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Title: Little Women - or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy
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 - or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy" ***

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



                      [Illustration: LITTLE WOMEN
                         MEG, JO, BETH, AND AMY
                           LOUISA M. ALCOTT]



                              LITTLE WOMEN.


[Illustration: "They all drew to the fire, mother in the big chair, with
Beth at her feet"
                                              (See page 9) FRONTISPIECE]



                              LITTLE WOMEN
                         Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy


                                   BY
                            LOUISA M. ALCOTT

            AUTHOR OF "LITTLE MEN," "AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL"
                     "SPINNING-WHEEL STORIES," ETC.


         _With more than 200 illustrations by Frank T. Merrill
             and a picture of the Home of the Little Women
                         by Edmund H. Garrett_


                                 BOSTON
                     LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY



  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the years 1868 and 1869, by
                           LOUISA M. ALCOTT,
                      In the Clerk's office of the
            District Court of the District of Massachusetts.


                           _Copyright, 1880_,
                          BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT.

                           _Copyright, 1896_,
                         BY JOHN S. P. ALCOTT.


                                 BOSTON
                    ALFRED MUDGE & SON INC. PRINTERS



                         [Illustration: Preface]


              "_Go then, my little Book, and show to all
              That entertain and bid thee welcome shall,
              What thou dost keep close shut up in thy breast;
              And wish what thou dost show them may be blest
              To them for good, may make them choose to be
              Pilgrims better, by far, than thee or me.
              Tell them of Mercy; she is one
              Who early hath her pilgrimage begun.
              Yea, let young damsels learn of her to prize
              The world which is to come, and so be wise;
              For little tripping maids may follow God
              Along the ways which saintly feet have trod._"

                                     Adapted from JOHN BUNYAN.



                        [Illustration: Contents]


                              Part First.

            CHAPTER                                         PAGE

         I. PLAYING PILGRIMS                                   7

        II. A MERRY CHRISTMAS                                 15

       III. THE LAURENCE BOY                                  29

        IV. BURDENS                                           43

         V. BEING NEIGHBORLY                                  58

        VI. BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL                   73

       VII. AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION                       82

      VIII. JO MEETS APOLLYON                                 91

        IX. MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR                          104

         X. THE P. C. AND P. O.                              124

        XI. EXPERIMENTS                                      134

       XII. CAMP LAURENCE                                    147

      XIII. CASTLES IN THE AIR                               172

       XIV. SECRETS                                          184

        XV. A TELEGRAM                                       195

       XVI. LETTERS                                          206

      XVII. LITTLE FAITHFUL                                  216

     XVIII. DARK DAYS                                        225

       XIX. AMY'S WILL                                       234

        XX. CONFIDENTIAL                                     246

       XXI. LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE        254

      XXII. PLEASANT MEADOWS                                 269

     XXIII. AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION                  277


                              Part Second.

      XXIV. GOSSIP                                           293

       XXV. THE FIRST WEDDING                                306

      XXVI. ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS                                313

     XXVII. LITERARY LESSONS                                 325

    XXVIII. DOMESTIC EXPERIENCES                             334

      XXIX. CALLS                                            350

       XXX. CONSEQUENCES                                     365

      XXXI. OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT                        378

     XXXII. TENDER TROUBLES                                  389

    XXXIII. JO'S JOURNAL                                     403

     XXXIV. A FRIEND                                         418

      XXXV. HEARTACHE                                        435

     XXXVI. BETH'S SECRET                                    448

    XXXVII. NEW IMPRESSIONS                                  454

   XXXVIII. ON THE SHELF                                     466

     XXXIX. LAZY LAURENCE                                    480

        XL. THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW                         495

       XLI. LEARNING TO FORGET                               502

      XLII. ALL ALONE                                        516

     XLIII. SURPRISES                                        525

      XLIV. MY LORD AND LADY                                 543

       XLV. DAISY AND DEMI                                   550

      XLVI. UNDER THE UMBRELLA                               558

     XLVII. HARVEST TIME                                     575

                   [Illustration: Tail-piece to Contents]



                   [Illustration: List of illustrations.]


   [The Illustrations, designed by FRANK T. MERRILL, drawn, engraved,
        and printed under the supervision of GEORGE T. ANDREW.]

                                                                PAGE

    They all drew to the fire, mother in the big chair, with
    Beth at her feet
                                                     _Frontispiece._

    Titlepage                                                    iii

    Preface                                                        v

    Contents                                                     vii

    Tail-piece to Contents                                        ix

    List of Illustrations                                         xi

    Tail-piece to Illustrations                                  xvi

    Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents              1

    Beth put a pair of slippers down to warm                       5

    I used to be so frightened when it was my turn to sit in
    the big chair                                                  6

    Do it this way, clasp your hands so                            7

    It was a cheerful, hopeful letter                             10

    How you used to play Pilgrim's Progress                       11

    No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano     13

    At nine they stopped work and sung as usual                   14

    Merry Christmas                                               15

    The procession set out                                        19

    Out came Meg with gray horse-hair hanging about her face      22

    A little figure in cloudy white                               23

    The lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing           25

    We talked over the fence                                      27

    Tail-piece                                                    28

    Eating apples and crying over the "Heir of Redclyffe"         29

    Jo undertook to pinch the papered locks                       31

    Mrs. Gardiner greeted them                                    34

    Face to face with the Laurence boy                            35

    They sat down on the stairs                                   39

    Tell about the party                                          42

    The kitten stuck like a burr just out of reach                43

    Curling herself up in the big chair                           48

    Reading that everlasting Belsham                              52

    He took her by the ear! by the ear!                           54

    Mr. Laurence hooked up a big fish                             55

    Tail-piece                                                    57

    Being neighborly                                              58

    Laurie opened the window                                      60

    Poll tweaked off his wig                                      64

    Putting his finger under her chin                             67

    Please give these to your mother                              69

    Tail-piece                                                    72

    O sir, they do care very much                                 75

    Mr. Laurence often opened his study door                      77

    She put both arms around his neck and kissed him              81

    The Cyclops                                                   82

    Amy bore without flinching several tingling blows             86

    You do know her                                               89

    Girls, where are you going?                                   91

    I burnt it up                                                 95

    Held Amy up by his arms and hockey                            99

    Packing the go abroady trunk                                 104

    Meg's partner appeared                                       110

    Asked to be introduced                                       114

    I wouldn't, Meg                                              118

    Holding a hand of each, Mrs. March said, &c.                 122

    Mr. Pickwick                                                 125

    Jo threw open the door of the closet                         131

    Jo spent the morning on the river                            134

    Amy sat down to draw                                         136

    O Pip! O Pip!                                                140

    Miss Crocker made a wry face                                 143

    We'll work like bees                                         146

    Beth was post-mistress                                       147

    Amy capped the climax by putting a clothes-pin on her nose   151

    Mr. Laurence waving his hat                                  153

    Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you                                155

    A very merry lunch it was                                    156

    He went prancing down a quiet street                         158

    "Oh, rise," she said                                         159

    A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon                   159

    He sneezed                                                   160

    The Portuguese walked the plank                              161

    Will you give me a rose?                                     162

    Miss Kate put up her glass                                   167

    Ellen Tree                                                   168

    Tail-piece                                                   171

    Swinging to and fro in his hammock                           172

    It was rather a pretty little picture                        174

    Waved a brake before her face                                178

    I see him bow and smile                                      181

    Tail-piece                                                   183

    Jo was very busy                                             184

    Hurrah for Miss March                                        189

    Jo darted away                                               190

    Jo laid herself on the sofa and affected to read             193

    November is the most disagreeable month in the year          195

    One of them horrid telegraph things                          197

    She came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke                            199

    The man clipped                                              203

    Tail-piece                                                   205

    Letters                                                      206

    She rolled away                                              208

    I wind the clock                                             213

    Yours Respectful, Hannah Mullet                              214

    Tail-piece                                                   215

    It didn't stir, and I knew it was dead                       218

    He sat down beside her                                       221

    What do you want now?                                        224

    Beth did have the fever                                      225

    Gently stroking her head as her mother used to do            228

    Amy's Will                                                   234

    Polish up the spoons and the fat silver teapot               235

    On his back, with all his legs in the air                    236

    I should choose this                                         237

    Gravely promenaded to and fro                                241

    Amy's Will                                                   243

    Tail-piece                                                   245

    Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side                       246

    Tail-piece                                                   253

    Letters                                                      254

    Jo and her mother were reading the note                      256

    Get up and don't be a goose                                  261

    "Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears              263

    He stood at the foot, like a lion in the path                265

    Beth was soon able to lie on the study sofa all day          269

    The Jungfrau                                                 271

    Popping in her head now and then                             277

    He sat in the big chair by Beth's sofa with the other
    three close by                                               277

    Shall I tell you how?                                        280

    Bless me, what's all this?                                   282

    For Mrs. John Brooke                                         288

    Home of the Little Women                                     290

    The Dove Cote                                                293

    A small watchman's rattle                                    302

    Tail-piece                                                   305

    The First Wedding                                            306

    Artistic Attempts                                            313

    Her foot held fast in a panful of plaster                    315

    Please don't, it's mine                                      322

    Tail-piece                                                   324

    Literary Lessons                                             325

    A check for one hundred dollars                              329

    Tail-piece                                                   333

    Domestic Experiences                                         334

    Both felt desperately uncomfortable                          341

    A bargain, I assure you, ma'am                               344

    Laurie heroically shut his eyes while something was put
    into his arms                                                348

    Calls                                                        350

    She took the saddle to the horse                             355

    It might have been worse                                     359

    The call at Aunt March's                                     362

    Tail-piece                                                   364

    You shall have another table                                 365

    Bought up the bouquets                                       372

    Tail-piece                                                   377

    Flo and I ordered a hansom-cab                               378

    Every one was very kind, especially the officers             378

    I've seen the imperial family several times                  384

    Trying to sketch the gray-stone lion's head on the wall      387

    She leaned her head upon her hands                           391

    Now, this is filling at the price                            395

    Up with the Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee                         398

    I amused myself by dropping gingerbread nuts over
    the seat                                                     403

    Thou shalt haf thy Bhaer                                     406

    He waved his hand, sock and all                              409

    Dis is mine effalunt                                         410

    I sat down upon the floor and read and looked and ate        415

    Tail-piece                                                   417

    In the presence of three gentlemen                           418

    A select symposium                                           425

    He doesn't prink at his glass before coming                  428

    Jo stuffed the whole bundle into the stove                   431

    He put the sisters into the carriage                         435

    He laid his head down on the mossy post                      438

    O Jo, can't you?                                             446

    Tail-piece                                                   447

    With her head in Jo's lap, while the wind blew
    healthfully over her                                         449

    Tail-piece                                                   453

    He hurried forward to meet her                               454

    Here are your flowers                                        461

    Demi and Daisy                                               466

    Mornin' now                                                  473

    My dear man, it's a bonnet                                   477

    Tail-piece                                                   479

    Sat piping on a stone while his goats skipped                480

    Laurie threw himself down on the turf                        485

    A rough sketch of Laurie taming a horse                      493

    The Valley of the Shadow                                     495

    Tail-piece                                                   501

    Sat staring up at the busts                                  502

    Turning the ring thoughtfully upon his finger                507

    O Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come                          511

    How well we pull together                                    515

    Jo and her father                                            518

    Jo laid her head on a comfortable rag-bag and cried          524

    A substantial lifelike ghost leaning over her                525

    The tall uncle proceeded to toss and tousle the
    small nephew                                                 534

    O Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you                         537

    Mr. Bhaer sang heartily                                      541

    Mrs. Laurence sitting in her mother's lap                    543

    They began to pace up and down                               547

    Tail-piece                                                   549

    Me loves evvybody                                            551

    What makes my legs go, dranpa?                               552

    Dranpa, it's a We                                            556

    Tail-piece                                                   557

    Mr. Bhaer and Jo were enjoying promenades                    558

    Looking up she saw Mr. Bhaer                                 561

    Does this suit you, Mr. Bhaer?                               565

    Under the umbrella                                           573

    Tail-piece                                                   574

    Harvest time                                                 575

    Teddy bore a charmed life                                    582

    Leaving Mrs. March and her daughters under the festival
    tree                                                         583

    Tail-piece                                                   586

              [Illustration: Tail-piece to Illustrations]



   [Illustration: Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents]

                                   I.

                           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 every one; 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 Sintram 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 of 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 practise 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 for 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, unlady-like girls!"

"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!"

"'Birds in their little nests agree,'" sang Beth, the peace-maker, 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 boys' 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 at 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 at her knee 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 tom-boy 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
old 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 fly-away 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 every one 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 Tranquillity," 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 every one 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.

        [Illustration: Beth put a pair of slippers down to warm]

"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.

Every one 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.

        [Illustration: I used to be so frightened when it was my
                     turn to sit in the big chair]

"I used to be _so_ frightened when it was my turn to sit in the big
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 to-morrow 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 to-night. 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 any one 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.

          [Illustration: Do it this way, clasp your hands so]

"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 laugh, 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 Witch's Curse, an
Operatic Tragedy,' is rather a nice thing; but I'd like to try Macbeth,
if we only had a trap-door 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 to-day? There was so much to do,
getting the boxes ready to go to-morrow, that I didn't come home to
dinner. Has any one 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,
overturning, and clattering everything she touched; Beth trotted to and
fro between parlor and kitchen, quiet and busy; while Amy gave
directions to every one, 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 in 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 a 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 overflow with fatherly love and
longing for the little girls at home.

           [Illustration: It was a cheerful, hopeful letter]

"Give them all 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.

        [Illustration: How you used to play Pilgrim's Progress]

Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by saying in her
cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrim's 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 house-top,
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 hobgoblins were!" said Jo.

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

"My favorite part was when we came out on the flat roof where our
flowers and arbors and pretty things were, and all stood and sung for
joy up there in the sunshine," said Beth, smiling, as if that pleasant
moment had come back to her.

"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 to-night, 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
guide-book," 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 to-night 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.

   [Illustration: No one but Beth could get much music out of the old
                                 piano]

At nine they stopped work, and sung, 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 sung. 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 spoilt 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.

      [Illustration: At nine they stopped work and sung as usual]



                   [Illustration: A Merry Christmas]

                                   II.

                           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 so crammed with 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
guide-book for any pilgrim going the 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 come 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 up one.

"Isn't it right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's
initials are 'M. M.,' and I don't want any one 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 any one 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 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 new-born 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 muffins," added Amy, heroically giving
up the articles 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 dinner-time."

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.

                 [Illustration: The procession set out]

A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire,
ragged bed-clothes, 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 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 theatre, 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 tin preserve-pots were cut out. The furniture was used to being
turned topsy-turvy, and the big chamber was the scene of many innocent
revels.

No gentlemen 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 on to 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 play-bill, 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 slouched 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 to 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!"

[Illustration: Out came Meg with gray horse-hair hanging about her face]

Out came Meg, with gray horse-hair 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!"

            [Illustration: A little figure in cloudy white]

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 has 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-carpentering had been got
up, no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb! A tower rose to
the ceiling; half-way up appeared a window, with a lamp burning at 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 love-locks, 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 of 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 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 Roderigo 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.

  [Illustration: The lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing]

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,

"It's 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.

                [Illustration: We talked over the fence]

"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, some time, 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



  [Illustration: Eating apples and crying over the "Heir of Redclyffe"]

                                  III.

                           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
to-morrow 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 spoilt 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 spoilt the others, that she shouldn't
get you any more this winter. Can't you make them do?" asked Meg
anxiously.

"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 burnt 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.

        [Illustration: Jo undertook to pinch the papered locks]

"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 burnt 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 hair-dresser laid a row of
little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim.

"Oh, oh, oh! what _have_ you done? I'm spoilt! 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 black pancakes with tears of
regret.

"It isn't spoilt; 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 family Jo's hair was got up and her dress on.
They looked very well in their simple suits,--Meg 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 hair-pins 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 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 lady-like; I'll lift my eyebrows if anything is
wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold your shoulders straight,
and take short steps, and don't shake hands if you are introduced to any
one: it isn't the thing."

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

             [Illustration: Mrs. Gardiner greeted them]

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 near her dwindled away, till she was left alone. She could not
roam about and amuse herself, for the burnt 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
redheaded 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."

           [Illustration: Face to face with the Laurence boy]

"Dear me, I didn't know any one 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."

"Sha'n'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 every one 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 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 any thing else at Vevay."

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

"Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?" said Laurie
good-naturedly.

"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 criticised 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 roundabout 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?" asked Laurie curiously.

"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.

              [Illustration: They sat down on the stairs]

"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 any one. Get me my rubbers, and put these
slippers with our things. I can't dance any more; 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 spilt, 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 some one
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 some one 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 instalment 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 up-stairs 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
night-caps 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 burnt 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.

                  [Illustration: Tell about the party]



     [Illustration: The kitten stuck like a burr just out of reach]

                                  IV.

                                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 merry-making did not fit her for going on easily with the task
she never liked.

"I wish it was Christmas or New-Year 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 sha'n'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 spoilt children,
seemed heavier than ever. She hadn't 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. Every one 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 spoilt sentence in her letter.

There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who stalked in, laid two
hot turn-overs on the table, and stalked out again. These turn-overs
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. Good-by, 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," said Meg, from the depths of the
vail 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 to-day 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
turn-over, 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 theatres, concerts, sleighing parties, and
merry-makings 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 every one 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 had
marched home, declaring she couldn't bear it any longer; but Aunt March
always cleared up quickly, and sent for her 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 the 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 book-cases, the cosy 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 book-worm. 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 the song, or the most perilous
adventure of her traveller, 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.

          [Illustration: Curling herself up in the big chair]

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 any one 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 the air, hidden under her coat; she sung it lullabys, 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 practised away so patiently
at the jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if some one (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 to play 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
accidentally 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 beside 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 spoilt; for every one 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 mamma 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 don't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria
Parks' 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 feel that I can bear even my flat
nose and purple gown, with yellow sky-rockets 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 any one in the family. The two older girls
were a great deal to one another, but each took one of the younger 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 to-day, 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.

            [Illustration: Reading that everlasting Belsham]

"'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; sha'n'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 she only
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 to-day 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 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 try_inger_ 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
to-day 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 _parry_lized 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 that slate so
every one could see."

          [Illustration: He took her by the ear! by the ear!]

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

"Laugh? Not one! They sat as 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 that 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 a
barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter, the fish-man. 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 in 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.'"

           [Illustration: Mr. Laurence hooked up a big fish]

When they had laughed at Beth's story, they asked their mother for one;
and, after a moment's thought, she said soberly,--

"As I sat cutting out blue flannel jackets to-day, 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 afterwards, 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 we only had this,' or 'If we could only do that,'
quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many pleasant 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 have 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, 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.

                     [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                                   V.

                           BEING NEIGHBORLY.


                    [Illustration: 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 country-like, 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. Laurence 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 snow-ball, 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?"

                [Illustration: Laurie opened the window]

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 as 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 some one come and see you, then."

"There isn't any one 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 that 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 collar, 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, then 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 kind 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 cosy 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 a 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
round 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-love 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 business man--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 revelled. 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.

                [Illustration: Poll tweaked off his wig]

"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. Grandpa 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 summer-like, 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 velvet 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 say more, a bell rung, 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 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 as 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 gray 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 that 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."

           [Illustration: Putting his finger under her chin]

"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 down stairs, and brought up with a
start of surprise at the astonishing 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 down stairs. 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 above 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."

            [Illustration: Please give these to your mother]

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 the
rescue. "That will do, that will do, young lady. Too many sugar-plums
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 anything
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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                                  VI.

                    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 afterwards," 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
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 the 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 practise 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 practising 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 any one, 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,--

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

             [Illustration: O sir, they do care 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 big 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 at home.
How blithely she sung 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 every one 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 often 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.

        [Illustration: Mr. Laurence often opened his study door]

"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 needle-woman,
and they were finished before any one got tired of them. Then she wrote
a very short, simple note, and, with Laurie's help, got them smuggled on
to the study-table one morning before the old gentleman was up.

When this excitement was over, Beth waited to see what would happen. All
that day passed, and a part of the next, before any acknowledgment
arrived, and she was beginning to fear she had offended her crotchety
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!"

"O 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 on to 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 some one 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,'" continued Jo.
    "'Heart's-ease 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 granddaughter 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 every one 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 of it 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.

    [Illustration: She put both arms around 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 cosily 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 uplifted hands, "Well, I do believe
the world is coming to an end!"



                                  VII.

                      AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION.


                      [Illustration: The Cyclops]

"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
every one is sucking them in their desks in school-time, 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 don'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 Kingsley 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 pretence 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 school-girl, "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.

   [Illustration: Amy bore without flinching several tingling blows]

"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 very 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 any one, straight into the ante-room, 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 wrath fully
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 milder
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 any one 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 any one 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.

                    [Illustration: You do know her]

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 sung 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 the 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 spoilt 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
conversation, 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.



              [Illustration: Girls, where are you going?]

                                 VIII.

                           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 theatre 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_ sha'n'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 sha'n'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 spoilt 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"
were as brilliant and wonderful as heart could wish. But, in spite of
the comical red imps, sparkling elves, and 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
semi-occasional 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 any one 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 burnt it up."

                     [Illustration: I burnt 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 burnt 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 rung, 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 sung alone. But, in spite of their
efforts to be as cheery as larks, the flute-like 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 to-morrow."

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 don'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 turn-over in the gutter, Aunt March had an attack
of fidgets, Meg was pensive, 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 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 cross-patch 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,
then 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 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 just 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 at 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 the 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 till Jo dragged a
rail from the fence, and together they got the child out, more
frightened than hurt.

           [Illustration: Held Amy up by his arms and hockey]

"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. O 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 harder than ever.

"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 any
one, and enjoy it. I'm afraid I _shall_ do something dreadful some day,
and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. O 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
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 dishevelled 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
any one 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 practise 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."

"O 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 to-day."

"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 or 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 life-long 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 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 to-day,
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.



              [Illustration: Packing the go abroady trunk]

                                  IX.

                        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 tarlatan."

"It will look nicely 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-box; 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 tarlatan 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 house-dress 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 night-caps; 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
tarlatan, 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 had 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 theatres 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. Every one petted her; and "Daisy," 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; every one 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 a 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 mamma, 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 tarlatan is
all she has got. She may tear it to-night, and that will be a good
excuse for offering a decent one."

"We'll see. I shall ask young Laurence, as a compliment to her, and
we'll have fun about it afterward."

                 [Illustration: Meg's partner appeared]

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 tarlatan," 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 spoilt 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, _chérie_?" 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? 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
sha'n't let any one 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 towards 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 _soupçon_ 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 ear-rings, for Hortense tied them on, with a bit of
pink silk, which did not show. A cluster of tea-rosebuds at the bosom,
and a _ruche_, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty white
shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled blue silk boots satisfied the last
wish of her heart. A laced handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a
silver holder finished her off; and Miss Belle surveyed her with the
satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.

"Mademoiselle is charmante, très 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 ear-rings
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 the 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.

"I'm afraid to go down, I feel so queer and stiff and half-dressed,"
said Meg to Sallie, as the bell rang, and Mrs. Moffat sent to ask the
young ladies to appear at once.

"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.

                 [Illustration: Asked to be introduced]

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 sofas, and criticised
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 ear-rings 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 about 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 spoilt her entirely; she's nothing but a doll, to-night."

"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 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 don'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 practised 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 to-night. 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 supper-time, 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.

                    [Illustration: I wouldn't, Meg]

"You'll have a splitting headache to-morrow, 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, to-night; I'm 'a doll,' who does all sorts of crazy
things. To-morrow I shall put away my 'fuss and feathers,' and be
desperately good again," she answered, with an affected little laugh.

"Wish to-morrow 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 à la mort," replied Laurie, with a melodramatic flourish, as he
went away.

This little bit of by-play 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 children, but I want you to know all the dreadful
things I did at the Moffat's."

"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,--

      [Illustration: Holding a hand of each, Mrs. March said, &c.]

"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 trust and hope 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.



                                   X.

                          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 and 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 bird, and catnip for
the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers,--rather small and earwiggy, but
very pretty to look at,--with honeysuckles 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 revelled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven
o'clock, the four members ascended to the club-room, 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.

                      [Illustration: Mr. Pickwick]

On one occasion, Mr. Pickwick put on a pair of spectacles without any
glasses, 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, to-night.

        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 de Adelon. Knights and ladies, elves and
    pages, monks and flower-girls, all mingled gayly 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 to-night?" 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 upon 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 low 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 grocer-man 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 acknowledgment 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 vote," said the President. "All in favor of this motion
please to manifest it by saying 'Ay.'"

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 'Ay!'" cried Snodgrass excitedly.

"Ay! ay! ay!" 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.

          [Illustration: Jo threw open the door of the closet]

"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 to-night. 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 you 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 _dewote_ 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 every
one came out surprising, for every one 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 remodelled
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
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!



           [Illustration: Jo spent the morning on the river]

                                  XI.

                              EXPERIMENTS.


"The first of June! The Kings are off to the seashore to-morrow, 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 to-day, 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 off, she popped out her head, saying, 'Josy-phine, 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 sea-weed; 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 nice, 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 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 honeysuckles,
hoping some one would see and inquire who the young artist was. As no
one appeared but an inquisitive daddy-long-legs, who examined her work
with interest, she went to walk, got caught in a shower, and came home
dripping.

                  [Illustration: Amy sat down to draw]

At tea-time 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 burnt 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 revelling" process. The days kept getting
longer and longer; the weather was unusually variable, and so were
tempers; an unsettled feeling possessed every one, 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 à 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 tranquillity 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 and care
for 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 travelling, 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 so, 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 any one began, and taken up, with the
cook's compliments. The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelette
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 potatoes; 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
to-day, 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 natural
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 down
stairs. "There's Beth crying; that's a sure sign that something is wrong
with 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. O
Pip! O Pip! how could I be so cruel to you?" cried Beth, taking the poor
thing in her hands, and trying to restore him.

                     [Illustration: O Pip! O Pip!]

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 sha'n'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 dishevelled
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, criticised 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 burnt black; for the salad-dressing so aggravated her, that
she let everything else go till she had convinced herself 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 meagre
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
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 for
Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance, and Miss Crocker, whose
curious eyes would mark all failures, and 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 up 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 every one
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 had 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.

              [Illustration: Miss Crocker made a wry face]

"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 every one else, even
"Croaker," as the girls called the old lady; and the unfortunate dinner
ended gayly, 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
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 till the last minute.
As twilight fell, dewy and still, one by one they gathered in 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!" begun 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 to-morrow, 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 every
one 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 every one; 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 button-holes, 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.

                  [Illustration: We'll work like bees]



                                  XII.

                             CAMP LAURENCE.


                 [Illustration: Beth was post-mistress]

Beth was post-mistress, 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 work-table, full of tidy white
rolls; so unconscious of the thought in her mother's mind as she sewed
and sung, 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, 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 guide-book. _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.
O 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 to-morrow 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,
Bethy?"

"If you won't let any of the 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 any one; 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 to-night, 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 to-day, so that we can play
to-morrow 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 fête as seemed necessary and proper. Meg had an extra row of
little curl-papers 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 clothes-pin 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 to which it was now put. This funny spectacle appeared to amuse
the sun, for he burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up, and
roused all her sisters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.

  [Illustration: Amy capped the climax by putting a clothes-pin on her
                                 nose]

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.
Look, 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 straight; it looks
sentimental tipped that way, and will fly off at the first puff. Now,
then, come on!"

"O 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 hat-brims.

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 she 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
stand-off-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. Kate looked rather amazed at Jo's proceedings,
especially as she exclaimed "Christopher Columbus!" when she lost her
oar; and Laurie said, "My dear fellow, did I hurt you?" when he tripped
over her feet in taking his place. But after putting up her glass to
examine the queer girl several times, Miss Kate decided that she was
"odd, but rather clever," and smiled upon her from afar.

              [Illustration: Mr. Laurence waving his hat]

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 encyclopædia 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 piqué 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 mess-room, 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 Englishers 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.

             [Illustration: Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you]

"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! Good-by, 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 a 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 pretence 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 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 coffee-pot, 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 aids soon spread the table-cloth with an
inviting array of eatables and drinkables, prettily decorated with green
leaves. Jo announced that the coffee was ready, and every one 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
into 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.

        [Illustration: "A very merry lunch it was."--Page 156.]

"There's salt here, if you prefer it," 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 go, and I'm no end obliged to you. What shall we
do when we can't eat any more?" 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 "Rigmarole."

"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 travelled 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 any
one who would 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--"

          [Illustration: He went prancing down a quiet street]

"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--"

                  [Illustration: "Oh, rise," she said]

"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 half-way down when
the ladder broke, and he went head first 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--"

       [Illustration: A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon]

"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 spectre plucked him back, and waved threateningly before him a--"

"Snuff-box," 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 key-hole 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--"

                       [Illustration: He sneezed]

"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 a lee, 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 begun. 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 with dead, and whose lee-scuppers ran
blood, for the order had been 'Cutlasses, and die hard!' 'Bosen's mate,
take a bight of the flying-jib sheet, and start this villain if he don'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--"

            [Illustration: The Portuguese walked the plank]

"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 this 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 to be
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."

                [Illustration: Will you give me a rose?]

"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 button-hole.

"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'?" asked Sallie, after they
had laughed over their story.

"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 questions 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 harrow 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,--

               [Illustration: Miss Kate put up her glass]

"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 spoilt 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 wish 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 that 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.

                       [Illustration: Ellen Tree]

"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses, and so am I, but we've only got
an old side-saddle, 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 had 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 "fascinating," 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 lackadaisical expression that she laughed
outright and spoilt 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 short-comings.

"She's not a stricken deer, any way," 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-byes, 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



           [Illustration: Swinging to and fro in his hammock]

                                 XIII.

                          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 practising half the afternoon, frightened
the maid-servants half out of their wits, by mischievously hinting that
one of his dogs was going mad, and, after high words with the stable-man
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 boat-house, 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_ rather a 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 of 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.

          [Illustration: It was rather a pretty little picture]

"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 liked 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 an 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 across 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 plowed with
the splendor of an autumn sunset. Gold and purple clouds lay on the
hill-tops; 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 some time,--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 sweet 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 travelling 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 every one love me
dearly."

             [Illustration: Waved a brake before her face]

"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 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 shall 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 any one left to stay with the old
gentleman, I'd do it to-morrow."

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 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 any one, 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."

                [Illustration: I see him bow and smile]

"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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                    [Illustration: Jo was very busy]

                                  XIV.

                                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 down stairs, leaving her friends to nibble 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 any one 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
manoeuvre 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 some
one to help her home."

In ten minutes Jo came running down stairs 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 any one 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 or 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 still
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 are 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 newspaper man, 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.

                 [Illustration: Hurrah for Miss March]

"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 any one
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 sha'n'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 any one; mind that."

"I didn't promise."

"That was understood, and I trusted you."

"Well, I won't for the present, any way; 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 any one 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 hair-pins as she ran. Laurie reached
the goal first, and was quite satisfied with the success of his
treatment; for his Atalanta came panting up, with flying hair, bright
eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of dissatisfaction in her face.

                     [Illustration: Jo darted away]

"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
some one 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
dishevelled sister with well-bred surprise.

"Getting leaves," meekly answered Jo, sorting the rosy handful she had
just swept up.

"And hair-pins," 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' any one," 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 to 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 any one but her.

"It's very trying, but we never can make her _commy 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, which made her feel unusually
elegant and ladylike.

In a few minutes Jo bounced in, laid herself on the sofa, and affected
to read.

    [Illustration: Jo 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! O 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 criticised 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 sung 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 all 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, any one would pay. So I let him have the two
stories, and to-day 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.



                                  XV.

                              A TELEGRAM.


  [Illustration: November is the most disagreeable month in the year]

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said
Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the
frost-bitten 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 every one 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 now-a-days; men have
to work, and women to 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 frost-bitten 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 work-basket, for
she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least, not
to drive 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, handing it as
if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.

          [Illustration: One of them horrid telegraph things]

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 down stairs 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. O 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 the 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. Every one 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 that 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 travelling. 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.

           [Illustration: 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 make.

"How kind you all are! Mother will accept, I'm sure; and it will be such
a relief to know that she has some one 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 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 the 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 ever 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 towards 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!" "O 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 every one exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo
assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive any one 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 over 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."

                    [Illustration: The man clipped]

"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 on my head. It almost
seemed as if I'd an arm or a 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
to-morrow, 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 sound 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 to-morrow,
if I could. It's only the vain, selfish part of me that goes and cries
in this silly way. Don't tell any one, 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 coverlid 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                        [Illustration: Letters]

                                  XVI.

                                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 good-by 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 night-cap 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 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 us 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.

"Good-by, 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
body-guard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah, and devoted Laurie.

                    [Illustration: She rolled away]

"How kind every one 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 long
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
coffee-pot.

"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 turn-overs 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 rosy-faced mandarin.

"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a grateful face.
"Good-by, Meggy; I hope the Kings won't train to-day. 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 _à 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 despatches, which grew
more and more cheering as the week passed. At first, every one 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 that 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 button-holes 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 every one is so desperately good,
    it's like living in a nest of turtle-doves. 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 the 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 heart's-ease 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. Every one 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."

                    [Illustration: I wind the clock]

    "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 about 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 up the girls, and 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."

            [Illustration: Yours Respectful, Hannah Mullet]

    "HEAD NURSE OF WARD NO. 2,--

    "All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition,
    commissary department well conducted, the Home Guard under
    Colonel Teddy always on duty, Commander-in-chief General
    Laurence reviews the army daily, Quartermaster Mullett keeps
    order in camp, and Major Lion does picket duty at night. A
    salute of twenty-four guns was fired on receipt of good news
    from Washington, and a dress parade took place at
    head-quarters. 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                                 XVII.

                            LITTLE FAITHFUL.


For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied the
neighborhood. It was really amazing, for every one 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 the 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 despatches 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 certain 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 every one 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 to-morrow.

"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 may be some of you would go,"
said Beth.

"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us," suggested Meg.

"Well, I'll rest a little and wait for her."

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 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?"

"Year's 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 that 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 it 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."

         [Illustration: 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 got 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 so 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. "O
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 Jo 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," said
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?"

                 [Illustration: He sat down beside her]

"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 theatre, truly?"

"A dozen theatres, 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
sort of 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 of 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 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,--

                 [Illustration: What do you want now?]

"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, good by, good by!"
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 rattle-pated
boy like--"

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly, tumbling
off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the "rattle-pated" 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.



                                 XVIII.

                               DARK DAYS.


                [Illustration: Beth did have the fever]

Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than any one 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 all 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 round 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 the 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. Every one
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 _protégé_. 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 a minute, and laid it gently down, saying, in a low
tone, 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, after 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
tragical 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."

"O 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.

   [Illustration: Gently stroking her head as her mother used to do]

"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 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 in my bill, by and by; and to-night 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 to-night, 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, "O Laurie! O 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 like 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 rather a neat
thing of it.

"That's the interferingest chap I ever see; but I forgive him, and do
hope Mrs. March is coming on 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 sick-room 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 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 anxious
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 poor 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, "Good-by, my Beth;
good-by!"

As if waked 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 to-morrow 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!"



                       [Illustration: Amy's Will]

                                  XIX.

                              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 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 in 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.

     [Illustration: Polish up the spoons and the fat silver teapot]

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 must 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 tea-time. 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 a 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 deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of
the young lady.

       [Illustration: On his back, with all his legs in the air]

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 pigeon-holes, 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.

                  [Illustration: I should choose this]

"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,
eying 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 to 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. Pro-cras-ti-nation 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 tender thoughts of her own were busy at her
heart. On the table she laid her little Testament and hymn-book, 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 courtesies, 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 high-heeled 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!"

             [Illustration: Gravely promenaded to and fro]

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 of 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 paper out
of her pocket. "I want you to read that, please, and tell me if it is
legal and right. I felt that I ought to do it, for life is uncertain and
I don't want any ill-feeling over my tomb."

                       [Illustration: Amy's Will]

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, do 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 breast-pin, 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 burnt 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 marshay 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, specially 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 patch work
    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 every one,
    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.

                  {ESTELLE VALNOR,
    "_Witnesses_: {
                  {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 any one 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 postscrips 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



         [Illustration: Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side]

                                  XX.

                             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 into 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 traveller, 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 every one 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 "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 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 to-day; 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 every one loves
her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her. People wouldn't feel
half 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 I 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
traveller's safe arrival, Jo slipped up stairs 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 all about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke had it. He
kept it in his waistcoat pocket, and once it fell out, and Teddy joked
him about it, and 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 _dread_ful
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 his in 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 any one looks sentimentally 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 cosy 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 spoilt."

"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown up enough for Meg, and altogether too
much of a weathercock, just now, for any one 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 criss-cross and
getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten
it out. I wish wearing flat-irons 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 flat-irons 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 quiet 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                        [Illustration: Letters]

                                  XXI.

               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 her 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 her 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. O Jo, how could you do it?" and
Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her heart was 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.

        [Illustration: Jo and her mother were reading the note]

    "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 a 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.

"O 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 manage 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 such 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 that 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 sha'n'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 an 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 down
stairs.

"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.

              [Illustration: Get up and don't be a goose]

"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 any one 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 any one would care to try it, if you looked as much like
a thunder-cloud 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 got angry, and 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 every
one, 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
any one'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, any way. 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 be 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 wilful 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 about things that make me skip to think of."

    [Illustration: "Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears]

"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 do wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to say a word
to any one," began Jo reluctantly.

"That won't do; he shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you
soft-hearted 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.

     [Illustration: He stood at the foot, like a lion in the path]

"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 some one 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 on to 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 don't 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 forbearing 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 key-hole, 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 in 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 copy-books; 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.

Every one 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.



  [Illustration: Beth was soon able to lie on the study sofa all day]

                                 XXII.

                           PLEASANT MEADOWS.


Like sunshine after 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 behindhand. Her once active
limbs were so stiff and feeble that Jo took her a daily airing about the
house in her strong arms. Meg cheerfully blackened and burnt 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, sky-rockets, 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 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 new 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 labored 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."

                      [Illustration: The Jungfrau]

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 caressed
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 work-a-day world, things do happen in the
delightful story-book fashion, and what a comfort that is. Half an hour
after every one 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 every one 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 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 quite melted in one's
mouth; likewise the jellies, in which Amy revelled like a fly in a
honey-pot. 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, sung 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 to-day."

"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 these seeming
blemishes I read a little history. A burnt-offering has been made of
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 brown 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,
tender-hearted 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 which 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 to-night, 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
mould her character as carefully as she moulds 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' to-day, how, after many troubles,
Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow, where lilies
bloomed all the 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 slowly 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, sung 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!"



                                 XXIII.

                    AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION.


            [Illustration: Popping in her head now and then]

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 "Every one 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.

 [Illustration: "He sat in the big chair by Beth's sofa with the other
                      three close by."--Page 277.]

Laurie went by in the afternoon, and, seeing Meg at the window, seemed
suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell down upon 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
spoilt 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 or do 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 confidant,
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 any one 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 if her life depended on finishing that particular seam in a given
time. Jo smothered a laugh at the sudden change, and, when some one 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 to-day," said Mr. Brooke, getting a trifle confused
as his eye went from one tell-tale 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 towards 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."

                 [Illustration: Shall I tell you how?]

"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 her. 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.

               [Illustration: Bless me, what's all this?]

"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 merely 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. Sha'n'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
peremptorily 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 any one 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 two 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. Every one 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, anymore 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 wilful 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. Book'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 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 down
stairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and, hearing no sound
within, nodded and smiled, with a satisfied expression, saying to
herself, "She has sent 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 strong-minded 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 new-comer, "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 every one 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 the sketch she
was planning to take.

"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 an 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 a little
sensible conversation."

But Jo was mistaken; for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with
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.

                  [Illustration: For Mrs. John Brooke]

"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 never can 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, or 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 every one 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 re-living 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 grouped, the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it
ever rises again, depends upon the reception given to the first act of
the domestic drama called "LITTLE WOMEN."



                [Illustration: Home of the Little Women]



                            The Second Part



                     [Illustration: The Dove Cote]

                                 XXIV.

                                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
grayheaded scholar as young at heart as they; thoughtful or troubled
women instinctively brought their doubts and sorrows 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 book-keeper 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, busy with the quiet duties she loved, every one'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 spoilt,
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 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 "Dove-cote."

That was the name of the little brown house which 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 turtle-doves, 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 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 slop-bowl; 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 coal-bin. 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 cosey
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 as 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 clothes-pins; next, a wonderful nutmeg-grater, which
fell to pieces at the first trial; a knife-cleaner that spoilt 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 tin-ware, 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," answered Meg, with a look that was 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 mantle-piece.

"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 doorhandles.

"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 fancy work 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 housekeeping. "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
table-cloths, with a truly feminine appreciation of their fineness.

"I haven't a single finger-bowl, but this is a 'set out' that will last
me all my days, Hannah says;" and Meg looked quite contented, as well
she might.

"Toodles is coming," cried Jo from below; and they all went down to meet
Laurie, whose weekly visit was an important event in their quiet lives.

A tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a cropped head, a felt-basin
of a hat, and a fly-away 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 every one began
to talk.

"Where is John?" asked Meg anxiously.

"Stopped to get the license for to-morrow, 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.

               [Illustration: A small watchman's rattle]

"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 new 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
to-morrow," 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 him her arm to support his
feeble steps.

"Now, Teddy, I want to talk seriously to you about to-morrow," 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 a
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 any one. 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 mole-hill. You wouldn't have me let
that fine fellow work himself to death, just for the 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-basin 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, to-morrow, 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-of-an-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 any one a chance," said Laurie, with a sidelong glance,
and a little more color than before in his sunburnt 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                   [Illustration: The First Wedding]

                                  XXV.

                           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 to look strange or
fixed up to-day," she said. "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, every one, and don't
mind my dress; I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it
to-day;" 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 to-day.

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
criticise my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I'm too happy to
care what any one 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 to-day, and he _can_ be perfectly
elegant if he likes," returned Amy, 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 pair 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 every one availed themselves of their
privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence to old Hannah, who,
adorned with a head-dress 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 the only sorts of nectar which the three Hebes carried
round. No one said anything, however, 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
despatched the rest to the Soldiers' 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 to-day." 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 had 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 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 every one 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 _chasséed_ 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 button-hole.

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. Good-by, good-by!"

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.



                   [Illustration: Artistic Attempts]

                                 XXVI.

                           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 overstrained eyes soon 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 under side 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
kindlings for some time.

From fire to oil was a natural transition for burnt fingers, and Amy
fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friend fitted her
out with his cast-off 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 sea-sickness 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 dropsical 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 buoy, 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 coal-bin. 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 on to 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.

       [Illustration: Her foot held fast in a panful of plaster]

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 feather-beds 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 Michael Angelo affirms, Amy
certainly 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 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
every one, 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 a
drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river, perhaps, and
make a little artistic _fête_ 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-à-banc_.)

"All 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 salt-spoons.
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
_coupé_," said Jo, who, being called from the tragical 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 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 salt, 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 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 hadn't been for mother I never should have got through," as Amy
declared afterward, and gratefully remembered when "the best joke of the
season" was entirely forgotten by everybody else.

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 any one 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 skilfully made the
best of what she had, arranging chairs over the worn places in the
carpet, covering stains on the walls with pictures framed in ivy, and
filling up empty corners with home-made statuary, which gave an artistic
air to the room, as did the lovely vases of flowers Jo scattered about.

The lunch looked charmingly; 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, an
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 two 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 to-day; 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 to-day,"
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 travelling-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 new-comer, 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 travelling 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.

                [Illustration: Please don't, it's mine]

"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 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 sha'n'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 to-day; 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 into the porch to 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 entirely control the merriment
which possessed them. The remodelled lunch being gayly 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 _fête_ had disappeared,
except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo's mouth.

"You've had a lovely 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
mould 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 sallets," 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 "_fête_" 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                    [Illustration: Literary Lessons]

                                 XXVII.

                           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 than 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 woollen 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 gayly erect upon the gifted brow, did any
one 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 divine 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 Woman's Rights and making tatting.
Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlessly holding each other by the
hand, a sombre 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 unfortuitous 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 dishevelled 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 personæ_, 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 Prof.
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 upon 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
theatrical 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 _dénouement_. The manuscript
was privately despatched, 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.

            [Illustration: A check for one hundred dollars]

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
every one 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.

"Oh, how splendid! No, I can't do it, dear, it would be so selfish,"
cried Beth, who had clapped her thin hands, and taken a long breath, as
if pining for fresh ocean-breezes; then stopped herself, and motioned
away the check which her sister waved before her.

"Ah, but you shall go, I've set my heart on it; that's what I tried for,
and that's why I succeeded. I never get on when I think of myself alone,
so it will help me to work for you, don't you see? Besides, Marmee needs
the change, and she won't leave you, so you _must_ go. Won't it be fun
to see you come home plump and rosy again? Hurrah for Dr. Jo, who always
cures her patients!"

To the sea side 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 into my tin-kitchen to mould, 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 practised as 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 making 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 out a word 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 foreboding 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 every one, she took every one'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 nearly all 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 sprightly scenes which relieved the sombre
character of the story. Then, to complete 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 dire 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 over-praise, 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 it 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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                  [Illustration: Domestic Experiences]

                                XXVIII.

                         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 then see if _his_ work would stand impatient tugs 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 home 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
despatched 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 with a housewifely wish to see her store-room stocked with
home-made 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 had 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 a hand, but
John and she had agreed that they would never annoy any one 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-turvy 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
Dove-cote. 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
sanguinary-looking boy asleep under the currant-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 burnt 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 gayly 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.

"O 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 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
turtle-doves 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 knock us up something to eat. We're both as hungry
as hunters, so we sha'n't mind what it is. Give us the cold meat, and
bread and cheese; we won't ask for jelly."

He meant it for 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 any one. 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 in 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 clearing 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 got him into a
scrape, and then 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 her slippers were among the necessaries of life. Neither
spoke; both looked quite "calm and firm," and both felt desperately
uncomfortable.

          [Illustration: 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, very careful, not to wake this 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 happy
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
infinitely 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; 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 loan 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.

             [Illustration: A bargain, I assure you, ma'am]

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
pocket-book 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 five or 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 pretence 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'd done it, for I
knew you'd think it wrong in me."

John laughed, and drew her round beside him, saying good-humoredly,
"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, "O 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 for 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 great-coat 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 great-coat, 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 great-coat, 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 great-coat 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 Dove-cote, 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 sha'n'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.

[Illustration: Laurie heroically shut his eyes while something was put
                             into his arms]

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."

John rescued his babies, and marched up and down, with one on each arm,
as if already initiated into the mysteries of baby-tending, 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 you told,
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 Daisy, 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.



                                 XXIX.

                                 CALLS.


                         [Illustration: 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 to-day?"

"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
smelt 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 to-day, 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 lamb-like 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 are 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
gold 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 a 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 old
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 alarm,
round eyes and uplifted hands tormented 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 practise 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 stable-man 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
horse-breaker, 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 farmhouse 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!"

            [Illustration: She took the saddle to the horse]

"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
card-case 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 that 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 failures 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, bear-like 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 a 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.

                [Illustration: It might have been worse]

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 perverse Jo; "I neither like, respect, nor
admire Tudor, though his grandfather's uncle's nephew's niece _was_
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 card-case 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 to-day. 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 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 practise 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 Teddy 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 will 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 the aunts "my deared" her affectionately, looking
what they afterwards 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.

                [Illustration: The call at Aunt March's]

If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering in the balance
for one of them, she would have turned dovelike 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 her 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.

        "Cross-patch, 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 lump-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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



              [Illustration: You shall have another table]

                                  XXX.

                             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 every one 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 her 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 any one 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 had 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, mamma,"
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; every one
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 draught, 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 with 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
practising.

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 an ante-room 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 scroll-work 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 heart-burnings 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 spoilt."

"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggested some one.

"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 skilful 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 to 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 being found there in the evening by
her family, and 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.

"O 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 lovely basket, arranged in
his best manner, for a centre-piece; 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 sprightly and gracious as possible,--coming to the
conclusion, about that time, that virtue _was_ its own reward, after
all.

                 [Illustration: Bought up the bouquets]

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 signs of them.
"Tucked away out of sight, I dare say," thought Jo, who could forgive
her own wrongs, but hotly resented any insult offered to 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, 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 words 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 good night, 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."

"O 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 is 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



             [Illustration: Flo and I ordered a hansom-cab]

                                 XXXI.

                       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 note-book, 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. Every one 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.

        [Illustration: "Every one was very kind, especially the
                         officers."--Page 378.]

    "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 main-top 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
    country-seats 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 dog-skin 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 give '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 travelling.

    "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 guide-book, 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 some time,
    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 cross-beam 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 Capt. 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 break-neck 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.

    "To-day 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. Every one
    rides,--old men, stout ladies, little children,--and the young
    folks do a deal of flirting here; I saw a pair exchange
    rosebuds, 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.

                                                          "MIDNIGHT.

    "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 theatre 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, theatres, 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."


    "DEAR GIRLS,--                                           "PARIS.

    "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 hearts' 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 that 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
    _cafés_, 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 the Champs Elysées are _très 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.

      [Illustration: I've seen the imperial family several times]

    "We often walk in the Tuileries Gardens, for they are lovely,
    though the antique Luxembourg Gardens suit me better. Père 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 in 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 sketch-book, will give
    you a better idea of my tour than these scribbles.

    "Adieu; I embrace you tenderly.                     VOTRE AMIE."


    "MY DEAR MAMMA,--                                   "HEIDELBERG.

    "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 guide-books, 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 some one 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. Frankfort 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 every one 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 is
    just gone. He has been so kind and jolly that we all got quite
    fond of him; I never thought of anything but a travelling
    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 as 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 cosey 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 any one 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 wonderschönes Blöndchen_,' 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 story-book 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.

[Illustration: Trying to sketch the gray-stone lion's head on the wall]

    "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, in 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 awhile, 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."



                                 XXXII.

                            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 it 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 is 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 any one else. Be very kind, and don't let
her think any one 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,--

           [Illustration: She leaned her head upon her hands]

"All serene! Coming in to-night."

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 glanced
apprehensively at Jo; but she was scratching away at a tremendous rate,
apparently engrossed in "Olympia's Oath." The instant Beth turned, Jo
began her watch again, saw Beth's hand go quietly to her eyes more than
once, 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 dreamt of such a thing. What _will_ mother say? I
wonder if he--" 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 any one dared to suggest it. If they had known the
various tender passages of the past year, or rather attempts at 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
Sanscrit. 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 every one _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
defence, 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 pummelled with it in former days,
when romping was allowed, and now frequently debarred by it from taking
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 the 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."

           [Illustration: 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 on to 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 the 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 must have
a _went_."

"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 gentlemen. 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 mammas, 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 spoilt,
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 'went,' 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 maybe," 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 had departed in high dudgeon.

          [Illustration: Up with the Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee]

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?"

Beth did not answer the first question; but in the dark one hand went
involuntarily to her heart, as if the pain were there; with the other
she held Jo fast, whispering eagerly, "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 alone 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 still may 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 tragical. 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 love-lornity."

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 "love-lornity" 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 to 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."



  [Illustration: I amused myself by dropping gingerbread nuts over the
                                 seat]

                                XXXIII.

                             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 travelling 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 spoilt, 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 work-basket, and had a quiet evening chatting
    with my new friend. I shall keep a journal-letter, and send it
    once a week; so good-night, and more to-morrow."

                                                     "_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
    button-holes, when the parlor-door opened and shut, and some one
    began to hum,--

                         'Kennst du das land,'

    like a big bumble-bee. 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 my 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.

                [Illustration: Thou shalt haf thy Bhaer]

    "'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 sweet-faced 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 shovelled 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 cosey, 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 young 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. K. 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 to-day (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 to-day, 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,--

            [Illustration: He waved his hand, sock and all]

    "'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 lovely 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 seed-cakes, 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.

                  [Illustration: Dis is mine effalunt]

    "'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 sung, and
    when it began to grow dark they all piled on to the sofa about
    the Professor, while he told charming fairy stories of the
    storks on the chimney-tops, and the little 'kobolds,' who ride
    the snow-flakes 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 every one.

                                "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 mantel-piece 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 burnt brown, having
    been used as a holder.

    "'Such a man!' laughed good-natured Mrs. K., as she put the
    relics in the rag-bag. '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 good-natured,
    he lets those boys ride over him rough-shod. 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 that 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 opserve 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 the 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
    of 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 with glory.

    "'Now we shall try a new way. You and I will read these pleasant
    little Märchen 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 Andersen'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 the 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 gute! 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 a
    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!

 [Illustration: I sat down upon the floor and read and looked and ate]

    "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 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 mantel-piece as an article of
    _vertu_; 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 laundry-woman 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
    whipper-snappers) 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 theatres. 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 Teddy-ism.

    "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."

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



           [Illustration: In the presence of three gentlemen]

                                 XXXIV.

                               A 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
self.

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 travelling and much up-hill work lead to this delightful _château
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 bean-stalks 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 money-bags.

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 business-like 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. Dashwood'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 often 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 to 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 should 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. Wrong-doing 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 every one 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 towards one's fellow-men could beautify and dignify
even a stout German teacher, who shovelled 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, 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 _entrée_ into literary 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.

                   [Illustration: A select symposium]

Jo went prepared to bow down and adore the mighty ones whom she had
worshipped 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 Staëls of the age, who looked daggers at another
Corinne, who was amiably satirizing her, after out-manoeuvring 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 _désillusionée_,
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 conversation was 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, out-talked, but not one
whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

She did neither; but she remembered this 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 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
head-gear, for he was going to read her the "Death of Wallenstein."

      [Illustration: He doesn't prink at his glass before coming]

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 an
air of 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 like to 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 whiskey, 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 sugar-plum, 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
re-read every one of her stories. Being a little short-sighted, 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 got 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 than 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.

         [Illustration: Jo stuffed the whole bundle into the stove]

"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 months' 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 father and
mother 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 till 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
bean-stalk 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
beside 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. Every one 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 good-by over night; 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 towzled
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 and 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."



          [Illustration: He put the sisters into the carriage]

                                 XXXV.

                               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
to-morrow; 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 jews-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 little feelings. A call
at Meg's, and a refreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn,
still further fortified her for the _tête-à-tête_, 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 jews-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 far-away 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 impetuosity, 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 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."

"Yes, 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 see 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 that 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.

        [Illustration: He laid his head down on the mossy post]

"O Teddy, I'm so 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 some one else too, like a sensible boy, and forget all this
trouble."

"I _can't_ love any one 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
unmanageable 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 it 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 you 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! Every one 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 bare 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 any 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 tragical.

"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 fire to 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 many a 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 sha'n'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
love's labor lost. He bore it as long as he could, then went to his
piano, and began to play. The windows were open; and Jo, walking in the
garden with Beth, for once understood music better than her sister, for
he played the "Sonata Pathétique," 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 just 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 some one 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 till you take my place, and can be off
at any time."

"But you hate travelling, 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 travelling 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 gentlemen 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 tragical
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 every one 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
gayety 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 both
eloquent and pathetic.

"O Jo, can't you?"

                    [Illustration: O 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                                 XXXVI.

                             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 little 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 the 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 any one else; so they were all in all to each other, and came and
went, quite unconscious of the interest they excited 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 shadow 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.

     [Illustration: With her head in Jo's lap, while the wind blew
                        healthfully over her]

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
gathering. 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 any one. 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."

"O Beth, and you didn't tell me, didn't let me comfort and help you! How
could you shut me out, and 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
good-by 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 that 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, deary? I was afraid it was so, and imagined your poor
little heart full of love-lornity 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 never could 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 to 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 any one 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,
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
turtle-dove, 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 at 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



             [Illustration: He hurried forward to meet her]

                                XXXVII.

                            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 criticising 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 button-holes, 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, or lady 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 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.

"O 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 all 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 to-night."

"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 banker's 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 some one 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 _blasé_, 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 on to 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
_chasséed_ 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 _debonnaire_, and the thought of entering the ball-room
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.

                  [Illustration: Here are your flowers]

"How kind you are!" she exclaimed gratefully. "If I'd known you were
coming I'd have had something ready for you to-day, 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 à 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 lustre 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 for the 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
travelling young gentlemen, who disported themselves gayly, 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 ball-room,
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 divinely; 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,
          Divinely tall, and most divinely 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 cotillon, feeling all the
while as if she could dance the Tarantula with a 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 of penitence.
She showed him her ball-book with demure satisfaction when he strolled,
instead of rushing, up to claim her for the next, a glorious
polka-redowa; but his polite regrets didn't impose upon her, and when
she gallopaded 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 every one, 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 gambolled 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 _garçons_ 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 shone; his coat-tails 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-même,'" 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 bolt 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 irresistible 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 the 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.



                     [Illustration: Demi and Daisy]

                                XXXVIII.

                             ON THE SHELF.


In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are married,
when "_Vive la liberté_" becomes their motto. In America, as every one
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 gayly 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 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 work-basket 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 any one except you, mother; but I really do need
advice, for, if John goes on so 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 his
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 spoilt
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 get 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 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 sung and rocked, told stories
and tried every sleep-provoking 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 tiptoeing 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-by 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 to-night. Do you expect company?"

"Only you, dear."

"Is it a birthday, anniversary, or anything?"

"No; I'm tired of being a 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 to 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.

                      [Illustration: Mornin' now]

"Mornin' now," announced Demi, in a joyful tone, as he entered, with his
long night-gown gracefully festooned over his arm, and every curl
bobbing gayly as he pranced about the table, eying 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 short-sighted 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 spoilt 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 spread-eagle 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 a wiser baby. So held, John had waited
with 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 clew 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?"

               [Illustration: My dear man, it's a bonnet]

"My dear man, it's a bonnet! My very best go-to-concert-and-theatre
bonnet."

"I beg your pardon; it was so small, I naturally mistook it for one of
the fly-away 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 every one was better for the division of
labor system; the children throve under the paternal rule, for accurate,
steadfast 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 home-like again, and John had no wish to
leave it, unless he took Meg with him. The Scotts came to the Brookes'
now, and every one found the little house a cheerful place, full of
happiness, content, and family love. Even gay 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 a wise wife and mother.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



     [Illustration: Sat piping on a stone while his goats skipped]

                                 XXXIX.

                             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 home-like 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 sunk 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
sketch-book. 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 quarrelled,--Amy was too well-bred, and just now Laurie
was too lazy; so, in a minute he peeped under her hat-brim with an
inquiring air; she answered 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 button-hole, 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 sketch-book 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 spoilt 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."

         [Illustration: Laurie threw himself down on the turf]

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 prim 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 upon 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 some
one 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 of 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 have been 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-years 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 might and
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 any one 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 every one knew 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 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,--

        [Illustration: A rough sketch of Laurie taming a horse]

"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
efficacious 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 mademoiselle 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 gayety, there
was a secret discontent in the heart of each.

"Shall we see you this evening, _mon frère_?" asked Amy as they parted
at her aunt's door.

"Unfortunately I have an engagement. _Au revoir, mademoiselle_," 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 hand-shake than all the sentimental
salutations in France."

"Good-by, dear," and with these words, uttered in the tone she liked,
Laurie left her, after a hand-shake 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!"



                [Illustration: The Valley of the Shadow]

                                  XL.

                       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 work-table, 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 needle-book for some small mother of many
dolls, pen-wipers for young penmen toiling through forests of pot-hooks,
scrap-books for picture-loving eyes, and all manner of pleasant devices,
till the reluctant climbers up 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
Pilgrim'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 divine
         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 forevermore
         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.

"O 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 some one 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 fair and early, and the birds came back in
time to say good-by 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 the 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 snow-drops 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                [Illustration: Sat staring up at the busts]

                                  XLI.

                          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 spoilt 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 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 _à la_ Gummidge,--and an irresistible laugh
spoilt 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 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 every one 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 up 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, tender-hearted 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 these
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 to 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.

     [Illustration: Turning the ring thoughtfully upon his finger]

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 were 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
stony-hearted. 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 sisters'
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 ball-room 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, the grass was green above her sister. The sad news met
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
good-by 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 _garçon_ was in despair that the whole family had gone to
take a promenade on the lake; but no, the blond 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 court-yard 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,--

"O Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"

          [Illustration: O Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come]

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 very 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 rapid 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 _dénouement_ 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 "Héloise."
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.

               [Illustration: How well we pull together]

"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.



                                 XLII.

                               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 don'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 some one 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 an unsubmissive sorrow, "O 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 strengthened 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 it.

                   [Illustration: Jo and her father]

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 round the little mop and the old
brush, that was 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
cosey, 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 creter, you're determined we sha'n'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?" 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 kernel, if one can only get at it. Love
will make you show your heart some 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 for 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 kernel sound and sweet. If she had 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 story-book, 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 overshadowed 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 thought
of fame or 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 to 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 lover-like 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 scatter-brain I was; you may trust me, I'm sober and
sensible enough for any one's _confidante_ now."

"So you are, dear, and I should have made you mine, only I fancied it
might pain you to learn that your Teddy loved any one 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. O 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 work-a-day 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
some one 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 owner's 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 re-lived 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 if 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 every one 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.

  [Illustration: Jo laid her head on a comfortable rag-bag and cried]

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?



     [Illustration: A substantial lifelike ghost leaning over her]

                                 XLIII.

                               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 to-morrow 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 so 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, tragical 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 "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,--

"O my Teddy! O 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 upon 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 eyes 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 spoilt 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 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 change 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 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 both 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 quite cheerful,--

"No, I had father and mother to help me, 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, at first; 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 every one 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 of her "pitty aunty," but
attached herself like a lap-dog to the wonderful châtelaine 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.

  [Illustration: The tall uncle proceeded to toss and tousle the small
                                nephew]

"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, with trembling
lips, "I'll try to fill her place, sir."

The twins pranced behind, feeling that the millennium was at hand, for
every one was so busy with the new-comers 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 _ab
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 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 (_coupé_), 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 fish-balls 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 it 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.

"O 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.

          [Illustration: O Mr. Bhaer, I am so glad to see you]

"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 had any doubts about his reception, they were set at
rest in a minute by the cordial welcome he received. Every one 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 traveller who knocks at a
strange door, and, when it opens, finds himself at home. The children
went to him like bees to a honey-pot; 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 new-comer 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 eye 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 manoeuvre did not succeed as well as she expected, however; for,
though just in the act of setting fire to a funeral-pile, 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 skilfully 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 night-gown 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 thoughtless 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 indissoluble. 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 to-night, dear. I can't show off to-night."

But she did show something better than brilliancy or skill; for she sung
Beth's songs with a tender music in her voice which the best master
could not have taught, and touched the listeners' 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.

                [Illustration: Mr. Bhaer sang heartily]

        "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 hearth-rug, 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.



       [Illustration: Mrs. Laurence sitting in her mother's lap]

                                 XLIV.

                           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 forget 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 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 spoilt. 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
Récamier?" 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, who was flitting about,
arranging her new art treasures,--

"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."

"O 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 dimple 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 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 last 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.

             [Illustration: They began to pace up and down]

"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 gentlefolks 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
blarneying 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 heroes, 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 beggar-maid 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 home-like 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



                                  XLV.

                            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 spoilt 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 the 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 "sewin-sheen,"--a mysterious structure of
string, chairs, clothes-pins, and spools, for wheels to go "wound and
wound;" also a basket hung over the back of a big 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 quarrelled 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 night-gown to look out, and say, no matter whether it
rained or shone, "Oh, pitty day, oh, pitty day!" Every one was a friend,
and she offered kisses to a stranger so confidingly that the most
inveterate bachelor relented, and baby-lovers became faithful
worshippers.

                   [Illustration: Me loves evvybody]

"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 blest
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.

             [Illustration: What makes my legs go, dranpa?]

"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 of 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 questions 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
parents' 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 short-sighted 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 liked to play with "the bear-man" better than
she did with 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
"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 of 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 revelled 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 grovellers 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!"

                   [Illustration: 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 to-day, bübchen?" 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
his knee, exploring the waistcoat-pocket.

"Oh, she liked it, and she kissed me, and I liked it. _Don't_ little
boys like little girls?" added 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 revelations 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 artlessly inquired,--

"Do great boys like great girls, too, '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 clothes-brush, 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.

                       [Illustration: Tail-piece]



       [Illustration: Mr. Bhaer and Jo were enjoying promenades]

                                 XLVI.

                          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 often 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 till 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 about 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, every one knew perfectly well what was going on, yet
every one 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' hall-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 good-by, 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 some one, 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.

              [Illustration: Looking up she saw Mr. Bhaer]

"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 time more 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 Jünglings 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 despatch
with which she would accomplish the business. But, owing to the flutter
sh