And when I went to get my answer, the man said he liked them
both, but didn't pay beginners, only let them print in his paper, and
noticed the stories.  It was good practice, he said, and when the
beginners improved, anyone would pay.  So I let him have the two
stories, and today this was sent to me, and Laurie caught me with it
and insisted on seeing it, so I let him.  And he said it was good, and
I shall write more, and he's going to get the next paid for, and I am
so happy, for in time I may be able to support myself and help the
girls."

Jo's breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the paper, she
bedewed her little story with a few natural tears, for to be
independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest
wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that
happy end.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

A TELEGRAM

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said
Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the
frostbitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively, quite
unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a
delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything,
even November.

"I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this family,"
said Meg, who was out of sorts.  "We go grubbing along day after day,
without a bit of change, and very little fun.  We might as well be in a
treadmill."

"My patience, how blue we are!" cried Jo.  "I don't much wonder, poor
dear, for you see other girls having splendid times, while you grind,
grind, year in and year out.  Oh, don't I wish I could manage things
for you as I do for my heroines!  You're pretty enough and good enough
already, so I'd have some rich relation leave you a fortune
unexpectedly.  Then you'd dash out as an heiress, scorn everyone who
has slighted you, go abroad, and come home my Lady Something in a blaze
of splendor and elegance."

"People don't have fortunes left them in that style nowadays, men have
to work and women marry for money.  It's a dreadfully unjust world,"
said Meg bitterly.

"Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all.  Just wait ten years,
and see if we don't," said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud pies, as
Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and faces.

"Can't wait, and I'm afraid I haven't much faith in ink and dirt,
though I'm grateful for your good intentions."

Meg sighed, and turned to the frostbitten garden again.  Jo groaned and
leaned both elbows on the table in a despondent attitude, but Amy
spatted away energetically, and Beth, who sat at the other window,
said, smiling, "Two pleasant things are going to happen right away.
Marmee is coming down the street, and Laurie is tramping through the
garden as if he had something nice to tell."

In they both came, Mrs. March with her usual question, "Any letter from
Father, girls?" and Laurie to say in his persuasive way, "Won't some of
you come for a drive?  I've been working away at mathematics till my
head is in a muddle, and I'm going to freshen my wits by a brisk turn.
It's a dull day, but the air isn't bad, and I'm going to take Brooke
home, so it will be gay inside, if it isn't out.  Come, Jo, you and
Beth will go, won't you?"

"Of course we will."

"Much obliged, but I'm busy."  And Meg whisked out her workbasket, for
she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least, not
to drive too often with the young gentleman.

"We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to wash
her hands.

"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning over
Mrs. March's chair with the affectionate look and tone he always gave
her.

"No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind, dear.
It's our day for a letter, and the postman hasn't been.  Father is as
regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."

A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in with a
letter.

"It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said, handling it
as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.

At the word 'telegraph', Mrs. March snatched it, read the two lines it
contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if the little
paper had sent a bullet to her heart.  Laurie dashed downstairs for
water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read aloud, in a
frightened voice...

    Mrs. March:
    Your husband is very ill.  Come at once.
    S.  HALE
    Blank Hospital, Washington.

How still the room was as they listened breathlessly, how strangely the
day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world seemed to
change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling as if all the
happiness and support of their lives was about to be taken from them.

Mrs. March was herself again directly, read the message over, and
stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they never
forgot, "I shall go at once, but it may be too late.  Oh, children,
children, help me to bear it!"

For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing in the
room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances of help,
and hopeful whispers that died away in tears.  Poor Hannah was the
first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the rest a
good example, for with her, work was panacea for most afflictions.

"The Lord keep the dear man!  I won't waste no time a-cryin', but git
your things ready right away, mum," she said heartily, as she wiped her
face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the hand with her
own hard one, and went away to work like three women in one.

"She's right, there's no time for tears now.  Be calm, girls, and let
me think."

They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up, looking
pale but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan for them.

"Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected her
thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.

"Here, ma'am.  Oh, let me do something!" cried the boy, hurrying from
the next room whither he had withdrawn, feeling that their first sorrow
was too sacred for even his friendly eyes to see.

"Send a telegram saying I will come at once.  The next train goes early
in the morning.  I'll take that."

"What else?  The horses are ready.  I can go anywhere, do anything," he
said, looking ready to fly to the ends of the earth.

"Leave a note at Aunt March's.  Jo, give me that pen and paper."

Tearing off the blank side of one of her newly copied pages, Jo drew
the table before her mother, well knowing that money for the long, sad
journey must be borrowed, and feeling as if she could do anything to
add a little to the sum for her father.

"Now go, dear, but don't kill yourself driving at a desperate pace.
There is no need of that."

Mrs. March's warning was evidently thrown away, for five minutes later
Laurie tore by the window on his own fleet horse, riding as if for his
life.

"Jo, run to the rooms, and tell Mrs. King that I can't come. On the way
get these things.  I'll put them down, they'll be needed and I must go
prepared for nursing.  Hospital stores are not always good.  Beth, go
and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine.  I'm not too
proud to beg for Father.  He shall have the best of everything.  Amy,
tell Hannah to get down the black trunk, and Meg, come and help me find
my things, for I'm half bewildered."

Writing, thinking, and directing all at once might well bewilder the
poor lady, and Meg begged her to sit quietly in her room for a little
while, and let them work.  Everyone scattered like leaves before a gust
of wind, and the quiet, happy household was broken up as suddenly as if
the paper had been an evil spell.

Mr. Laurence came hurrying back with Beth, bringing every comfort the
kind old gentleman could think of for the invalid, and friendliest
promises of protection for the girls during the mother's absence, which
comforted her very much.  There was nothing he didn't offer, from his
own dressing gown to himself as escort.  But the last was impossible.
Mrs. March would not hear of the old gentleman's undertaking the long
journey, yet an expression of relief was visible when he spoke of it,
for anxiety ill fits one for traveling. He saw the look, knit his heavy
eyebrows, rubbed his hands, and marched abruptly away, saying he'd be
back directly.  No one had time to think of him again till, as Meg ran
through the entry, with a pair of rubbers in one hand and a cup of tea
in the other, she came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke.

"I'm very sorry to hear of this, Miss March," he said, in the kind,
quiet tone which sounded very pleasantly to her perturbed spirit.  "I
came to offer myself as escort to your mother.  Mr. Laurence has
commissions for me in Washington, and it will give me real satisfaction
to be of service to her there."

Down dropped the rubbers, and the tea was very near following, as Meg
put out her hand, with a face so full of gratitude that Mr. Brooke
would have felt repaid for a much greater sacrifice than the trifling
one of time and comfort which he was about to take.

"How kind you all are!  Mother will accept, I'm sure, and it will be
such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of her.  Thank
you very, very much!"

Meg spoke earnestly, and forgot herself entirely till something in the
brown eyes looking down at her made her remember the cooling tea, and
lead the way into the parlor, saying she would call her mother.

Everything was arranged by the time Laurie returned with a note from
Aunt March, enclosing the desired sum, and a few lines repeating what
she had often said before, that she had always told them it was absurd
for March to go into the army, always predicted that no good would come
of it, and she hoped they would take her advice the next time.  Mrs.
March put the note in the fire, the money in her purse, and went on
with her preparations, with her lips folded tightly in a way which Jo
would have understood if she had been there.

The short afternoon wore away.  All other errands were done, and Meg
and her mother busy at some necessary needlework, while Beth and Amy
got tea, and Hannah finished her ironing with what she called a 'slap
and a bang', but still Jo did not come.  They began to get anxious, and
Laurie went off to find her, for no one knew what freak Jo might take
into her head.  He missed her, however, and she came walking in with a
very queer expression of countenance, for there was a mixture of fun
and fear, satisfaction and regret in it, which puzzled the family as
much as did the roll of bills she laid before her mother, saying with a
little choke in her voice, "That's my contribution toward making Father
comfortable and bringing him home!"

"My dear, where did you get it?  Twenty-five dollars!  Jo, I hope you
haven't done anything rash?"

"No, it's mine honestly.  I didn't beg, borrow, or steal it.  I earned
it, and I don't think you'll blame me, for I only sold what was my own."

As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for
all her abundant hair was cut short.

"Your hair!  Your beautiful hair!"  "Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one
beauty."  "My dear girl, there was no need of this."  "She doesn't look
like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!"

As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo
assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle,
and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked
it, "It doesn't affect the fate of the nation, so don't wail, Beth.  It
will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig.  It will
do my brains good to have that mop taken off.  My head feels
deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a
curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order.
I'm satisfied, so please take the money and let's have supper."

"Tell me all about it, Jo.  I am not quite satisfied, but I can't blame
you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as you call
it, to your love.  But, my dear, it was not necessary, and I'm afraid
you will regret it one of these days," said Mrs. March.

"No, I won't!" returned Jo stoutly, feeling much relieved that her
prank was not entirely condemned.

"What made you do it?" asked Amy, who would as soon have thought of
cutting off her head as her pretty hair.

"Well, I was wild to do something for Father," replied Jo, as they
gathered about the table, for healthy young people can eat even in the
midst of trouble.  "I hate to borrow as much as Mother does, and I knew
Aunt March would croak, she always does, if you ask for a ninepence.
Meg gave all her quarterly salary toward the rent, and I only got some
clothes with mine, so I felt wicked, and was bound to have some money,
if I sold the nose off my face to get it."

"You needn't feel wicked, my child! You had no winter things and got
the simplest with your own hard earnings," said Mrs. March with a look
that warmed Jo's heart.

"I hadn't the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I went
along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I'd like to
dive into some of the rich stores and help myself.  In a barber's
window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked, and one black tail,
not so thick as mine, was forty dollars.  It came to me all of a sudden
that I had one thing to make money out of, and without stopping to
think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair, and what they would give
for mine."

"I don't see how you dared to do it," said Beth in a tone of awe.

"Oh, he was a little man who looked as if he merely lived to oil his
hair.  He rather stared at first, as if he wasn't used to having girls
bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair.  He said he didn't
care about mine, it wasn't the fashionable color, and he never paid
much for it in the first place.  The work put into it made it dear, and
so on.  It was getting late, and I was afraid if it wasn't done right
away that I shouldn't have it done at all, and you know when I start to
do a thing, I hate to give it up.  So I begged him to take it, and told
him why I was in such a hurry.  It was silly, I dare say, but it
changed his mind, for I got rather excited, and told the story in my
topsy-turvy way, and his wife heard, and said so kindly, 'Take it,
Thomas, and oblige the young lady.  I'd do as much for our Jimmy any
day if I had a spire of hair worth selling."

"Who was Jimmy?" asked Amy, who liked to have things explained as they
went along.

"Her son, she said, who was in the army.  How friendly such things make
strangers feel, don't they?  She talked away all the time the man
clipped, and diverted my mind nicely."

"Didn't you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?" asked Meg, with a
shiver.

"I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that
was the end of it.  I never snivel over trifles like that. I will
confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on
the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head. It almost
seemed as if I'd an arm or leg off.  The woman saw me look at it, and
picked out a long lock for me to keep.  I'll give it to you, Marmee,
just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don't
think I shall ever have a mane again."

Mrs. March folded the wavy chestnut lock, and laid it away with a short
gray one in her desk.  She only said, "Thank you, deary," but something
in her face made the girls change the subject, and talk as cheerfully
as they could about Mr. Brooke's kindness, the prospect of a fine day
tomorrow, and the happy times they would have when Father came home to
be nursed.

No one wanted to go to bed when at ten o'clock Mrs. March put by the
last finished job, and said, "Come girls."  Beth went to the piano and
played the father's favorite hymn.  All began bravely, but broke down
one by one till Beth was left alone, singing with all her heart, for to
her music was always a sweet consoler.

"Go to bed and don't talk, for we must be up early and shall need all
the sleep we can get.  Good night, my darlings," said Mrs. March, as
the hymn ended, for no one cared to try another.

They kissed her quietly, and went to bed as silently as if the dear
invalid lay in the next room.  Beth and Amy soon fell asleep in spite
of the great trouble, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most serious
thoughts she had ever known in her short life.  Jo lay motionless, and
her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled sob made her
exclaim, as she touched a wet cheek...

"Jo, dear, what is it?  Are you crying about father?"

"No, not now."

"What then?"

"My... My hair!" burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother her
emotion in the pillow.

It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed the
afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.

"I'm not sorry," protested Jo, with a choke.  "I'd do it again
tomorrow, if I could.  It's only the vain part of me that goes and
cries in this silly way.  Don't tell anyone, it's all over now.  I
thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my
one beauty.  How came you to be awake?"

"I can't sleep, I'm so anxious," said Meg.

"Think about something pleasant, and you'll soon drop off."

"I tried it, but felt wider awake than ever."

"What did you think of?"

"Handsome faces--eyes particularly," answered Meg, smiling to herself
in the dark.

"What color do you like best?"

"Brown, that is, sometimes.  Blue are lovely."

Jo laughed, and Meg sharply ordered her not to talk, then amiably
promised to make her hair curl, and fell asleep to dream of living in
her castle in the air.

The clocks were striking midnight and the rooms were very still as a
figure glided quietly from bed to bed, smoothing a coverlet here,
settling a pillow there, and pausing to look long and tenderly at each
unconscious face, to kiss each with lips that mutely blessed, and to
pray the fervent prayers which only mothers utter.  As she lifted the
curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly from
behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant face,
which seemed to whisper in the silence, "Be comforted, dear soul!
There is always light behind the clouds."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

LETTERS

In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read their chapter
with an earnestness never felt before.  For now the shadow of a real
trouble had come, the little books were full of help and comfort, and
as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye cheerfully and hopefully,
and send their mother on her anxious journey unsaddened by tears or
complaints from them.  Everything seemed very strange when they went
down, so dim and still outside, so full of light and bustle within.
Breakfast at that early hour seemed odd, and even Hannah's familiar
face looked unnatural as she flew about her kitchen with her nightcap
on.  The big trunk stood ready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet
lay on the sofa, and Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so
pale and worn with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it
very hard to keep their resolution.  Meg's eyes kept filling in spite
of herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller more
than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled expression, as
if sorrow was a new experience to them.

Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they sat waiting
for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who were all busied
about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing out the strings of
her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes, and a fourth fastening up
her travelling bag...

"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence's protection.
Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor will guard you as
if you were his own.  I have no fears for you, yet I am anxious that
you should take this trouble rightly.  Don't grieve and fret when I am
gone, or think that you can be idle and comfort yourselves by being
idle and trying to forget.  Go on with your work as usual, for work is
a blessed solace.  Hope and keep busy, and whatever happens, remember
that you never can be fatherless."

"Yes, Mother."

"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult Hannah, and in
any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence.  Be patient, Jo, don't get
despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and be my brave girl,
ready to help and cheer all.  Beth, comfort yourself with your music,
and be faithful to the little home duties, and you, Amy, help all you
can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."

"We will, Mother!  We will!"

The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and listen.
That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well.  No one cried,
no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though their hearts were very
heavy as they sent loving messages to Father, remembering, as they
spoke that it might be too late to deliver them. They kissed their
mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and tried to wave their hands
cheerfully when she drove away.

Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr. Brooke
looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girls christened him
'Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.

"Goodby, my darlings!  God bless and keep us all!" whispered Mrs.
March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other, and hurried
into the carriage.

As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, she saw it
shining on the group at the gate like a good omen.  They saw it also,
and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thing she beheld as she
turned the corner was the four bright faces, and behind them like a
bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah, and devoted Laurie.

"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find fresh proof of
it in the respectful sympathy of the young man's face.

"I don't see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke, laughing so
infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling. And so the journey
began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles, and cheerful words.

"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as their
neighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refresh
themselves.

"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.

Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point to the pile
of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother's table, showing that even in
her last hurried moments she had thought and worked for them.  It was a
little thing, but it went straight to their hearts, and in spite of
their brave resolutions, they all broke down and cried bitterly.

Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, and when the
shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to the rescue, armed with
a coffeepot.

"Now, my dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, and don't fret.
Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and then let's fall to work
and be a credit to the family."

Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making it that
morning.  No one could resist her persuasive nods, or the fragrant
invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot.  They drew up to
the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins, and in ten
minutes were all right again.

"'Hope and keep busy', that's the motto for us, so let's see who will
remember it best.  I shall go to Aunt March, as usual. Oh, won't she
lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped with returning spirit.

"I shall go to my Kings, though I'd much rather stay at home and attend
to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn't made her eyes so red.

"No need of that.  Beth and I can keep house perfectly well," put in
Amy, with an important air.

"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we'll have everything nice when
you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dish tub without
delay.

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating sugar
pensively.

The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it, though Meg
shook her head at the young lady who could find consolation in a sugar
bowl.

The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again; and when the two went
out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully back at the window
where they were accustomed to see their mother's face.  It was gone,
but Beth had remembered the little household ceremony, and there she
was, nodding away at them like a rosyfaced mandarin.

"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a grateful
face.  "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won't strain today.  Don't
fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.

"And I hope Aunt March won't croak.  Your hair is becoming, and it
looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not to smile at the
curly head, which looked comically small on her tall sister's shoulders.

"That's my only comfort." And, touching her hat a la Laurie, away went
Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.

News from their father comforted the girls very much, for though
dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest of nurses had
already done him good.  Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin every day, and as
the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading the dispatches, which
grew more cheerful as the week passed.  At first, everyone was eager to
write, and plump envelopes were carefully poked into the letter box by
one or other of the sisters, who felt rather important with their
Washington correspondence.  As one of these packets contained
characteristic notes from the party, we will rob an imaginary mail, and
read them.

My dearest Mother:

It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter made us, for
the news was so good we couldn't help laughing and crying over it.  How
very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr. Laurence's business
detains him near you so long, since he is so useful to you and Father.
The girls are all as good as gold.  Jo helps me with the sewing, and
insists on doing all sorts of hard jobs.  I should be afraid she might
overdo, if I didn't know her 'moral fit' wouldn't last long.  Beth is
as regular about her tasks as a clock, and never forgets what you told
her.  She grieves about Father, and looks sober except when she is at
her little piano.  Amy minds me nicely, and I take great care of her.
She does her own hair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and
mend her stockings. She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased
with her improvement when you come.  Mr. Laurence watches over us like
a motherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly.
He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feel
like orphans, with you so far away.  Hannah is a perfect saint.  She
does not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which is
quite proper, you know, and treats me with respect.  We are all well
and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back.  Give my
dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own...

MEG

This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a great contrast to
the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thin foreign paper,
ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishes and curly-tailed
letters.

My precious Marmee:

Three cheers for dear Father!  Brooke was a trump to telegraph right
off, and let us know the minute he was better.  I rushed up garret when
the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so good to us, but I
could only cry, and say, "I'm glad!  I'm glad!" Didn't that do as well
as a regular prayer?  For I felt a great many in my heart.  We have
such funny times, and now I can enjoy them, for everyone is so
desperately good, it's like living in a nest of turtledoves.  You'd
laugh to see Meg head the table and try to be motherish.  She gets
prettier every day, and I'm in love with her sometimes.  The children
are regular archangels, and I--well, I'm Jo, and never shall be
anything else.  Oh, I must tell you that I came near having a quarrel
with Laurie.  I freed my mind about a silly little thing, and he was
offended.  I was right, but didn't speak as I ought, and he marched
home, saying he wouldn't come again till I begged pardon.  I declared I
wouldn't and got mad. It lasted all day.  I felt bad and wanted you
very much.  Laurie and I are both so proud, it's hard to beg pardon.
But I thought he'd come to it, for I was in the right.  He didn't come,
and just at night I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the
river.  I read my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun
set on my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry.  I met him at
the gate, coming for the same thing.  We both laughed, begged each
other's pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.

I made a 'pome' yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash, and as
Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amuse him.  Give
him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourself a dozen times for
your...

TOPSY-TURVY JO


    A SONG FROM THE SUDS

    Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
    While the white foam rises high,
    And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,
    And fasten the clothes to dry.
    Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
    Under the sunny sky.

    I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls
    The stains of the week away,
    And let water and air by their magic make
    Ourselves as pure as they.
    Then on the earth there would be indeed,
    A glorious washing day!

    Along the path of a useful life,
    Will heartsease ever bloom.
    The busy mind has no time to think
    Of sorrow or care or gloom.
    And anxious thoughts may be swept away,
    As we bravely wield a broom.

    I am glad a task to me is given,
    To labor at day by day,
    For it brings me health and strength and hope,
    And I cheerfully learn to say,
    "Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,
    But, Hand, you shall work alway!"


Dear Mother,

There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressed pansies
from the root I have been keeping safe in the house for Father to see.
I read every morning, try to be good all day, and sing myself to sleep
with Father's tune.  I can't sing 'LAND OF THE LEAL' now, it makes me
cry.  Everyone is very kind, and we are as happy as we can be without
you.  Amy wants the rest of the page, so I must stop.  I didn't forget
to cover the holders, and I wind the clock and air the rooms every day.

Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine.  Oh, do come soon to your
loving...

LITTLE BETH


Ma Chere Mamma,

We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate the
girls--Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and you can
take the properest.  Meg is a great comfort to me and lets me have
jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because it keeps me
sweet tempered.  Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought to be now I am
almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my feelings by talking
French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon jour as Hattie King
does.  The sleeves of my blue dress were all worn out, and Meg put in
new ones, but the full front came wrong and they are more blue than the
dress.  I felt bad but did not fret I bear my troubles well but I do
wish Hannah would put more starch in my aprons and have buckwheats
every day.  Can't she?  Didn't I make that interrigation point nice?
Meg says my punchtuation and spelling are disgraceful and I am
mortyfied but dear me I have so many things to do, I can't stop.
Adieu, I send heaps of love to Papa.  Your affectionate daughter...

AMY CURTIS MARCH


Dear Mis March,

I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate.  The girls is clever and
fly round right smart.  Miss Meg is going to make a proper good
housekeeper.  She hes the liking for it, and gits the hang of things
surprisin quick.  Jo doos beat all for goin ahead, but she don't stop
to cal'k'late fust, and you never know where she's like to bring up.
She done out a tub of clothes on Monday, but she starched 'em afore
they was wrenched, and blued a pink calico dress till I thought I
should a died a laughin.  Beth is the best of little creeters, and a
sight of help to me, bein so forehanded and dependable.  She tries to
learn everything, and really goes to market beyond her years, likewise
keeps accounts, with my help, quite wonderful.  We have got on very
economical so fur.  I don't let the girls hev coffee only once a week,
accordin to your wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles.  Amy
does well without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet
stuff. Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house
upside down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full
swing.  The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather wearin,
but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin.  My bread is riz, so
no more at this time.  I send my duty to Mr. March, and hope he's seen
the last of his Pewmonia.

Yours respectful,

Hannah Mullet


Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,


All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition, commisary
department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel Teddy always on
duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews the army daily,
Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major Lion does picket
duty at night.  A salute of twenty-four guns was fired on reciept of
good news from Washington, and a dress parade took place at
headquarters.  Commander in chief sends best wishes, in which he is
heartily joined by...

COLONEL TEDDY


Dear Madam:

The little girls are all well.  Beth and my boy report daily. Hannah is
a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon. Glad the fine
weather holds.  Pray make Brooke useful, and draw on me for funds if
expenses exceed your estimate.  Don't let your husband want anything.
Thank God he is mending.

Your sincere friend and servant, JAMES LAURENCE



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

LITTLE FAITHFUL

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied
the neighborhood.  It was really amazing, for everyone seemed in a
heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the fashion.  Relieved
of their first anxiety about their father, the girls insensibly relaxed
their praiseworthy efforts a little, and began to fall back into old
ways.  They did not forget their motto, but hoping and keeping busy
seemed to grow easier, and after such tremendous exertions, they felt
that Endeavor deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.

Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn head enough,
and was ordered to stay at home till she was better, for Aunt March
didn't like to hear people read with colds in their heads.  Jo liked
this, and after an energetic rummage from garret to cellar, subsided on
the sofa to nurse her cold with arsenicum and books.  Amy found that
housework and art did not go well together, and returned to her mud
pies.  Meg went daily to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at
home, but much time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or
reading the Washington dispatches over and over.  Beth kept on, with
only slight relapses into idleness or grieving.

All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and many of her
sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the house seemed like a
clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting.  When her heart got heavy
with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she went away into a
certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a dear old gown, and made
her little moan and prayed her little prayer quietly by herself.
Nobody knew what cheered her up after a sober fit, but everyone felt
how sweet and helpful Beth was, and fell into a way of going to her for
comfort or advice in their small affairs.

All were unconscious that this experience was a test of character, and
when the first excitement was over, felt that they had done well and
deserved praise.  So they did, but their mistake was in ceasing to do
well, and they learned this lesson through much anxiety and regret.

"Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels.  You know Mother told us not
to forget them." said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March's departure.

"I'm too tired to go this afternoon," replied Meg, rocking comfortably
as she sewed.

"Can't you, Jo?" asked Beth.

"Too stormy for me with my cold."

"I thought it was almost well."

"It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well enough to
go to the Hummels'," said Jo, laughing, but looking a little ashamed of
her inconsistency.

"Why don't you go yourself?" asked Meg.

"I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don't know what to
do for it.  Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and Lottchen takes care of
it.  But it gets sicker and sicker, and I think you or Hannah ought to
go."

Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.

"Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth, the air
will do you good," said Jo, adding apologetically, "I'd go but I want
to finish my writing."

"My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of you would go,"
said Beth.

"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us," suggested Meg.

So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work, and
the Hummels were forgotten.  An hour passed.  Amy did not come, Meg
went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in her story,
and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when Beth quietly
put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends for the poor
children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavy head and a
grieved look in her patient eyes.  It was late when she came back, and
no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into her mother's room.
Half an hour after, Jo went to 'Mother's closet' for something, and
there found little Beth sitting on the medicine chest, looking very
grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle in her hand.

"Christopher Columbus!  What's the matter?" cried Jo, as Beth put out
her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly. . .

"You've had the scarlet fever, haven't you?"

"Years ago, when Meg did.  Why?"

"Then I'll tell you.  Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!"

"What baby?"

"Mrs. Hummel's.  It died in my lap before she got home," cried Beth
with a sob.

"My poor dear, how dreadful for you!  I ought to have gone," said Jo,
taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother's big
chair, with a remorseful face.

"It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad!  I saw in a minute it was sicker,
but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so I took Baby and
let Lotty rest.  It seemed asleep, but all of a sudden if gave a little
cry and trembled, and then lay very still. I tried to warm its feet,
and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn't stir, and I knew it was
dead."

"Don't cry, dear!  What did you do?"

"I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the doctor.
He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who have sore
throats.  'Scarlet fever, ma'am.  Ought to have called me before,' he
said crossly.  Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and had tried to cure
baby herself, but now it was too late, and she could only ask him to
help the others and trust to charity for his pay.  He smiled then, and
was kinder, but it was very sad, and I cried with them till he turned
round all of a sudden, and told me to go home and take belladonna right
away, or I'd have the fever."

"No, you won't!" cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened look.
"Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself! What
shall we do?"

"Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly.  I looked in
Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat, and
queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I feel
better," said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead and
trying to look well.

"If Mother was only at home!" exclaimed Jo, seizing the book, and
feeling that Washington was an immense way off.  She read a page,
looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then said
gravely, "You've been over the baby every day for more than a week, and
among the others who are going to have it, so I'm afraid you are going
to have it, Beth.  I'll call Hannah, she knows all about sickness."

"Don't let Amy come.  She never had it, and I should hate to give it to
her.  Can't you and Meg have it over again?" asked Beth, anxiously.

"I guess not.  Don't care if I do.  Serve me right, selfish pig, to let
you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!" muttered Jo, as she went to
consult Hannah.

The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead at once,
assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarlet fever,
and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed, and felt
much relieved as they went up to call Meg.

"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Hannah, when she had examined
and questioned Beth, "we will have Dr. Bangs, just to take a look at
you, dear, and see that we start right.  Then we'll send Amy off to
Aunt March's for a spell, to keep her out of harm's way, and one of you
girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two."

"I shall stay, of course, I'm oldest," began Meg, looking anxious and
self-reproachful.

"I shall, because it's my fault she is sick.  I told Mother I'd do the
errands, and I haven't," said Jo decidedly.

"Which will you have, Beth?  There ain't no need of but one," aid
Hannah.

"Jo, please." And Beth leaned her head against her sister with a
contented look, which effectually settled that point.

"I'll go and tell Amy," said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yet rather
relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jo did.

Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she had rather
have the fever than go to Aunt March.  Meg reasoned, pleaded, and
commanded, all in vain.  Amy protested that she would not go, and Meg
left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done.  Before she came
back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, with her head
in the sofa cushions.  She told her story, expecting to be consoled,
but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walked about the room,
whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deep thought.  Presently he
sat down beside her, and said, in his most wheedlesome tone, "Now be a
sensible little woman, and do as they say. No, don't cry, but hear what
a jolly plan I've got.  You go to Aunt March's, and I'll come and take
you out every day, driving or walking, and we'll have capital times.
Won't that be better than moping here?"

"I don't wish to be sent off as if I was in the way," began Amy, in an
injured voice.

"Bless your heart, child, it's to keep you well.  You don't want to be
sick, do you?"

"No, I'm sure I don't, but I dare say I shall be, for I've been with
Beth all the time."

"That's the very reason you ought to go away at once, so that you may
escape it.  Change of air and care will keep you well, I dare say, or
if it does not entirely, you will have the fever more lightly.  I
advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet fever is no joke,
miss."

"But it's dull at Aunt March's, and she is so cross," said Amy, looking
rather frightened.

"It won't be dull with me popping in every day to tell you how Beth is,
and take you out gallivanting.  The old lady likes me, and I'll be as
sweet as possible to her, so she won't peck at us, whatever we do."

"Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?"

"On my honor as a gentleman."

"And come every single day?"

"See if I don't!"

"And bring me back the minute Beth is well?"

"The identical minute."

"And go to the theater, truly?"

"A dozen theaters, if we may."

"Well--I guess I will," said Amy slowly.

"Good girl!  Call Meg, and tell her you'll give in," said Laurie, with
an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the 'giving in'.

Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had been
wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing, promised
to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.

"How is the little dear?" asked Laurie, for Beth was his especial pet,
and he felt more anxious about her than he liked to show.

"She is lying down on Mother's bed, and feels better.  The baby's death
troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold. Hannah says she
thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes me fidgety," answered
Meg.

"What a trying world it is!" said Jo, rumpling up her hair in a fretful
way.  "No sooner do we get out of one trouble than down comes another.
There doesn't seem to be anything to hold on to when Mother's gone, so
I'm all at sea."

"Well, don't make a porcupine of yourself, it isn't becoming. Settle
your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother, or do
anything?" asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to the loss of
his friend's one beauty.

"That is what troubles me," said Meg.  "I think we ought to tell her if
Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn't, for Mother can't leave
Father, and it will only make them anxious.  Beth won't be sick long,
and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said we were to mind her,
so I suppose we must, but it doesn't seem quite right to me."

"Hum, well, I can't say.  Suppose you ask Grandfather after the doctor
has been."

"We will.  Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once," commanded Meg. "We can't
decide anything till he has been."

"Stay where you are, Jo.  I'm errand boy to this establishment," said
Laurie, taking up his cap.

"I'm afraid you are busy," began Meg.

"No, I've done my lessons for the day."

"Do you study in vacation time?" asked Jo.

"I follow the good example my neighbors set me," was Laurie's answer,
as he swung himself out of the room.

"I have great hopes for my boy," observed Jo, watching him fly over the
fence with an approving smile.

"He does very well, for a boy," was Meg's somewhat ungracious answer,
for the subject did not interest her.

Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thought she
would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel story.
Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to ward off
danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.

Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.

"What do you want now?" she asked, looking sharply over her spectacles,
while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair, called out...

"Go away.  No boys allowed here."

Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.

"No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go poking about among
poor folks.  Amy can stay and make herself useful if she isn't sick,
which I've no doubt she will be, looks like it now.  Don't cry, child,
it worries me to hear people sniff."

Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled the parrot's
tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak and call out,
"Bless my boots!" in such a funny way, that she laughed instead.

"What do you hear from your mother?" asked the old lady gruffly.

"Father is much better," replied Jo, trying to keep sober.

"Oh, is he?  Well, that won't last long, I fancy.  March never had any
stamina," was the cheerful reply.

"Ha, ha!  Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!"
squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the old lady's cap
as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!  And, Jo, you'd better
go at once.  It isn't proper to be gadding about so late with a
rattlepated boy like..."

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly, tumbling
off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the 'rattlepated' boy,
who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.

"I don't think I can bear it, but I'll try," thought Amy, as she was
left alone with Aunt March.

"Get along, you fright!" screamed Polly, and at that rude speech Amy
could not restrain a sniff.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

DARK DAYS

Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but Hannah and
the doctor suspected.  The girls knew nothing about illness, and Mr.
Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had everything her own
way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a good deal to the
excellent nurse.  Meg stayed at home, lest she should infect the Kings,
and kept house, feeling very anxious and a little guilty when she wrote
letters in which no mention was made of Beth's illness.  She could not
think it right to deceive her mother, but she had been bidden to mind
Hannah, and Hannah wouldn't hear of 'Mrs. March bein' told, and worried
just for sech a trifle.'

Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for Beth was
very patient, and bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as she could
control herself.  But there came a time when during the fever fits she
began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on the coverlet as if
on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with a throat so swollen
that there was no music left, a time when she did not know the familiar
faces around her, but addressed them by wrong names, and called
imploringly for her mother.  Then Jo grew frightened, Meg begged to be
allowed to write the truth, and even Hannah said she 'would think of
it, though there was no danger yet'.  A letter from Washington added to
their trouble, for Mr. March had had a relapse, and could not think of
coming home for a long while.

How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house, and how
heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and waited, while
the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home. Then it was that
Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how
rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could
buy--in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of
life.  Then it was that Jo, living in the darkened room, with that
suffering little sister always before her eyes and that pathetic voice
sounding in her ears, learned to see the beauty and the sweetness of
Beth's nature, to feel how deep and tender a place she filled in all
hearts, and to acknowledge the worth of Beth's unselfish ambition to
live for others, and make home happy by that exercise of those simple
virtues which all may possess, and which all should love and value more
than talent, wealth, or beauty.  And Amy, in her exile, longed eagerly
to be at home, that she might work for Beth, feeling now that no
service would be hard or irksome, and remembering, with regretful
grief, how many neglected tasks those willing hands had done for her.
Laurie haunted the house like a restless ghost, and Mr. Laurence locked
the grand piano, because he could not bear to be reminded of the young
neighbor who used to make the twilight pleasant for him.  Everyone
missed Beth.  The milkman, baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she
did, poor Mrs. Hummel came to beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to
get a shroud for Minna, the neighbors sent all sorts of comforts and
good wishes, and even those who knew her best were surprised to find
how many friends shy little Beth had made.

Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for even in
her wanderings she did not forget her forlorn protege.  She longed for
her cats, but would not have them brought, lest they should get sick,
and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety about Jo.  She sent
loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother that she would write
soon, and often begged for pencil and paper to try to say a word, that
Father might not think she had neglected him. But soon even these
intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay hour after hour, tossing
to and fro, with incoherent words on her lips, or sank into a heavy
sleep which brought her no refreshment. Dr. Bangs came twice a day,
Hannah sat up at night, Meg kept a telegram in her desk all ready to
send off at any minute, and Jo never stirred from Beth's side.

The first of December was a wintry day indeed to them, for a bitter
wind blew, snow fell fast, and the year seemed getting ready for its
death.  When Dr. Bangs came that morning, he looked long at Beth, held
the hot hand in both his own for a minute, and laid it gently down,
saying, in a low voice to Hannah, "If Mrs. March can leave her husband
she'd better be sent for."

Hannah nodded without speaking, for her lips twitched nervously, Meg
dropped down into a chair as the strength seemed to go out of her limbs
at the sound of those words, and Jo, standing with a pale face for a
minute, ran to the parlor, snatched up the telegram, and throwing on
her things, rushed out into the storm.  She was soon back, and while
noiselessly taking off her cloak, Laurie came in with a letter, saying
that Mr. March was mending again.  Jo read it thankfully, but the heavy
weight did not seem lifted off her heart, and her face was so full of
misery that Laurie asked quickly, "What is it?  Is Beth worse?"

"I've sent for Mother," said Jo, tugging at her rubber boots with a
tragic expression.

"Good for you, Jo!  Did you do it on your own responsibility?" asked
Laurie, as he seated her in the hall chair and took off the rebellious
boots, seeing how her hands shook.

"No.  The doctor told us to."

"Oh, Jo, it's not so bad as that?" cried Laurie, with a startled face.

"Yes, it is.  She doesn't know us, she doesn't even talk about the
flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall. She
doesn't look like my Beth, and there's nobody to help us bear it.
Mother and father both gone, and God seems so far away I can't find
Him."

As the tears streamed fast down poor Jo's cheeks, she stretched out her
hand in a helpless sort of way, as if groping in the dark, and Laurie
took it in his, whispering as well as he could with a lump in his
throat, "I'm here.  Hold on to me, Jo, dear!"

She could not speak, but she did 'hold on', and the warm grasp of the
friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to lead her
nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in her trouble.

Laurie longed to say something tender and comfortable, but no fitting
words came to him, so he stood silent, gently stroking her bent head as
her mother used to do.  It was the best thing he could have done, far
more soothing than the most eloquent words, for Jo felt the unspoken
sympathy, and in the silence learned the sweet solace which affection
administers to sorrow.  Soon she dried the tears which had relieved
her, and looked up with a grateful face.

"Thank you, Teddy, I'm better now.  I don't feel so forlorn, and will
try to bear it if it comes."

"Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo.  Soon your mother
will be here, and then everything will be all right."

"I'm so glad Father is better.  Now she won't feel so bad about leaving
him.  Oh, me!  It does seem as if all the troubles came in a heap, and
I got the heaviest part on my shoulders," sighed Jo, spreading her wet
handkerchief over her knees to dry.

"Doesn't Meg pull fair?" asked Laurie, looking indignant.

"Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can't love Bethy as I do, and she won't
miss her as I shall.  Beth is my conscience, and I can't give her up.
I can't!  I can't!"

Down went Jo's face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried
despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed a
tear.  Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak till
he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his lips.
It might be unmanly, but he couldn't help it, and I am glad of it.
Presently, as Jo's sobs quieted, he said hopefully, "I don't think she
will die.  She's so good, and we all love her so much, I don't believe
God will take her away yet."

"The good and dear people always do die," groaned Jo, but she stopped
crying, for her friend's words cheered her up in spite of her own
doubts and fears.

"Poor girl, you're worn out.  It isn't like you to be forlorn. Stop a
bit.  I'll hearten you up in a jiffy."

Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied head down
on Beth's little brown hood, which no one had thought of moving from
the table where she left it.  It must have possessed some magic, for
the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed to enter into Jo, and
when Laurie came running down with a glass of wine, she took it with a
smile, and said bravely, "I drink-- Health to my Beth!  You are a good
doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable friend.  How can I ever pay you?"
she added, as the wine refreshed her body, as the kind words had done
her troubled mind.

"I'll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I'll give you something that
will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts of wine," said
Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed satisfaction at
something.

"What is it?" cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.

"I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered she'd come
at once, and she'll be here tonight, and everything will be all right.
Aren't you glad I did it?"

Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute, for
he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing the girls or
harming Beth.  Jo grew quite white, flew out of her chair, and the
moment he stopped speaking she electrified him by throwing her arms
round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful cry, "Oh, Laurie!  Oh,
Mother!  I am so glad!"  She did not weep again, but laughed
hysterically, and trembled and clung to her friend as if she was a
little bewildered by the sudden news.

Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great presence of mind.
He patted her back soothingly, and finding that she was recovering,
followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which brought Jo round at
once.  Holding on to the banisters, she put him gently away, saying
breathlessly, "Oh, don't!  I didn't mean to, it was dreadful of me, but
you were such a dear to go and do it in spite of Hannah that I couldn't
help flying at you.  Tell me all about it, and don't give me wine
again, it makes me act so."

"I don't mind," laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie.  "Why, you see I
got fidgety, and so did Grandpa.  We thought Hannah was overdoing the
authority business, and your mother ought to know. She'd never forgive
us if Beth...  Well, if anything happened, you know.  So I got grandpa
to say it was high time we did something, and off I pelted to the
office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober, and Hannah most took my
head off when I proposed a telegram.  I never can bear to be 'lorded
over', so that settled my mind, and I did it. Your mother will come, I
know, and the late train is in at two A.M. I shall go for her, and
you've only got to bottle up your rapture, and keep Beth quiet till
that blessed lady gets here."

"Laurie, you're an angel!  How shall I ever thank you?"

"Fly at me again.  I rather liked it," said Laurie, looking
mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.

"No, thank you.  I'll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes. Don't
tease, but go home and rest, for you'll be up half the night. Bless
you, Teddy, bless you!"

Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech, she
vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down upon a
dresser and told the assembled cats that she was "happy, oh, so happy!"
while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a rather neat thing of
it.

"That's the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive him and do
hope Mrs. March is coming right away," said Hannah, with an air of
relief, when Jo told the good news.

Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter, while Jo set
the sickroom in order, and Hannah "knocked up a couple of pies in case
of company unexpected".  A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through
the house, and something better than sunshine brightened the quiet
rooms.  Everything appeared to feel the hopeful change.  Beth's bird
began to chirp again, and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy's
bush in the window. The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness,
and every time the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as
they hugged one another, whispering encouragingly, "Mother's coming,
dear! Mother's coming!"  Every one rejoiced but Beth.  She lay in that
heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger. It
was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant, the once
busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips quite dumb, and
the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough and tangled on the
pillow.  All day she lay so, only rousing now and then to mutter,
"Water!" with lips so parched they could hardly shape the word.  All
day Jo and Meg hovered over her, watching, waiting, hoping, and
trusting in God and Mother, and all day the snow fell, the bitter wind
raged, and the hours dragged slowly by.  But night came at last, and
every time the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side
of the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each hour
brought help nearer.  The doctor had been in to say that some change,
for better or worse, would probably take place about midnight, at which
time he would return.

Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed's foot and fell
fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the parlor, feeling
that he would rather face a rebel battery than Mrs. March's countenance
as she entered.  Laurie lay on the rug, pretending to rest, but staring
into the fire with the thoughtful look which made his black eyes
beautifully soft and clear.

The girls never forgot that night, for no sleep came to them as they
kept their watch, with that dreadful sense of powerlessness which comes
to us in hours like those.

"If God spares Beth, I never will complain again," whispered Meg
earnestly.

"If god spares Beth, I'll try to love and serve Him all my life,"
answered Jo, with equal fervor.

"I wish I had no heart, it aches so," sighed Meg, after a pause.

"If life is often as hard as this, I don't see how we ever shall get
through it," added her sister despondently.

Here the clock struck twelve, and both forgot themselves in watching
Beth, for they fancied a change passed over her wan face. The house was
still as death, and nothing but the wailing of the wind broke the deep
hush.  Weary Hannah slept on, and no one but the sisters saw the pale
shadow which seemed to fall upon the little bed.  An hour went by, and
nothing happened except Laurie's quiet departure for the station.
Another hour, still no one came, and anxious fears of delay in the
storm, or accidents by the way, or, worst of all, a great grief at
Washington, haunted the girls.

It was past two, when Jo, who stood at the window thinking how dreary
the world looked in its winding sheet of snow, heard a movement by the
bed, and turning quickly, saw Meg kneeling before their mother's easy
chair with her face hidden.  A dreadful fear passed coldly over Jo, as
she thought, "Beth is dead, and Meg is afraid to tell me."

She was back at her post in an instant, and to her excited eyes a great
change seemed to have taken place.  The fever flush and the look of
pain were gone, and the beloved little face looked so pale and peaceful
in its utter repose that Jo felt no desire to weep or to lament.
Leaning low over this dearest of her sisters, she kissed the damp
forehead with her heart on her lips, and softly whispered, "Goodby, my
Beth.  Goodby!"

As if awaked by the stir, Hannah started out of her sleep, hurried to
the bed, looked at Beth, felt her hands, listened at her lips, and
then, throwing her apron over her head, sat down to rock to and fro,
exclaiming, under her breath, "The fever's turned, she's sleepin'
nat'ral, her skin's damp, and she breathes easy.  Praise be given!  Oh,
my goodness me!"

Before the girls could believe the happy truth, the doctor came to
confirm it.  He was a homely man, but they thought his face quite
heavenly when he smiled and said, with a fatherly look at them, "Yes,
my dears, I think the little girl will pull through this time.  Keep
the house quiet, let her sleep, and when she wakes, give her..."

What they were to give, neither heard, for both crept into the dark
hall, and, sitting on the stairs, held each other close, rejoicing with
hearts too full for words.  When they went back to be kissed and
cuddled by faithful Hannah, they found Beth lying, as she used to do,
with her cheek pillowed on her hand, the dreadful pallor gone, and
breathing quietly, as if just fallen asleep.

"If Mother would only come now!" said Jo, as the winter night began to
wane.

"See," said Meg, coming up with a white, half-opened rose, "I thought
this would hardly be ready to lay in Beth's hand tomorrow if she--went
away from us.  But it has blossomed in the night, and now I mean to put
it in my vase here, so that when the darling wakes, the first thing she
sees will be the little rose, and Mother's face."

Never had the sun risen so beautifully, and never had the world seemed
so lovely as it did to the heavy eyes of Meg and Jo, as they looked out
in the early morning, when their long, sad vigil was done.

"It looks like a fairy world," said Meg, smiling to herself, as she
stood behind the curtain, watching the dazzling sight.

"Hark!" cried Jo, starting to her feet.

Yes, there was a sound of bells at the door below, a cry from Hannah,
and then Laurie's voice saying in a joyful whisper, "Girls, she's come!
She's come!"



CHAPTER NINETEEN

AMY'S WILL

While these things were happening at home, Amy was having hard times at
Aunt March's.  She felt her exile deeply, and for the first time in her
life, realized how much she was beloved and petted at home.  Aunt March
never petted any one; she did not approve of it, but she meant to be
kind, for the well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt
March had a soft place in her old heart for her nephew's children,
though she didn't think it proper to confess it.  She really did her
best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made. Some old
people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and gray hairs, can
sympathize with children's little cares and joys, make them feel at
home, and can hide wise lessons under pleasant plays, giving and
receiving friendship in the sweetest way.  But Aunt March had not this
gift, and she worried Amy very much with her rules and orders, her prim
ways, and long, prosy talks.  Finding the child more docile and amiable
than her sister, the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract,
as far as possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence.  So
she took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been taught
sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy's soul, and made
her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict spider.

She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the old-fashioned
spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till they shone.  Then
she must dust the room, and what a trying job that was.  Not a speck
escaped Aunt March's eye, and all the furniture had claw legs and much
carving, which was never dusted to suit.  Then Polly had to be fed, the
lap dog combed, and a dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or
deliver orders, for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big
chair.  After these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was
a daily trial of every virtue she possessed.  Then she was allowed one
hour for exercise or play, and didn't she enjoy it?

Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was allowed to
go out with him, when they walked and rode and had capital times.
After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still while the old lady
slept, which she usually did for an hour, as she dropped off over the
first page.  Then patchwork or towels appeared, and Amy sewed with
outward meekness and inward rebellion till dusk, when she was allowed
to amuse herself as she liked till teatime.  The evenings were the
worst of all, for Aunt March fell to telling long stories about her
youth, which were so unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go
to bed, intending to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep
before she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.

If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid, she felt that
she never could have got through that dreadful time.  The parrot alone
was enough to drive her distracted, for he soon felt that she did not
admire him, and revenged himself by being as mischievous as possible.
He pulled her hair whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk
to plague her when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by
pecking at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and
behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird.  Then she could
not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and yelped at her
when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back with all his legs in
the air and a most idiotic expression of countenance when he wanted
something to eat, which was about a dozen times a day.  The cook was
bad-tempered, the old coachman was deaf, and Esther the only one who
ever took any notice of the young lady.

Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with'Madame', as she called her
mistress, for many years, and who rather tyrannized over the old lady,
who could not get along without her. Her real name was Estelle, but
Aunt March ordered her to change it, and she obeyed, on condition that
she was never asked to change her religion.  She took a fancy to
Mademoiselle, and amused her very much with odd stories of her life in
France, when Amy sat with her while she got up Madame's laces.  She
also allowed her to roam about the great house, and examine the curious
and pretty things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient
chests, for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie.  Amy's chief delight was
an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes, and
secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments, some
precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique. To examine and
arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction, especially the jewel
cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed the ornaments which had
adorned a belle forty years ago.  There was the garnet set which Aunt
March wore when she came out, the pearls her father gave her on her
wedding day, her lover's diamonds, the jet mourning rings and pins, the
queer lockets, with portraits of dead friends and weeping willows made
of hair inside, the baby bracelets her one little daughter had worn,
Uncle March's big watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had
played with, and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March's wedding ring,
too small now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most
precious jewel of them all.

"Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?" asked Esther,
who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.

"I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them, and I'm
fond of necklaces, they are so becoming.  I should choose this if I
might," replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a string of gold
and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of the same.

"I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace.  Ah, no!  To me it is a
rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic," said Esther,
eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.

"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling wooden beads
hanging over your glass?" asked Amy.

"Truly, yes, to pray with.  It would be pleasing to the saints if one
used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a vain bijou."

"You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers, Esther, and
always come down looking quiet and satisfied.  I wish I could."

"If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort, but as
that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each day to
meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served before
Madame.  She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement for much
trouble."

"Would it be right for me to do so too?" asked Amy, who in her
loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that she was
apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there to remind
her of it.

"It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly arrange the
little dressing room for you if you like it.  Say nothing to Madame,
but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a while to think good
thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve your sister."

Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for she had an
affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in their anxiety.
Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange the light closet next
her room, hoping it would do her good.

"I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when Aunt March
dies," she said, as she slowly replaced the shining rosary and shut the
jewel cases one by one.

"To you and your sisters.  I know it, Madame confides in me. I
witnessed her will, and it is to be so," whispered Esther smiling.


"How nice!  But I wish she'd let us have them now. Procrastination is
not agreeable," observed Amy, taking a last look at the diamonds.

"It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things. The
first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said it,
and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given to you
when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and charming
manners."

"Do you think so?  Oh, I'll be a lamb, if I can only have that lovely
ring!  It's ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant's.  I do like Aunt
March after all." And Amy tried on the blue ring with a delighted face
and a firm resolve to earn it.

From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady
complacently admired the success of her training.  Esther fitted up the
closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it, and over it a
picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms.  She thought it was of no
great value, but, being appropriate, she borrowed it, well knowing that
Madame would never know it, nor care if she did.  It was, however, a
very valuable copy of one of the famous pictures of the world, and
Amy's beauty-loving eyes were never tired of looking up at the sweet
face of the Divine Mother, while her tender thoughts of her own were
busy at her heart.  On the table she laid her little testament and
hymnbook, kept a vase always full of the best flowers Laurie brought
her, and came every day to 'sit alone' thinking good thoughts, and
praying the dear God to preserve her sister.  Esther had given her a
rosary of black beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did
not use it, feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left alone
outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind hand to hold
by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the strong and tender
Friend, whose fatherly love most closely surrounds His little children.
She missed her mother's help to understand and rule herself, but having
been taught where to look, she did her best to find the way and walk in
it confidingly.  But, Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden
seemed very heavy. She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and
be satisfied with doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it.
In her first effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her
will, as Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her
possessions might be justly and generously divided.  It cost her a pang
even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes were
as precious as the old lady's jewels.

During one of her play hours she wrote out the important document as
well as she could, with some help from Esther as to certain legal
terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman had signed her name, Amy
felt relieved and laid it by to show Laurie, whom she wanted as a
second witness.  As it was a rainy day, she went upstairs to amuse
herself in one of the large chambers, and took Polly with her for
company.  In this room there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned
costumes with which Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite
amusement to array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and
down before the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her
train about with a rustle which delighted her ears.  So busy was she on
this day that she did not hear Laurie's ring nor see his face peeping
in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting her fan and
tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban, contrasting
oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted petticoat.  She
was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on highheeled shoes, and, as
Laurie told Jo afterward, it was a comical sight to see her mince along
in her gay suit, with Polly sidling and bridling just behind her,
imitating her as well as he could, and occasionally stopping to laugh
or exclaim, "Ain't we fine? Get along, you fright!  Hold your tongue!
Kiss me, dear!  Ha! Ha!"

Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment, lest it
should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously received.

"Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want to
consult you about a very serious matter," said Amy, when she had shown
her splendor and driven Polly into a corner.  "That bird is the trial
of my life," she continued, removing the pink mountain from her head,
while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.

"Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a
mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went to
let him out, and found a big spider there.  I poked it out, and it ran
under the bookcase.  Polly marched straight after it, stooped down and
peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a cock of his
eye, 'Come out and take a walk, my dear.' I couldn't help laughing,
which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both."

"Did the spider accept the old fellow's invitation?" asked Laurie,
yawning.

"Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and
scrambled up on Aunt's chair, calling out, 'Catch her! Catch her! Catch
her!' as I chased the spider."

"That's a lie!  Oh, lor!" cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie's toes.

"I'd wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment," cried Laurie,
shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side and gravely
croaked, "Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!"

"Now I'm ready," said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a piece of
paper out of her pocket.  "I want you to read that, please, and tell me
if it is legal and right.  I felt I ought to do it, for life is
uncertain and I don't want any ill feeling over my tomb."

Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive speaker,
read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity, considering the
spelling:

MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT

I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and bequeethe all
my earthly property--viz. to wit:--namely

To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works of art,
including frames.  Also my $100, to do what he likes with.

To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with pockets--also
my likeness, and my medal, with much love.

To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I get it),
also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece of real lace for
her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of her 'little girl'.

To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax, also my
bronze inkstand--she lost the cover--and my most precious plaster
rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.

To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the little bureau,
my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if she can wear them being
thin when she gets well.  And I herewith also leave her my regret that
I ever made fun of old Joanna.

To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my paper mashay
portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did say it hadn't any
neck.  Also in return for his great kindness in the hour of affliction
any one of my artistic works he likes, Noter Dame is the best.

To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple box with a
looking glass in the cover which will be nice for his pens and remind
him of the departed girl who thanks him for his favors to her family,
especially Beth.

I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue silk apron
and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.

To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork I leave
hoping she 'will remember me, when it you see'.

And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope all will be
satisfied and not blame the dead.  I forgive everyone, and trust we may
all meet when the trump shall sound.  Amen.

To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this 20th day of
Nov.  Anni Domino 1861.

Amy Curtis March

Witnesses:

Estelle Valnor, Theodore Laurence.


The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained that he was to
rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.

"What put it into your head?  Did anyone tell you about Beth's giving
away her things?" asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit of red tape,
with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.

She explained and then asked anxiously, "What about Beth?"

"I'm sorry I spoke, but as I did, I'll tell you.  She felt so ill one
day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg, her cats to
you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for her sake.  She
was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks of hair to the rest
of us, and her best love to Grandpa.  She never thought of a will."

Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look up till a
great tear dropped on the paper.  Amy's face was full of trouble, but
she only said, "Don't people put sort of postscripts to their wills,
sometimes?"

"Yes, 'codicils', they call them."

"Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and given
round to my friends.  I forgot it, but I want it done though it will
spoil my looks."

Laurie added it, smiling at Amy's last and greatest sacrifice. Then he
amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her trials.  But
when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with trembling lips,
"Is there really any danger about Beth?"

"I'm afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don't cry,
dear."  And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly gesture which
was very comforting.

When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting in the
twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an aching heart,
feeling that a million turquoise rings would not console her for the
loss of her gentle little sister.



CHAPTER TWENTY

CONFIDENTIAL

I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the
mother and daughters.  Such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard
to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination of my readers,
merely saying that the house was full of genuine happiness, and that
Meg's tender hope was realized, for when Beth woke from that long,
healing sleep, the first objects on which her eyes fell were the little
rose and Mother's face.  Too weak to wonder at anything, she only
smiled and nestled close in the loving arms about her, feeling that the
hungry longing was satisfied at last.  Then she slept again, and the
girls waited upon their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand
which clung to hers even in sleep.

Hannah had 'dished up' an astonishing breakfast for the traveler,
finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any other way, and Meg
and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young storks, while they listened
to her whispered account of Father's state, Mr. Brooke's promise to
stay and nurse him, the delays which the storm occasioned on the
homeward journey, and the unspeakable comfort Laurie's hopeful face had
given her when she arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.

What a strange yet pleasant day that was.  So brilliant and gay
without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first snow.  So
quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent with watching,
and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house, while nodding Hannah
mounted guard at the door.  With a blissful sense of burdens lifted
off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes, and lay at rest, like
storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a quiet harbor.  Mrs. March would
not leave Beth's side, but rested in the big chair, waking often to
look at, touch, and brood over her child, like a miser over some
recovered treasure.

Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his story so well
that Aunt March actually 'sniffed' herself, and never once said "I told
you so".  Amy came out so strong on this occasion that I think the good
thoughts in the little chapel really began to bear fruit.  She dried
her tears quickly, restrained her impatience to see her mother, and
never even thought of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily
agreed in Laurie's opinion, that she behaved 'like a capital little
woman'.  Even Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl,
blessed her buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", in
his most affable tone.  She would very gladly have gone out to enjoy
the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie was dropping
with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal the fact, she
persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote a note to her
mother.  She was a long time about it, and when she returned, he was
stretched out with both arms under his head, sound asleep, while Aunt
March had pulled down the curtains and sat doing nothing in an unusual
fit of benignity.

After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake up till
night, and I'm not sure that he would, had he not been effectually
roused by Amy's cry of joy at sight of her mother. There probably were
a good many happy little girls in and about the city that day, but it
is my private opinion that Amy was the happiest of all, when she sat in
her mother's lap and told her trials, receiving consolation and
compensation in the shape of approving smiles and fond caresses.  They
were alone together in the chapel, to which her mother did not object
when its purpose was explained to her.

"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from the dusty
rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely picture with its
garland of evergreen.  "It is an excellent plan to have some place
where we can go to be quiet, when things vex or grieve us.  There are a
good many hard times in this life of ours, but we can always bear them
if we ask help in the right way.  I think my little girl is learning
this."

"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner in the big
closet to put my books and the copy of that picture which I've tried to
make.  The woman's face is not good, it's too beautiful for me to draw,
but the baby is done better, and I love it very much.  I like to think
He was a little child once, for then I don't seem so far away, and that
helps me."

As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother's knee, Mrs.
March saw something on the lifted hand that made her smile.  She said
nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after a minute's pause, she
added gravely, "I wanted to speak to you about this, but I forgot it.
Aunt gave me the ring today.  She called me to her and kissed me, and
put it on my finger, and said I was a credit to her, and she'd like to
keep me always. She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as
it's too big.  I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"

"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too young for such
ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump little hand,
with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger, and the quaint
guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped together.

"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy.  "I don't think I like it only
because it's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl in the story
wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."

"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.

"No, to remind me not to be selfish."  Amy looked so earnest and
sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing, and listened
respectfully to the little plan.

"I've thought a great deal lately about my 'bundle of naughties', and
being selfish is the largest one in it, so I'm going to try hard to
cure it, if I can.  Beth isn't selfish, and that's the reason everyone
loves her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her.  People
wouldn't feel so bad about me if I was sick, and I don't deserve to
have them, but I'd like to be loved and missed by a great many friends,
so I'm going to try and be like Beth all I can.  I'm apt to forget my
resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me, I
guess I should do better.  May we try this way?"

"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet. Wear your
ring, dear, and do your best.  I think you will prosper, for the
sincere wish to be good is half the battle.  Now I must go back to
Beth.  Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will soon have you
home again."

That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report the
traveler's safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room, and
finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting her
fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided look.

"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand, with a
face which invited confidence.

"I want to tell you something, Mother."

"About Meg?"

"How quickly you guessed!  Yes, it's about her, and though it's a
little thing, it fidgets me."

"Beth is asleep.  Speak low, and tell me all about it.  That Moffat
hasn't been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.

"No.  I should have shut the door in his face if he had," said Jo,
settling herself on the floor at her mother's feet.  "Last summer Meg
left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences' and only one was returned.
We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke owned that he
liked Meg but didn't dare say so, she was so young and he so poor.
Now, isn't it a dreadful state of things?"

"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an anxious
look.

"Mercy me!  I don't know anything about love and such nonsense!" cried
Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. "In novels, the
girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin,
and acting like fools.  Now Meg does not do anything of the sort.  She
eats and drinks and sleeps like a sensible creature, she looks straight
in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit
when Teddy jokes about lovers.  I forbid him to do it, but he doesn't
mind me as he ought."

"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"

"Who?" cried Jo, staring.

"Mr. Brooke.  I call him 'John' now.  We fell into the way of doing so
at the hospital, and he likes it."

"Oh, dear!  I know you'll take his part.  He's been good to Father, and
you won't send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to.  Mean
thing!  To go petting Papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into
liking him." And Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.

"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you how it
happened.  John went with me at Mr. Laurence's request, and was so
devoted to poor Father that we couldn't help getting fond of him.  He
was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he told us he loved
her, but would earn a comfortable home before he asked her to marry
him.  He only wanted our leave to love her and work for her, and the
right to make her love him if he could. He is a truly excellent young
man, and we could not refuse to listen to him, but I will not consent
to Meg's engaging herself so young."

"Of course not.  It would be idiotic!  I knew there was mischief
brewing.  I felt it, and now it's worse than I imagined. I just wish I
could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family."

This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said gravely, "Jo,
I confide in you and don't wish you to say anything to Meg yet.  When
John comes back, and I see them together, I can judge better of her
feelings toward him."

"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will
be all up with her.  She's got such a soft heart, it will melt like
butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly at her.  She read the
short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me
when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and doesn't think John an
ugly name, and she'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace
and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all!  They'll go lovering
around the house, and we shall have to dodge.  Meg will be absorbed and
no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry
her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and
everything will be abominably uncomfortable.  Oh, dear me!  Why weren't
we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."

Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude and shook
her fist at the reprehensible John.  Mrs. March sighed, and Jo looked
up with an air of relief.

"You don't like it, Mother?  I'm glad of it.  Let's send him about his
business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be happy together as
we always have been."

"I did wrong to sigh, Jo.  It is natural and right you should all go to
homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I
can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only
seventeen and it will be some years before John can make a home for
her.  Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in
any way, nor be married, before twenty.  If she and John love one
another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so.  She is
conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly.  My
pretty, tender hearted girl!  I hope things will go happily with her."

"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as her
mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.

"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never
feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much.  I should
like to know that John was firmly established in some good business,
which gave him an income large enough to keep free from debt and make
Meg comfortable.  I'm not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a
fashionable position, or a great name for my girls.  If rank and money
come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and
enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, how much genuine
happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is
earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures.  I am
content to see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be
rich in the possession of a good man's heart, and that is better than a
fortune."

"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointed about Meg,
for I'd planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of
luxury all her days.  Wouldn't it be nice?" asked Jo, looking up with a
brighter face.

"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo broke in...

"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can be quite
grown-up in his manners if he likes.  Then he's rich and generous and
good, and loves us all, and I say it's a pity my plan is spoiled."

"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and altogether
too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to depend on.  Don't make
plans, Jo, but let time and their own hearts mate your friends.  We
can't meddle safely in such matters, and had better not get 'romantic
rubbish' as you call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."

"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscross and
getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten
it out.  I wish wearing flatirons on our heads would keep us from
growing up.  But buds will be roses, and kittens cats, more's the pity!"

"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she crept into
the room with the finished letter in her hand.

"Only one of my stupid speeches.  I'm going to bed.  Come, Peggy," said
Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.

"Quite right, and beautifully written.  Please add that I send my love
to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over the letter and gave it
back.

"Do you call him 'John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with her innocent eyes
looking down into her mother's.

"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,"
replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.

"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely.  Good night, Mother, dear.  It is
so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here," was Meg's answer.

The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and as she went
away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction and regret, "She
does not love John yet, but will soon learn to."



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE

Jo's face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her,
and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important.  Meg
observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had
learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so
she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask.  She was
rather surprised, therefore, when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo
assumed a patronizing air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn
assumed an air of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother.
This left Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as
nurse, and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long
confinement.  Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much as
she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for he was
an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the secret from her.

She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a
mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of
it.  He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected
indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared he
knew, then that he didn't care; and at last, by dint of perseverance,
he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke.  Feeling
indignant that he was not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his
wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.

Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was absorbed in
preparations for her father's return, but all of a sudden a change
seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two, she was quite unlike
herself.  She started when spoken to, blushed when looked at, was very
quiet, and sat over her sewing, with a timid, troubled look on her
face.  To her mother's inquiries she answered that she was quite well,
and Jo's she silenced by begging to be let alone.

"She feels it in the air--love, I mean--and she's going very fast.
She's got most of the symptoms--is twittery and cross, doesn't eat,
lies awake, and mopes in corners.  I caught her singing that song he
gave her, and once she said 'John', as you do, and then turned as red
as a poppy.  Whatever shall we do?" said Jo, looking ready for any
measures, however violent.

"Nothing but wait.  Let her alone, be kind and patient, and Father's
coming will settle everything," replied her mother.

"Here's a note to you, Meg, all sealed up.  How odd! Teddy never seals
mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed the contents of the little
post office.

Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a sound from Meg
made them look up to see her staring at her note with a frightened face.

"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her, while Jo
tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.

"It's all a mistake, he didn't send it.  Oh, Jo, how could you do it?"
and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her heart were quite
broken.

"Me!  I've done nothing!  What's she talking about?" cried Jo,
bewildered.

Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled note from
her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully, "You wrote it, and
that bad boy helped you.  How could you be so rude, so mean, and cruel
to us both?"

Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the note,
which was written in a peculiar hand.


"My Dearest Margaret,

"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate before I
return.  I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think they would
consent if they knew that we adored one another.  Mr. Laurence will
help me to some good place, and then, my sweet girl, you will make me
happy.  I implore you to say nothing to your family yet, but to send
one word of hope through Laurie to,

"Your devoted John."


"Oh, the little villain!  That's the way he meant to pay me for keeping
my word to Mother.  I'll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over
to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice.  But
her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore...

"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first.  You have played so many
pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."

"On my word, Mother, I haven't!  I never saw that note before, and
don't know anything about it, as true as I live!" said Jo, so earnestly
that they believed her.  "If I had taken part in it I'd have done it
better than this, and have written a sensible note.  I should think
you'd have known Mr. Brooke wouldn't write such stuff as that," she
added, scornfully tossing down the paper.

"It's like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with the note in
her hand.

"Oh, Meg, you didn't answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.

"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.

"Here's a scrape!  Do let me bring that wicked boy over to explain and
be lectured.  I can't rest till I get hold of him." And Jo made for the
door again.

"Hush!  Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought. Margaret,
tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting down by Meg,
yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.

"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn't look as if he knew
anything about it," began Meg, without looking up. "I was worried at
first and meant to tell you, then I remembered how you liked Mr.
Brooke, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I kept my little secret for a
few days.  I'm so silly that I liked to think no one knew, and while I
was deciding what to say, I felt like the girls in books, who have such
things to do.  Forgive me, Mother, I'm paid for my silliness now.  I
never can look him in the face again."

"What did you say to him?" asked Mrs. March.

"I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet, that I didn't
wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak to father.  I was very
grateful for his kindness, and would be his friend, but nothing more,
for a long while."

Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her hands,
exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal to Caroline Percy, who
was a pattern of prudence!  Tell on, Meg. What did he say to that?"

"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he never sent
any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my roguish sister, Jo,
should take liberties with our names.  It's very kind and respectful,
but think how dreadful for me!"

Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair, and Jo
tramped about the room, calling Laurie names.  All of a sudden she
stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking at them closely,
said decidedly, "I don't believe Brooke ever saw either of these
letters.  Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours to crow over me with
because I wouldn't tell him my secret."

"Don't have any secrets, Jo.  Tell it to Mother and keep out of
trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.

"Bless you, child!  Mother told me."

"That will do, Jo.  I'll comfort Meg while you go and get Laurie.  I
shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop to such pranks at
once."

Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke's real feelings.
"Now, dear, what are your own?  Do you love him enough to wait till he
can make a home for you, or will you keep yourself quite free for the
present?"

"I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to have anything to do
with lovers for a long while, perhaps never," answered Meg petulantly.
"If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and
make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues.  I won't be deceived and plagued
and made a fool of. It's a shame!"

Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by
this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire
silence and great discretion for the future.  The instant Laurie's step
was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received
the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he
wouldn't come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and
stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once.
Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a
sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt.  The sound of
voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened
during that interview the girls never knew.

When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such
a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it
wise to betray the fact.  Meg received his humble apology, and was much
comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.

"I'll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan't drag it out of
me, so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll do anything to show how
out-and-out sorry I am," he added, looking very much ashamed of himself.

"I'll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I didn't think
you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," replied Meg, trying to hide
her maidenly confusion under a gravely reproachful air.

"It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to be spoken to for
a month, but you will, though, won't you?" And Laurie folded his hands
together with such and imploring gesture, as he spoke in his
irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was impossible to frown upon him
in spite of his scandalous behavior.

Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, in spite of her
efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare that he would atone
for his sins by all sorts of penances, and abase himself like a worm
before the injured damsel.

Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and
succeeding only in primming up her face into an expression of entire
disapprobation.  Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed
no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till
the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked
off without a word.

As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and
when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for
Teddy.  After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and
armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.

"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was coming
downstairs.

"Yes, Miss, but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."

"Why not?  Is he ill?"

"La, no Miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is in one of
his tantrums about something, which vexes the old gentleman, so I
dursn't go nigh him."

"Where is Laurie?"

"Shut up in his room, and he won't answer, though I've been a-tapping.
I don't know what's to become of the dinner, for it's ready, and
there's no one to eat it."

"I'll go and see what the matter is.  I'm not afraid of either of them."

Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie's little study.

"Stop that, or I'll open the door and make you!" called out the young
gentleman in a threatening tone.

Jo immediately knocked again.  The door flew open, and in she bounced
before Laurie could recover from his surprise.  Seeing that he really
was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him, assumed a contrite
expression, and going artistically down upon her knees, said meekly,
"Please forgive me for being so cross.  I came to make it up, and can't
go away till I have."

"It's all right.  Get up, and don't be a goose, Jo," was the cavalier
reply to her petition.

"Thank you, I will.  Could I ask what's the matter?  You don't look
exactly easy in your mind."

"I've been shaken, and I won't bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.

"Who did it?" demanded Jo.

"Grandfather.  If it had been anyone else I'd have..." And the injured
youth finished his sentence by an energetic gesture of the right arm.

"That's nothing.  I often shake you, and you don't mind," said Jo
soothingly.

"Pooh!  You're a girl, and it's fun, but I'll allow no man to shake me!"

"I don't think anyone would care to try it, if you looked as much like
a thundercloud as you do now.  Why were you treated so?"

"Just because I wouldn't say what your mother wanted me for. I'd
promised not to tell, and of course I wasn't going to break my word."

"Couldn't you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"

"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth.  I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could without
bringing Meg in.  As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and bore the
scolding till the old gentleman collared me.  Then I bolted, for fear I
should forget myself."

"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and make up.  I'll
help you."

"Hanged if I do!  I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled by
everyone, just for a bit of a frolic.  I was sorry about Meg, and
begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again, when I wasn't in the
wrong."

"He didn't know that."

"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby.  It's no use,
Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of myself, and don't
need anyone's apron string to hold on by."

"What pepper pots you are!" sighed Jo.  "How do you mean to settle this
affair?"

"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I can't tell
him what the fuss's about."

"Bless you!  He won't do that."

"I won't go down till he does."

"Now, Teddy, be sensible.  Let it pass, and I'll explain what I can.
You can't stay here, so what's the use of being melodramatic?"

"I don't intend to stay here long, anyway.  I'll slip off and take a
journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he'll come round fast
enough."

"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."

"Don't preach.  I'll go to Washington and see Brooke.  It's gay there,
and I'll enjoy myself after the troubles."

"What fun you'd have!  I wish I could run off too," said Jo, forgetting
her part of mentor in lively visions of martial life at the capital.

"Come on, then!  Why not?  You go and surprise your father, and I'll
stir up old Brooke.  It would be a glorious joke.  Let's do it, Jo.
We'll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot off at once.
I've got money enough.  It will do you good, and no harm, as you go to
your father."

For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as the plan was,
it just suited her.  She was tired of care and confinement, longed for
change, and thoughts of her father blended temptingly with the novel
charms of camps and hospitals, liberty and fun.  Her eyes kindled as
they turned wistfully toward the window, but they fell on the old house
opposite, and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.

"If I was a boy, we'd run away together, and have a capital time, but
as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home. Don't tempt
me, Teddy, it's a crazy plan."

"That's the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willful fit on him
and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears.  "'Prunes and prisms'
are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to it.  I came here to
moralize, not to hear things that make me skip to think of."

"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I thought you had
more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.

"Bad boy, be quiet!  Sit down and think of your own sins, don't go
making me add to mine.  If I get your grandpa to apologize for the
shaking, will you give up running away?" asked Jo seriously.

"Yes, but you won't do it," answered Laurie, who wished to make up, but
felt that his outraged dignity must be appeased first.

"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo, as she
walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map with his head
propped up on both hands.

"Come in!" and Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded gruffer than ever, as
Jo tapped at his door.

"It's only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly, as she
entered.

"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim and vexed, but
trying not to show it.

"Yes, please.  I like old Sam so well, I think I'll try the second
volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by accepting a second
dose of Boswell's Johnson, as he had recommended that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps toward the
shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed.  Jo skipped up, and
sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was
really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her
visit.  Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in
her mind, for after taking several brisk turns about the room, he faced
round on her, speaking so abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward
on the floor.

"What has that boy been about?  Don't try to shield him.  I know he has
been in mischief by the way he acted when he came home.  I can't get a
word from him, and when I threatened to shake the truth out of him he
bolted upstairs and locked himself into his room."

"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to say a word
to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.

"That won't do.  He shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you
softhearted girls.  If he's done anything amiss, he shall confess, beg
pardon, and be punished.  Out with it, Jo. I won't be kept in the dark."

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo would have
gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft on the steps,
and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she had to stay and
brave it out.

"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell.  Mother forbade it.  Laurie has confessed,
asked pardon, and been punished quite enough.  We don't keep silence to
shield him, but someone else, and it will make more trouble if you
interfere.  Please don't.  It was partly my fault, but it's all right
now.  So let's forget it, and talk about the _Rambler_ or something
pleasant."

"Hang the _Rambler!_  Come down and give me your word that this
harum-scarum boy of mine hasn't done anything ungrateful or
impertinent.  If he has, after all your kindness to him, I'll thrash
him with my own hands."

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the
irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson,
whatever he might say to the contrary.  She obediently descended, and
made as light of the prank as she could without betraying Meg or
forgetting the truth.

"Hum... ha... well, if the boy held his tongue because he promised, and
not from obstinacy, I'll forgive him. He's a stubborn fellow and hard
to manage," said Mr. Laurence, rubbing up his hair till it looked as if
he had been out in a gale, and smoothing the frown from his brow with
an air of relief.

"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king's horses and
all the king's men couldn't," said Jo, trying to say a kind word for
her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape only to fall into
another.

"You think I'm not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.

"Oh, dear no, Sir.  You are rather too kind sometimes, and then just a
trifle hasty when he tries your patience.  Don't you think you are?"

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look quite placid,
though she quaked a little after her bold speech. To her great relief
and surprise, the old gentleman only threw his spectacles onto the
table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly, "You're right, girl, I am!
I love the boy, but he tries my patience past bearing, and I know how
it will end, if we go on so."

"I'll tell you, he'll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the
minute it was made.  She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear
much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a
troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his
table.  It was Laurie's father, who had run away in his youth, and
married against the imperious old man's will. Jo fancied he remembered
and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.

"He won't do it unless he is very much worried, and only threatens it
sometimes, when he gets tired of studying.  I often think I should like
to, especially since my hair was cut, so if you ever miss us, you may
advertise for two boys and look among the ships bound for India."

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved, evidently
taking the whole as a joke.

"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way?  Where's your respect for
me, and your proper bringing up?  Bless the boys and girls!  What
torments they are, yet we can't do without them," he said, pinching her
cheeks good-humoredly.  "Go and bring that boy down to his dinner, tell
him it's all right, and advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his
grandfather.  I won't bear it."

"He won't come, Sir.  He feels badly because you didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't tell.  I think the shaking hurt his feelings
very much."

Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr. Laurence began
to laugh, and she knew the day was won.

"I'm sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking me, I
suppose.  What the dickens does the fellow expect?" and the old
gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.

"If I were you, I'd write him an apology, Sir.  He says he won't come
down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and goes on in an
absurd way.  A formal apology will make him see how foolish he is, and
bring him down quite amiable.  Try it.  He likes fun, and this way is
better than talking.  I'll carry it up, and teach him his duty."

Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles, saying
slowly, "You're a sly puss, but I don't mind being managed by you and
Beth.  Here, give me a bit of paper, and let us have done with this
nonsense."

The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would use to
another after offering some deep insult.  Jo dropped a kiss on the top
of Mr. Laurence's bald head, and ran up to slip the apology under
Laurie's door, advising him through the keyhole to be submissive,
decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities. Finding the door
locked again, she left the note to do its work, and was going quietly
away, when the young gentleman slid down the banisters, and waited for
her at the bottom, saying, with his most virtuous expression of
countenance, "What a good fellow you are, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he
added, laughing.

"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."

"Ah!  I got it all round.  Even you cast me off over there, and I felt
just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.

"Don't talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again, Teddy, my
son."

"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil
my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there never will be an
end," he said dolefully.

"Go and eat your dinner, you'll feel better after it.  Men always croak
when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at the front door after that.

"That's a 'label' on my 'sect'," answered Laurie, quoting Amy, as he
went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his grandfather, who was
quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly respectful in manner all the
rest of the day.

Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud blown over, but
the mischief was done, for though others forgot it, Meg remembered.
She never alluded to a certain person, but she thought of him a good
deal, dreamed dreams more than ever, and once Jo, rummaging her
sister's desk for stamps, found a bit of paper scribbled over with the
words, 'Mrs. John Brooke', whereat she groaned tragically and cast it
into the fire, feeling that Laurie's prank had hastened the evil day
for her.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

PLEASANT MEADOWS

Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks which followed.
The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March began to talk of returning
early in the new year.  Beth was soon able to lie on the study sofa all
day, amusing herself with the well-beloved cats at first, and in time
with doll's sewing, which had fallen sadly behind-hand.  Her once
active limbs were so stiff and feeble that Jo took her for a daily
airing about the house in her strong arms.  Meg cheerfully blackened
and burned her white hands cooking delicate messes for 'the dear',
while Amy, a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving
away as many of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to
accept.

As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to haunt the house,
and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposing utterly impossible
or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honor of this unusually merry
Christmas.  Laurie was equally impracticable, and would have had
bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches, if he had had his own way.
After many skirmishes and snubbings, the ambitious pair were considered
effectually quenched and went about with forlorn faces, which were
rather belied by explosions of laughter when the two got together.

Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in a splendid
Christmas Day.  Hannah 'felt in her bones' that it was going to be an
unusually fine day, and she proved herself a true prophetess, for
everybody and everything seemed bound to produce a grand success.  To
begin with, Mr. March wrote that he should soon be with them, then Beth
felt uncommonly well that morning, and, being dressed in her mother's
gift, a soft crimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the
window to behold the offering of Jo and Laurie.  The Unquenchables had
done their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves they had
worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise.  Out in the garden
stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly, bearing a basket of
fruit and flowers in one hand, a great roll of music in the other, a
perfect rainbow of an Afghan round her chilly shoulders, and a
Christmas carol issuing from her lips on a pink paper streamer.

    THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH

    God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
    May nothing you dismay,
    But health and peace and happiness
    Be yours, this Christmas day.

    Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,
    And flowers for her nose.
    Here's music for her pianee,
    An afghan for her toes,

    A portrait of Joanna, see,
    By Raphael No. 2,
    Who laboured with great industry
    To make it fair and true.

    Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
    For Madam Purrer's tail,
    And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
    A Mont Blanc in a pail.

    Their dearest love my makers laid
    Within my breast of snow.
    Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
    From Laurie and from Jo.

How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up and down to bring
in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jo made as she presented
them.

"I'm so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, I couldn't
hold one drop more," said Beth, quite sighing with contentment as Jo
carried her off to the study to rest after the excitement, and to
refresh herself with some of the delicious grapes the 'Jungfrau' had
sent her.

"So am I," added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposed the
long-desired _Undine and Sintram_.

"I'm sure I am," echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copy of the
Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in a pretty frame.

"Of course I am!" cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds of her first
silk dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it. "How can I be
otherwise?" said Mrs. March gratefully, as her eyes went from her
husband's letter to Beth's smiling face, and her hand carressed the
brooch made of gray and golden, chestnut and dark brown hair, which the
girls had just fastened on her breast.

Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the
delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is.  Half an hour
after everyone had said they were so happy they could only hold one
drop more, the drop came.  Laurie opened the parlor door and popped his
head in very quietly.  He might just as well have turned a somersault
and uttered an Indian war whoop, for his face was so full of suppressed
excitement and his voice so treacherously joyful that everyone jumped
up, though he only said, in a queer, breathless voice, "Here's another
Christmas present for the March family."

Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whisked away
somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up to the eyes,
leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to say something and
couldn't.  Of course there was a general stampede, and for several
minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, for the strangest things
were done, and no one said a word.

Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs of loving arms.
Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and had to be doctored by
Laurie in the china closet.  Mr. Brooke kissed Meg entirely by mistake,
as he somewhat incoherently explained.  And Amy, the dignified, tumbled
over a stool, and never stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her
father's boots in the most touching manner.  Mrs. March was the first
to recover herself, and held up her hand with a warning, "Hush!
Remember Beth."

But it was too late.  The study door flew open, the little red wrapper
appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the feeble limbs, and
Beth ran straight into her father's arms.  Never mind what happened
just after that, for the full hearts overflowed, washing away the
bitterness of the past and leaving only the sweetness of the present.

It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybody straight
again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbing over the fat
turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when she rushed up from the
kitchen.  As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March began to thank Mr. Brooke
for his faithful care of her husband, at which Mr. Brooke suddenly
remembered that Mr. March needed rest, and seizing Laurie, he
precipitately retired.  Then the two invalids were ordered to repose,
which they did, by both sitting in one big chair and talking hard.

Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how, when the
fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to take advantage
of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he was altogether a most
estimable and upright young man.  Why Mr. March paused a minute just
there, and after a glance at Meg, who was violently poking the fire,
looked at his wife with an inquiring lift of the eyebrows, I leave you
to imagine.  Also why Mrs. March gently nodded her head and asked,
rather abruptly, if he wouldn't like to have something to eat.  Jo saw
and understood the look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and
beef tea, muttering to herself as she slammed the door, "I hate
estimable young men with brown eyes!"

There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat
turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed,
browned, and decorated.  So was the plum pudding, which melted in one's
mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled like a fly in a
honeypot.  Everything turned out well, which was a mercy, Hannah said,
"For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that it's a merrycle I didn't
roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey with raisins, let alone bilin'
of it in a cloth."

Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr. Brooke, at whom
Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie's infinite amusement. Two easy chairs
stood side by side at the head of the table, in which sat Beth and her
father, feasting modestly on chicken and a little fruit.  They drank
healths, told stories, sang songs, 'reminisced', as the old folks say,
and had a thoroughly good time. A sleigh ride had been planned, but the
girls would not leave their father, so the guests departed early, and
as twilight gathered, the happy family sat together round the fire.

"Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas we expected
to have.  Do you remember?" asked Jo, breaking a short pause which had
followed a long conversation about many things.

"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!" said Meg, smiling at the fire,
and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke with dignity.

"I think it's been a pretty hard one," observed Amy, watching the light
shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.

"I'm glad it's over, because we've got you back," whispered Beth, who
sat on her father's knee.

"Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims, especially
the latter part of it.  But you have got on bravely, and I think the
burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon," said Mr. March,
looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four young faces gathered
round him.

"How do you know?  Did Mother tell you?" asked Jo.

"Not much.  Straws show which way the wind blows, and I've made several
discoveries today."

"Oh, tell us what they are!" cried Meg, who sat beside him.

"Here is one." And taking up the hand which lay on the arm of his
chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn on the back, and
two or three little hard spots on the palm.  "I remember a time when
this hand was white and smooth, and your first care was to keep it so.
It was very pretty then, but to me it is much prettier now, for in this
seeming blemishes I read a little history.  A burnt offering has been
made to vanity, this hardened palm has earned something better than
blisters, and I'm sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will
last a long time, so much good will went into the stitches.  Meg, my
dear, I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than white
hands or fashionable accomplishments.  I'm proud to shake this good,
industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon be asked to give it
away."

If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, she received it
in the hearty pressure of her father's hand and the approving smile he
gave her.

"What about Jo?  Please say something nice, for she has tried so hard
and been so very, very good to me," said Beth in her father's ear.

He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite, with an
unusually mild expression in her face.

"In spite of the curly crop, I don't see the 'son Jo' whom I left a
year ago," said Mr. March.  "I see a young lady who pins her collar
straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles, talks slang,
nor lies on the rug as she used to do.  Her face is rather thin and
pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I like to look at it, for
it has grown gentler, and her voice is lower.  She doesn't bounce, but
moves quietly, and takes care of a certain little person in a motherly
way which delights me.  I rather miss my wild girl, but if I get a
strong, helpful, tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite
satisfied. I don't know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep,
but I do know that in all Washington I couldn't find anything beautiful
enough to be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent
me."

Jo's keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thin face grew
rosy in the firelight as she received her father's praise, feeling that
she did deserve a portion of it.

"Now, Beth," said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.

"There's so little of her, I'm afraid to say much, for fear she will
slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she used to be,"
began their father cheerfully.  But recollecting how nearly he had lost
her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheek against his
own, "I've got you safe, my Beth, and I'll keep you so, please God."

After a minute's silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat on the cricket
at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shining hair...

"I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errands for her
mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, and has waited on
every one with patience and good humor.  I also observe that she does
not fret much nor look in the glass, and has not even mentioned a very
pretty ring which she wears, so I conclude that she has learned to
think of other people more and of herself less, and has decided to try
and mold her character as carefully as she molds her little clay
figures.  I am glad of this, for though I should be very proud of a
graceful statue made by her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable
daughter with a talent for making life beautiful to herself and others."

"What are you thinking of, Beth?" asked Jo, when Amy had thanked her
father and told about her ring.

"I read in _Pilgrim's Progress_ today how, after many troubles,
Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where lilies
bloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we do now,
before they went on to their journey's end," answered Beth, adding, as
she slipped out of her father's arms and went to the instrument, "It's
singing time now, and I want to be in my old place.  I'll try to sing
the song of the shepherd boy which the Pilgrims heard.  I made the
music for Father, because he likes the verses."

So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched the keys, and
in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again, sang to her
own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was a singularly fitting song
for her.


    He that is down need fear no fall,
    He that is low no pride.
    He that is humble ever shall
    Have God to be his guide.

    I am content with what I have,
    Little be it, or much.
    And, Lord!  Contentment still I crave,
    Because Thou savest such.

    Fulness to them a burden is,
    That go on pilgrimage.
    Here little, and hereafter bliss,
    Is best from age to age!



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION

Like bees swarming after their queen, mother and daughters hovered
about Mr. March the next day, neglecting everything to look at, wait
upon, and listen to the new invalid, who was in a fair way to be killed
by kindness.  As he sat propped up in a big chair by Beth's sofa, with
the other three close by, and Hannah popping in her head now and then
'to peek at the dear man', nothing seemed needed to complete their
happiness.  But something was needed, and the elder ones felt it,
though none confessed the fact.  Mr. and Mrs. March looked at one
another with an anxious expression, as their eyes followed Meg.  Jo had
sudden fits of sobriety, and was seen to shake her fist at Mr. Brooke's
umbrella, which had been left in the hall.  Meg was absent-minded, shy,
and silent, started when the bell rang, and colored when John's name
was mentioned.  Amy said, "Everyone seemed waiting for something, and
couldn't settle down, which was queer, since Father was safe at home,"
and Beth innocently wondered why their neighbors didn't run over as
usual.

Laurie went by in the afternoon, and seeing Meg at the window, seemed
suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell down on one
knee in the snow, beat his breast, tore his hair, and clasped his hands
imploringly, as if begging some boon. And when Meg told him to behave
himself and go away, he wrung imaginary tears out of his handkerchief,
and staggered round the corner as if in utter despair.

"What does the goose mean?" said Meg, laughing and trying to look
unconscious.

"He's showing you how your John will go on by-and-by. Touching, isn't
it?" answered Jo scornfully.

"Don't say my John, it isn't proper or true," but Meg's voice lingered
over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her.  "Please don't
plague me, Jo, I've told you I don't care much about him, and there
isn't to be anything said, but we are all to be friendly, and go on as
before."

"We can't, for something has been said, and Laurie's mischief has
spoiled you for me.  I see it, and so does Mother.  You are not like
your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me.  I don't mean
to plague you and will bear it like a man, but I do wish it was all
settled.  I hate to wait, so if you mean ever to do it, make haste and
have it over quickly," said Jo pettishly.

"I can't say anything till he speaks, and he won't, because Father said
I was too young," began Meg, bending over her work with a queer little
smile, which suggested that she did not quite agree with her father on
that point.

"If he did speak, you wouldn't know what to say, but would cry or
blush, or let him have his own way, instead of giving a good, decided
no."

"I'm not so silly and weak as you think.  I know just what I should
say, for I've planned it all, so I needn't be taken unawares.  There's
no knowing what may happen, and I wished to be prepared."

Jo couldn't help smiling at the important air which Meg had
unconsciously assumed and which was as becoming as the pretty color
varying in her cheeks.

"Would you mind telling me what you'd say?" asked Jo more respectfully.

"Not at all.  You are sixteen now, quite old enough to be my confident,
and my experience will be useful to you by-and-by, perhaps, in your own
affairs of this sort."

"Don't mean to have any.  It's fun to watch other people philander, but
I should feel like a fool doing it myself," said Jo, looking alarmed at
the thought.

"I think not, if you liked anyone very much, and he liked you."  Meg
spoke as if to herself, and glanced out at the lane where she had often
seen lovers walking together in the summer twilight.

"I thought you were going to tell your speech to that man," said Jo,
rudely shortening her sister's little reverie.

"Oh, I should merely say, quite calmly and decidedly, 'Thank you, Mr.
Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that I am too young
to enter into any engagement at present, so please say no more, but let
us be friends as we were.'"

"Hum, that's stiff and cool enough!  I don't believe you'll ever say
it, and I know he won't be satisfied if you do.  If he goes on like the
rejected lovers in books, you'll give in, rather than hurt his
feelings."

"No, I won't.  I shall tell him I've made up my mind, and shall walk
out of the room with dignity."

Meg rose as she spoke, and was just going to rehearse the dignified
exit, when a step in the hall made her fly into her seat and begin to
sew as fast as if her life depended on finishing that particular seam
in a given time.  Jo smothered a laugh at the sudden change, and when
someone gave a modest tap, opened the door with a grim aspect which was
anything but hospitable.

"Good afternoon.  I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see how your
father finds himself today," said Mr. Brooke, getting a trifle confused
as his eyes went from one telltale face to the other.

"It's very well, he's in the rack.  I'll get him, and tell it you are
here."  And having jumbled her father and the umbrella well together in
her reply, Jo slipped out of the room to give Meg a chance to make her
speech and air her dignity.  But the instant she vanished, Meg began to
sidle toward the door, murmuring...

"Mother will like to see you.  Pray sit down, I'll call her."

"Don't go.  Are you afraid of me, Margaret?" and Mr. Brooke looked so
hurt that Meg thought she must have done something very rude.  She
blushed up to the little curls on her forehead, for he had never called
her Margaret before, and she was surprised to find how natural and
sweet it seemed to hear him say it.  Anxious to appear friendly and at
her ease, she put out her hand with a confiding gesture, and said
gratefully...

"How can I be afraid when you have been so kind to Father? I only wish
I could thank you for it."

"Shall I tell you how?" asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small hand fast
in both his own, and looking down at Meg with so much love in the brown
eyes that her heart began to flutter, and she both longed to run away
and to stop and listen.

"Oh no, please don't, I'd rather not," she said, trying to withdraw her
hand, and looking frightened in spite of her denial.

"I won't trouble you.  I only want to know if you care for me a little,
Meg.  I love you so much, dear," added Mr. Brooke tenderly.

This was the moment for the calm, proper speech, but Meg didn't make
it.  She forgot every word of it, hung her head, and answered, "I don't
know," so softly that John had to stoop down to catch the foolish
little reply.

He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled to himself
as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand gratefully, and said in
his most persuasive tone, "Will you try and find out?  I want to know
so much, for I can't go to work with any heart until I learn whether I
am to have my reward in the end or not."

"I'm too young," faltered Meg, wondering why she was so fluttered, yet
rather enjoying it.

"I'll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me.
Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?"

"Not if I chose to learn it, but. . ."

"Please choose to learn, Meg.  I love to teach, and this is easier than
German," broke in John, getting possession of the other hand, so that
she had no way of hiding her face as he bent to look into it.

His tone was properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look at him, Meg
saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and that he wore the
satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his success.  This nettled
her.  Annie Moffat's foolish lessons in coquetry came into her mind,
and the love of power, which sleeps in the bosoms of the best of little
women, woke up all of a sudden and took possession of her.  She felt
excited and strange, and not knowing what else to do, followed a
capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly, "I
don't choose.  Please go away and let me be!"

Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air was tumbling
about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such a mood before, and it
rather bewildered him.

"Do you really mean that?" he asked anxiously, following her as she
walked away.

"Yes, I do.  I don't want to be worried about such things. Father says
I needn't, it's too soon and I'd rather not."

"Mayn't I hope you'll change your mind by-and-by?  I'll wait and say
nothing till you have had more time.  Don't play with me, Meg.  I
didn't think that of you."

"Don't think of me at all.  I'd rather you wouldn't," said Meg, taking
a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover's patience and her own power.

He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like the novel
heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his forehead nor
tramped about the room as they did.  He just stood looking at her so
wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her heart relenting in spite of
herself.  What would have happened next I cannot say, if Aunt March had
not come hobbling in at this interesting minute.

The old lady couldn't resist her longing to see her nephew, for she had
met Laurie as she took her airing, and hearing of Mr. March's arrival,
drove straight out to see him.  The family were all busy in the back
part of the house, and she had made her way quietly in, hoping to
surprise them.  She did surprise two of them so much that Meg started
as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.

"Bless me, what's all this?" cried the old lady with a rap of her cane
as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the scarlet young lady.

"It's Father's friend.  I'm so surprised to see you!" stammered Meg,
feeling that she was in for a lecture now.

"That's evident," returned Aunt March, sitting down.  "But what is
Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony? There's mischief
going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is," with another rap.

"We were only talking.  Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella," began Meg,
wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.

"Brooke?  That boy's tutor?  Ah! I understand now.  I know all about
it.  Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your Father's letters,
and I made her tell me.  You haven't gone and accepted him, child?"
cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.

"Hush! He'll hear.  Shan't I call Mother?" said Meg, much troubled.

"Not yet.  I've something to say to you, and I must free my mind at
once.  Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook?  If you do, not one
penny of my money ever goes to you.  Remember that, and be a sensible
girl," said the old lady impressively.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of
opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it.  The best of
us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and
in love.  If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would
probably have declared she couldn't think of it, but as she was
preemptorily ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind
that she would.  Inclination as well as perversity made the decision
easy, and being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady with
unusual spirit.

"I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can leave your money
to anyone you like," she said, nodding her head with a resolute air.

"Highty-tighty!  Is that the way you take my advice, Miss? You'll be
sorry for it by-and-by, when you've tried love in a cottage and found
it a failure."

"It can't be a worse one than some people find in big houses," retorted
Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl, for she did
not know her in this new mood.  Meg hardly knew herself, she felt so
brave and independent, so glad to defend John and assert her right to
love him, if she liked.  Aunt March saw that she had begun wrong, and
after a little pause, made a fresh start, saying as mildly as she
could, "Now, Meg, my dear, be reasonable and take my advice.  I mean it
kindly, and don't want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake
at the beginning.  You ought to marry well and help your family.  It's
your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed upon you."

"Father and Mother don't think so.  They like John though he is poor."

"Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a pair of
babies."

"I'm glad of it," cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. "This Rook is
poor and hasn't got any rich relations, has he?"

"No, but he has many warm friends."

"You can't live on friends, try it and see how cool they'll grow.  He
hasn't any business, has he?"

"Not yet.  Mr. Laurence is going to help him."

"That won't last long.  James Laurence is a crotchety old fellow and
not to be depended on.  So you intend to marry a man without money,
position, or business, and go on working harder than you do now, when
you might be comfortable all your days by minding me and doing better?
I thought you had more sense, Meg."

"I couldn't do better if I waited half my life!  John is good and wise,
he's got heaps of talent, he's willing to work and sure to get on, he's
so energetic and brave.  Everyone likes and respects him, and I'm proud
to think he cares for me, though I'm so poor and young and silly," said
Meg, looking prettier than ever in her earnestness.

"He knows you have got rich relations, child.  That's the secret of his
liking, I suspect."

"Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing?  John is above such
meanness, and I won't listen to you a minute if you talk so," cried Meg
indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of the old lady's
suspicions.  "My John wouldn't marry for money, any more than I would.
We are willing to work and we mean to wait.  I'm not afraid of being
poor, for I've been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him
because he loves me, and I..."

Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn't made up
her mind, that she had told 'her John' to go away, and that he might be
overhearing her inconsistent remarks.

Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having her
pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl's happy young
face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.

"Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair!  You are a willful child,
and you've lost more than you know by this piece of folly. No, I won't
stop.  I'm disappointed in you, and haven't spirits to see your father
now.  Don't expect anything from me when you are married.  Your Mr.
Brooke's friends must take care of you.  I'm done with you forever."

And slamming the door in Meg's face, Aunt March drove off in high
dudgeon.  She seemed to take all the girl's courage with her, for when
left alone, Meg stood for a moment, undecided whether to laugh or cry.
Before she could make up her mind, she was taken possession of by Mr.
Brooke, who said all in one breath, "I couldn't help hearing, Meg.
Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for proving that you do care
for me a little bit."

"I didn't know how much till she abused you," began Meg.

"And I needn't go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?"

Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech and the
stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either, and disgraced
herself forever in Jo's eyes by meekly whispering, "Yes,  John," and
hiding her face on Mr. Brooke's waistcoat.

Fifteen minutes after Aunt March's departure, Jo came softly
downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no sound
within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying to
herself, "She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair is
settled.  I'll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it."

But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon the
threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with her mouth
nearly as wide open as her eyes.  Going in to exult over a fallen enemy
and to praise a strong-minded sister for the banishment of an
objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock to behold the aforesaid
enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the strongminded sister
enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression of the most abject
submission.  Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold shower bath had
suddenly fallen upon her, for such an unexpected turning of the tables
actually took her breath away.  At the odd sound the lovers turned and
saw her.  Meg jumped up, looking both proud and shy, but 'that man', as
Jo called him, actually laughed and said coolly, as he kissed the
astonished newcomer, "Sister Jo, congratulate us!"

That was adding insult to injury, it was altogether too much, and
making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished without a
word.  Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by exclaiming
tragically as she burst into the room, "Oh, do somebody go down quick!
John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!"

Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed, and casting herself upon
the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful news
to Beth and Amy.  The little girls, however, considered it a most
agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from them,
so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her troubles
to the rats.

Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but a great
deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his friends
by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit, told his
plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he wanted it.

The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise which
he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper, both
looking so happy that Jo hadn't the heart to be jealous or dismal. Amy
was very much impressed by John's devotion and Meg's dignity, Beth
beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the
young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly
evident Aunt March was right in calling them as 'unworldly as a pair of
babies'.  No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the old
room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of the
family began there.

"You can't say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?" said
Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch she
was planning to make.

"No, I'm sure I can't.  How much has happened since I said that! It
seems a year ago," answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream lifted far
above such common things as bread and butter.

"The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather think the
changes have begun," said Mrs. March.  "In most families there comes,
now and then, a year full of events.  This has been such a one, but it
ends well, after all."

"Hope the next will end better," muttered Jo, who found it very hard to
see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved a few
persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost or
lessened in any way.

"I hope the third year from this will end better.  I mean it shall, if
I live to work out my plans," said Mr. Brooke, smiling at Meg, as if
everything had become possible to him now.

"Doesn't it seem very long to wait?" asked Amy, who was in a hurry for
the wedding.

"I've got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems a short
time to me," answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face never seen
there before.

"You have only to wait, I am to do the work," said John beginning his
labors by picking up Meg's napkin, with an expression which caused Jo
to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air of relief as the
front door banged, "Here comes Laurie.  Now we shall have some sensible
conversation."

But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with good
spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for 'Mrs. John Brooke',
and evidently laboring under the delusion that the whole affair had
been brought about by his excellent management.

"I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does, for when
he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it's done though the sky
falls," said Laurie, when he had presented his offering and his
congratulations.

"Much obliged for that recommendation.  I take it as a good omen for
the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot," answered Mr.
Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his mischievous pupil.

"I'll come if I'm at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo's face
alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don't look
festive, ma'am, what's the matter?" asked Laurie, following her into a
corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned to greet Mr. Laurence.

"I don't approve of the match, but I've made up my mind to bear it, and
shall not say a word against it," said Jo solemnly.  "You can't know
how hard it is for me to give up Meg," she continued with a little
quiver in her voice.

"You don't give her up.  You only go halves," said Laurie consolingly.

"It can never be the same again.  I've lost my dearest friend," sighed
Jo.

"You've got me, anyhow.  I'm not good for much, I know, but I'll stand
by you, Jo, all the days of my life.  Upon my word I will!" and Laurie
meant what he said.

"I know you will, and I'm ever so much obliged.  You are always a great
comfort to me, Teddy," returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.

"Well, now, don't be dismal, there's a good fellow.  It's all right you
see.  Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled immediately,
Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly to see Meg in her
own little house.  We'll have capital times after she is gone, for I
shall be through college before long, and then we'll go abroad on some
nice trip or other.  Wouldn't that console you?"

"I rather think it would, but there's no knowing what may happen in
three years," said Jo thoughtfully.

"That's true.  Don't you wish you could take a look forward and see
where we shall all be then?  I do," returned Laurie.

"I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks so
happy now, I don't believe they could be much improved." And Jo's eyes
went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the
prospect was a pleasant one.

Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first chapter of
the romance which for them began some twenty years ago. Amy was drawing
the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of their own, the light
of which touched their faces with a grace the little artist could not
copy.  Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily with her old friend, who
held her little hand as if he felt that it possessed the power to lead
him along the peaceful way she walked. Jo lounged in her favorite low
seat, with the grave quiet look which best became her, and Laurie,
leaning on the back of her chair, his chin on a level with her curly
head, smiled with his friendliest aspect, and nodded at her in the long
glass which reflected them both.


So the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  Whether it ever
rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act of the
domestic drama called _Little Women_.



LITTLE WOMEN PART 2

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding...



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

GOSSIP

In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg's wedding with free
minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip about the Marches.
And here let me premise that if any of the elders think there is too
much 'lovering' in the story, as I fear they may (I'm not afraid the
young folks will make that objection), I can only say with Mrs. March,
"What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house, and a
dashing young neighbor over the way?"

The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the
quiet family.  The war is over, and Mr. March safely at home, busy with
his books and the small parish which found in him a minister by nature
as by grace, a quiet, studious man, rich in the wisdom that is better
than learning, the charity which calls all mankind 'brother', the piety
that blossoms into character, making it august and lovely.

These attributes, in spite of poverty and the strict integrity which
shut him out from the more worldly successes, attracted to him many
admirable persons, as naturally as sweet herbs draw bees, and as
naturally he gave them the honey into which fifty years of hard
experience had distilled no bitter drop.  Earnest young men found the
gray-headed scholar as young at heart as they; thoughtful or troubled
women instinctively brought their doubts to him, sure of finding the
gentlest sympathy, the wisest counsel.  Sinners told their sins to the
pure-hearted old man and were both rebuked and saved.  Gifted men found
a companion in him.  Ambitious men caught glimpses of nobler ambitions
than their own, and even worldlings confessed that his beliefs were
beautiful and true, although 'they wouldn't pay'.

To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so
they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting among his
books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience,
anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always turned
in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred
words, husband and father.

The girls gave their hearts into their mother's keeping, their souls
into their father's, and to both parents, who lived and labored so
faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth and
bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses life and
outlives death.

Mrs. March is as brisk and cheery, though rather grayer, than when we
saw her last, and just now so absorbed in Meg's affairs that the
hospitals and homes still full of wounded 'boys' and soldiers' widows,
decidedly miss the motherly missionary's visits.

John Brooke did his duty manfully for a year, got wounded, was sent
home, and not allowed to return.  He received no stars or bars, but he
deserved them, for he cheerfully risked all he had, and life and love
are very precious when both are in full bloom.  Perfectly resigned to
his discharge, he devoted himself to getting well, preparing for
business, and earning a home for Meg.  With the good sense and sturdy
independence that characterized him, he refused Mr. Laurence's more
generous offers, and accepted the place of bookkeeper, feeling better
satisfied to begin with an honestly earned salary than by running any
risks with borrowed money.

Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing womanly
in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than ever, for
love is a great beautifier.  She had her girlish ambitions and hopes,
and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which the new life
must begin.  Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner, and Meg
couldn't help contrasting their fine house and carriage, many gifts,
and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing she could have
the same.  But somehow envy and discontent soon vanished when she
thought of all the patient love and labor John had put into the little
home awaiting her, and when they sat together in the twilight, talking
over their small plans, the future always grew so beautiful and bright
that she forgot Sallie's splendor and felt herself the richest,
happiest girl in Christendom.

Jo never went back to Aunt March, for the old lady took such a fancy to
Amy that she bribed her with the offer of drawing lessons from one of
the best teachers going, and for the sake of this advantage, Amy would
have served a far harder mistress.  So she gave her mornings to duty,
her afternoons to pleasure, and prospered finely. Jo meantime devoted
herself to literature and Beth, who remained delicate long after the
fever was a thing of the past.  Not an invalid exactly, but never again
the rosy, healthy creature she had been, yet always hopeful, happy, and
serene, and busy with the quiet duties she loved, everyone's friend,
and an angel in the house, long before those who loved her most had
learned to know it.

As long as _The Spread Eagle_ paid her a dollar a column for her
'rubbish', as she called it, Jo felt herself a woman of means, and spun
her little romances diligently.  But great plans fermented in her busy
brain and ambitious mind, and the old tin kitchen in the garret held a
slowly increasing pile of blotted manuscript, which was one day to
place the name of March upon the roll of fame.

Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather, was
now getting through it in the easiest possible manner to please
himself.  A universal favorite, thanks to money, manners, much talent,
and the kindest heart that ever got its owner into scrapes by trying to
get other people out of them, he stood in great danger of being
spoiled, and probably would have been, like many another promising boy,
if he had not possessed a talisman against evil in the memory of the
kind old man who was bound up in his success, the motherly friend who
watched over him as if he were her son, and last, but not least by any
means, the knowledge that four innocent girls loved, admired, and
believed in him with all their hearts.

Being only 'a glorious human boy', of course he frolicked and flirted,
grew dandified, aquatic, sentimental, or gymnastic, as college fashions
ordained, hazed and was hazed, talked slang, and more than once came
perilously near suspension and expulsion.  But as high spirits and the
love of fun were the causes of these pranks, he always managed to save
himself by frank confession, honorable atonement, or the irresistible
power of persuasion which he possessed in perfection.  In fact, he
rather prided himself on his narrow escapes, and liked to thrill the
girls with graphic accounts of his triumphs over wrathful tutors,
dignified professors, and vanquished enemies.  The 'men of my class',
were heroes in the eyes of the girls, who never wearied of the exploits
of 'our fellows', and were frequently allowed to bask in the smiles of
these great creatures, when Laurie brought them home with him.

Amy especially enjoyed this high honor, and became quite a belle among
them, for her ladyship early felt and learned to use the gift of
fascination with which she was endowed.  Meg was too much absorbed in
her private and particular John to care for any other lords of
creation, and Beth too shy to do more than peep at them and wonder how
Amy dared to order them about so, but Jo felt quite in her own element,
and found it very difficult to refrain from imitating the gentlemanly
attitudes, phrases, and feats, which seemed more natural to her than
the decorums prescribed for young ladies.  They all liked Jo immensely,
but never fell in love with her, though very few escaped without paying
the tribute of a sentimental sigh or two at Amy's shrine.  And speaking
of sentiment brings us very naturally to the 'Dovecote'.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for
Meg's first home.  Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly
appropriate to the gentle lovers who 'went on together like a pair of
turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo'.  It was a tiny house,
with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket
handkerchief in the front.  Here Meg meant to have a fountain,
shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present
the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a
dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches,
undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was
merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted.
But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no
fault from garret to cellar.  To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was
fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in
whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit,
and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of
precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the coalbin.  But
once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more
complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the
furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory.  There were no
marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little
parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a
stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the
pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the
loving messages they brought.

I don't think the Parian Psyche Laurie gave lost any of its beauty
because John put up the bracket it stood upon, that any upholsterer
could have draped the plain muslin curtains more gracefully than Amy's
artistic hand, or that any store-room was ever better provided with
good wishes, merry words, and happy hopes than that in which Jo and her
mother put away Meg's few boxes, barrels, and bundles, and I am morally
certain that the spandy new kitchen never could have looked so cozy and
neat if Hannah had not arranged every pot and pan a dozen times over,
and laid the fire all ready for lighting the minute 'Mis.  Brooke came
home'.  I also doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a
supply of dusters, holders, and piece bags, for Beth made enough to
last till the silver wedding came round, and invented three different
kinds of dishcloths for the express service of the bridal china.

People who hire all these things done for them never know what they
lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them,
and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything in her small nest,
from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on her parlor table, was
eloquent of home love and tender forethought.

What happy times they had planning together, what solemn shopping
excursions, what funny mistakes they made, and what shouts of laughter
arose over Laurie's ridiculous bargains.  In his love of jokes, this
young gentleman, though nearly through college, was a much of a boy as
ever.  His last whim had been to bring with him on his weekly visits
some new, useful, and ingenious article for the young housekeeper.  Now
a bag of remarkable clothespins, next, a wonderful nutmeg grater which
fell to pieces at the first trial, a knife cleaner that spoiled all the
knives, or a sweeper that picked the nap neatly off the carpet and left
the dirt, labor-saving soap that took the skin off one's hands,
infallible cements which stuck firmly to nothing but the fingers of the
deluded buyer, and every kind of tinware, from a toy savings bank for
odd pennies, to a wonderful boiler which would wash articles in its own
steam with every prospect of exploding in the process.

In vain Meg begged him to stop.  John laughed at him, and Jo called him
'Mr. Toodles'.  He was possessed with a mania for patronizing Yankee
ingenuity, and seeing his friends fitly furnished forth. So each week
beheld some fresh absurdity.

Everything was done at last, even to Amy's arranging different colored
soaps to match the different colored rooms, and Beth's setting the
table for the first meal.

"Are you satisfied?  Does it seem like home, and do you feel as if you
should be happy here?" asked Mrs. March, as she and her daughter went
through the new kingdom arm in arm, for just then they seemed to cling
together more tenderly than ever.

"Yes, Mother, perfectly satisfied, thanks to you all, and so happy that
I can't talk about it," with a look that was far better than words.

"If she only had a servant or two it would be all right," said Amy,
coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whether
the bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.

"Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up my mind to try
her way first.  There will be so little to do that with Lotty to run my
errands and help me here and there, I shall only have enough work to
keep me from getting lazy or homesick," answered Meg tranquilly.

"Sallie Moffat has four," began Amy.

"If Meg had four, the house wouldn't hold them, and master and missis
would have to camp in the garden," broke in Jo, who, enveloped in a big
blue pinafore, was giving the last polish to the door handles.

"Sallie isn't a poor man's wife, and many maids are in keeping with her
fine establishment.  Meg and John begin humbly, but I have a feeling
that there will be quite as much happiness in the little house as in
the big one.  It's a great mistake for young girls like Meg to leave
themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and gossip.  When I
was first married, I used to long for my new clothes to wear out or get
torn, so that I might have the pleasure of mending them, for I got
heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending my pocket handkerchief."

"Why didn't you go into the kitchen and make messes, as Sallie says she
does to amuse herself, though they never turn out well and the servants
laugh at her," said Meg.

"I did after a while, not to 'mess' but to learn of Hannah how things
should be done, that my servants need not laugh at me.  It was play
then, but there came a time when I was truly grateful that I not only
possessed the will but the power to cook wholesome food for my little
girls, and help myself when I could no longer afford to hire help.  You
begin at the other end, Meg, dear, but the lessons you learn now will
be of use to you by-and-by when John is a richer man, for the mistress
of a house, however splendid, should know how work ought to be done, if
she wishes to be well and honestly served."

"Yes, Mother, I'm sure of that," said Meg, listening respectfully to
the little lecture, for the best of women will hold forth upon the all
absorbing subject of house keeping.  "Do you know I like this room most
of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minute after, as they went
upstairs and she looked into her well-stored linen closet.

Beth was there, laying the snowy piles smoothly on the shelves and
exulting over the goodly array.  All three laughed as Meg spoke, for
that linen closet was a joke.  You see, having said that if Meg married
'that Brooke' she shouldn't have a cent of her money, Aunt March was
rather in a quandary when time had appeased her wrath and made her
repent her vow.  She never broke her word, and was much exercised in
her mind how to get round it, and at last devised a plan whereby she
could satisfy herself.  Mrs. Carrol, Florence's mamma, was ordered to
buy, have made, and marked a generous supply of house and table linen,
and send it as her present, all of which was faithfully done, but the
secret leaked out, and was greatly enjoyed by the family, for Aunt
March tried to look utterly unconscious, and insisted that she could
give nothing but the old-fashioned pearls long promised to the first
bride.

"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see.  I had a young
friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she had finger
bowls for company and that satisfied her," said Mrs. March, patting the
damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation of their
fineness.

"I haven't a single finger bowl, but this is a setout that will last me
all my days, Hannah says."  And Meg looked quite contented, as well she
might.

A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, a felt
basin of a hat, and a flyaway coat, came tramping down the road at a
great pace, walked over the low fence without stopping to open the
gate, straight up to Mrs. March, with both hands out and a hearty...

"Here I am, Mother!  Yes, it's all right."

The last words were in answer to the look the elder lady gave him, a
kindly questioning look which the handsome eyes met so frankly that the
little ceremony closed, as usual, with a motherly kiss.

"For Mrs. John Brooke, with the maker's congratulations and
compliments.  Bless you, Beth!  What a refreshing spectacle you are,
Jo.  Amy, you are getting altogether too handsome for a single lady."

As Laurie spoke, he delivered a brown paper parcel to Meg, pulled
Beth's hair ribbon, stared at Jo's big pinafore, and fell into an
attitude of mock rapture before Amy, then shook hands all round, and
everyone began to talk.

"Where is John?" asked Meg anxiously.

"Stopped to get the license for tomorrow, ma'am."

"Which side won the last match, Teddy?" inquired Jo, who persisted in
feeling an interest in manly sports despite her nineteen years.

"Ours, of course.  Wish you'd been there to see."

"How is the lovely Miss Randal?" asked Amy with a significant smile.

"More cruel than ever.  Don't you see how I'm pining away?" and Laurie
gave his broad chest a sounding slap and heaved a melodramatic sigh.

"What's the last joke?  Undo the bundle and see, Meg," said Beth, eying
the knobby parcel with curiosity.

"It's a useful thing to have in the house in case of fire or thieves,"
observed Laurie, as a watchman's rattle appeared, amid the laughter of
the girls.

"Any time when John is away and you get frightened, Mrs. Meg, just
swing that out of the front window, and it will rouse the neighborhood
in a jiffy.  Nice thing, isn't it?" and Laurie gave them a sample of
its powers that made them cover up their ears.

"There's gratitude for you!  And speaking of gratitude reminds me to
mention that you may thank Hannah for saving your wedding cake from
destruction.  I saw it going into your house as I came by, and if she
hadn't defended it manfully I'd have had a pick at it, for it looked
like a remarkably plummy one."

"I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie," said Meg in a matronly
tone.

"I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid, as
six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days," responded
the young gentleman, whose head was about level with the little
chandelier.

"I suppose it would be profanation to eat anything in this
spick-and-span bower, so as I'm tremendously hungry, I propose an
adjournment," he added presently.

"Mother and I are going to wait for John.  There are some last things
to settle," said Meg, bustling away.

"Beth and I are going over to Kitty Bryant's to get more flowers for
tomorrow," added Amy, tying a picturesque hat over her picturesque
curls, and enjoying the effect as much as anybody.

"Come, Jo, don't desert a fellow.  I'm in such a state of exhaustion I
can't get home without help.  Don't take off your apron, whatever you
do, it's peculiarly becoming," said Laurie, as Jo bestowed his especial
aversion in her capacious pocket and offered her arm to support his
feeble steps.

"Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about tomorrow," began Jo,
as they strolled away together.  "You must promise to behave well, and
not cut up any pranks, and spoil our plans."

"Not a prank."

"And don't say funny things when we ought to be sober."

"I never do.  You are the one for that."

"And I implore you not to look at me during the ceremony.  I shall
certainly laugh if you do."

"You won't see me, you'll be crying so hard that the thick fog round
you will obscure the prospect."

"I never cry unless for some great affliction."

"Such as fellows going to college, hey?" cut in Laurie, with suggestive
laugh.

"Don't be a peacock.  I only moaned a trifle to keep the girls company."

"Exactly.  I say, Jo, how is Grandpa this week?  Pretty amiable?"

"Very.  Why, have you got into a scrape and want to know how he'll take
it?" asked Jo rather sharply.

"Now, Jo, do you think I'd look your mother in the face and say 'All
right', if it wasn't?" and Laurie stopped short, with an injured air.

"No, I don't."

"Then don't go and be suspicious.  I only want some money," said
Laurie, walking on again, appeased by her hearty tone.

"You spend a great deal, Teddy."

"Bless you, I don't spend it, it spends itself somehow, and is gone
before I know it."

"You are so generous and kind-hearted that you let people borrow, and
can't say 'No' to anyone.  We heard about Henshaw and all you did for
him.  If you always spent money in that way, no one would blame you,"
said Jo warmly.

"Oh, he made a mountain out of a molehill.  You wouldn't have me let
that fine fellow work himself to death just for want of a little help,
when he is worth a dozen of us lazy chaps, would you?"

"Of course not, but I don't see the use of your having seventeen
waistcoats, endless neckties, and a new hat every time you come home. I
thought you'd got over the dandy period, but every now and then it
breaks out in a new spot.  Just now it's the fashion to be hideous, to
make your head look like a scrubbing brush, wear a strait jacket,
orange gloves, and clumping square-toed boots.  If it was cheap
ugliness, I'd say nothing, but it costs as much as the other, and I
don't get any satisfaction out of it."

Laurie threw back his head, and laughed so heartily at this attack,
that the felt hat fell off, and Jo walked on it, which insult only
afforded him an opportunity for expatiating on the advantages of a
rough-and-ready costume, as he folded up the maltreated hat, and
stuffed it into his pocket.

"Don't lecture any more, there's a good soul!  I have enough all
through the week, and like to enjoy myself when I come home. I'll get
myself up regardless of expense tomorrow and be a satisfaction to my
friends."

"I'll leave you in peace if you'll only let your hair grow. I'm not
aristocratic, but I do object to being seen with a person who looks
like a young prize fighter," observed Jo severely.

"This unassuming style promotes study, that's why we adopt it,"
returned Laurie, who certainly could not be accused of vanity, having
voluntarily sacrificed a handsome curly crop to the demand for
quarter-inch-long stubble.

"By the way, Jo, I think that little Parker is really getting desperate
about Amy.  He talks of her constantly, writes poetry, and moons about
in a most suspicious manner.  He'd better nip his little passion in the
bud, hadn't he?" added Laurie, in a confidential, elder brotherly tone,
after a minute's silence.

"Of course he had.  We don't want any more marrying in this family for
years to come.  Mercy on us, what are the children thinking of?" and Jo
looked as much scandalized as if Amy and little Parker were not yet in
their teens.

"It's a fast age, and I don't know what we are coming to, ma'am. You
are a mere infant, but you'll go next, Jo, and we'll be left
lamenting," said Laurie, shaking his head over the degeneracy of the
times.

"Don't be alarmed.  I'm not one of the agreeable sort.  Nobody will
want me, and it's a mercy, for there should always be one old maid in a
family."

"You won't give anyone a chance," said Laurie, with a sidelong glance
and a little more color than before in his sunburned face. "You won't
show the soft side of your character, and if a fellow gets a peep at it
by accident and can't help showing that he likes it, you treat him as
Mrs. Gummidge did her sweetheart, throw cold water over him, and get so
thorny no one dares touch or look at you."

"I don't like that sort of thing.  I'm too busy to be worried with
nonsense, and I think it's dreadful to break up families so. Now don't
say any more about it.  Meg's wedding has turned all our heads, and we
talk of nothing but lovers and such absurdities.  I don't wish to get
cross, so let's change the subject;"  and Jo looked quite ready to
fling cold water on the slightest provocation.

Whatever his feelings might have been, Laurie found a vent for them in
a long low whistle and the fearful prediction as they parted at the
gate, "Mark my words, Jo, you'll go next."



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

THE FIRST WEDDING

The June roses over the porch were awake bright and early on that
morning, rejoicing with all their hearts in the cloudless sunshine,
like friendly little neighbors, as they were.  Quite flushed with
excitement were their ruddy faces, as they swung in the wind,
whispering to one another what they had seen, for some peeped in at the
dining room windows where the feast was spread, some climbed up to nod
and smile at the sisters as they dressed the bride, others waved a
welcome to those who came and went on various errands in garden, porch,
and hall, and all, from the rosiest full-blown flower to the palest
baby bud, offered their tribute of beauty and fragrance to the gentle
mistress who had loved and tended them so long.

Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and sweetest
in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it
fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty. Neither silk,
lace, nor orange flowers would she have.  "I don't want a fashionable
wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to
look and be my familiar self."

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes
and innocent romances of a girlish heart.  Her sisters braided up her
pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the
valley, which 'her John' liked best of all the flowers that grew.

"You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely
that I should hug you if it wouldn't crumple your dress," cried Amy,
surveying her with delight when all was done.

"Then I am satisfied.  But please hug and kiss me, everyone, and don't
mind my dress.  I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it
today,"  and Meg opened her arms to her sisters, who clung about her
with April faces for a minute, feeling that the new love had not
changed the old.

"Now I'm going to tie John's cravat for him, and then to stay a few
minutes with Father quietly in the study,"  and Meg ran down to perform
these little ceremonies, and then to follow her mother wherever she
went, conscious that in spite of the smiles on the motherly face, there
was a secret sorrow hid in the motherly heart at the flight of the
first bird from the nest.

As the younger girls stand together, giving the last touches to their
simple toilet, it may be a good time to tell of a few changes which
three years have wrought in their appearance, for all are looking their
best just now.

Jo's angles are much softened, she has learned to carry herself with
ease, if not grace.  The curly crop has lengthened into a thick coil,
more becoming to the small head atop of the tall figure.  There is a
fresh color in her brown cheeks, a soft shine in her eyes, and only
gentle words fall from her sharp tongue today.

Beth has grown slender, pale, and more quiet than ever.  The beautiful,
kind eyes are larger, and in them lies an expression that saddens one,
although it is not sad itself.  It is the shadow of pain which touches
the young face with such pathetic patience, but Beth seldom complains
and always speaks hopefully of 'being better soon'.

Amy is with truth considered 'the flower of the family', for at sixteen
she has the air and bearing of a full-grown woman, not beautiful, but
possessed of that indescribable charm called grace. One saw it in the
lines of her figure, the make and motion of her hands, the flow of her
dress, the droop of her hair, unconscious yet harmonious, and as
attractive to many as beauty itself.  Amy's nose still afflicted her,
for it never would grow Grecian, so did her mouth, being too wide, and
having a decided chin.  These offending features gave character to her
whole face, but she never could see it, and consoled herself with her
wonderfully fair complexion, keen blue eyes, and curls more golden and
abundant than ever.

All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for the
summer), with blush roses in hair and bosom, and all three looked just
what they were, fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing a moment in
their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest chapter in the
romance of womanhood.

There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as
natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she was
scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in,
to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down, and
to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister marching upstairs with a
grave countenance and a wine bottle under each arm.

"Upon my word, here's a state of things!" cried the old lady, taking
the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her
lavender moire with a great rustle.  "You oughtn't to be seen till the
last minute, child."

"I'm not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me, to
criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon.  I'm too happy to
care what anyone says or thinks, and I'm going to have my little
wedding just as I like it.  John, dear, here's your hammer."  And away
went Meg to help 'that man' in his highly improper employment.

Mr. Brooke didn't even say, "Thank you," but as he stooped for the
unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the folding door,
with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her pocket handkerchief with
a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.

A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the indecorous
exclamation, "Jupiter Ammon!  Jo's upset the cake again!" caused a
momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of cousins
arrived, and 'the party came in', as Beth used to say when a child.

"Don't let that young giant come near me, he worries me worse than
mosquitoes," whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled and
Laurie's black head towered above the rest.

"He has promised to be very good today, and he can be perfectly elegant
if he likes," returned Amy, and gliding away to warn Hercules to beware
of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt the old lady with a
devotion that nearly distracted her.

There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon the room
as Mr. March and the young couple took their places under the green
arch.  Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to give Meg up.
The fatherly voice broke more than once, which only seemed to make the
service more beautiful and solemn.  The bridegroom's hand trembled
visibly, and no one heard his replies.  But Meg looked straight up in
her husband's eyes, and said, "I will!" with such tender trust in her
own face and voice that her mother's heart rejoiced and Aunt March
sniffed audibly.

Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only saved
from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was staring
fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and emotion in his
wicked black eyes.  Beth kept her face hidden on her mother's shoulder,
but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a most becoming ray of
sunshine touching her white forehead and the flower in her hair.

It wasn't at all the thing, I'm afraid, but the minute she was fairly
married, Meg cried, "The first kiss for Marmee!" and turning, gave it
with her heart on her lips.  During the next fifteen minutes she looked
more like a rose than ever, for everyone availed themselves of their
privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence to old Hannah, who,
adorned with a headdress fearfully and wonderfully made, fell upon her
in the hall, crying with a sob and a chuckle, "Bless you, deary, a
hundred times!  The cake ain't hurt a mite, and everything looks
lovely."

Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant, or tried
to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when hearts are
light.  There was no display of gifts, for they were already in the
little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast, but a plentiful
lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers. Mr. Laurence and Aunt
March shrugged and smiled at one another when water, lemonade, and
coffee were found to be to only sorts of nectar which the three Hebes
carried round.  No one said anything, till Laurie, who insisted on
serving the bride, appeared before her, with a loaded salver in his
hand and a puzzled expression on his face.

"Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?" he whispered, "or am I
merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying about loose this
morning?"

"No, your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt March
actually sent some, but Father put away a little for Beth, and
dispatched the rest to the Soldier's Home.  You know he thinks that
wine should be used only in illness, and Mother says that neither she
nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man under her roof."

Meg spoke seriously and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh, but he
did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in his impetuous
way, "I like that!  For I've seen enough harm done to wish other women
would think as you do."

"You are not made wise by experience, I hope?" and there was an anxious
accent in Meg's voice.

"No.  I give you my word for it.  Don't think too well of me, either,
this is not one of my temptations.  Being brought up where wine is as
common as water and almost as harmless, I don't care for it, but when a
pretty girl offers it, one doesn't like to refuse, you see."

"But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own. Come,
Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the happiest
day of my life."

A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate a moment,
for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial. Meg knew that if
he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs, and feeling her
power, used it as a woman may for her friend's good. She did not speak,
but she looked up at him with a face made very eloquent by happiness,
and a smile which said, "No one can refuse me anything today."

Laurie certainly could not, and with an answering smile, he gave her
his hand, saying heartily, "I promise, Mrs. Brooke!"

"I thank you, very, very much."

"And I drink 'long life to your resolution', Teddy," cried Jo,
baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass and
beamed approvingly upon him.

So the toast was drunk, the pledge made and loyally kept in spite of
many temptations, for with instinctive wisdom, the girls seized a happy
moment to do their friend a service, for which he thanked them all his
life.

After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through the
house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within.  Meg and
John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grass plot,
when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the finishing
touch to this unfashionable wedding.

"All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made husband
and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in
couples outside!" cried Laurie, promenading down the path with Amy,
with such infectious spirit and skill that everyone else followed their
example without a murmur.  Mr. and Mrs. March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol
began it, others rapidly joined in, even Sallie Moffat, after a
moment's hesitation, threw her train over her arm and whisked Ned into
the ring.  But the crowning joke was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, for
when the stately old gentleman chasseed solemnly up to the old lady,
she just tucked her cane under her arm, and hopped briskly away to join
hands with the rest and dance about the bridal pair, while the young
folks pervaded the garden like butterflies on a midsummer day.

Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then people
began to go.

"I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well, but I think you'll
be sorry for it," said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the bridegroom, as
he led her to the carriage, "You've got a treasure, young man, see that
you deserve it."

"That is the prettiest wedding I've been to for an age, Ned, and I
don't see why, for there wasn't a bit of style about it," observed Mrs.
Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.

"Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of thing, get
one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be perfectly
satisfied," said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his easy chair to
rest after the excitement of the morning.

"I'll do my best to gratify you, Sir," was Laurie's unusually dutiful
reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his buttonhole.

The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey Meg had
was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new. When she
came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her dove-colored suit and
straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered about her to say
'good-by', as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.

"Don't feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that I love
you any the less for loving John so much," she said, clinging to her
mother, with full eyes for a moment.  "I shall come every day, Father,
and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I am
married.  Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other girls
will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles. Thank
you all for my happy wedding day.  Goodby, goodby!"

They stood watching her, with faces full of love and hope and tender
pride as she walked away, leaning on her husband's arm, with her hands
full of flowers and the June sunshine brightening her happy face--and
so Meg's married life began.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS

It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and
genius, especially ambitious young men and women.  Amy was learning
this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking enthusiasm for
inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with youthful audacity.
For a long time there was a lull in the 'mud-pie' business, and she
devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed
such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork proved both pleasant
and profitable.  But over-strained eyes caused pen and ink to be laid
aside for a bold attempt at poker-sketching. While this attack lasted,
the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration, for the odor of
burning wood pervaded the house at all hours, smoke issued from attic
and shed with alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about
promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed without a pail of water and
the dinner bell at her door in case of fire.  Raphael's face was found
boldly executed on the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchus on
the head of a beer barrel.  A chanting cherub adorned the cover of the
sugar bucket, and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied
kindling for some time.

From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers, and Amy
fell to painting with undiminished ardor.  An artist friend fitted her
out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and she daubed
away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were never seen on
land or sea.  Her monstrosities in the way of cattle would have taken
prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous pitching of her
vessels would have produced seasickness in the most nautical observer,
if the utter disregard to all known rules of shipbuilding and rigging
had not convulsed him with laughter at the first glance.  Swarthy boys
and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you from one corner of the studio,
suggested Murillo; oily brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in
the wrong place, meant Rembrandt; buxom ladies and dropiscal infants,
Rubens; and Turner appeared in tempests of blue thunder, orange
lightning, brown rain, and purple clouds, with a tomato-colored splash
in the middle, which might be the sun or a bouy, a sailor's shirt or a
king's robe, as the spectator pleased.

Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row,
looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin. Softened
into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesses were good,
and Amy's hair, Jo's nose, Meg's mouth, and Laurie's eyes were
pronounced 'wonderfully fine'.  A return to clay and plaster followed,
and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or
tumbled off closet shelves onto people's heads.  Children were enticed
in as models, till their incoherent accounts of her mysterious doings
caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress.  Her
efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an
untoward accident, which quenched her ardor.  Other models failing her
for a time, she undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family
were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running
to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed
with her foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened
with unexpected rapidity.  With much difficulty and some danger she was
dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated that
her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting memorial
of one artistic attempt, at least.

After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her
to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and
sighing for ruins to copy.  She caught endless colds sitting on damp
grass to book 'a delicious bit', composed of a stone, a stump, one
mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or 'a heavenly mass of clouds',
that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done. She
sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun to
study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying after
'points of sight', or whatever the squint-and-string performance is
called.

If 'genius is eternal patience', as Michelangelo affirms, Amy had some
claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all
obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time
she should do something worthy to be called 'high art'.

She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile, for she
had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman, even if she
never became a great artist.  Here she succeeded better, for she was
one of those happily created beings who please without effort, make
friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and easily that less
fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such are born under a lucky
star.  Everybody liked her, for among her good gifts was tact.  She had
an instinctive sense of what was pleasing and proper, always said the
right thing to the right person, did just what suited the time and
place, and was so self-possessed that her sisters used to say, "If Amy
went to court without any rehearsal beforehand, she'd know exactly what
to do."

One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in 'our best society',
without being quite sure what the best really was.  Money, position,
fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirable
things in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those who possessed
them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring what was not
admirable.  Never forgetting that by birth she was a gentlewoman, she
cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so that when the
opportunity came she might be ready to take the place from which
poverty now excluded her.

"My lady," as her friends called her, sincerely desired to be a genuine
lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that money cannot buy
refinement of nature, that rank does not always confer nobility, and
that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of external drawbacks.

"I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma," Amy said, coming in with an
important air one day.

"Well, little girl, what is it?" replied her mother, in whose eyes the
stately young lady still remained 'the baby'.

"Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girls separate
for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day.  They are wild
to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy some of the things
they admire in my book.  They have been very kind to me in many ways,
and I am grateful, for they are all rich and I know I am poor, yet they
never made any difference."

"Why should they?" and Mrs. March put the question with what the girls
called her 'Maria Theresa air'.

"You know as well as I that it does make a difference with nearly
everyone, so don't ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, when your
chickens get pecked by smarter birds.  The ugly duckling turned out a
swan, you know."  and Amy smiled without bitterness, for she possessed
a happy temper and hopeful spirit.

Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride as she asked,
"Well, my swan, what is your plan?"

"I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to take them
for a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river,
perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them."

"That looks feasible.  What do you want for lunch?  Cake, sandwiches,
fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I suppose?"

"Oh, dear, no!  We must have cold tongue and chicken, French chocolate
and ice cream, besides.  The girls are used to such things, and I want
my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work for my living."

"How many young ladies are there?" asked her mother, beginning to look
sober.

"Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won't all come."

"Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carry them
about."

"Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing?  Not more than six or
eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon and borrow Mr.
Laurence's cherry-bounce." (Hannah's pronunciation of char-a-banc.)

"All of this will be expensive, Amy."

"Not very.  I've calculated the cost, and I'll pay for it myself."

"Don't you think, dear, that as these girls are used to such things,
and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler plan
would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and much
better for us than buying or borrowing what we don't need, and
attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?"

"If I can't have it as I like, I don't care to have it at all. I know
that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girls will help
a little, and I don't see why I can't if I'm willing to pay for it,"
said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt to change into
obstinacy.

Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and when it
was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons which she
would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to taking
advice as much as they did salts and senna.

"Very well, Amy, if your heart is set upon it, and you see your way
through without too great an outlay of money, time, and temper, I'll
say no more.  Talk it over with the girls, and whichever way you
decide, I'll do my best to help you."

"Thanks, Mother, you are always so kind." and away went Amy to lay her
plan before her sisters.

Meg agreed at once, and promised her aid, gladly offering anything she
possessed, from her little house itself to her very best saltspoons.
But Jo frowned upon the whole project and would have nothing to do with
it at first.

"Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family, and
turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don't care a
sixpence for you?  I thought you had too much pride and sense to
truckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots and
rides in a coupe," said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climax of
her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.

"I don't truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!"
returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when such questions
arose. "The girls do care for me, and I for them, and there's a great
deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in spite of what you
call fashionable nonsense.  You don't care to make people like you, to
go into good society, and cultivate your manners and tastes.  I do, and
I mean to make the most of every chance that comes.  You can go through
the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it
independence, if you like.  That's not my way."

When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usually got the
best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on her side,
while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of conventionalities to
such an unlimited extent that she naturally found herself worsted in an
argument.  Amy's definition of Jo's idea of independence was such a
good hit that both burst out laughing, and the discussion took a more
amiable turn.  Much against her will, Jo at length consented to
sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help her sister through what she
regarded as 'a nonsensical business'.

The invitations were sent, nearly all accepted, and the following
Monday was set apart for the grand event.  Hannah was out of humor
because her week's work was deranged, and prophesied that "ef the
washin' and ironin' warn't done reg'lar, nothin' would go well
anywheres".  This hitch in the mainspring of the domestic machinery had
a bad effect upon the whole concern, but Amy's motto was 'Nil
desperandum', and having made up her mind what to do, she proceeded to
do it in spite of all obstacles.  To begin with, Hannah's cooking
didn't turn out well.  The chicken was tough, the tongue too salty, and
the chocolate wouldn't froth properly.  Then the cake and ice cost more
than Amy expected, so did the wagon, and various other expenses, which
seemed trifling at the outset, counted up rather alarmingly afterward.
Beth got a cold and took to her bed.  Meg had an unusual number of
callers to keep her at home, and Jo was in such a divided state of mind
that her breakages, accidents, and mistakes were uncommonly numerous,
serious, and trying.

If it was not fair on Monday, the young ladies were to come on Tuesday,
an arrangement which aggravated Jo and Hannah to the last degree.  On
Monday morning the weather was in that undecided state which is more
exasperating than a steady pour.  It drizzled a little, shone a little,
blew a little, and didn't make up its mind till it was too late for
anyone else to make up theirs.  Amy was up at dawn, hustling people out
of their beds and through their breakfasts, that the house might be got
in order.  The parlor struck her as looking uncommonly shabby, but
without stopping to sigh for what she had not, she skillfully made the
best of what she had, arranging chairs over the worn places in the
carpet, covering stains on the walls with homemade statuary, which gave
an artistic air to the room, as did the lovely vases of flowers Jo
scattered about.

The lunch looked charming, and as she surveyed it, she sincerely hoped
it would taste well, and that the borrowed glass, china, and silver
would get safely home again.  The carriages were promised, Meg and
Mother were all ready to do the honors, Beth was able to help Hannah
behind the scenes, Jo had engaged to be as lively and amiable as an
absent mind, and aching head, and a very decided disapproval of
everybody and everything would allow, and as she wearily dressed, Amy
cheered herself with anticipations of the happy moment when, lunch
safely over, she should drive away with her friends for an afternoon of
artistic delights, for the 'cherry bounce' and the broken bridge were
her strong points.

Then came the hours of suspense, during which she vibrated from parlor
to porch, while public opinion varied like the weathercock.  A smart
shower at eleven had evidently quenched the enthusiasm of the young
ladies who were to arrive at twelve, for nobody came, and at two the
exhausted family sat down in a blaze of sunshine to consume the
perishable portions of the feast, that nothing might be lost.

"No doubt about the weather today, they will certainly come, so we must
fly round and be ready for them," said Amy, as the sun woke her next
morning.  She spoke briskly, but in her secret soul she wished she had
said nothing about Tuesday, for her interest like her cake was getting
a little stale.

"I can't get any lobsters, so you will have to do without salad today,"
said Mr. March, coming in half an hour later, with an expression of
placid despair.

"Use the chicken then, the toughness won't matter in a salad," advised
his wife.

"Hannah left it on the kitchen table a minute, and the kittens got at
it.  I'm very sorry, Amy," added Beth, who was still a patroness of
cats.

"Then I must have a lobster, for tongue alone won't do," said Amy
decidedly.

"Shall I rush into town and demand one?" asked Jo, with the magnanimity
of a martyr.

"You'd come bringing it home under your arm without any paper, just to
try me.  I'll go myself," answered Amy, whose temper was beginning to
fail.

Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket, she
departed, feeling that a cool drive would soothe her ruffled spirit and
fit her for the labors of the day.  After some delay, the object of her
desire was procured, likewise a bottle of dressing to prevent further
loss of time at home, and off she drove again, well pleased with her
own forethought.

As the omnibus contained only one other passenger, a sleepy old lady,
Amy pocketed her veil and beguiled the tedium of the way by trying to
find out where all her money had gone to.  So busy was she with her
card full of refractory figures that she did not observe a newcomer,
who entered without stopping the vehicle, till a masculine voice said,
"Good morning, Miss March," and, looking up, she beheld one of Laurie's
most elegant college friends.  Fervently hoping that he would get out
before she did, Amy utterly ignored the basket at her feet, and
congratulating herself that she had on her new traveling dress,
returned the young man's greeting with her usual suavity and spirit.

They got on excellently, for Amy's chief care was soon set at rest by
learning that the gentleman would leave first, and she was chatting
away in a peculiarly lofty strain, when the old lady got out. In
stumbling to the door, she upset the basket, and--oh horror!--the
lobster, in all its vulgar size and brilliancy, was revealed to the
highborn eyes of a Tudor!

"By Jove, she's forgotten her dinner!" cried the unconscious youth,
poking the scarlet monster into its place with his cane, and preparing
to hand out the basket after the old lady.

"Please don't--it's--it's mine," murmured Amy, with a face nearly as
red as her fish.

"Oh, really, I beg pardon.  It's an uncommonly fine one, isn't it?"
said Tudor, with great presence of mind, and an air of sober interest
that did credit to his breeding.

Amy recovered herself in a breath, set her basket boldly on the seat,
and said, laughing, "Don't you wish you were to have some of the salad
he's going to make, and to see the charming young ladies who are to eat
it?"

Now that was tact, for two of the ruling foibles of the masculine mind
were touched.  The lobster was instantly surrounded by a halo of
pleasing reminiscences, and curiosity about 'the charming young ladies'
diverted his mind from the comical mishap.

"I suppose he'll laugh and joke over it with Laurie, but I shan't see
them, that's a comfort," thought Amy, as Tudor bowed and departed.

She did not mention this meeting at home (though she discovered that,
thanks to the upset, her new dress was much damaged by the rivulets of
dressing that meandered down the skirt), but went through with the
preparations which now seemed more irksome than before, and at twelve
o'clock all was ready again.  Feeling that the neighbors were
interested in her movements, she wished to efface the memory of
yesterday's failure by a grand success today, so she ordered the
'cherry bounce', and drove away in state to meet and escort her guests
to the banquet.

"There's the rumble, they're coming!  I'll go onto the porch and meet
them.  It looks hospitable, and I want the poor child to have a good
time after all her trouble," said Mrs. March, suiting the action to the
word.  But after one glance, she retired, with an indescribable
expression, for looking quite lost in the big carriage, sat Amy and one
young lady.

"Run, Beth, and help Hannah clear half the things off the table. It
will be too absurd to put a luncheon for twelve before a single girl,"
cried Jo, hurrying away to the lower regions, too excited to stop even
for a laugh.

In came Amy, quite calm and delightfully cordial to the one guest who
had kept her promise.  The rest of the family, being of a dramatic
turn, played their parts equally well, and Miss Eliott found them a
most hilarious set, for it was impossible to control entirely the
merriment which possessed them.  The remodeled lunch being gaily
partaken of, the studio and garden visited, and art discussed with
enthusiasm, Amy ordered a buggy (alas for the elegant cherry-bounce),
and drove her friend quietly about the neighborhood till sunset, when
'the party went out'.

As she came walking in, looking very tired but as composed as ever, she
observed that every vestige of the unfortunate fete had disappeared,
except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo's mouth.

"You've had a loverly afternoon for your drive, dear," said her mother,
as respectfully as if the whole twelve had come.

"Miss Eliott is a very sweet girl, and seemed to enjoy herself, I
thought," observed Beth, with unusual warmth.

"Could you spare me some of your cake?  I really need some, I have so
much company, and I can't make such delicious stuff as yours," asked
Meg soberly.

"Take it all.  I'm the only one here who likes sweet things, and it
will mold before I can dispose of it," answered Amy, thinking with a
sigh of the generous store she had laid in for such an end as this.

"It's a pity Laurie isn't here to help us," began Jo, as they sat down
to ice cream and salad for the second time in two days.

A warning look from her mother checked any further remarks, and the
whole family ate in heroic silence, till Mr. March mildly observed,
"salad was one of the favorite dishes of the ancients, and Evelyn..."
Here a general explosion of laughter cut short the 'history of salads',
to the great surprise of the learned gentleman.

"Bundle everything into a basket and send it to the Hummels.  Germans
like messes.  I'm sick of the sight of this, and there's no reason you
should all die of a surfeit because I've been a fool," cried Amy,
wiping her eyes.

"I thought I should have died when I saw you two girls rattling about
in the what-you-call-it, like two little kernels in a very big
nutshell, and Mother waiting in state to receive the throng," sighed
Jo, quite spent with laughter.

"I'm very sorry you were disappointed, dear, but we all did our best to
satisfy you," said Mrs. March, in a tone full of motherly regret.

"I am satisfied.  I've done what I undertook, and it's not my fault
that it failed.  I comfort myself with that," said Amy with a little
quiver in her voice.  "I thank you all very much for helping me, and
I'll thank you still more if you won't allude to it for a month, at
least."

No one did for several months, but the word 'fete' always produced a
general smile, and Laurie's birthday gift to Amy was a tiny coral
lobster in the shape of a charm for her watch guard.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

LITERARY LESSONS

Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo, and dropped a good luck penny in her
path.  Not a golden penny, exactly, but I doubt if half a million would
have given more real happiness then did the little sum that came to her
in this wise.

Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her
scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing
away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was
finished she could find no peace.  Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a
black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a
cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which
she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action.  This cap
was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these
periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads
semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, "Does genius burn, Jo?" They
did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an
observation of the cap, and judged accordingly.  If this expressive
article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that
hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly
askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off,
and cast upon the floor.  At such times the intruder silently withdrew,
and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow,
did anyone dare address Jo.

She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing
fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a
blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat
safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real
and dear to her as any in the flesh.  Sleep forsook her eyes, meals
stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness
which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth
living, even if they bore no other fruit.  The devine afflatus usually
lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her 'vortex', hungry,
sleepy, cross, or despondent.

She was just recovering from one of these attacks when she was
prevailed upon to escort Miss Crocker to a lecture, and in return for
her virtue was rewarded with a new idea.  It was a People's Course, the
lecture on the Pyramids, and Jo rather wondered at the choice of such a
subject for such an audience, but took it for granted that some great
social evil would be remedied or some great want supplied by unfolding
the glories of the Pharaohs to an audience whose thoughts were busy
with the price of coal and flour, and whose lives were spent in trying
to solve harder riddles than that of the Sphinx.

They were early, and while Miss Crocker set the heel of her stocking,
Jo amused herself by examining the faces of the people who occupied the
seat with them.  On her left were two matrons, with massive foreheads
and bonnets to match, discussing Women's Rights and making tatting.
Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlessly holding each other by the
hand, a somber spinster eating peppermints out of a paper bag, and an
old gentleman taking his preparatory nap behind a yellow bandanna.  On
her right, her only neighbor was a studious looking lad absorbed in a
newspaper.

It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearest her,
idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstances needed
the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war costume,
tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while two
infuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big eyes,
were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was flying
away in the background with her mouth wide open.  Pausing to turn a
page, the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature offered half
his paper, saying bluntly, "want to read it? That's a first-rate story."

Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown her liking for
lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinth of love,
mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class of light
literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the author's
invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of one half the
dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult over their downfall.

"Prime, isn't it?" asked the boy, as her eye went down the last
paragraph of her portion.

"I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried," returned Jo,
amused at his admiration of the trash.

"I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could.  She makes a good
living out of such stories, they say." and he pointed to the name of
Mrs. S.L.A.N.G.  Northbury, under the title of the tale.

"Do you know her?" asked Jo, with sudden interest.

"No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works in the
office where this paper is printed."

"Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?" and Jo
looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thickly sprinkled
exclamation points that adorned the page.

"Guess she does!  She knows just what folks like, and gets paid well
for writing it."

Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for while
Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, and
hieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper,
and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered in its
columns for a sensational story.  By the time the lecture ended and the
audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself (not
the first founded on paper), and was already deep in the concoction of
her story, being unable to decide whether the duel should come before
the elopement or after the murder.

She said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day, much
to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxious when
'genius took to burning'.  Jo had never tried this style before,
contenting herself with very mild romances for _The Spread Eagle_.  Her
experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they gave
her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language, and
costumes.  Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her
limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to
make it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an
earthquake, as a striking and appropriate denouement.  The manuscript
was privately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that
if the tale didn't get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect,
she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to
keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all
hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which
almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred
dollars fell into her lap.  For a minute she stared at it as if it had
been a snake, then she read her letter and began to cry.  If the
amiable gentleman who wrote that kindly note could have known what
intense happiness he was giving a fellow creature, I think he would
devote his leisure hours, if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo
valued the letter more than the money, because it was encouraging, and
after years of effort it was so pleasant to find that she had learned
to do something, though it was only to write a sensation story.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having composed
herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them with the
letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that she had won
the prize.  Of course there was a great jubilee, and when the story
came everyone read and praised it, though after her father had told her
that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the
tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly
way...

"You can do better than this, Jo.  Aim at the highest, and never mind
the money."

"I think the money is the best part of it.  What will you do with such
a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a
reverential eye.

"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answered Jo
promptly.

To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth didn't
come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much better,
while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger.  So Jo was
satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with
a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She
did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the
house, for by the magic of a pen, her 'rubbish' turned into comforts
for them all.  The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill, A Phantom
Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys proved the
blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.

Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its sunny
side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine
satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the
inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful
blessings of the world.  Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction, and
ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge that
she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.

Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market, and
encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for fame
and fortune.  Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to
all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling
to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she
would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she
particularly admired.

"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for
printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can
for it.  Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is
more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this
important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.

"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know,
and the idea is well worked out.  Let it wait and ripen," was her
father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited
patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no
haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.

"It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial than by
waiting," said Mrs. March.  "Criticism is the best test of such work,
for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults, and help her
to do better next time.  We are too partial, but the praise and blame
of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets but little money."

"Yes," said Jo, knitting her brows, "that's just it.  I've been fussing
over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good, bad, or
indifferent.  It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons
take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."

"I wouldn't leave a word out of it.  You'll spoil it if you do, for the
interest of the story is more in the minds than in the actions of the
people, and it will be all a muddle if you don't explain as you go on,"
said Meg, who firmly believed that this book was the most remarkable
novel ever written.

"But Mr. Allen says, 'Leave out the explanations, make it brief and
dramatic, and let the characters tell the story'," interrupted Jo,
turning to the publisher's note.

"Do as he tells you.  He knows what will sell, and we don't. Make a
good, popular book, and get as much money as you can. By-and-by, when
you've got a name, you can afford to digress, and have philosophical
and metaphysical people in your novels," said Amy, who took a strictly
practical view of the subject.

"Well," said Jo, laughing, "if my people are 'philosophical and
metaphysical', it isn't my fault, for I know nothing about such things,
except what I hear father say, sometimes.  If I've got some of his wise
ideas jumbled up with my romance, so much the better for me.  Now,
Beth, what do you say?"

"I should so like to see it printed soon," was all Beth said, and
smiled in saying it.  But there was an unconscious emphasis on the last
word, and a wistful look in the eyes that never lost their childlike
candor, which chilled Jo's heart for a minute with a forboding fear,
and decided her to make her little venture 'soon'.

So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on
her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre.  In the hope of
pleasing everyone, she took everyone's advice, and like the old man and
his donkey in the fable suited nobody.

Her father liked the metaphysical streak which had unconsciously got
into it, so that was allowed to remain though she had her doubts about
it.  Her mother thought that there was a trifle too much description.
Out, therefore it came, and with it many necessary links in the story.
Meg admired the tragedy, so Jo piled up the agony to suit her, while
Amy objected to the fun, and, with the best intentions in life, Jo
quenched the spritly scenes which relieved the somber character of the
story.  Then, to complicate the ruin, she cut it down one third, and
confidingly sent the poor little romance, like a picked robin, out into
the big, busy world to try its fate.

Well, it was printed, and she got three hundred dollars for it,
likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than she
expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment from which it
took her some time to recover.

"You said, Mother, that criticism would help me.  But how can it, when
it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've written a
promising book or broken all the ten commandments?" cried poor Jo,
turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled her with
pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next.  "This man says,
'An exquisite book, full of truth, beauty, and earnestness.' 'All is
sweet, pure, and healthy.'" continued the perplexed authoress.  "The
next, 'The theory of the book is bad, full of morbid fancies,
spiritualistic ideas, and unnatural characters.' Now, as I had no
theory of any kind, don't believe in Spiritualism, and copied my
characters from life, I don't see how this critic can be right.
Another says, 'It's one of the best American novels which has appeared
for years.' (I know better than that), and the next asserts that
'Though it is original, and written with great force and feeling, it is
a dangerous book.' 'Tisn't!  Some make fun of it, some overpraise, and
nearly all insist that I had a deep theory to expound, when I only
wrote it for the pleasure and the money.  I wish I'd printed the whole
or not at all, for I do hate to be so misjudged."

Her family and friends administered comfort and commendation liberally.
Yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo, who meant so
well and had apparently done so ill.  But it did her good, for those
whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism which is an
author's best education, and when the first soreness was over, she
could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in it still, and feel
herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.

"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said stoutly,
"and I've got the joke on my side, after all, for the parts that were
taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossible and absurd,
and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head are pronounced
'charmingly natural, tender, and true'.  So I'll comfort myself with
that, and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take another."



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

DOMESTIC EXPERIENCES

Like most other young matrons, Meg began her married life with the
determination to be a model housekeeper.  John should find home a
paradise, he should always see a smiling face, should fare sumptuously
every day, and never know the loss of a button.  She brought so much
love, energy, and cheerfulness to the work that she could not but
succeed, in spite of some obstacles.  Her paradise was not a tranquil
one, for the little woman fussed, was over-anxious to please, and
bustled about like a true Martha, cumbered with many cares.  She was
too tired, sometimes, even to smile, John grew dyspeptic after a course
of dainty dishes and ungratefully demanded plain fare.  As for buttons,
she soon learned to wonder where they went, to shake her head over the
carelessness of men, and to threaten to make him sew them on himself,
and see if his work would stand impatient and clumsy fingers any better
than hers.

They were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't
live on love alone.  John did not find Meg's beauty diminished, though
she beamed at him from behind the familiar coffee pot.  Nor did Meg
miss any of the romance from the daily parting, when her husband
followed up his kiss with the tender inquiry, "Shall I send some veal
or mutton for dinner, darling?" The little house ceased to be a
glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couple soon felt
that it was a change for the better.  At first they played keep-house,
and frolicked over it like children.  Then John took steadily to
business, feeling the cares of the head of a family upon his shoulders,
and Meg laid by her cambric wrappers, put on a big apron, and fell to
work, as before said, with more energy than discretion.

While the cooking mania lasted she went through Mrs. Cornelius's
Receipt Book as if it were a mathematical exercise, working out the
problems with patience and care.  Sometimes her family were invited in
to help eat up a too bounteous feast of successes, or Lotty would be
privately dispatched with a batch of failures, which were to be
concealed from all eyes in the convenient stomachs of the little
Hummels.  An evening with John over the account books usually produced
a temporary lull in the culinary enthusiasm, and a frugal fit would
ensue, during which the poor man was put through a course of bread
pudding, hash, and warmed-over coffee, which tried his soul, although
he bore it with praiseworthy fortitude.  Before the golden mean was
found, however, Meg added to her domestic possessions what young
couples seldom get on long without, a family jar.

Fired a with housewifely wish to see her storeroom stocked with
homemade preserves, she undertook to put up her own currant jelly. John
was requested to order home a dozen or so of little pots and an extra
quantity of sugar, for their own currants were ripe and were to be
attended to at once.  As John firmly believed that 'my wife' was equal
to anything, and took a natural pride in her skill, he resolved that
she should be gratified, and their only crop of fruit laid by in a most
pleasing form for winter use.  Home came four dozen delightful little
pots, half a barrel of sugar, and a small boy to pick the currants for
her.  With her pretty hair tucked into a little cap, arms bared to the
elbow, and a checked apron which had a coquettish look in spite of the
bib, the young housewife fell to work, feeling no doubts about her
success, for hadn't she seen Hannah do it hundreds of times?  The array
of pots rather amazed her at first, but John was so fond of jelly, and
the nice little jars would look so well on the top shelf, that Meg
resolved to fill them all, and spent a long day picking, boiling,
straining, and fussing over her jelly.  She did her best, she asked
advice of Mrs. Cornelius, she racked her brain to remember what Hannah
did that she left undone, she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, but
that dreadful stuff wouldn't 'jell'.

She longed to run home, bib and all, and ask Mother to lend her a hand,
but John and she had agreed that they would never annoy anyone with
their private worries, experiments, or quarrels.  They had laughed over
that last word as if the idea it suggested was a most preposterous one,
but they had held to their resolve, and whenever they could get on
without help they did so, and no one interfered, for Mrs. March had
advised the plan.  So Meg wrestled alone with the refractory sweetmeats
all that hot summer day, and at five o'clock sat down in her
topsy-turvey kitchen, wrung her bedaubed hands, lifted up her voice and
wept.

Now, in the first flush of the new life, she had often said, "My
husband shall always feel free to bring a friend home whenever he
likes.  I shall always be prepared.  There shall be no flurry, no
scolding, no discomfort, but a neat house, a cheerful wife, and a good
dinner.  John, dear, never stop to ask my leave, invite whom you
please, and be sure of a welcome from me."

How charming that was, to be sure!  John quite glowed with pride to
hear her say it, and felt what a blessed thing it was to have a
superior wife.  But, although they had had company from time to time,
it never happened to be unexpected, and Meg had never had an
opportunity to distinguish herself till now.  It always happens so in
this vale of tears, there is an inevitability about such things which
we can only wonder at, deplore, and bear as we best can.

If John had not forgotten all about the jelly, it really would have
been unpardonable in him to choose that day, of all the days in the
year, to bring a friend home to dinner unexpectedly.  Congratulating
himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning, feeling
sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in pleasant
anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when his pretty
wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend to his
mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young host and
husband.

It is a world of disappointments, as John discovered when he reached
the Dovecote.  The front door usually stood hospitably open. Now it was
not only shut, but locked, and yesterday's mud still adorned the steps.
The parlor windows were closed and curtained, no picture of the pretty
wife sewing on the piazza, in white, with a distracting little bow in
her hair, or a bright-eyed hostess, smiling a shy welcome as she
greeted her guest.  Nothing of the sort, for not a soul appeared but a
sanginary-looking boy asleep under the current bushes.

"I'm afraid something has happened.  Step into the garden, Scott, while
I look up Mrs. Brooke," said John, alarmed at the silence and solitude.

Round the house he hurried, led by a pungent smell of burned sugar, and
Mr. Scott strolled after him, with a queer look on his face.  He paused
discreetly at a distance when Brooke disappeared, but he could both see
and hear, and being a bachelor, enjoyed the prospect mightily.

In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair.  One edition of jelly was
trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor, and a third was
burning gaily on the stove.  Lotty, with Teutonic phlegm, was calmly
eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly was still in a hopelessly
liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apron over her head, sat
sobbing dismally.

"My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in, with
awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, and secret
consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.

"Oh, John, I am so tired and hot and cross and worried!  I've been at
it till I'm all worn out.  Do come and help me or I shall die!" and the
exhausted housewife cast herself upon his breast, giving him a sweet
welcome in every sense of the word, for her pinafore had been baptized
at the same time as the floor.

"What worries you dear?  Has anything dreadful happened?" asked the
anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the little cap, which was
all askew.

"Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.

"Tell me quick, then.  Don't cry.  I can bear anything better than
that.  Out with it, love."

"The... The jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"

John Brooke laughed then as he never dared to laugh afterward, and the
derisive Scott smiled involuntarily as he heard the hearty peal, which
put the finishing stroke to poor Meg's woe.

"Is that all?  Fling it out of the window, and don't bother any more
about it.  I'll buy you quarts if you want it, but for heaven's sake
don't have hysterics, for I've brought Jack Scott home to dinner,
and..."

John got no further, for Meg cast him off, and clasped her hands with a
tragic gesture as she fell into a chair, exclaiming in a tone of
mingled indignation, reproach, and dismay...

"A man to dinner, and everything in a mess!  John Brooke, how could you
do such a thing?"

"Hush, he's in the garden!  I forgot the confounded jelly, but it can't
be helped now," said John, surveying the prospect with an anxious eye.

"You ought to have sent word, or told me this morning, and you ought to
have remembered how busy I was," continued Meg petulantly, for even
turtledoves will peck when ruffled.

"I didn't know it this morning, and there was no time to send word, for
I met him on the way out.  I never thought of asking leave, when you
have always told me to do as I liked.  I never tried it before, and
hang me if I ever do again!" added John, with an aggrieved air.

"I should hope not!  Take him away at once.  I can't see him, and there
isn't any dinner."

"Well, I like that!  Where's the beef and vegetables I sent home, and
the pudding you promised?" cried John, rushing to the larder.

"I hadn't time to cook anything.  I meant to dine at Mother's. I'm
sorry, but I was so busy," and Meg's tears began again.

John was a mild man, but he was human, and after a long day's work to
come home tired, hungry, and hopeful, to find a chaotic house, an empty
table, and a cross wife was not exactly conducive to repose of mind or
manner.  He restrained himself however, and the little squall would
have blown over, but for one unlucky word.

"It's a scrape, I acknowledge, but if you will lend a hand, we'll pull
through and have a good time yet.  Don't cry, dear, but just exert
yourself a bit, and fix us up something to eat.  We're both as hungry
as hunters, so we shan't mind what it is.  Give us the cold meat, and
bread and cheese.  We won't ask for jelly."

He meant it to be a good-natured joke, but that one word sealed his
fate.  Meg thought it was too cruel to hint about her sad failure, and
the last atom of patience vanished as he spoke.

"You must get yourself out of the scrape as you can.  I'm too used up
to 'exert' myself for anyone.  It's like a man to propose a bone and
vulgar bread and cheese for company.  I won't have anything of the sort
in my house.  Take that Scott up to Mother's, and tell him I'm away,
sick, dead, anything.  I won't see him, and you two can laugh at me and
my jelly as much as you like.  You won't have anything else here."  and
having delivered her defiance all on one breath, Meg cast away her
pinafore and precipitately left the field to bemoan herself in her own
room.

What those two creatures did in her absence, she never knew, but Mr.
Scott was not taken 'up to Mother's', and when Meg descended, after
they had strolled away together, she found traces of a promiscuous
lunch which filled her with horror.  Lotty reported that they had eaten
"a much, and greatly laughed, and the master bid her throw away all the
sweet stuff, and hide the pots."

Meg longed to go and tell Mother, but a sense of shame at her own
short-comings, of loyalty to John, "who might be cruel, but nobody
should know it," restrained her, and after a summary cleaning up, she
dressed herself prettily, and sat down to wait for John to come and be
forgiven.

Unfortunately, John didn't come, not seeing the matter in that light.
He had carried it off as a good joke with Scott, excused his little
wife as well as he could, and played the host so hospitably that his
friend enjoyed the impromptu dinner, and promised to come again, but
John was angry, though he did not show it, he felt that Meg had
deserted him in his hour of need.  "It wasn't fair to tell a man to
bring folks home any time, with perfect freedom, and when he took you
at your word, to flame up and blame him, and leave him in the lurch, to
be laughed at or pitied.  No, by George, it wasn't! And Meg must know
it."

He had fumed inwardly during the feast, but when the flurry was over
and he strolled home after seeing Scott off, a milder mood came over
him.  "Poor little thing!  It was hard upon her when she tried so
heartily to please me.  She was wrong, of course, but then she was
young.  I must be patient and teach her."  He hoped she had not gone
home--he hated gossip and interference.  For a minute he was ruffled
again at the mere thought of it, and then the fear that Meg would cry
herself sick softened his heart, and sent him on at a quicker pace,
resolving to be calm and kind, but firm, quite firm, and show her where
she had failed in her duty to her spouse.

Meg likewise resolved to be 'calm and kind, but firm', and show him his
duty.  She longed to run to meet him, and beg pardon, and be kissed and
comforted, as she was sure of being, but, of course, she did nothing of
the sort, and when she saw John coming, began to hum quite naturally,
as she rocked and sewed, like a lady of leisure in her best parlor.

John was a little disappointed not to find a tender Niobe, but feeling
that his dignity demanded the first apology, he made none, only came
leisurely in and laid himself upon the sofa with the singularly
relevant remark, "We are going to have a new moon, my dear."

"I've no objection," was Meg's equally soothing remark.  A few other
topics of general interest were introduced by Mr. Brooke and
wet-blanketed by Mrs. Brooke, and conversation languished.  John went
to one window, unfolded his paper, and wrapped himself in it,
figuratively speaking.  Meg went to the other window, and sewed as if
new rosettes for slippers were among the necessaries of life. Neither
spoke.  Both looked quite 'calm and firm', and both felt desperately
uncomfortable.

"Oh, dear," thought Meg, "married life is very trying, and does need
infinite patience as well as love, as Mother says."  The word 'Mother'
suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, and received with
unbelieving protests.

"John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learn to see
and bear with them, remembering your own.  He is very decided, but
never will be obstinate, if you reason kindly, not oppose impatiently.
He is very accurate, and particular about the truth--a good trait,
though you call him 'fussy'. Never deceive him by look or word, Meg,
and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the support you need.
He has a temper, not like ours--one flash and then all over--but the
white, still anger that is seldom stirred, but once kindled is hard to
quench.  Be careful, be very careful, not to wake his anger against
yourself, for peace and happiness depend on keeping his respect.  Watch
yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against
the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave
the way for bitter sorrow and regret."

These words came back to Meg, as she sat sewing in the sunset,
especially the last.  This was the first serious disagreement, her own
hasty speeches sounded both silly and unkind, as she recalled them, her
own anger looked childish now, and thoughts of poor John coming home to
such a scene quite melted her heart.  She glanced at him with tears in
her eyes, but he did not see them.  She put down her work and got up,
thinking, "I will be the first to say, 'Forgive me'", but he did not
seem to hear her.  She went very slowly across the room, for pride was
hard to swallow, and stood by him, but he did not turn his head.  For a
minute she felt as if she really couldn't do it, then came the thought,
"This is the beginning. I'll do my part, and have nothing to reproach
myself with," and stooping down, she softly kissed her husband on the
forehead. Of course that settled it.  The penitent kiss was better than
a world of words, and John had her on his knee in a minute, saying
tenderly...

"It was too bad to laugh at the poor little jelly pots. Forgive me,
dear.  I never will again!"

But he did, oh bless you, yes, hundreds of times, and so did Meg, both
declaring that it was the sweetest jelly they ever made, for family
peace was preserved in that little family jar.

After this, Meg had Mr. Scott to dinner by special invitation, and
served him up a pleasant feast without a cooked wife for the first
course, on which occasion she was so gay and gracious, and made
everything go off so charmingly, that Mr. Scott told John he was a
lucky fellow, and shook his head over the hardships of bachelorhood all
the way home.

In the autumn, new trials and experiences came to Meg.  Sallie Moffat
renewed her friendship, was always running out for a dish of gossip at
the little house, or inviting 'that poor dear' to come in and spend the
day at the big house.  It was pleasant, for in dull weather Meg often
felt lonely.  All were busy at home, John absent till night, and
nothing to do but sew, or read, or potter about.  So it naturally fell
out that Meg got into the way of gadding and gossiping with her friend.
Seeing Sallie's pretty things made her long for such, and pity herself
because she had not got them.  Sallie was very kind, and often offered
her the coveted trifles, but Meg declined them, knowing that John
wouldn't like it, and then this foolish little woman went and did what
John disliked even worse.

She knew her husband's income, and she loved to feel that he trusted
her, not only with his happiness, but what some men seem to value
more--his money.  She knew where it was, was free to take what she
liked, and all he asked was that she should keep account of every
penny, pay bills once a month, and remember that she was a poor man's
wife.  Till now she had done well, been prudent and exact, kept her
little account books neatly, and showed them to him monthly without
fear.  But that autumn the serpent got into Meg's paradise, and tempted
her like many a modern Eve, not with apples, but with dress.  Meg
didn't like to be pitied and made to feel poor.  It irritated her, but
she was ashamed to confess it, and now and then she tried to console
herself by buying something pretty, so that Sallie needn't think she
had to economize.  She always felt wicked after it, for the pretty
things were seldom necessaries, but then they cost so little, it wasn't
worth worrying about, so the trifles increased unconsciously, and in
the shopping excursions she was no longer a passive looker-on.

But the trifles cost more than one would imagine, and when she cast up
her accounts at the end of the month the sum total rather scared her.
John was busy that month and left the bills to her, the next month he
was absent, but the third he had a grand quarterly settling up, and Meg
never forgot it.  A few days before she had done a dreadful thing, and
it weighed upon her conscience.  Sallie had been buying silks, and Meg
longed for a new one, just a handsome light one for parties, her black
silk was so common, and thin things for evening wear were only proper
for girls.  Aunt March usually gave the sisters a present of
twenty-five dollars apiece at New Year's.  That was only a month to
wait, and here was a lovely violet silk going at a bargain, and she had
the money, if she only dared to take it.  John always said what was his
was hers, but would he think it right to spend not only the prospective
five-and-twenty, but another five-and-twenty out of the household fund?
That was the question. Sallie had urged her to do it, had offered to
lend the money, and with the best intentions in life had tempted Meg
beyond her strength. In an evil moment the shopman held up the lovely,
shimmering folds, and said, "A bargain, I assure, you, ma'am." She
answered, "I'll take it," and it was cut off and paid for, and Sallie
had exulted, and she had laughed as if it were a thing of no
consequence, and driven away, feeling as if she had stolen something,
and the police were after her.

When she got home, she tried to assuage the pangs of remorse by
spreading forth the lovely silk, but it looked less silvery now, didn't
become her, after all, and the words 'fifty dollars' seemed stamped
like a pattern down each breadth.  She put it away, but it haunted her,
not delightfully as a new dress should, but dreadfully like the ghost
of a folly that was not easily laid.  When John got out his books that
night, Meg's heart sank, and for the first time in her married life,
she was afraid of her husband.  The kind, brown eyes looked as if they
could be stern, and though he was unusually merry, she fancied he had
found her out, but didn't mean to let her know it.  The house bills
were all paid, the books all in order. John had praised her, and was
undoing the old pocketbook which they called the 'bank', when Meg,
knowing that it was quite empty, stopped his hand, saying nervously...

"You haven't seen my private expense book yet."

John never asked to see it, but she always insisted on his doing so,
and used to enjoy his masculine amazement at the queer things women
wanted, and made him guess what piping was, demand fiercely the meaning
of a hug-me-tight, or wonder how a little thing composed of three
rosebuds, a bit of velvet, and a pair of strings, could possibly be a
bonnet, and cost six dollars.  That night he looked as if he would like
the fun of quizzing her figures and pretending to be horrified at her
extravagance, as he often did, being particularly proud of his prudent
wife.

The little book was brought slowly out and laid down before him. Meg
got behind his chair under pretense of smoothing the wrinkles out of
his tired forehead, and standing there, she said, with her panic
increasing with every word...

"John, dear, I'm ashamed to show you my book, for I've really been
dreadfully extravagant lately.  I go about so much I must have things,
you know, and Sallie advised my getting it, so I did, and my New Year's
money will partly pay for it, but I was sorry after I had done it, for
I knew you'd think it wrong in me."

John laughed, and drew her round beside him, saying goodhumoredly,
"Don't go and hide.  I won't beat you if you have got a pair of killing
boots.  I'm rather proud of my wife's feet, and don't mind if she does
pay eight or nine dollars for her boots, if they are good ones."

That had been one of her last 'trifles', and John's eye had fallen on
it as he spoke.  "Oh, what will he say when he comes to that awful
fifty dollars!" thought Meg, with a shiver.

"It's worse than boots, it's a silk dress," she said, with the calmness
of desperation, for she wanted the worst over.

"Well, dear, what is the 'dem'd total', as Mr. Mantalini says?"

That didn't sound like John, and she knew he was looking up at her with
the straightforward look that she had always been ready to meet and
answer with one as frank till now.  She turned the page and her head at
the same time, pointing to the sum which would have been bad enough
without the fifty, but which was appalling to her with that added.  For
a minute the room was very still, then John said slowly--but she could
feel it cost him an effort to express no displeasure--. . .

"Well, I don't know that fifty is much for a dress, with all the
furbelows and notions you have to have to finish it off these days."

"It isn't made or trimmed," sighed Meg, faintly, for a sudden
recollection of the cost still to be incurred quite overwhelmed her.

"Twenty-five yards of silk seems a good deal to cover one small woman,
but I've no doubt my wife will look as fine as Ned Moffat's when she
gets it on," said John dryly.

"I know you are angry, John, but I can't help it.  I don't mean to
waste your money, and I didn't think those little things would count up
so.  I can't resist them when I see Sallie buying all she wants, and
pitying me because I don't.  I try to be contented, but it is hard, and
I'm tired of being poor."

The last words were spoken so low she thought he did not hear them, but
he did, and they wounded him deeply, for he had denied himself many
pleasures for Meg's sake.  She could have bitten her tongue out the
minute she had said it, for John pushed the books away and got up,
saying with a little quiver in his voice, "I was afraid of this.  I do
my best, Meg."  If he had scolded her, or even shaken her, it would not
have broken her heart like those few words.  She ran to him and held
him close, crying, with repentant tears, "Oh, John, my dear, kind,
hard-working boy.  I didn't mean it!  It was so wicked, so untrue and
ungrateful, how could I say it! Oh, how could I say it!"

He was very kind, forgave her readily, and did not utter one reproach,
but Meg knew that she had done and said a thing which would not be
forgotten soon, although he might never allude to it again.  She had
promised to love him for better or worse, and then she, his wife, had
reproached him with his poverty, after spending his earnings
recklessly.  It was dreadful, and the worst of it was John went on so
quietly afterward, just as if nothing had happened, except that he
stayed in town later, and worked at night when she had gone to cry
herself to sleep.  A week of remorse nearly made Meg sick, and the
discovery that John had countermanded the order for his new greatcoat
reduced her to a state of despair which was pathetic to behold.  He had
simply said, in answer to her surprised inquiries as to the change, "I
can't afford it, my dear."

Meg said no more, but a few minutes after he found her in the hall with
her face buried in the old greatcoat, crying as if her heart would
break.

They had a long talk that night, and Meg learned to love her husband
better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made a man of him,
given him the strength and courage to fight his own way, and taught him
a tender patience with which to bear and comfort the natural longings
and failures of those he loved.

Next day she put her pride in her pocket, went to Sallie, told the
truth, and asked her to buy the silk as a favor.  The good-natured Mrs.
Moffat willingly did so, and had the delicacy not to make her a present
of it immediately afterward.  Then Meg ordered home the greatcoat, and
when John arrived, she put it on, and asked him how he liked her new
silk gown.  One can imagine what answer he made, how he received his
present, and what a blissful state of things ensued.  John came home
early, Meg gadded no more, and that greatcoat was put on in the morning
by a very happy husband, and taken off at night by a most devoted
little wife.  So the year rolled round, and at midsummer there came to
Meg a new experience, the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life.

Laurie came sneaking into the kitchen of the Dovecote one Saturday,
with an excited face, and was received with the clash of cymbals, for
Hannah clapped her hands with a saucepan in one and the cover in the
other.

"How's the little mamma?  Where is everybody?  Why didn't you tell me
before I came home?" began Laurie in a loud whisper.

"Happy as a queen, the dear!  Every soul of 'em is upstairs a
worshipin'.  We didn't want no hurrycanes round.  Now you go into the
parlor, and I'll send 'em down to you," with which somewhat involved
reply Hannah vanished, chuckling ecstatically.

Presently Jo appeared, proudly bearing a flannel bundle laid forth upon
a large pillow.  Jo's face was very sober, but her eyes twinkled, and
there was an odd sound in her voice of repressed emotion of some sort.

"Shut your eyes and hold out your arms," she said invitingly.

Laurie backed precipitately into a corner, and put his hands behind him
with an imploring gesture.  "No, thank you.  I'd rather not.  I shall
drop it or smash it, as sure as fate."

"Then you shan't see your nevvy," said Jo decidedly, turning as if to
go.

"I will, I will!  Only you must be responsible for damages." and
obeying orders, Laurie heroically shut his eyes while something was put
into his arms.  A peal of laughter from Jo, Amy, Mrs. March, Hannah,
and John caused him to open them the next minute, to find himself
invested with two babies instead of one.

No wonder they laughed, for the expression of his face was droll enough
to convulse a Quaker, as he stood and stared wildly from the
unconscious innocents to the hilarious spectators with such dismay that
Jo sat down on the floor and screamed.

"Twins, by Jupiter!" was all he said for a minute, then turning to the
women with an appealing look that was comically piteous, he added,
"Take 'em quick, somebody!  I'm going to laugh, and I shall drop 'em."

Jo rescued his babies, and marched up and down, with one on each arm,
as if already initiated into the mysteries of babytending, while Laurie
laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.

"It's the best joke of the season, isn't it?  I wouldn't have told you,
for I set my heart on surprising you, and I flatter myself I've done
it," said Jo, when she got her breath.

"I never was more staggered in my life.  Isn't it fun?  Are they boys?
What are you going to name them? Let's have another look.  Hold me up,
Jo, for upon my life it's one too many for me," returned Laurie,
regarding the infants with the air of a big, benevolent Newfoundland
looking at a pair of infantile kittens.

"Boy and girl.  Aren't they beauties?" said the proud papa, beaming
upon the little red squirmers as if they were unfledged angels.

"Most remarkable children I ever saw.  Which is which?" and Laurie bent
like a well-sweep to examine the prodigies.

"Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl, French
fashion, so you can always tell.  Besides, one has blue eyes and one
brown.  Kiss them, Uncle Teddy," said wicked Jo.

"I'm afraid they mightn't like it," began Laurie, with unusual timidity
in such matters.

"Of course they will, they are used to it now.  Do it this minute,
sir!" commanded Jo, fearing he might propose a proxy.

Laurie screwed up his face and obeyed with a gingerly peck at each
little cheek that produced another laugh, and made the babies squeal.

"There, I knew they didn't like it!  That's the boy, see him kick, he
hits out with his fists like a good one.  Now then, young Brooke, pitch
into a man of your own size, will you?" cried Laurie, delighted with a
poke in the face from a tiny fist, flapping aimlessly about.

"He's to be named John Laurence, and the girl Margaret, after mother
and grandmother.  We shall call her Daisey, so as not to have two Megs,
and I suppose the mannie will be Jack, unless we find a better name,"
said Amy, with aunt-like interest.

"Name him Demijohn, and call him Demi for short," said Laurie

"Daisy and Demi, just the thing!  I knew Teddy would do it," cried Jo
clapping her hands.

Teddy certainly had done it that time, for the babies were 'Daisy' and
'Demi' to the end of the chapter.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CALLS

"Come, Jo, it's time."

"For what?"

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten that you promised to make
half a dozen calls with me today?"

"I've done a good many rash and foolish things in my life, but I don't
think I ever was mad enough to say I'd make six calls in one day, when
a single one upsets me for a week."

"Yes, you did, it was a bargain between us.  I was to finish the crayon
of Beth for you, and you were to go properly with me, and return our
neighbors' visits."

"If it was fair, that was in the bond, and I stand to the letter of my
bond, Shylock.  There is a pile of clouds in the east, it's not fair,
and I don't go."

"Now, that's shirking.  It's a lovely day, no prospect of rain, and you
pride yourself on keeping promises, so be honorable, come and do your
duty, and then be at peace for another six months."

At that minute Jo was particularly absorbed in dressmaking, for she was
mantua-maker general to the family, and took especial credit to herself
because she could use a needle as well as a pen. It was very provoking
to be arrested in the act of a first trying-on, and ordered out to make
calls in her best array on a warm July day. She hated calls of the
formal sort, and never made any till Amy compelled her with a bargain,
bribe, or promise.  In the present instance there was no escape, and
having clashed her scissors rebelliously, while protesting that she
smelled thunder, she gave in, put away her work, and taking up her hat
and gloves with an air of resignation, told Amy the victim was ready.

"Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint!  You don't
intend to make calls in that state, I hope," cried Amy, surveying her
with amazement.

"Why not?  I'm neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper for a dusty
walk on a warm day.  If people care more for my clothes than they do
for me, I don't wish to see them.  You can dress for both, and be as
elegant as you please.  It pays for you to be fine.  It doesn't for me,
and furbelows only worry me."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy, "now she's in a contrary fit, and will drive me
distracted before I can get her properly ready. I'm sure it's no
pleasure to me to go today, but it's a debt we owe society, and there's
no one to pay it but you and me.  I'll do anything for you, Jo, if
you'll only dress yourself nicely, and come and help me do the civil.
You can talk so well, look so aristocratic in your best things, and
behave so beautifully, if you try, that I'm proud of you.  I'm afraid
to go alone, do come and take care of me."

"You're an artful little puss to flatter and wheedle your cross old
sister in that way.  The idea of my being aristocratic and well-bred,
and your being afraid to go anywhere alone!  I don't know which is the
most absurd.  Well, I'll go if I must, and do my best.  You shall be
commander of the expedition, and I'll obey blindly, will that satisfy
you?" said Jo, with a sudden change from perversity to lamblike
submission.

"You're a perfect cherub!  Now put on all your best things, and I'll
tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will make a good
impression.  I want people to like you, and they would if you'd only
try to be a little more agreeable.  Do your hair the pretty way, and
put the pink rose in your bonnet.  It's becoming, and you look too
sober in your plain suit.  Take your light gloves and the embroidered
handkerchief.  We'll stop at Meg's, and borrow her white sunshade, and
then you can have my dove-colored one."

While Amy dressed, she issued her orders, and Jo obeyed them, not
without entering her protest, however, for she sighed as she rustled
into her new organdie, frowned darkly at herself as she tied her bonnet
strings in an irreproachable bow, wrestled viciously with pins as she
put on her collar, wrinkled up her features generally as she shook out
the handkerchief, whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the
present mission was to her feelings, and when she had squeezed her
hands into tight gloves with three buttons and a tassel, as the last
touch of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of
countenance, saying meekly...

"I'm perfectly miserable, but if you consider me presentable, I die
happy."

"You're highly satisfactory.  Turn slowly round, and let me get a
careful view." Jo revolved, and Amy gave a touch here and there, then
fell back, with her head on one side, observing graciously, "Yes,
you'll do.  Your head is all I could ask, for that white bonnet with
the rose is quite ravishing.  Hold back your shoulders, and carry your
hands easily, no matter if your gloves do pinch.  There's one thing you
can do well, Jo, that is, wear a shawl.  I can't, but it's very nice to
see you, and I'm so glad Aunt March gave you that lovely one.  It's
simple, but handsome, and those folds over the arm are really artistic.
Is the point of my mantle in the middle, and have I looped my dress
evenly? I like to show my boots, for my feet are pretty, though my nose
isn't."

"You are a thing of beauty and a joy forever," said Jo, looking through
her hand with the air of a connoisseur at the blue feather against the
golden hair.  "Am I to drag my best dress through the dust, or loop it
up, please, ma'am?"

"Hold it up when you walk, but drop it in the house.  The sweeping
style suits you best, and you must learn to trail your skirts
gracefully.  You haven't half buttoned one cuff, do it at once.  You'll
never look finished if you are not careful about the little details,
for they make up the pleasing whole."

Jo sighed, and proceeded to burst the buttons off her glove, in doing
up her cuff, but at last both were ready, and sailed away, looking as
'pretty as picters', Hannah said, as she hung out of the upper window
to watch them.

"Now, Jo dear, the Chesters consider themselves very elegant people, so
I want you to put on your best deportment.  Don't make any of your
abrupt remarks, or do anything odd, will you?  Just be calm, cool, and
quiet, that's safe and ladylike, and you can easily do it for fifteen
minutes," said Amy, as they approached the first place, having borrowed
the white parasol and been inspected by Meg, with a baby on each arm.

"Let me see.  'Calm, cool, and quiet', yes, I think I can promise that.
I've played the part of a prim young lady on the stage, and I'll try it
off.  My powers are great, as you shall see, so be easy in your mind,
my child."

Amy looked relieved, but naughty Jo took her at her word, for during
the first call she sat with every limb gracefully composed, every fold
correctly draped, calm as a summer sea, cool as a snowbank, and as
silent as the sphinx.  In vain Mrs. Chester alluded to her 'charming
novel', and the Misses Chester introduced parties, picnics, the opera,
and the fashions.  Each and all were answered by a smile, a bow, and a
demure "Yes" or "No" with the chill on.  In vain Amy telegraphed the
word 'talk', tried to draw her out, and administered covert pokes with
her foot.  Jo sat as if blandly unconscious of it all, with deportment
like Maud's face, 'icily regular, splendidly null'.

"What a haughty, uninteresting creature that oldest Miss March is!" was
the unfortunately audible remark of one of the ladies, as the door
closed upon their guests.  Jo laughed noiselessly all through the hall,
but Amy looked disgusted at the failure of her instructions, and very
naturally laid the blame upon Jo.

"How could you mistake me so?  I merely meant you to be properly
dignified and composed, and you made yourself a perfect stock and
stone.  Try to be sociable at the Lambs'.  Gossip as other girls do,
and be interested in dress and flirtations and whatever nonsense comes
up.  They move in the best society, are valuable persons for us to
know, and I wouldn't fail to make a good impression there for anything."

"I'll be agreeable.  I'll gossip and giggle, and have horrors and
raptures over any trifle you like.  I rather enjoy this, and now I'll
imitate what is called 'a charming girl'.  I can do it, for I have May
Chester as a model, and I'll improve upon her.  See if the Lambs don't
say, 'What a lively, nice creature that Jo March is!"

Amy felt anxious, as well she might, for when Jo turned freakish there
was no knowing where she would stop.  Amy's face was a study when she
saw her sister skim into the next drawing room, kiss all the young
ladies with effusion, beam graciously upon the young gentlemen, and
join in the chat with a spirit which amazed the beholder. Amy was taken
possession of by Mrs. Lamb, with whom she was a favorite, and forced to
hear a long account of Lucretia's last attack, while three delightful
young gentlemen hovered near, waiting for a pause when they might rush
in and rescue her.  So situated, she was powerless to check Jo, who
seemed possessed by a spirit of mischief, and talked away as volubly as
the lady.  A knot of heads gathered about her, and Amy strained her
ears to hear what was going on, for broken sentences filled her with
curiosity, and frequent peals of laughter made her wild to share the
fun.  One may imagine her suffering on overhearing fragments of this
sort of conversation.

"She rides splendidly.  Who taught her?"

"No one.  She used to practice mounting, holding the reins, and sitting
straight on an old saddle in a tree.  Now she rides anything, for she
doesn't know what fear is, and the stableman lets her have horses cheap
because she trains them to carry ladies so well.  She has such a
passion for it, I often tell her if everything else fails, she can be a
horsebreaker, and get her living so."

At this awful speech Amy contained herself with difficulty, for the
impression was being given that she was rather a fast young lady, which
was her especial aversion.  But what could she do?  For the old lady
was in the middle of her story, and long before it was done, Jo was off
again, making more droll revelations and committing still more fearful
blunders.

"Yes, Amy was in despair that day, for all the good beasts were gone,
and of three left, one was lame, one blind, and the other so balky that
you had to put dirt in his mouth before he would start. Nice animal for
a pleasure party, wasn't it?"

"Which did she choose?" asked one of the laughing gentlemen, who
enjoyed the subject.

"None of them.  She heard of a young horse at the farm house over the
river, and though a lady had never ridden him, she resolved to try,
because he was handsome and spirited.  Her struggles were really
pathetic.  There was no one to bring the horse to the saddle, so she
took the saddle to the horse.  My dear creature, she actually rowed it
over the river, put it on her head, and marched up to the barn to the
utter amazement of the old man!"

"Did she ride the horse?"

"Of course she did, and had a capital time.  I expected to see her
brought home in fragments, but she managed him perfectly, and was the
life of the party."

"Well, I call that plucky!" and young Mr. Lamb turned an approving
glance upon Amy, wondering what his mother could be saying to make the
girl look so red and uncomfortable.

She was still redder and more uncomfortable a moment after, when a
sudden turn in the conversation introduced the subject of dress.  One
of the young ladies asked Jo where she got the pretty drab hat she wore
to the picnic and stupid Jo, instead of mentioning the place where it
was bought two years ago, must needs answer with unnecessary frankness,
"Oh, Amy painted it.  You can't buy those soft shades, so we paint ours
any color we like.  It's a great comfort to have an artistic sister."

"Isn't that an original idea?" cried Miss Lamb, who found Jo great fun.

"That's nothing compared to some of her brilliant performances. There's
nothing the child can't do.  Why, she wanted a pair of blue boots for
Sallie's party, so she just painted her soiled white ones the loveliest
shade of sky blue you ever saw, and they looked exactly like satin,"
added Jo, with an air of pride in her sister's accomplishments that
exasperated Amy till she felt that it would be a relief to throw her
cardcase at her.

"We read a story of yours the other day, and enjoyed it very much,"
observed the elder Miss Lamb, wishing to compliment the literary lady,
who did not look the character just then, it must be confessed.

Any mention of her 'works' always had a bad effect upon Jo, who either
grew rigid and looked offended, or changed the subject with a brusque
remark, as now.  "Sorry you could find nothing better to read.  I write
that rubbish because it sells, and ordinary people like it.  Are you
going to New York this winter?"

As Miss Lamb had 'enjoyed' the story, this speech was not exactly
grateful or complimentary.  The minute it was made Jo saw her mistake,
but fearing to make the matter worse, suddenly remembered that it was
for her to make the first move toward departure, and did so with an
abruptness that left three people with half-finished sentences in their
mouths.

"Amy, we must go.  Good-by, dear, do come and see us.  We are pining
for a visit.  I don't dare to ask you, Mr. Lamb, but if you should
come, I don't think I shall have the heart to send you away."

Jo said this with such a droll imitation of May Chester's gushing style
that Amy got out of the room as rapidly as possible, feeling a strong
desire to laugh and cry at the same time.

"Didn't I do well?" asked Jo, with a satisfied air as they walked away.

"Nothing could have been worse," was Amy's crushing reply. "What
possessed you to tell those stories about my saddle, and the hats and
boots, and all the rest of it?"

"Why, it's funny, and amuses people.  They know we are poor, so it's no
use pretending that we have grooms, buy three or four hats a season,
and have things as easy and fine as they do."

"You needn't go and tell them all our little shifts, and expose our
poverty in that perfectly unnecessary way.  You haven't a bit of proper
pride, and never will learn when to hold your tongue and when to
speak," said Amy despairingly.

Poor Jo looked abashed, and silently chafed the end of her nose with
the stiff handkerchief, as if performing a penance for her misdemeanors.

"How shall I behave here?" she asked, as they approached the third
mansion.

"Just as you please.  I wash my hands of you," was Amy's short answer.

"Then I'll enjoy myself.  The boys are at home, and we'll have a
comfortable time.  Goodness knows I need a little change, for elegance
has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly, being
disturbed by her failure to suit.

An enthusiastic welcome from three big boys and several pretty children
speedily soothed her ruffled feelings, and leaving Amy to entertain the
hostess and Mr. Tudor, who happened to be calling likewise, Jo devoted
herself to the young folks and found the change refreshing.  She
listened to college stories with deep interest, caressed pointers and
poodles without a murmur, agreed heartily that "Tom Brown was a brick,"
regardless of the improper form of praise, and when one lad proposed a
visit to his turtle tank, she went with an alacrity which caused Mamma
to smile upon her, as that motherly lady settled the cap which was left
in a ruinous condition by filial hugs, bearlike but affectionate, and
dearer to her than the most faultless coiffure from the hands of an
inspired Frenchwoman.

Leaving her sister to her own devices, Amy proceeded to enjoy herself
to her heart's content.  Mr. Tudor's uncle had married an English lady
who was third cousin to a living lord, and Amy regarded the whole
family with great respect, for in spite of her American birth and
breeding, she possessed that reverence for titles which haunts the best
of us--that unacknowledged loyalty to the early faith in kings which
set the most democratic nation under the sun in ferment at the coming
of a royal yellow-haired laddie, some years ago, and which still has
something to do with the love the young country bears the old, like
that of a big son for an imperious little mother, who held him while
she could, and let him go with a farewell scolding when he rebelled.
But even the satisfaction of talking with a distant connection of the
British nobility did not render Amy forgetful of time, and when the
proper number of minutes had passed, she reluctantly tore herself from
this aristocratic society, and looked about for Jo, fervently hoping
that her incorrigible sister would not be found in any position which
should bring disgrace upon the name of March.

It might have been worse, but Amy considered it bad.  For Jo sat on the
grass, with an encampment of boys about her, and a dirty-footed dog
reposing on the skirt of her state and festival dress, as she related
one of Laurie's pranks to her admiring audience.  One small child was
poking turtles with Amy's cherished parasol, a second was eating
gingerbread over Jo's best bonnet, and a third playing ball with her
gloves, but all were enjoying themselves, and when Jo collected her
damaged property to go, her escort accompanied her, begging her to come
again, "It was such fun to hear about Laurie's larks."

"Capital boys, aren't they?  I feel quite young and brisk again after
that." said Jo, strolling along with her hands behind her, partly from
habit, partly to conceal the bespattered parasol.

"Why do you always avoid Mr. Tudor?" asked Amy, wisely refraining from
any comment upon Jo's dilapidated appearance.

"Don't like him, he puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worries his
father, and doesn't speak respectfully of his mother.  Laurie says he
is fast, and I don't consider him a desirable acquaintance, so I let
him alone."

"You might treat him civilly, at least.  You gave him a cool nod, and
just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way to Tommy Chamberlain,
whose father keeps a grocery store.  If you had just reversed the nod
and the bow, it would have been right," said Amy reprovingly.

"No, it wouldn't," returned Jo, "I neither like, respect, nor admire
Tudor, though his grandfather's uncle's nephew's niece was a third
cousin to a lord.  Tommy is poor and bashful and good and very clever.
I think well of him, and like to show that I do, for he is a gentleman
in spite of the brown paper parcels."

"It's no use trying to argue with you," began Amy.

"Not the least, my dear," interrupted Jo, "so let us look amiable, and
drop a card here, as the Kings are evidently out, for which I'm deeply
grateful."

The family cardcase having done its duty the girls walked on, and Jo
uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifth house, and being
told that the young ladies were engaged.

"Now let us go home, and never mind Aunt March today.  We can run down
there any time, and it's really a pity to trail through the dust in our
best bibs and tuckers, when we are tired and cross."

"Speak for yourself, if you please.  Aunt March likes to have us pay
her the compliment of coming in style, and making a formal call. It's a
little thing to do, but it gives her pleasure, and I don't believe it
will hurt your things half so much as letting dirty dogs and clumping
boys spoil them.  Stoop down, and let me take the crumbs off of your
bonnet."

"What a good girl you are, Amy!" said Jo, with a repentant glance from
her own damaged costume to that of her sister, which was fresh and
spotless still.  "I wish it was as easy for me to do little things to
please people as it is for you.  I think of them, but it takes too much
time to do them, so I wait for a chance to confer a great favor, and
let the small ones slip, but they tell best in the end, I fancy."

Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternal air,
"Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones, for they
have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive. If you'd
remember that, and practice it, you'd be better liked than I am,
because there is more of you."

"I'm a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I'm willing to own
that you are right, only it's easier for me to risk my life for a
person than to be pleasant to him when I don't feel like it.  It's a
great misfortune to have such strong likes and dislikes, isn't it?"

"It's a greater not to be able to hide them.  I don't mind saying that
I don't approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I'm not called upon
to tell him so.  Neither are you, and there is no use in making
yourself disagreeable because he is."

"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove of young men, and
how can they do it except by their manners? Preaching does not do any
good, as I know to my sorrow, since I've had Teddie to manage.  But
there are many little ways in which I can influence him without a word,
and I say we ought to do it to others if we can."

"Teddy is a remarkable boy, and can't be taken as a sample of other
boys," said Amy, in a tone of solemn conviction, which would have
convulsed the 'remarkable boy' if he had heard it.  "If we were belles,
or women of wealth and position, we might do something, perhaps, but
for us to frown at one set of young gentlemen because we don't approve
of them, and smile upon another set because we do, wouldn't have a
particle of effect, and we should only be considered odd and
puritanical."

"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest, merely
because we are not belles and millionaires, are we? That's a nice sort
of morality."

"I can't argue about it, I only know that it's the way of the world,
and people who set themselves against it only get laughed at for their
pains.  I don't like reformers, and I hope you never try to be one."

"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can, for in spite of the
laughing the world would never get on without them.  We can't agree
about that, for you belong to the old set, and I to the new. You will
get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it. I should
rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."

"Well, compose yourself now, and don't worry Aunt with your new ideas."

"I'll try not to, but I'm always possessed to burst out with some
particularly blunt speech or revolutionary sentiment before her.  It's
my doom, and I can't help it."

They found Aunt Carrol with the old lady, both absorbed in some very
interesting subject, but they dropped it as the girls came in, with a
conscious look which betrayed that they had been talking about their
nieces.  Jo was not in a good humor, and the perverse fit returned, but
Amy, who had virtuously done her duty, kept her temper and pleased
everybody, was in a most angelic frame of mind.  This amiable spirit
was felt at once, and both aunts 'my deared' her affectionately,
looking what they afterward said emphatically, "That child improves
every day."

"Are you going to help about the fair, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, as Amy
sat down beside her with the confiding air elderly people like so well
in the young.

"Yes, Aunt.  Mrs. Chester asked me if I would, and I offered to tend a
table, as I have nothing but my time to give."

"I'm not," put in Jo decidedly.  "I hate to be patronized, and the
Chesters think it's a great favor to allow us to help with their highly
connected fair.  I wonder you consented, Amy, they only want you to
work."

"I am willing to work.  It's for the freedmen as well as the Chesters,
and I think it very kind of them to let me share the labor and the fun.
Patronage does not trouble me when it is well meant."

"Quite right and proper.  I like your grateful spirit, my dear. It's a
pleasure to help people who appreciate our efforts.  Some do not, and
that is trying," observed Aunt March, looking over her spectacles at
Jo, who sat apart, rocking herself, with a somewhat morose expression.

If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering in the balance
for one of them, she would have turned dove-like in a minute, but
unfortunately, we don't have windows in our breasts, and cannot see
what goes on in the minds of our friends.  Better for us that we cannot
as a general thing, but now and then it would be such a comfort, such a
saving of time and temper.  By her next speech, Jo deprived herself of
several years of pleasure, and received a timely lesson in the art of
holding her tongue.

"I don't like favors, they oppress and make me feel like a slave.  I'd
rather do everything for myself, and be perfectly independent."

"Ahem!" coughed Aunt Carrol softly, with a look at Aunt March.

"I told you so," said Aunt March, with a decided nod to Aunt Carrol.

Mercifully unconscious of what she had done, Jo sat with her nose in
the air, and a revolutionary aspect which was anything but inviting.

"Do you speak French, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, laying a hand on Amy's.

"Pretty well, thanks to Aunt March, who lets Esther talk to me as often
as I like," replied Amy, with a grateful look, which caused the old
lady to smile affably.

"How are you about languages?" asked Mrs. Carrol of Jo.

"Don't know a word.  I'm very stupid about studying anything, can't
bear French, it's such a slippery, silly sort of language," was the
brusque reply.

Another look passed between the ladies, and Aunt March said to Amy,
"You are quite strong and well now, dear, I believe?  Eyes don't
trouble you any more, do they?"

"Not at all, thank you, ma'am.  I'm very well, and mean to do great
things next winter, so that I may be ready for Rome, whenever that
joyful time arrives."

"Good girl!  You deserve to go, and I'm sure you will some day," said
Aunt March, with an approving pat on the head, as Amy picked up her
ball for her.

    Crosspatch, draw the latch,
    Sit by the fire and spin,

squalled Polly, bending down from his perch on the back of her chair to
peep into Jo's face, with such a comical air of impertinent inquiry
that it was impossible to help laughing.

"Most observing bird," said the old lady.

"Come and take a walk, my dear?" cried Polly, hopping toward the china
closet, with a look suggestive of a lump of sugar.

"Thank you, I will.  Come Amy." and Jo brought the visit to an end,
feeling more strongly than ever that calls did have a bad effect upon
her constitution.  She shook hands in a gentlemanly manner, but Amy
kissed both the aunts, and the girls departed, leaving behind them the
impression of shadow and sunshine, which impression caused Aunt March
to say, as they vanished...

"You'd better do it, Mary.  I'll supply the money." and Aunt Carrol to
reply decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and mother consent."



CHAPTER THIRTY

CONSEQUENCES

Mrs. Chester's fair was so very elegant and select that it was
considered a great honor by the young ladies of the neighborhood to be
invited to take a table, and everyone was much interested in the
matter.  Amy was asked, but Jo was not, which was fortunate for all
parties, as her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her
life, and it took a good many hard knocks to teach her how to get on
easily.  The 'haughty, uninteresting creature' was let severely alone,
but Amy's talent and taste were duly complimented by the offer of the
art table, and she exerted herself to prepare and secure appropriate
and valuable contributions to it.

Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fair opened, then
there occurred one of the little skirmishes which it is almost
impossible to avoid, when some five-and-twenty women, old and young,
with all their private piques and prejudices, try to work together.

May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latter was a greater
favorite than herself, and just at this time several trifling
circumstances occurred to increase the feeling.  Amy's dainty
pen-and-ink work entirely eclipsed May's painted vases--that was one
thorn.  Then the all conquering Tudor had danced four times with Amy at
a late party and only once with May--that was thorn number two.  But
the chief grievance that rankled in her soul, and gave an excuse for
her unfriendly conduct, was a rumor which some obliging gossip had
whispered to her, that the March girls had made fun of her at the
Lambs'. All the blame of this should have fallen upon Jo, for her
naughty imitation had been too lifelike to escape detection, and the
frolicsome Lambs had permitted the joke to escape.  No hint of this had
reached the culprits, however, and Amy's dismay can be imagined, when,
the very evening before the fair, as she was putting the last touches
to her pretty table, Mrs. Chester, who, of course, resented the
supposed ridicule of her daughter, said, in a bland tone, but with a
cold look...

"I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the young ladies about
my giving this table to anyone but my girls.  As this is the most
prominent, and some say the most attractive table of all, and they are
the chief getters-up of the fair, it is thought best for them to take
this place.  I'm sorry, but I know you are too sincerely interested in
the cause to mind a little personal disappointment, and you shall have
another table if you like."

Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy to deliver this
little speech, but when the time came, she found it rather difficult to
utter it naturally, with Amy's unsuspicious eyes looking straight at
her full of surprise and trouble.

Amy felt that there was something behind this, but could not guess
what, and said quietly, feeling hurt, and showing that she did,
"Perhaps you had rather I took no table at all?"

"Now, my dear, don't have any ill feeling, I beg.  It's merely a matter
of expediency, you see, my girls will naturally take the lead, and this
table is considered their proper place.  I think it very appropriate to
you, and feel very grateful for your efforts to make it so pretty, but
we must give up our private wishes, of course, and I will see that you
have a good place elsewhere. Wouldn't you like the flower table? The
little girls undertook it, but they are discouraged.  You could make a
charming thing of it, and the flower table is always attractive you
know."

"Especially to gentlemen," added May, with a look which enlightened Amy
as to one cause of her sudden fall from favor.  She colored angrily,
but took no other notice of that girlish sarcasm, and answered with
unexpected amiability...

"It shall be as you please, Mrs. Chester.  I'll give up my place here
at once, and attend to the flowers, if you like."

"You can put your own things on your own table, if you prefer," began
May, feeling a little conscience-stricken, as she looked at the pretty
racks, the painted shells, and quaint illuminations Amy had so
carefully made and so gracefully arranged.  She meant it kindly, but
Amy mistook her meaning, and said quickly...

"Oh, certainly, if they are in your way," and sweeping her
contributions into her apron, pell-mell, she walked off, feeling that
herself and her works of art had been insulted past forgiveness.

"Now she's mad.  Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't asked you to speak,  Mama,"
said May, looking disconsolately at the empty spaces on her table.

"Girls' quarrels are soon over," returned her mother, feeling a trifle
ashamed of her own part in this one, as well she might.

The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight, which
cordial reception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, and she fell
to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could not artistically.
But everything seemed against her.  It was late, and she was tired.
Everyone was too busy with their own affairs to help her, and the
little girls were only hindrances, for the dears fussed and chattered
like so many magpies, making a great deal of confusion in their artless
efforts to preserve the most perfect order.  The evergreen arch
wouldn't stay firm after she got it up, but wiggled and threatened to
tumble down on her head when the hanging baskets were filled.  Her best
tile got a splash of water, which left a sepia tear on the Cupid's
cheek.  She bruised her hands with hammering, and got cold working in a
draft, which last affliction filled her with apprehensions for the
morrow.  Any girl reader who has suffered like afflictions will
sympathize with poor Amy and wish her well through her task.

There was great indignation at home when she told her story that
evening.  Her mother said it was a shame, but told her she had done
right.  Beth declared she wouldn't go to the fair at all, and Jo
demanded why she didn't take all her pretty things and leave those mean
people to get on without her.

"Because they are mean is no reason why I should be.  I hate such
things, and though I think I've a right to be hurt, I don't intend to
show it.  They will feel that more than angry speeches or huffy
actions, won't they, Marmee?"

"That's the right spirit, my dear.  A kiss for a blow is always best,
though it's not very easy to give it sometimes," said her mother, with
the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and
practicing.

In spite of various very natural temptations to resent and retaliate,
Amy adhered to her resolution all the next day, bent on conquering her
enemy by kindness.  She began well, thanks to a silent reminder that
came to her unexpectedly, but most opportunely. As she arranged her
table that morning, while the little girls were in the anteroom filling
the baskets, she took up her pet production, a little book, the antique
cover of which her father had found among his treasures, and in which
on leaves of vellum she had beautifully illuminated different texts.
As she turned the pages rich in dainty devices with very pardonable
pride, her eye fell upon one verse that made her stop and think.
Framed in a brilliant scrollwork of scarlet, blue and gold, with little
spirits of good will helping one another up and down among the thorns
and flowers, were the words, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

"I ought, but I don't," thought Amy, as her eye went from the bright
page to May's discontented face behind the big vases, that could not
hide the vacancies her pretty work had once filled.  Amy stood a
minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each some sweet
rebuke for all heartburnings and uncharitableness of spirit. Many wise
and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious ministers in
street, school, office, or home.  Even a fair table may become a
pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful words which are never out
of season.  Amy's conscience preached her a little sermon from that
text, then and there, and she did what many of us do not always do,
took the sermon to heart, and straightway put it in practice.

A group of girls were standing about May's table, admiring the pretty
things, and talking over the change of saleswomen.  They dropped their
voices, but Amy knew they were speaking of her, hearing one side of the
story and judging accordingly.  It was not pleasant, but a better
spirit had come over her, and presently a chance offered for proving
it.  She heard May say sorrowfully...

"It's too bad, for there is no time to make other things, and I don't
want to fill up with odds and ends.  The table was just complete then.
Now it's spoiled."

"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggested someone.

"How could I after all the fuss?" began May, but she did not finish,
for Amy's voice came across the hall, saying pleasantly...

"You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you want them.  I
was just thinking I'd offer to put them back, for they belong to your
table rather than mine.  Here they are, please take them, and forgive
me if I was hasty in carrying them away last night."

As she spoke, Amy returned her contribution, with a nod and a smile,
and hurried away again, feeling that it was easier to do a friendly
thing than it was to stay and be thanked for it.

"Now, I call that lovely of her, don't you?" cried one girl.

May's answer was inaudible, but another young lady, whose temper was
evidently a little soured by making lemonade, added, with a
disagreeable laugh, "Very lovely, for she knew she wouldn't sell them
at her own table."

Now, that was hard.  When we make little sacrifices we like to have
them appreciated, at least, and for a minute Amy was sorry she had done
it, feeling that virtue was not always its own reward. But it is, as
she presently discovered, for her spirits began to rise, and her table
to blossom under her skillful hands, the girls were very kind, and that
one little act seemed to have cleared the atmosphere amazingly.

It was a very long day and a hard one for Amy, as she sat behind her
table, often quite alone, for the little girls deserted very soon.  Few
cared to buy flowers in summer, and her bouquets began to droop long
before night.

The art table was the most attractive in the room.  There was a crowd
about it all day long, and the tenders were constantly flying to and
fro with important faces and rattling money boxes.  Amy often looked
wistfully across, longing to be there, where she felt at home and
happy, instead of in a corner with nothing to do.  It might seem no
hardship to some of us, but to a pretty, blithe young girl, it was not
only tedious, but very trying, and the thought of Laurie and his
friends made it a real martyrdom.

She did not go home till night, and then she looked so pale and quiet
that they knew the day had been a hard one, though she made no
complaint, and did not even tell what she had done.  Her mother gave
her an extra cordial cup of tea.  Beth helped her dress, and made a
charming little wreath for her hair, while Jo astonished her family by
getting herself up with unusual care, and hinting darkly that the
tables were about to be turned.

"Don't do anything rude, pray Jo; I won't have any fuss made, so let it
all pass and behave yourself," begged Amy, as she departed early,
hoping to find a reinforcement of flowers to refresh her poor little
table.

"I merely intend to make myself entrancingly agreeable to every one I
know, and to keep them in your corner as long as possible. Teddy and
his boys will lend a hand, and we'll have a good time yet." returned
Jo, leaning over the gate to watch for Laurie.  Presently the familiar
tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.

"Is that my boy?"

"As sure as this is my girl!" and Laurie tucked her hand under his arm
with the air of a man whose every wish was gratified.

"Oh, Teddy, such doings!" and Jo told Amy's wrongs with sisterly zeal.

"A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by-and-by, and I'll be
hanged if I don't make them buy every flower she's got, and camp down
before her table afterward," said Laurie, espousing her cause with
warmth.

"The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh ones may not
arrive in time.  I don't wish to be unjust or suspicious, but I
shouldn't wonder if they never came at all.  When people do one mean
thing they are very likely to do another," observed Jo in a disgusted
tone.

"Didn't Hayes give you the best out of our gardens? I told him to."

"I didn't know that, he forgot, I suppose, and, as your grandpa was
poorly, I didn't like to worry him by asking, though I did want some."

"Now, Jo, how could you think there was any need of asking? They are
just as much yours as mine.  Don't we always go halves in everything?"
began Laurie, in the tone that always made Jo turn thorny.

"Gracious, I hope not!  Half of some of your things wouldn't suit me at
all.  But we mustn't stand philandering here.  I've got to help Amy, so
you go and make yourself splendid, and if you'll be so very kind as to
let Hayes take a few nice flowers up to the Hall, I'll bless you
forever."

"Couldn't you do it now?" asked Laurie, so suggestively that Jo shut
the gate in his face with inhospitable haste, and called through the
bars, "Go away, Teddy, I'm busy."

Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night, for
Hayes sent up a wilderness of flowers, with a loverly basket arranged
in his best manner for a centerpiece.  Then the March family turned out
en masse, and Jo exerted herself to some purpose, for people not only
came, but stayed, laughing at her nonsense, admiring Amy's taste, and
apparently enjoying themselves very much.  Laurie and his friends
gallantly threw themselves into the breach, bought up the bouquets,
encamped before the table, and made that corner the liveliest spot in
the room.  Amy was in her element now, and out of gratitude, if nothing
more, was as spritely and gracious as possible, coming to the
conclusion, about that time, that virtue was its own reward, after all.

Jo behaved herself with exemplary propriety, and when Amy was happily
surrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about the Hall, picking
up various bits of gossip, which enlightened her upon the subject of
the Chester change of base.  She reproached herself for her share of
the ill feeling and resolved to exonerate Amy as soon as possible.  She
also discovered what Amy had done about the things in the morning, and
considered her a model of magnanimity.  As she passed the art table,
she glanced over it for her sister's things, but saw no sign of them.
"Tucked away out of sight, I dare say," thought Jo, who could forgive
her own wrongs, but hotly resented any insult offered her family.

"Good evening, Miss Jo.  How does Amy get on?" asked May with a
conciliatory air, for she wanted to show that she also could be
generous.

"She has sold everything she had that was worth selling, and now she is
enjoying herself.  The flower table is always attractive, you know,
'especially to gentlemen'." Jo couldn't resist giving that little slap,
but May took it so meekly she regretted it a minute after, and fell to
praising the great vases, which still remained unsold.

"Is Amy's illumination anywhere about?  I took a fancy to buy that for
Father," said Jo, very anxious to learn the fate of her sister's work.

"Everything of Amy's sold long ago.  I took care that the right people
saw them, and they made a nice little sum of money for us," returned
May, who had overcome sundry small temptations, as well as Amy had,
that day.

Much gratified, Jo rushed back to tell the good news, and Amy looked
both touched and surprised by the report of May's word and manner.

"Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by the other tables
as generously as you have by mine, especially the art table," she said,
ordering out 'Teddy's own', as the girls called the college friends.

"'Charge, Chester, charge!' is the motto for that table, but do your
duty like men, and you'll get your money's worth of art in every sense
of the word," said the irrepressible Jo, as the devoted phalanx
prepared to take the field.

"To hear is to obey, but March is fairer far than May," said little
Parker, making a frantic effort to be both witty and tender, and
getting promptly quenched by Laurie, who said...

"Very well, my son, for a small boy!" and walked him off, with a
paternal pat on the head.

"Buy the vases," whispered Amy to Laurie, as a final heaping of coals
of fire on her enemy's head.

To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases, but
pervaded the hall with one under each arm.  The other gentlemen
speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and
wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers, painted
fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate purchases.

Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, and said
something to Mrs. March in a corner, which made the latter lady beam
with satisfaction, and watch Amy with a face full of mingled pride and
anxiety, though she did not betray the cause of her pleasure till
several days later.

The fair was pronounced a success, and when May bade Amy goodnight, she
did not gush as usual, but gave her an affectionate kiss, and a look
which said 'forgive and forget'.  That satisfied Amy, and when she got
home she found the vases paraded on the parlor chimney piece with a
great bouquet in each.  "The reward of merit for a magnanimous March,"
as Laurie announced with a flourish.

"You've a deal more principle and generosity and nobleness of character
than I ever gave you credit for, Amy.  You've behaved sweetly, and I
respect you with all my heart," said Jo warmly, as they brushed their
hair together late that night.

"Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive.  It must
have been dreadfully hard, after working so long and setting your heart
on selling your own pretty things.  I don't believe I could have done
it as kindly as you did," added Beth from her pillow.

"Why, girls, you needn't praise me so.  I only did as I'd be done by.
You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true
gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know
how.  I can't explain exactly, but I want to be above the little
meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women.  I'm far
from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what Mother is."

Amy spoke earnestly, and Jo said, with a cordial hug, "I understand now
what you mean, and I'll never laugh at you again. You are getting on
faster than you think, and I'll take lessons of you in true politeness,
for you've learned the secret, I believe. Try away, deary, you'll get
your reward some day, and no one will be more delighted than I shall."

A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found it hard to be
delighted.  A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs. March's face was
illuminated to such a degree when she read it that Jo and Beth, who
were with her, demanded what the glad tidings were.

"Aunt Carrol is going abroad next month, and wants..."

"Me to go with her!" burst in Jo, flying out of her chair in an
uncontrollable rapture.

"No, dear, not you.  It's Amy."

"Oh, Mother!  She's too young, it's my turn first.  I've wanted it so
long.  It would do me so much good, and be so altogether splendid.  I
must go!"

"I'm afraid it's impossible, Jo.  Aunt says Amy, decidedly, and it is
not for us to dictate when she offers such a favor."

"It's always so.  Amy has all the fun and I have all the work. It isn't
fair, oh, it isn't fair!" cried Jo passionately.

"I'm afraid it's partly your own fault, dear.  When Aunt spoke to me
the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and too independent
spirit, and here she writes, as if quoting something you had said--'I
planned at first to ask Jo, but as 'favors burden her', and she 'hates
French', I think I won't venture to invite her.  Amy is more docile,
will make a good companion for Flo, and receive gratefully any help the
trip may give her."

"Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue!  Why can't I learn to keep it
quiet?" groaned Jo, remembering words which had been her undoing.  When
she had heard the explanation of the quoted phrases, Mrs. March said
sorrowfully...

"I wish you could have gone, but there is no hope of it this time, so
try to bear it cheerfully, and don't sadden Amy's pleasure by
reproaches or regrets."

"I'll try," said Jo, winking hard as she knelt down to pick up the
basket she had joyfully upset.  "I'll take a leaf out of her book, and
try not only to seem glad, but to be so, and not grudge her one minute
of happiness.  But it won't be easy, for it is a dreadful
disappointment," and poor Jo bedewed the little fat pincushion she held
with several very bitter tears.

"Jo, dear, I'm very selfish, but I couldn't spare you, and I'm glad you
are not going quite yet," whispered Beth, embracing her, basket and
all, with such a clinging touch and loving face that Jo felt comforted
in spite of the sharp regret that made her want to box her own ears,
and humbly beg Aunt Carrol to burden her with this favor, and see how
gratefully she would bear it.

By the time Amy came in, Jo was able to take her part in the family
jubilation, not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps, but without
repinings at Amy's good fortune.  The young lady herself received the
news as tidings of great joy, went about in a solemn sort of rapture,
and began to sort her colors and pack her pencils that evening, leaving
such trifles as clothes, money, and passports to those less absorbed in
visions of art than herself.

"It isn't a mere pleasure trip to me, girls," she said impressively, as
she scraped her best palette.  "It will decide my career, for if I have
any genius, I shall find it out in Rome, and will do something to prove
it."

"Suppose you haven't?" said Jo, sewing away, with red eyes, at the new
collars which were to be handed over to Amy.

"Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living," replied the
aspirant for fame, with philosophic composure. But she made a wry face
at the prospect, and scratched away at her palette as if bent on
vigorous measures before she gave up her hopes.

"No, you won't.  You hate hard work, and you'll marry some rich man,
and come home to sit in the lap of luxury all your days," said Jo.

"Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I don't believe that one
will.  I'm sure I wish it would, for if I can't be an artist myself, I
should like to be able to help those who are," said Amy, smiling, as if
the part of Lady Bountiful would suit her better than that of a poor
drawing teacher.

"Hum!" said Jo, with a sigh.  "If you wish it you'll have it, for your
wishes are always granted--mine never."

"Would you like to go?" asked Amy, thoughtfully patting her nose with
her knife.

"Rather!"

"Well, in a year or two I'll send for you, and we'll dig in the Forum
for relics, and carry out all the plans we've made so many times."

"Thank you.  I'll remind you of your promise when that joyful day
comes, if it ever does," returned Jo, accepting the vague but
magnificent offer as gratefully as she could.

There was not much time for preparation, and the house was in a ferment
till Amy was off.  Jo bore up very well till the last flutter of blue
ribbon vanished, when she retired to her refuge, the garret, and cried
till she couldn't cry any more. Amy likewise bore up stoutly till the
steamer sailed.  Then just as the gangway was about to be withdrawn, it
suddenly came over her that a whole ocean was soon to roll between her
and those who loved her best, and she clung to Laurie, the last
lingerer, saying with a sob...

"Oh, take care of them for me, and if anything should happen..."

"I will, dear, I will, and if anything happens, I'll come and comfort
you," whispered Laurie, little dreaming that he would be called upon to
keep his word.

So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always new and
beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend watched her from
the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle fortunes would befall
the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand to them till they could see
nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling on the sea.



CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

London

Dearest People, Here I really sit at a front window of the Bath Hotel,
Piccadilly.  It's not a fashionable place, but Uncle stopped here years
ago, and won't go anywhere else.  However, we don't mean to stay long,
so it's no great matter.  Oh, I can't begin to tell you how I enjoy it
all!  I never can, so I'll only give you bits out of my notebook, for
I've done nothing but sketch and scribble since I started.

I sent a line from Halifax, when I felt pretty miserable, but after
that I got on delightfully, seldom ill, on deck all day, with plenty of
pleasant people to amuse me.  Everyone was very kind to me, especially
the officers.  Don't laugh, Jo, gentlemen really are very necessary
aboard ship, to hold on to, or to wait upon one, and as they have
nothing to do, it's a mercy to make them useful, otherwise they would
smoke themselves to death, I'm afraid.

Aunt and Flo were poorly all the way, and liked to be let alone, so
when I had done what I could for them, I went and enjoyed myself.  Such
walks on deck, such sunsets, such splendid air and waves!  It was
almost as exciting as riding a fast horse, when we went rushing on so
grandly.  I wish Beth could have come, it would have done her so much
good.  As for Jo, she would have gone up and sat on the maintop jib, or
whatever the high thing is called, made friends with the engineers, and
tooted on the captain's speaking trumpet, she'd have been in such a
state of rapture.

It was all heavenly, but I was glad to see the Irish coast, and found
it very lovely, so green and sunny, with brown cabins here and there,
ruins on some of the hills, and gentlemen's countryseats in the
valleys, with deer feeding in the parks. It was early in the morning,
but I didn't regret getting up to see it, for the bay was full of
little boats, the shore so picturesque, and a rosy sky overhead.  I
never shall forget it.

At Queenstown one of my new acquaintances left us, Mr. Lennox, and when
I said something about the Lakes of Killarney, he sighed, and sung,
with a look at me...

    "Oh, have you e'er heard of Kate Kearney?
    She lives on the banks of Killarney;
    From the glance of her eye,
    Shun danger and fly,
    For fatal's the glance of Kate Kearney."

Wasn't that nonsensical?

We only stopped at Liverpool a few hours.  It's a dirty, noisy place,
and I was glad to leave it.  Uncle rushed out and bought a pair of
dogskin gloves, some ugly, thick shoes, and an umbrella, and got shaved
_à la_ mutton chop, the first thing. Then he flattered himself that he
looked like a true Briton, but the first time he had the mud cleaned
off his shoes, the little bootblack knew that an American stood in
them, and said, with a grin, "There yer har, sir.  I've given 'em the
latest Yankee shine."  It amused Uncle immensely.  Oh, I must tell you
what that absurd Lennox did!  He got his friend Ward, who came on with
us, to order a bouquet for me, and the first thing I saw in my room was
a lovely one, with "Robert Lennox's compliments," on the card.  Wasn't
that fun, girls? I like traveling.

I never shall get to London if I don't hurry.  The trip was like riding
through a long picture gallery, full of lovely landscapes. The
farmhouses were my delight, with thatched roofs, ivy up to the eaves,
latticed windows, and stout women with rosy children at the doors.  The
very cattle looked more tranquil than ours, as they stood knee-deep in
clover, and the hens had a contented cluck, as if they never got
nervous like Yankee biddies.  Such perfect color I never saw, the grass
so green, sky so blue, grain so yellow, woods so dark, I was in a
rapture all the way.  So was Flo, and we kept bouncing from one side to
the other, trying to see everything while we were whisking along at the
rate of sixty miles an hour.  Aunt was tired and went to sleep, but
Uncle read his guidebook, and wouldn't be astonished at anything. This
is the way we went on.  Amy, flying up--"Oh, that must be Kenilworth,
that gray place among the trees!"  Flo, darting to my window--"How
sweet!  We must go there sometime, won't we Papa?" Uncle, calmly
admiring his boots--"No, my dear, not unless you want beer, that's a
brewery."

A pause--then Flo cried out, "Bless me, there's a gallows and a man
going up."  "Where, where?" shrieks Amy, staring out at two tall posts
with a crossbeam and some dangling chains.  "A colliery," remarks
Uncle, with a twinkle of the eye.  "Here's a lovely flock of lambs all
lying down," says Amy.  "See, Papa, aren't they pretty?" added Flo
sentimentally.  "Geese, young ladies," returns Uncle, in a tone that
keeps us quiet till Flo settles down to enjoy the _Flirtations of
Captain Cavendish_, and I have the scenery all to myself.

Of course it rained when we got to London, and there was nothing to be
seen but fog and umbrellas.  We rested, unpacked, and shopped a little
between the showers.  Aunt Mary got me some new things, for I came off
in such a hurry I wasn't half ready. A white hat and blue feather, a
muslin dress to match, and the loveliest mantle you ever saw.  Shopping
in Regent Street is perfectly splendid.  Things seem so cheap, nice
ribbons only sixpence a yard.  I laid in a stock, but shall get my
gloves in Paris.  Doesn't that sound sort of elegant and rich?

Flo and I, for the fun of it, ordered a hansom cab, while Aunt and
Uncle were out, and went for a drive, though we learned afterward that
it wasn't the thing for young ladies to ride in them alone.  It was so
droll!  For when we were shut in by the wooden apron, the man drove so
fast that Flo was frightened, and told me to stop him, but he was up
outside behind somewhere, and I couldn't get at him.  He didn't hear me
call, nor see me flap my parasol in front, and there we were, quite
helpless, rattling away, and whirling around corners at a breakneck
pace. At last, in my despair, I saw a little door in the roof, and on
poking it open, a red eye appeared, and a beery voice said...

"Now, then, mum?"

I gave my order as soberly as I could, and slamming down the door, with
an "Aye, aye, mum," the man made his horse walk, as if going to a
funeral.  I poked again and said, "A little faster," then off he went,
helter-skelter as before, and we resigned ourselves to our fate.

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we are more
aristocratic than we look.  The Duke of Devonshire lives near.  I often
see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and the Duke of Wellington's
house is not far off.  Such sights as I saw, my dear!  It was as good
as Punch, for there were fat dowagers rolling about in their red and
yellow coaches, with gorgeous Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet
coats, up behind, and powdered coachmen in front.  Smart maids, with
the rosiest children I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep,
dandies in queer English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and
tall soldiers, in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side,
looking so funny I longed to sketch them.

Rotten Row means 'Route de Roi', or the king's way, but now it's more
like a riding school than anything else.  The horses are splendid, and
the men, especially the grooms, ride well, but the women are stiff, and
bounce, which isn't according to our rules.  I longed to show them a
tearing American gallop, for they trotted solemnly up and down, in
their scant habits and high hats, looking like the women in a toy
Noah's Ark.  Everyone rides--old men, stout ladies, little
children--and the young folks do a deal of flirting here, I saw a pair
exchange rose buds, for it's the thing to wear one in the button-hole,
and I thought it rather a nice little idea.

In the P.M.  to Westminster Abbey, but don't expect me to describe it,
that's impossible, so I'll only say it was sublime! This evening we are
going to see Fechter, which will be an appropriate end to the happiest
day of my life.

It's very late, but I can't let my letter go in the morning without
telling you what happened last evening.  Who do you think came in, as
we were at tea?  Laurie's English friends, Fred and Frank Vaughn!  I
was so surprised, for I shouldn't have known them but for the cards.
Both are tall fellows with whiskers, Fred handsome in the English
style, and Frank much better, for he only limps slightly, and uses no
crutches.  They had heard from Laurie where we were to be, and came to
ask us to their house, but Uncle won't go, so we shall return the call,
and see them as we can.  They went to the theater with us, and we did
have such a good time, for Frank devoted himself to Flo, and Fred and I
talked over past, present, and future fun as if we had known each other
all our days.  Tell Beth Frank asked for her, and was sorry to hear of
her ill health.  Fred laughed when I spoke of Jo, and sent his
'respectful compliments to the big hat'. Neither of them had forgotten
Camp Laurence, or the fun we had there.  What ages ago it seems,
doesn't it?

Aunt is tapping on the wall for the third time, so I must stop.  I
really feel like a dissipated London fine lady, writing here so late,
with my room full of pretty things, and my head a jumble of parks,
theaters, new gowns, and gallant creatures who say "Ah!" and twirl
their blond mustaches with the true English lordliness.  I long to see
you all, and in spite of my nonsense am, as ever, your loving...

AMY


PARIS

Dear girls,

In my last I told you about our London visit, how kind the Vaughns
were, and what pleasant parties they made for us.  I enjoyed the trips
to Hampton Court and the Kensington Museum more than anything else, for
at Hampton I saw Raphael's cartoons, and at the Museum, rooms full of
pictures by Turner, Lawrence, Reynolds, Hogarth, and the other great
creatures.  The day in Richmond Park was charming, for we had a regular
English picnic, and I had more splendid oaks and groups of deer than I
could copy, also heard a nightingale, and saw larks go up.  We 'did'
London to our heart's content, thanks to Fred and Frank, and were sorry
to go away, for though English people are slow to take you in, when
they once make up their minds to do it they cannot be outdone in
hospitality, I think.  The Vaughns hope to meet us in Rome next winter,
and I shall be dreadfully disappointed if they don't, for Grace and I
are great friends, and the boys very nice fellows, especially Fred.

Well, we were hardly settled here, when he turned up again, saying he
had come for a holiday, and was going to Switzerland. Aunt looked sober
at first, but he was so cool about it she couldn't say a word.  And now
we get on nicely, and are very glad he came, for he speaks French like
a native, and I don't know what we should do without him.  Uncle
doesn't know ten words, and insists on talking English very loud, as if
it would make people understand him.  Aunt's pronunciation is
old-fashioned, and Flo and I, though we flattered ourselves that we
knew a good deal, find we don't, and are very grateful to have Fred do
the '_parley vooing_', as Uncle calls it.

Such delightful times as we are having!  Sight-seeing from morning till
night, stopping for nice lunches in the gay _cafes_, and meeting with
all sorts of droll adventures.  Rainy days I spend in the Louvre,
revelling in pictures.  Jo would turn up her naughty nose at some of
the finest, because she has no soul for art, but I have, and I'm
cultivating eye and taste as fast as I can.  She would like the relics
of great people better, for I've seen her Napoleon's cocked hat and
gray coat, his baby's cradle and his old toothbrush, also Marie
Antoinette's little shoe, the ring of Saint Denis, Charlemagne's sword,
and many other interesting things.  I'll talk for hours about them when
I come, but haven't time to write.

The Palais Royale is a heavenly place, so full of _bijouterie_ and
lovely things that I'm nearly distracted because I can't buy them.
Fred wanted to get me some, but of course I didn't allow it.  Then the
Bois and Champs Elysees are _tres magnifique_. I've seen the imperial
family several times, the emperor an ugly, hard-looking man, the
empress pale and pretty, but dressed in bad taste, I thought--purple
dress, green hat, and yellow gloves. Little Nap is a handsome boy, who
sits chatting to his tutor, and kisses his hand to the people as he
passes in his four-horse barouche, with postilions in red satin jackets
and a mounted guard before and behind.

We often walk in the Tuileries Gardens, for they are lovely, though the
antique Luxembourg Gardens suit me better. Pere la Chaise is very
curious, for many of the tombs are like small rooms, and looking in,
one sees a table, with images or pictures of the dead, and chairs for
the mourners to sit in when they come to lament.  That is so Frenchy.

Our rooms are on the Rue de Rivoli, and sitting on the balcony, we look
up and down the long, brilliant street.  It is so pleasant that we
spend our evenings talking there when too tired with our day's work to
go out.  Fred is very entertaining, and is altogether the most
agreeable young man I ever knew--except Laurie, whose manners are more
charming.  I wish Fred was dark, for I don't fancy light men, however,
the Vaughns are very rich and come of an excellent family, so I won't
find fault with their yellow hair, as my own is yellower.

Next week we are off to Germany and Switzerland, and as we shall travel
fast, I shall only be able to give you hasty letters.  I keep my diary,
and try to 'remember correctly and describe clearly all that I see and
admire', as Father advised. It is good practice for me, and with my
sketchbook will give you a better idea of my tour than these scribbles.

Adieu, I embrace you tenderly. _"Votre Amie."_


HEIDELBERG

My dear Mamma,

Having a quiet hour before we leave for Berne, I'll try to tell you
what has happened, for some of it is very important, as you will see.

The sail up the Rhine was perfect, and I just sat and enjoyed it with
all my might.  Get Father's old guidebooks and read about it.  I
haven't words beautiful enough to describe it. At Coblentz we had a
lovely time, for some students from Bonn, with whom Fred got acquainted
on the boat, gave us a serenade. It was a moonlight night, and about
one o'clock Flo and I were waked by the most delicious music under our
windows.  We flew up, and hid behind the curtains, but sly peeps showed
us Fred and the students singing away down below.  It was the most
romantic thing I ever saw--the river, the bridge of boats, the great
fortress opposite, moonlight everywhere, and music fit to melt a heart
of stone.

When they were done we threw down some flowers, and saw them scramble
for them, kiss their hands to the invisible ladies, and go laughing
away, to smoke and drink beer, I suppose.  Next morning Fred showed me
one of the crumpled flowers in his vest pocket, and looked very
sentimental.  I laughed at him, and said I didn't throw it, but Flo,
which seemed to disgust him, for he tossed it out of the window, and
turned sensible again.  I'm afraid I'm going to have trouble with that
boy, it begins to look like it.

The baths at Nassau were very gay, so was Baden-Baden, where Fred lost
some money, and I scolded him.  He needs someone to look after him when
Frank is not with him.  Kate said once she hoped he'd marry soon, and I
quite agree with her that it would be well for him.  Frankfurt was
delightful.  I saw Goethe's house, Schiller's statue, and Dannecker's
famous 'Ariadne.'  It was very lovely, but I should have enjoyed it
more if I had known the story better.  I didn't like to ask, as
everyone knew it or pretended they did.  I wish Jo would tell me all
about it.  I ought to have read more, for I find I don't know anything,
and it mortifies me.

Now comes the serious part, for it happened here, and Fred has just
gone.  He has been so kind and jolly that we all got quite fond of him.
I never thought of anything but a traveling friendship till the
serenade night.  Since then I've begun to feel that the moonlight
walks, balcony talks, and daily adventures were something more to him
than fun.  I haven't flirted, Mother, truly, but remembered what you
said to me, and have done my very best.  I can't help it if people like
me.  I don't try to make them, and it worries me if I don't care for
them, though Jo says I haven't got any heart.  Now I know Mother will
shake her head, and the girls say, "Oh, the mercenary little wretch!",
but I've made up my mind, and if Fred asks me, I shall accept him,
though I'm not madly in love.  I like him, and we get on comfortably
together.  He is handsome, young, clever enough, and very rich--ever so
much richer than the Laurences.  I don't think his family would object,
and I should be very happy, for they are all kind, well-bred, generous
people, and they like me.  Fred, as the eldest twin, will have the
estate, I suppose, and such a splendid one it is!  A city house in a
fashionable street, not so showy as our big houses, but twice as
comfortable and full of solid luxury, such as English people believe
in.  I like it, for it's genuine.  I've seen the plate, the family
jewels, the old servants, and pictures of the country place, with its
park, great house, lovely grounds, and fine horses.  Oh, it would be
all I should ask!  And I'd rather have it than any title such as girls
snap up so readily, and find nothing behind.  I may be mercenary, but I
hate poverty, and don't mean to bear it a minute longer than I can
help.  One of us _must_ marry well.  Meg didn't, Jo won't, Beth can't
yet, so I shall, and make everything okay all round.  I wouldn't marry
a man I hated or despised.  You may be sure of that, and though Fred is
not my model hero, he does very well, and in time I should get fond
enough of him if he was very fond of me, and let me do just as I liked.
So I've been turning the matter over in my mind the last week, for it
was impossible to help seeing that Fred liked me.  He said nothing, but
little things showed it.  He never goes with Flo, always gets on my
side of the carriage, table, or promenade, looks sentimental when we
are alone, and frowns at anyone else who ventures to speak to me.
Yesterday at dinner, when an Austrian officer stared at us and then
said something to his friend, a rakish-looking baron, about '_ein
wonderschones Blondchen'_, Fred looked as fierce as a lion, and cut his
meat so savagely it nearly flew off his plate.  He isn't one of the
cool, stiff Englishmen, but is rather peppery, for he has Scotch blood
in him, as one might guess from his bonnie blue eyes.

Well, last evening we went up to the castle about sunset, at least all
of us but Fred, who was to meet us there after going to the Post
Restante for letters.  We had a charming time poking about the ruins,
the vaults where the monster tun is, and the beautiful gardens made by
the elector long ago for his English wife.  I liked the great terrace
best, for the view was divine, so while the rest went to see the rooms
inside, I sat there trying to sketch the gray stone lion's head on the
wall, with scarlet woodbine sprays hanging round it.  I felt as if I'd
got into a romance, sitting there, watching the Neckar rolling through
the valley, listening to the music of the Austrian band below, and
waiting for my lover, like a real storybook girl.  I had a feeling that
something was going to happen and I was ready for it.  I didn't feel
blushy or quakey, but quite cool and only a little excited.

By-and-by I heard Fred's voice, and then he came hurrying through the
great arch to find me.  He looked so troubled that I forgot all about
myself, and asked what the matter was.  He said he'd just got a letter
begging him to come home, for Frank was very ill.  So he was going at
once on the night train and only had time to say good-by.  I was very
sorry for him, and disappointed for myself, but only for a minute
because he said, as he shook hands, and said it in a way that I could
not mistake,  "I shall soon come back, you won't forget me, Amy?"

I didn't promise, but I looked at him, and he seemed satisfied, and
there was no time for anything but messages and good-byes, for he was
off in an hour, and we all miss him very much. I know he wanted to
speak, but I think, from something he once hinted, that he had promised
his father not to do anything of the sort yet a while, for he is a rash
boy, and the old gentleman dreads a foreign daughter-in-law.  We shall
soon meet in Rome, and then, if I don't change my mind, I'll say "Yes,
thank you," when he says "Will you, please?"

Of course this is all _very private_, but I wished you to know what was
going on.  Don't be anxious about me, remember I am your 'prudent Amy',
and be sure I will do nothing rashly. Send me as much advice as you
like.  I'll use it if I can.  I wish I could see you for a good talk,
Marmee.  Love and trust me.

Ever your AMY



CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

TENDER TROUBLES

"Jo, I'm anxious about Beth."

"Why, Mother, she has seemed unusually well since the babies came."

"It's not her health that troubles me now, it's her spirits. I'm sure
there is something on her mind, and I want you to discover what it is."

"What makes you think so, Mother?"

"She sits alone a good deal, and doesn't talk to her father as much as
she used.  I found her crying over the babies the other day.  When she
sings, the songs are always sad ones, and now and then I see a look in
her face that I don't understand. This isn't like Beth, and it worries
me."

"Have you asked her about it?"

"I have tried once or twice, but she either evaded my questions or
looked so distressed that I stopped.  I never force my children's
confidence, and I seldom have to wait for long."

Mrs. March glanced at Jo as she spoke, but the face opposite seemed
quite unconscious of any secret disquietude but Beth's, and after
sewing thoughtfully for a minute, Jo said, "I think she is growing up,
and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets,
without knowing why or being able to explain them.  Why, Mother, Beth's
eighteen, but we don't realize it, and treat her like a child,
forgetting she's a woman."

"So she is.  Dear heart, how fast you do grow up," returned her mother
with a sigh and a smile.

"Can't be helped, Marmee, so you must resign yourself to all sorts of
worries, and let your birds hop out of the nest, one by one.  I promise
never to hop very far, if that is any comfort to you."

"It's a great comfort, Jo.  I always feel strong when you are at home,
now Meg is gone.  Beth is too feeble and Amy too young to depend upon,
but when the tug comes, you are always ready."

"Why, you know I don't mind hard jobs much, and there must always be
one scrub in a family.  Amy is splendid in fine works and I'm not, but
I feel in my element when all the carpets are to be taken up, or half
the family fall sick at once. Amy is distinguishing herself abroad, but
if anything is amiss at home, I'm your man."

"I leave Beth to your hands, then, for she will open her tender little
heart to her Jo sooner than to anyone else.  Be very kind, and don't
let her think anyone watches or talks about her.  If she only would get
quite strong and cheerful again, I shouldn't have a wish in the world."

"Happy woman!  I've got heaps."

"My dear, what are they?"

"I'll settle Bethy's troubles, and then I'll tell you mine. They are
not very wearing, so they'll keep." and Jo stitched away, with a wise
nod which set her mother's heart at rest about her for the present at
least.

While apparently absorbed in her own affairs, Jo watched Beth, and
after many conflicting conjectures, finally settled upon one which
seemed to explain the change in her.  A slight incident gave Jo the
clue to the mystery, she thought, and lively fancy, loving heart did
the rest.  She was affecting to write busily one Saturday afternoon,
when she and Beth were alone together.  Yet as she scribbled, she kept
her eye on her sister, who seemed unusually quiet.  Sitting at the
window, Beth's work often dropped into her lap, and she leaned her head
upon her hand, in a dejected attitude, while her eyes rested on the
dull, autumnal landscape.  Suddenly some one passed below, whistling
like an operatic blackbird, and a voice called out, "All serene! Coming
in tonight."

Beth started, leaned forward, smiled and nodded, watched the passer-by
till his quick tramp died away, then said softly as if to herself, "How
strong and well and happy that dear boy looks."

"Hum!" said Jo, still intent upon her sister's face, for the bright
color faded as quickly as it came, the smile vanished, and presently a
tear lay shining on the window ledge.  Beth whisked it off, and in her
half-averted face read a tender sorrow that made her own eyes fill.
Fearing to betray herself, she slipped away, murmuring something about
needing more paper.

"Mercy on me, Beth loves Laurie!" she said, sitting down in her own
room, pale with the shock of the discovery which she believed she had
just made.  "I never dreamed of such a thing. What will Mother say?  I
wonder if her..."  there Jo stopped and turned scarlet with a sudden
thought.  "If he shouldn't love back again, how dreadful it would be.
He must.  I'll make him!" and she shook her head threateningly at the
picture of the mischievous-looking boy laughing at her from the wall.
"Oh dear, we are growing up with a vengeance.  Here's Meg married and a
mamma, Amy flourishing away at Paris, and Beth in love.  I'm the only
one that has sense enough to keep out of mischief." Jo thought intently
for a minute with her eyes fixed on the picture, then she smoothed out
her wrinkled forehead and said, with a decided nod at the face
opposite, "No thank you, sir, you're very charming, but you've no more
stability than a weathercock.  So you needn't write touching notes and
smile in that insinuating way, for it won't do a bit of good, and I
won't have it."

Then she sighed, and fell into a reverie from which she did not wake
till the early twilight sent her down to take new observations, which
only confirmed her suspicion.  Though Laurie flirted with Amy and joked
with Jo, his manner to Beth had always been peculiarly kind and gentle,
but so was everybody's. Therefore, no one thought of imagining that he
cared more for her than for the others.  Indeed, a general impression
had prevailed in the family of late that 'our boy' was getting fonder
than ever of Jo, who, however, wouldn't hear a word upon the subject
and scolded violently if anyone dared to suggest it. If they had known
the various tender passages which had been nipped in the bud, they
would have had the immense satisfaction of saying, "I told you so."
But Jo hated 'philandering', and wouldn't allow it, always having a
joke or a smile ready at the least sign of impending danger.

When Laurie first went to college, he fell in love about once a month,
but these small flames were as brief as ardent, did no damage, and much
amused Jo, who took great interest in the alternations of hope,
despair, and resignation, which were confided to her in their weekly
conferences.  But there came a time when Laurie ceased to worship at
many shrines, hinted darkly at one all-absorbing passion, and indulged
occasionally in Byronic fits of gloom.  Then he avoided the tender
subject altogether, wrote philosophical notes to Jo, turned studious,
and gave out that he was going to 'dig', intending to graduate in a
blaze of glory.  This suited the young lady better than twilight
confidences, tender pressures of the hand, and eloquent glances of the
eye, for with Jo, brain developed earlier than heart, and she preferred
imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former
could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter
were less manageable.

Things were in this state when the grand discovery was made, and Jo
watched Laurie that night as she had never done before.  If she had not
got the new idea into her head, she would have seen nothing unusual in
the fact that Beth was very quiet, and Laurie very kind to her.  But
having given the rein to her lively fancy, it galloped away with her at
a great pace, and common sense, being rather weakened by a long course
of romance writing, did not come to the rescue.  As usual Beth lay on
the sofa and Laurie sat in a low chair close by, amusing her with all
sorts of gossip, for she depended on her weekly 'spin', and he never
disappointed her.  But that evening Jo fancied that Beth's eyes rested
on the lively, dark face beside her with peculiar pleasure, and that
she listened with intense interest to an account of some exciting
cricket match, though the phrases, 'caught off a tice', 'stumped off
his ground', and 'the leg hit for three', were as intelligible to her
as Sanskrit.  She also fancied, having set her heart upon seeing it,
that she saw a certain increase of gentleness in Laurie's manner, that
he dropped his voice now and then, laughed less than usual, was a
little absent-minded, and settled the afghan over Beth's feet with an
assiduity that was really almost tender.

"Who knows?  Stranger things have happened," thought Jo, as she fussed
about the room.  "She will make quite an angel of him, and he will make
life delightfully easy and pleasant for the dear, if they only love
each other.  I don't see how he can help it, and I do believe he would
if the rest of us were out of the way."

As everyone was out of the way but herself, Jo began to feel that she
ought to dispose of herself with all speed.  But where should she go?
And burning to lay herself upon the shrine of sisterly devotion, she
sat down to settle that point.

Now, the old sofa was a regular patriarch of a sofa--long, broad,
well-cushioned, and low, a trifle shabby, as well it might be, for the
girls had slept and sprawled on it as babies, fished over the back,
rode on the arms, and had menageries under it as children, and rested
tired heads, dreamed dreams, and listened to tender talk on it as young
women.  They all loved it, for it was a family refuge, and one corner
had always been Jo's favorite lounging place.  Among the many pillows
that adorned the venerable couch was one, hard, round, covered with
prickly horsehair, and furnished with a knobby button at each end.
This repulsive pillow was her especial property, being used as a weapon
of defense, a barricade, or a stern preventive of too much slumber.

Laurie knew this pillow well, and had cause to regard it with deep
aversion, having been unmercifully pummeled with it in former days when
romping was allowed, and now frequently debarred by it from the seat he
most coveted next to Jo in the sofa corner.  If 'the sausage' as they
called it, stood on end, it was a sign that he might approach and
repose, but if it lay flat across the sofa, woe to man, woman, or child
who dared disturb it!  That evening Jo forgot to barricade her corner,
and had not been in her seat five minutes, before a massive form
appeared beside her, and with both arms spread over the sofa back, both
long legs stretched out before him, Laurie exclaimed, with a sigh of
satisfaction...

"Now, this is filling at the price."

"No slang," snapped Jo, slamming down the pillow.  But it was too late,
there was no room for it, and coasting onto the floor, it disappeared
in a most mysterious manner.

"Come, Jo, don't be thorny.  After studying himself to a skeleton all
the week, a fellow deserves petting and ought to get it."

"Beth will pet you.  I'm busy."

"No, she's not to be bothered with me, but you like that sort of thing,
unless you've suddenly lost your taste for it.  Have you? Do you hate
your boy, and want to fire pillows at him?"

Anything more wheedlesome than that touching appeal was seldom heard,
but Jo quenched 'her boy' by turning on him with a stern query, "How
many bouquets have you sent Miss Randal this week?"

"Not one, upon my word.  She's engaged.  Now then."

"I'm glad of it, that's one of your foolish extravagances, sending
flowers and things to girls for whom you don't care two pins,"
continued Jo reprovingly.

"Sensible girls for whom I do care whole papers of pins won't let me
send them 'flowers and things', so what can I do? My feelings need a
'vent'."

"Mother doesn't approve of flirting even in fun, and you do flirt
desperately, Teddy."

"I'd give anything if I could answer, 'So do you'.  As I can't, I'll
merely say that I don't see any harm in that pleasant little game, if
all parties understand that it's only play."

"Well, it does look pleasant, but I can't learn how it's done. I've
tried, because one feels awkward in company not to do as everybody else
is doing, but I don't seem to get on", said Jo, forgetting to play
mentor.

"Take lessons of Amy, she has a regular talent for it."

"Yes, she does it very prettily, and never seems to go too far.  I
suppose it's natural to some people to please without trying, and
others to always say and do the wrong thing in the wrong place."

"I'm glad you can't flirt.  It's really refreshing to see a sensible,
straightforward girl, who can be jolly and kind without making a fool
of herself.  Between ourselves, Jo, some of the girls I know really do
go on at such a rate I'm ashamed of them. They don't mean any harm, I'm
sure, but if they knew how we fellows talked about them afterward,
they'd mend their ways, I fancy."

"They do the same, and as their tongues are the sharpest, you fellows
get the worst of it, for you are as silly as they, every bit.  If you
behaved properly, they would, but knowing you like their nonsense, they
keep it up, and then you blame them."

"Much you know about it, ma'am," said Laurie in a superior tone. "We
don't like romps and flirts, though we may act as if we did sometimes.
The pretty, modest girls are never talked about, except respectfully,
among gentleman. Bless your innocent soul!  If you could be in my place
for a month you'd see things that would astonish you a trifle. Upon my
word, when I see one of those harum-scarum girls, I always want to say
with our friend Cock Robin...

    "Out upon you, fie upon you,
     Bold-faced jig!"

It was impossible to help laughing at the funny conflict between
Laurie's chivalrous reluctance to speak ill of womankind, and his very
natural dislike of the unfeminine folly of which fashionable society
showed him many samples.  Jo knew that 'young Laurence' was regarded as
a most eligible parti by worldly mamas, was much smiled upon by their
daughters, and flattered enough by ladies of all ages to make a coxcomb
of him, so she watched him rather jealously, fearing he would be
spoiled, and rejoiced more than she confessed to find that he still
believed in modest girls.  Returning suddenly to her admonitory tone,
she said, dropping her voice, "If you must have a 'vent', Teddy, go and
devote yourself to one of the 'pretty, modest girls' whom you do
respect, and not waste your time with the silly ones."

"You really advise it?" and Laurie looked at her with an odd mixture of
anxiety and merriment in his face.

"Yes, I do, but you'd better wait till you are through college, on the
whole, and be fitting yourself for the place meantime.  You're not half
good enough for--well, whoever the modest girl may be." and Jo looked a
little queer likewise, for a name had almost escaped her.

"That I'm not!" acquiesced Laurie, with an expression of humility quite
new to him, as he dropped his eyes and absently wound Jo's apron tassel
round his finger.

"Mercy on us, this will never do," thought Jo, adding aloud, "Go and
sing to me.  I'm dying for some music, and always like yours."

"I'd rather stay here, thank you."

"Well, you can't, there isn't room.  Go and make yourself useful, since
you are too big to be ornamental.  I thought you hated to be tied to a
woman's apron string?" retorted Jo, quoting certain rebellious words of
his own.

"Ah, that depends on who wears the apron!" and Laurie gave an audacious
tweak at the tassel.

"Are you going?" demanded Jo, diving for the pillow.

He fled at once, and the minute it was well, "Up with the bonnets of
bonnie Dundee," she slipped away to return no more till the young
gentleman departed in high dudgeon.

Jo lay long awake that night, and was just dropping off when the sound
of a stifled sob made her fly to Beth's bedside, with the anxious
inquiry, "What is it, dear?"

"I thought you were asleep," sobbed Beth.

"Is it the old pain, my precious?"

"No, it's a new one, but I can bear it," and Beth tried to check her
tears.

"Tell me all about it, and let me cure it as I often did the other."

"You can't, there is no cure."  There Beth's voice gave way, and
clinging to her sister, she cried so despairingly that Jo was
frightened.

"Where is it?  Shall I call Mother?"

"No, no, don't call her, don't tell her.  I shall be better soon.  Lie
down here and 'poor' my head.  I'll be quiet and go to sleep, indeed I
will."

Jo obeyed, but as her hand went softly to and fro across Beth's hot
forehead and wet eyelids, her heart was very full and she longed to
speak.  But young as she was, Jo had learned that hearts, like flowers,
cannot be rudely handled, but must open naturally, so though she
believed she knew the cause of Beth's new pain, she only said, in her
tenderest tone, "Does anything trouble you, deary?"

"Yes, Jo," after a long pause.

"Wouldn't it comfort you to tell me what it is?"

"Not now, not yet."

"Then I won't ask, but remember, Bethy, that Mother and Jo are always
glad to hear and help you, if they can."

"I know it.  I'll tell you by-and-by."

"Is the pain better now?"

"Oh, yes, much better, you are so comfortable, Jo."

"Go to sleep, dear.  I'll stay with you."

So cheek to cheek they fell asleep, and on the morrow Beth seemed quite
herself again, for at eighteen neither heads nor hearts ache long, and
a loving word can medicine most ills.

But Jo had made up her mind, and after pondering over a project for
some days, she confided it to her mother.

"You asked me the other day what my wishes were.  I'll tell you one of
them, Marmee," she began, as they sat along together.  "I want to go
away somewhere this winter for a change."

"Why, Jo?" and her mother looked up quickly, as if the words suggested
a double meaning.

With her eyes on her work Jo answered soberly, "I want something new.
I feel restless and anxious to be seeing, doing, and learning more than
I am.  I brood too much over my own small affairs, and need stirring
up, so as I can be spared this winter, I'd like to hop a little way and
try my wings."

"Where will you hop?"

"To New York.  I had a bright idea yesterday, and this is it.  You know
Mrs. Kirke wrote to you for some respectable young person to teach her
children and sew.  It's rather hard to find just the thing, but I think
I should suit if I tried."

"My dear, go out to service in that great boarding house!" and Mrs.
March looked surprised, but not displeased.

"It's not exactly going out to service, for Mrs. Kirke is your
friend--the kindest soul that ever lived--and would make things
pleasant for me, I know.  Her family is separate from the rest, and no
one knows me there.  Don't care if they do. It's honest work, and I'm
not ashamed of it."

"Nor I.  But your writing?"

"All the better for the change.  I shall see and hear new things, get
new ideas, and even if I haven't much time there, I shall bring home
quantities of material for my rubbish."

"I have no doubt of it, but are these your only reasons for this sudden
fancy?"

"No, Mother."

"May I know the others?"

Jo looked up and Jo looked down, then said slowly, with sudden color in
her cheeks.  "It may be vain and wrong to say it, but--I'm
afraid--Laurie is getting too fond of me."

"Then you don't care for him in the way it is evident he begins to care
for you?" and Mrs. March looked anxious as she put the question.

"Mercy, no!  I love the dear boy, as I always have, and am immensely
proud of him, but as for anything more, it's out of the question."

"I'm glad of that, Jo."

"Why, please?"

"Because, dear, I don't think you suited to one another.  As friends
you are very happy, and your frequent quarrels soon blow over, but I
fear you would both rebel if you were mated for life. You are too much
alike and too fond of freedom, not to mention hot tempers and strong
wills, to get on happily together, in a relation which needs infinite
patience and forbearance, as well as love."

"That's just the feeling I had, though I couldn't express it. I'm glad
you think he is only beginning to care for me.  It would trouble me
sadly to make him unhappy, for I couldn't fall in love with the dear
old fellow merely out of gratitude, could I?"

"You are sure of his feeling for you?"

The color deepened in Jo's cheeks as she answered, with the look of
mingled pleasure, pride, and pain which young girls wear when speaking
of first lovers, "I'm afraid it is so, Mother.  He hasn't said
anything, but he looks a great deal. I think I had better go away
before it comes to anything."

"I agree with you, and if it can be managed you shall go."

Jo looked relieved, and after a pause, said, smiling, "How Mrs. Moffat
would wonder at your want of management, if she knew, and how she will
rejoice that Annie may still hope."

"Ah, Jo, mothers may differ in their management, but the hope is the
same in all--the desire to see their children happy. Meg is so, and I
am content with her success.  You I leave to enjoy your liberty till
you tire of it, for only then will you find that there is something
sweeter.  Amy is my chief care now, but her good sense will help her.
For Beth, I indulge no hopes except that she may be well.  By the way,
she seems brighter this last day or two.  Have you spoken to her?'

"Yes, she owned she had a trouble, and promised to tell me by-and-by.
I said no more, for I think I know it," and Jo told her little story.

Mrs. March shook her head, and did not take so romantic a view of the
case, but looked grave, and repeated her opinion that for Laurie's sake
Jo should go away for a time.

"Let us say nothing about it to him till the plan is settled, then I'll
run away before he can collect his wits and be tragic. Beth must think
I'm going to please myself, as I am, for I can't talk about Laurie to
her.  But she can pet and comfort him after I'm gone, and so cure him
of this romantic notion.  He's been through so many little trials of
the sort, he's used to it, and will soon get over his lovelornity."

Jo spoke hopefully, but could not rid herself of the foreboding fear
that this 'little trial' would be harder than the others, and that
Laurie would not get over his 'lovelornity' as easily as heretofore.

The plan was talked over in a family council and agreed upon, for Mrs.
Kirke gladly accepted Jo, and promised to make a pleasant home for her.
The teaching would render her independent, and such leisure as she got
might be made profitable by writing, while the new scenes and society
would be both useful and agreeable.  Jo liked the prospect and was
eager to be gone, for the home nest was growing too narrow for her
restless nature and adventurous spirit.  When all was settled, with
fear and trembling she told Laurie, but to her surprise he took it very
quietly.  He had been graver than usual of late, but very pleasant, and
when jokingly accused of turning over a new leaf, he answered soberly,
"So I am, and I mean this one shall stay turned."

Jo was very much relieved that one of his virtuous fits should come on
just then, and made her preparations with a lightened heart, for Beth
seemed more cheerful, and hoped she was doing the best for all.

"One thing I leave in your especial care," she said, the night before
she left.

"You mean your papers?" asked Beth.

"No, my boy.  Be very good to him, won't you?"

"Of course I will, but I can't fill your place, and he'll miss you
sadly."

"It won't hurt him, so remember, I leave him in your charge, to plague,
pet, and keep in order."

"I'll do my best, for your sake," promised Beth, wondering why Jo
looked at her so queerly.

When Laurie said good-by, he whispered significantly, "It won't do a
bit of good, Jo.  My eye is on you, so mind what you do, or I'll come
and bring you home."



CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

JO'S JOURNAL

New York, November

Dear Marmee and Beth,

I'm going to write you a regular volume, for I've got heaps to tell,
though I'm not a fine young lady traveling on the continent. When I
lost sight of Father's dear old face, I felt a trifle blue, and might
have shed a briny drop or two, if an Irish lady with four small
children, all crying more or less, hadn't diverted my mind, for I
amused myself by dropping gingerbread nuts over the seat every time
they opened their mouths to roar.

Soon the sun came out, and taking it as a good omen, I cleared up
likewise and enjoyed my journey with all my heart.

Mrs. Kirke welcomed me so kindly I felt at home at once, even in that
big house full of strangers.  She gave me a funny little sky
parlor--all she had, but there is a stove in it, and a nice table in a
sunny window, so I can sit here and write whenever I like.  A fine view
and a church tower opposite atone for the many stairs, and I took a
fancy to my den on the spot. The nursery, where I am to teach and sew,
is a pleasant room next Mrs. Kirke's private parlor, and the two little
girls are pretty children, rather spoiled, I fancy, but they took to me
after telling them The Seven Bad Pigs, and I've no doubt I shall make a
model governess.

I am to have my meals with the children, if I prefer it to the great
table, and for the present I do, for I am bashful, though no one will
believe it.

"Now, my dear, make yourself at home," said Mrs. K.  in her motherly
way, "I'm on the drive from morning to night, as you may suppose with
such a family, but a great anxiety will be off my mind if I know the
children are safe with you.  My rooms are always open to you, and your
own shall be as comfortable as I can make it.  There are some pleasant
people in the house if you feel sociable, and your evenings are always
free.  Come to me if anything goes wrong, and be as happy as you can.
There's the tea bell, I must run and change my cap."  And off she
bustled, leaving me to settle myself in my new nest.

As I went downstairs soon after, I saw something I liked. The flights
are very long in this tall house, and as I stood waiting at the head of
the third one for a little servant girl to lumber up, I saw a gentleman
come along behind her, take the heavy hod of coal out of her hand,
carry it all the way up, put it down at a door near by, and walk away,
saying, with a kind nod and a foreign accent, "It goes better so.  The
little back is too young to haf such heaviness."

Wasn't it good of him?  I like such things, for as Father says, trifles
show character.  When I mentioned it to Mrs. K., that evening, she
laughed, and said, "That must have been Professor Bhaer, he's always
doing things of that sort."

Mrs. K.  told me he was from Berlin, very learned and good, but poor as
a church mouse, and gives lessons to support himself and two little
orphan nephews whom he is educating here, according to the wishes of
his sister, who married an American.  Not a very romantic story, but it
interested me, and I was glad to hear that Mrs. K.  lends him her
parlor for some of his scholars. There is a glass door between it and
the nursery, and I mean to peep at him, and then I'll tell you how he
looks.  He's almost forty, so it's no harm, Marmee.

After tea and a go-to-bed romp with the little girls, I attacked the
big workbasket, and had a quiet evening chatting with my new friend.  I
shall keep a journal-letter, and send it once a week, so goodnight, and
more tomorrow.

Tuesday Eve

Had a lively time in my seminary this morning, for the children acted
like Sancho, and at one time I really thought I should shake them all
round.  Some good angel inspired me to try gymnastics, and I kept it up
till they were glad to sit down and keep still.  After luncheon, the
girl took them out for a walk, and I went to my needlework like little
Mabel 'with a willing mind'.  I was thanking my stars that I'd learned
to make nice buttonholes, when the parlor door opened and shut, and
someone began to hum, Kennst Du Das Land, like a big bumblebee. It was
dreadfully improper, I know, but I couldn't resist the temptation, and
lifting one end of the curtain before the glass door, I peeped in.
Professor Bhaer was there, and while he arranged his books, I took a
good look at him.  A regular German--rather stout, with brown hair
tumbled all over his head, a bushy beard, good nose, the kindest eyes I
ever saw, and a splendid big voice that does one's ears good, after our
sharp or slipshod American gabble.  His clothes were rusty, his hands
were large, and he hadn't a really handsome feature in his face, except
his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for he had a fine head, his linen
was very nice, and he looked like a gentleman, though two buttons were
off his coat and there was a patch on one shoe.  He looked sober in
spite of his humming, till he went to the window to turn the hyacinth
bulbs toward the sun, and stroke the cat, who received him like an old
friend.  Then he smiled, and when a tap came at the door, called out in
a loud, brisk tone, "Herein!"

I was just going to run, when I caught sight of a morsel of a child
carrying a big book, and stopped, to see what was going on.

"Me wants me Bhaer," said the mite, slamming down her book and running
to meet him.

"Thou shalt haf thy Bhaer.  Come, then, and take a goot hug from him,
my Tina," said the Professor, catching her up with a laugh, and holding
her so high over his head that she had to stoop her little face to kiss
him.

"Now me mus tuddy my lessin," went on the funny little thing.  So he
put her up at the table, opened the great dictionary she had brought,
and gave her a paper and pencil, and she scribbled away, turning a leaf
now and then, and passing her little fat finger down the page, as if
finding a word, so soberly that I nearly betrayed myself by a laugh,
while Mr. Bhaer stood stroking her pretty hair with a fatherly look
that made me think she must be his own, though she looked more French
than German.

Another knock and the appearance of two young ladies sent me back to my
work, and there I virtuously remained through all the noise and
gabbling that went on next door.  One of the girls kept laughing
affectedly, and saying, "Now Professor," in a coquettish tone, and the
other pronounced her German with an accent that must have made it hard
for him to keep sober.

Both seemed to try his patience sorely, for more than once I heard him
say emphatically, "No, no, it is not so, you haf not attend to what I
say," and once there was a loud rap, as if he struck the table with his
book, followed by the despairing exclamation, "Prut!  It all goes bad
this day."

Poor man, I pitied him, and when the girls were gone, took just one
more peep to see if he survived it.  He seemed to have thrown himself
back in his chair, tired out, and sat there with his eyes shut till the
clock struck two, when he jumped up, put his books in his pocket, as if
ready for another lesson, and taking little Tina who had fallen asleep
on the sofa in his arms, he carried her quietly away.  I fancy he has a
hard life of it.  Mrs. Kirke asked me if I wouldn't go down to the five
o'clock dinner, and feeling a little bit homesick, I thought I would,
just to see what sort of people are under the same roof with me.  So I
made myself respectable and tried to slip in behind Mrs. Kirke, but as
she is short and I'm tall, my efforts at concealment were rather a
failure.  She gave me a seat by her, and after my face cooled off, I
plucked up courage and looked about me.  The long table was full, and
every one intent on getting their dinner, the gentlemen especially, who
seemed to be eating on time, for they bolted in every sense of the
word, vanishing as soon as they were done.  There was the usual
assortment of young men absorbed in themselves, young couples absorbed
in each other, married ladies in their babies, and old gentlemen in
politics.  I don't think I shall care to have much to do with any of
them, except one sweetfaced maiden lady, who looks as if she had
something in her.

Cast away at the very bottom of the table was the Professor, shouting
answers to the questions of a very inquisitive, deaf old gentleman on
one side, and talking philosophy with a Frenchman on the other.  If Amy
had been here, she'd have turned her back on him forever because, sad
to relate, he had a great appetite, and shoveled in his dinner in a
manner which would have horrified 'her ladyship'.  I didn't mind, for I
like 'to see folks eat with a relish', as Hannah says, and the poor man
must have needed a deal of food after teaching idiots all day.

As I went upstairs after dinner, two of the young men were settling
their hats before the hall mirror, and I heard one say low to the
other, "Who's the new party?"

"Governess, or something of that sort."

"What the deuce is she at our table for?"

"Friend of the old lady's."

"Handsome head, but no style."

"Not a bit of it.  Give us a light and come on."

I felt angry at first, and then I didn't care, for a governess is as
good as a clerk, and I've got sense, if I haven't style, which is more
than some people have, judging from the remarks of the elegant beings
who clattered away, smoking like bad chimneys.  I hate ordinary people!


Thursday

Yesterday was a quiet day spent in teaching, sewing, and writing in my
little room, which is very cozy, with a light and fire.  I picked up a
few bits of news and was introduced to the Professor.  It seems that
Tina is the child of the Frenchwoman who does the fine ironing in the
laundry here.  The little thing has lost her heart to Mr. Bhaer, and
follows him about the house like a dog whenever he is at home, which
delights him, as he is very fond of children, though a 'bacheldore'.
Kitty and Minnie Kirke likewise regard him with affection, and tell all
sorts of stories about the plays he invents, the presents he brings,
and the splendid tales he tells.  The younger men quiz him, it seems,
call him Old Fritz, Lager Beer, Ursa Major, and make all manner of
jokes on his name.  But he enjoys it like a boy, Mrs. Kirke says, and
takes it so good-naturedly that they all like him in spite of his
foreign ways.

The maiden lady is a Miss Norton, rich, cultivated, and kind.  She
spoke to me at dinner today (for I went to table again, it's such fun
to watch people), and asked me to come and see her at her room.  She
has fine books and pictures, knows interesting persons, and seems
friendly, so I shall make myself agreeable, for I do want to get into
good society, only it isn't the same sort that Amy likes.

I was in our parlor last evening when Mr. Bhaer came in with some
newspapers for Mrs. Kirke.  She wasn't there, but Minnie, who is a
little old woman, introduced me very prettily. "This is Mamma's friend,
Miss March."

"Yes, and she's jolly and we like her lots," added Kitty, who is an
'enfant terrible'.

We both bowed, and then we laughed, for the prim introduction and the
blunt addition were rather a comical contrast.

"Ah, yes, I hear these naughty ones go to vex you, Mees Marsch.  If so
again, call at me and I come," he said, with a threatening frown that
delighted the little wretches.

I promised I would, and he departed, but it seems as if I was doomed to
see a good deal of him, for today as I passed his door on my way out,
by accident I knocked against it with my umbrella.  It flew open, and
there he stood in his dressing gown, with a big blue sock on one hand
and a darning needle in the other.  He didn't seem at all ashamed of
it, for when I explained and hurried on, he waved his hand, sock and
all, saying in his loud, cheerful way...

"You haf a fine day to make your walk.  Bon voyage, Mademoiselle."

I laughed all the way downstairs, but it was a little pathetic, also to
think of the poor man having to mend his own clothes. The German
gentlemen embroider, I know, but darning hose is another thing and not
so pretty.


Saturday

Nothing has happened to write about, except a call on Miss Norton, who
has a room full of pretty things, and who was very charming, for she
showed me all her treasures, and asked me if I would sometimes go with
her to lectures and concerts, as her escort, if I enjoyed them.  She
put it as a favor, but I'm sure Mrs. Kirke has told her about us, and
she does it out of kindness to me.  I'm as proud as Lucifer, but such
favors from such people don't burden me, and I accepted gratefully.

When I got back to the nursery there was such an uproar in the parlor
that I looked in, and there was Mr. Bhaer down on his hands and knees,
with Tina on his back, Kitty leading him with a jump rope, and Minnie
feeding two small boys with seedcakes, as they roared and ramped in
cages built of chairs.

"We are playing nargerie," explained Kitty.

"Dis is mine effalunt!" added Tina, holding on by the Professor's hair.

"Mamma always allows us to do what we like Saturday afternoon, when
Franz and Emil come, doesn't she, Mr. Bhaer?" said Minnie.

The 'effalunt' sat up, looking as much in earnest as any of them, and
said soberly to me, "I gif you my wort it is so, if we make too large a
noise you shall say Hush! to us, and we go more softly."

I promised to do so, but left the door open and enjoyed the fun as much
as they did, for a more glorious frolic I never witnessed.  They played
tag and soldiers, danced and sang, and when it began to grow dark they
all piled onto the sofa about the Professor, while he told charming
fairy stories of the storks on the chimney tops, and the little
'koblods', who ride the snowflakes as they fall.  I wish Americans were
as simple and natural as Germans, don't you?

I'm so fond of writing, I should go spinning on forever if motives of
economy didn't stop me, for though I've used thin paper and written
fine, I tremble to think of the stamps this long letter will need.
Pray forward Amy's as soon as you can spare them.  My small news will
sound very flat after her splendors, but you will like them, I know.
Is Teddy studying so hard that he can't find time to write to his
friends?  Take good care of him for me, Beth, and tell me all about the
babies, and give heaps of love to everyone.  From your faithful Jo.

P.S.  On reading over my letter, it strikes me as rather Bhaery, but I
am always interested in odd people, and I really had nothing else to
write about.  Bless you!

DECEMBER

My Precious Betsey,

As this is to be a scribble-scrabble letter, I direct it to you, for it
may amuse you, and give you some idea of my goings on, for though
quiet, they are rather amusing, for which, oh, be joyful!  After what
Amy would call Herculaneum efforts, in the way of mental and moral
agriculture, my young ideas begin to shoot and my little twigs to bend
as I could wish.  They are not so interesting to me as Tina and the
boys, but I do my duty by them, and they are fond of me.  Franz and
Emil are jolly little lads, quite after my own heart, for the mixture
of German and American spirit in them produces a constant state of
effervescence.  Saturday afternoons are riotous times, whether spent in
the house or out, for on pleasant days they all go to walk, like a
seminary, with the Professor and myself to keep order, and then such
fun!

We are very good friends now, and I've begun to take lessons.  I really
couldn't help it, and it all came about in such a droll way that I must
tell you.  To begin at the beginning, Mrs. Kirke called to me one day
as I passed Mr. Bhaer's room where she was rummaging.

"Did you ever see such a den, my dear?  Just come and help me put these
books to rights, for I've turned everything upside down, trying to
discover what he has done with the six new handkerchiefs I gave him not
long ago."

I went in, and while we worked I looked about me, for it was 'a den' to
be sure.  Books and papers everywhere, a broken meerschaum, and an old
flute over the mantlepiece as if done with, a ragged bird without any
tail chirped on one window seat, and a box of white mice adorned the
other.  Half-finished boats and bits of string lay among the
manuscripts.  Dirty little boots stood drying before the fire, and
traces of the dearly beloved boys, for whom he makes a slave of
himself, were to be seen all over the room.  After a grand rummage
three of the missing articles were found, one over the bird cage, one
covered with ink, and a third burned brown, having been used as a
holder.

"Such a man!" laughed good-natured Mrs. K., as she put the relics in
the rag bay.  "I suppose the others are torn up to rig ships, bandage
cut fingers, or make kite tails.  It's dreadful, but I can't scold him.
He's so absent-minded and goodnatured, he lets those boys ride over him
roughshod.  I agreed to do his washing and mending, but he forgets to
give out his things and I forget to look them over, so he comes to a
sad pass sometimes."

"Let me mend them," said I.  "I don't mind it, and he needn't know.
I'd like to, he's so kind to me about bringing my letters and lending
books."

So I have got his things in order, and knit heels into two pairs of the
socks, for they were boggled out of shape with his queer darns.
Nothing was said, and I hoped he wouldn't find it out, but one day last
week he caught me at it.  Hearing the lessons he gives to others has
interested and amused me so much that I took a fancy to learn, for Tina
runs in and out, leaving the door open, and I can hear.  I had been
sitting near this door, finishing off the last sock, and trying to
understand what he said to a new scholar, who is as stupid as I am.
The girl had gone, and I thought he had also, it was so still, and I
was busily gabbling over a verb, and rocking to and fro in a most
absurd way, when a little crow made me look up, and there was Mr. Bhaer
looking and laughing quietly, while he made signs to Tina not to betray
him.

"So!" he said, as I stopped and stared like a goose, "you peep at me, I
peep at you, and this is not bad, but see, I am not pleasanting when I
say, haf you a wish for German?"

"Yes, but you are too busy.  I am too stupid to learn," I blundered
out, as red as a peony.

"Prut!  We will make the time, and we fail not to find the sense.  At
efening I shall gif a little lesson with much gladness, for look you,
Mees Marsch, I haf this debt to pay."  And he pointed to my work 'Yes,'
they say to one another, these so kind ladies, 'he is a stupid old
fellow, he will see not what we do, he will never observe that his sock
heels go not in holes any more, he will think his buttons grow out new
when they fall, and believe that strings make theirselves.' "Ah!  But I
haf an eye, and I see much.  I haf a heart, and I feel thanks for this.
Come, a little lesson then and now, or--no more good fairy works for me
and mine."

Of course I couldn't say anything after that, and as it really is a
splendid opportunity, I made the bargain, and we began.  I took four
lessons, and then I stuck fast in a grammatical bog.  The Professor was
very patient with me, but it must have been torment to him, and now and
then he'd look at me with such an expression of mild despair that it
was a toss-up with me whether to laugh or cry.  I tried both ways, and
when it came to a sniff or utter mortification and woe, he just threw
the grammar on to the floor and marched out of the room. I felt myself
disgraced and deserted forever, but didn't blame him a particle, and
was scrambling my papers together, meaning to rush upstairs and shake
myself hard, when in he came, as brisk and beaming as if I'd covered
myself in glory.

"Now we shall try a new way.  You and I will read these pleasant little
_marchen_ together, and dig no more in that dry book, that goes in the
corner for making us trouble."

He spoke so kindly, and opened Hans Andersons's fairy tales so
invitingly before me, that I was more ashamed than ever, and went at my
lesson in a neck-or-nothing style that seemed to amuse him immensely.
I forgot my bashfulness, and pegged away (no other word will express
it) with all my might, tumbling over long words, pronouncing according
to inspiration of the minute, and doing my very best.  When I finished
reading my first page, and stopped for breath, he clapped his hands and
cried out in his hearty way, "Das ist gut! Now we go well!  My turn.  I
do him in German, gif me your ear."  And away he went, rumbling out the
words with his strong voice and a relish which was good to see as well
as hear.  Fortunately the story was _The Constant Tin Soldier_, which
is droll, you know, so I could laugh, and I did, though I didn't
understand half he read, for I couldn't help it, he was so earnest, I
so excited, and the whole thing so comical.

After that we got on better, and now I read my lessons pretty well, for
this way of studying suits me, and I can see that the grammar gets
tucked into the tales and poetry as one gives pills in jelly.  I like
it very much, and he doesn't seem tired of it yet, which is very good
of him, isn't it?  I mean to give him something on Christmas, for I
dare not offer money. Tell me something nice, Marmee.

I'm glad Laurie seems so happy and busy, that he has given up smoking
and lets his hair grow.  You see Beth manages him better than I did.
I'm not jealous, dear, do your best, only don't make a saint of him.
I'm afraid I couldn't like him without a spice of human naughtiness.
Read him bits of my letters.  I haven't time to write much, and that
will do just as well.  Thank Heaven Beth continues so comfortable.

JANUARY

A Happy New Year to you all, my dearest family, which of course
includes Mr. L.  and a young man by the name of Teddy. I can't tell you
how much I enjoyed your Christmas bundle, for I didn't get it till
night and had given up hoping.  Your letter came in the morning, but
you said nothing about a parcel, meaning it for a surprise, so I was
disappointed, for I'd had a 'kind of feeling' that you wouldn't forget
me. I felt a little low in my mind as I sat up in my room after tea,
and when the big, muddy, battered-looking bundle was brought to me, I
just hugged it and pranced.  It was so homey and refreshing that I sat
down on the floor and read and looked and ate and laughed and cried, in
my usual absurd way.  The things were just what I wanted, and all the
better for being made instead of bought.  Beth's new 'ink bib' was
capital, and Hannah's box of hard gingerbread will be a treasure.  I'll
be sure and wear the nice flannels you sent, Marmee, and read carefully
the books Father has marked.  Thank you all, heaps and heaps!

Speaking of books reminds me that I'm getting rich in that line, for on
New Year's Day Mr. Bhaer gave me a fine Shakespeare. It is one he
values much, and I've often admired it, set up in the place of honor
with his German Bible, Plato, Homer, and Milton, so you may imagine how
I felt when he brought it down, without its cover, and showed me my own
name in it, "from my friend Friedrich Bhaer".

"You say often you wish a library.  Here I gif you one, for between
these lids (he meant covers) is many books in one.  Read him well, and
he will help you much, for the study of character in this book will
help you to read it in the world and paint it with your pen."

I thanked him as well as I could, and talk now about 'my library', as
if I had a hundred books.  I never knew how much there was in
Shakespeare before, but then I never had a Bhaer to explain it to me.
Now don't laugh at his horrid name.  It isn't pronounced either Bear or
Beer, as people will say it, but something between the two, as only
Germans can give it. I'm glad you both like what I tell you about him,
and hope you will know him some day.  Mother would admire his warm
heart, Father his wise head.  I admire both, and feel rich in my new
'friend Friedrich Bhaer'.

Not having much money, or knowing what he'd like, I got several little
things, and put them about the room, where he would find them
unexpectedly.  They were useful, pretty, or funny, a new standish on
his table, a little vase for his flower, he always has one, or a bit of
green in a glass, to keep him fresh, he says, and a holder for his
blower, so that he needn't burn up what Amy calls 'mouchoirs'.  I made
it like those Beth invented, a big butterfly with a fat body, and black
and yellow wings, worsted feelers, and bead eyes. It took his fancy
immensely, and he put it on his mantlepiece as an article of virtue, so
it was rather a failure after all. Poor as he is, he didn't forget a
servant or a child in the house, and not a soul here, from the French
laundrywoman to Miss Norton forgot him.  I was so glad of that.

They got up a masquerade, and had a gay time New Year's Eve.  I didn't
mean to go down, having no dress.  But at the last minute, Mrs. Kirke
remembered some old brocades, and Miss Norton lent me lace and
feathers.  So I dressed up as Mrs. Malaprop, and sailed in with a mask
on.  No one knew me, for I disguised my voice, and no one dreamed of
the silent, haughty Miss March (for they think I am very stiff and
cool, most of them, and so I am to whippersnappers) could dance and
dress, and burst out into a 'nice derangement of epitaphs, like an
allegory on the banks of the Nile'.  I enjoyed it very much, and when
we unmasked it was fun to see them stare at me.  I heard one of the
young men tell another that he knew I'd been an actress, in fact, he
thought he remembered seeing me at one of the minor theaters.  Meg will
relish that joke.  Mr. Bhaer was Nick Bottom, and Tina was Titania, a
perfect little fairy in his arms.  To see them dance was 'quite a
landscape', to use a Teddyism.

I had a very happy New Year, after all, and when I thought it over in
my room, I felt as if I was getting on a little in spite of my many
failures, for I'm cheerful all the time now, work with a will, and take
more interest in other people than I used to, which is satisfactory.
Bless you all!  Ever your loving...  Jo



CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

FRIEND

Though very happy in the social atmosphere about her, and very busy
with the daily work that earned her bread and made it sweeter for the
effort, Jo still found time for literary labors.  The purpose which now
took possession of her was a natural one to a poor and ambitious girl,
but the means she took to gain her end were not the best.  She saw that
money conferred power, money and power, therefore, she resolved to
have, not to be used for herself alone, but for those whom she loved
more than life.  The dream of filling home with comforts, giving Beth
everything she wanted, from strawberries in winter to an organ in her
bedroom, going abroad herself, and always having more than enough, so
that she might indulge in the luxury of charity, had been for years
Jo's most cherished castle in the air.

The prize-story experience had seemed to open a way which might, after
long traveling and much uphill work, lead to this delightful chateau en
Espagne.  But the novel disaster quenched her courage for a time, for
public opinion is a giant which has frightened stouter-hearted Jacks on
bigger beanstalks than hers. Like that immortal hero, she reposed
awhile after the first attempt, which resulted in a tumble and the
least lovely of the giant's treasures, if I remember rightly.  But the
'up again and take another' spirit was as strong in Jo as in Jack, so
she scrambled up on the shady side this time and got more booty, but
nearly left behind her what was far more precious than the moneybags.

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even
all-perfect America read rubbish.  She told no one, but concocted a
'thrilling tale', and boldly carried it herself to Mr. Dashwood, editor
of the Weekly Volcano.  She had never read Sartor Resartus, but she had
a womanly instinct that clothes possess an influence more powerful over
many than the worth of character or the magic of manners.  So she
dressed herself in her best, and trying to persuade herself that she
was neither excited nor nervous, bravely climbed two pairs of dark and
dirty stairs to find herself in a disorderly room, a cloud of cigar
smoke, and the presence of three gentlemen, sitting with their heels
rather higher than their hats, which articles of dress none of them
took the trouble to remove on her appearance.  Somewhat daunted by this
reception, Jo hesitated on the threshold, murmuring in much
embarrassment...

"Excuse me, I was looking for the Weekly Volcano office. I wished to
see Mr. Dashwood."

Down went the highest pair of heels, up rose the smokiest gentleman,
and carefully cherishing his cigar between his fingers, he advanced
with a nod and a countenance expressive of nothing but sleep.  Feeling
that she must get through the matter somehow, Jo produced her
manuscript and, blushing redder and redder with each sentence,
blundered out fragments of the little speech carefully prepared for the
occasion.

"A friend of mine desired me to offer--a story--just as an
experiment--would like your opinion--be glad to write more if this
suits."

While she blushed and blundered, Mr. Dashwood had taken the manuscript,
and was turning over the leaves with a pair of rather dirty fingers,
and casting critical glances up and down the neat pages.

"Not a first attempt, I take it?" observing that the pages were
numbered, covered only on one side, and not tied up with a ribbon--sure
sign of a novice.

"No, sir.  She has had some experience, and got a prize for a tale in
the _Blarneystone Banner_."

"Oh, did she?" and Mr. Dashwood gave Jo a quick look, which seemed to
take note of everything she had on, from the bow in her bonnet to the
buttons on her boots.  "Well, you can leave it, if you like.  We've
more of this sort of thing on hand than we know what to do with at
present, but I'll run my eye over it, and give you an answer next week."

Now, Jo did _not_ like to leave it, for Mr. Dashwood didn't suit her at
all, but, under the circumstances, there was nothing for her to do but
bow and walk away, looking particularly tall and dignified, as she was
apt to do when nettled or abashed. Just then she was both, for it was
perfectly evident from the knowing glances exchanged among the
gentlemen that her little fiction of 'my friend' was considered a good
joke, and a laugh, produced by some inaudible remark of the editor, as
he closed the door, completed her discomfiture.  Half resolving never
to return, she went home, and worked off her irritation by stitching
pinafores vigorously, and in an hour or two was cool enough to laugh
over the scene and long for next week.

When she went again, Mr. Dashwood was alone, whereat she rejoiced.  Mr.
Dashwood was much wider awake than before, which was agreeable, and Mr.
Dashwood was not too deeply absorbed in a cigar to remember his
manners, so the second interview was much more comfortable than the
first.

"We'll take this (editors never say I), if you don't object to a few
alterations.  It's too long, but omitting the passages I've marked will
make it just the right length," he said, in a businesslike tone.

Jo hardly knew her own MS.  again, so crumpled and underscored were its
pages and paragraphs, but feeling as a tender parent might on being
asked to cut off her baby's legs in order that it might fit into a new
cradle, she looked at the marked passages and was surprised to find
that all the moral reflections--which she had carefully put in as
ballast for much romance--had been stricken out.

"But, Sir, I thought every story should have some sort of a moral, so I
took care to have a few of my sinners repent."

Mr. Dashwoods's editorial gravity relaxed into a smile, for Jo had
forgotten her 'friend', and spoken as only an author could.

"People want to be amused, not preached at, you know.  Morals don't
sell nowadays."  Which was not quite a correct statement, by the way.

"You think it would do with these alterations, then?"

"Yes, it's a new plot, and pretty well worked up--language good, and so
on," was Mr. Dashwood's affable reply.

"What do you--that is, what compensation--" began Jo, not exactly
knowing how to express herself.

"Oh, yes, well, we give from twenty-five to thirty for things of this
sort.  Pay when it comes out," returned Mr. Dashwood, as if that point
had escaped him.  Such trifles do escape the editorial mind, it is said.

"Very well, you can have it," said Jo, handing back the story with a
satisfied air, for after the dollar-a-column work, even twenty-five
seemed good pay.

"Shall I tell my friend you will take another if she has one better
than this?" asked Jo, unconscious of her little slip of the tongue, and
emboldened by her success.

"Well, we'll look at it.  Can't promise to take it.  Tell her to make
it short and spicy, and never mind the moral.  What name would your
friend like to put on it?" in a careless tone.

"None at all, if you please, she doesn't wish her name to appear and
has no nom de plume," said Jo, blushing in spite of herself.

"Just as she likes, of course.  The tale will be out next week. Will
you call for the money, or shall I send it?" asked Mr. Dashwood, who
felt a natural desire to know who his new contributor might be.

"I'll call.  Good morning, Sir."

As she departed, Mr. Dashwood put up his feet, with the graceful
remark, "Poor and proud, as usual, but she'll do."

Following Mr. Dashwood's directions, and making Mrs. Northbury her
model, Jo rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational
literature, but thanks to the life preserver thrown her by a friend,
she came up again not much the worse for her ducking.

Like most young scribblers, she went abroad for her characters and
scenery, and banditti, counts, gypsies, nuns, and duchesses appeared
upon her stage, and played their parts with as much accuracy and spirit
as could be expected.  Her readers were not particular about such
trifles as grammar, punctuation, and probability, and Mr. Dashwood
graciously permitted her to fill his columns at the lowest prices, not
thinking it necessary to tell her that the real cause of his
hospitality was the fact that one of his hacks, on being offered higher
wages, had basely left him in the lurch.

She soon became interested in her work, for her emaciated purse grew
stout, and the little hoard she was making to take Beth to the
mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as the weeks passed.  One
thing disturbed her satisfaction, and that was that she did not tell
them at home.  She had a feeling that Father and Mother would not
approve, and preferred to have her own way first, and beg pardon
afterward.  It was easy to keep her secret, for no name appeared with
her stories.  Mr. Dashwood had of course found it out very soon, but
promised to be dumb, and for a wonder kept his word.

She thought it would do her no harm, for she sincerely meant to write
nothing of which she would be ashamed, and quieted all pricks of
conscience by anticipations of the happy minute when she should show
her earnings and laugh over her well-kept secret.

But Mr. Dashwood rejected any but thrilling tales, and as thrills could
not be produced except by harrowing up the souls of the readers,
history and romance, land and sea, science and art, police records and
lunatic asylums, had to be ransacked for the purpose.  Jo soon found
that her innocent experience had given her but few glimpses of the
tragic world which underlies society, so regarding it in a business
light, she set about supplying her deficiencies with characteristic
energy. Eager to find material for stories, and bent on making them
original in plot, if not masterly in execution, she searched newspapers
for accidents, incidents, and crimes.  She excited the suspicions of
public librarians by asking for works on poisons.  She studied faces in
the street, and characters, good, bad, and indifferent, all about her.
She delved in the dust of ancient times for facts or fictions so old
that they were as good as new, and introduced herself to folly, sin,
and misery, as well as her limited opportunities allowed.  She thought
she was prospering finely, but unconsciously she was beginning to
desecrate some of the womanliest attributes of a woman's character.
She was living in bad society, and imaginary though it was, its
influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy on
dangerous and unsubstantial food, and was fast brushing the innocent
bloom from her nature by a premature acquaintance with the darker side
of life, which comes soon enough to all of us.

She was beginning to feel rather than see this, for much describing of
other people's passions and feelings set her to studying and
speculating about her own, a morbid amusement in which healthy young
minds do not voluntarily indulge. Wrongdoing always brings its own
punishment, and when Jo most needed hers, she got it.

I don't know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read
character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest,
brave, and strong, but while endowing her imaginary heroes with every
perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who
interested her in spite of many human imperfections.  Mr. Bhaer, in one
of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true, and
lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for a
writer.  Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and
studied him--a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had he
known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own conceit.

Why everybody liked him was what puzzled Jo, at first.  He was neither
rich nor great, young nor handsome, in no respect what is called
fascinating, imposing, or brilliant, and yet he was as attractive as a
genial fire, and people seemed to gather about him as naturally as
about a warm hearth.  He was poor, yet always appeared to be giving
something away; a stranger, yet everyone was his friend; no longer
young, but as happy-hearted as a boy; plain and peculiar, yet his face
looked beautiful to many, and his oddities were freely forgiven for his
sake.  Jo often watched him, trying to discover the charm, and at last
decided that it was benevolence which worked the miracle.  If he had
any sorrow, 'it sat with its head under its wing', and he turned only
his sunny side to the world.  There were lines upon his forehead, but
Time seemed to have touched him gently, remembering how kind he was to
others.  The pleasant curves about his mouth were the memorials of many
friendly words and cheery laughs, his eyes were never cold or hard, and
his big hand had a warm, strong grasp that was more expressive than
words.

His very clothes seemed to partake of the hospitable nature of the
wearer.  They looked as if they were at ease, and liked to make him
comfortable.  His capacious waistcoat was suggestive of a large heart
underneath.  His rusty coat had a social air, and the baggy pockets
plainly proved that little hands often went in empty and came out full.
His very boots were benevolent, and his collars never stiff and raspy
like other people's.

"That's it!" said Jo to herself, when she at length discovered that
genuine good will toward one's fellow men could beautify and dignify
even a stout German teacher, who shoveled in his dinner, darned his own
socks, and was burdened with the name of Bhaer.

Jo valued goodness highly, but she also possessed a most feminine
respect for intellect, and a little discovery which she made about the
Professor added much to her regard for him. He never spoke of himself,
and no one ever knew that in his native city he had been a man much
honored and esteemed for learning and integrity, till a countryman came
to see him. He never spoke of himself, and in a conversation with Miss
Norton divulged the pleasing fact.  From her Jo learned it, and liked
it all the better because Mr. Bhaer had never told it.  She felt proud
to know that he was an honored Professor in Berlin, though only a poor
language-master in America, and his homely, hard-working life was much
beautified by the spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Another and a better gift than intellect was shown her in a most
unexpected manner.  Miss Norton had the entree into most society, which
Jo would have had no chance of seeing but for her.  The solitary woman
felt an interest in the ambitious girl, and kindly conferred many
favors of this sort both on Jo and the Professor.  She took them with
her one night to a select symposium, held in honor of several
celebrities.

Jo went prepared to bow down and adore the mighty ones whom she had
worshiped with youthful enthusiasm afar off.  But her reverence for
genius received a severe shock that night, and it took her some time to
recover from the discovery that the great creatures were only men and
women after all.  Imagine her dismay, on stealing a glance of timid
admiration at the poet whose lines suggested an ethereal being fed on
'spirit, fire, and dew', to behold him devouring his supper with an
ardor which flushed his intellectual countenance.  Turning as from a
fallen idol, she made other discoveries which rapidly dispelled her
romantic illusions.  The great novelist vibrated between two decanters
with the regularity of a pendulum; the famous divine flirted openly
with one of the Madame de Staels of the age, who looked daggers at
another Corinne, who was amiably satirizing her, after outmaneuvering
her in efforts to absorb the profound philosopher, who imbibed tea
Johnsonianly and appeared to slumber, the loquacity of the lady
rendering speech impossible.  The scientific celebrities, forgetting
their mollusks and glacial periods, gossiped about art, while devoting
themselves to oysters and ices with characteristic energy; the young
musician, who was charming the city like a second Orpheus, talked
horses; and the specimen of the British nobility present happened to be
the most ordinary man of the party.

Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely disillusioned,
that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr. Bhaer soon joined
her, looking rather out of his element, and presently several of the
philosophers, each mounted on his hobby, came ambling up to hold an
intellectual tournament in the recess.  The conversations were miles
beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel
were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms,
and the only thing 'evolved from her inner consciousness' was a bad
headache after it was all over.  It dawned upon her gradually that the
world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new and,
according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before,
that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and
intellect was to be the only God.  Jo knew nothing about philosophy or
metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable,
half painful, came over her as she listened with a sense of being
turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a
holiday.

She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and found him
looking at her with the grimmest expression she had ever seen him wear.
He shook his head and beckoned her to come away, but she was fascinated
just then by the freedom of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat,
trying to find out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after
they had annihilated all the old beliefs.

Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his own opinions,
not because they were unsettled, but too sincere and earnest to be
lightly spoken.  As he glanced from Jo to several other young people,
attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit
his brows and longed to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul
would be led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over
that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.

He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed to for an
opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and defended religion
with all the eloquence of truth--an eloquence which made his broken
English musical and his plain face beautiful.  He had a hard fight, for
the wise men argued well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and
stood to his colors like a man.  Somehow, as he talked, the world got
right again to Jo.  The old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed
better than the new.  God was not a blind force, and immortality was
not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact.  She felt as if she had solid
ground under her feet again, and when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but
not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

She did neither, but she remembered the scene, and gave the Professor
her heartiest respect, for she knew it cost him an effort to speak out
then and there, because his conscience would not let him be silent.
She began to see that character is a better possession than money,
rank, intellect, or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a
wise man has defined it to be, 'truth, reverence, and good will', then
her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.

This belief strengthened daily.  She valued his esteem, she coveted his
respect, she wanted to be worthy of his friendship, and just when the
wish was sincerest, she came near to losing everything.  It all grew
out of a cocked hat, for one evening the Professor came in to give Jo
her lesson with a paper soldier cap on his head, which Tina had put
there and he had forgotten to take off.

"It's evident he doesn't look in his glass before coming down," thought
Jo, with a smile, as he said "Goot efening," and sat soberly down,
quite unconscious of the ludicrous contrast between his subject and his
headgear, for he was going to read her the Death of Wallenstein.

She said nothing at first, for she liked to hear him laugh out his big,
hearty laugh when anything funny happened, so she left him to discover
it for himself, and presently forgot all about it, for to hear a German
read Schiller is rather an absorbing occupation.  After the reading
came the lesson, which was a lively one, for Jo was in a gay mood that
night, and the cocked hat kept her eyes dancing with merriment.  The
Professor didn't know what to make of her, and stopped at last to ask
with an air of mild surprise that was irresistible. . .

"Mees Marsch, for what do you laugh in your master's face? Haf you no
respect for me, that you go on so bad?"

"How can I be respectful, Sir, when you forget to take your hat off?"
said Jo.

Lifting his hand to his head, the absent-minded Professor gravely felt
and removed the little cocked hat, looked at it a minute, and then
threw back his head and laughed like a merry bass viol.

"Ah!  I see him now, it is that imp Tina who makes me a fool with my
cap.  Well, it is nothing, but see you, if this lesson goes not well,
you too shall wear him."

But the lesson did not go at all for a few minutes because Mr. Bhaer
caught sight of a picture on the hat, and unfolding it, said with great
disgust, "I wish these papers did not come in the house.  They are not
for children to see,  nor young people to read. It is not well, and I
haf no patience with those who make this harm."

Jo glanced at the sheet and saw a pleasing illustration composed of a
lunatic, a corpse, a villain, and a viper.  She did not like it, but
the impulse that made her turn it over was not one of displeasure but
fear, because for a minute she fancied the paper was the Volcano.  It
was not, however, and her panic subsided as she remembered that even if
it had been and one of her own tales in it, there would have been no
name to betray her.  She had betrayed herself, however, by a look and a
blush, for though an absent man, the Professor saw a good deal more
than people fancied.  He knew that Jo wrote, and had met her down among
the newspaper offices more than once, but as she never spoke of it, he
asked no questions in spite of a strong desire to see her work.  Now it
occurred to him that she was doing what she was ashamed to own, and it
troubled him.  He did not say to himself, "It is none of my business.
I've no right to say anything," as many people would have done.  He
only remembered that she was young and poor, a girl far away from
mother's love and father's care, and he was moved to help her with an
impulse as quick and natural as that which would prompt him to put out
his hand to save a baby from a puddle.  All this flashed through his
mind in a minute, but not a trace of it appeared in his face, and by
the time the paper was turned, and Jo's needle threaded, he was ready
to say quite naturally, but very gravely...

"Yes, you are right to put it from you.  I do not think that good young
girls should see such things.  They are made pleasant to some, but I
would more rather give my boys gunpowder to play with than this bad
trash."

"All may not be bad, only silly, you know, and if there is a demand for
it, I don't see any harm in supplying it. Many very respectable people
make an honest living out of what are called sensation stories," said
Jo, scratching gathers so energetically that a row of little slits
followed her pin.

"There is a demand for whisky, but I think you and I do not care to
sell it.  If the respectable people knew what harm they did, they would
not feel that the living was honest.  They haf no right to put poison
in the sugarplum, and let the small ones eat it.  No, they should think
a little, and sweep mud in the street before they do this thing."

Mr. Bhaer spoke warmly, and walked to the fire, crumpling the paper in
his hands.  Jo sat still, looking as if the fire had come to her, for
her cheeks burned long after the cocked hat had turned to smoke and
gone harmlessly up the chimney.

"I should like much to send all the rest after him," muttered the
Professor, coming back with a relieved air.

Jo thought what a blaze her pile of papers upstairs would make, and her
hard-earned money lay rather heavily on her conscience at that minute.
Then she thought consolingly to herself, "Mine are not like that, they
are only silly, never bad, so I won't be worried," and taking up her
book, she said, with a studious face, "Shall we go on, Sir? I'll be
very good and proper now."

"I shall hope so," was all he said, but he meant more than she
imagined, and the grave, kind look he gave her made her feel as if the
words Weekly Volcano were printed in large type on her forehead.

As soon as she went to her room, she got out her papers, and carefully
reread every one of her stories.  Being a little shortsighted, Mr.
Bhaer sometimes used eye glasses, and Jo had tried them once, smiling
to see how they magnified the fine print of her book.  Now she seemed
to have on the Professor's mental or moral spectacles also, for the
faults of these poor stories glared at her dreadfully and filled her
with dismay.

"They are trash, and will soon be worse trash if I go on, for each is
more sensational than the last.  I've gone blindly on, hurting myself
and other people, for the sake of money.  I know it's so, for I can't
read this stuff in sober earnest without being horribly ashamed of it,
and what should I do if they were seen at home or Mr. Bhaer got hold of
them?"

Jo turned hot at the bare idea, and stuffed the whole bundle into her
stove, nearly setting the chimney afire with the blaze.

"Yes, that's the best place for such inflammable nonsense. I'd better
burn the house down, I suppose, than let other people blow themselves
up with my gunpowder," she thought as she watched the Demon of the Jura
whisk away, a little black cinder with fiery eyes.

But when nothing remained of all her three month's work except a heap
of ashes and the money in her lap, Jo looked sober, as she sat on the
floor, wondering what she ought to do about her wages.

"I think I haven't done much harm yet, and may keep this to pay for my
time," she said, after a long meditation, adding impatiently, "I almost
wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so inconvenient.  If I didn't care
about doing right, and didn't feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I
should get on capitally. I can't help wishing sometimes, that Mother
and Father hadn't been so particular about such things."

Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that 'Father and Mother were
particular', and pity from your heart those who have no such guardians
to hedge them round with principles which may seem like prison walls to
impatient youth, but which will prove sure foundations to build
character upon in womanhood.

Jo wrote no more sensational stories, deciding that the money did not
pay for her share of the sensation, but going to the other extreme, as
is the way with people of her stamp, she took a course of Mrs.
Sherwood, Miss Edgeworth, and Hannah More, and then produced a tale
which might have been more properly called an essay or a sermon, so
intensely moral was it.  She had her doubts about it from the
beginning, for her lively fancy and girlish romance felt as ill at ease
in the new style as she would have done masquerading in the stiff and
cumbrous costume of the last century.  She sent this didactic gem to
several markets, but it found no purchaser, and she was inclined to
agree with Mr. Dashwood that morals didn't sell.

Then she tried a child's story, which she could easily have disposed of
if she had not been mercenary enough to demand filthy lucre for it.
The only person who offered enough to make it worth her while to try
juvenile literature was a worthy gentleman who felt it his mission to
convert all the world to his particular belief.  But much as she liked
to write for children, Jo could not consent to depict all her naughty
boys as being eaten by bears or tossed by mad bulls because they did
not go to a particular Sabbath school, nor all the good infants who did
go as rewarded by every kind of bliss, from gilded gingerbread to
escorts of angels when they departed this life with psalms or sermons
on their lisping tongues.  So nothing came of these trials, and Jo
corked up her inkstand, and said in a fit of very wholesome humility...

"I don't know anything.  I'll wait until I do before I try again, and
meantime, 'sweep mud in the street' if I can't do better, that's
honest, at least."  Which decision proved that her second tumble down
the beanstalk had done her some good.

While these internal revolutions were going on, her external life had
been as busy and uneventful as usual, and if she sometimes looked
serious or a little sad no one observed it but Professor Bhaer.  He did
it so quietly that Jo never knew he was watching to see if she would
accept and profit by his reproof, but she stood the test, and he was
satisfied, for though no words passed between them, he knew that she
had given up writing.  Not only did he guess it by the fact that the
second finger of her right hand was no longer inky, but she spent her
evenings downstairs now, was met no more among newspaper offices, and
studied with a dogged patience, which assured him that she was bent on
occupying her mind with something useful, if not pleasant.

He helped her in many ways, proving himself a true friend, and Jo was
happy, for while her pen lay idle, she was learning other lessons
besides German, and laying a foundation for the sensation story of her
own life.

It was a pleasant winter and a long one, for she did not leave Mrs.
Kirke till June.  Everyone seemed sorry when the time came.  The
children were inconsolable, and Mr. Bhaer's hair stuck straight up all
over his head, for he always rumpled it wildly when disturbed in mind.

"Going home?  Ah, you are happy that you haf a home to go in," he said,
when she told him, and sat silently pulling his beard in the corner,
while she held a little levee on that last evening.

She was going early, so she bade them all goodbye overnight, and when
his turn came, she said warmly, "Now, Sir, you won't forget to come and
see us, if you ever travel our way, will you? I'll never forgive you if
you do, for I want them all to know my friend."

"Do you?  Shall I come?" he asked, looking down at her with an eager
expression which she did not see.

"Yes, come next month.  Laurie graduates then, and you'd enjoy
commencement as something new."

"That is your best friend, of whom you speak?" he said in an altered
tone.

"Yes, my boy Teddy.  I'm very proud of him and should like you to see
him."

Jo looked up then, quite unconscious of anything but her own pleasure
in the prospect of showing them to one another. Something in Mr.
Bhaer's face suddenly recalled the fact that she might find Laurie more
than a 'best friend', and simply because she particularly wished not to
look as if anything was the matter, she involuntarily began to blush,
and the more she tried not to, the redder she grew.  If it had not been
for Tina on her knee.  She didn't know what would have become of her.
Fortunately the child was moved to hug her, so she managed to hide her
face an instant, hoping the Professor did not see it. But he did, and
his own changed again from that momentary anxiety to its usual
expression, as he said cordially...

"I fear I shall not make the time for that, but I wish the friend much
success, and you all happiness.  Gott bless you!"  And with that, he
shook hands warmly, shouldered Tina, and went away.

But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire with the
tired look on his face and the 'heimweh', or homesickness, lying heavy
at his heart.  Once, when he remembered Jo as she sat with the little
child in her lap and that new softness in her face, he leaned his head
on his hands a minute, and then roamed about the room, as if in search
of something that he could not find.

"It is not for me, I must not hope it now," he said to himself, with a
sigh that was almost a groan.  Then, as if reproaching himself for the
longing that he could not repress, he went and kissed the two tousled
heads upon the pillow, took down his seldom-used meerschaum, and opened
his Plato.

He did his best and did it manfully, but I don't think he found that a
pair of rampant boys, a pipe, or even the divine Plato, were very
satisfactory substitutes for wife and child at home.

Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and
thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory
of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her
company, and best of all, the happy thought, "Well, the winter's gone,
and I've written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend
worth having and I'll try to keep him all my life."



CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

HEARTACHE

Whatever his motive might have been, Laurie studied to some purpose
that year, for he graduated with honor, and gave the Latin oration with
the grace of a Phillips and the eloquence of a Demosthenes, so his
friends said.  They were all there, his grandfather--oh, so proud--Mr.
and Mrs. March, John and Meg, Jo and Beth, and all exulted over him
with the sincere admiration which boys make light of at the time, but
fail to win from the world by any after-triumphs.

"I've got to stay for this confounded supper, but I shall be home early
tomorrow.  You'll come and meet me as usual, girls?" Laurie said, as he
put the sisters into the carriage after the joys of the day were over.
He said 'girls', but he meant Jo, for she was the only one who kept up
the old custom. She had not the heart to refuse her splendid,
successful boy anything, and answered warmly...

"I'll come, Teddy, rain or shine, and march before you, playing 'Hail
the conquering hero comes' on a jew's-harp."

Laurie thanked her with a look that made her think in a sudden panic,
"Oh, deary me!  I know he'll say something, and then what shall I do?"

Evening meditation and morning work somewhat allayed her fears, and
having decided that she wouldn't be vain enough to think people were
going to propose when she had given them every reason to know what her
answer would be, she set forth at the appointed time, hoping Teddy
wouldn't do anything to make her hurt his poor feelings.  A call at
Meg's, and a refreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn, still
further fortified her for the tete-a-tete, but when she saw a stalwart
figure looming in the distance, she had a strong desire to turn about
and run away.

"Where's the jew's-harp, Jo?" cried Laurie, as soon as he was within
speaking distance.

"I forgot it." And Jo took heart again, for that salutation could not
be called lover-like.

She always used to take his arm on these occasions, now she did not,
and he made no complaint, which was a bad sign, but talked on rapidly
about all sorts of faraway subjects, till they turned from the road
into the little path that led homeward through the grove.  Then he
walked more slowly, suddenly lost his fine flow of language, and now
and then a dreadful pause occurred.  To rescue the conversation from
one of the wells of silence into which it kept falling, Jo said
hastily, "Now you must have a good long holiday!"

"I intend to."

Something in his resolute tone made Jo look up quickly to find him
looking down at her with an expression that assured her the dreaded
moment had come, and made her put out her hand with an imploring, "No,
Teddy.  Please don't!"

"I will, and you must hear me.  It's no use, Jo, we've got to have it
out, and the sooner the better for both of us," he answered, getting
flushed and excited all at once.

"Say what you like then.  I'll listen," said Jo, with a desperate sort
of patience.

Laurie was a young lover, but he was in earnest, and meant to 'have it
out', if he died in the attempt, so he plunged into the subject with
characteristic impetuousity, saying in a voice that would get choky now
and then, in spite of manful efforts to keep it steady...

"I've loved you ever since I've known you, Jo, couldn't help it, you've
been so good to me.  I've tried to show it, but you wouldn't let me.
Now I'm going to make you hear, and give me an answer, for I can't go
on so any longer."

"I wanted to save you this.  I thought you'd understand..." began Jo,
finding it a great deal harder than she expected.

"I know you did, but the girls are so queer you never know what they
mean.  They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits
just for the fun of it," returned Laurie, entrenching himself behind an
undeniable fact.

"I don't.  I never wanted to make you care for me so, and I went away
to keep you from it if I could."

"I thought so.  It was like you, but it was no use.  I only loved you
all the more, and I worked hard to please you, and I gave up billiards
and everything you didn't like, and waited and never complained, for I
hoped you'd love me, though I'm not half good enough..." Here there was
a choke that couldn't be controlled, so he decapitated buttercups while
he cleared his 'confounded throat'.

"You, you are, you're a great deal too good for me, and I'm so grateful
to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don't know why I can't love you
as you want me to.  I've tried, but I can't change the feeling, and it
would be a lie to say I do when I don't."

"Really, truly, Jo?"

He stopped short, and caught both her hands as he put his question with
a look that she did not soon forget.

"Really, truly, dear."

They were in the grove now, close by the stile, and when the last words
fell reluctantly from Jo's lips, Laurie dropped her hands and turned as
if to go on, but for once in his life the fence was too much for him.
So he just laid his head down on the mossy post, and stood so still
that Jo was frightened.

"Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry, so desperately sorry, I could kill myself if it
would do any good!  I wish you wouldn't take it so hard, I can't help
it.  You know it's impossible for people to make themselves love other
people if they don't," cried Jo inelegantly but remorsefully, as she
softly patted his shoulder, remembering the time when he had comforted
her so long ago.

"They do sometimes," said a muffled voice from the post. "I don't
believe it's the right sort of love, and I'd rather not try it," was
the decided answer.

There was a long pause, while a blackbird sung blithely on the willow
by the river, and the tall grass rustled in the wind. Presently Jo said
very soberly, as she sat down on the step of the stile, "Laurie, I want
to tell you something."

He started as if he had been shot, threw up his head, and cried out in
a fierce tone, "Don't tell me that, Jo, I can't bear it now!"

"Tell what?" she asked, wondering at his violence.

"That you love that old man."

"What old man?" demanded Jo, thinking he must mean his grandfather.

"That devilish Professor you were always writing about. If you say you
love him, I know I shall do something desperate;" and he looked as if
he would keep his word, as he clenched his hands with a wrathful spark
in his eyes.

Jo wanted to laugh, but restrained herself and said warmly, for she
too, was getting excited with all this, "Don't swear, Teddy!  He isn't
old, nor anything bad, but good and kind, and the best friend I've got,
next to you.  Pray, don't fly into a passion.  I want to be kind, but I
know I shall get angry if you abuse my Professor.  I haven't the least
idea of loving him or anybody else."

"But you will after a while, and then what will become of me?"

"You'll love someone else too, like a sensible boy, and forget all this
trouble."

"I can't love anyone else, and I'll never forget you, Jo, Never!
Never!" with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.

"What shall I do with him?" sighed Jo, finding that emotions were more
unmanagable than she expected.  "You haven't heard what I wanted to
tell you.  Sit down and listen, for indeed I want to do right and make
you happy," she said, hoping to soothe him with a little reason, which
proved that she knew nothing about love.

Seeing a ray of hope in that last speech, Laurie threw himself down on
the grass at her feet, leaned his arm on the lower step of the stile,
and looked up at her with an expectant face. Now that arrangement was
not conducive to calm speech or clear thought on Jo's part, for how
could she say hard things to her boy while he watched her with eyes
full of love and longing, and lashes still wet with the bitter drop or
two her hardness of heart had wrung from him?  She gently turned his
head away, saying, as she stroked the wavy hair which had been allowed
to grow for her sake--how touching that was, to be sure! "I agree with
Mother that you and I are not suited to each other, because our quick
tempers and strong wills would probably make us very miserable, if we
were so foolish as to..." Jo paused a little over the last word, but
Laurie uttered it with a rapturous expression.

"Marry--no we shouldn't!  If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect
saint, for you could make me anything you like."

"No, I can't.  I've tried and failed, and I won't risk our happiness by
such a serious experiment.  We don't agree and we never shall, so we'll
be good friends all our lives, but we won't go and do anything rash."

"Yes, we will if we get the chance," muttered Laurie rebelliously.

"Now do be reasonable, and take a sensible view of the case," implored
Jo, almost at her wit's end.

"I won't be reasonable.  I don't want to take what you call 'a sensible
view'.  It won't help me, and it only makes it harder.  I don't believe
you've got any heart."

"I wish I hadn't."

There was a little quiver in Jo's voice, and thinking it a good omen,
Laurie turned round, bringing all his persuasive powers to bear as he
said, in the wheedlesome tone that had never been so dangerously
wheedlesome before, "Don't disappoint us, dear!  Everyone expects it.
Grandpa has set his heart upon it, your people like it, and I can't get
on without you.  Say you will, and let's be happy.  Do, do!"

Not until months afterward did Jo understand how she had the strength
of mind to hold fast to the resolution she had made when she decided
that she did not love her boy, and never could.  It was very hard to
do, but she did it, knowing that delay was both useless and cruel.

"I can't say 'yes' truly, so I won't say it at all.  You'll see that
I'm right, by-and-by, and thank me for it..." she began solemnly.

"I'll be hanged if I do!" and Laurie bounced up off the grass, burning
with indignation at the very idea.

"Yes, you will!" persisted Jo.  "You'll get over this after a while,
and find some lovely accomplished girl, who will adore you, and make a
fine mistress for your fine house.  I shouldn't. I'm homely and awkward
and odd and old, and you'd be ashamed of me, and we should quarrel--we
can't help it even now, you see--and I shouldn't like elegant society
and you would, and you'd hate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on
without it, and we should be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and
everything would be horrid!"

"Anything more?" asked Laurie, finding it hard to listen patiently to
this prophetic burst.

"Nothing more, except that I don't believe I shall ever marry.  I'm
happy as I am, and love my liberty too well to be in a hurry to give it
up for any mortal man."

"I know better!" broke in Laurie.  "You think so now, but there'll come
a time when you will care for somebody, and you'll love him
tremendously, and live and die for him.  I know you will, it's your
way, and I shall have to stand by and see it," and the despairing lover
cast his hat upon the ground with a gesture that would have seemed
comical, if his face had not been so tragic.

"Yes, I will live and die for him, if he ever comes and makes me love
him in spite of myself, and you must do the best you can!" cried Jo,
losing patience with poor Teddy.  "I've done my best, but you won't be
reasonable, and it's selfish of you to keep teasing for what I can't
give.  I shall always be fond of you, very fond indeed, as a friend,
but I'll never marry you, and the sooner you believe it the better for
both of us--so now!"

That speech was like gunpowder.  Laurie looked at her a minute as if he
did not quite know what to do with himself, then turned sharply away,
saying in a desperate sort of tone, "You'll be sorry some day, Jo."

"Oh, where are you going?" she cried, for his face frightened her.

"To the devil!" was the consoling answer.

For a minute Jo's heart stood still, as he swung himself down the bank
toward the river, but it takes much folly, sin or misery to send a
young man to a violent death, and Laurie was not one of the weak sort
who are conquered by a single failure.  He had no thought of a
melodramatic plunge, but some blind instinct led him to fling hat and
coat into his boat, and row away with all his might, making better time
up the river than he had done in any race.  Jo drew a long breath and
unclasped her hands as she watched the poor fellow trying to outstrip
the trouble which he carried in his heart.

"That will do him good, and he'll come home in such a tender, penitent
state of mind, that I shan't dare to see him," she said, adding, as she
went slowly home, feeling as if she had murdered some innocent thing,
and buried it under the leaves.  "Now I must go and prepare Mr.
Laurence to be very kind to my poor boy.  I wish he'd love Beth,
perhaps he may in time, but I begin to think I was mistaken about her.
Oh dear!  How can girls like to have lovers and refuse them?  I think
it's dreadful."

Being sure that no one could do it so well as herself, she went
straight to Mr. Laurence, told the hard story bravely through, and then
broke down, crying so dismally over her own insensibility that the kind
old gentleman, though sorely disappointed, did not utter a reproach.
He found it difficult to understand how any girl could help loving
Laurie, and hoped she would change her mind, but he knew even better
than Jo that love cannot be forced, so he shook his head sadly and
resolved to carry his boy out of harm's way, for Young Impetuosity's
parting words to Jo disturbed him more than he would confess.

When Laurie came home, dead tired but quite composed, his grandfather
met him as if he knew nothing, and kept up the delusion very
successfully for an hour or two.  But when they sat together in the
twilight, the time they used to enjoy so much, it was hard work for the
old man to ramble on as usual, and harder still for the young one to
listen to praises of the last year's success, which to him now seemed
like love's labor lost.  He bore it as long as he could, then went to
his piano and began to play.  The window's were open, and Jo, walking
in the garden with Beth, for once understood music better than her
sister, for he played the '_Sonata Pathetique_', and played it as he
never did before.

"That's very fine, I dare say, but it's sad enough to make one cry.
Give us something gayer, lad," said Mr. Laurence, whose kind old heart
was full of sympathy, which he longed to show but knew not how.

Laurie dashed into a livelier strain, played stormily for several
minutes, and would have got through bravely, if in a momentary lull
Mrs. March's voice had not been heard calling, "Jo, dear, come in.  I
want you."

Just what Laurie longed to say, with a different meaning! As he
listened, he lost his place, the music ended with a broken chord, and
the musician sat silent in the dark.

"I can't stand this," muttered the old gentleman.  Up he got, groped
his way to the piano, laid a kind hand on either of the broad
shoulders, and said, as gently as a woman, "I know, my boy, I know."

No answer for an instant, then Laurie asked sharply, "Who told you?"

"Jo herself."

"Then there's an end of it!"  And he shook off his grandfather's hands
with an impatient motion, for though grateful for the sympathy, his
man's pride could not bear a man's pity.

"Not quite.  I want to say one thing, and then there shall be an end of
it," returned Mr. Laurence with unusual mildness. "You won't care to
stay at home now, perhaps?"

"I don't intend to run away from a girl.  Jo can't prevent my seeing
her, and I shall stay and do it as long as I like," interrupted Laurie
in a defiant tone.

"Not if you are the gentleman I think you.  I'm disappointed, but the
girl can't help it, and the only thing left for you to do is to go away
for a time.  Where will you go?"

"Anywhere.  I don't care what becomes of me," and Laurie got up with a
reckless laugh that grated on his grandfather's ear.

"Take it like a man, and don't do anything rash, for God's sake.  Why
not go abroad, as you planned, and forget it?"

"I can't."

"But you've been wild to go, and I promised you should when you got
through college."

"Ah, but I didn't mean to go alone!" and Laurie walked fast through the
room with an expression which it was well his grandfather did not see.

"I don't ask you to go alone.  There's someone ready and glad to go
with you, anywhere in the world."

"Who, Sir?" stopping to listen.

"Myself."

Laurie came back as quickly as he went, and put out his hand, saying
huskily, "I'm a selfish brute, but--you know--Grandfather--"

"Lord help me, yes, I do know, for I've been through it all before,
once in my own young days, and then with your father. Now, my dear boy,
just sit quietly down and hear my plan.  It's all settled, and can be
carried out at once," said Mr. Laurence, keeping hold of the young man,
as if fearful that he would break away as his father had done before
him.

"Well, sir, what is it?" and Laurie sat down, without a sign of
interest in face or voice.

"There is business in London that needs looking after.  I meant you
should attend to it, but I can do it better myself, and things here
will get on very well with Brooke to manage them.  My partners do
almost everything, I'm merely holding on until you take my place, and
can be off at any time."

"But you hate traveling, Sir.  I can't ask it of you at your age,"
began Laurie, who was grateful for the sacrifice, but much preferred to
go alone, if he went at all.

The old gentleman knew that perfectly well, and particularly desired to
prevent it, for the mood in which he found his grandson assured him
that it would not be wise to leave him to his own devices.  So,
stifling a natural regret at the thought of the home comforts he would
leave behind him, he said stoutly, "Bless your soul, I'm not
superannuated yet.  I quite enjoy the idea.  It will do me good, and my
old bones won't suffer, for traveling nowadays is almost as easy as
sitting in a chair."

A restless movement from Laurie suggested that his chair was not easy,
or that he did not like the plan, and made the old man add hastily, "I
don't mean to be a marplot or a burden. I go because I think you'd feel
happier than if I was left behind.  I don't intend to gad about with
you, but leave you free to go where you like, while I amuse myself in
my own way.  I've friends in London and Paris, and should like to visit
them.  Meantime you can go to Italy, Germany, Switzerland, where you
will, and enjoy pictures, music, scenery, and adventures to your
heart's content."

Now, Laurie felt just then that his heart was entirely broken and the
world a howling wilderness, but at the sound of certain words which the
old gentleman artfully introduced into his closing sentence, the broken
heart gave an unexpected leap, and a green oasis or two suddenly
appeared in the howling wilderness.  He sighed, and then said, in a
spiritless tone, "Just as you like, Sir.  It doesn't matter where I go
or what I do."

"It does to me, remember that, my lad.  I give you entire liberty, but
I trust you to make an honest use of it.  Promise me that, Laurie."

"Anything you like, Sir."

"Good," thought the old gentleman.  "You don't care now, but there'll
come a time when that promise will keep you out of mischief, or I'm
much mistaken."

Being an energetic individual, Mr. Laurence struck while the iron was
hot, and before the blighted being recovered spirit enough to rebel,
they were off.  During the time necessary for preparation, Laurie bore
himself as young gentleman usually do in such cases.  He was moody,
irritable, and pensive by turns, lost his appetite, neglected his dress
and devoted much time to playing tempestuously on his piano, avoided
Jo, but consoled himself by staring at her from his window, with a
tragic face that haunted her dreams by night and oppressed her with a
heavy sense of guilt by day.  Unlike some sufferers, he never spoke of
his unrequited passion, and would allow no one, not even Mrs. March, to
attempt consolation or offer sympathy.  On some accounts, this was a
relief to his friends, but the weeks before his departure were very
uncomfortable, and everyone rejoiced that the 'poor, dear fellow was
going away to forget his trouble, and come home happy'.  Of course, he
smiled darkly at their delusion, but passed it by with the sad
superiority of one who knew that his fidelity like his love was
unalterable.

When the parting came he affected high spirits, to conceal certain
inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assert themselves.  This
gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but they tried to look as if it did
for his sake, and he got on very well till Mrs. March kissed him, with
a whisper full of motherly solicitude.  Then feeling that he was going
very fast, he hastily embraced them all round, not forgetting the
afflicted Hannah, and ran downstairs as if for his life.  Jo followed a
minute after to wave her hand to him if he looked round.  He did look
round, came back, put his arms about her as she stood on the step above
him, and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal
eloquent and pathetic.

"Oh, Jo, can't you?"

"Teddy, dear, I wish I could!"

That was all, except a little pause.  Then Laurie straightened himself
up, said, "It's all right, never mind," and went away without another
word.  Ah, but it wasn't all right, and Jo did mind, for while the
curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer, she felt as
if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left her without a
look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never would come again.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

BETH'S SECRET

When Jo came home that spring, she had been struck with the change in
Beth.  No one spoke of it or seemed aware of it, for it had come too
gradually to startle those who saw her daily, but to eyes sharpened by
absence, it was very plain and a heavy weight fell on Jo's heart as she
saw her sister's face. It was no paler and but littler thinner than in
the autumn, yet there was a strange, transparent look about it, as if
the mortal was being slowly refined away, and the immortal shining
through the frail flesh with an indescribably pathetic beauty.  Jo saw
and felt it, but said nothing at the time, and soon the first
impression lost much of its power, for Beth seemed happy, no one
appeared to doubt that she was better, and presently in other cares Jo
for a time forgot her fear.

But when Laurie was gone, and peace prevailed again, the vague anxiety
returned and haunted her.  She had confessed her sins and been
forgiven, but when she showed her savings and proposed a mountain trip,
Beth had thanked her heartily, but begged not to go so far away from
home.  Another little visit to the seashore would suit her better, and
as Grandma could not be prevailed upon to leave the babies, Jo took
Beth down to the quiet place, where she could live much in the open
air, and let the fresh sea breezes blow a little color into her pale
cheeks.

It was not a fashionable place, but even among the pleasant people
there, the girls made few friends, preferring to live for one another.
Beth was too shy to enjoy society, and Jo too wrapped up in her to care
for anyone else.  So they were all in all to each other, and came and
went, quite unconscious of the interest they exited in those about
them, who watched with sympathetic eyes the strong sister and the
feeble one, always together, as if they felt instinctively that a long
separation was not far away.

They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it, for often between ourselves
and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is
very hard to overcome.  Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her
heart and Beth's, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there
seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to
speak.  She wondered, and was thankful also, that her parents did not
seem to see what she saw, and during the quiet weeks when the shadows
grew so plain to her, she said nothing of it to those at home,
believing that it would tell itself when Beth came back no better. She
wondered still more if her sister really guessed the hard truth, and
what thoughts were passing through her mind during the long hours when
she lay on the warm rocks with her head in Jo's lap, while the winds
blew healthfully over her and the sea made music at her feet.

One day Beth told her.  Jo thought she was asleep, she lay so still,
and putting down her book, sat looking at her with wistful eyes, trying
to see signs of hope in the faint color on Beth's cheeks.  But she
could not find enough to satisfy her, for the cheeks were very thin,
and the hands seemed too feeble to hold even the rosy little shells
they had been collecting. It came to her then more bitterly than ever
that Beth was slowly drifting away from her, and her arms instinctively
tightened their hold upon the dearest treasure she possessed. For a
minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and when they cleared, Beth
was looking up at her so tenderly that there was hardly any need for
her to say, "Jo, dear, I'm glad you know it.  I've tried to tell you,
but I couldn't."

There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her own, not even
tears, for when most deeply moved, Jo did not cry.  She was the weaker
then, and Beth tried to comfort and sustain her, with her arms about
her and the soothing words she whispered in her ear.

"I've known it for a good while, dear, and now I'm used to it, it isn't
hard to think of or to bear.  Try to see it so and don't be troubled
about me, because it's best, indeed it is."

"Is this what made you so unhappy in the autumn, Beth? You did not feel
it then, and keep it to yourself so long, did you?" asked Jo, refusing
to see or say that it was best, but glad to know that Laurie had no
part in Beth's trouble.

"Yes, I gave up hoping then, but I didn't like to own it. I tried to
think it was a sick fancy, and would not let it trouble anyone.  But
when I saw you all so well and strong and full of happy plans, it was
hard to feel that I could never be like you, and then I was miserable,
Jo."

"Oh, Beth, and you didn't tell me, didn't let me comfort and help you?
How could you shut me out, bear it all alone?"

Jo's voice was full of tender reproach, and her heart ached to think of
the solitary struggle that must have gone on while Beth learned to say
goodbye to health, love, and life, and take up her cross so cheerfully.

"Perhaps it was wrong, but I tried to do right.  I wasn't sure, no one
said anything, and I hoped I was mistaken.  It would have been selfish
to frighten you all when Marmee was so anxious about Meg, and Amy away,
and you so happy with Laurie--at least I thought so then."

"And I thought you loved him, Beth, and I went away because I
couldn't," cried Jo, glad to say all the truth.

Beth looked so amazed at the idea that Jo smiled in spite of her pain,
and added softly, "Then you didn't, dearie? I was afraid it was so, and
imagined your poor little heart full of lovelornity all that while."

"Why, Jo, how could I, when he was so fond of you?" asked Beth, as
innocently as a child.  "I do love him dearly.  He is so good to me,
how can I help It?  But he could never be anything to me but my
brother.  I hope he truly will be, sometime."

"Not through me," said Jo decidedly.  "Amy is left for him, and they
would suit excellently, but I have no heart for such things, now.  I
don't care what becomes of anybody but you, Beth. You must get well."

"I want to, oh, so much!  I try, but every day I lose a little, and
feel more sure that I shall never gain it back.  It's like the tide,
Jo, when it turns, it goes slowly, but it can't be stopped."

"It shall be stopped, your tide must not turn so soon, nineteen is too
young, Beth.  I can't let you go.  I'll work and pray and fight against
it.  I'll keep you in spite of everything.  There must be ways, it
can't be too late.  God won't be so cruel as to take you from me,"
cried poor Jo rebelliously, for her spirit was far less piously
submissive than Beth's.

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety.  It shows
itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence than
homilies or protestations.  Beth could not reason upon or explain the
faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and
cheerfully wait for death.  Like a confiding child, she asked no
questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and Mother of
us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and
strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life to come.  She
did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches, only loved her better for her
passionate affection, and clung more closely to the dear human love,
from which our Father never means us to be weaned, but through which He
draws us closer to Himself.  She could not say, "I'm glad to go," for
life was very sweet for her.  She could only sob out, "I try to be
willing," while she held fast to Jo, as the first bitter wave of this
great sorrow broke over them together.

By and by Beth said, with recovered serenity, "You'll tell them this
when we go home?"

"I think they will see it without words," sighed Jo, for now it seemed
to her that Beth changed every day.

"Perhaps not.  I've heard that the people who love best are often
blindest to such things.  If they don't see it, you will tell them for
me.  I don't want any secrets, and it's kinder to prepare them.  Meg
has John and the babies to comfort her, but you must stand by Father
and Mother, won't you Jo?"

"If I can.  But, Beth, I don't give up yet.  I'm going to believe that
it is a sick fancy, and not let you think it's true." said Jo, trying
to speak cheerfully.

Beth lay a minute thinking, and then said in her quiet way, "I don't
know how to express myself, and shouldn't try to anyone but you,
because I can't speak out except to my Jo.  I only mean to say that I
have a feeling that it never was intended I should live long.  I'm not
like the rest of you.  I never made any plans about what I'd do when I
grew up.  I never thought of being married, as you all did.  I couldn't
seem to imagine myself anything but stupid little Beth, trotting about
at home, of no use anywhere but there.  I never wanted to go away, and
the hard part now is the leaving you all.  I'm not afraid, but it seems
as if I should be homesick for you even in heaven."

Jo could not speak, and for several minutes there was no sound but the
sigh of the wind and the lapping of the tide.  A white-winged gull flew
by, with the flash of sunshine on its silvery breast.  Beth watched it
till it vanished, and her eyes were full of sadness.  A little
gray-coated sand bird came tripping over the beach 'peeping' softly to
itself, as if enjoying the sun and sea.  It came quite close to Beth,
and looked at her with a friendly eye and sat upon a warm stone,
dressing its wet feathers, quite at home.  Beth smiled and felt
comforted, for the tiny thing seemed to offer its small friendship and
remind her that a pleasant world was still to be enjoyed.

"Dear little bird!  See, Jo, how tame it is.  I like peeps better than
the gulls.  They are not so wild and handsome, but they seem happy,
confiding little things.  I used to call them my birds last summer, and
Mother said they reminded her of me--busy, quaker-colored creatures,
always near the shore, and always chirping that contented little song
of theirs.  You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm
and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.  Meg is the
turtledove, and Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get up
among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest again.  Dear
little girl!  She's so ambitious, but her heart is good and tender, and
no matter how high she flies, she never will forget home.  I hope I
shall see her again, but she seems so far away."

"She is coming in the spring, and I mean that you shall be all ready to
see and enjoy her.  I'm going to have you well and rosy by that time,"
began Jo, feeling that of all the changes in Beth, the talking change
was the greatest, for it seemed to cost no effort now, and she thought
aloud in a way quite unlike bashful Beth.

"Jo, dear, don't hope any more.  It won't do any good.  I'm sure of
that.  We won't be miserable, but enjoy being together while we wait.
We'll have happy times, for I don't suffer much, and I think the tide
will go out easily, if you help me."

Jo leaned down to kiss the tranquil face, and with that silent kiss,
she dedicated herself soul and body to Beth.

She was right.  There was no need of any words when they got home, for
Father and Mother saw plainly now what they had prayed to be saved from
seeing.  Tired with her short journey, Beth went at once to bed, saying
how glad she was to be home, and when Jo went down, she found that she
would be spared the hard task of telling Beth's secret.  Her father
stood leaning his head on the mantelpiece and did not turn as she came
in, but her mother stretched out her arms as if for help, and Jo went
to comfort her without a word.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

NEW IMPRESSIONS

At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world at Nice
may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais--a charming place, for the
wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs, is
bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive, lined
with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards and the hills.
Many nations are represented, many languages spoken, many costumes
worn, and on a sunny day the spectacle is as gay and brilliant as a
carnival.  Haughty English, lively French, sober Germans, handsome
Spaniards, ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy Americans, all
drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news, and criticizing
the latest celebrity who has arrived--Ristori or Dickens, Victor
Emmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands.  The equipages are as
varied as the company and attract as much attention, especially the low
basket barouches in which ladies drive themselves, with a pair of
dashing ponies, gay nets to keep their voluminous flounces from
overflowing the diminutive vehicles, and little grooms on the perch
behind.

Along this walk, on Christmas Day, a tall young man walked slowly, with
his hands behind him, and a somewhat absent expression of countenance.
He looked like an Italian, was dressed like an Englishman, and had the
independent air of an American--a combination which caused sundry pairs
of feminine eyes to look approvingly after him, and sundry dandies in
black velvet suits, with rose-colored neckties, buff gloves, and orange
flowers in their buttonholes, to shrug their shoulders, and then envy
him his inches. There were plenty of pretty faces to admire, but the
young man took little notice of them, except to glance now and then at
some blonde girl in blue.  Presently he strolled out of the promenade
and stood a moment at the crossing, as if undecided whether to go and
listen to the band in the Jardin Publique, or to wander along the beach
toward Castle Hill.  The quick trot of ponies' feet made him look up,
as one of the little carriages, containing a single young lady, came
rapidly down the street.  The lady was young, blonde, and dressed in
blue.  He stared a minute, then his whole face woke up, and, waving his
hat like a boy, he hurried forward to meet her.

"Oh, Laurie, is it really you?  I thought you'd never come!" cried Amy,
dropping the reins and holding out both hands, to the great
scandalization of a French mamma, who hastened her daughter's steps,
lest she should be demoralized by beholding the free manners of these
'mad English'.

"I was detained by the way, but I promised to spend Christmas with you,
and here I am."

"How is your grandfather?  When did you come?  Where are you staying?"

"Very well--last night--at the Chauvain.  I called at your hotel, but
you were out."

"I have so much to say, I don't know where to begin!  Get in and we can
talk at our ease.  I was going for a drive and longing for company.
Flo's saving up for tonight."

"What happens then, a ball?"

"A Christmas party at our hotel.  There are many Americans there, and
they give it in honor of the day.  You'll go with us, of course?  Aunt
will be charmed."

"Thank you.  Where now?" asked Laurie, leaning back and folding his
arms, a proceeding which suited Amy, who preferred to drive, for her
parasol whip and blue reins over the white ponies backs afforded her
infinite satisfaction.

"I'm going to the bankers first for letters, and then to Castle Hill.
The view is so lovely, and I like to feed the peacocks. Have you ever
been there?"

"Often, years ago, but I don't mind having a look at it."

"Now tell me all about yourself.  The last I heard of you, your
grandfather wrote that he expected you from Berlin."

"Yes, I spent a month there and then joined him in Paris, where he has
settled for the winter.  He has friends there and finds plenty to amuse
him, so I go and come, and we get on capitally."

"That's a sociable arrangement," said Amy, missing something in
Laurie's manner, though she couldn't tell what.

"Why, you see, he hates to travel, and I hate to keep still, so we each
suit ourselves, and there is no trouble.  I am often with him, and he
enjoys my adventures, while I like to feel that someone is glad to see
me when I get back from my wanderings.  Dirty old hole, isn't it?" he
added, with a look of disgust as they drove along the boulevard to the
Place Napoleon in the old city.

"The dirt is picturesque, so I don't mind.  The river and the hills are
delicious, and these glimpses of the narrow cross streets are my
delight.  Now we shall have to wait for that procession to pass.  It's
going to the Church of St.  John."

While Laurie listlessly watched the procession of priests under their
canopies, white-veiled nuns bearing lighted tapers, and some
brotherhood in blue chanting as they walked, Amy watched him, and felt
a new sort of shyness steal over her, for he was changed, and she could
not find the merry-faced boy she left in the moody-looking man beside
her.  He was handsomer than ever and greatly improved, she thought, but
now that the flush of pleasure at meeting her was over, he looked tired
and spiritless--not sick, nor exactly unhappy, but older and graver
than a year or two of prosperous life should have made him.  She
couldn't understand it and did not venture to ask questions, so she
shook her head and touched up her ponies, as the procession wound away
across the arches of the Paglioni bridge and vanished in the church.

"Que pensez-vous?" she said, airing her French, which had improved in
quantity, if not in quality, since she came abroad.

"That mademoiselle has made good use of her time, and the result is
charming," replied Laurie, bowing with his hand on his heart and an
admiring look.

She blushed with pleasure, but somehow the compliment did not satisfy
her like the blunt praises he used to give her at home, when he
promenaded round her on festival occasions, and told her she was
'altogether jolly', with a hearty smile and an approving pat on the
head.  She didn't like the new tone, for though not blase, it sounded
indifferent in spite of the look.

"If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he'd stay a boy," she
thought, with a curious sense of disappointment and discomfort, trying
meantime to seem quite easy and gay.

At Avigdor's she found the precious home letters and, giving the reins
to Laurie, read them luxuriously as they wound up the shady road
between green hedges, where tea roses bloomed as freshly as in June.

"Beth is very poorly, Mother says.  I often think I ought to go home,
but they all say 'stay'.  So I do, for I shall never have another
chance like this," said Amy, looking sober over one page.

"I think you are right, there.  You could do nothing at home, and it is
a great comfort to them to know that you are well and happy, and
enjoying so much, my dear."

He drew a little nearer, and looked more like his old self as he said
that, and the fear that sometimes weighed on Amy's heart was lightened,
for the look, the act, the brotherly 'my dear', seemed to assure her
that if any trouble did come, she would not be alone in a strange land.
Presently she laughed and showed him a small sketch of Jo in her
scribbling suit, with the bow rampantly erect upon her cap, and issuing
from her mouth the words, 'Genius burns!'.

Laurie smiled, took it, put it in his vest pocket 'to keep it from
blowing away', and listened with interest to the lively letter Amy read
him.

"This will be a regularly merry Christmas to me, with presents in the
morning, you and letters in the afternoon, and a party at night," said
Amy, as they alighted among the ruins of the old fort, and a flock of
splendid peacocks came trooping about them, tamely waiting to be fed.
While Amy stood laughing on the bank above him as she scattered crumbs
to the brilliant birds, Laurie looked at her as she had looked at him,
with a natural curiosity to see what changes time and absence had
wrought.  He found nothing to perplex or disappoint, much to admire and
approve, for overlooking a few little affectations of speech and
manner, she was as sprightly and graceful as ever, with the addition of
that indescribable something in dress and bearing which we call
elegance.  Always mature for her age, she had gained a certain aplomb
in both carriage and conversation, which made her seem more of a woman
of the world than she was, but her old petulance now and then showed
itself, her strong will still held its own, and her native frankness
was unspoiled by foreign polish.

Laurie did not read all this while he watched her feed the peacocks,
but he saw enough to satisfy and interest him, and carried away a
pretty little picture of a bright-faced girl standing in the sunshine,
which brought out the soft hue of her dress, the fresh color of her
cheeks, the golden gloss of her hair, and made her a prominent figure
in the pleasant scene.

As they came up onto the stone plateau that crowns the hill, Amy waved
her hand as if welcoming him to her favorite haunt, and said, pointing
here and there, "Do you remember the Cathedral and the Corso, the
fishermen dragging their nets in the bay, and the lovely road to Villa
Franca, Schubert's Tower, just below, and best of all, that speck far
out to sea which they say is Corsica?"

"I remember.  It's not much changed," he answered without enthusiasm.

"What Jo would give for a sight of that famous speck!" said Amy,
feeling in good spirits and anxious to see him so also.

"Yes," was all he said, but he turned and strained his eyes to see the
island which a greater usurper than even Napoleon now made interesting
in his sight.

"Take a good look at it for her sake, and then come and tell me what
you have been doing with yourself all this while," said Amy, seating
herself, ready for a good talk.

But she did not get it, for though he joined her and answered all her
questions freely, she could only learn that he had roved about the
Continent and been to Greece.  So after idling away an hour, they drove
home again, and having paid his respects to Mrs. Carrol, Laurie left
them, promising to return in the evening.

It must be recorded of Amy that she deliberately prinked that night.
Time and absence had done its work on both the young people. She had
seen her old friend in a new light, not as 'our boy', but as a handsome
and agreeable man, and she was conscious of a very natural desire to
find favor in his sight.  Amy knew her good points, and made the most
of them with the taste and skill which is a fortune to a poor and
pretty woman.

Tarlatan and tulle were cheap at Nice, so she enveloped herself in them
on such occasions, and following the sensible English fashion of simple
dress for young girls, got up charming little toilettes with fresh
flowers, a few trinkets, and all manner of dainty devices, which were
both inexpensive and effective.  It must be confessed that the artist
sometimes got possession of the woman, and indulged in antique
coiffures, statuesque attitudes, and classic draperies. But, dear
heart, we all have our little weaknesses, and find it easy to pardon
such in the young, who satisfy our eyes with their comeliness, and keep
our hearts merry with their artless vanities.

"I do want him to think I look well, and tell them so at home," said
Amy to herself, as she put on Flo's old white silk ball dress, and
covered it with a cloud of fresh illusion, out of which her white
shoulders and golden head emerged with a most artistic effect. Her hair
she had the sense to let alone, after gathering up the thick waves and
curls into a Hebe-like knot at the back of her head.

"It's not the fashion, but it's becoming, and I can't afford to make a
fright of myself," she used to say, when advised to frizzle, puff, or
braid, as the latest style commanded.

Having no ornaments fine enough for this important occasion, Amy looped
her fleecy skirts with rosy clusters of azalea, and framed the white
shoulders in delicate green vines.  Remembering the painted boots, she
surveyed her white satin slippers with girlish satisfaction, and
chassed down the room, admiring her aristocratic feet all by herself.

"My new fan just matches my flowers, my gloves fit to a charm, and the
real lace on Aunt's mouchoir gives an air to my whole dress. If I only
had a classical nose and mouth I should be perfectly happy," she said,
surveying herself with a critical eye and a candle in each hand.

In spite of this affliction, she looked unusually gay and graceful as
she glided away.  She seldom ran--it did not suit her style, she
thought, for being tall, the stately and Junoesque was more appropriate
than the sportive or piquante.  She walked up and down the long saloon
while waiting for Laurie, and once arranged herself under the
chandelier, which had a good effect upon her hair, then she thought
better of it, and went away to the other end of the room, as if ashamed
of the girlish desire to have the first view a propitious one.  It so
happened that she could not have done a better thing, for Laurie came
in so quietly she did not hear him, and as she stood at the distant
window, with her head half turned and one hand gathering up her dress,
the slender, white figure against the red curtains was as effective as
a well-placed statue.

"Good evening, Diana!" said Laurie, with the look of satisfaction she
liked to see in his eyes when they rested on her.

"Good evening, Apollo!" she answered, smiling back at him, for he too
looked unusually debonair, and the thought of entering the ballroom on
the arm of such a personable man caused Amy to pity the four plain
Misses Davis from the bottom of her heart.

"Here are your flowers.  I arranged them myself, remembering that you
didn't like what Hannah calls a 'sot-bookay'," said Laurie, handing her
a delicate nosegay, in a holder that she had long coveted as she daily
passed it in Cardiglia's window.

"How kind you are!" she exclaimed gratefully.  "If I'd known you were
coming I'd have had something ready for you today, though not as pretty
as this, I'm afraid."

"Thank you.  It isn't what it should be, but you have improved it," he
added, as she snapped the silver bracelet on her wrist.

"Please don't."

"I thought you liked that sort of thing."

"Not from you, it doesn't sound natural, and I like your old bluntness
better."

"I'm glad of it," he answered, with a look of relief, then buttoned her
gloves for her, and asked if his tie was straight, just as he used to
do when they went to parties together at home.

The company assembled in the long salle a manger, that evening, was
such as one sees nowhere but on the Continent.  The hospitable
Americans had invited every acquaintance they had in Nice, and having
no prejudice against titles, secured a few to add luster to their
Christmas ball.

A Russian prince condescended to sit in a corner for an hour and talk
with a massive lady, dressed like Hamlet's mother in black velvet with
a pearl bridle under her chin.  A Polish count, aged eighteen, devoted
himself to the ladies, who pronounced him, 'a fascinating dear', and a
German Serene Something, having come to supper alone, roamed vaguely
about, seeking what he might devour.  Baron Rothschild's private
secretary, a large-nosed Jew in tight boots, affably beamed upon the
world, as if his master's name crowned him with a golden halo.  A stout
Frenchman, who knew the Emperor, came to indulge his mania for dancing,
and Lady de Jones, a British matron, adorned the scene with her little
family of eight.  Of course, there were many light-footed,
shrill-voiced American girls, handsome, lifeless-looking English ditto,
and a few plain but piquante French demoiselles, likewise the usual set
of traveling young gentlemen who disported themselves gaily, while
mammas of all nations lined the walls and smiled upon them benignly
when they danced with their daughters.

Any young girl can imagine Amy's state of mind when she 'took the
stage' that night, leaning on Laurie's arm.  She knew she looked well,
she loved to dance, she felt that her foot was on her native heath in a
ballroom, and enjoyed the delightful sense of power which comes when
young girls first discover the new and lovely kingdom they are born to
rule by virtue of beauty, youth, and womanhood.  She did pity the Davis
girls, who were awkward, plain, and destitute of escort, except a grim
papa and three grimmer maiden aunts, and she bowed to them in her
friendliest manner as she passed, which was good of her, as it
permitted them to see her dress, and burn with curiosity to know who
her distinguished-looking friend might be.  With the first burst of the
band, Amy's color rose, her eyes began to sparkle, and her feet to tap
the floor impatiently, for she danced well and wanted Laurie to know
it.  Therefore the shock she received can better be imagined than
described, when he said in a perfectly tranquil tone, "Do you care to
dance?"

"One usually does at a ball."

Her amazed look and quick answer caused Laurie to repair his error as
fast as possible.

"I meant the first dance.  May I have the honor?"

"I can give you one if I put off the Count.  He dances devinely, but he
will excuse me, as you are an old friend," said Amy, hoping that the
name would have a good effect, and show Laurie that she was not to be
trifled with.

"Nice little boy, but rather a short Pole to support...

    A daughter of the gods,
    Devinely tall, and most devinely fair,"

was all the satisfaction she got, however.

The set in which they found themselves was composed of English, and Amy
was compelled to walk decorously through a cotillion, feeling all the
while as if she could dance the tarantella with relish.  Laurie
resigned her to the 'nice little boy', and went to do his duty to Flo,
without securing Amy for the joys to come, which reprehensible want of
forethought was properly punished, for she immediately engaged herself
till supper, meaning to relent if he then gave any signs penitence. She
showed him her ball book with demure satisfaction when he strolled
instead of rushed up to claim her for the next, a glorious polka
redowa.  But his polite regrets didn't impose upon her, and when she
galloped away with the Count, she saw Laurie sit down by her aunt with
an actual expression of relief.

That was unpardonable, and Amy took no more notice of him for a long
while, except a word now and then when she came to her chaperon between
the dances for a necessary pin or a moment's rest.  Her anger had a
good effect, however, for she hid it under a smiling face, and seemed
unusually blithe and brilliant.  Laurie's eyes followed her with
pleasure, for she neither romped nor sauntered, but danced with spirit
and grace, making the delightsome pastime what it should be.  He very
naturally fell to studying her from this new point of view, and before
the evening was half over, had decided that 'little Amy was going to
make a very charming woman'.

It was a lively scene, for soon the spirit of the social season took
possession of everyone, and Christmas merriment made all faces shine,
hearts happy, and heels light.  The musicians fiddled, tooted, and
banged as if they enjoyed it, everybody danced who could, and those who
couldn't admired their neighbors with uncommon warmth.  The air was
dark with Davises, and many Joneses gamboled like a flock of young
giraffes.  The golden secretary darted through the room like a meteor
with a dashing frenchwoman who carpeted the floor with her pink satin
train.  The serene Teuton found the supper-table and was happy, eating
steadily through the bill of fare, and dismayed the garcons by the
ravages he committed.  But the Emperor's friend covered himself with
glory, for he danced everything, whether he knew it or not, and
introduced impromptu pirouettes when the figures bewildered him.  The
boyish abandon of that stout man was charming to behold, for though he
'carried weight', he danced like an India-rubber ball.  He ran, he
flew, he pranced, his face glowed, his bald head shown, his coattails
waved wildly, his pumps actually twinkled in the air, and when the
music stopped, he wiped the drops from his brow, and beamed upon his
fellow men like a French Pickwick without glasses.

Amy and her Pole distinguished themselves by equal enthusiasm but more
graceful agility, and Laurie found himself involuntarily keeping time
to the rhythmic rise and fall of the white slippers as they flew by as
indefatigably as if winged. When little Vladimir finally relinquished
her, with assurances that he was 'desolated to leave so early', she was
ready to rest, and see how her recreant knight had borne his punishment.

It had been successful, for at three-and-twenty, blighted affections
find a balm in friendly society, and young nerves will thrill, young
blood dance, and healthy young spirits rise, when subjected to the
enchantment of beauty, light, music, and motion.  Laurie had a waked-up
look as he rose to give her his seat, and when he hurried away to bring
her some supper, she said to herself, with a satisfied smile, "Ah, I
thought that would do him good!"

"You look like Balzac's '_Femme Peinte Par Elle-Meme_'," he said, as he
fanned her with one hand and held her coffee cup in the other.

"My rouge won't come off." and Amy rubbed her brilliant cheek, and
showed him her white glove with a sober simplicity that made him laugh
outright.

"What do you call this stuff?" he asked, touching a fold of her dress
that had blown over his knee.

"Illusion."

"Good name for it.  It's very pretty--new thing, isn't it?"

"It's as old as the hills.  You have seen it on dozens of girls, and
you never found out that it was pretty till now--stupide!"

"I never saw it on you before, which accounts for the mistake, you see."

"None of that, it is forbidden.  I'd rather take coffee than
compliments just now.  No, don't lounge, it makes me nervous."

Laurie sat bold upright, and meekly took her empty plate feeling an odd
sort of pleasure in having 'little Amy' order him about, for she had
lost her shyness now, and felt an irrestible desire to trample on him,
as girls have a delightful way of doing when lords of creation show any
signs of subjection.

"Where did you learn all this sort of thing?" he asked with a quizzical
look.

"As 'this sort of thing' is rather a vague expression, would you kindly
explain?" returned Amy, knowing perfectly well what he meant, but
wickedly leaving him to describe what is indescribable.

"Well--the general air, the style, the self-possession,
the--the--illusion--you know", laughed Laurie, breaking down and
helping himself out of his quandary with the new word.

Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurely answered,
"Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self.  I study as well as
play, and as for this"--with a little gesture toward her dress--"why,
tulle is cheap, posies to be had for nothing, and I am used to making
the most of my poor little things."

Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't in good
taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himself both
admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most of
opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with flowers.
Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, nor why he filled up
her book with his own name, and devoted himself to her for the rest of
the evening in the most delightful manner; but the impulse that wrought
this agreeable change was the result of one of the new impressions
which both of them were unconsciously giving and receiving.



CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

ON THE SHELF

In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are married,
when 'Vive la liberte!' becomes their motto.  In America, as everyone
knows, girls early sign the declaration of independence, and enjoy
their freedom with republican zest, but the young matrons usually
abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into a seclusion
almost as close as a French nunnery, though by no means as quiet.
Whether they like it or not, they are virtually put upon the shelf as
soon as the wedding excitement is over, and most of them might exclaim,
as did a very pretty woman the other day, "I'm as handsome as ever, but
no one takes any notice of me because I'm married."

Not being a belle or even a fashionable lady, Meg did not experience
this affliction till her babies were a year old, for in her little
world primitive customs prevailed, and she found herself more admired
and beloved than ever.

As she was a womanly little woman, the maternal instinct was very
strong, and she was entirely absorbed in her children, to the utter
exclusion of everything and everybody else.  Day and night she brooded
over them with tireless devotion and anxiety, leaving John to the
tender mercies of the help, for an Irish lady now presided over the
kitchen department.  Being a domestic man, John decidedly missed the
wifely attentions he had been accustomed to receive, but as he adored
his babies, he cheerfully relinquished his comfort for a time,
supposing with masculine ignorance that peace would soon be restored.
But three months passed, and there was no return of repose.  Meg looked
worn and nervous, the babies absorbed every minute of her time, the
house was neglected, and Kitty, the cook, who took life 'aisy', kept
him on short commons.  When he went out in the morning he was
bewildered by small commissions for the captive mamma, if he came gaily
in at night, eager to embrace his family, he was quenched by a "Hush!
They are just asleep after worrying all day."  If he proposed a little
amusement at home, "No, it would disturb the babies."  If he hinted at
a lecture or a concert, he was answered with a reproachful look, and a
decided--"Leave my children for pleasure, never!"  His sleep was broken
by infant wails and visions of a phantom figure pacing noiselessly to
and fro in the watches of the night.  His meals were interrupted by the
frequent flight of the presiding genius, who deserted him, half-helped,
if a muffled chirp sounded from the nest above.  And when he read his
paper of an evening, Demi's colic got into the shipping list and
Daisy's fall affected the price of stocks, for Mrs. Brooke was only
interested in domestic news.

The poor man was very uncomfortable, for the children had bereft him of
his wife, home was merely a nursery and the perpetual 'hushing' made
him feel like a brutal intruder whenever he entered the sacred
precincts of Babyland.  He bore it very patiently for six months, and
when no signs of amendment appeared, he did what other paternal exiles
do--tried to get a little comfort elsewhere.  Scott had married and
gone to housekeeping not far off, and John fell into the way of running
over for an hour or two of an evening, when his own parlor was empty,
and his own wife singing lullabies that seemed to have no end.  Mrs.
Scott was a lively, pretty girl, with nothing to do but be agreeable,
and she performed her mission most successfully.  The parlor was always
bright and attractive, the chessboard ready, the piano in tune, plenty
of gay gossip, and a nice little supper set forth in tempting style.

John would have preferred his own fireside if it had not been so
lonely, but as it was he gratefully took the next best thing and
enjoyed his neighbor's society.

Meg rather approved of the new arrangement at first, and found it a
relief to know that John was having a good time instead of dozing in
the parlor, or tramping about the house and waking the children.  But
by-and-by, when the teething worry was over and the idols went to sleep
at proper hours, leaving Mamma time to rest, she began to miss John,
and find her workbasket dull company, when he was not sitting opposite
in his old dressing gown, comfortably scorching his slippers on the
fender.  She would not ask him to stay at home, but felt injured
because he did not know that she wanted him without being told,
entirely forgetting the many evenings he had waited for her in vain.
She was nervous and worn out with watching and worry, and in that
unreasonable frame of mind which the best of mothers occasionally
experience when domestic cares oppress them.  Want of exercise robs
them of cheerfulness, and too much devotion to that idol of American
women, the teapot, makes them feel as if they were all nerve and no
muscle.

"Yes," she would say, looking in the glass, "I'm getting old and ugly.
John doesn't find me interesting any longer, so he leaves his faded
wife and goes to see his pretty neighbor, who has no incumbrances.
Well, the babies love me, they don't care if I am thin and pale and
haven't time to crimp my hair, they are my comfort, and some day John
will see what I've gladly sacrificed for them, won't he, my precious?"

To which pathetic appeal Daisy would answer with a coo, or Demi with a
crow, and Meg would put by her lamentations for a maternal revel, which
soothed her solitude for the time being. But the pain increased as
politics absorbed John, who was always running over to discuss
interesting points with Scott, quite unconscious that Meg missed him.
Not a word did she say, however, till her mother found her in tears one
day, and insisted on knowing what the matter was, for Meg's drooping
spirits had not escaped her observation.

"I wouldn't tell anyone except you, Mother, but I really do need
advice, for if John goes on much longer I might as well be widowed,"
replied Mrs. Brooke, drying her tears on Daisy's bib with an injured
air.

"Goes on how, my dear?" asked her mother anxiously.

"He's away all day, and at night when I want to see him, he is
continually going over to the Scotts'.  It isn't fair that I should
have the hardest work, and never any amusement. Men are very selfish,
even the best of them."

"So are women.  Don't blame John till you see where you are wrong
yourself."

"But it can't be right for him to neglect me."

"Don't you neglect him?"

"Why, Mother, I thought you'd take my part!"

"So I do, as far as sympathizing goes, but I think the fault is yours,
Meg."

"I don't see how."

"Let me show you.  Did John ever neglect you, as you call it, while you
made it a point to give him your society of an evening, his only
leisure time?"

"No, but I can't do it now, with two babies to tend."

"I think you could, dear, and I think you ought.  May I speak quite
freely, and will you remember that it's Mother who blames as well as
Mother who sympathizes?"

"Indeed I will!  Speak to me as if I were little Meg again. I often
feel as if I needed teaching more than ever since these babies look to
me for everything."

Meg drew her low chair beside her mother's, and with a little
interruption in either lap, the two women rocked and talked lovingly
together, feeling that the tie of motherhood made them more one than
ever.

"You have only made the mistake that most young wives make--forgotten
your duty to your husband in your love for your children. A very
natural and forgivable mistake, Meg, but one that had better be
remedied before you take to different ways, for children should draw
you nearer than ever, not separate you, as if they were all yours, and
John had nothing to do but support them.  I've seen it for some weeks,
but have not spoken, feeling sure it would come right in time."

"I'm afraid it won't.  If I ask him to stay, he'll think I'm jealous,
and I wouldn't insult him by such an idea.  He doesn't see that I want
him, and I don't know how to tell him without words."

"Make it so pleasant he won't want to go away.  My dear, he's longing
for his little home, but it isn't home without you, and you are always
in the nursery."

"Oughtn't I to be there?"

"Not all the time, too much confinement makes you nervous, and then you
are unfitted for everything.  Besides, you owe something to John as
well as to the babies.  Don't neglect husband for children, don't shut
him out of the nursery, but teach him how to help in it.  His place is
there as well as yours, and the children need him.  Let him feel that
he has a part to do, and he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it
will be better for you all."

"You really think so, Mother?"

"I know it, Meg, for I've tried it, and I seldom give advice unless
I've proved its practicability.  When you and Jo were little, I went on
just as you are, feeling as if I didn't do my duty unless I devoted
myself wholly to you.  Poor Father took to his books, after I had
refused all offers of help, and left me to try my experiment alone.  I
struggled along as well as I could, but Jo was too much for me.  I
nearly spoiled her by indulgence.  You were poorly, and I worried about
you till I fell sick myself.  Then Father came to the rescue, quietly
managed everything, and made himself so helpful that I saw my mistake,
and never have been able to got on without him since.  That is the
secret of our home happiness.  He does not let business wean him from
the little cares and duties that affect us all, and I try not to let
domestic worries destroy my interest in his pursuits.  Each do our part
alone in many things, but at home we work together, always."

"It is so, Mother, and my great wish is to be to my husband and
children what you have been to yours.  Show me how, I'll do anything
you say."

"You always were my docile daughter.  Well, dear, if I were you, I'd
let John have more to do with the management of Demi, for the boy needs
training, and it's none too soon to begin. Then I'd do what I have
often proposed, let Hannah come and help you.  She is a capital nurse,
and you may trust the precious babies to her while you do more
housework.  You need the exercise, Hannah would enjoy the rest, and
John would find his wife again. Go out more, keep cheerful as well as
busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get
dismal there is no fair weather.  Then I'd try to take an interest in
whatever John likes--talk with him, let him read to you, exchange
ideas, and help each other in that way.  Don't shut yourself up in a
bandbox because you are a woman, but understand what is going on, and
educate yourself to take your part in the world's work, for it all
affects you and yours."

"John is so sensible, I'm afraid he will think I'm stupid if I ask
questions about politics and things."

"I don't believe he would.  Love covers a multitude of sins, and of
whom could you ask more freely than of him?  Try it, and see if he
doesn't find your society far more agreeable than Mrs. Scott's suppers."

"I will.  Poor John!  I'm afraid I have neglected him sadly, but I
thought I was right, and he never said anything."

"He tried not to be selfish, but he has felt rather forlorn, I fancy.
This is just the time, Meg, when young married people are apt to grow
apart, and the very time when they ought to be most together, for the
first tenderness soon wears off, unless care is taken to preserve it.
And no time is so beautiful and precious to parents as the first years
of the little lives given to them to train.  Don't let John be a
stranger to the babies, for they will do more to keep him safe and
happy in this world of trial and temptation than anything else, and
through them you will learn to know and love one another as you should.
Now, dear, good-by.  Think over Mother's preachment, act upon it if it
seems good, and God bless you all."

Meg did think it over, found it good, and acted upon it, though the
first attempt was not made exactly as she planned to have it.  Of
course the children tyrannized over her, and ruled the house as soon as
they found out that kicking and squalling brought them whatever they
wanted.  Mamma was an abject slave to their caprices, but Papa was not
so easily subjugated, and occasionally afflicted his tender spouse by
an attempt at paternal discipline with his obstreperous son. For Demi
inherited a trifle of his sire's firmness of character, we won't call
it obstinacy, and when he made up his little mind to have or to do
anything, all the king's horses and all the king's men could not change
that pertinacious little mind.  Mamma thought the dear too young to be
taught to conquer his prejudices, but Papa believed that it never was
too soon to learn obedience.  So Master Demi early discovered that when
he undertook to 'wrastle' with 'Parpar', he always got the worst of it,
yet like the Englishman, baby respected the man who conquered him, and
loved the father whose grave "No, no," was more impressive than all
Mamma's love pats.

A few days after the talk with her mother, Meg resolved to try a social
evening with John, so she ordered a nice supper, set the parlor in
order, dressed herself prettily, and put the children to bed early,
that nothing should interfere with her experiment.  But unfortunately
Demi's most unconquerable prejudice was against going to bed, and that
night he decided to go on a rampage.  So poor Meg sang and rocked, told
stories and tried every sleep-prevoking wile she could devise, but all
in vain, the big eyes wouldn't shut, and long after Daisy had gone to
byelow, like the chubby little bunch of good nature she was, naughty
Demi lay staring at the light, with the most discouragingly wide-awake
expression of countenance.

"Will Demi lie still like a good boy, while Mamma runs down and gives
poor Papa his tea?" asked Meg, as the hall door softly closed, and the
well-known step went tip-toeing into the dining room.

"Me has tea!" said Demi, preparing to join in the revel.

"No, but I'll save you some little cakies for breakfast, if you'll go
bye-bye like Daisy.  Will you, lovey?"

"Iss!" and Demi shut his eyes tight, as if to catch sleep and hurry the
desired day.

Taking advantage of the propitious moment, Meg slipped away and ran
down to greet her husband with a smiling face and the little blue bow
in her hair which was his especial admiration.  He saw it at once and
said with pleased surprise, "Why, little mother, how gay we are
tonight.  Do you expect company?"

"Only you, dear."

"Is it a birthday, anniversary, or anything?"

"No, I'm tired of being dowdy, so I dressed up as a change.  You always
make yourself nice for table, no matter how tired you are, so why
shouldn't I when I have the time?"

"I do it out of respect for you, my dear," said old-fashioned John.

"Ditto, ditto, Mr. Brooke," laughed Meg, looking young and pretty
again, as she nodded to him over the teapot.

"Well, it's altogether delightful, and like old times.  This tastes
right.  I drink your health, dear." and John sipped his tea with an air
of reposeful rapture, which was of very short duration however, for as
he put down his cup, the door handle rattled mysteriously, and a little
voice was heard, saying impatiently...

"Opy doy.  Me's tummin!"

"It's that naughty boy.  I told him to go to sleep alone, and here he
is, downstairs, getting his death a-cold pattering over that canvas,"
said Meg, answering the call.

"Mornin' now," announced Demi in joyful tone as he entered, with his
long nightgown gracefully festooned over his arm and every curl bobbing
gayly as he pranced about the table, eyeing the 'cakies' with loving
glances.

"No, it isn't morning yet.  You must go to bed, and not trouble poor
Mamma.  Then you can have the little cake with sugar on it."

"Me loves Parpar," said the artful one, preparing to climb the paternal
knee and revel in forbidden joys.  But John shook his head, and said to
Meg...

"If you told him to stay up there, and go to sleep alone, make him do
it, or he will never learn to mind you."

"Yes, of course.  Come, Demi,"  and Meg led her son away, feeling a
strong desire to spank the little marplot who hopped beside her,
laboring under the delusion that the bribe was to be administered as
soon as they reached the nursery.

Nor was he disappointed, for that shortsighted woman actually gave him
a lump of sugar, tucked him into his bed, and forbade any more
promenades till morning.

"Iss!" said Demi the perjured, blissfully sucking his sugar, and
regarding his first attempt as eminently successful.

Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressing pleasantly, when
the little ghost walked again, and exposed the maternal delinquencies
by boldly demanding, "More sudar, Marmar."

"Now this won't do," said John, hardening his heart against the
engaging little sinner.  "We shall never know any peace till that child
learns to go to bed properly.  You have made a slave of yourself long
enough.  Give him one lesson, and then there will be an end of it.  Put
him in his bed and leave him, Meg."

"He won't stay there, he never does unless I sit by him."

"I'll manage him.  Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed, as Mamma
bids you."

"S'ant!" replied the young rebel, helping himself to the coveted
'cakie', and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.

"You must never say that to Papa.  I shall carry you if you don't go
yourself."

"Go 'way, me don't love Parpar." and Demi retired to his mother's
skirts for protection.

But even that refuge proved unavailing, for he was delivered over to
the enemy, with a "Be gentle with him, John," which struck the culprit
with dismay, for when Mamma deserted him, then the judgment day was at
hand.  Bereft of his cake, defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a
strong hand to that detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his
wrath, but openly defied Papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all the
way upstairs.  The minute he was put into bed on one side, he rolled
out on the other, and made for the door, only to be ignominiously
caught up by the tail of his little toga and put back again, which
lively performance was kept up till the young man's strength gave out,
when he devoted himself to roaring at the top of his voice.  This vocal
exercise usually conquered Meg, but John sat as unmoved as the post
which is popularly believed to be deaf.  No coaxing, no sugar, no
lullaby, no story, even the light was put out and only the red glow of
the fire enlivened the 'big dark' which Demi regarded with curiosity
rather than fear.  This new order of things disgusted him, and he
howled dismally for 'Marmar', as his angry passions subsided, and
recollections of his tender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat.
The plaintive wail which succeeded the passionate roar went to Meg's
heart, and she ran up to say beseechingly...

"Let me stay with him, he'll be good now, John."

"No, my dear.  I've told him he must go to sleep, as you bid him, and
he must, if I stay here all night."

"But he'll cry himself sick," pleaded Meg, reproaching herself for
deserting her boy.

"No, he won't, he's so tired he will soon drop off and then the matter
is settled, for he will understand that he has got to mind.  Don't
interfere, I'll manage him."

"He's my child, and I can't have his spirit broken by harshness."

"He's my child, and I won't have his temper spoiled by indulgence.  Go
down, my dear, and leave the boy to me."

When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed, and never
regretted her docility.

"Please let me kiss him once, John?"

"Certainly.  Demi, say good night to Mamma, and let her go and rest,
for she is very tired with taking care of you all day."

Meg always insisted upon it that the kiss won the victory, for after it
was given, Demi sobbed more quietly, and lay quite still at the bottom
of the bed, whither he had wriggled in his anguish of mind.

"Poor little man, he's worn out with sleep and crying.  I'll cover him
up, and then go and set Meg's heart at rest," thought John, creeping to
the bedside, hoping to find his rebellious heir asleep.

But he wasn't, for the moment his father peeped at him, Demi's eyes
opened, his little chin began to quiver, and he put up his arms, saying
with a penitent hiccough, "Me's dood, now."

Sitting on the stairs outside Meg wondered at the long silence which
followed the uproar, and after imagining all sorts of impossible
accidents, she slipped into the room to set her fears at rest.  Demi
lay fast asleep, not in his usual spreadeagle attitude, but in a
subdued bunch, cuddled close in the circle of his father's arm and
holding his father's finger, as if he felt that justice was tempered
with mercy, and had gone to sleep a sadder and wiser baby.  So held,
John had waited with a womanly patience till the little hand relaxed
its hold, and while waiting had fallen asleep, more tired by that
tussle with his son than with his whole day's work.

As Meg stood watching the two faces on the pillow, she smiled to
herself, and then slipped away again, saying in a satisfied tone, "I
never need fear that John will be too harsh with my babies.  He does
know how to manage them, and will be a great help, for Demi is getting
too much for me."

When John came down at last, expecting to find a pensive or reproachful
wife, he was agreeably surprised to find Meg placidly trimming a
bonnet, and to be greeted with the request to read something about the
election, if he was not too tired.  John saw in a minute that a
revolution of some kind was going on, but wisely asked no questions,
knowing that Meg was such a transparent little person, she couldn't
keep a secret to save her life, and therefore the clue would soon
appear.  He read a long debate with the most amiable readiness and then
explained it in his most lucid manner, while Meg tried to look deeply
interested, to ask intelligent questions, and keep her thoughts from
wandering from the state of the nation to the state of her bonnet.  In
her secret soul, however, she decided that politics were as bad as
mathematics, and that the mission of politicians seemed to be calling
each other names, but she kept these feminine ideas to herself, and
when John paused, shook her head and said with what she thought
diplomatic ambiguity, "Well, I really don't see what we are coming to."

John laughed, and watched her for a minute, as she poised a pretty
little preparation of lace and flowers on her hand, and regarded it
with the genuine interest which his harangue had failed to waken.

"She is trying to like politics for my sake, so I'll try and like
millinery for hers, that's only fair," thought John the Just, adding
aloud, "That's very pretty.  Is it what you call a breakfast cap?"

"My dear man, it's a bonnet!   My very best go-to-concert-and-theater
bonnet."

"I beg your pardon, it was so small, I naturally mistook it for one of
the flyaway things you sometimes wear. How do you keep it on?"

"These bits of lace are fastened under the chin with a rosebud, so,"
and Meg illustrated by putting on the bonnet and regarding him with an
air of calm satisfaction that was irresistible.

"It's a love of a bonnet, but I prefer the face inside, for it looks
young and happy again," and John kissed the smiling face, to the great
detriment of the rosebud under the chin.

"I'm glad you like it, for I want you to take me to one of the new
concerts some night.  I really need some music to put me in tune.  Will
you, please?"

"Of course I will, with all my heart, or anywhere else you like.  You
have been shut up so long, it will do you no end of good, and I shall
enjoy it, of all things.  What put it into your head, little mother?"

"Well, I had a talk with Marmee the other day, and told her how nervous
and cross and out of sorts I felt, and she said I needed change and
less care, so Hannah is to help me with the children, and I'm to see to
things about the house more, and now and then have a little fun, just
to keep me from getting to be a fidgety, broken-down old woman before
my time.  It's only an experiment, John, and I want to try it for your
sake as much as for mine, because I've neglected you shamefully lately,
and I'm going to make home what it used to be, if I can.  You don't
object, I hope?"

Never mind what John said, or what a very narrow escape the little
bonnet had from utter ruin.  All that we have any business to know is
that John did not appear to object, judging from the changes which
gradually took place in the house and its inmates.  It was not all
Paradise by any means, but everyone was better for the division of
labor system.  The children throve under the paternal rule, for
accurate, stedfast John brought order and obedience into Babydom, while
Meg recovered her spirits and composed her nerves by plenty of
wholesome exercise, a little pleasure, and much confidential
conversation with her sensible husband.  Home grew homelike again, and
John had no wish to leave it, unless he took Meg with him.  The Scotts
came to the Brookes' now, and everyone found the little house a
cheerful place, full of happiness, content, and family love.  Even
Sallie Moffatt liked to go there.  "It is always so quiet and pleasant
here, it does me good, Meg," she used to say, looking about her with
wistful eyes, as if trying to discover the charm, that she might use it
in her great house, full of splendid loneliness, for there were no
riotous, sunny-faced babies there, and Ned lived in a world of his own,
where there was no place for her.

This household happiness did not come all at once, but John and Meg had
found the key to it, and each year of married life taught them how to
use it, unlocking the treasuries of real home love and mutual
helpfulness, which the poorest may possess, and the richest cannot buy.
This is the sort of shelf on which young wives and mothers may consent
to be laid, safe from the restless fret and fever of the world, finding
loyal lovers in the little sons and daughters who cling to them,
undaunted by sorrow, poverty, or age, walking side by side, through
fair and stormy weather, with a faithful friend, who is, in the true
sense of the good old Saxon word, the 'house-band', and learning, as
Meg learned, that a woman's happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor
the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.



CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

LAZY LAURENCE

Laurie went to Nice intending to stay a week, and remained a month.  He
was tired of wandering about alone, and Amy's familiar presence seemed
to give a homelike charm to the foreign scenes in which she bore a
part.  He rather missed the 'petting' he used to receive, and enjoyed a
taste of it again, for no attentions, however flattering, from
strangers, were half so pleasant as the sisterly adoration of the girls
at home.  Amy never would pet him like the others, but she was very
glad to see him now, and quite clung to him, feeling that he was the
representative of the dear family for whom she longed more than she
would confess.  They naturally took comfort in each other's society and
were much together, riding, walking, dancing, or dawdling, for at Nice
no one can be very industrious during the gay season.  But, while
apparently amusing themselves in the most careless fashion, they were
half-consciously making discoveries and forming opinions about each
other.  Amy rose daily in the estimation of her friend, but he sank in
hers, and each felt the truth before a word was spoken.  Amy tried to
please, and succeeded, for she was grateful for the many pleasures he
gave her, and repaid him with the little services to which womanly
women know how to lend an indescribable charm.  Laurie made no effort
of any kind, but just let himself drift along as comfortably as
possible, trying to forget, and feeling that all women owed him a kind
word because one had been cold to him.  It cost him no effort to be
generous, and he would have given Amy all the trinkets in Nice if she
would have taken them, but at the same time he felt that he could not
change the opinion she was forming of him, and he rather dreaded the
keen blue eyes that seemed to watch him with such half-sorrowful,
half-scornful surprise.

"All the rest have gone to Monaco for the day.  I preferred to stay at
home and write letters.  They are done now, and I am going to Valrosa
to sketch, will you come?" said Amy, as she joined Laurie one lovely
day when he lounged in as usual, about noon.

"Well, yes, but isn't it rather warm for such a long walk?" he answered
slowly, for the shaded salon looked inviting after the glare without.

"I'm going to have the little carriage, and Baptiste can drive, so
you'll have nothing to do but hold your umbrella, and keep your gloves
nice," returned Amy, with a sarcastic glance at the immaculate kids,
which were a weak point with Laurie.

"Then I'll go with pleasure." and he put out his hand for her
sketchbook.  But she tucked it under her arm with a sharp...

"Don't trouble yourself.  It's no exertion to me, but you don't look
equal to it."

Laurie lifted his eyebrows and followed at a leisurely pace as she ran
downstairs, but when they got into the carriage he took the reins
himself, and left little Baptiste nothing to do but fold his arms and
fall asleep on his perch.

The two never quarreled.  Amy was too well-bred, and just now Laurie
was too lazy, so in a minute he peeped under her hatbrim with an
inquiring air.  She answered him with a smile, and they went on
together in the most amicable manner.

It was a lovely drive, along winding roads rich in the picturesque
scenes that delight beauty-loving eyes.  Here an ancient monastery,
whence the solemn chanting of the monks came down to them.  There a
bare-legged shepherd, in wooden shoes, pointed hat, and rough jacket
over one shoulder, sat piping on a stone while his goats skipped among
the rocks or lay at his feet.  Meek, mouse-colored donkeys, laden with
panniers of freshly cut grass passed by, with a pretty girl in a
capaline sitting between the green piles, or an old woman spinning with
a distaff as she went. Brown, soft-eyed children ran out from the
quaint stone hovels to offer nosegays, or bunches of oranges still on
the bough. Gnarled olive trees covered the hills with their dusky
foliage, fruit hung golden in the orchard, and great scarlet anemones
fringed the roadside, while beyond green slopes and craggy heights, the
Maritime Alps rose sharp and white against the blue Italian sky.

Valrosa well deserved its name, for in that climate of perpetual summer
roses blossomed everywhere.  They overhung the archway, thrust
themselves between the bars of the great gate with a sweet welcome to
passers-by, and lined the avenue, winding through lemon trees and
feathery palms up to the villa on the hill. Every shadowy nook, where
seats invited one to stop and rest, was a mass of bloom, every cool
grotto had its marble nymph smiling from a veil of flowers and every
fountain reflected crimson, white, or pale pink roses, leaning down to
smile at their own beauty. Roses covered the walls of the house, draped
the cornices, climbed the pillars, and ran riot over the balustrade of
the wide terrace, whence one looked down on the sunny Mediterranean,
and the white-walled city on its shore.

"This is a regular honeymoon paradise, isn't it?  Did you ever see such
roses?" asked Amy, pausing on the terrace to enjoy the view, and a
luxurious whiff of perfume that came wandering by.

"No, nor felt such thorns," returned Laurie, with his thumb in his
mouth, after a vain attempt to capture a solitary scarlet flower that
grew just beyond his reach.

"Try lower down, and pick those that have no thorns," said Amy,
gathering three of the tiny cream-colored ones that starred the wall
behind her.  She put them in his buttonhole as a peace offering, and he
stood a minute looking down at them with a curious expression, for in
the Italian part of his nature there was a touch of superstition, and
he was just then in that state of half-sweet, half-bitter melancholy,
when imaginative young men find significance in trifles and food for
romance everywhere. He had thought of Jo in reaching after the thorny
red rose, for vivid flowers became her, and she had often worn ones
like that from the greenhouse at home.  The pale roses Amy gave him
were the sort that the Italians lay in dead hands, never in bridal
wreaths, and for a moment he wondered if the omen was for Jo or for
himself, but the next instant his American common sense got the better
of sentimentality, and he laughed a heartier laugh than Amy had heard
since he came.

"It's good advice, you'd better take it and save your fingers," she
said, thinking her speech amused him.

"Thank you, I will," he answered in jest, and a few months later he did
it in earnest.

"Laurie, when are you going to your grandfather?" she asked presently,
as she settled herself on a rustic seat.

"Very soon."

"You have said that a dozen times within the last three weeks."

"I dare say, short answers save trouble."

"He expects you, and you really ought to go."

"Hospitable creature!  I know it."

"Then why don't you do it?"

"Natural depravity, I suppose."

"Natural indolence, you mean.  It's really dreadful!" and Amy looked
severe.

"Not so bad as it seems, for I should only plague him if I went, so I
might as well stay and plague you a little longer, you can bear it
better, in fact I think it agrees with you excellently," and Laurie
composed himself for a lounge on the broad ledge of the balustrade.

Amy shook her head and opened her sketchbook with an air of
resignation, but she had made up her mind to lecture 'that boy' and in
a minute she began again.

"What are you doing just now?"

"Watching lizards."

"No, no.  I mean what do you intend and wish to do?"

"Smoke a cigarette, if you'll allow me."

"How provoking you are!  I don't approve of cigars and I will only
allow it on condition that you let me put you into my sketch.  I need a
figure."

"With all the pleasure in life.  How will you have me, full length or
three-quarters, on my head or my heels?  I should respectfully suggest
a recumbent posture, then put yourself in also and call it 'Dolce far
niente'."

"Stay as you are, and go to sleep if you like.  I intend to work hard,"
said Amy in her most energetic tone.

"What delightful enthusiasm!" and he leaned against a tall urn with an
air of entire satisfaction.

"What would Jo say if she saw you now?" asked Amy impatiently, hoping
to stir him up by the mention of her still more energetic sister's name.

"As usual, 'Go away, Teddy.  I'm busy!'" He laughed as he spoke, but
the laugh was not natural, and a shade passed over his face, for the
utterance of the familiar name touched the wound that was not healed
yet.  Both tone and shadow struck Amy, for she had seen and heard them
before, and now she looked up in time to catch a new expression on
Laurie's face--a hard bitter look, full of pain, dissatisfaction, and
regret.  It was gone before she could study it and the listless
expression back again. She watched him for a moment with artistic
pleasure, thinking how like an Italian he looked, as he lay basking in
the sun with uncovered head and eyes full of southern dreaminess, for
he seemed to have forgotten her and fallen into a reverie.

"You look like the effigy of a young knight asleep on his tomb," she
said, carefully tracing the well-cut profile defined against the dark
stone.

"Wish I was!"

"That's a foolish wish, unless you have spoiled your life. You are so
changed, I sometimes think--" there Amy stopped, with a half-timid,
half-wistful look, more significant than her unfinished speech.

Laurie saw and understood the affectionate anxiety which she hesitated
to express, and looking straight into her eyes, said, just as he used
to say it to her mother, "It's all right, ma'am."

That satisfied her and set at rest the doubts that had begun to worry
her lately.  It also touched her, and she showed that it did, by the
cordial tone in which she said...

"I'm glad of that!  I didn't think you'd been a very bad boy, but I
fancied you might have wasted money at that wicked Baden-Baden, lost
your heart to some charming Frenchwoman with a husband, or got into
some of the scrapes that young men seem to consider a necessary part of
a foreign tour.  Don't stay out there in the sun, come and lie on the
grass here and 'let us be friendly', as Jo used to say when we got in
the sofa corner and told secrets."

Laurie obediently threw himself down on the turf, and began to amuse
himself by sticking daisies into the ribbons of Amy's hat, that lay
there.

"I'm all ready for the secrets." and he glanced up with a decided
expression of interest in his eyes.

"I've none to tell.  You may begin."

"Haven't one to bless myself with.  I thought perhaps you'd had some
news from home.."

"You have heard all that has come lately.  Don't you hear often?  I
fancied Jo would send you volumes."

"She's very busy.  I'm roving about so, it's impossible to be regular,
you know.  When do you begin your great work of art, Raphaella?" he
asked, changing the subject abruptly after another pause, in which he
had been wondering if Amy knew his secret and wanted to talk about it.

"Never," she answered, with a despondent but decided air. "Rome took
all the vanity out of me, for after seeing the wonders there, I felt
too insignificant to live and gave up all my foolish hopes in despair."

"Why should you, with so much energy and talent?"

"That's just why, because talent isn't genius, and no amount of energy
can make it so.  I want to be great, or nothing. I won't be a
common-place dauber, so I don't intend to try any more."

"And what are you going to do with yourself now, if I may ask?"

"Polish up my other talents, and be an ornament to society, if I get
the chance."

It was a characteristic speech, and sounded daring, but audacity
becomes young people, and Amy's ambition had a good foundation.  Laurie
smiled, but he liked the spirit with which she took up a new purpose
when a long-cherished one died, and spent no time lamenting.

"Good!  And here is where Fred Vaughn comes in, I fancy."

Amy preserved a discreet silence, but there was a conscious look in her
downcast face that made Laurie sit up and say gravely, "Now I'm going
to play brother, and ask questions.  May I?"

"I don't promise to answer."

"Your face will, if your tongue won't.  You aren't woman of the world
enough yet to hide your feelings, my dear.  I heard rumors about Fred
and you last year, and it's my private opinion that if he had not been
called home so suddenly and detained so long, something would have come
of it, hey?"

"That's not for me to say," was Amy's grim reply, but her lips would
smile, and there was a traitorous sparkle of the eye which betrayed
that she knew her power and enjoyed the knowledge.

"You are not engaged, I hope?" and Laurie looked very elder-brotherly
and grave all of a sudden.

"No."

"But you will be, if he comes back and goes properly down on his knees,
won't you?"

"Very likely."

"Then you are fond of old Fred?"

"I could be, if I tried."

"But you don't intend to try till the proper moment? Bless my soul,
what unearthly prudence!  He's a good fellow, Amy, but not the man I
fancied you'd like."

"He is rich, a gentleman, and has delightful manners," began Amy,
trying to be quite cool and dignified, but feeling a little ashamed of
herself, in spite of the sincerity of her intentions.

"I understand.  Queens of society can't get on without money, so you
mean to make a good match, and start in that way?  Quite right and
proper, as the world goes, but it sounds odd from the lips of one of
your mother's girls."

"True, nevertheless."

A short speech, but the quiet decision with which it was uttered
contrasted curiously with the young speaker.  Laurie felt this
instinctively and laid himself down again, with a sense of
disappointment which he could not explain.  His look and silence, as
well as a certain inward self-disapproval, ruffled Amy, and made her
resolve to deliver her lecture without delay.

"I wish you'd do me the favor to rouse yourself a little," she said
sharply.

"Do it for me, there's a dear girl."

"I could, if I tried." and she looked as if she would like doing it in
the most summary style.

"Try, then.  I give you leave," returned Laurie, who enjoyed having
someone to tease, after his long abstinence from his favorite pastime.

"You'd be angry in five minutes."

"I'm never angry with you.  It takes two flints to make a fire. You are
as cool and soft as snow."

"You don't know what I can do.  Snow produces a glow and a tingle, if
applied rightly.  Your indifference is half affectation, and a good
stirring up would prove it."

"Stir away, it won't hurt me and it may amuse you, as the big man said
when his little wife beat him.  Regard me in the light of a husband or
a carpet, and beat till you are tired, if that sort of exercise agrees
with you."

Being decidedly nettled herself, and longing to see him shake off the
apathy that so altered him, Amy sharpened both tongue and pencil, and
began.

"Flo and I have got a new name for you.  It's Lazy Laurence. How do you
like it?"

She thought it would annoy him, but he only folded his arms under his
head, with an imperturbable, "That's not bad. Thank you, ladies."

"Do you want to know what I honestly think of you?"

"Pining to be told."

"Well, I despise you."

If she had even said 'I hate you' in a petulant or coquettish tone, he
would have laughed and rather liked it, but the grave, almost sad,
accent in her voice made him open his eyes, and ask quickly...

"Why, if you please?"

"Because, with every chance for being good, useful, and happy, you are
faulty, lazy, and miserable."

"Strong language, mademoiselle."

"If you like it, I'll go on."

"Pray do, it's quite interesting."

"I thought you'd find it so.  Selfish people always like to talk about
themselves."

"Am I selfish?" the question slipped out involuntarily and in a tone of
surprise, for the one virtue on which he prided himself was generosity.

"Yes, very selfish," continued Amy, in a calm, cool voice, twice as
effective just then as an angry one.  "I'll show you how, for I've
studied you while we were frolicking, and I'm not at all satisfied with
you.  Here you have been abroad nearly six months, and done nothing but
waste time and money and disappoint your friends."

"Isn't a fellow to have any pleasure after a four-year grind?"

"You don't look as if you'd had much.  At any rate, you are none the
better for it, as far as I can see.  I said when we first met that you
had improved.  Now I take it all back, for I don't think you half so
nice as when I left you at home.  You have grown abominably lazy, you
like gossip, and waste time on frivolous things, you are contented to
be petted and admired by silly people, instead of being loved and
respected by wise ones.  With money, talent, position, health, and
beauty, ah you like that old Vanity!  But it's the truth, so I can't
help saying it, with all these splendid things to use and enjoy, you
can find nothing to do but dawdle, and instead of being the man you
ought to be, you are only..."  there she stopped, with a look that had
both pain and pity in it.

"Saint Laurence on a gridiron," added Laurie, blandly finishing the
sentence.  But the lecture began to take effect, for there was a
wide-awake sparkle in his eyes now and a half-angry, half-injured
expression replaced the former indifference.

"I supposed you'd take it so.  You men tell us we are angels, and say
we can make you what we will, but the instant we honestly try to do you
good, you laugh at us and won't listen, which proves how much your
flattery is worth." Amy spoke bitterly, and turned her back on the
exasperating martyr at her feet.

In a minute a hand came down over the page, so that she could not draw,
and Laurie's voice said, with a droll imitation of a penitent child, "I
will be good, oh, I will be good!"

But Amy did not laugh, for she was in earnest, and tapping on the
outspread hand with her pencil, said soberly, "Aren't you ashamed of a
hand like that?  It's as soft and white as a woman's, and looks as if
it never did anything but wear Jouvin's best gloves and pick flowers
for ladies.  You are not a dandy, thank Heaven, so I'm glad to see
there are no diamonds or big seal rings on it, only the little old one
Jo gave you so long ago.  Dear soul, I wish she was here to help me!"

"So do I!"

The hand vanished as suddenly as it came, and there was energy enough
in the echo of her wish to suit even Amy.  She glanced down at him with
a new thought in her mind, but he was lying with his hat half over his
face, as if for shade, and his mustache hid his mouth.  She only saw
his chest rise and fall, with a long breath that might have been a
sigh, and the hand that wore the ring nestled down into the grass, as
if to hide something too precious or too tender to be spoken of. All in
a minute various hints and trifles assumed shape and significance in
Amy's mind, and told her what her sister never had confided to her.
She remembered that Laurie never spoke voluntarily of Jo, she recalled
the shadow on his face just now, the change in his character, and the
wearing of the little old ring which was no ornament to a handsome
hand.  Girls are quick to read such signs and feel their eloquence.
Amy had fancied that perhaps a love trouble was at the bottom of the
alteration, and now she was sure of it.  Her keen eyes filled, and when
she spoke again, it was in a voice that could be beautifully soft and
kind when she chose to make it so.

"I know I have no right to talk so to you, Laurie, and if you weren't
the sweetest-tempered fellow in the world, you'd be very angry with me.
But we are all so fond and proud of you, I couldn't bear to think they
should be disappointed in you at home as I have been, though, perhaps
they would understand the change better than I do."

"I think they would," came from under the hat, in a grim tone, quite as
touching as a broken one.

"They ought to have told me, and not let me go blundering and scolding,
when I should have been more kind and patient than ever.  I never did
like that Miss Randal and now I hate her!" said artful Amy, wishing to
be sure of her facts this time.

"Hang Miss Randal!" and Laurie knocked the hat off his face with a look
that left no doubt of his sentiments toward that young lady.

"I beg pardon, I thought..." and there she paused diplomatically.

"No, you didn't, you knew perfectly well I never cared for anyone but
Jo," Laurie said that in his old, impetuous tone, and turned his face
away as he spoke.

"I did think so, but as they never said anything about it, and you came
away, I supposed I was mistaken.  And Jo wouldn't be kind to you?  Why,
I was sure she loved you dearly."

"She was kind, but not in the right way, and it's lucky for her she
didn't love me, if I'm the good-for-nothing fellow you think me.  It's
her fault though, and you may tell her so."

The hard, bitter look came back again as he said that, and it troubled
Amy, for she did not know what balm to apply.

"I was wrong, I didn't know.  I'm very sorry I was so cross, but I
can't help wishing you'd bear it better, Teddy, dear."

"Don't, that's her name for me!" and Laurie put up his hand with a
quick gesture to stop the words spoken in Jo's half-kind,
half-reproachful tone.  "Wait till you've tried it yourself," he added
in a low voice, as he pulled up the grass by the handful.

"I'd take it manfully, and be respected if I couldn't be loved," said
Amy, with the decision of one who knew nothing about it.

Now, Laurie flattered himself that he had borne it remarkably well,
making no moan, asking no sympathy, and taking his trouble away to live
it down alone.  Amy's lecture put the matter in a new light, and for
the first time it did look weak and selfish to lose heart at the first
failure, and shut himself up in moody indifference.  He felt as if
suddenly shaken out of a pensive dream and found it impossible to go to
sleep again.  Presently he sat up and asked slowly, "Do you think Jo
would despise me as you do?"

"Yes, if she saw you now.  She hates lazy people.  Why don't you do
something splendid, and make her love you?"

"I did my best, but it was no use."

"Graduating well, you mean?  That was no more than you ought to have
done, for your grandfather's sake.  It would have been shameful to fail
after spending so much time and money, when everyone knew that you
could do well."

"I did fail, say what you will, for Jo wouldn't love me," began Laurie,
leaning his head on his hand in a despondent attitude.

"No, you didn't, and you'll say so in the end, for it did you good, and
proved that you could do something if you tried. If you'd only set
about another task of some sort, you'd soon be your hearty, happy self
again, and forget your trouble."

"That's impossible."

"Try it and see.  You needn't shrug your shoulders, and think, 'Much
she knows about such things'.  I don't pretend to be wise, but I am
observing, and I see a great deal more than you'd imagine.  I'm
interested in other people's experiences and inconsistencies, and
though I can't explain, I remember and use them for my own benefit.
Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for
it's wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the
one you want.  There, I won't lecture any more, for I know you'll wake
up and be a man in spite of that hardhearted girl."

Neither spoke for several minutes.  Laurie sat turning the little ring
on his finger, and Amy put the last touches to the hasty sketch she had
been working at while she talked. Presently she put it on his knee,
merely saying, "How do you like that?"

He looked and then he smiled, as he could not well help doing, for it
was capitally done, the long, lazy figure on the grass, with listless
face, half-shut eyes, and one hand holding a cigar, from which came the
little wreath of smoke that encircled the dreamer's head.

"How well you draw!" he said, with a genuine surprise and pleasure at
her skill, adding, with a half-laugh, "Yes, that's me."

"As you are.  This is as you were." and Amy laid another sketch beside
the one he held.

It was not nearly so well done, but there was a life and spirit in it
which atoned for many faults, and it recalled the past so vividly that
a sudden change swept over the young man's face as he looked.  Only a
rough sketch of Laurie taming a horse.  Hat and coat were off, and
every line of the active figure, resolute face, and commanding attitude
was full of energy and meaning.  The handsome brute, just subdued,
stood arching his neck under the tightly drawn rein, with one foot
impatiently pawing the ground, and ears pricked up as if listening for
the voice that had mastered him.  In the ruffled mane, the rider's
breezy hair and erect attitude, there was a suggestion of suddenly
arrested motion, of strength, courage, and youthful buoyancy that
contrasted sharply with the supine grace of the '_Dolce far Niente_'
sketch.  Laurie said nothing but as his eye went from one to the other,
Amy saw him flush up and fold his lips together as if he read and
accepted the little lesson she had given him.  That satisfied her, and
without waiting for him to speak, she said, in her sprightly way...

"Don't you remember the day you played Rarey with Puck, and we all
looked on?  Meg and Beth were frightened, but Jo clapped and pranced,
and I sat on the fence and drew you.  I found that sketch in my
portfolio the other day, touched it up, and kept it to show you."

"Much obliged.  You've improved immensely since then, and I
congratulate you.  May I venture to suggest in 'a honeymoon paradise'
that five o'clock is the dinner hour at your hotel?"

Laurie rose as he spoke, returned the pictures with a smile and a bow
and looked at his watch, as if to remind her that even moral lectures
should have an end.  He tried to resume his former easy, indifferent
air, but it was an affectation now, for the rousing had been more
effacious than he would confess.  Amy felt the shade of coldness in his
manner, and said to herself...

"Now, I've offended him.  Well, if it does him good, I'm glad, if it
makes him hate me, I'm sorry, but it's true, and I can't take back a
word of it."

They laughed and chatted all the way home, and little Baptiste, up
behind, thought that monsieur and madamoiselle were in charming
spirits.  But both felt ill at ease.  The friendly frankness was
disturbed, the sunshine had a shadow over it, and despite their
apparent gaiety, there was a secret discontent in the heart of each.

"Shall we see you this evening, mon frere?" asked Amy, as they parted
at her aunt's door.

"Unfortunately I have an engagement.  Au revoir, madamoiselle," and
Laurie bent as if to kiss her hand, in the foreign fashion, which
became him better than many men.  Something in his face made Amy say
quickly and warmly...

"No, be yourself with me, Laurie, and part in the good old way. I'd
rather have a hearty English handshake than all the sentimental
salutations in France."

"Goodbye, dear," and with these words, uttered in the tone she liked,
Laurie left her, after a handshake almost painful in its heartiness.

Next morning, instead of the usual call, Amy received a note which made
her smile at the beginning and sigh at the end.

My Dear Mentor, Please make my adieux to your aunt, and exult within
yourself, for 'Lazy Laurence' has gone to his grandpa, like the best of
boys.  A pleasant winter to you, and may the gods grant you a blissful
honeymoon at Valrosa!  I think Fred would be benefited by a rouser.
Tell him so, with my congratulations.

Yours gratefully, Telemachus


"Good boy!  I'm glad he's gone," said Amy, with an approving smile. The
next minute her face fell as she glanced about the empty room, adding,
with an involuntary sigh, "Yes, I am glad, but how I shall miss him."



CHAPTER FORTY

THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

When the first bitterness was over, the family accepted the inevitable,
and tried to bear it cheerfully, helping one another by the increased
affection which comes to bind households tenderly together in times of
trouble.  They put away their grief, and each did his or her part
toward making that last year a happy one.

The pleasantest room in the house was set apart for Beth, and in it was
gathered everything that she most loved, flowers, pictures, her piano,
the little worktable, and the beloved pussies.  Father's best books
found their way there, Mother's easy chair, Jo's desk, Amy's finest
sketches, and every day Meg brought her babies on a loving pilgrimage,
to make sunshine for Aunty Beth.  John quietly set apart a little sum,
that he might enjoy the pleasure of keeping the invalid supplied with
the fruit she loved and longed for.  Old Hannah never wearied of
concocting dainty dishes to tempt a capricious appetite, dropping tears
as she worked, and from across the sea came little gifts and cheerful
letters, seeming to bring breaths of warmth and fragrance from lands
that know no winter.

Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat Beth,
tranquil and busy as ever, for nothing could change the sweet,
unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave life, she tried to
make it happier for those who should remain behind.  The feeble fingers
were never idle, and one of her pleasures was to make little things for
the school children daily passing to and fro, to drop a pair of mittens
from her window for a pair of purple hands, a needlebook for some small
mother of many dolls, penwipers for young penmen toiling through
forests of pothooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and all manner
of pleasant devices, till the reluctant climbers of the ladder of
learning found their way strewn with flowers, as it were, and came to
regard the gentle giver as a sort of fairy godmother, who sat above
there, and showered down gifts miraculously suited to their tastes and
needs.  If Beth had wanted any reward, she found it in the bright
little faces always turned up to her window, with nods and smiles, and
the droll little letters which came to her, full of blots and gratitude.

The first few months were very happy ones, and Beth often used to look
round, and say "How beautiful this is!" as they all sat together in her
sunny room, the babies kicking and crowing on the floor, mother and
sisters working near, and father reading, in his pleasant voice, from
the wise old books which seemed rich in good and comfortable words, as
applicable now as when written centuries ago, a little chapel, where a
paternal priest taught his flock the hard lessons all must learn,
trying to show them that hope can comfort love, and faith make
resignation possible.  Simple sermons, that went straight to the souls
of those who listened, for the father's heart was in the minister's
religion, and the frequent falter in the voice gave a double eloquence
to the words he spoke or read.

It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as
preparation for the sad hours to come, for by-and-by, Beth said the
needle was 'so heavy', and put it down forever.  Talking wearied her,
faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil
spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble
flesh.  Ah me! Such heavy days, such long, long nights, such aching
hearts and imploring prayers, when those who loved her best were forced
to see the thin hands stretched out to them beseechingly, to hear the
bitter cry, "Help me, help me!" and to feel that there was no help.  A
sad eclipse of the serene soul, a sharp struggle of the young life with
death, but both were mercifully brief, and then the natural rebellion
over, the old peace returned more beautiful than ever.  With the wreck
of her frail body, Beth's soul grew strong, and though she said little,
those about her felt that she was ready, saw that the first pilgrim
called was likewise the fittest, and waited with her on the shore,
trying to see the Shining Ones coming to receive her when she crossed
the river.

Jo never left her for an hour since Beth had said "I feel stronger when
you are here."  She slept on a couch in the room, waking often to renew
the fire, to feed, lift, or wait upon the patient creature who seldom
asked for anything, and 'tried not to be a trouble'.  All day she
haunted the room, jealous of any other nurse, and prouder of being
chosen then than of any honor her life ever brought her.  Precious and
helpful hours to Jo, for now her heart received the teaching that it
needed.  Lessons in patience were so sweetly taught her that she could
not fail to learn them, charity for all, the lovely spirit that can
forgive and truly forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the
hardest easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts
undoubtingly.

Often when she woke Jo found Beth reading in her well-worn little book,
heard her singing softly, to beguile the sleepless night, or saw her
lean her face upon her hands, while slow tears dropped through the
transparent fingers, and Jo would lie watching her with thoughts too
deep for tears, feeling that Beth, in her simple, unselfish way, was
trying to wean herself from the dear old life, and fit herself for the
life to come, by sacred words of comfort, quiet prayers, and the music
she loved so well.

Seeing this did more for Jo than the wisest sermons, the saintliest
hymns, the most fervent prayers that any voice could utter.  For with
eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest
sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister's life--uneventful,
unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which 'smell sweet, and
blossom in the dust', the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on
earth remembered soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible
to all.

One night when Beth looked among the books upon her table, to find
something to make her forget the mortal weariness that was almost as
hard to bear as pain, as she turned the leaves of her old favorite,
Pilgrims's Progress, she found a little paper, scribbled over in Jo's
hand.  The name caught her eye and the blurred look of the lines made
her sure that tears had fallen on it.

"Poor Jo!  She's fast asleep, so I won't wake her to ask leave.  She
shows me all her things, and I don't think she'll mind if I look at
this", thought Beth, with a glance at her sister, who lay on the rug,
with the tongs beside her, ready to wake up the minute the log fell
apart.

    MY BETH

    Sitting patient in the shadow
    Till the blessed light shall come,
    A serene and saintly presence
    Sanctifies our troubled home.
    Earthly joys and hopes and sorrows
    Break like ripples on the strand
    Of the deep and solemn river
    Where her willing feet now stand.

    O my sister, passing from me,
    Out of human care and strife,
    Leave me, as a gift, those virtues
    Which have beautified your life.
    Dear, bequeath me that great patience
    Which has power to sustain
    A cheerful, uncomplaining spirit
    In its prison-house of pain.

    Give me, for I need it sorely,
    Of that courage, wise and sweet,
    Which has made the path of duty
    Green beneath your willing feet.
    Give me that unselfish nature,
    That with charity devine
    Can pardon wrong for love's dear sake--
    Meek heart, forgive me mine!

    Thus our parting daily loseth
    Something of its bitter pain,
    And while learning this hard lesson,
    My great loss becomes my gain.
    For the touch of grief will render
    My wild nature more serene,
    Give to life new aspirations,
    A new trust in the unseen.

    Henceforth, safe across the river,
    I shall see forever more
    A beloved, household spirit
    Waiting for me on the shore.
    Hope and faith, born of my sorrow,
    Guardian angels shall become,
    And the sister gone before me
    By their hands shall lead me home.

Blurred and blotted, faulty and feeble as the lines were, they brought
a look of inexpressible comfort to Beth's face, for her one regret had
been that she had done so little, and this seemed to assure her that
her life had not been useless, that her death would not bring the
despair she feared.  As she sat with the paper folded between her
hands, the charred log fell asunder.  Jo started up, revived the blaze,
and crept to the bedside, hoping Beth slept.

"Not asleep, but so happy, dear.  See, I found this and read it. I knew
you wouldn't care.  Have I been all that to you, Jo?" she asked, with
wistful, humble earnestness.

"_Oh_, Beth, so much, so much!" and Jo's head went down upon the pillow
beside her sister's.

"Then I don't feel as if I'd wasted my life.  I'm not so good as you
make me, but I have tried to do right.  And now, when it's too late to
begin even to do better, it's such a comfort to know that someone loves
me so much, and feels as if I'd helped them."

"More than any one in the world, Beth.  I used to think I couldn't let
you go, but I'm learning to feel that I don't lose you, that you'll be
more to me than ever, and death can't part us, though it seems to."

"I know it cannot, and I don't fear it any longer, for I'm sure I shall
be your Beth still, to love and help you more than ever.  You must take
my place, Jo, and be everything to Father and Mother when I'm gone.
They will turn to you, don't fail them, and if it's hard to work alone,
remember that I don't forget you, and that you'll be happier in doing
that than writing splendid books or seeing all the world, for love is
the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the
end so easy."

"I'll try, Beth." and then and there Jo renounced her old ambition,
pledged herself to a new and better one, acknowledging the poverty of
other desires, and feeling the blessed solace of a belief in the
immortality of love.

So the spring days came and went, the sky grew clearer, the earth
greener, the flowers were up fairly early, and the birds came back in
time to say goodbye to Beth, who, like a tired but trustful child,
clung to the hands that had led her all her life, as Father and Mother
guided her tenderly through the Valley of the Shadow, and gave her up
to God.

Seldom except in books do the dying utter memorable words, see visions,
or depart with beatified countenances, and those who have sped many
parting souls know that to most the end comes as naturally and simply
as sleep.  As Beth had hoped, the 'tide went out easily', and in the
dark hour before dawn, on the bosom where she had drawn her first
breath, she quietly drew her last, with no farewell but one loving
look, one little sigh.

With tears and prayers and tender hands, Mother and sisters made her
ready for the long sleep that pain would never mar again, seeing with
grateful eyes the beautiful serenity that soon replaced the pathetic
patience that had wrung their hearts so long, and feeling with reverent
joy that to their darling death was a benignant angel, not a phantom
full of dread.

When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was out,
Jo's place was empty, and the room was very still.  But a bird sang
blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly
at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction
over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of painless peace
that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, and thanked
God that Beth was well at last.



CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

LEARNING TO FORGET

Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it
till long afterward.  Men seldom do, for when women are the advisers,
the lords of creation don't take the advice till they have persuaded
themselves that it is just what they intended to do.  Then they act
upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the
credit of it.  If it fails, they generously give her the whole.  Laurie
went back to his grandfather, and was so dutifully devoted for several
weeks that the old gentleman declared the climate of Nice had improved
him wonderfully, and he had better try it again. There was nothing the
young gentleman would have liked better, but elephants could not have
dragged him back after the scolding he had received.  Pride forbid, and
whenever the longing grew very strong, he fortified his resolution by
repeating the words that had made the deepest impression--"I despise
you." "Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."

Laurie turned the matter over in his mind so often that he soon brought
himself to confess that he had been selfish and lazy, but then when a
man has a great sorrow, he should be indulged in all sorts of vagaries
till he has lived it down.  He felt that his blighted affections were
quite dead now, and though he should never cease to be a faithful
mourner, there was no occasion to wear his weeds ostentatiously.  Jo
wouldn't love him, but he might make her respect and admire him by
doing something which should prove that a girl's 'No' had not spoiled
his life.  He had always meant to do something, and Amy's advice was
quite unnecessary.  He had only been waiting till the aforesaid
blighted affections were decently interred. That being done, he felt
that he was ready to 'hide his stricken heart, and still toil on'.

As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Laurie
resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem
which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer.
Therefore the next time the old gentleman found him getting restless
and moody and ordered him off, he went to Vienna, where he had musical
friends, and fell to work with the firm determination to distinguish
himself.  But whether the sorrow was too vast to be embodied in music,
or music too ethereal to uplift a mortal woe, he soon discovered that
the Requiem was beyond him just at present.  It was evident that his
mind was not in working order yet, and his ideas needed clarifying, for
often in the middle of a plaintive strain, he would find himself
humming a dancing tune that vividly recalled the Christmas ball at
Nice, especially the stout Frenchman, and put an effectual stop to
tragic composition for the time being.

Then he tried an opera, for nothing seemed impossible in the beginning,
but here again unforeseen difficulties beset him.  He wanted Jo for his
heroine, and called upon his memory to supply him with tender
recollections and romantic visions of his love.  But memory turned
traitor, and as if possessed by the perverse spirit of the girl, would
only recall Jo's oddities, faults, and freaks, would only show her in
the most unsentimental aspects--beating mats with her head tied up in a
bandanna, barricading herself with the sofa pillow, or throwing cold
water over his passion a la Gummidge--and an irresistable laugh spoiled
the pensive picture he was endeavoring to paint.  Jo wouldn't be put
into the opera at any price, and he had to give her up with a "Bless
that girl, what a torment she is!" and a clutch at his hair, as became
a distracted composer.

When he looked about him for another and a less intractable damsel to
immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the most obliging
readiness.  This phantom wore many faces, but it always had golden
hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and floated airily before
his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses, peacocks, white ponies,
and blue ribbons.  He did not give the complacent wraith any name, but
he took her for his heroine and grew quite fond of her, as well he
might, for he gifted her with every gift and grace under the sun, and
escorted her, unscathed, through trials which would have annihilated
any mortal woman.

Thanks to this inspiration, he got on swimmingly for a time, but
gradually the work lost its charm, and he forgot to compose, while he
sat musing, pen in hand, or roamed about the gay city to get some new
ideas and refresh his mind, which seemed to be in a somewhat unsettled
state that winter.  He did not do much, but he thought a great deal and
was conscious of a change of some sort going on in spite of himself.
"It's genius simmering, perhaps.  I'll let it simmer, and see what
comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all the while that it
wasn't genius, but something far more common.  Whatever it was, it
simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with
his desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go
at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that
everyone who loved music was not a composer.  Returning from one of
Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he
looked over his own, played a few of the best parts, sat staring at the
busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Bach, who stared benignly back
again.  Then suddenly he tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as
the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberly to himself...

"She is right!  Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so.  That
music has taken the vanity out of me as Rome took it out of her, and I
won't be a humbug any longer.  Now what shall I do?"

That seemed a hard question to answer, and Laurie began to wish he had
to work for his daily bread.  Now if ever, occurred an eligible
opportunity for 'going to the devil', as he once forcibly expressed it,
for he had plenty of money and nothing to do, and Satan is proverbially
fond of providing employment for full and idle hands.  The poor fellow
had temptations enough from without and from within, but he withstood
them pretty well, for much as he valued liberty, he valued good faith
and confidence more, so his promise to his grandfather, and his desire
to be able to look honestly into the eyes of the women who loved him,
and say "All's well," kept him safe and steady.

Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it, boys
will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not
expect miracles."  I dare say you don't, Mrs. Grundy, but it's true
nevertheless.  Women work a good many miracles, and I have a persuasion
that they may perform even that of raising the standard of manhood by
refusing to echo such sayings.  Let the boys be boys, the longer the
better, and let the young men sow their wild oats if they must.  But
mothers, sisters, and friends may help to make the crop a small one,
and keep many tares from spoiling the harvest, by believing, and
showing that they believe, in the possibility of loyalty to the virtues
which make men manliest in good women's eyes.  If it is a feminine
delusion, leave us to enjoy it while we may, for without it half the
beauty and the romance of life is lost, and sorrowful forebodings would
embitter all our hopes of the brave, tenderhearted little lads, who
still love their mothers better than themselves and are not ashamed to
own it.

Laurie thought that the task of forgetting his love for Jo would absorb
all his powers for years, but to his great surprise he discovered it
grew easier every day.  He refused to believe it at first, got angry
with himself, and couldn't understand it, but these hearts of ours are
curious and contrary things, and time and nature work their will in
spite of us.  Laurie's heart wouldn't ache.  The wound persisted in
healing with a rapidity that astonished him, and instead of trying to
forget, he found himself trying to remember.  He had not foreseen this
turn of affairs, and was not prepared for it.  He was disgusted with
himself, surprised at his own fickleness, and full of a queer mixture
of disappointment and relief that he could recover from such a
tremendous blow so soon.  He carefully stirred up the embers of his
lost love, but they refused to burst into a blaze.  There was only a
comfortable glow that warmed and did him good without putting him into
a fever, and he was reluctantly obliged to confess that the boyish
passion was slowly subsiding into a more tranquil sentiment, very
tender, a little sad and resentful still, but that was sure to pass
away in time, leaving a brotherly affection which would last unbroken
to the end.

As the word 'brotherly' passed through his mind in one of his reveries,
he smiled, and glanced up at the picture of Mozart that was before
him...

"Well, he was a great man, and when he couldn't have one sister he took
the other, and was happy."

Laurie did not utter the words, but he thought them, and the next
instant kissed the little old ring, saying to himself, "No, I won't!  I
haven't forgotten, I never can.  I'll try again, and if that fails, why
then..."

Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper and wrote to
Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything while there was
the least hope of her changing her mind. Couldn't she, wouldn't
she--and let him come home and be happy? While waiting for an answer he
did nothing, but he did it energetically, for he was in a fever of
impatience.  It came at last, and settled his mind effectually on one
point, for Jo decidedly couldn't and wouldn't.  She was wrapped up in
Beth, and never wished to hear the word love again.  Then she begged
him to be happy with somebody else, but always keep a little corner of
his heart for his loving sister Jo.  In a postscript she desired him
not to tell Amy that Beth was worse, she was coming home in the spring
and there was no need of saddening the remainder of her stay.  That
would be time enough, please God, but Laurie must write to her often,
and not let her feel lonely, homesick or anxious.

"So I will, at once.  Poor little girl, it will be a sad going home for
her, I'm afraid," and Laurie opened his desk, as if writing to Amy had
been the proper conclusion of the sentence left unfinished some weeks
before.

But he did not write the letter that day, for as he rummaged out his
best paper, he came across something which changed his purpose.
Tumbling about in one part of the desk among bills, passports, and
business documents of various kinds were several of Jo's letters, and
in another compartment were three notes from Amy, carefully tied up
with one of her blue ribbons and sweetly suggestive of the little dead
roses put away inside.  With a half-repentant, half-amused expression,
Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put them
neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute turning the ring
thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew it off, laid it with the
letters, locked the drawer, and went out to hear High Mass at Saint
Stefan's, feeling as if there had been a funeral, and though not
overwhelmed with affliction, this seemed a more proper way to spend the
rest of the day than in writing letters to charming young ladies.

The letter went very soon, however, and was promptly answered, for Amy
was homesick, and confessed it in the most delightfully confiding
manner.  The correspondence flourished famously, and letters flew to
and fro with unfailing regularity all through the early spring.  Laurie
sold his busts, made allumettes of his opera, and went back to Paris,
hoping somebody would arrive before long.  He wanted desperately to go
to Nice, but would not till he was asked, and Amy would not ask him,
for just then she was having little experiences of her own, which made
her rather wish to avoid the quizzical eyes of 'our boy'.

Fred Vaughn had returned, and put the question to which she had once
decided to answer, "Yes, thank you," but now she said, "No, thank you,"
kindly but steadily, for when the time came, her courage failed her,
and she found that something more than money and position was needed to
satisfy the new longing that filled her heart so full of tender hopes
and fears.  The words, "Fred is a good fellow, but not at all the man I
fancied you would ever like," and Laurie's face when he uttered them,
kept returning to her as pertinaciously as her own did when she said in
look, if not in words, "I shall marry for money."  It troubled her to
remember that now, she wished she could take it back, it sounded so
unwomanly. She didn't want Laurie to think her a heartless,  worldly
creature.  She didn't care to be a queen of society now half so much as
she did to be a lovable woman.  She was so glad he didn't hate her for
the dreadful things she said, but took them so beautifully and was
kinder than ever.  His letters were such a comfort, for the home
letters were very irregular and not half so satisfactory as his when
they did come.  It was not only a pleasure, but a duty to answer them,
for the poor fellow was forlorn, and needed petting, since Jo persisted
in being stonyhearted.  She ought to have made an effort and tried to
love him.  It couldn't be very hard, many people would be proud and
glad to have such a dear boy care for them.  But Jo never would act
like other girls, so there was nothing to do but be very kind and treat
him like a brother.

If all brothers were treated as well as Laurie was at this period, they
would be a much happier race of beings than they are.  Amy never
lectured now.  She asked his opinion on all subjects, she was
interested in everything he did, made charming little presents for him,
and sent him two letters a week, full of lively gossip, sisterly
confidences, and captivating sketches of the lovely scenes about her.
As few brothers are complimented by having their letters carried about
in their sister's pockets, read and reread diligently, cried over when
short, kissed when long, and treasured carefully, we will not hint that
Amy did any of these fond and foolish things.  But she certainly did
grow a little pale and pensive that spring, lost much of her relish for
society, and went out sketching alone a good deal.  She never had much
to show when she came home, but was studying nature, I dare say, while
she sat for hours, with her hands folded, on the terrace at Valrosa, or
absently sketched any fancy that occurred to her, a stalwart knight
carved on a tomb, a young man asleep in the grass, with his hat over
his eyes, or a curly haired girl in gorgeous array, promenading down a
ballroom on the arm of a tall gentleman, both faces being left a blur
according to the last fashion in art, which was safe but not altogether
satisfactory.

Her aunt thought that she regretted her answer to Fred, and finding
denials useless and explanations impossible, Amy left her to think what
she liked, taking care that Laurie should know that Fred had gone to
Egypt.  That was all, but he understood it, and looked relieved, as he
said to himself, with a venerable air...

"I was sure she would think better of it.  Poor old fellow! I've been
through it all, and I can sympathize."

With that he heaved a great sigh, and then, as if he had discharged his
duty to the past, put his feet up on the sofa and enjoyed Amy's letter
luxuriously.

While these changes were going on abroad, trouble had come at home.
But the letter telling that Beth was failing never reached Amy, and
when the next found her at Vevay, for the heat had driven them from
Nice in May, and they had travelled slowly to Switzerland, by way of
Genoa and the Italian lakes.  She bore it very well, and quietly
submitted to the family decree that she should not shorten her visit,
for since it was too late to say goodbye to Beth, she had better stay,
and let absence soften her sorrow.  But her heart was very heavy, she
longed to be at home, and every day looked wistfully across the lake,
waiting for Laurie to come and comfort her.

He did come very soon, for the same mail brought letters to them both,
but he was in Germany, and it took some days to reach him.  The moment
he read it, he packed his knapsack, bade adieu to his fellow
pedestrians, and was off to keep his promise, with a heart full of joy
and sorrow, hope and suspense.

He knew Vevay well, and as soon as the boat touched the little quay, he
hurried along the shore to La Tour, where the Carrols were living en
pension.  The garcon was in despair that the whole family had gone to
take a promenade on the lake, but no, the blonde mademoiselle might be
in the chateau garden.  If monsieur would give himself the pain of
sitting down, a flash of time should present her.  But monsieur could
not wait even a 'flash of time', and in the middle of the speech
departed to find mademoiselle himself.

A pleasant old garden on the borders of the lovely lake, with chestnuts
rustling overhead, ivy climbing everywhere, and the black shadow of the
tower falling far across the sunny water.  At one corner of the wide,
low wall was a seat, and here Amy often came to read or work, or
console herself with the beauty all about her.  She was sitting here
that day, leaning her head on her hand, with a homesick heart and heavy
eyes, thinking of Beth and wondering why Laurie did not come.  She did
not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the
archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden.  He stood
a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had ever seen
before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutely
suggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black
ribbon that tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her
face, even the little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to
Laurie, for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only
ornament. If he had any doubts about the reception she would give him,
they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw him, for
dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a tone of
unmistakable love and longing...

"Oh, Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"

I think everything was said and settled then, for as they stood
together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head bent down
protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no one could comfort and
sustain her so well as Laurie, and Laurie decided that Amy was the only
woman in the world who could fill Jo's place and make him happy.  He
did not tell her so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the
truth, were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence.

In a minute Amy went back to her place, and while she dried her tears,
Laurie gathered up the scattered papers, finding in the sight of sundry
well-worn letters and suggestive sketches good omens for the future.
As he sat down beside her, Amy felt shy again, and turned rosy red at
the recollection of her impulsive greeting.

"I couldn't help it, I felt so lonely and sad, and was so very glad to
see you.  It was such a surprise to look up and find you, just as I was
beginning to fear you wouldn't come," she said, trying in vain to speak
quite naturally.

"I came the minute I heard.  I wish I could say something to comfort
you for the loss of dear little Beth, but I can only feel, and..."  He
could not get any further, for he too turned bashful all of a sudden,
and did not quite know what to say.  He longed to lay Amy's head down
on his shoulder, and tell her to have a good cry, but he did not dare,
so took her hand instead, and gave it a sympathetic squeeze that was
better than words.

"You needn't say anything, this comforts me," she said softly.  "Beth
is well and happy, and I mustn't wish her back, but I dread the going
home, much as I long to see them all. We won't talk about it now, for
it makes me cry, and I want to enjoy you while you stay.  You needn't
go right back, need you?"

"Not if you want me, dear."

"I do, so much.  Aunt and Flo are very kind, but you seem like one of
the family, and it would be so comfortable to have you for a little
while."

Amy spoke and looked so like a homesick child whose heart was full that
Laurie forgot his bashfulness all at once, and gave her just what she
wanted--the petting she was used to and the cheerful conversation she
needed.

"Poor little soul, you look as if you'd grieved yourself half sick!
I'm going to take care of you, so don't cry any more, but come and walk
about with me, the wind is too chilly for you to sit still," he said,
in the half-caressing, half-commanding way that Amy liked, as he tied
on her hat, drew her arm through his, and began to pace up and down the
sunny walk under the new-leaved chestnuts.  He felt more at ease upon
his legs, and Amy found it pleasant to have a strong arm to lean upon,
a familiar face to smile at her, and a kind voice to talk delightfully
for her alone.

The quaint old garden had sheltered many pairs of lovers, and seemed
expressly made for them, so sunny and secluded was it, with nothing but
the tower to overlook them, and the wide lake to carry away the echo of
their words, as it rippled by below.  For an hour this new pair walked
and talked, or rested on the wall, enjoying the sweet influences which
gave such a charm to time and place, and when an unromantic dinner bell
warned them away, Amy felt as if she left her burden of loneliness and
sorrow behind her in the chateau garden.

The moment Mrs. Carrol saw the girl's altered face, she was illuminated
with a new idea, and exclaimed to herself, "Now I understand it
all--the child has been pining for young Laurence.  Bless my heart, I
never thought of such a thing!"

With praiseworthy discretion, the good lady said nothing, and betrayed
no sign of enlightenment, but cordially urged Laurie to stay and begged
Amy to enjoy his society, for it would do her more good than so much
solitude.  Amy was a model of docility, and as her aunt was a good deal
occupied with Flo, she was left to entertain her friend, and did it
with more than her usual success.

At Nice, Laurie had lounged and Amy had scolded.  At Vevay, Laurie was
never idle, but always walking, riding, boating, or studying in the
most energetic manner, while Amy admired everything he did and followed
his example as far and as fast as she could.  He said the change was
owing to the climate, and she did not contradict him, being glad of a
like excuse for her own recovered health and spirits.

The invigorating air did them both good, and much exercise worked
wholesome changes in minds as well as bodies. They seemed to get
clearer views of life and duty up there among the everlasting hills.
The fresh winds blew away desponding doubts, delusive fancies, and
moody mists.  The warm spring sunshine brought out all sorts of
aspiring ideas, tender hopes, and happy thoughts.  The lake seemed to
wash away the troubles of the past, and the grand old mountains to look
benignly down upon them saying, "Little children, love one another."

In spite of the new sorrow, it was a very happy time, so happy that
Laurie could not bear to disturb it by a word.  It took him a little
while to recover from his surprise at the cure of his first, and as he
had firmly believed, his last and only love.  He consoled himself for
the seeming disloyalty by the thought that Jo's sister was almost the
same as Jo's self, and the conviction that it would have been
impossible to love any other woman but Amy so soon and so well.  His
first wooing had been of the tempestuous order, and he looked back upon
it as if through a long vista of years with a feeling of compassion
blended with regret.  He was not ashamed of it, but put it away as one
of the bitter-sweet experiences of his life, for which he could be
grateful when the pain was over. His second wooing, he resolved, should
be as calm and simple as possible.  There was no need of having a
scene, hardly any need of telling Amy that he loved her, she knew it
without words and had given him his answer long ago.  It all came about
so naturally that no one could complain, and he knew that everybody
would be pleased, even Jo.  But when our first little passion has been
crushed, we are apt to be wary and slow in making a second trial, so
Laurie let the days pass, enjoying every hour, and leaving to chance
the utterance of the word that would put an end to the first and
sweetest part of his new romance.

He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place in the
chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous
manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was
settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words. They had been
floating about all the morning, from gloomy St.  Gingolf to sunny
Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side, Mont St.  Bernard and the
Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in the valley, and Lausanne
upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, and the bluer lake
below, dotted with the picturesque boats that look like white-winged
gulls.

They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of
Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise.
Neither had read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each
privately wondered if it was half as interesting as their own.  Amy had
been dabbling her hand in the water during the little pause that fell
between them, and when she looked up, Laurie was leaning on his oars
with an expression in his eyes that made her say hastily, merely for
the sake of saying something...

"You must be tired.  Rest a little, and let me row.  It will do me
good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."

"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like.  There's room
enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the boat won't
trim," returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the arrangement.

Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the offered
third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar.
She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though she used
both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went
smoothly through the water.

"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected to
silence just then.

"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you,
Amy?" very tenderly.

"Yes, Laurie," very low.

Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty little
tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views reflected
in the lake.



CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

ALL ALONE

It was easy to promise self-abnegation when self was wrapped up in
another, and heart and soul were purified by a sweet example.  But when
the helpful voice was silent, the daily lesson over, the beloved
presence gone, and nothing remained but loneliness and grief, then Jo
found her promise very hard to keep.  How could she 'comfort Father and
Mother' when her own heart ached with a ceaseless longing for her
sister, how could she 'make the house cheerful' when all its light and
warmth and beauty seemed to have deserted it when Beth left the old
home for the new, and where in all the world could she 'find some
useful, happy work to do', that would take the place of the loving
service which had been its own reward?  She tried in a blind, hopeless
way to do her duty, secretly rebelling against it all the while, for it
seemed unjust that her few joys should be lessened, her burdens made
heavier, and life get harder and harder as she toiled along.  Some
people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow.  It was not
fair, for she tried more than Amy to be good, but never got any reward,
only disappointment, trouble and hard work.

Poor Jo, these were dark days to her, for something like despair came
over her when she thought of spending all her life in that quiet house,
devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures, and the duty that
never seemed to grow any easier.  "I can't do it. I wasn't meant for a
life like this, and I know I shall break away and do something
desperate if somebody doesn't come and help me," she said to herself,
when her first efforts failed and she fell into the moody, miserable
state of mind which often comes when strong wills have to yield to the
inevitable.

But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognize her good
angels at once because they wore familiar shapes and used the simple
spells best fitted to poor humanity.  Often she started up at night,
thinking Beth called her, and when the sight of the little empty bed
made her cry with the bitter cry of unsubmissive sorrow, "Oh, Beth,
come back!  Come back!" she did not stretch out her yearning arms in
vain.  For, as quick to hear her sobbing as she had been to hear her
sister's faintest whisper, her mother came to comfort her, not with
words only, but the patient tenderness that soothes by a touch, tears
that were mute reminders of a greater grief than Jo's, and broken
whispers, more eloquent than prayers, because hopeful resignation went
hand-in-hand with natural sorrow. Sacred moments, when heart talked to
heart in the silence of the night, turning affliction to a blessing,
which chastened grief and strengthned love.  Feeling this, Jo's burden
seemed easier to bear, duty grew sweeter, and life looked more
endurable, seen from the safe shelter of her mother's arms.

When aching heart was a little comforted, troubled mind likewise found
help, for one day she went to the study, and leaning over the good gray
head lifted to welcome her with a tranquil smile, she said very humbly,
"Father, talk to me as you did to Beth.  I need it more than she did,
for I'm all wrong."

"My dear, nothing can comfort me like this," he answered, with a falter
in his voice, and both arms round her, as if he too, needed help, and
did not fear to ask for it.

Then, sitting in Beth's little chair close beside him, Jo told her
troubles, the resentful sorrow for her loss, the fruitless efforts that
discouraged her, the want of faith that made life look so dark, and all
the sad bewilderment which we call despair.  She gave him entire
confidence, he gave her the help she needed, and both found consolation
in the act.  For the time had come when they could talk together not
only as father and daughter, but as man and woman, able and glad to
serve each other with mutual sympathy as well as mutual love.  Happy,
thoughtful times there in the old study which Jo called 'the church of
one member', and from which she came with fresh courage, recovered
cheerfulness, and a more submissive spirit. For the parents who had
taught one child to meet death without fear, were trying now to teach
another to accept life without despondency or distrust, and to use its
beautiful opportunities with gratitude and power.

Other helps had Jo--humble, wholesome duties and delights that would
not be denied their part in serving her, and which she slowly learned
to see and value.  Brooms and dishcloths never could be as distasteful
as they once had been, for Beth had presided over both, and something
of her housewifely spirit seemed to linger around the little mop and
the old brush, never thrown away.  As she used them, Jo found herself
humming the songs Beth used to hum, imitating Beth's orderly ways, and
giving the little touches here and there that kept everything fresh and
cozy, which was the first step toward making home happy, though she
didn't know it till Hannah said with an approving squeeze of the hand...

"You thoughtful creeter, you're determined we shan't miss that dear
lamb ef you can help it.  We don't say much, but we see it, and the
Lord will bless you for't, see ef He don't."

As they sat sewing together, Jo discovered how much improved her sister
Meg was, how well she could talk, how much she knew about good, womanly
impulses, thoughts, and feelings, how happy she was in husband and
children, and how much they were all doing for each other.

"Marriage is an excellent thing, after all.  I wonder if I should
blossom out half as well as you have, if I tried it?, always
_'perwisin'_ I could," said Jo, as she constructed a kite for Demi in
the topsy-turvy nursery.

"It's just what you need to bring out the tender womanly half of your
nature, Jo.  You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but
silky-soft within, and a sweet kernal, if one can only get at it.  Love
will make you show your heart one day, and then the rough burr will
fall off."

"Frost opens chestnut burrs, ma'am, and it takes a good shake to bring
them down.  Boys go nutting, and I don't care to be bagged by them,"
returned Jo, pasting away at the kite which no wind that blows would
ever carry up, for Daisy had tied herself on as a bob.

Meg laughed, for she was glad to see a glimmer of Jo's old spirit, but
she felt it her duty to enforce her opinion by every argument in her
power, and the sisterly chats were not wasted, especially as two of
Meg's most effective arguments were the babies, whom Jo loved tenderly.
Grief is the best opener of some hearts, and Jo's was nearly ready for
the bag.  A little more sunshine to ripen the nut, then, not a boy's
impatient shake, but a man's hand reached up to pick it gently from the
burr, and find the kernal sound and sweet. If she suspected this, she
would have shut up tight, and been more prickly than ever, fortunately
she wasn't thinking about herself, so when the time came, down she
dropped.

Now, if she had been the heroine of a moral storybook, she ought at
this period of her life to have become quite saintly, renounced the
world, and gone about doing good in a mortified bonnet, with tracts in
her pocket.  But, you see, Jo wasn't a heroine, she was only a
struggling human girl like hundreds of others, and she just acted out
her nature, being sad, cross, listless, or energetic, as the mood
suggested.  It's highly virtuous to say we'll be good, but we can't do
it all at once, and it takes a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all
together before some of us even get our feet set in the right way.  Jo
had got so far, she was learning to do her duty, and to feel unhappy if
she did not, but to do it cheerfully, ah, that was another thing!  She
had often said she wanted to do something splendid, no matter how hard,
and now she had her wish, for what could be more beautiful than to
devote her life to Father and Mother, trying to make home as happy to
them as they had to her?  And if difficulties were necessary to
increase the splendor of the effort, what could be harder for a
restless, ambitious girl than to give up her own hopes, plans, and
desires, and cheerfully live for others?

Providence had taken her at her word.  Here was the task, not what she
had expected, but better because self had no part in it. Now, could she
do it?  She decided that she would try, and in her first attempt she
found the helps I have suggested.  Still another was given her, and she
took it, not as a reward, but as a comfort, as Christian took the
refreshment afforded by the little arbor where he rested, as he climbed
the hill called Difficulty.

"Why don't you write?  That always used to make you happy," said her
mother once, when the desponding fit over-shadowed Jo.

"I've no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for my things."

"We do.  Write something for us, and never mind the rest of the world.
Try it, dear.  I'm sure it would do you good, and please us very much."

"Don't believe I can."  But Jo got out her desk and began to overhaul
her half-finished manuscripts.

An hour afterward her mother peeped in and there she was, scratching
away, with her black pinafore on, and an absorbed expression, which
caused Mrs. March to smile and slip away, well pleased with the success
of her suggestion.  Jo never knew how it happened, but something got
into that story that went straight to the hearts of those who read it,
for when her family had laughed and cried over it, her father sent it,
much against her will, to one of the popular magazines, and to her
utter surprise, it was not only paid for, but others requested.
Letters from several persons, whose praise was honor, followed the
appearance of the little story, newspapers copied it, and strangers as
well as friends admired it.  For a small thing it was a great success,
and Jo was more astonished than when her novel was commended and
condemned all at once.

"I don't understand it.  What can there be in a simple little story
like that to make people praise it so?" she said, quite bewildered.

"There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret.  Humor and pathos make it
alive, and you have found your style at last.  You wrote with no
thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it, my daughter.
You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet.  Do your best, and grow
as happy as we are in your success."

"If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn't mine.  I
owe it all to you and Mother and Beth," said Jo, more touched by her
father's words than by any amount of praise from the world.

So taught by love and sorrow, Jo wrote her little stories, and sent
them away to make friends for themselves and her, finding it a very
charitable world to such humble wanderers, for they were kindly
welcomed, and sent home comfortable tokens to their mother, like
dutiful children whom good fortune overtakes.

When Amy and Laurie wrote of their engagement, Mrs. March feared that
Jo would find it difficult to rejoice over it, but her fears were soon
set at rest, for though Jo looked grave at first, she took it very
quietly, and was full of hopes and plans for 'the children' before she
read the letter twice.  It was a sort of written duet, wherein each
glorified the other in loverlike fashion, very pleasant to read and
satisfactory to think of, for no one had any objection to make.

"You like it, Mother?" said Jo, as they laid down the closely written
sheets and looked at one another.

"Yes, I hoped it would be so, ever since Amy wrote that she had refused
Fred.  I felt sure then that something better than what you call the
'mercenary spirit' had come over her, and a hint here and there in her
letters made me suspect that love and Laurie would win the day."

"How sharp you are, Marmee, and how silent!  You never said a word to
me."

"Mothers have need of sharp eyes and discreet tongues when they have
girls to manage.  I was half afraid to put the idea into your head,
lest you should write and congratulate them before the thing was
settled."

"I'm not the scatterbrain I was.  You may trust me.  I'm sober and
sensible enough for anyone's confidante now."

"So you are, my dear, and I should have made you mine, only I fancied
it might pain you to learn that your Teddy loved someone else."

"Now, Mother, did you really think I could be so silly and selfish,
after I'd refused his love, when it was freshest, if not best?"

"I knew you were sincere then, Jo, but lately I have thought that if he
came back, and asked again, you might perhaps, feel like giving another
answer.  Forgive me, dear, I can't help seeing that you are very
lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in your eyes that goes to
my heart.  So I fancied that your boy might fill the empty place if he
tried now."

"No, Mother, it is better as it is, and I'm glad Amy has learned to
love him.  But you are right in one thing.  I am lonely, and perhaps if
Teddy had tried again, I might have said 'Yes', not because I love him
any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he went away."

"I'm glad of that, Jo, for it shows that you are getting on. There are
plenty to love you, so try to be satisfied with Father and Mother,
sisters and brothers, friends and babies, till the best lover of all
comes to give you your reward."

"Mothers are the best lovers in the world, but I don't mind whispering
to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds.  It's very curious, but the
more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of natural affections, the
more I seem to want.  I'd no idea hearts could take in so many.  Mine
is so elastic, it never seems full now, and I used to be quite
contented with my family.  I don't understand it."

"I do," and Mrs. March smiled her wise smile, as Jo turned back the
leaves to read what Amy said of Laurie.

"It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me.  He isn't
sentimental, doesn't say much about it, but I see and feel it in all he
says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that I don't seem
to be the same girl I was.  I never knew how good and generous and
tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart, and I find it
full of noble impulses and hopes and purposes, and am so proud to know
it's mine.  He says he feels as if he 'could make a prosperous voyage
now with me aboard as mate, and lots of love for ballast'.  I pray he
may, and try to be all he believes me, for I love my gallant captain
with all my heart and soul and might, and never will desert him, while
God lets us be together. Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven
this world could be, when two people love and live for one another!"

"And that's our cool, reserved, and worldly Amy!  Truly, love does work
miracles.  How very, very happy they must be!" and Jo laid the rustling
sheets together with a careful hand, as one might shut the covers of a
lovely romance, which holds the reader fast till the end comes, and he
finds himself alone in the workaday world again.

By-and-by Jo roamed away upstairs, for it was rainy, and she could not
walk.  A restless spirit possessed her, and the old feeling came again,
not bitter as it once was, but a sorrowfully patient wonder why one
sister should have all she asked, the other nothing.  It was not true,
she knew that and tried to put it away, but the natural craving for
affection was strong, and Amy's happiness woke the hungry longing for
someone to 'love with heart and soul, and cling to while God let them
be together'. Up in the garret, where Jo's unquiet wanderings ended
stood four little wooden chests in a row, each marked with its owners
name, and each filled with relics of the childhood and girlhood ended
now for all.  Jo glanced into them, and when she came to her own,
leaned her chin on the edge, and stared absently at the chaotic
collection, till a bundle of old exercise books caught her eye.  She
drew them out, turned them over, and relived that pleasant winter at
kind Mrs. Kirke's.  She had smiled at first, then she looked
thoughtful, next sad, and when she came to a little message written in
the Professor's hand, her lips began to tremble, the books slid out of
her lap, and she sat looking at the friendly words, as they took a new
meaning, and touched a tender spot in her heart.

"Wait for me, my friend.  I may be a little late, but I shall surely
come."

"Oh, if he only would!  So kind, so good, so patient with me always, my
dear old Fritz.  I didn't value him half enough when I had him, but now
how I should love to see him, for everyone seems going away from me,
and I'm all alone."

And holding the little paper fast, as if it were a promise yet to be
fulfilled, Jo laid her head down on a comfortable rag bag, and cried,
as if in opposition to the rain pattering on the roof.

Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits?  Or was it the waking
up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patiently as its
inspirer?  Who shall say?



CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

SURPRISES

Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking at the
fire, and thinking.  It was her favorite way of spending the hour of
dusk.  No one disturbed her, and she used to lie there on Beth's little
red pillow, planning stories, dreaming dreams, or thinking tender
thoughts of the sister who never seemed far away.  Her face looked
tired, grave, and rather sad, for tomorrow was her birthday, and she
was thinking how fast the years went by, how old she was getting, and
how little she seemed to have accomplished.  Almost twenty-five, and
nothing to show for it.  Jo was mistaken in that.  There was a good
deal to show, and by-and-by she saw, and was grateful for it.

"An old maid, that's what I'm to be.  A literary spinster, with a pen
for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and twenty years hence
a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor Johnson, I'm old and can't
enjoy it, solitary, and can't share it, independent, and don't need it.
Well, I needn't be a sour saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say,
old maids are very comfortable when they get used to it, but..." and
there Jo sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.

It seldom is, at first, and thirty seems the end of all things to
five-and-twenty.  But it's not as bad as it looks, and one can get on
quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall back upon.  At
twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly
resolve that they never will be.  At thirty they say nothing about it,
but quietly accept the fact, and if sensible, console themselves by
remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which
they may be learning to grow old gracefully.  Don't laugh at the
spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are
hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns,
and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself,
make the faded faces beautiful in God's sight.  Even the sad, sour
sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the
sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.  And looking at them
with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember
that they too may miss the blossom time.  That rosy cheeks don't last
forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and
that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and
admiration now.

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter
how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that
which is the readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble,
and serve womankind, regardless of rank, age, or color.  Just recollect
the good aunts who have not only lectured and fussed, but nursed and
petted, too often without thanks, the scrapes they have helped you out
of, the tips they have given you from their small store, the stitches
the patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old
feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little
attentions that women love to receive as long as they live.  The
bright-eyed girls are quick to see such traits, and will like you all
the better for them, and if death, almost the only power that can part
mother and son, should rob you of yours, you will be sure to find a
tender welcome and maternal cherishing from some Aunt Priscilla, who
has kept the warmest corner of her lonely old heart for 'the best nevvy
in the world'.

Jo must have fallen asleep (as I dare say my reader has during this
little homily), for suddenly Laurie's ghost seemed to stand before her,
a substantial, lifelike ghost, leaning over her with the very look he
used to wear when he felt a good deal and didn't like to show it.  But,
like Jenny in the ballad...

  "She could not think it he,"

and lay staring up at him in startled silence, till he stooped and
kissed her.  Then she knew him, and flew up, crying joyfully...

"Oh my Teddy!  Oh my Teddy!"

"Dear Jo, you are glad to see me, then?"

"Glad!  My blessed boy, words can't express my gladness. Where's Amy?"

"Your mother has got her down at Meg's.  We stopped there by the way,
and there was no getting my wife out of their clutches."

"Your what?" cried Jo, for Laurie uttered those two words with an
unconscious pride and satisfaction which betrayed him.

"Oh, the dickens!  Now I've done it," and he looked so guilty that Jo
was down on him like a flash.

"You've gone and got married!"

"Yes, please, but I never will again," and he went down upon his knees,
with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face full of mischief, mirth,
and triumph.

"Actually married?"

"Very much so, thank you."

"Mercy on us.  What dreadful thing will you do next?" and Jo fell into
her seat with a gasp.

"A characteristic, but not exactly complimentary, congratulation,"
returned Laurie, still in an abject attitude, but beaming with
satisfaction.

"What can you expect, when you take one's breath away, creeping in like
a burglar, and letting cats out of bags like that? Get up, you
ridiculous boy, and tell me all about it."

"Not a word, unless you let me come in my old place, and promise not to
barricade."

Jo laughed at that as she had not done for many a long day, and patted
the sofa invitingly, as she said in a cordial tone, "The old pillow is
up garret, and we don't need it now.  So, come and 'fess, Teddy."

"How good it sounds to hear you say 'Teddy'! No one ever calls me that
but you," and Laurie sat down with an air of great content.

"What does Amy call you?"

"My lord."

"That's like her.  Well, you look it," and Jo's eye plainly betrayed
that she found her boy comelier than ever.

The pillow was gone, but there was a barricade, nevertheless, a natural
one, raised by time, absence, and change of heart.  Both felt it, and
for a minute looked at one another as if that invisible barrier cast a
little shadow over them.  It was gone directly however, for Laurie
said, with a vain attempt at dignity...

"Don't I look like a married man and the head of a family?"

"Not a bit, and you never will.  You've grown bigger and bonnier, but
you are the same scapegrace as ever."

"Now really, Jo, you ought to treat me with more respect," began
Laurie, who enjoyed it all immensely.

"How can I, when the mere idea of you, married and settled, is so
irresistibly funny that I can't keep sober!" answered Jo, smiling all
over her face, so infectiously that they had another laugh, and then
settled down for a good talk, quite in the pleasant old fashion.

"It's no use your going out in the cold to get Amy, for they are all
coming up presently.  I couldn't wait.  I wanted to be the one to tell
you the grand surprise, and have 'first skim' as we used to say when we
squabbled about the cream."

"Of course you did, and spoiled your story by beginning at the wrong
end.  Now, start right, and tell me how it all happened. I'm pining to
know."

"Well, I did it to please Amy," began Laurie, with a twinkle that made
Jo exclaim...

"Fib number one.  Amy did it to please you.  Go on, and tell the truth,
if you can, sir."

"Now she's beginning to marm it.  Isn't it jolly to hear her?" said
Laurie to the fire, and the fire glowed and sparkled as if it quite
agreed.  "It's all the same, you know, she and I being one. We planned
to come home with the Carrols, a month or more ago, but they suddenly
changed their minds, and decided to pass another winter in Paris.  But
Grandpa wanted to come home.  He went to please me, and I couldn't let
him go alone, neither could I leave Amy, and Mrs. Carrol had got
English notions about chaperons and such nonsense, and wouldn't let Amy
come with us.  So I just settled the difficulty by saying, 'Let's be
married, and then we can do as we like'."

"Of course you did.  You always have things to suit you."

"Not always," and something in Laurie's voice made Jo say hastily...

"How did you ever get Aunt to agree?"

"It was hard work, but between us, we talked her over, for we had heaps
of good reasons on our side.  There wasn't time to write and ask leave,
but you all liked it, had consented to it by-and-by, and it was only
'taking time by the fetlock', as my wife says."

"Aren't we proud of those two words, and don't we like to say them?"
interrupted Jo, addressing the fire in her turn, and watching with
delight the happy light it seemed to kindle in the eyes that had been
so tragically gloomy when she saw them last.

"A trifle, perhaps, she's such a captivating little woman I can't help
being proud of her.  Well, then Uncle and Aunt were there to play
propriety.  We were so absorbed in one another we were of no mortal use
apart, and that charming arrangement would make everything easy all
round, so we did it."

"When, where, how?" asked Jo, in a fever of feminine interest and
curiosity, for she could not realize it a particle.

"Six weeks ago, at the American consul's, in Paris, a very quiet
wedding of course, for even in our happiness we didn't forget dear
little Beth."

Jo put her hand in his as he said that, and Laurie gently smoothed the
little red pillow, which he remembered well.

"Why didn't you let us know afterward?" asked Jo, in a quieter tone,
when they had sat quite still a minute.

"We wanted to surprise you.  We thought we were coming directly home,
at first, but the dear old gentleman, as soon as we were married, found
he couldn't be ready under a month, at least, and sent us off to spend
our honeymoon wherever we liked. Amy had once called Valrosa a regular
honeymoon home, so we went there, and were as happy as people are but
once in their lives. My faith!  Wasn't it love among the roses!"

Laurie seemed to forget Jo for a minute, and Jo was glad of it, for the
fact that he told her these things so freely and so naturally assured
her that he had quite forgiven and forgotten. She tried to draw away
her hand, but as if he guessed the thought that prompted the
half-involuntary impulse, Laurie held it fast, and said, with a manly
gravity she had never seen in him before...

"Jo, dear, I want to say one thing, and then we'll put it by forever.
As I told you in my letter when I wrote that Amy had been so kind to
me, I never shall stop loving you, but the love is altered, and I have
learned to see that it is better as it is. Amy and you changed places
in my heart, that's all.  I think it was meant to be so, and would have
come about naturally, if I had waited, as you tried to make me, but I
never could be patient, and so I got a heartache.  I was a boy then,
headstrong and violent, and it took a hard lesson to show me my
mistake.  For it was one, Jo, as you said, and I found it out, after
making a fool of myself. Upon my word, I was so tumbled up in my mind,
at one time, that I didn't know which I loved best, you or Amy, and
tried to love you both alike.  But I couldn't, and when I saw her in
Switzerland, everything seemed to clear up all at once.  You both got
into your right places, and I felt sure that it was well off with the
old love before it was on with the new, that I could honestly share my
heart between sister Jo and wife Amy, and love them dearly. Will you
believe it, and go back to the happy old times when we first knew one
another?"

"I'll believe it, with all my heart, but, Teddy, we never can be boy
and girl again.  The happy old times can't come back, and we mustn't
expect it.  We are man and woman now, with sober work to do, for
playtime is over, and we must give up frolicking.  I'm sure you feel
this.  I see the change in you, and you'll find it in me.  I shall miss
my boy, but I shall love the man as much, and admire him more, because
he means to be what I hoped he would.  We can't be little playmates any
longer, but we will be brother and sister, to love and help one another
all our lives, won't we, Laurie?"

He did not say a word, but took the hand she offered him, and laid his
face down on it for a minute, feeling that out of the grave of a boyish
passion, there had risen a beautiful, strong friendship to bless them
both.  Presently Jo said cheerfully, for she didn't want the coming
home to be a sad one, "I can't make it true that you children are
really married and going to set up housekeeping. Why, it seems only
yesterday that I was buttoning Amy's pinafore, and pulling your hair
when you teased.  Mercy me, how time does fly!"

"As one of the children is older than yourself, you needn't talk so
like a grandma.  I flatter myself I'm a 'gentleman growed' as Peggotty
said of David, and when you see Amy, you'll find her rather a
precocious infant," said Laurie, looking amused at her maternal air.

"You may be a little older in years, but I'm ever so much older in
feeling, Teddy.  Women always are, and this last year has been such a
hard one that I feel forty."

"Poor Jo!  We left you to bear it alone, while we went pleasuring. You
are older.  Here's a line, and there's another.  Unless you smile, your
eyes look sad, and when I touched the cushion, just now, I found a tear
on it.  You've had a great deal to bear, and had to bear it all alone.
What a selfish beast I've been!" and Laurie pulled his own hair, with a
remorseful look.

But Jo only turned over the traitorous pillow, and answered, in a tone
which she tried to make more cheerful, "No, I had Father and Mother to
help me, and the dear babies to comfort me, and the thought that you
and Amy were safe and happy, to make the troubles here easier to bear.
I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it's good for me, and..."

"You never shall be again," broke in Laurie, putting his arm about her,
as if to fence out every human ill.  "Amy and I can't get on without
you, so you must come and teach 'the children' to keep house, and go
halves in everything, just as we used to do, and let us pet you, and
all be blissfully happy and friendly together."

"If I shouldn't be in the way, it would be very pleasant.  I begin to
feel quite young already, for somehow all my troubles seemed to fly
away when you came.  You always were a comfort, Teddy," and Jo leaned
her head on his shoulder, just as she did years ago, when Beth lay ill
and Laurie told her to hold on to him.

He looked down at her, wondering if she remembered the time, but Jo was
smiling to herself, as if in truth her troubles had all vanished at his
coming.

"You are the same Jo still, dropping tears about one minute, and
laughing the next.  You look a little wicked now.  What is it, Grandma?"

"I was wondering how you and Amy get on together."

"Like angels!"

"Yes, of course, but which rules?"

"I don't mind telling you that she does now, at least I let her think
so, it pleases her, you know.  By-and-by we shall take turns, for
marriage, they say, halves one's rights and doubles one's duties."

"You'll go on as you begin, and Amy will rule you all the days of your
life."

"Well, she does it so imperceptibly that I don't think I shall mind
much.  She is the sort of woman who knows how to rule well.  In fact, I
rather like it, for she winds one round her finger as softly and
prettily as a skein of silk, and makes you feel as if she was doing you
a favor all the while."

"That ever I should live to see you a henpecked husband and enjoying
it!" cried Jo, with uplifted hands.

It was good to see Laurie square his shoulders, and smile with
masculine scorn at that insinuation, as he replied, with his "high and
mighty" air, "Amy is too well-bred for that, and I am not the sort of
man to submit to it.  My wife and I respect ourselves and one another
too much ever to tyrannize or quarrel."

Jo liked that, and thought the new dignity very becoming, but the boy
seemed changing very fast into the man, and regret mingled with her
pleasure.

"I am sure of that.  Amy and you never did quarrel as we used to. She
is the sun and I the wind, in the fable, and the sun managed the man
best, you remember."

"She can blow him up as well as shine on him," laughed Laurie. "such a
lecture as I got at Nice!  I give you my word it was a deal worse than
any of your scoldings, a regular rouser.  I'll tell you all about it
sometime, she never will, because after telling me that she despised
and was ashamed of me, she lost her heart to the despicable party and
married the good-for-nothing."

"What baseness!  Well, if she abuses you, come to me, and I'll defend
you."

"I look as if I needed it, don't I?" said Laurie, getting up and
striking an attitude which suddenly changed from the imposing to the
rapturous, as Amy's voice was heard calling, "Where is she? Where's my
dear old Jo?"

In trooped the whole family, and everyone was hugged and kissed all
over again, and after several vain attempts, the three wanderers were
set down to be looked at and exulted over.  Mr. Laurence, hale and
hearty as ever, was quite as much improved as the others by his foreign
tour, for the crustiness seemed to be nearly gone, and the
old-fashioned courtliness had received a polish which made it kindlier
than ever.  It was good to see him beam at 'my children', as he called
the young pair.  It was better still to see Amy pay him the daughterly
duty and affection which completely won his old heart, and best of all,
to watch Laurie revolve about the two, as if never tired of enjoying
the pretty picture they made.

The minute she put her eyes upon Amy, Meg became conscious that her own
dress hadn't a Parisian air, that young Mrs. Moffat would be entirely
eclipsed by young Mrs. Laurence, and that 'her ladyship' was altogether
a most elegant and graceful woman.  Jo thought, as she watched the
pair, "How well they look together!  I was right, and Laurie has found
the beautiful, accomplished girl who will become his home better than
clumsy old Jo, and be a pride, not a torment to him."  Mrs. March and
her husband smiled and nodded at each other with happy faces, for they
saw that their youngest had done well, not only in worldly things, but
the better wealth of love, confidence, and happiness.

For Amy's face was full of the soft brightness which betokens a
peaceful heart, her voice had a new tenderness in it, and the cool,
prim carriage was changed to a gentle dignity, both womanly and
winning. No little affectations marred it, and the cordial sweetness of
her manner was more charming than the new beauty or the old grace, for
it stamped her at once with the unmistakable sign of the true
gentlewoman she had hoped to become.

"Love has done much for our little girl," said her mother softly.

"She has had a good example before her all her life, my dear," Mr.
March whispered back, with a loving look at the worn face and gray head
beside him.

Daisy found it impossible to keep her eyes off her 'pitty aunty', but
attached herself like a lap dog to the wonderful chatelaine full of
delightful charms.  Demi paused to consider the new relationship before
he compromised himself by the rash acceptance of a bribe, which took
the tempting form of a family of wooden bears from Berne. A flank
movement produced an unconditional surrender, however, for Laurie knew
where to have him.

"Young man, when I first had the honor of making your acquaintance you
hit me in the face.  Now I demand the satisfaction of a gentleman," and
with that the tall uncle proceeded to toss and tousle the small nephew
in a way that damaged his philosophical dignity as much as it delighted
his boyish soul.

"Blest if she ain't in silk from head to foot; ain't it a relishin'
sight to see her settin' there as fine as a fiddle, and hear folks
calling little Amy 'Mis.  Laurence!'" muttered old Hannah, who could
not resist frequent "peeks" through the slide as she set the table in a
most decidedly promiscuous manner.

Mercy on us, how they did talk! first one, then the other, then all
burst out together--trying to tell the history of three years in half
an hour.  It was fortunate that tea was at hand, to produce a lull and
provide refreshment--for they would have been hoarse and faint if they
had gone on much longer.  Such a happy procession as filed away into
the little dining room! Mr. March proudly escorted Mrs. Laurence.  Mrs.
March as proudly leaned on the arm of 'my son'. The old gentleman took
Jo, with a whispered, "You must be my girl now," and a glance at the
empty corner by the fire, that made Jo whisper back, "I'll try to fill
her place, sir."

The twins pranced behind, feeling that the millennium was at hand, for
everyone was so busy with the newcomers that they were left to revel at
their own sweet will, and you may be sure they made the most of the
opportunity.  Didn't they steal sips of tea, stuff gingerbread ad
libitum, get a hot biscuit apiece, and as a crowning trespass, didn't
they each whisk a captivating little tart into their tiny pockets,
there to stick and crumble treacherously, teaching them that both human
nature and a pastry are frail? Burdened with the guilty consciousness
of the sequestered tarts, and fearing that Dodo's sharp eyes would
pierce the thin disguise of cambric and merino which hid their booty,
the little sinners attached themselves to 'Dranpa', who hadn't his
spectacles on.  Amy, who was handed about like refreshments, returned
to the parlor on Father Laurence's arm.  The others paired off as
before, and this arrangement left Jo companionless.  She did not mind
it at the minute, for she lingered to answer Hannah's eager inquiry.

"Will Miss Amy ride in her coop (coupe), and use all them lovely silver
dishes that's stored away over yander?"

"Shouldn't wonder if she drove six white horses, ate off gold plate,
and wore diamonds and point lace every day.  Teddy thinks nothing too
good for her," returned Jo with infinite satisfaction.

"No more there is!  Will you have hash or fishballs for breakfast?"
asked Hannah, who wisely mingled poetry and prose.

"I don't care," and Jo shut the door, feeling that food was an
uncongenial topic just then.  She stood a minute looking at the party
vanishing above, and as Demi's short plaid legs toiled up the last
stair, a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly that she
looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to lean upon,
for even Teddy had deserted her.  If she had known what birthday gift
was coming every minute nearer and nearer, she would not have said to
herself, "I'll weep a little weep when I go to bed. It won't do to be
dismal now."  Then she drew her hand over her eyes, for one of her
boyish habits was never to know where her handkerchief was, and had
just managed to call up a smile when there came a knock at the porch
door.

She opened with hospitable haste, and started as if another ghost had
come to surprise her, for there stood a tall bearded gentleman, beaming
on her from the darkness like a midnight sun.

"Oh, Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you!" cried Jo, with a clutch, as
if she feared the night would swallow him up before she could get him
in.

"And I to see Miss Marsch, but no, you haf a party," and the Professor
paused as the sound of voices and the tap of dancing feet came down to
them.

"No, we haven't, only the family.  My sister and friends have just come
home, and we are all very happy.  Come in, and make one of us."

Though a very social man, I think Mr. Bhaer would have gone decorously
away, and come again another day, but how could he, when Jo shut the
door behind him, and bereft him of his hat? Perhaps her face had
something to do with it, for she forgot to hide her joy at seeing him,
and showed it with a frankness that proved irresistible to the solitary
man, whose welcome far exceeded his boldest hopes.

"If I shall not be Monsieur de Trop, I will so gladly see them all.
You haf been ill, my friend?"

He put the question abruptly, for, as Jo hung up his coat, the light
fell on her face, and he saw a change in it.

"Not ill, but tired and sorrowful.  We have had trouble since I saw you
last."

"Ah, yes, I know.  My heart was sore for you when I heard that," and he
shook hands again, with such a sympathetic face that Jo felt as if no
comfort could equal the look of the kind eyes, the grasp of the big,
warm hand.

"Father, Mother, this is my friend, Professor Bhaer," she said, with a
face and tone of such irrepressible pride and pleasure that she might
as well have blown a trumpet and opened the door with a flourish.

If the stranger had any doubts about his reception, they were set at
rest in a minute by the cordial welcome he received. Everyone greeted
him kindly, for Jo's sake at first, but very soon they liked him for
his own.  They could not help it, for he carried the talisman that
opens all hearts, and these simple people warmed to him at once,
feeling even the more friendly because he was poor.  For poverty
enriches those who live above it, and is a sure passport to truly
hospitable spirits.  Mr. Bhaer sat looking about him with the air of a
traveler who knocks at a strange door, and when it opens, finds himself
at home.  The children went to him like bees to a honeypot, and
establishing themselves on each knee, proceeded to captivate him by
rifling his pockets, pulling his beard, and investigating his watch,
with juvenile audacity.  The women telegraphed their approval to one
another, and Mr. March, feeling that he had got a kindred spirit,
opened his choicest stores for his guest's benefit, while silent John
listened and enjoyed the talk, but said not a word, and Mr. Laurence
found it impossible to go to sleep.

If Jo had not been otherwise engaged, Laurie's behavior would have
amused her, for a faint twinge, not of jealousy, but something like
suspicion, caused that gentleman to stand aloof at first, and observe
the newcomer with brotherly circumspection. But it did not last long.
He got interested in spite of himself, and before he knew it, was drawn
into the circle.  For Mr. Bhaer talked well in this genial atmosphere,
and did himself justice. He seldom spoke to Laurie, but he looked at
him often, and a shadow would pass across his face, as if regretting
his own lost youth, as he watched the young man in his prime.  Then his
eyes would turn to Jo so wistfully that she would have surely answered
the mute inquiry if she had seen it.  But Jo had her own eyes to take
care of, and feeling that they could not be trusted, she prudently kept
them on the little sock she was knitting, like a model maiden aunt.

A stealthy glance now and then refreshed her like sips of fresh water
after a dusty walk, for the sidelong peeps showed her several
propitious omens.  Mr. Bhaer's face had lost the absent-minded
expression, and looked all alive with interest in the present moment,
actually young and handsome, she thought, forgetting to compare him
with Laurie, as she usually did strange men, to their great detriment.
Then he seemed quite inspired, though the burial customs of the
ancients, to which the conversation had strayed, might not be
considered an exhilarating topic. Jo quite glowed with triumph when
Teddy got quenched in an argument, and thought to herself, as she
watched her father's absorbed face, "How he would enjoy having such a
man as my Professor to talk with every day!"  Lastly, Mr. Bhaer was
dressed in a new suit of black, which made him look more like a
gentleman than ever.  His bushy hair had been cut and smoothly brushed,
but didn't stay in order long, for in exciting moments, he rumpled it
up in the droll way he used to do, and Jo liked it rampantly erect
better than flat, because she thought it gave his fine forehead a
Jove-like aspect.  Poor Jo, how she did glorify that plain man, as she
sat knitting away so quietly, yet letting nothing escape her, not even
the fact that Mr. Bhaer actually had gold sleeve-buttons in his
immaculate wristbands.

"Dear old fellow!  He couldn't have got himself up with more care if
he'd been going a-wooing," said Jo to herself, and then a sudden
thought born of the words made her blush so dreadfully that she had to
drop her ball, and go down after it to hide her face.

The maneuver did not succeed as well as she expected, however, for
though just in the act of setting fire to a funeral pyre, the Professor
dropped his torch, metaphorically speaking, and made a dive after the
little blue ball.  Of course they bumped their heads smartly together,
saw stars, and both came up flushed and laughing, without the ball, to
resume their seats, wishing they had not left them.

Nobody knew where the evening went to, for Hannah skillfully abstracted
the babies at an early hour, nodding like two rosy poppies, and Mr.
Laurence went home to rest.  The others sat round the fire, talking
away, utterly regardless of the lapse of time, till Meg, whose maternal
mind was impressed with a firm conviction that Daisy had tumbled out of
bed, and Demi set his nightgown afire studying the structure of
matches, made a move to go.

"We must have our sing, in the good old way, for we are all together
again once more," said Jo, feeling that a good shout would be a safe
and pleasant vent for the jubilant emotions of her soul.

They were not all there.  But no one found the words thougtless or
untrue, for Beth still seemed among them, a peaceful presence,
invisible, but dearer than ever, since death could not break the
household league that love made disoluble.  The little chair stood in
its old place.  The tidy basket, with the bit of work she left
unfinished when the needle grew 'so heavy', was still on its accustomed
shelf.  The beloved instrument, seldom touched now had not been moved,
and above it Beth's face, serene and smiling, as in the early days,
looked down upon them, seeming to say, "Be happy.  I am here."

"Play something, Amy.  Let them hear how much you have improved," said
Laurie, with pardonable pride in his promising pupil.

But Amy whispered, with full eyes, as she twirled the faded stool, "Not
tonight, dear.  I can't show off tonight."

But she did show something better than brilliancy or skill, for she
sang Beth's songs with a tender music in her voice which the best
master could not have taught, and touched the listener's hearts with a
sweeter power than any other inspiration could have given her.  The
room was very still, when the clear voice failed suddenly at the last
line of Beth's favorite hymn.  It was hard to say...

    Earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal;

and Amy leaned against her husband, who stood behind her, feeling that
her welcome home was not quite perfect without Beth's kiss.

"Now, we must finish with Mignon's song, for Mr. Bhaer sings that,"
said Jo, before the pause grew painful.  And Mr. Bhaer cleared his
throat with a gratified "Hem!" as he stepped into the corner where Jo
stood, saying...

"You will sing with me?  We go excellently well together."

A pleasing fiction, by the way, for Jo had no more idea of music than a
grasshopper.  But she would have consented if he had proposed to sing a
whole opera, and warbled away, blissfully regardless of time and tune.
It didn't much matter, for Mr. Bhaer sang like a true German, heartily
and well, and Jo soon subsided into a subdued hum, that she might
listen to the mellow voice that seemed to sing for her alone.

    Know'st thou the land where the citron blooms,

used to be the Professor's favorite line, for 'das land' meant Germany
to him, but now he seemed to dwell, with peculiar warmth and melody,
upon the words...

    There, oh there, might I with thee,
    O, my beloved, go

and one listener was so thrilled by the tender invitation that she
longed to say she did know the land, and would joyfully depart thither
whenever he liked.

The song was considered a great success, and the singer retired covered
with laurels.  But a few minutes afterward, he forgot his manners
entirely, and stared at Amy putting on her bonnet, for she had been
introduced simply as 'my sister', and no one had called her by her new
name since he came.  He forgot himself still further when Laurie said,
in his most gracious manner, at parting...

"My wife and I are very glad to meet you, sir.  Please remember that
there is always a welcome waiting for you over the way."

Then the Professor thanked him so heartily, and looked so suddenly
illuminated with satisfaction, that Laurie thought him the most
delightfully demonstrative old fellow he ever met.

"I too shall go, but I shall gladly come again, if you will gif me
leave, dear madame, for a little business in the city will keep me here
some days."

He spoke to Mrs. March, but he looked at Jo, and the mother's voice
gave as cordial an assent as did the daughter's eyes, for Mrs. March
was not so blind to her children's interest as Mrs. Moffat supposed.

"I suspect that is a wise man," remarked Mr. March, with placid
satisfaction, from the hearthrug, after the last guest had gone.

"I know he is a good one," added Mrs. March, with decided approval, as
she wound up the clock.

"I thought you'd like him," was all Jo said, as she slipped away to her
bed.

She wondered what the business was that brought Mr. Bhaer to the city,
and finally decided that he had been appointed to some great honor,
somewhere, but had been too modest to mention the fact.  If she had
seen his face when, safe in his own room, he looked at the picture of a
severe and rigid young lady, with a good deal of hair, who appeared to
be gazing darkly into futurity, it might have thrown some light upon
the subject, especially when he turned off the gas, and kissed the
picture in the dark.



CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

MY LORD AND LADY

"Please, Madam Mother, could you lend me my wife for half an hour?  The
luggage has come, and I've been making hay of Amy's Paris finery,
trying to find some things I want," said Laurie, coming in the next day
to find Mrs. Laurence sitting in her mother's lap, as if being made
'the baby' again.

"Certainly.  Go, dear, I forgot that you have any home but this," and
Mrs. March pressed the white hand that wore the wedding ring, as if
asking pardon for her maternal covetousness.

"I shouldn't have come over if I could have helped it, but I can't get
on without my little woman any more than a..."

"Weathercock can without the wind," suggested Jo, as he paused for a
simile.  Jo had grown quite her own saucy self again since Teddy came
home.

"Exactly, for Amy keeps me pointing due west most of the time, with
only an occasional whiffle round to the south, and I haven't had an
easterly spell since I was married.  Don't know anything about the
north, but am altogether salubrious and balmy, hey, my lady?"

"Lovely weather so far.  I don't know how long it will last, but I'm
not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship.  Come home,
dear, and I'll find your bootjack.  I suppose that's what you are
rummaging after among my things.  Men are so helpless, Mother," said
Amy, with a matronly air, which delighted her husband.

"What are you going to do with yourselves after you get settled?" asked
Jo, buttoning Amy's cloak as she used to button her pinafores.

"We have our plans.  We don't mean to say much about them yet, because
we are such very new brooms, but we don't intend to be idle.  I'm going
into business with a devotion that shall delight Grandfather, and prove
to him that I'm not spoiled.  I need something of the sort to keep me
steady.  I'm tired of dawdling, and mean to work like a man."

"And Amy, what is she going to do?" asked Mrs. March, well pleased at
Laurie's decision and the energy with which he spoke.

"After doing the civil all round, and airing our best bonnet, we shall
astonish you by the elegant hospitalities of our mansion, the brilliant
society we shall draw about us, and the beneficial influence we shall
exert over the world at large.  That's about it, isn't it, Madame
Recamier?" asked Laurie with a quizzical look at Amy.

"Time will show.  Come away, Impertinence, and don't shock my family by
calling me names before their faces," answered Amy, resolving that
there should be a home with a good wife in it before she set up a salon
as a queen of society.

"How happy those children seem together!" observed Mr. March, finding
it difficult to become absorbed in his Aristotle after the young couple
had gone.

"Yes, and I think it will last," added Mrs. March, with the restful
expression of a pilot who has brought a ship safely into port.

"I know it will.  Happy Amy!" and Jo sighed, then smiled brightly as
Professor Bhaer opened the gate with an impatient push.

Later in the evening, when his mind had been set at rest about the
bootjack, Laurie said suddenly to his wife, "Mrs. Laurence."

"My Lord!"

"That man intends to marry our Jo!"

"I hope so, don't you, dear?"

"Well, my love, I consider him a trump, in the fullest sense of that
expressive word, but I do wish he was a little younger and a good deal
richer."

"Now, Laurie, don't be too fastidious and worldly-minded. If they love
one another it doesn't matter a particle how old they are nor how poor.
Women never should marry for money..." Amy caught herself up short as
the words escaped her, and looked at her husband, who replied, with
malicious gravity...

"Certainly not, though you do hear charming girls say that they intend
to do it sometimes.  If my memory serves me, you once thought it your
duty to make a rich match.  That accounts, perhaps, for your marrying a
good-for-nothing like me."

"Oh, my dearest boy, don't, don't say that!  I forgot you were rich
when I said 'Yes'.  I'd have married you if you hadn't a penny, and I
sometimes wish you were poor that I might show how much I love you."
And Amy, who was very dignified in public and very fond in private,
gave convincing proofs of the truth of her words.

"You don't really think I am such a mercenary creature as I tried to be
once, do you?  It would break my heart if you didn't believe that I'd
gladly pull in the same boat with you, even if you had to get your
living by rowing on the lake."

"Am I an idiot and a brute?  How could I think so, when you refused a
richer man for me, and won't let me give you half I want to now, when I
have the right?  Girls do it every day, poor things, and are taught to
think it is their only salvation, but you had better lessons, and
though I trembled for you at one time, I was not disappointed, for the
daughter was true to the mother's teaching.  I told Mamma so yesterday,
and she looked as glad and grateful as if I'd given her a check for a
million, to be spent in charity.  You are not listening to my moral
remarks, Mrs. Laurence," and Laurie paused, for Amy's eyes had an
absent look, though fixed upon his face.

"Yes, I am, and admiring the mole in your chin at the same time.  I
don't wish to make you vain, but I must confess that I'm prouder of my
handsome husband than of all his money. Don't laugh, but your nose is
such a comfort to me," and Amy softly caressed the well-cut feature
with artistic satisfaction.

Laurie had received many compliments in his life, but never one that
suited him better, as he plainly showed though he did laugh at his
wife's peculiar taste, while she said slowly, "May I ask you a
question, dear?"

"Of course, you may."

"Shall you care if Jo does marry Mr. Bhaer?"

"Oh, that's the trouble is it?  I thought there was something in the
dimple that didn't quite suit you.  Not being a dog in the manger, but
the happiest fellow alive, I assure you I can dance at Jo's wedding
with a heart as light as my heels.  Do you doubt it, my darling?"

Amy looked up at him, and was satisfied.  Her little jealous fear
vanished forever, and she thanked him, with a face full of love and
confidence.

"I wish we could do something for that capital old Professor. Couldn't
we invent a rich relation, who shall obligingly die out there in
Germany, and leave him a tidy little fortune?" said Laurie, when they
began to pace up and down the long drawing room, arm in arm, as they
were fond of doing, in memory of the chateau garden.

"Jo would find us out, and spoil it all.  She is very proud of him,
just as he is, and said yesterday that she thought poverty was a
beautiful thing."

"Bless her dear heart!  She won't think so when she has a literary
husband, and a dozen little professors and professorins to support.  We
won't interfere now, but watch our chance, and do them a good turn in
spite of themselves.  I owe Jo for a part of my education, and she
believes in people's paying their honest debts, so I'll get round her
in that way."

"How delightful it is to be able to help others, isn't it? That was
always one of my dreams, to have the power of giving freely, and thanks
to you, the dream has come true."

"Ah, we'll do quantities of good, won't we?  There's one sort of
poverty that I particularly like to help.  Out-and-out beggars get
taken care of, but poor gentle folks fare badly, because they won't
ask, and people don't dare to offer charity. Yet there are a thousand
ways of helping them, if one only knows how to do it so delicately that
it does not offend.  I must say, I like to serve a decayed gentleman
better than a blarnerying beggar.  I suppose it's wrong, but I do,
though it is harder."

"Because it takes a gentleman to do it," added the other member of the
domestic admiration society.

"Thank you, I'm afraid I don't deserve that pretty compliment. But I
was going to say that while I was dawdling about abroad, I saw a good
many talented young fellows making all sorts of sacrifices, and
enduring real hardships, that they might realize their dreams. Splendid
fellows, some of them, working like heros,  poor and friendless, but so
full of courage, patience, and ambition that I was ashamed of myself,
and longed to give them a right good lift.  Those are people whom it's
a satisfaction to help, for if they've got genius, it's an honor to be
allowed to serve them, and not let it be lost or delayed for want of
fuel to keep the pot boiling.  If they haven't, it's a pleasure to
comfort the poor souls, and keep them from despair when they find it
out."

"Yes, indeed, and there's another class who can't ask, and who suffer
in silence.  I know something of it, for I belonged to it before you
made a princess of me, as the king does the beggarmaid in the old
story.  Ambitious girls have a hard time, Laurie, and often have to see
youth, health, and precious opportunities go by, just for want of a
little help at the right minute.  People have been very kind to me, and
whenever I see girls struggling along, as we used to do, I want to put
out my hand and help them, as I was helped."

"And so you shall, like an angel as you are!" cried Laurie, resolving,
with a glow of philanthropic zeal, to found and endow an institution
for the express benefit of young women with artistic tendencies.  "Rich
people have no right to sit down and enjoy themselves, or let their
money accumulate for others to waste.  It's not half so sensible to
leave legacies when one dies as it is to use the money wisely while
alive, and enjoy making one's fellow creatures happy with it.  We'll
have a good time ourselves, and add an extra relish to our own pleasure
by giving other people a generous taste.  Will you be a little Dorcas,
going about emptying a big basket of comforts, and filling it up with
good deeds?"

"With all my heart, if you will be a brave St.  Martin, stopping as you
ride gallantly through the world to share your cloak with the beggar."

"It's a bargain, and we shall get the best of it!"

So the young pair shook hands upon it, and then paced happily on again,
feeling that their pleasant home was more homelike because they hoped
to brighten other homes, believing that their own feet would walk more
uprightly along the flowery path before them, if they smoothed rough
ways for other feet, and feeling that their hearts were more closely
knit together by a love which could tenderly remember those less blest
than they.



CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

DAISY AND DEMI

I cannot feel that I have done my duty as humble historian of the March
family, without devoting at least one chapter to the two most precious
and important members of it.  Daisy and Demi had now arrived at years
of discretion, for in this fast age babies of three or four assert
their rights, and get them, too, which is more than many of their
elders do.  If there ever were a pair of twins in danger of being
utterly spoiled by adoration, it was these prattling Brookes.  Of
course they were the most remarkable children ever born, as will be
shown when I mention that they walked at eight months, talked fluently
at twelve months, and at two years they took their places at table, and
behaved with a propriety which charmed all beholders. At three, Daisy
demanded a 'needler', and actually made a bag with four stitches in it.
She likewise set up housekeeping in the sideboard, and managed a
microscopic cooking stove with a skill that brought tears of pride to
Hannah's eyes, while Demi learned his letters with his grandfather, who
invented a new mode of teaching the alphabet by forming letters with
his arms and legs, thus uniting gymnastics for head and heels.  The boy
early developed a mechanical genius which delighted his father and
distracted his mother, for he tried to imitate every machine he saw,
and kept the nursery in a chaotic condition, with his 'sewinsheen', a
mysterious structure of string, chairs, clothespins, and spools, for
wheels to go 'wound and wound'.  Also a basket hung over the back of a
chair, in which he vainly tried to hoist his too confiding sister, who,
with feminine devotion, allowed her little head to be bumped till
rescued, when the young inventor indignantly remarked, "Why, Marmar,
dat's my lellywaiter, and me's trying to pull her up."

Though utterly unlike in character, the twins got on remarkably well
together, and seldom quarreled more than thrice a day.  Of course, Demi
tyrannized over Daisy, and gallantly defended her from every other
aggressor, while Daisy made a galley slave of herself, and adored her
brother as the one perfect being in the world.  A rosy, chubby,
sunshiny little soul was Daisy, who found her way to everybody's heart,
and nestled there.  One of the captivating children, who seem made to
be kissed and cuddled, adorned and adored like little goddesses, and
produced for general approval on all festive occasions. Her small
virtues were so sweet that she would have been quite angelic if a few
small naughtinesses had not kept her delightfully human.  It was all
fair weather in her world, and every morning she scrambled up to the
window in her little nightgown to look out, and say, no matter whether
it rained or shone, "Oh, pitty day, oh, pitty day!" Everyone was a
friend, and she offered kisses to a stranger so confidingly that the
most inveterate bachelor relented, and baby-lovers became faithful
worshipers.

"Me loves evvybody," she once said, opening her arms, with her spoon in
one hand, and her mug in the other, as if eager to embrace and nourish
the whole world.

As she grew, her mother began to feel that the Dovecote would be
blessed by the presence of an inmate as serene and loving as that which
had helped to make the old house home, and to pray that she might be
spared a loss like that which had lately taught them how long they had
entertained an angel unawares.  Her grandfather often called her
'Beth', and her grandmother watched over her with untiring devotion, as
if trying to atone for some past mistake, which no eye but her own
could see.

Demi, like a true Yankee, was of an inquiring turn, wanting to know
everything, and often getting much disturbed because he could not get
satisfactory answers to his perpetual "What for?"

He also possessed a philosophic bent, to the great delight of his
grandfather, who used to hold Socratic conversations with him, in which
the precocious pupil occasionally posed his teacher, to the undisguised
satisfaction of the womenfolk.

"What makes my legs go, Dranpa?" asked the young philosopher, surveying
those active portions of his frame with a meditative air, while resting
after a go-to-bed frolic one night.

"It's your little mind, Demi," replied the sage, stroking the yellow
head respectfully.

"What is a little mine?"

"It is something which makes your body move, as the spring made the
wheels go in my watch when I showed it to you."

"Open me.  I want to see it go wound."

"I can't do that any more than you could open the watch.  God winds you
up, and you go till He stops you."

"Does I?" and Demi's brown eyes grew big and bright as he took in the
new thought.  "Is I wounded up like the watch?"

"Yes, but I can't show you how, for it is done when we don't see."

Demi felt his back, as if expecting to find it like that of the watch,
and then gravely remarked, "I dess Dod does it when I's asleep."

A careful explanation followed, to which he listened so attentively
that his anxious grandmother said, "My dear, do you think it wise to
talk about such things to that baby?  He's getting great bumps over his
eyes, and learning to ask the most unanswerable questions."

"If he is old enough to ask the question he is old enough to receive
true answers.  I am not putting the thoughts into his head, but helping
him unfold those already there.  These children are wiser than we are,
and I have no doubt the boy understands every word I have said to him.
Now, Demi, tell me where you keep your mind."

If the boy had replied like Alcibiades, "By the gods, Socrates, I
cannot tell," his grandfather would not have been surprised, but when,
after standing a moment on one leg, like a meditative young stork, he
answered, in a tone of calm conviction, "In my little belly," the old
gentleman could only join in Grandma's laugh, and dismiss the class in
metaphysics.

There might have been cause for maternal anxiety, if Demi had not given
convincing proofs that he was a true boy, as well as a budding
philosopher, for often, after a discussion which caused Hannah to
prophesy, with ominous nods, "That child ain't long for this world," he
would turn about and set her fears at rest by some of the pranks with
which dear, dirty, naughty little rascals distract and delight their
parent's souls.

Meg made many moral rules, and tried to keep them, but what mother was
ever proof against the winning wiles, the ingenious evasions, or the
tranquil audacity of the miniature men and women who so early show
themselves accomplished Artful Dodgers?

"No more raisins, Demi.  They'll make you sick," says Mamma to the
young person who offers his services in the kitchen with unfailing
regularity on plum-pudding day.

"Me likes to be sick."

"I don't want to have you, so run away and help Daisy make patty cakes."

He reluctantly departs, but his wrongs weigh upon his spirit, and
by-and-by when an opportunity comes to redress them, he outwits Mamma
by a shrewd bargain.

"Now you have been good children, and I'll play anything you like,"
says Meg, as she leads her assistant cooks upstairs, when the pudding
is safely bouncing in the pot.

"Truly, Marmar?" asks Demi, with a brilliant idea in his well-powdered
head.

"Yes, truly.  Anything you say," replies the shortsighted parent,
preparing herself to sing, "The Three Little Kittens" half a dozen
times over, or to take her family to "Buy a penny bun," regardless of
wind or limb.  But Demi corners her by the cool reply...

"Then we'll go and eat up all the raisins."

Aunt Dodo was chief playmate and confidante of both children, and the
trio turned the little house topsy-turvy.  Aunt Amy was as yet only a
name to them, Aunt Beth soon faded into a pleasantly vague memory, but
Aunt Dodo was a living reality, and they made the most of her, for
which compliment she was deeply grateful.  But when Mr. Bhaer came, Jo
neglected her playfellows, and dismay and desolation fell upon their
little souls.  Daisy, who was fond of going about peddling kisses, lost
her best customer and became bankrupt.  Demi, with infantile
penetration, soon discovered that Dodo like to play with 'the bear-man'
better than she did him, but though hurt, he concealed his anguish, for
he hadn't the heart to insult a rival who kept a mine of chocolate
drops in his waistcoat pocket, and a watch that could be taken out of
its case and freely shaken by ardent admirers.

Some persons might have considered these pleasing liberties as bribes,
but Demi didn't see it in that light, and continued to patronize the
'the bear-man' with pensive affability, while Daisy bestowed her small
affections upon him at the third call, and considered his shoulder her
throne, his arm her refuge, his gifts treasures surpassing worth.

Gentlemen are sometimes seized with sudden fits of admiration for the
young relatives of ladies whom they honor with their regard, but this
counterfeit philoprogenitiveness sits uneasily upon them, and does not
deceive anybody a particle.  Mr. Bhaer's devotion was sincere, however
likewise effective--for honesty is the best policy in love as in law.
He was one of the men who are at home with children, and looked
particularly well when little faces made a pleasant contrast with his
manly one.  His business, whatever it was, detained him from day to
day, but evening seldom failed to bring him out to see--well, he always
asked for Mr. March, so I suppose he was the attraction.  The excellent
papa labored under the delusion that he was, and reveled in long
discussions with the kindred spirit, till a chance remark of his more
observing grandson suddenly enlightened him.

Mr. Bhaer came in one evening to pause on the threshold of the study,
astonished by the spectacle that met his eye.  Prone upon the floor lay
Mr. March, with his respectable legs in the air, and beside him,
likewise prone, was Demi, trying to imitate the attitude with his own
short, scarlet-stockinged legs, both grovelers so seriously absorbed
that they were unconscious of spectators, till Mr. Bhaer laughed his
sonorous laugh, and Jo cried out, with a scandalized face...

"Father, Father, here's the Professor!"

Down went the black legs and up came the gray head, as the preceptor
said, with undisturbed dignity, "Good evening, Mr. Bhaer. Excuse me for
a moment.  We are just finishing our lesson.  Now, Demi, make the
letter and tell its name."

"I knows him!" and, after a few convulsive efforts, the red legs took
the shape of a pair of compasses, and the intelligent pupil
triumphantly shouted, "It's a We, Dranpa, it's a We!"

"He's a born Weller," laughed Jo, as her parent gathered himself up,
and her nephew tried to stand on his head, as the only mode of
expressing his satisfaction that school was over.

"What have you been at today, bubchen?" asked Mr. Bhaer, picking up the
gymnast.

"Me went to see little Mary."

"And what did you there?"

"I kissed her," began Demi, with artless frankness.

"Prut!  Thou beginnest early.  What did the little Mary say to that?"
asked Mr. Bhaer, continuing to confess the young sinner, who stood upon
the knee, exploring the waistcoat pocket.

"Oh, she liked it, and she kissed me, and I liked it.  Don't little
boys like little girls?" asked Demi, with his mouth full, and an air of
bland satisfaction.

"You precocious chick!  Who put that into your head?" said Jo, enjoying
the innocent revelation as much as the Professor.

"'Tisn't in mine head, it's in mine mouf," answered literal Demi,
putting out his tongue, with a chocolate drop on it, thinking she
alluded to confectionery, not ideas.

"Thou shouldst save some for the little friend.  Sweets to the sweet,
mannling," and Mr. Bhaer offered Jo some, with a look that made her
wonder if chocolate was not the nectar drunk by the gods.  Demi also
saw the smile, was impressed by it, and artlessy inquired.  ..

"Do great boys like great girls, to, 'Fessor?"

Like young Washington, Mr. Bhaer 'couldn't tell a lie', so he gave the
somewhat vague reply that he believed they did sometimes, in a tone
that made Mr. March put down his clothesbrush, glance at Jo's retiring
face, and then sink into his chair, looking as if the 'precocious
chick' had put an idea into his head that was both sweet and sour.

Why Dodo, when she caught him in the china closet half an hour
afterward, nearly squeezed the breath out of his little body with a
tender embrace, instead of shaking him for being there, and why she
followed up this novel performance by the unexpected gift of a big
slice of bread and jelly, remained one of the problems over which Demi
puzzled his small wits, and was forced to leave unsolved forever.



CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

UNDER THE UMBRELLA

While Laurie and Amy were taking conjugal strolls over velvet carpets,
as they set their house in order, and planned a blissful future, Mr.
Bhaer and Jo were enjoying promenades of a different sort, along muddy
roads and sodden fields.

"I always do take a walk toward evening, and I don't know why I should
give it up, just because I happen to meet the Professor on his way
out," said Jo to herself, after two or three encounters, for though
there were two paths to Meg's whichever one she took she was sure to
meet him, either going or returning. He was always walking rapidly, and
never seemed to see her until quite close, when he would look as if his
short-sighted eyes had failed to recognize the approaching lady till
that moment.  Then, if she was going to Meg's he always had something
for the babies.  If her face was turned homeward, he had merely
strolled down to see the river, and was just returning, unless they
were tired of his frequent calls.

Under the circumstances, what could Jo do but greet him civilly, and
invite him in?  If she was tired of his visits, she concealed her
weariness with perfect skill, and took care that there should be coffee
for supper, "as Friedrich--I mean Mr. Bhaer--doesn't like tea."

By the second week, everyone knew perfectly well what was going on, yet
everyone tried to look as if they were stone-blind to the changes in
Jo's face.  They never asked why she sang about her work, did up her
hair three times a day, and got so blooming with her evening exercise.
And no one seemed to have the slightest suspicion that Professor Bhaer,
while talking philosophy with the father, was giving the daughter
lessons in love.

Jo couldn't even lose her heart in a decorous manner, but sternly tried
to quench her feelings, and failing to do so, led a somewhat agitated
life.  She was mortally afraid of being laughed at for surrendering,
after her many and vehement declarations of independence.  Laurie was
her especial dread, but thanks to the new manager, he behaved with
praiseworthy propriety, never called Mr. Bhaer 'a capital old fellow'
in public, never alluded, in the remotest manner, to Jo's improved
appearance, or expressed the least surprise at seeing the Professor's
hat on the Marches' table nearly every evening.  But he exulted in
private and longed for the time to come when he could give Jo a piece
of plate, with a bear and a ragged staff on it as an appropriate coat
of arms.

For a fortnight, the Professor came and went with lover-like
regularity.  Then he stayed away for three whole days, and made no
sign, a proceeding which caused everybody to look sober, and Jo to
become pensive, at first, and then--alas for romance--very cross.

"Disgusted, I dare say, and gone home as suddenly as he came. It's
nothing to me, of course, but I should think he would have come and bid
us goodbye like a gentleman," she said to herself, with a despairing
look at the gate, as she put on her things for the customary walk one
dull afternoon.

"You'd better take the little umbrella, dear.  It looks like rain,"
said her mother, observing that she had on her new bonnet, but not
alluding to the fact.

"Yes, Marmee, do you want anything in town?  I've got to run in and get
some paper," returned Jo, pulling out the bow under her chin before the
glass as an excuse for not looking at her mother.

"Yes, I want some twilled silesia, a paper of number nine needles, and
two yards of narrow lavender ribbon.  Have you got your thick boots on,
and something warm under your cloak?"

"I believe so," answered Jo absently.

"If you happen to meet Mr. Bhaer, bring him home to tea. I quite long
to see the dear man," added Mrs. March.

Jo heard that, but made no answer, except to kiss her mother, and walk
rapidly away, thinking with a glow of gratitude, in spite of her
heartache, "How good she is to me! What do girls do who haven't any
mothers to help them through their troubles?"

The dry-goods stores were not down among the counting-houses, banks,
and wholesale warerooms, where gentlemen most do congregate, but Jo
found herself in that part of the city before she did a single errand,
loitering along as if waiting for someone, examining engineering
instruments in one window and samples of wool in another, with most
unfeminine interest, tumbling over barrels, being half-smothered by
descending bales, and hustled unceremoniously by busy men who looked as
if they wondered 'how the deuce she got there'.  A drop of rain on her
cheek recalled her thoughts from baffled hopes to ruined ribbons.  For
the drops continued to fall, and being a woman as well as a lover, she
felt that, though it was too late to save her heart, she might her
bonnet.  Now she remembered the little umbrella, which she had
forgotten to take in her hurry to be off, but regret was unavailing,
and nothing could be done but borrow one or submit to a drenching.  She
looked up at the lowering sky, down at the crimson bow already flecked
with black, forward along the muddy street, then one long, lingering
look behind, at a certain grimy warehouse, with 'Hoffmann, Swartz, &
Co.' over the door, and said to herself, with a sternly reproachful
air...

"It serves me right! what business had I to put on all my best things
and come philandering down here, hoping to see the Professor?  Jo, I'm
ashamed of you!  No, you shall not go there to borrow an umbrella, or
find out where he is, from his friends. You shall trudge away, and do
your errands in the rain, and if you catch your death and ruin your
bonnet, it's no more than you deserve.  Now then!"

With that she rushed across the street so impetuously that she narrowly
escaped annihilation from a passing truck, and precipitated herself
into the arms of a stately old gentleman, who said, "I beg pardon,
ma'am," and looked mortally offended.  Somewhat daunted, Jo righted
herself, spread her handkerchief over the devoted ribbons, and putting
temptation behind her, hurried on, with increasing dampness about the
ankles, and much clashing of umbrellas overhead.  The fact that a
somewhat dilapidated blue one remained stationary above the unprotected
bonnet attracted her attention, and looking up, she saw Mr. Bhaer
looking down.

"I feel to know the strong-minded lady who goes so bravely under many
horse noses, and so fast through much mud.  What do you down here, my
friend?"

"I'm shopping."

Mr. Bhaer smiled, as he glanced from the pickle factory on one side to
the wholesale hide and leather concern on the other, but he only said
politely, "You haf no umbrella.  May I go also, and take for you the
bundles?"

"Yes, thank you."

Jo's cheeks were as red as her ribbon, and she wondered what he thought
of her, but she didn't care, for in a minute she found herself walking
away arm in arm with her Professor, feeling as if the sun had suddenly
burst out with uncommon brilliancy, that the world was all right again,
and that one thoroughly happy woman was paddling through the wet that
day.

"We thought you had gone," said Jo hastily, for she knew he was looking
at her.  Her bonnet wasn't big enough to hide her face, and she feared
he might think the joy it betrayed unmaidenly.

"Did you believe that I should go with no farewell to those who haf
been so heavenly kind to me?" he asked so reproachfully that she felt
as if she had insulted him by the suggestion, and answered heartily...

"No, I didn't.  I knew you were busy about your own affairs, but we
rather missed you, Father and Mother especially."

"And you?"

"I'm always glad to see you, sir."

In her anxiety to keep her voice quite calm, Jo made it rather cool,
and the frosty little monosyllable at the end seemed to chill the
Professor, for his smile vanished, as he said gravely...

"I thank you, and come one more time before I go."

"You are going, then?"

"I haf no longer any business here, it is done."

"Successfully, I hope?" said Jo, for the bitterness of disappointment
was in that short reply of his.

"I ought to think so, for I haf a way opened to me by which I can make
my bread and gif my Junglings much help."

"Tell me, please!  I like to know all about the--the boys," said Jo
eagerly.

"That is so kind, I gladly tell you.  My friends find for me a place in
a college, where I teach as at home, and earn enough to make the way
smooth for Franz and Emil.  For this I should be grateful, should I
not?"

"Indeed you should.  How splendid it will be to have you doing what you
like, and be able to see you often, and the boys!" cried Jo, clinging
to the lads as an excuse for the satisfaction she could not help
betraying.

"Ah!  But we shall not meet often, I fear, this place is at the West."

"So far away!" and Jo left her skirts to their fate, as if it didn't
matter now what became of her clothes or herself.

Mr. Bhaer could read several languages, but he had not learned to read
women yet.  He flattered himself that he knew Jo pretty well, and was,
therefore, much amazed by the contradictions of voice, face, and
manner, which she showed him in rapid succession that day, for she was
in half a dozen different moods in the course of half an hour.  When
she met him she looked surprised, though it was impossible to help
suspecting that she had come for that express purpose.  When he offered
her his arm, she took it with a look that filled him with delight, but
when he asked if she missed him, she gave such a chilly, formal reply
that despair fell upon him.  On learning his good fortune she almost
clapped her hands.  Was the joy all for the boys? Then on hearing his
destination, she said, "So far away!" in a tone of despair that lifted
him on to a pinnacle of hope, but the next minute she tumbled him down
again by observing, like one entirely absorbed in the matter...

"Here's the place for my errands.  Will you come in? It won't take
long."

Jo rather prided herself upon her shopping capabilities, and
particularly wished to impress her escort with the neatness and
dispatch with which she would accomplish the business. But owing to the
flutter she was in, everything went amiss. She upset the tray of
needles, forgot the silesia was to be 'twilled' till it was cut off,
gave the wrong change, and covered herself with confusion by asking for
lavender ribbon at the calico counter.  Mr. Bhaer stood by, watching
her blush and blunder, and as he watched, his own bewilderment seemed
to subside, for he was beginning to see that on some occasions, women,
like dreams, go by contraries.

When they came out, he put the parcel under his arm with a more
cheerful aspect, and splashed through the puddles as if he rather
enjoyed it on the whole.

"Should we no do a little what you call shopping for the babies, and
haf a farewell feast tonight if I go for my last call at your so
pleasant home?" he asked, stopping before a window full of fruit and
flowers.

"What will we buy?" asked Jo, ignoring the latter part of his speech,
and sniffing the mingled odors with an affectation of delight as they
went in.

"May they haf oranges and figs?" asked Mr. Bhaer, with a paternal air.

"They eat them when they can get them."

"Do you care for nuts?"

"Like a squirrel."

"Hamburg grapes.  Yes, we shall drink to the Fatherland in those?"

Jo frowned upon that piece of extravagance, and asked why he didn't buy
a frail of dates, a cask of raisins, and a bag of almonds, and be done
with it?  Whereat Mr. Bhaer confiscated her purse, produced his own,
and finished the marketing by buying several pounds of grapes, a pot of
rosy daisies, and a pretty jar of honey, to be regarded in the light of
a demijohn.  Then distorting his pockets with knobby bundles, and
giving her the flowers to hold, he put up the old umbrella, and they
traveled on again.

"Miss Marsch, I haf a great favor to ask of you," began the Professor,
after a moist promenade of half a block.

"Yes, sir?" and Jo's heart began to beat so hard she was afraid he
would hear it.

"I am bold to say it in spite of the rain, because so short a time
remains to me."

"Yes, sir," and Jo nearly crushed the small flowerpot with the sudden
squeeze she gave it.

"I wish to get a little dress for my Tina, and I am too stupid to go
alone.  Will you kindly gif me a word of taste and help?"

"Yes, sir," and Jo felt as calm and cool all of a sudden as if she had
stepped into a refrigerator.

"Perhaps also a shawl for Tina's mother, she is so poor and sick, and
the husband is such a care.  Yes, yes, a thick, warm shawl would be a
friendly thing to take the little mother."

"I'll do it with pleasure, Mr. Bhaer."  "I'm going very fast, and he's
getting dearer every minute," added Jo to herself, then with a mental
shake she entered into the business with an energy that was pleasant to
behold.

Mr. Bhaer left it all to her, so she chose a pretty gown for Tina, and
then ordered out the shawls.  The clerk, being a married man,
condescended to take an interest in the couple, who appeared to be
shopping for their family.

"Your lady may prefer this.  It's a superior article, a most desirable
color, quite chaste and genteel," he said, shaking out a comfortable
gray shawl, and throwing it over Jo's shoulders.

"Does this suit you, Mr. Bhaer?" she asked, turning her back to him,
and feeling deeply grateful for the chance of hiding her face.

"Excellently well, we will haf it," answered the Professor, smiling to
himself as he paid for it, while Jo continued to rummage the counters
like a confirmed bargain-hunter.

"Now shall we go home?" he asked, as if the words were very pleasant to
him.

"Yes, it's late, and I'm _so_ tired." Jo's voice was more pathetic than
she knew.  For now the sun seemed to have gone in as suddenly as it
came out, and the world grew muddy and miserable again, and for the
first time she discovered that her feet were cold, her head ached, and
that her heart was colder than the former, fuller of pain than the
latter.  Mr. Bhaer was going away, he only cared for her as a friend,
it was all a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better.  With this
idea in her head, she hailed an approaching omnibus with such a hasty
gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were badly damaged.

"This is not our omniboos," said the Professor, waving the loaded
vehicle away, and stopping to pick up the poor little flowers.

"I beg your pardon.  I didn't see the name distinctly.  Never mind, I
can walk.  I'm used to plodding in the mud," returned Jo, winking hard,
because she would have died rather than openly wipe her eyes.

Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her head away.
The sight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly stooping down, he
asked in a tone that meant a great deal, "Heart's dearest, why do you
cry?"

Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would have said
she wasn't crying, had a cold in her head, or told any other feminine
fib proper to the occasion.  Instead of which, that undignified
creature answered, with an irrepressible sob, "Because you are going
away."

"Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!" cried Mr. Bhaer, managing to clasp
his hands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles, "Jo, I haf nothing
but much love to gif you.  I came to see if you could care for it, and
I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend.  Am I?
Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" he added, all
in one breath.

"Oh, yes!" said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both
hands over his arm, and looked up at him with an expression that
plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him,
even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he
carried it.

It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if he had
desired to do so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his knees, on
account of the mud.  Neither could he offer Jo his hand, except
figuratively, for both were full.  Much less could he indulge in tender
remonstrations in the open street, though he was near it.  So the only
way in which he could express his rapture was to look at her, with an
expression which glorified his face to such a degree that there
actually seemed to be little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on his
beard.  If he had not loved Jo very much, I don't think he could have
done it then, for she looked far from lovely, with her skirts in a
deplorable state, her rubber boots splashed to the ankle, and her
bonnet a ruin.  Fortunately, Mr. Bhaer considered her the most
beautiful woman living, and she found him more "Jove-like" than ever,
though his hatbrim was quite limp with the little rills trickling
thence upon his shoulders (for he held the umbrella all over Jo), and
every finger of his gloves needed mending.

Passers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics, for they
entirely forgot to hail a bus, and strolled leisurely along, oblivious
of deepening dusk and fog.  Little they cared what anybody thought, for
they were enjoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any
life, the magical moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the
plain, wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of
heaven. The Professor looked as if he had conquered a kingdom, and the
world had nothing more to offer him in the way of bliss.  While Jo
trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had always been there, and
wondering how she ever could have chosen any other lot.  Of course, she
was the first to speak--intelligibly, I mean, for the emotional remarks
which followed her impetuous "Oh, yes!" were not of a coherent or
reportable character.

"Friedrich, why didn't you..."

"Ah, heaven, she gifs me the name that no one speaks since Minna died!"
cried the Professor, pausing in a puddle to regard her with grateful
delight.

"I always call you so to myself--I forgot, but I won't unless you like
it."

"Like it?  It is more sweet to me than I can tell.  Say 'thou', also,
and I shall say your language is almost as beautiful as mine."

"Isn't 'thou' a little sentimental?" asked Jo, privately thinking it a
lovely monosyllable.

"Sentimental? Yes.  Thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and
keep ourselves young mit it.  Your English 'you' is so cold, say
'thou', heart's dearest, it means so much to me," pleaded Mr. Bhaer,
more like a romantic student than a grave professor.

"Well, then, why didn't thou tell me all this sooner?" asked Jo
bashfully.

"Now I shall haf to show thee all my heart, and I so gladly will,
because thou must take care of it hereafter.  See, then, my Jo--ah, the
dear, funny little name--I had a wish to tell something the day I said
goodbye in New York, but I thought the handsome friend was betrothed to
thee, and so I spoke not.  Wouldst thou have said 'Yes', then, if I had
spoken?"

"I don't know.  I'm afraid not, for I didn't have any heart just then."

"Prut!  That I do not believe.  It was asleep till the fairy prince
came through the wood, and waked it up.  Ah, well, 'Die erste Liebe ist
die beste', but that I should not expect."

"Yes, the first love is the best, but be so contented, for I never had
another.  Teddy was only a boy, and soon got over his little fancy,"
said Jo, anxious to correct the Professor's mistake.

"Good!  Then I shall rest happy, and be sure that thou givest me all.
I haf waited so long, I am grown selfish, as thou wilt find,
Professorin."

"I like that," cried Jo, delighted with her new name.  "Now tell me
what brought you, at last, just when I wanted you?"

"This," and Mr. Bhaer took a little worn paper out of his waistcoat
pocket.

Jo unfolded it, and looked much abashed, for it was one of her own
contributions to a paper that paid for poetry, which accounted for her
sending it an occasional attempt.

"How could that bring you?" she asked, wondering what he meant.

"I found it by chance.  I knew it by the names and the initials, and in
it there was one little verse that seemed to call me.  Read and find
him.  I will see that you go not in the wet."


    IN THE GARRET

    Four little chests all in a row,
    Dim with dust, and worn by time,
    All fashioned and filled, long ago,
    By children now in their prime.
    Four little keys hung side by side,
    With faded ribbons, brave and gay
    When fastened there, with childish pride,
    Long ago, on a rainy day.
    Four little names, one on each lid,
    Carved out by a boyish hand,
    And underneath there lieth hid
    Histories of the happy band
    Once playing here, and pausing oft
    To hear the sweet refrain,
    That came and went on the roof aloft,
    In the falling summer rain.

    "Meg" on the first lid, smooth and fair.
    I look in with loving eyes,
    For folded here, with well-known care,
    A goodly gathering lies,
    The record of a peaceful life--
    Gifts to gentle child and girl,
    A bridal gown, lines to a wife,
    A tiny shoe, a baby curl.
    No toys in this first chest remain,
    For all are carried away,
    In their old age, to join again
    In another small Meg's play.
    Ah, happy mother!  Well I know
    You hear, like a sweet refrain,
    Lullabies ever soft and low
    In the falling summer rain.

    "Jo" on the next lid, scratched and worn,
    And within a motley store
    Of headless dolls, of schoolbooks torn,
    Birds and beasts that speak no more,
    Spoils brought home from the fairy ground
    Only trod by youthful feet,
    Dreams of a future never found,
    Memories of a past still sweet,
    Half-writ poems, stories wild,
    April letters, warm and cold,
    Diaries of a wilful child,
    Hints of a woman early old,
    A woman in a lonely home,
    Hearing, like a sad refrain--
    "Be worthy, love, and love will come,"
    In the falling summer rain.

    My Beth!  the dust is always swept
    From the lid that bears your name,
    As if by loving eyes that wept,
    By careful hands that often came.
    Death canonized for us one saint,
    Ever less human than divine,
    And still we lay, with tender plaint,
    Relics in this household shrine--
    The silver bell, so seldom rung,
    The little cap which last she wore,
    The fair, dead Catherine that hung
    By angels borne above her door.
    The songs she sang, without lament,
    In her prison-house of pain,
    Forever are they sweetly blent
    With the falling summer rain.

    Upon the last lid's polished field--
    Legend now both fair and true
    A gallant knight bears on his shield,
    "Amy" in letters gold and blue.
    Within lie snoods that bound her hair,
    Slippers that have danced their last,
    Faded flowers laid by with care,
    Fans whose airy toils are past,
    Gay valentines, all ardent flames,
    Trifles that have borne their part
    In girlish hopes and fears and shames,
    The record of a maiden heart
    Now learning fairer, truer spells,
    Hearing, like a blithe refrain,
    The silver sound of bridal bells
    In the falling summer rain.

    Four little chests all in a row,
    Dim with dust, and worn by time,
    Four women, taught by weal and woe
    To love and labor in their prime.
    Four sisters, parted for an hour,
    None lost, one only gone before,
    Made by love's immortal power,
    Nearest and dearest evermore.
    Oh, when these hidden stores of ours
    Lie open to the Father's sight,
    May they be rich in golden hours,
    Deeds that show fairer for the light,
    Lives whose brave music long shall ring,
    Like a spirit-stirring strain,
    Souls that shall gladly soar and sing
    In the long sunshine after rain.

"It's very bad poetry, but I felt it when I wrote it, one day when I
was very lonely, and had a good cry on a rag bag.  I never thought it
would go where it could tell tales," said Jo, tearing up the verses the
Professor had treasured so long.

"Let it go, it has done its duty, and I will haf a fresh one when I
read all the brown book in which she keeps her little secrets," said
Mr. Bhaer with a smile as he watched the fragments fly away on the
wind.  "Yes," he added earnestly, "I read that, and I think to myself,
She has a sorrow, she is lonely, she would find comfort in true love.
I haf a heart full, full for her.  Shall I not go and say, 'If this is
not too poor a thing to gif for what I shall hope to receive, take it
in Gott's name?'"

"And so you came to find that it was not too poor, but the one precious
thing I needed," whispered Jo.

"I had no courage to think that at first, heavenly kind as was your
welcome to me.  But soon I began to hope, and then I said, 'I will haf
her if I die for it,' and so I will!" cried Mr. Bhaer, with a defiant
nod, as if the walls of mist closing round them were barriers which he
was to surmount or valiantly knock down.

Jo thought that was splendid, and resolved to be worthy of her knight,
though he did not come prancing on a charger in gorgeous array.

"What made you stay away so long?" she asked presently, finding it so
pleasant to ask confidential questions and get delightful answers that
she could not keep silent.

"It was not easy, but I could not find the heart to take you from that
so happy home until I could haf a prospect of one to gif you, after
much time, perhaps, and hard work.  How could I ask you to gif up so
much for a poor old fellow, who has no fortune but a little learning?"

"I'm glad you are poor.  I couldn't bear a rich husband," said Jo
decidedly, adding in a softer tone, "Don't fear poverty. I've known it
long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love, and
don't call yourself old--forty is the prime of life.  I couldn't help
loving you if you were seventy!"

The Professor found that so touching that he would have been glad of
his handkerchief, if he could have got at it.  As he couldn't, Jo wiped
his eyes for him, and said, laughing, as she took away a bundle or
two...

"I may be strong-minded, but no one can say I'm out of my sphere now,
for woman's special mission is supposed to be drying tears and bearing
burdens.  I'm to carry my share, Friedrich, and help to earn the home.
Make up your mind to that, or I'll never go," she added resolutely, as
he tried to reclaim his load.

"We shall see.  Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo? I must go
away and do my work alone.  I must help my boys first, because, even
for you, I may not break my word to Minna.  Can you forgif that, and be
happy while we hope and wait?"

"Yes, I know I can, for we love one another, and that makes all the
rest easy to bear.  I have my duty, also, and my work. I couldn't enjoy
myself if I neglected them even for you, so there's no need of hurry or
impatience.  You can do your part out West, I can do mine here, and
both be happy hoping for the best, and leaving the future to be as God
wills."

"Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif
back but a full heart and these empty hands," cried the Professor,
quite overcome.

Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they
stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering
tenderly, "Not empty now," and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich
under the umbrella.  It was dreadful, but she would have done it if the
flock of draggle-tailed sparrows on the hedge had been human beings,
for she was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything
but her own happiness. Though it came in such a very simple guise, that
was the crowning moment of both their lives, when, turning from the
night and storm and loneliness to the household light and warmth and
peace waiting to receive them, with a glad "Welcome home!"  Jo led her
lover in, and shut the door.



CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

HARVEST TIME

For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped and loved, met
occasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters that the rise in the
price of paper was accounted for, Laurie said.  The second year began
rather soberly, for their prospects did not brighten, and Aunt March
died suddenly.  But when their first sorrow was over--for they loved
the old lady in spite of her sharp tongue--they found they had cause
for rejoicing, for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts
of joyful things possible.

"It's a fine old place, and will bring a handsome sum, for of course
you intend to sell it," said Laurie, as they were all talking the
matter over some weeks later.

"No, I don't," was Jo's decided answer, as she petted the fat poodle,
whom she had adopted, out of respect to his former mistress.

"You don't mean to live there?"

"Yes, I do."

"But, my dear girl, it's an immense house, and will take a power of
money to keep it in order.  The garden and orchard alone need two or
three men, and farming isn't in Bhaer's line, I take it."

"He'll try his hand at it there, if I propose it."

"And you expect to live on the produce of the place?  Well, that sounds
paradisiacal, but you'll find it desperate hard work."

"The crop we are going to raise is a profitable one," and Jo laughed.

"Of what is this fine crop to consist, ma'am?"

"Boys.  I want to open a school for little lads--a good, happy,
homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritz to teach them."

"That's a truly Joian plan for you!  Isn't that just like her?" cried
Laurie, appealing to the family, who looked as much surprised as he.

"I like it," said Mrs. March decidedly.

"So do I," added her husband, who welcomed the thought of a chance for
trying the Socratic method of education on modern youth.

"It will be an immense care for Jo," said Meg, stroking the head of her
one all-absorbing son.

"Jo can do it, and be happy in it.  It's a splendid idea. Tell us all
about it," cried Mr. Laurence, who had been longing to lend the lovers
a hand, but knew that they would refuse his help.

"I knew you'd stand by me, sir.  Amy does too--I see it in her eyes,
though she prudently waits to turn it over in her mind before she
speaks.  Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly, "just understand
that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a long cherished plan.  Before
my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no
one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor,
forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and take care of them, and
make life jolly for them before it was too late.  I see so many going
to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to do anything
for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their
troubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"

Mrs. March held out her hand to Jo, who took it, smiling, with tears in
her eyes, and went on in the old enthusiastic way, which they had not
seen for a long while.

"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would
like, and agreed to try it when we got rich.  Bless his dear heart,
he's been doing it all his life--helping poor boys, I mean, not getting
rich, that he'll never be.  Money doesn't stay in his pocket long
enough to lay up any.  But now, thanks to my good old aunt, who loved
me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich, at least I feel so, and we
can live at Plumfield perfectly well, if we have a flourishing school.
It's just the place for boys, the house is big, and the furniture
strong and plain.  There's plenty of room for dozens inside, and
splendid grounds outside. They could help in the garden and orchard.
Such work is healthy, isn't it, sir?  Then Fritz could train and teach
in his own way, and Father will help him.  I can feed and nurse and pet
and scold them, and Mother will be my stand-by.  I've always longed for
lots of boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full and
revel in the little dears to my heart's content.  Think what luxury--
Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."

As Jo waved her hands and gave a sigh of rapture, the family went off
into a gale of merriment, and Mr. Laurence laughed till they thought
he'd have an apoplectic fit.

"I don't see anything funny," she said gravely, when she could be
heard.  "Nothing could be more natural and proper than for my Professor
to open a school, and for me to prefer to reside in my own estate."

"She is putting on airs already," said Laurie, who regarded the idea in
the light of a capital joke.  "But may I inquire how you intend to
support the establishment? If all the pupils are little ragamuffins,
I'm afraid your crop won't be profitable in a worldly sense, Mrs.
Bhaer."

"Now don't be a wet-blanket, Teddy.  Of course I shall have rich
pupils, also--perhaps begin with such altogether.  Then, when I've got
a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish. Rich
people's children often need care and comfort, as well as poor. I've
seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward ones
pushed forward, when it's real cruelty.  Some are naughty through
mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers. Besides, the best
have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that's the very time they
need most patience and kindness.  People laugh at them, and hustle them
about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at
once from pretty children into fine young men.  They don't complain
much--plucky little souls--but they feel it.  I've been through
something of it, and I know all about it. I've a special interest in
such young bears, and like to show them that I see the warm, honest,
well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of the clumsy arms and legs and the
topsy-turvy heads.  I've had experience, too, for haven't I brought up
one boy to be a pride and honor to his family?"

"I'll testify that you tried to do it," said Laurie with a grateful
look.

"And I've succeeded beyond my hopes, for here you are, a steady,
sensible businessman, doing heaps of good with your money, and laying
up the blessings of the poor, instead of dollars. But you are not
merely a businessman, you love good and beautiful things, enjoy them
yourself, and let others go halves, as you always did in the old times.
I am proud of you, Teddy, for you get better every year, and everyone
feels it, though you won't let them say so.  Yes, and when I have my
flock, I'll just point to you, and say 'There's your model, my lads'."

Poor Laurie didn't know where to look, for, man though he was,
something of the old bashfulness came over him as this burst of praise
made all faces turn approvingly upon him.

"I say, Jo, that's rather too much," he began, just in his old boyish
way.  "You have all done more for me than I can ever thank you for,
except by doing my best not to disappoint you.  You have rather cast me
off lately, Jo, but I've had the best of help, nevertheless.  So, if
I've got on at all, you may thank these two for it," and he laid one
hand gently on his grandfather's head, and the other on Amy's golden
one, for the three were never far apart.

"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the
world!" burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted frame of mind
just then.  "When I have one of my own, I hope it will be as happy as
the three I know and love the best.  If John and my Fritz were only
here, it would be quite a little heaven on earth," she added more
quietly.  And that night when she went to her room after a blissful
evening of family counsels, hopes, and plans, her heart was so full of
happiness that she could only calm it by kneeling beside the empty bed
always near her own, and thinking tender thoughts of Beth.

It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen
in an unusually rapid and delightful manner.  Almost before she knew
where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield.  Then
a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished
surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was
continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the
Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for
its support.  In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo,
and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.

Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but
the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters, and the most
rampant ragamuffin was conquered in the end. How Jo did enjoy her
'wilderness of boys', and how poor, dear Aunt March would have lamented
had she been there to see the sacred precincts of prim, well-ordered
Plumfield overrun with Toms, Dicks, and Harrys!  There was a sort of
poetic justice about it, after all, for the old lady had been the
terror of the boys for miles around, and now the exiles feasted freely
on forbidden plums, kicked up the gravel with profane boots unreproved,
and played cricket in the big field where the irritable 'cow with a
crumpled horn' used to invite rash youths to come and be tossed.  It
became a sort of boys' paradise, and Laurie suggested that it should be
called the 'Bhaer-garten', as a compliment to its master and
appropriate to its inhabitants.

It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not lay up a
fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be--'a happy, homelike
place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and kindness'.  Every room
in the big house was soon full.  Every little plot in the garden soon
had its owner.  A regular menagerie appeared in barn and shed, for pet
animals were allowed. And three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz
from the head of a long table lined on either side with rows of happy
young faces, which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding
words, and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer'.  She had
boys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were not angels,
by any means, and some of them caused both Professor and Professorin
much trouble and anxiety.  But her faith in the good spot which exists
in the heart of the naughtiest, sauciest, most tantalizing little
ragamuffin gave her patience, skill, and in time success, for no mortal
boy could hold out long with Father Bhaer shining on him as
benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhaer forgiving him seventy times
seven.  Very precious to Jo was the friendship of the lads, their
penitent sniffs and whispers after wrongdoing, their droll or touching
little confidences, their pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even
their misfortunes, for they only endeared them to her all the more.
There were slow boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys,
boys that lisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a
merry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was
welcome to the 'Bhaer-garten', though some people predicted that his
admission would ruin the school.

Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work, much
anxiety, and a perpetual racket.  She enjoyed it heartily and found the
applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise of the world, for
now she told no stories except to her flock of enthusiastic believers
and admirers.  As the years went on, two little lads of her own came to
increase her happiness--Rob, named for Grandpa, and Teddy, a
happy-go-lucky baby, who seemed to have inherited his papa's sunshiny
temper as well as his mother's lively spirit.  How they ever grew up
alive in that whirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma and
aunts, but they flourished like dandelions in spring, and their rough
nurses loved and served them well.

There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most
delightful was the yearly apple-picking.  For then the Marches,
Laurences, Brookes and Bhaers turned out in full force and made a day
of it.  Five years after Jo's wedding, one of these fruitful festivals
occurred, a mellow October day, when the air was full of an
exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise and the blood dance
healthily in the veins.  The old orchard wore its holiday attire.
Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls. Grasshoppers skipped
briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped like fairy pipers at a
feast.  Squirrels were busy with their small harvesting.  Birds
twittered their adieux from the alders in the lane, and every tree
stood ready to send down its shower of red or yellow apples at the
first shake.  Everybody was there. Everybody laughed and sang, climbed
up and tumbled down.  Everybody declared that there never had been such
a perfect day or such a jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave
themselves up to the simple pleasures of the hour as freely as if there
were no such things as care or sorrow in the world.

Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley, and
Columella to Mr. Laurence, while enjoying...

The gentle apple's winey juice.

The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stout
Teutonic knight, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys, who made
a hook and ladder company of themselves, and performed wonders in the
way of ground and lofty tumbling.  Laurie devoted himself to the little
ones, rode his small daughter in a bushel-basket, took Daisy up among
the bird's nests, and kept adventurous Rob from breaking his neck.
Mrs. March and Meg sat among the apple piles like a pair of Pomonas,
sorting the contributions that kept pouring in, while Amy with a
beautiful motherly expression in her face sketched the various groups,
and watched over one pale lad, who sat adoring her with his little
crutch beside him.

Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with her gown pinned
up, and her hat anywhere but on her head, and her baby tucked under her
arm, ready for any lively adventure which might turn up.  Little Teddy
bore a charmed life, for nothing ever happened to him, and Jo never
felt any anxiety when he was whisked up into a tree by one lad,
galloped off on the back of another, or supplied with sour russets by
his indulgent papa, who labored under the Germanic delusion that babies
could digest anything, from pickled cabbage to buttons, nails, and
their own small shoes.  She knew that little Ted would turn up again in
time, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always received him back
with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.

At four o'clock a lull took place, and baskets remained empty, while
the apple pickers rested and compared rents and bruises.  Then Jo and
Meg, with a detachment of the bigger boys, set forth the supper on the
grass, for an out-of-door tea was always the crowning joy of the day.
The land literally flowed with milk and honey on such occasions, for
the lads were not required to sit at table, but allowed to partake of
refreshment as they liked--freedom being the sauce best beloved by the
boyish soul.  They availed themselves of the rare privilege to the
fullest extent, for some tried the pleasing experiment of drinking milk
while standing on their heads, others lent a charm to leapfrog by
eating pie in the pauses of the game, cookies were sown broadcast over
the field, and apple turnovers roosted in the trees like a new style of
bird.  The little girls had a private tea party, and Ted roved among
the edibles at his own sweet will.

When no one could eat any more, the Professor proposed the first
regular toast, which was always drunk at such times--"Aunt March, God
bless her!"  A toast heartily given by the good man, who never forgot
how much he owed her, and quietly drunk by the boys, who had been
taught to keep her memory green.

"Now, Grandma's sixtieth birthday!  Long life to her, with three times
three!"

That was given with a will, as you may well believe, and the cheering
once begun, it was hard to stop it.  Everybody's health was proposed,
from Mr. Laurence, who was considered their special patron, to the
astonished guinea pig, who had strayed from its proper sphere in search
of its young master.  Demi, as the oldest grandchild, then presented
the queen of the day with various gifts, so numerous that they were
transported to the festive scene in a wheelbarrow.  Funny presents,
some of them, but what would have been defects to other eyes were
ornaments to Grandma's--for the children's gifts were all their own.
Every stitch Daisy's patient little fingers had put into the
handkerchiefs she hemmed was better than embroidery to Mrs. March.
Demi's miracle of mechanical skill, though the cover wouldn't shut,
Rob's footstool had a wiggle in its uneven legs that she declared was
soothing, and no page of the costly book Amy's child gave her was so
fair as that on which appeared in tipsy capitals, the words--"To dear
Grandma, from her little Beth."

During the ceremony the boys had mysteriously disappeared, and when
Mrs. March had tried to thank her children, and broken down, while
Teddy wiped her eyes on his pinafore, the Professor suddenly began to
sing.  Then, from above him, voice after voice took up the words, and
from tree to tree echoed the music of the unseen choir, as the boys
sang with all their hearts the little song that Jo had written, Laurie
set to music, and the Professor trained his lads to give with the best
effect.  This was something altogether new, and it proved a grand
success, for Mrs. March couldn't get over her surprise, and insisted on
shaking hands with every one of the featherless birds, from tall Franz
and Emil to the little quadroon, who had the sweetest voice of all.

After this, the boys dispersed for a final lark, leaving Mrs. March and
her daughters under the festival tree.

"I don't think I ever ought to call myself 'unlucky Jo' again, when my
greatest wish has been so beautifully gratified," said Mrs. Bhaer,
taking Teddy's little fist out of the milk pitcher, in which he was
rapturously churning.

"And yet your life is very different from the one you pictured so long
ago.  Do you remember our castles in the air?" asked Amy, smiling as
she watched Laurie and John playing cricket with the boys.

"Dear fellows!  It does my heart good to see them forget business and
frolic for a day," answered Jo, who now spoke in a maternal way of all
mankind.  "Yes, I remember, but the life I wanted then seems selfish,
lonely, and cold to me now.  I haven't given up the hope that I may
write a good book yet, but I can wait, and I'm sure it will be all the
better for such experiences and illustrations as these," and Jo pointed
from the lively lads in the distance to her father, leaning on the
Professor's arm, as they walked to and fro in the sunshine, deep in one
of the conversations which both enjoyed so much, and then to her
mother, sitting enthroned among her daughters, with their children in
her lap and at her feet, as if all found help and happiness in the face
which never could grow old to them.

"My castle was the most nearly realized of all.  I asked for splendid
things, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should be satisfied, if I
had a little home, and John, and some dear children like these.  I've
got them all, thank God, and am the happiest woman in the world," and
Meg laid her hand on her tall boy's head, with a face full of tender
and devout content.

"My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would not alter
it, though, like Jo, I don't relinquish all my artistic hopes, or
confine myself to helping others fulfill their dreams of beauty.  I've
begun to model a figure of baby, and Laurie says it is the best thing
I've ever done.  I think so, myself, and mean to do it in marble, so
that, whatever happens, I may at least keep the image of my little
angel."

As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of the sleeping
child in her arms, for her one well-beloved daughter was a frail little
creature and the dread of losing her was the shadow over Amy's
sunshine.  This cross was doing much for both father and mother, for
one love and sorrow bound them closely together. Amy's nature was
growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender.  Laurie was growing more
serious, strong, and firm, and both were learning that beauty, youth,
good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep care and pain, loss and
sorrow, from the most blessed for ...


    Into each life some rain must fall,
    Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.


"She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear.  Don't despond, but
hope and keep happy," said Mrs. March, as tenderhearted Daisy stooped
from her knee to lay her rosy cheek against her little cousin's pale
one.

"I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee, and Laurie
to take more than half of every burden," replied Amy warmly.  "He never
lets me see his anxiety, but is so sweet and patient with me, so
devoted to Beth, and such a stay and comfort to me always that I can't
love him enough.  So, in spite of my one cross, I can say with Meg,
'Thank God, I'm a happy woman.'"

"There's no need for me to say it, for everyone can see that I'm far
happier than I deserve," added Jo, glancing from her good husband to
her chubby children, tumbling on the grass beside her.  "Fritz is
getting gray and stout.  I'm growing as thin as a shadow, and am
thirty.  We never shall be rich, and Plumfield may burn up any night,
for that incorrigible Tommy Bangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under
the bed-clothes, though he's set himself afire three times already.
But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain of,
and never was so jolly in my life.  Excuse the remark, but living among
boys, I can't help using their expressions now and then."

"Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one," began Mrs. March,
frightening away a big black cricket that was staring Teddy out of
countenance.

"Not half so good as yours, Mother.  Here it is, and we never can thank
you enough for the patient sowing and reaping you have done," cried Jo,
with the loving impetuosity which she never would outgrow.

"I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares every year," said Amy
softly.

"A large sheaf, but I know there's room in your heart for it, Marmee
dear," added Meg's tender voice.

Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if
to gather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and
voice full of motherly love, gratitude, and humility...

"Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a
greater happiness than this!"





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